Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Working Witch

I've had people ask me why I wasn't more active in the pagan community.
Why, with my 30+ years of experience with magic, ritual, etc. I haven't written a book or founded a tradition, or have dozens of former students and am running groups.

The answer is really simple:   I work for a  living.

Between work, chores, and owning a home this single witchy guy doesn't really have a lot of free time.  If you look at dates on my blog, you'll see just how sporadic it all is.  Sure, I have time to fart around on Facebook but that's done in 5-10 increments between doing other things around the house.

Add to that, I'm an introvert, and you'll understand that being around a lot of people just wears me out.

I barely have time/energy to have dinner with friends once a week.  And they're all busy too, doing the same things I'm doing.

Yes, I'm still practicing my Craft and observing my holy days and meditating in private, but that's about it.  My personal time is spent trying to recharge my batteries from the work day/week and that's about it.

I'm a little envious of the people who have the time and energy to be full-time professional witches.  It sounds like a lot more fun than my drudging around the office trying to make other people happy enough to let me keep my job, paycheck, and benefits.

There are so many people in my situation that I'd hazard a guess that we're in the majority in the pagan community.  I don't go to a lot of public events because if they're on the weekend, I'm still trying to recover from the work week and I just don't have the energy to spend.  Yesterday after running some errands, I came home and had a 2 1/2 hour nap.  I'm trying not to take a nap today because I've got a student coming over later, so every time I feel like I'm about to fall asleep I get up and go do something.  But in all honesty, I just want to curl up with a good book and alternate between snoozing and reading.  If I could have a super power right this minute, I'd change the world so that we had 5-day weekends and 2-day work weeks and keep our paychecks.  Maybe then I'd catch up on my rest?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Polytheism and Me

My experiences as a person are what cause me to identify as pagan and witch, and while I do loosely structure my religious rites on Wicca, my initiatory lineage is muddy enough that I can’t in good conscience claim to trace my roots back to Gerald Gardner.  So I may call myself Wiccan when talking to general public folks for the sake of convenience, but to most pagans I tend to just say that I do my own thing.

I’m a witch because I practice magic.  For me, it’s like breathing – I have to do it or the pressure builds up.  I experience conversations with Deity several times a week.  I use the word “Deity” as a generic term to encompass the various gods who speak directly to me, not out of any disrespect towards any of them. 

When I’m in ritual and calling on deity to share the experience with, or to ask for guidance, I treat them as individuals because that’s how I’ve always experienced them.  I’m extremely uncomfortable when people start referring to them as “archetypes”, or saying “all gods are one God” because that smacks of either disrespect or monotheism.  You might as well say that “all Alans are one Alan” or something equally silly.  Aphrodite and Venus may both be listed in the books as goddesses of love, but they’re very different individuals.

I do not discuss precisely which gods I work with on purpose.  It’s a very personal thing, and part of the relationship is my word to keep it private.  People who are going to inherit things from me in my will know, but they and my closest confidants are the only ones I’ve talked with about it.  And I don’t necessarily stick to one pantheon.  Different gods reach out to me and make their presence known, so I listen.  I mean come on, they’re gods – of course I’m going to pay attention when they show up and put words in my head.

It’s funny to me how many pagans will look askance at me for that previous sentence, like I need anti-hallucinogenic medication because I listen when the gods talk.  Or they try to talk me out of believing that my memory of the experience is real.  Personally, I find listening to the gods much easier than trying to force my will on them, but that’s me.  Your experiences are valid for you, whether they are similar to mine or not.


So there you have it.  I’m a polytheist not because I believe the gods are real, but because I experience their reality.  Sometimes I’ll get words from deceased relatives, elemental spirits, or gods choosing not to identify themselves.  I do believe we have free will, so if some random entity encourages me to drop trou and start wanking in the middle of the grocery store I’m not going to feel obliged to do it, and figure someone’s just being silly.  I may not do it, but I’ll smile at the mental image and enjoy life with gods who have a bawdy sense of humor.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

So, it's been a while

It's funny how quickly time passes without you realizing it, isn't it?

Whether it's in life or inside a magic circle, time is definitely not constant unless you're counting, because life itself is a subjective experience.

In a nutshell, I've been kinda busy.  Mostly with work taking up a lot of free time, and I've been doing a lot of soul searching.  I've replaced the roof on the house, had to say farewell to my 14 year old furbaby, and been watching too many reruns of Big Bang Theory.

I've had a lot of changes in my perception of friendships lately, too.  I'm noticing when I reach out and don't get responses, or if I'm the only person *ever* initiating conversations with friends.  Am I being clueless and bugging people, intruding on their lives while they really just view me as a friendly pest?  Would they even notice if I just stopped trying?

I'm turning 50 this year.  While I don't feel the urge to go dashing out and buying a red sports car, I am noticing my awareness of my own mortality changing.  I'm not sitting around in fear of it, nor am I embracing it.  I do know that it's going to be here eventually, and I'm at that point where I want to maximize the positive mark I can leave on the world before I go.

It was never my intention that this blog have thousands of followers.  In the pagan blogosphere, I'm an absolute nobody and that's been fine with me.  So many people write better, more eloquently, on topics that they spend time researching that all I can do is read and applaud.  The idea of becoming some form of "big name pagan" is just abhorrent.  It's been a big part of why the blog has been so silent, but maybe now it's just time I use it as an outlet and stop trying to "measure up to the big bloggers", which I may have unconsciously been doing.

I've seen how the public treats its celebrities, and fame is both fleeting and unkind.  The minute you're out of the spotlight, the false friends fall away and you're left wondering if any of your friendships were ever real.  It's like that *being* friends with celebrities too.  Before Teo Bishop "came out" as Matt Morrison, I thought we'd established a friendship.  After his big reveal, he treated me like any other fanboy and stopped interacting with me.  When he left paganism and went back to his "home" religion, he not only cut ties with me on Facebook, but I was blocked from even sending a message of support to him.  Frankly, it was upsetting.

I think it's time I just stop wasting my time chasing after people who make it clear they don't want to be friends with me.  No ill will of course, but I've got more productive things to do with my time and energy than spend it on people who don't make time for me, and blow me off repeatedly.

I've got stories to tell, songs to write, plants to nurture, and spells to cast.  I'm not going to waste time attempting to make other people happy, the real magic is only going to come from a happier me, so that's what I need to focus on.  Life should be fun, and I haven't been doing enough of the "fun" things in life.

Peace out, witches.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Delicious Spirituality

I love humor.  I think that humor is one of the most effective teaching methods because of the way laughter makes us feel.  It probably fires little shocks of joy down our neural pathways when we remember lessons learned while we’re laughing, and those memories become something we value because of the associated feelings.  Plus, when we’re laughing we’re taking in more oxygen which makes us think more and probably better.

My brilliant pal Loren shared on Facebook a video clip of Patton Oswalt talking about Religion and Sky Cake.  For your amusement, the clip is here, but make sure you come back to read the rest:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZtR43MIkII


I watched it a few times, because it made me laugh.  But then it got me thinking…

Paganism isn’t really a religion.  It’s an umbrella philosophy that holds many religions underneath it, as well as a lot of non-religious but very philosophical self-aware thinkers.

We don’t insist on any one flavor of cake.  We have lots of cakes, cookies, pies, and other confections to share, and we do so gleefully.  We may prefer one kind of spiritual dessert over another, but for the most part our big bunch of dessert enthusiasts don’t insist that there is only one true cake and that no one else should ever partake of their own favorite dessert.

And that’s not to say that our way is better than the people who believe in the One True Dessert.  I do though, think our way of the dessert smorgasbord is better for me personally, because it means I use more of my brain thinking about the other options and choosing.  And even though I might prefer the Sky Baklava, it doesn’t mean I can’t once in a while have Cake as well.  My personal religion lets me have any darn dessert I please.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Anti-theism vs. Atheism and Witchcraft


There are lots of people who self-identify as witches and say that they are atheists because they don’t worship gods.

There are also a surprising number of people who call themselves pagan who don’t believe in gods or magic.  So, um, what’s the point of that?  Why identify with a group of people who believe in magic (at the very least) without having that one core thing in common?

Worse yet are the anti-theists who don’t want anyone believing in gods or magic.  The minute a person says “Anyone who believes in imaginary sky people is an idiot”, they have just called every Wiccan I know an idiot.  Including me.  People who claim to be pagan and refer to magic as “crap they don’t believe in” are really identifying with the wrong crowd.  And honestly, they’re being assholes for hanging around a bunch of people for the sole purpose of making fun of them.  I see a lot of posts from people that say “You don’t have to believe in a higher power to be a good moral person”, and that’s true.  You don’t.  Being kind to others is its own reward.  Telling people they’re idiots is not kind, and definitely does not make one “superior” in any way.

Those of us who’ve been around the pagan community for a long time (like over 20 years kind of long) know that these folks come and go, usually doing damage to other people before they go.  My personal spiritual beliefs are not so fragile as to be compromised by the words of an unkind individual, but my faith in my ability to choose friends wisely is shaken when I hear someone who says they’re my friend make fun of all people who are religious.

I’m a very religious person.  I don’t talk about it a lot, because that’s a very private part of my life.  Unless I’m working in a coven, it’s no one else’s business at all and I like it that way.  It does however make people more comfortable trashing religious folks in my presence.  That’s got to stop.

I’m not saying anyone has to believe what I believe, or practice my personal spiritual path.  It’s not for everyone, but it works fine for me as a source of strength and comfort when I need it.  When I teach another person how to live life as a pagan, I’m not teaching them to be a carbon copy of myself, I’m teaching them to find their own path and be comfortable finding their own way to connect to their own sources of strength and comfort.

There’s a natural tendency in the pagan community for people to make fun of Christians, and speak disparagingly about them and their faith.  Usually, they are the people most wounded by something or someone connected to Christianity and have yet to complete their own work on healing the damage from the past and finding peace about it.  Everyone has their own baggage from past pain to deal with, but at some point you have to unpack it and put it away.  At the very least, stop using it as a weapon against others.

If you don’t believe in gods and recognize there’s magic in the world and cast spells, I have no quarrel with you as long as you’re not disparaging those of us who do believe.  If you’re one of the people who thinks all religious people are idiots, then please stop reading my blog and unfriend me on Facebook.  I don’t need secret back-stabbing haters in my life.  Because all magic and gods aside, holding contempt in your heart for people you say you’re friends with is not anything a friend really does.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Salvaging Power

I woke up from a wild dream this morning featuring a fictional character I’m developing, and he was sitting in a coffee shop across the street from an evangelical church.  The church was having one of those big “stir everybody up” sort of sermons about the evils of homosexuality and liberalism, and my gay pagan character shifted into Oversight to watch the energy build, and then began siphoning it away to use for his own purposes.

 

As I was showering and getting ready for work, I started thinking about the possibilities involved in actually doing what the character in the dream was doing.  Salvaging psychic/magical power out of something like that, passing it through a filter to neutralize the intent that generated it, and directing the energy into something positive for the earth, or for society.

 

Let’s face it, most churchgoers today don’t believe in psychic power or energy except as something devil-related and while they may generate a lot of it, they don’t send it anywhere.  You’d have to be detached enough from your emotions to effectively filter it, and make it “neutral” energy, but in theory it should be possible.  And wouldn’t that be kind of a riot?  Using the energy people like Westboro Baptist raise in hate to fuel magic to do some good in the world just seems deliciously ironic to me.  Maybe a little wicked, too.

 

What the heck, embrace the wicked wonderfulness within and see what happens.

 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Back to Basics: Casting the Circle



There are lots of books out there that talk about how to cast a circle, but they leave a lot out, I think.  So here’s my step-by-step, and how I experience it.
  1. Planning the space:  Assuming all of your ritual “stuff” is set up and in place, you have to decide where the circle boundaries are going to be.  If you’re working with others, discuss the boundaries before beginning in case some of them can’t perceive the energy well enough (yet) to keep from crossing the circle.  Because things come up unexpectedly, always plan where a temporary door into/out of your circle may need to be.  Due to the layout of my living room, that can only be in the South or Southeast, for example.
  2. First breath, Ground and center:  Take a deep breath, let the tension flow out of you down to the center of the Earth, and as you inhale focus on your heartbeat to make you fully present in your head with the energy of the Earth filling you up.
  3. Second breath, Open to the sky:  Make sure your crown chakra is open to the moon, the stars, the sun and breathe that stellar energy in to mix with the Earth energy in your solar plexus.
  4. Third breath, Turn it up:  Basically, as you inhale the third breath picture the Earth and Stellar energies making you glow brighter and brighter, then set your breathing on automatic and keep that image in your head.
  5. Anchoring the circle:  Choose your starting point.  I like starting/ending my circle in the North, because that’s the direction of Earth for me and that’s where all things come from.  You may choose something different, and if it works well for you that’s fine, but you have to start/end casting the circle in the same place, or it isn’t a circle at all.
  6. Begin casting:  I’m going to remind you that you’ve charged yourself up with energy, so here’s where you start using it.  Keep in mind, that while you’re casting the circle you are still also charging yourself up so you shouldn’t feel depleted when you’re finished.
  7. Whether using your hand or a ritual tool to direct the energy, start a stream of energy flowing to the starting point and leave it hanging in mid-air as you move your hand to draw the line of energy, and step to the right.  Go all the way around the room, maintaining the flow of energy from the earth/stars into your body, down your hand, and into the circle.
  8. Tie it off:  As you’ve moved around the room leaving the energy for the circle behind you and replenishing yourself from the cosmos, you will come back to your starting point.  I like to draw that last bit of the circle into an infinity loop, the final stroke of which will connect it to the point I started from.  In my mind, this keeps the energy moving while I am not the source of it.
  9. Finishing:  By the time you’ve tied off with your infinity knot, you should feel the change ripple through the space like the rings on a pond after tossing a pebble in.

And that’s it.  Your space is warded, your circle is cast, and you’re ready to start your ritual or spell.  The person casting the circle usually also maintains a “watchful eye” on it during the ritual to make sure it stays up.

As for opening or un-casting the circle, there are more options than I'm listing here, but these are the most common:


  1. Break it:  Yep, some people cut the circle with an athame and declare the space open, letting the energy disperse.
  2. Suck it up:  Some people are more comfortable drawing the energy of the circle into a tool for “storage” to be used in the next ritual.
  3. Earth it:  Some folks will uncast the circle directing the energy into the Earth.


Now, it doesn’t have to really be round.  It can be an ovoid shape, depending on the space you’re in and the number of folks in it.  If you’re in a really long room, you won’t have a round ritual space.  It’s OK, the important bit is having the space enclosed by magic. 

You can choose to cast silently, but if you’re with a group sometimes having words spoken while casting can help the group share the same imagery for the circle, and they will feed energy into the person casting it so that the circle is strengthened additionally by the combined will of the group.

Happy Zapping, Witches.

Love,
Alan

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Grief for Pagans


It’s still winter, and during winter months death rates increase dramatically.  Grief is part of the holiday season for a lot of families, as a result of this phenomenon.  Some pagans I’ve spoken to have said “grief is grief, it’s a human thing, not a pagan thing”.  They’re not entirely wrong, since it is a human emotion.  The issue I have with that attitude however, is that as pagans we’re affected differently.

Don’t get me wrong, in spite of knowing about the cycle of life and how death is a natural thing, and in some cases a big relief, I know that

Grief
Still
Sucks.

If you’ve never lost a friend, watched a family member die, or had to make the decision to euthanize a beloved pet, then you may not be able to relate to this emotionally.  However, reading this may help you in the future.  If you’ve recently lost someone dear to you, I’m sorry if this post is a trigger for a flood of emotions, but it’s my hope that you’ll gain something useful out of continuing to read.

As pagans and magical practitioners, we play a more active role in the functioning of the universe.  We actively reach out to spirits, deities, and the dearly departed as part of our spiritual lives.  The attachments we form with other people frequently lead to telepathic bonding, shared images/sensations/emotions, etc.  When someone we love dies, we *must* sever that bond and quickly in order to avoid keeping their spirit stuck on our plane and unable to move on.

Recently, my cat Simon died.  I’ve had Simon and his sister Jezebel living with me for the past 13 years, since they were 4 months old.  A few years ago, Simon had a nasty case of pancreatitis and hadn’t been really well ever since.  Last Friday, he was having trouble breathing so I rushed him to the emergency vet.  I got home around 1am, thinking that with them watching him in the oxygen tent he’d be better in the morning and so I went to sleep.  At 5am, I woke up with my heart racing, knowing he’d died.  When I called the vet, I got it confirmed.  While I was crying, I went to my temple room.  As soon as I could talk coherently, I lit incense and a candle, called him by every single endearing name I could remember ever having used, and said “I bless you and release you because I love you”.  I severed the bond so his spirit wouldn’t be trapped here, so he could move on to the Summerland.

It still hurts to write that, but no matter how much I’m feeling and no matter how many tears fall, I know that I did what I should have to release him from the loving bond we shared.  I’m missing him terribly, but I’m not keeping his spirit prisoner here, and that’s a relief for me.

Because we routinely manipulate the mystic forces of the cosmos, we have to be responsible in all areas of our life.  If you’ve lost loved ones and not released them, you don’t have to wait to do so.  If you’re still grieving and being haunted by them, release them with love.  Severing the bond doesn’t mean you stop loving them, it just means you don’t have them chained up in the metaphysical basement.  And, it helps you move through the pain.

The other thing I do, is that when the pain hits and I’m trying not to cry, I purposely bring up a happy memory.  By replacing the grief with a happy memory, you make it easier for yourself to remember the love instead of hurting.  With Simon, one of those memories is of him and his “string on a stick”.  It was a clear acrylic rod with a fuzzy rainbow string attached that he not only loved to play with, but he would play fetch with.  That silly boy would drag it from other parts of the house to where I was so I’d play with him.  I could throw the stick, and he’d go grab the string and drag it back to me.  There were a few times that I’d wake up in the middle of the night and find the string laying across my throat.  I never was sure *quite* what message he was trying to send, so I’d call him my little Mafia cat and hide the string before bed for a few days.

You can do this with your loved ones too, and you will find it helpful.  If you work with a group, don’t be afraid to reach out for support.  Grief is one of the most disempowering emotions I have felt, and you have to let people help you rebuild your strength.  Letting friends help you is also a gift to them.

Grief and depression can have a negative impact on your immune system.  Physically, you need to also make sure you're eating nutritious food with good vitamin content as well as staying adequately hydrated and getting enough sleep.  

The other thing to keep in mind while grieving, is to purify yourself and your space regularly.  I’m still smudging daily, because I’m exuding grief vibes all over the house.  I’m dousing myself with a purification potion (ie tea made from purification herbs with some love thrown in) before I get out of the shower.  This is how you avoid creating a depression spiral in your living space.  Plus, the act of doing something positive for yourself like this helps stave off the helpless feeling that grief can bring to you.

With enough work on it, you will find the grief easier to bear, and then you’ll just remember the love with just a little melancholy.  Some time after that, even the melancholy feelings will fade and you’ll just be left with the love and the happy memories. 

I am not trained in either psychology or psychiatric medicine, but these simple methods have worked for me over the years.  I have lost best friends, pets, and dear family members and struggling through each of those losses got me to where I am today, with better tools to handle the emotions.

I hope you remember the love.

Blessings,
Alan

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Introspection – Are YOU a Pagan Nutbag?

Introspection can help us learn a lot about ourselves, deal with our inner demons, and gain a little perspective in our day-to-day lives.  It’s good to do some self-examination and perform inner reality checks.  The challenge of course, is that not everyone has the same standards for what is and is not rational behavior in the pagan community.  I’m going to cite a few examples from people I’ve known over the years for you:

You may be a Pagan Nutbag if:
  • You have any secret self-description that basically amounts to “Chosen One”.
  • You refer to non-pagans as “mortals”.
  • You believe that only you (plus perhaps a chosen few) are holding back an extra-dimensional invasion of evil magic alien beings in flying black saucers.
  • You think that your spiritual evolution (or lack thereof) is unaffected by the health of the very real body you live in.
  • You think that you have “conquered” any emotion.
  • You tell people that you’re the reincarnation of any famous person.
  • You count goldfish, crystals, and infants as members of your coven.
  • You spend so much time telling others how to live the perfect pagan life that you don’t ever meditate or so much as light a candle yourself.
  • You spend so much energy criticizing others you have none left for your own growth.
  • You tell people you’re cavorting with faerie lords by moonlight when you’re really just drunk off your ass and trying not to fall down in the dark.
  • Your list of problems is longer than your list of skills or accomplishments, and you blame your lack of spiritual progress on being a sensitive empath.
  • You author a blog or host a podcast that no one reads or listens to, and you think you are an important voice in the community without being able to use two and too correctly in a sentence.
  • You insist that although on this plane of existence you’re on permanent disability, in another reality you’re the queen of everything and so people should feel privileged to kiss your ring (made from an old coat hanger) and bring you offerings of food.
  • You insist that everything, in all its forms, is for the greater good.  That’s just twaddle and you know it.  Sometimes things suck.
  • You insist that only the darker side of life is powerful.  Twaddle again, life isn’t monochromatic.  It’s a freaking rainbow, deal with it.
 And that’s just the short list.

We’re all a *little* bit off sometimes, and that’s part of what makes life fun.  But carried to extremes of self-delusion, what started off as a harmless quirk can take you deep into the realms of nutbaggery.  Or is that nutbaghood?  Either way, it’s a bad thing.  So how to avoid it?
  1. Make friends you can trust and be honest with.  Good friends are going to tell you when you’re edging too close to the line of professional nutbag.
  2. Regular spiritual practice.  The simplest acts, like meditating daily and journaling privately, can help you stay in touch with reality.
  3. Get off your butt.  Go outside and garden, go for walks, volunteer at something that helps others.  Getting outdoors in fresh air, interacting with non-pagans and getting away from the computer will help keep you grounded.
  4. Eat healthy.  I’m not saying you have to adhere to some strict diet, but keep the processed foods & sugars to a minimum and eat fresh fruits/veggies and you’ll stay grounded more solidly with less effort.
  5. Cut back on the fiction.  Really, reading is fun.  It should be.  All work and no play makes a dull pagan, but overdosing on fiction is a fast route to living in fantasy land.
  6. Be creative.  Learn to cook something new, knit or crochet, sew, paint, draw, sculpt… something that engages your right brain actively and creates something physical.  You get to use your creative juices for something constructive this way, without it dragging you into nutbaghood.
  7. Get some counseling.  Hey, reality slips for everyone sometimes, and if your friends are avoiding you or telling you you’re nuts, get a professional opinion.   Worst case scenario, you’ll get some therapy or medicine to help you with a serious condition, or they’ll say you’re fine and not to worry so much.

That was it, really.  Be good to yourself in constructive healthy ways, and be good to your friends.  Heck, be good to your enemies, it will make them nuts and maybe they’ll stop being dirtbags after they get some professional help.

Peace out, witches.

Alan

Monday, October 28, 2013

Sigils Made Simple



Samhain is most often thought of as either the time for working with the dead since the veil is thin, or the Celtic New Year and a time for new beginnings.  There’s another side-effect of the veil thinning that a lot of people don’t talk about much – magic is easier.  I started off with simple candle magic, and carving symbols into the candles to manifest my desired change.  Sigils are magical symbols used to focus your will on your desire, whether it’s a heart for love, a dollar sign for prosperity, or something more complex.

I posted this on Facebook a while back:

Make a potion from herbs that are good for improving mental clarity. Bless and consecrate it.
Soak light blue thread in the potion. Bless and consecrate it.
Take a hat that has a band of fabric around the inside of it. Purify it.
Sew sigils for mental clarity, focus, insight into that band using the herb-infused light blue thread. Bless and consecrate the hat.

There, now you've made a thinking cap.

I was just intending it to be a bit of fun, and had a few private messages asking about sigils and how to “find” them, and figured it was time to share a post on making your own.

There are books out on planetary squares and how to use them to create a sigil for what you desire, and whole systems of that sort of thing out there.  Lots of magical practitioners have a high rate of success with them, and enjoy the study and effort that goes into learning about them.

For some people though, sigils based on planetary squares have just been a source of confusion, consternation, and avoidance.  A long time ago, one of my teachers taught me a different way of creating sigils in case I couldn’t connect to (he said “tap into”) the power in the planetary ones.  Different folks, different sorts of magic I guess is the idea.  So I did my best to put a PowerPoint presentation together for you, and converted it to a YouTube video.  To explain what he taught me.

Essentially, turning the word or words that represent your magical desire into capital letters and superimposing them over each other to create a symbol is the method.  The video has no sound because I couldn’t figure out the voice-over piece, but here it is for your pleasure.  I hope you find it helpful!

Practical Sigils:  http://youtu.be/2mKHXkanPvM

Blessings,
Alan

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dancing Your Talk



I’m probably not the only person to get more than a little tired of old clich├ęs in the spiritual community, but let’s take a look at one, just for fun:  “Are you walking your talk?”

I’m not going to say that I think it’s a bad saying, because it’s not.  It has given many people something to think about, reflect on, and do some honest self-examination with.  It’s succinct and easy to remember, and the mental imagery works to get the point across.  But it’s not enough, really.

Mainstream religion holds no appeal for me because I find most of it to be boring, rigid, or far too dictatorial for my tastes.  Original thought and questioning authority are discouraged in far too many churches for me to ever be comfortable with a spiritual path of that nature.  There are too many variations of “thou shalt not” in our world for me.  I’m not interested in slaughtering innocents or buggering bunny rabbits or anything, I’m talking about really stupid things like community associations that ban you from planting anything off of an approved list in your front yard or painting your house a different color.  Societal norms that are unwritten are just as bad, like clothing expectations limited to gender which keep men from wearing perfectly good kilts to the office.

Most of the pagans I know are far from boring, and are more likely to skip, hop, or jitterbug their way down their spiritual path instead of just sedately walking.  Many pagans are proudly flouting rules as often as possible, when doing so doesn’t endanger anyone’s well-being.  We are a more colorful, creative, boisterous lot of people than mainstream culture is generally comfortable with.

In keeping with the theme of balance that every Equinox brings, I do think we could use a little self-examination and bring our Intellect back into balance with our Ecstasy.

We have bodies for a reason, and while I don’t profess to know exactly what that reason is (because there could be many, different for each of us) I do think that we pagans (I doubt I’m alone in this) think more than we move.  There is a path to Ecstasy through dance and movement, time-tested and highly valued in other cultures.

Gabrielle Roth, in her book “Maps to Ecstasy”, has mapped out five basic, sacred rhythms “that are the essence of the body in motion, the body alive:  Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyric, Stillness”.  I highly recommend the book, and several of the videos on YouTube could be helpful in unleashing your inner dance to further move you forward on your ecstatic spiritual path, and open up part of yourself towards healing that you may find more exhilarating than yet another game of Candy Crush on Facebook  J

Check this video out, and notice that there is no choreography.  Each person is finding their own body’s need to move to the music.  This isn’t about sweating for weight loss, it’s about moving for Spirit – your Spirit.  Go ahead, dance a little way down your path and see if it feels right for you.


Peace out, witches.

Harmony and Blessings,

Alan

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sacred Music


I was listening to National Public Radio on the way home from work the other day, when I heard this beautiful, haunting singing. After the bus passed me, I realized it was in Latin and I paid more attention to the story about the nuns of Ann Arbor, Mich. recording choral music.

I enjoy sacred music, especially some of the work done by nuns and monks I’ve heard over the years. It got me thinking though, about how I define “holy” when it comes to music.

For me, the holy and sacred music my spirit yearns for instills a sense of peace, and communion with the Divine. Probably in part because I’m an introvert and quiet time is what I need to recharge my batteries.

I’ve listened to my share of ecstatic music, and thoroughly enjoy that too but while it pumps up my adrenaline levels it doesn’t fill me with peace. It does make great music to listen to right before doing any heavy lifting, though, because it strengthens my spirit and makes the work easier on my body.

I began running through all of the pagan music I could think of on the drive home, looking in my mental catalog for something that was overtly pagan and still filled me with that sense of peace and harmony. I found lots of songs that make me happy in my mental pagan collection, but nothing that touched me with the same peaceful vibe I was getting from the Catholic singers. Lots of chants from various Reclaiming CDs are associated with happy memories of our community Chant Jam sessions, and some are useful for focusing energy and intent during ritual, but nothing left me with serenity.

Is it something we’re missing in our community collective repertoire? Are we missing out on peace within our own community music? Many of us are free-wheeling independent thinkers, captains of our own destiny, etc. etc. but does that exclude us from peace and serenity? Can’t that also be part of our path, and our music?

I'm quoting one of the sisters from the article here in closing, and I've shared the link to the story for your reading/listening pleasure as well.

"We bring people back where the culture, sad to say, is selling them short," Sister Joseph Andrew says. "The culture is not saying you need silence; you need to calm down; you need to meet God in however you might choose to worship him. And I think when you turn this music on, something interiorly starts to calm down. And there starts to be a freedom to be able to really listen to God within."


Peace and Harmony to you all,
Alan

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Magic as Science – or at least Pseudo-Science



There's a lot of talk among magical practitioners about how magic is just like quantum physics.

Or that crystals, because of their piezoelectric properties are great magical amplifiers, since our nervous systems run on bioelectrical impulses.

But isn't that really just a bunch of hooey? A crystal's piezoelectrical properties don't really kick in unless it's under mechanical stress. I don't think squeezing a crystal tightly in our fleshy soft sensitive hands is putting it under enough stress to make it build up a charge of electricity.

We explain magic away as all sorts of semi-scientific things in order to make it sound more real. Personally, I think that means we're neutering our own magic by not believing in it enough to let it just be mystical instead of having to justify it to the Doubting Thomases of the world.

Even on Wikipedia, one of the least scholarly sources of data around, they say “Modern Western magicians generally state magic's primary purpose to be personal spiritual growth” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_(paranormal) ), which I find ludicrous. Magic can be practiced without any spiritual growth whatsoever, there are tons of people out there messing about with magic who are living proof of the petty vindictive things people are capable of. But still, even Wikipedia is saying that we modern Westerners are neutering our magic.

We need to embrace the mystery, the mystical, and let ourselves feel and practice magic without explaining it away into nothingness. Good magic is like a good golf swing – you have to let go and express a little wild abandon for it to be useful and make something significant happen.

Let the Moon be silver, eldritch, and full of power to share and focus. Let the night wind whisper mysteries of wisdom into your soul. Let the summer sun fill you with strength and power. Feel the Earth beneath you, humming with Life.

If your spells work, then you're doing good. But keep the magic and the mystery alive, don't lose your sense of wonder.

Peace out, witches.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Failed Expectations – When Icons Fall


Remember how disappointed you were when you were a kid and Santa didn't bring you what you wanted or asked for? Your feelings were hurt, like it was a personal affront. But as an adult, you look back on it and sort of laugh. The thing is, we never really grow out of that feeling.

My French teacher in high school said a swear word in front of me, and I was shocked because teachers just aren't supposed to swear. I even said something about it, and her response was “Oh, grow up”. She let me down, she failed to live up to my expectation of how a teacher behaves. My feelings were hurt not by her, but somehow by the world for not being the way I thought it should be.

I remember when my best friend from high school Luci died of leukemia at the tender age of 24 just how angry I was about it. It felt personal, because MY friend died in horrible pain. When I got home from her funeral and learned that my friend Eric had died of AIDS the day before, it just shattered me. That was my first experience with friends dying, and truthfully it royally sucked. It's not supposed to happen when you're that young. You don't... (wait for it)... expect it.

In each of those examples, I felt let down, hurt, and angry. But as upsetting as those events were at the time, I got over them. Broadening the scope outside of my personal experience though, think about any time your favorite political figure, music star, or actor did something that upset you. Tom Cruise comes to mind, so let's use him as an example. As a star, people idolized him, fantasized about him, and at one point in time girls (and some guys) got giddy over possibly seeing him in person. He's famous, which made him more attractive, and people poured a lot of their personal energy into this idealized mental image of what he was like.

The public created a thoughtform for Tom Cruise. Oh, the media and publicists help shape it like they always do, but the public feeds the energy into it. He had a good thing going, until the rumors about him being gay cropped up. Then between marrying Nicole Kidman, publicly announcing his affiliation with the Church of Scientology, saying some nasty things about Brooke Shields and the couch-jumping about his marriage to Katie Holmes, Cruise became a laughingstock.

He failed to continue living up to the expectations of his fans, and now he's spoken of with either ridicule or disdain. The energy shifted in tone and instead of positive, people pour negative energy at him when they bother to at all.

But really, that happens with any celebrity. I'll stop picking on Tom now. Your favorite blogger today may be someone you ridicule tomorrow if you don't like what they have to say.

So let's look at what happens on the etheric level. You like some person or sports team, you decide that they're worthy of your admiration, and you feed them energy. By aligning yourself with them that way, it feels as though you're sharing in the energy of the whole fan base, and it feels good. Their success feeds your ego and makes you happy because you're connected to them on an energy level. Their failures, however, make you upset because then it feels like you fail. You get angry at them for “failing you”, and the positive you fed them becomes negative. We all know that generating negative energy long enough over time becomes toxic, so if you keep it up you wind up poisoning your own aura. At best, you might disassociate yourself from them and break the connection.

But what does that do to them? In the weeks since the Paula Deen scandal started, it looks like she's lost weight and has lines on her face that weren't there before. How much of that is her body reacting to the stress of negative energy blasting at her from the public and/or being starved of the positive energy she's used to receiving? Pick any President, and look at the before and after pictures surrounding their term in office, and you'll see what 4 years in the Oval Office can do to a person. Toxic energy causes harm to us, and to the objects of our focus.  I think it also creates stress in the person we're focused on, which has physically harmful side-effects.

In discussing this subject with friends before writing this post, the following possible solutions to the dilemma were put forth:

  1. Don't form energetic attachments to public figures.
  2. Don't form attachments to anyone in order to avoid disappointment.
  3. Love everyone indiscriminately.

None of those are terribly practical, are they? I think we humans are always going to form attachments to public figures, but we should control how much importance we give them. Let people be human. We can't go through life avoiding all attachments, or we never allow ourselves to love. But we can't love indiscriminately without “bleeding out” on an energy level. I think the best we can do is to be rational about our own feelings of attachment and let other people be human.

If you put someone on a pedestal, it's going to hurt a lot of folks when it comes crashing down.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Worship - It doesn't mean what you think it means


It seems that some people feel that “worship” means bowing and scraping ones forehead on the ground in some slavish humiliation to the gods.

It does not.

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

1 chiefly British : a person of importance —used as a title for various officials (as magistrates and some mayors)
2 reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also: an act of expressing such reverence
3 a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual
4 extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem

And reverence, from the same source:

1 honor or respect felt or shown : deference; especially : profound adoring awed respect
2 a gesture of respect (as a bow)
3 the state of being revered
4 one held in reverence —used as a title for a clergyman

See? There's nothing in there about bowing and scraping, chanting “We're not Worthy”, humiliating yourself, or slitting a goat's throat.

I think some folks in the pagan world see the word “worship” and flash back to something in their Christian past that made them feel less than great, and the word gets a bad rap. Personally, I treat my gods like friends and family (the ones you like) and dedicate acts of kindness and charity to them.

Some hard-core reconstructionists probably won't agree with me, but that's OK. I'm not telling anyone they have to do things my way, or live in accordance with my will. I'm just sharing what works for me, because it works so very well for me.

Worship is a word. A perfectly reasonable word. If you have negative associations with the word, go do some Shadow work, write some spells to help you get over it in your journal, and move on. Just think, when you're done getting over this issue, you have one less thing that pisses you off. Won't that be nice?

Peace out, Witches.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Gods, Heroes, and Violins...

The recent pagan blogosphere explosion over comic book heroes being likened to gods as expressions of the same archetypal ideas is.....

Welll...

Tiresome.

Honestly, it's an old and trite conversation that anyone who's been around the pagan community more than 10 years has heard before, although perhaps not with this much vitriol.  Generally we have these sorts of conversations while trying out someones latest batch of home-brewed mead or something.  It's right up there with the same tired old "what is a pagan, really these days?" conversation that I'm not going to get into.

So here's my thinking on the subject, do with it what you will.

For "cerebral pagans" who intellectualize everything and analyze everything, it's a perfectly fine conversation to have, speculating on parallels.  Anyone can see that in many ways Superman is the Heracles mythos revamped for a more modern era.  Still, it's a fun intellectual exercise, but not really the basis for a serious philosophical approach to the pagan mysteries.

For a hard polytheist, it's a borderline insulting conversation.  Frankly, I can't imagine how ticked off I'd be if I was a hard polytheist who worshiped Thor, seeing the comic books, cartoons, and movies basically making a mockery of my personal deity.  If Christians started seeing Jesus action hero figurines, and Jesus comic books where he's less than perfect, portrayed as having faults, and showed his bare bottom, they'd probably be incensed.  Making a mockery of someone else's sacred and holy god/tradition/thing is just enormously assholic.

If the conversation were a little different, where Superman and the other comic book heroes were likened to heroic archetypes instead of gods, maybe the whole thing wouldn't have gotten quite so explosive.  But I think it's too late to interject a note of reason into the larger conversation stream, unfortunately.  I almost wasn't going to comment on it at all, really.

But on the way home from work tonight, I was listening to National Public Radio as usual, and the most interesting story was running.  It totally made my inner music geek sit up and squee with delight.  Story link is here:  Playing Mozart

In the story, people were talking with excited reverence about seeing, touching, and actually playing Mozart's instruments.  The real deal from the 18th century.  It made me realize that these people, while not worshiping Mozart as a god, were treating his instruments as almost holy relics.  This was literally the high point of some peoples lives, and I don't blame them for their feelings at all.  I mean geez, Mozart touched those!

In the story, there was a comment made that struck a huge nerve with me:  "They're quieter than modern instruments and produce less brilliantly colored tones. They force the audience to lean in to appreciate them."

Maybe we, as a pagan community need to remember that sometimes the louder and more flashy things aren't as precious as something that requires our energy to pay attention to.  Open all of your senses and revel in the glory of a sunrise, the next time you're up that early.  Give your first sip of tea or coffee in the morning all the attention of a devout monk in a cathedral listening to the Pope for the first time, and really enjoy the experience in all of its minute details.  Maybe by living a more reverential life, we can more easily treat each other with reverence.

But what do I know?  I'm just a guy whose first word was "Batman", after all.

Peace out, Witches.

Monday, June 10, 2013

To Dare: Throwing off the shackles of other peoples limits


The title for this blog post is a bit misleading. It doesn't really take courage to reject other peoples limits or expectations, you just have to do it and accept that there may be consequences you can't foresee. You don't have to prove to anyone that you're "pagan enough", because you set your own limits for who and what you should be.  Back in the days of PI (Pre-Internet), when Llewellyn only had a few books out and everyone was trying to struggle through Drawing Down the Moon, if you were lucky enough to find a teacher of Wicca one of the earliest things you learned was the Witch's Pyramid – To Know, To Dare, To Will, To Be Silent. With a heavy emphasis on being silent about what you were learning, who you were learning it with, and what you were doing.

These days, lots of people have broken their old oaths and broadcast everything on the Internet. Well, almost everything... some of us old-timers still have plenty of secrets we don't make public. Unfortunately, the down side to everything being so public and so accessible is that people are learning everything on their own (not always bad), from potentially questionable sources (bad), without any structure or proper monitoring of their energies while learning new psychic and magical skills (potentially awful). Think of it like a weight lifter without a spotter – if your form is wrong or you're lifting too much weight at once, you can seriously injure yourself.  If you were learning to juggle, a smart person would start with tennis balls.  Some people are trying to learn to juggle with swords, and hurt themselves because they don't have the skills yet.

The really big problem I see with this learning model is the complete and utter lack of self-confidence. A lot of self-taught pagans these days haven't done the deeper Shadow work to throw off the mores and expectations of their previous religion. That, my dear readers, is the part that takes courage. Self-examination, objective analysis of your own motivation and patterns, and finding a way to live free of those old patterns. If you're looking to others for your validation, you're looking in all the wrong places. While it's true that in an initiatory Mystery tradition you have to be initiated by someone to really be a part of it, that's not the only valid path in the meandering forest of paganism. Without having someone around to validate what you're learning by teaching you, it takes more work to validate it internally - but it's totally doable with enough internal objectivity.  However if you haven't thrown off the need for validation or example from someone else, you're doing yourself a disservice, and the gods a fair amount of disrespect.

And here's why. Your connection to Deity is YOURS, not someone else's. Oh, a good teacher can help you find the way to build your own connections to the Elementals and the Gods, but in reality you don't always need us for that. If you ignore your birthright to connect to the Mysteries of the Universe, you're basically throwing the gift in the trash. Everyone has that access themselves, if you look deep inside enough and learn to listen without your ego getting in the way. That's what a good teacher is for – to help you find your own power. My happiest moments of teaching in the past have been when my students have realized that their connection and their way of touching the Divine was different from mine, but correct for them.

You're going to have a more difficult time finding and keeping your connection to the Life around you if you haven't let go of old patterns, though. There are many choices other people make with their spiritual practices that I simply don't agree with, and don't or can't understand. But you know what? My opinion doesn't matter, because that's their path. I just hope they're doing what's truly right for them and fulfilling for them in every way, without being damaging.

So become your own role model. Establish your own parameters for what a “good” pagan is, and then figure out how to live up to it. Routinely (at least once a year) re-examine what you're doing and how happy it's making you, to see if you need to tweak something to be happier and more fulfilling. Don't be shy about asking for opinion, but don't take anything someone else says as gospel. See how you feel about it, internalize what works for you and get rid of the rest. Don't be a sheep, be a nice independent goat.

And don't put other pagans up on a pedestal. They're human, just like you are. Celebrate their wisdom as part of the tribe, but don't pretend they're some Catholic saint, because they're not. Expecting them to be is really unfair. I adore Selena Fox, I celebrate the marvelous hard work she's poured into public paganism and the amazing strides she's made for all of us over the decades. That lady totally found her passion and dared to make it a reality. But she's human. She laughs, she gets sad, and I'm sure once in a while she even has moments where she loses her temper, or farts or something. I would love to meet her, and some of the pagan authors I admire, but only because I think we'd have a great time hanging out, not because I think they're going to poof me into some neo-angelic being with their presence.

Am I making any sense, or have I rambled too much? Feel free to comment or leave questions, I'll do my best to answer. Just remember, I'm not perfect and I don't know everything. Just like you.

Peace out, Witches.