Monday, May 26, 2014

Lizard Medicine

Yesterday, I was preparing for a party. I needed to put some yard tools away in the barn. As I neared the door, I startled a lizard. Normally, lizards disappear when startled.

This one moved closer to me, on to the glass door of the barn.

I stopped to take a good look at this tiny being. It had tree frog-esque toes, a pale underbelly and a light chartreuse back with a tan/beige stripe all the way down its spine. Neon green ringed its eyes. I could see its lungs moving as it breathed.

It looked back at me.

I settled in to watch. Surely, this creature would scuttle off at my slightest move.

It looked back at me.

I realized somewhere in here that this was yet another visitation by an animal teacher. I have a lot of avian and mammal medicine; not so much reptile or amphibian. What does this mean?

At length, and it could have been as much as five or ten minutes, I had to get moving with the rest of my tasks. I quietly walked through the door, deposited my tools and backed out of the barn.

Closing the inner door would surely startle the lizard, right? Nope.

Looking through the glass at my little friend, I hesitated; should I or should I not disturb it by closing the glass door? Yes. I won't be back, and our guests will be here soon. I close the door.

The lizard looks back at me.

I hear you, little one. Thank you for your teachings. Be well.


Later, I identified the lizard as a Green Anole, latin name Anolis Carolinensis. The males are territorial, and breeding season stretches throughout spring and summer. It is possible that this was a male protecting his territory, or a female protecting her egg. Interestingly, though, I did not observe any of the associated behaviors such as chin bobbing.

The animal medicine of Lizard is about detachment and observation. It encourages us to detach from current issues emotionally and do what must be done.

Also, from the interwebs:

"It’s time to take do an internal audit. Are you being ruled by your ego or are you coming from your heart? Be aware – simply because the ego is the master of deception and you will often have to peel back many layers to get at the truth – and to discover what your heart is really telling you. Take the time to really focus on your personal dreams."

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

In the Most Unlikely of Places: Freecell

If you've never played it, Freecell is a form of solitaire, except all the cards are spread out, face up, in vertical columns. You have four open "cells" at the top, which are used to shift cards around. The goal is the same as solitaire - untangle all 52 cards and pile them up by suit and number, in order.

It’s also a pretty powerful spiritual practice.      

Freecell is teaching me to work with what I have in front of me. The game has many moves, some of which seem like progress, and some that seem like backtracking. It’s not linear. I cannot simply do what I’d like to do. The card I want is buried beneath three cards for which I have no use. I have to deal with a chaotic and seemingly arbitrary jumble. Each tiny step leading me further along my circuitous route…just like life.

Just like real life, there are no jokers, no get out of jail free cards. There’s just raw material and a little bit of wiggle room. You have to shift it around until the chaos is transformed into order. If you fail? That’s it…or you can hit retry. That too, might be like real life, but none of us really know that answer. But back to Freecell.

The game has a certain flow, yet it’s also balanced by longer termed strategy than simply putting a card anywhere it can fit. Looking ahead a few moves, that’s the key. But then, one can easily overbalance in this direction and take on too much. Unbridled ambition doesn’t work in Freecell. It tends to just eat up your free cells and leave you a crucial one move away from perfection.

It’s also showing me how it doesn’t matter if I can see where my step will land. The most unlikely moves can sometimes lead to the most brilliant streak of flowing, easy scores. It seems like such a bad idea, but I have to do something. So I take a chance…and then, eureka!

Freecell reveals my blind spots. I never knew it, but sometimes I am dyslexic with numbers or colors. I think I'm seeing clearly, but the reality is different. How like life, how like Yoga!

Sidebar: a Yoga teacher I studied with recently told me that asana (yoga poses) reveals imbalance and asana corrects imbalance.

Koans everywhere!

Anyhoo. I find that I make a lot of mistakes. I think I’m on a roll, maybe I’m just a wee bit too excited about that fact and BOOM! Saw the color wrong, went too fast or overlooked one crucial thing. At other times, frustration will lead me to act recklessly. 

I also find that I’m capable of some brilliant flow. I get into a fugue state and it becomes effortless. One move leads to the next in a harmonious rhythm. It feels the same as when I'm in an altered state creating artwork, when my martial arts mojo is strong or when I'm paddling well on a river. Flow is a whole other topic…I'll write more about that later.

To sum up, it's helping me:
  1. Use what I have.
  2. Take one step at a time.
  3. Look a few moves ahead.
  4. Balance effort and non-effort.
  5. Learn from blind spots.
  6. Flow.
  7. Trust.
Lately, things have been tumultuous in my life. There is a lot of intensive transformation going on. I have been playing a lot of Freecell, and I've been taking a lot of steps to manifest my dreams. 

Give it a try, and as always, tell me about your experience! Are there any mundane seeming things you use as a spiritual practice?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Online Ritual

For the first time, I held ritual on the internet, via Skype. It was a beautiful thing. This has inspired me now - what can I do with this? How can I use this technique to serve people? How have others been using it? Is this a good idea?

Metaphysically, it seems sound to me on the surface. When we cast a circle, we are creating sacred space that is outside the bounds of ordinary time, place or season. So what matter if the members of that circle are not in the same physical space?

A question I have at this point is whether it worked well because I have a strong connection to the amazing woman I was working with that day. I have known her for years, but I’m not so sure I would want to do this with someone I have not met in physical space.

As a Reiki Master, I know that distance healing can work. I do think that it’s important to have a solid foundation of healing skill and energetic control in order to be effective in this realm. Maintaining a strong focus on the recipient, raising plenty of energy, getting permission – these things are part of what make distance healing work.

Just as in distance ritual, the element of connection is the common thread. But consider – we are all connected. The same Divine energy animates us all. We share communal breath with the entire planet. Even western science, in the discipline of quantum physics, is starting to understand this fact.

In reality, we are all connected all the time. Still though, I think we need to feel the connection in order for ritual energy to build. The structure of ritual builds connection between members in the beginning, through circle casting techniques, chanting, call and response and shared movements. Online ritual can include these same things, though adapted. At this point, I would say that this is even more important in online ritual.

It seems that in theory, online ritual is a feasible practice. So how are others using the internet?

Here is what I have found so far around the intertubes:

Wiccan Online Rituals – an online community that performs online ritual and spellwork. They have a website, email list and chat room.

Chopra Center – the Chopra Center offers guided meditations that are available for purchase or online streaming. This is different than ritual, but another option for using the internet.

Celtic Moon – an online community that also has a core of people in the UK who meet in person. It seems that they have a training circle that holds online ritual, as well as study, divination and magical workings.

Wild Woman Sisterhood – a confederation of women who celebrate the full moon and sisterhood in a non-denominational way. They don’t hold their full moon circles online; instead, they invite everyone to hold a circle in person at the same time.

The Art of Living – the worldwide organization of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, an awesome guru from India. They hold meditations with many people locally, then stream them online for people around the world to participate in.

As a priestess, my biggest focus is on my local community. I mostly work with my interfaith Meetup group, South Wake Spiritual Community. But like most groups, most people join and do not attend events. I wonder if I would have success offering a Friday night meditation?

Also, I know several awesome women who are scattered across the country. And I was recently contacted by a seeker who lives in the Northeast. So it seems to me there are people I could help. People I can reach with the assistance of Skype, Youtube or Vimeo.

What’s your experience with using the internet in your spiritual practice?

Friday, May 9, 2014

2000 Page Views!!!

Whee, my blog has been viewed 2000 times! I began with the intention of writing a blog for my business. Then I realized I really wanted to write about Pagan topics. Lo, this blog was formed.

Thank you for reading and commenting! Subscribe, tell a friend and drop me a line. I'd love to hear from you!

*snoopy dance*

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Justice: A Pagan Perspective

What is justice in a faith with no central authority? We have no one Book to live by. We have no Pope, no hierarchy of clergy. If justice comes from divine command, how do we Pagans hear that command? How do we decide as a group what is just? DO we decide as a group?

Earlier, I wrote about honor. Part of honor is considering what is just in a particular situation. Before we can act honorably, we have to first understand the concept of justice, then learn how to apply it in our lives.

The problem with justice is that historically, conceptions of justice have differed widely through time and by culture. So even as a so-called cardinal virtue, it is hard to pin down. At various times, conceptions of justice have been based upon divine command, natural law, brute force, desirable consequences, and occasionally, by consensus.

The dictionary doesn't have much to say about justice, defining it as "the quality of being just, impartial, or fair". Thanks, Websters! Several more sources talk about a court system. The majority of definitions are recursive; they have the word "just" or "justice" in them.

The synonyms are more illuminating: fairness, justness, fair play, fair-mindedness, equity, evenhandedness, impartiality, objectivity, neutrality, disinterestedness, honesty, righteousness, morals, morality (source: Google).

There are a couple of common themes among all this diversity: consideration of the needs of the group and basic morals.

Here's where I think Contemporary Paganism* can shine: we are encouraged to look within and know ourselves. When we do this, and truly confront our issues, examine our biases and learn about other people, other cultures, and gain a reasonable perspective of the world's history and humanity's place in it...justice is something you feel.

Forming a personal sense of justice can thus be said to consist of:

• Self-study
• Sorting out personal baggage
• Broad knowledge of peoples and culture
• Understanding of history & the role of humanity in it

What I'm proposing, essentially, is that any mature, reasonably self-aware person with a basic education ought to be able to feel what is right and what is wrong.

Contemporary Paganism also facilitates direct experience. In my humble opinion, it's hard to harbor too many crazy beliefs, or to stomach injustice, when one has directly communed with or experienced the Divine.

I'm not a big fan of divine command as a system of morality, because that implies specific information that has been written down, interpreted, re-interpreted ad infinitum and crystallized into dogma. And let's be real: when we talk about divine command as a system of thought, we are generally referring to some form of Judeo-Christianity**.

No offense meant, truly: but some of those ideas are real stinkers. There is no way I will ever agree with a system that devalues half of the population due to gender, another chunk for their sexual orientation, followers of every other religion, and possibly others due to ethnic background.

Having said that, most religions do have in common a loving, creative deity and/or divine force. Certainly, my experience supports this viewpoint. And being in tune with that force is to value things like harmony, equality, fairness...wait a minute. We're back to synonyms for justice again.

Lastly, Contemporary Paganism is in itself a model for justice as a means to serve the needs of a group. Our population is incredibly diverse. Most of us are minorities in some way, whether it be our lifestyle, sexual orientation, gender identity or just by virtue of being followers of a non-mainstream religious path. We believe in magic. We live in harmony with the Earth. We tend to be, well, a bit colorful. As a result, our community is extremely tolerant. No matter how fringe-y, no matter how strange, we’re all part of the circle in the Pagan community.

Self-study, self-awareness, a healthy perspective on the world and other cultures, tolerance, direct experience - these are things that Contemporary Paganism can add to the conversation about justice.

But what is our common ground of morality? The Rede is common – “so long as it harms none, do as you will”. The Threefold Law or Universal Law of Attraction is another widespread idea – that which you put out returns to you, often magnified. The Asatru path puts a lot of value on honor, keeping one’s oaths and family. Druids get philosophical about morality, questioning and considering what amounts to a way of balance, much like the Middle Way of Buddhism.

Think about it. What do you consider just? What is right? What is wrong? Do you think it’s all relative? How should we go about deciding what justice means as the Pagan community?

I propose that we come together. At conferences, at workshops, at rituals, at Pagan Pride Days, on your blogs and in forums. Let’s talk about it. Over coffee, tea or green smoothies, let’s hash it out.

Recently, I read a moving book by Starhawk – The Fifth Sacred Thing. She’s created a society that is so very beautiful a vision. It's a dream of what could be...a society in which the needs of the Earth, including the land and waters, animals and plants, is taken into account along with the needs of human beings. A society in which all races, cultures and religions are honored. Just go read it.

Check in with your heart. Go to the quiet, still place within and listen. In there, we know what is right and what is wrong. Feel it.

*Buddhism, gnosticism, hermeticism and other such paths as well
**And we in this context would be philosophical academics, most likely.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Happy Beltane!

Spring Maiden Invocation
by Blayze

From the bower of the green earth we call thee
Maiden of the spring stars,
Virgin moon and reflected sun,
The power of growth is within thee.

Virgin queen we call forth thy dance
Upon the green hills and fields,
Flowers bloom beneath thy feet
And thy crown is woven of blossoms, wild and free.

Thou art the cauldron of rebirth whose waters
Quench the thirst that lies between winter and summer,
Shimmering between night and day.

Maiden we call to thee,
Let the saps rise and the buds unfurl.
Maiden of spring we invoke thee!

Medicine Shields

Medicine shields are used by shamanic practitioners to represent their spiritual protection and their essential self, or their medicine, as indigenous peoples would say. It can be a literal shield suitable for carrying in to battle, or more of a spiritual representation that can be displayed on an altar. This tool is infinitely varied because of the extremely personal nature of it. In general, people will paint or otherwise represent power animals and any other spirit guides that they work with on a round plaque or animal hide stretched on a hoop frame.

Witchcraft is a form of shamanism, and it uses ritual tools as well. Generally, the pentacle or peyton represents the element of Earth, and has protective connotations. To me, it seems logical that the medicine shield is equivalent.

Native tradition tells us that seekers should go on a vision quest and pray to their guides, ancestors and allies, then create the shield themselves based on their vision. I agree with this. How can anyone else truly understand what this shield needs to look like? Also, I personally think there is a lot of power in obtaining materials to make the shield from the natural world and through magical means.

Right now, I'm constructing a shield for myself. As a recovering empath exercising hard-won boundary skills, I'm at a place where I need to manifest my spiritual team and protection system in material form. It's the first time I've really had a team, or felt supported and protected.

I began my shield at the Earthskills Gathering, with a woods wander that netted me a flexible hawthorn branch. I formed it into an egg shaped hoop. I have some lovely turquoise suede which will be laced on to the frame.

My rough draft of the skin began with my personal symbol in the middle. I wanted some way to divide the shield into quarters, to represent the four directions. My power animals corresponding with the elements would be in the appropriate direction. Then I was going to hang some feathers, mirrors, crystals, etc. on the bottom of the frame.

At this point I got bogged down. I couldn't get my animal designs to look like they do with my inner vision. It wasn't flowing.

Then, in typical synchronistic fashion, my bestie gave me a stag's head pendant. Immediately I flashed to the idea of attaching it to the shield. This led me to consider adding something similar for the other animals. But one or more of them would be nearly impossible to find.

Stuck again.

Then it hit me - animal guides are only one component of my spiritual team. What if I took this more top level and added items to represent my other sources of support? Namely, ancestry, my faith, community, family and spiritual allies. I'd initially had a vague idea of representing these entities, but hadn't decided where to put them.

Suddenly it was flowing again. Turns out that I have spare beads, parts from broken jewelry and pendants I never wear that can work for each group/entity. Best of all, this means that nearly all of the materials in this shield will be ones that I gathered from nature or have personal connections with. Some were gifts. Some items I have had for many years. This is just the sort of "magical means" of
acquisition that add so much power to our tools.

Call me old fashioned, but I believe that making or at least personalizing your own ritual tools gives them much more power and meaning. The proliferation of spiritual and Pagan supply shops is a double edged sword in this regard. On the one hand, some things are difficult to make without specialized skills or equipment. On the other, it can make us lazy and overly attached to fancy material items. Having that finely crafted etched crystal goblet to use for your chalice in no way makes you a better or more powerful practitioner.

To me, nothing store bought beats the feeling of rightness that comes from birthing a personal ritual tool. Going through the process of inspiration, imagination, design, limitations of tools/skills, re-design, intentional crafting and eventual perfect imperfection...this is how the tool comes alive. This is how it becomes tuned to my energy, my intent, my lessons, my needs.

The act of constructing these items is one of the ways in which I practice devotion. Many are the late nights I have spent hunched over my workbench, manifesting my vision in full-on altered ritual consciousness. Sometimes I even remember to cast a circle. Mostly though, being caught up in one of these projects is like having a sore tooth, or poison ivy. It nags at me, occupies my mind and won't let me get a moment's rest until I get it done.

Tonight, I breathe deeply and trust in the Divine. I let go and allow this process to flow. Blessed be!

NOTE: All of the images in this post are examples pulled from the web.