Sunday, June 22, 2014

Happy Litha One and All

Today the sun is at its peak. The plants are riotous with growth, and we are already enjoying luscious fresh vegetables and fruits. The animals are playing, mating, birthing, growing. The fervent, unstoppable striving for life of the God as Green Man is at its peak. The Earth herself is fecund, gravid, bringing forth new life over and over again with unimaginable abundance. I wish the blessings of the Gods upon all beings on this day of joy.

Yet as with all things, there is a shadow side to this holiday. As a species, humanity has come so far in its conception of the world. Of life and its meaning. Of our place in the scheme of things. The evolution of our interconnected global village has revealed the amazing variety among human culture. It is accepted as fact that all humans, regardless of race or gender, are human. All sentient, thinking, feeling beings, capable of the full spectrum of emotion and behavior.

But it was not always so, and some people still do not accept this fact. Today I watched a film, "Twelve Years a Slave", which chronicles the experience of a free black man who was kidnapped and enslaved in 1841. Not many minutes had passed before my partner remarked that I would be soon be yelling at the TV. He was right. Mere words cannot express the intolerable choler of rage that filled me. 

I can remember when I first learned about slavery. I didn't take it well. It is no easier for me now, some 30 years later. I didn't understand it then, and I certainly do not understand it now. Oh, on some intellectual level, I can see the outlines of the justification of this behavior. But my heart does not accept this crime against humanity, against the Earth's children, against the Divine.

For we Pagans know the truth of the matter. All beings, whether they be human, animal, plant or mineral - ALL BEINGS CONTAIN THE DIVINE ESSENCE. All beings are constructed of the same energy, and that energy IS the Divine. This is the Spirit which connects us all. Spirit IS all. 

It is important to note that this energy is the building block of the Earth herself. The reality is that this entire planet is a giant organism. Even physicists are catching on to this fact. Go read some Fred Alan Wolf and see what I mean. Environmental educators and pioneers of the field like Thomas Berry, Aldo Leopold, John Muir and Edward Abbey knew this truth. Go read them as well. Some terms are different, but the spirit is the same.

"The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects."
-Thomas Berry

If this is so, then all beings have value. All beings have a right to existence, or at least the chance to exist. All beings deserve dignity and respect. From the lowliest zygote to the mighty mountain, we are all one.

If this is so, then no being can be owned. At least, not in the Westernized conception of ownership. The Earth too cannot be owned. Does the flea own the inch of the elephant's hide on which it resides? No. Instead, we are but stewards and caretakers of a fleeting and ephemeral nature. Even our bodies are worn but for an eye blink. They too, return to the Earth of which they came.

So on this blessed day of Litha, of the Summer Solstice, take a moment to reflect. Take a moment to honor those before us who endured captivity, indentured servitude and slavery. Take a moment to honor the animals who have lost their homes to urban development, who have died in inadequate zoos or from neglectful owners or abandonment. Take a moment to honor those who have fought and died for their belief that things should be different. Take a moment to lend support to those beings who still live with cruelty, exploitation and abuse.

Take a moment to commune with our Mother Earth, who has suffered so much for our evolution, yet who continues to love and provide for us.

Take a moment to look into the shadow, that the light may shine ever more brightly within you and that the beauty which surrounds us this Litha day may become ever more precious. 

Join me, brothers and sisters. Speak up for what is true and right. Stamp out intolerance and cruelty wherever you find it; replace it with compassion and love. Let us shine the light of respect and reverence into every corner of the globe. Let us make each step we take be a prayer.

So mote it be!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Keeping the Faith: Carrying the Flame of Hope in Uncertain Times

I've just read Rewilding Witchcraft, an article posted by Scarlet Imprint. It's a powerful piece about the health of our planet and how that impacts witchcraft, and it has me all roiled up. This post is my response, so it won't fully make sense unless you read the article.

I reject despair. I reject the notion that witchcraft is broken, fading or failing. I reject the notion that our rituals must be a lament for a dying Earth. This article is full of such pain, and for that, the author has my sympathy.

I agree, Earth is at a crisis point. Human beings have had an unimaginably huge impact on the ecosystem. We are beginning to see all sorts of changes as a result. I have been angry and upset about this situation for as long as I can remember. By middle school, I was known as "The Crusader". I circulated endless petitions and spoke passionately to anyone who would listen about the need for environmental restoration and conservation.

But I also found that activism is largely pointless in terms of creating policy change. The US government is inextricably linked with corporate interests. By and large, those corporations are interested in just one thing: making money, at any and all costs to the human population and to our environment. They just don't care that people wave signs. They won't care until the last drop of oil is extracted, and the environmental ruin comes to the gate of their compounds. Or until the group of people demonstrating becomes the majority instead of a vocal minority. Even then, I wouldn't rule out military law.

I don't say this to disparage friends and colleagues who choose to engage in this way. I respect their commitment and their valiant efforts. But I also know that I can't do it anymore. I have an inflated sense of justice, and when I spend my energy in this way, I descend into anger, hatred and despair. That means that I can't do my work. I can't lift others up or open their minds, especially in my environmental education work, with this sorrow eating away at my heart.

I also agree that witchcraft needs to regain its wild roots. That is exactly the work I want to do in the coven I am forming. We need to get out of our living rooms and onto the land. This is no time for esoteric, cerebral ritual. This is a time to get our fingernails dirty, our hair wind snarled and our faces glowing with the kiss of the sun. We need to connect with the spirits of this place, not just give a generic "thanks to the Earth". Ritual thanking plants and animals is hollow if we don't know those plants and animals personally.

But there too…that is my path. It may not be the path for all, and as a fiercely independent person, I can't ethically say that others should do what I do. Not everyone can, for starters. Some of the most powerful spiritual experiences I have had have been on mountaintops or in remote wilderness. Places one can only get to with a lot of physical effort and a minimum of physical impediment. It is not for me to say that other experiences are less valuable, less witchy, less anything. I don't believe that they are, and I resent any implication to that effect.

The article feels disjointed, as if the author is trying to jam disparate concepts together. The land is suffering, yes. But that doesn't mean that witchcraft is broken, or that our spirituality must become something ugly to reflect the pain of the Earth. Nor does every witch bear the responsibility of activism in order to justify their faith. The author seems to be calling for a revolution in witchcraft. A re-imagining of the craft as some some of zombie movie-esque apocalyptic funeral mass. But it also sounds like that is the path of this author. Which is fine. He or she is angry. He or she is full of despair and sadness. Express that. Do as you will. But don't for a second believe you have the right to dismiss the faith of the rest of us.

I refuse to stop honoring the land on which I live. I refuse to stop singing to the Cape Fear River which flows near my home. Are the land and the river impacted by industrialism? Surely. Most of the land here has been cash cropped for generations, producing mostly tobacco and cotton. I have no doubt that the methods used have exhausted the soil and contributed to erosion. The Cape Fear River has been the center of controversy lately because of Duke Power's coal ash contamination.

But must I wail in lament? Must I hold a funerary mass for my dying home? I say no. The Earth is not dying. She will correct Herself, and that may involve exterminating humanity in the long run. But She has been here for untold eons and will remain for eons to come. The Earth as Mother Gaia does not despair. The plants and animals as the Horned Lord simply keep growing. Keep striving for existence. Plants grow up through the cracks of untended cement. The forest returns to barren meadows every chance it gets. Foxes adapt and live in cities. Life never gives up.

This author may do what he or she likes. As for me, I will sing. I will dance. I will celebrate the beauty that still surrounds me. I will live in as ecologically friendly a manner as I can. I will educate others about humanity's true place in the world - a member of the global ecosystem, not as the master of it. I will get wild, be poetic and will never give up hope.

For as long as one person carries the flame of hope, humanity and our capacity for faith, beauty and reverence will never die.

So mote it be!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Initiation & Ordination Countdown

A little over a week from now, I will go through a second degree initiation and a legal ordination. I've been preparing for months, and it has been a very interesting ride.

One personal learning I can share is that for some reason, part of my path is to minister to interfaith and Christian populations. It's tied together with my healing work, in some cases. People come to me and find that I can help them, even though they don't know why or can't explain it with science.

Aside from the healing work, many patients feel safe enough to ask for what can only be described as spiritual counseling. This has happened throughout my life. I'm an empath. People somehow know this, trust me with their secrets and ask for help. I have to wonder about my super conservative Christian clients. Surely they must sense that I'm "different" in some way. Many times, I even wear a pentagram to work. Yet they are not threatened by me and appear to truly value my viewpoint.

This mystifies me.

I'm happy about it, of course. I feel a certain sense of pride and satisfaction about my ability to reach people regardless of their faith. I fervently believe that the way forward for humanity is to acknowledge the validity of all faiths. To focus on our similarities instead of our differences. To come together, rather than continue to be driven apart by belief.

But as a shamanistic witch, this isn't how I envisioned my "ministry". I don't even like to use that word, yet "priestessry" doesn't sound right. I thought I would start a coven and have magical adventures. So far, my compatriots have not yet found me. But such is the spiritual life, eh? We have ideas, but things don't always manifest the way we imagine.

My interfaith Meetup group, South Wake Spiritual Community, is my focus at the moment. We have a core of lovely people who have loyally supported nearly every event. For that, I am eternally grateful. But growth is slow. We just hit our six month anniversary, and we still have less than 50 members. It still doesn't feel like a community to me.

All of which shows that I'm still finding my way as a spiritual leader. I'm okay with that. I have faith that it will manifest in the best way possible for all involved. I'm taking steps each day. I take care of myself and tend my own spiritual practice. I continue to learn. I'm open to opportunity.

Meanwhile, I prepare for the event itself. Along with the ritual, I will be changing my legal name. I'm waiting on one last background report so that I can file the petition with the court. The ring that will symbolize this event has arrived. My ritual tools are all in order. The ritual itself is on its way to completion.

Today I've embarked upon a ritual fast. Due to the nature of my work and body, it's more of a healthy foods week rather than an actual fast. My body can't function without animal protein, and certainly not without solid food. I have done the Master Cleanse and other cleanses/fasts before, but it only works if I lay around. I can't be very active, and the last time I tried it (2010-2011), I didn't make it a whole week before I started to feel dangerously ill and weak. I've learned from my experiences, and combined with my Yogic knowledge, I've come up with a plan.

So here is what my week's "fast" looks like:

  • Egg/kale/carrot bake for breakfast
  • Kitchari for lunch (Ayurvedic healing dish for all body constitutions)
  • Chicken or fish for dinner with plenty of veggies
  • Lots of water
  • Tea - dandelion or turmeric (intent to detox and tone organs)
  • Sugar
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Dairy
  • Red meat
  • Pork
  • Processed foods

The only other preparation I am considering is attire. I'd like to have some new ritual garb to wear. This weekend I spent some time thinking about my preferences and trying to decide. In fact, I may write a whole post about ritual and magical attire. So far, the idea of a zip/snap front white ritual robe with hood and half sleeves is winning out. It doesn't sound that exciting, but it also sounds like the right thing.

It's almost here, it's almost here!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Kenning the Runes

My story with the runes is an amusing one, though I wager some who read this blog can relate. When I was a wee baby pagan, no more than 13 or so, I learned the runes from Uncle Bucky's big blue book and from Doreen Valiente's Witchcraft for Tomorrow. I began to keep my journal written in runes…in
red ink, of course. By 17, I had made my own set of runes for divination. Around age 18, I started a small business making runes, medieval board games, jewelry and leather crafts. The sets of runes I sold were made of oak, and I wood burned the runes into them. Each came with a leather casting mat and a book that I wrote*, printed and hand-bound (see left for my original set).

Back in those days, I had a rudimentary understanding of the runes. I only knew a few of their magical uses, I didn't understand their pantheon (except perhaps Odin and Thor) and I certainly didn't ken (old word for understand/know/grok) their cultural context. This is understandable, if you think about it. Most introductory witchcraft manuals include the runes. But they also generally include very little information about them, usually in a chapter or section about magical alphabets. It's as if these authors are saying "hey guys, here are some really neat ancient alphabets, use these in your magic! Naw, don't worry, all you need to know is what letter they correspond to - go forth and make some magic, whee!"

This is not at all the case. First of all, the runes encompass more than one culture, more than one time period and more than one set of letters. On top of that, they are complex. Each has many levels of meaning that is inextricably linked to the culture that created it, to the other runes and to the deities that they represent. Babywitch Tanaria didn't know any of this. She didn't even know that she didn't know.

In recent years, I've been working to expand my knowledge of the runes. I've been reading. I attended some classes run by local Heathens that were very helpful. Most helpful of all, I'm blessed to be a part of a wonderful, smart study group. This year we're studying the runes in a systematic, disciplined and in-depth fashion.

One of the recommendations in the books we are studying is to put the runes on some type of food and ritually eat them. In this way, we can take the essence of the runes into our being. We decided to do this at one of our meetings, and I volunteered to make the treats for the first aett**. It seems to me that most people put them on cookies or cakes, as pictured on the right.

But I'm a healer, and I just couldn't wrap my head around eating eight sweet treats in one sitting. It didn't seem like a responsible thing to do. So how else could we get these runes into us without sugar? I thought and thought. At length, inspiration hit. Carrot chips and some type of dip. The carrots would provide a nice flat surface for the runes. But how to do it? I thought about carving them in with a knife. Briefly, I considered heating up my runic leather stamps*** and attempting to burn the design into the carrot.

Then I thought, surely I could make a savory frosting! Frosting is usually a base of some fatty or creamy substance. So far, so good. The body of frosting comes from powdered sugar ordinarily, but there must be some substitute. To the intarwebs! And lo. It has been done. I read through a long post on a forum, saw a lot of different methods and resolved to create my own savory frosting.

Behold! Not pictured is a veggie dip that I created and served with them. Read on for the recipe:

Carrot Rune Chips with Savory Frosting & Herbed Veggie Dip

By Tanaria Lightbearer

For the chips:

1 lb. bag of carrots - pick the fattest ones you can find.

For the savory frosting:

8 oz. cream cheese (or neufch√Ętel)
3-4 T. butter
3 T. Korean go chee jang sauce (a sweet hot red pepper paste, add to taste)
A lot of red food coloring (it still turned out salmon colored; I might try beet juice next time)

For the dip:

16 oz. sour cream
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1 package Knorr vegetable recipe mix
1 good handful fresh herbs (I used sweet basil, tarragon and oregano)

  1. Set out cream cheese and butter to soften.
  2. Peel and slice carrots on the diagonal to create big flat surfaces, using the fattest part of the carrots. A mandolin slicer would be great for this. 
  3. Wash and mince fresh herbs. Don't be stingy with these - you generally need more fresh herbs than you would if you were using dried. Pick your favorite combination. This is what I had on hand in the garden and what sounded good to me. It turned out awesome.
  4. Mix sour cream, mayonnaise, Knorr vegetable recipe mix and herbs in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate. (make at least two hours in advance to allow the flavors to develop)
  5. Using a hand mixer, cream together butter, cream cheese, red pepper paste and food coloring. Taste and adjust flavors and colors as needed.
  6. Load frosting into a cake decorating bag with a #2 round tip. 
  7. Spread out carrot chips on a paper towel covered cookie tray. This keeps them from moving around. Pat dry with a clean towel if needed.
  8. Frost the runes on to the carrot chips carefully while chanting the runes. Note that this frosting doesn't hold its shape as well as buttercream or such. Embrace the wabi sabi imperfection of it all. Drink wine to accomplish this if necessary.

Et voila! Eat them in good health, and may this recipe help you further your own studies of the runes.



*Based on research; I was never THAT naive or arrogant.

**Traditionally, the runes are organized in three sets of eight, aka "aett".

***Tandy Leather makes a complete set of rune leather stamps. They are rad! Sadly, I think they have been discontinued.

****Approximation of Gebo and Wunjo; this is sending you all a gift of knowledge in service to the Gods.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Leadership: A New Paradigm

These last few years, I have been stepping more into leadership roles in a variety of contexts. Being the insatiably curious and analytical person that I am, this has made me think about what leadership is and what sort of leader I want to become.

Life experience has shown me many an example of the sort of leader I do NOT want to become. I’ve met them all: crooked bosses, teachers with inferiority complexes, male relatives who think that might=right, power mad martial arts instructors, women with something to prove, hypocritical clergy and any number of leaders who simply can’t or won’t do their jobs.

It’s possible that I learned the most from these people. Most of my professional career has been spent working for companies and corporations, and there, in that pressure-cooker environment, I was forced to deal with my issues around authority.

The hard truth is that when you work for someone else, you are stuck with not only your job and your co-workers, but your leaders as well. It doesn’t matter if they’re good at their job. Most are not, in my experience. Most are more concerned with their next bonus and avoiding blame from those higher on the ladder. It doesn't matter if you like them, or if they like you. You're stuck with them, they're stuck with you, and the wise person makes the best of it.

So there I was; an idealistic Pagan stuck in corporate America. Once called The Crusader, I was now forced to deal with deeply imperfect leaders who often did not care about the right thing to do. People who often created double and triple work due to their ineptitude or rampant egos. People who were more than happy to use my skills and talents, but who rarely rewarded me according to my merit. People who enforced rules for the sake of rules.          

It was then that I learned what leadership is: being willing to make decisions, whether they are good decisions or not.

That’s not the only thing involved in leadership, of course. It helps to have natural charisma and an ability to persuade and relate to people. A sense of responsibility, a willingness to show up – all of these things are part of leadership.

I was also lucky enough to meet some good leaders, both in person and in print. People who showed me that leadership could be more than just “because I told you so”. People who honored their part of the bargain. People who know that it isn’t a weakness to admit ignorance and ask for input.        

Also along the way, I was introduced to a variety of books and seminars about leadership. The corporate world is obsessed with such. Much of it is bunk, to be quite frank. They could rename most every corporate leadership training program thusly: “How to make high profits while only pretending to give a @#?! about your employees to get their best performance out of them”. Despite this, I did learn a lot. The business world is changing, albeit slowly. The paradigm of leadership is evolving, thank Goddess. It’s entirely due to the times and the generations – we’re moving from an authoritarian regime to one that encourages creativity and collaboration.

To learn more about this concept, check out this great infographic I found. Here are some characteristics of the old paradigm of leadership vs. the new paradigm of leadership:

Old Paradigm
  • Controlling
  • Fear 
  • Do as I say, not as I do
  • Lavish or out of balance lifestyle
  • Taking credit for the ideas and work of others
  • Stagnation
  • Blame mentality
  • Passing the buck

New Paradigm
  • Collaborative
  • Inspirational
  • Respect based
  • Mutual accountability
  • Lead by example
  • Acknowledging others' talents
  • Continuing personal and professional growth
  • Solution mentality
  • Taking responsibility

I know what kind of leader I want to be. I want to be the kind of person that people follow because they respect and trust me. The kind of person that people listen to because they know I have something useful, inspiring or important to say. The kind of person who can be counted on to show up, get it done and give a good hug to boot. I think I am that person now, but I know for certain that I’ll continue to strive to be in the years to come, as a healthcare professional, as a community leader and as a priestess.