Saturday, July 19, 2014

Post Ordination Fallout

Before my ordination, my colleagues told me that it's a life-changing process, and one that often involves huge life changes, meltdowns, crises, breakups, etc. After the ordination, I felt great on an emotional and spiritual level. I felt clearer, more committed, freer, different and yet more myself than ever. I thought that was all that would happen for me.

Alas no. It's happening to me right now. Currently, I'm unexpectedly single and homeless without enough income to support myself independently. I'm calling on the Gods for help. I'm leaning on the support of my community. I'm submitting resumes left and right. I'm putting out the call - I need a part-time job and a place to live (housesitting, roommate, etc).

It's terrifying. Never before have I been in so precarious a situation. I've worked so hard to build my new career in the last four years. I've worked equally hard to get more education to support that career. I've also worked just as hard at healing myself and putting my tumultuous, tragic past to rest. I simply can't throw away all that work and quit all my self-employment activities. That's a sacrifice I'm not currently willing to make. 

Of course, when it comes right down to it, I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get my life back on track. I must believe, though, that this can manifest in a way that allows me to keep practicing massage, teaching and priestessing. To keep building my professional network and reputation. To keep manifesting the life of my dreams:

I dream of having a home with a lot of land. I dream of creating an intentional community, educational and healing center. I dream of that community producing as much of what we need to sustain our lives as we can. I dream of living a sustainable life in stewardship of our land. I dream of us supporting and sheltering artists, musicians and writers. I dream of sharing my gifts with people who visit our center - teaching, doing healing work, taking people on trips, hosting retreats, holding ceremonies, honoring the spirits of place, creating a sacred sanctuary and mystery school. I dream of traveling around the country and around the world teaching and inspiring others to reach THEIR own potential and manifest THEIR own dreams. 

I dream of having a supportive, positive, respectful and fun community around me. I dream of having healthy relationships (platonic, familial and romantic) with mutual sharing, supporting, loving and growing. I dream of one day waking up to know that I am well and truly SAFE and HOME. To feel that I belong somewhere, to feel that I am doing my true work, to feel that what I do matters.

Truly, I have some of these things already. I have met many wonderful people who make my life a richer, more beautiful experience. All of my current work is my true work. 

But not everything is wine and roses for me, just like everyone else. Some awful things from my past are still a problem. My awesome career still isn't profitable yet. This last romantic relationship will take some time to process and recover from. I have no home.

In 2010, I sacrificed my material security on the altar of personal need and desire. I simply could not see the way out of a life that no longer fit me. I had spent several years trying to decide what I wanted, how to change, what to do…to no avail. I quit my corporate job, packed my truck full of backpacking gear and put the rest of my possessions in storage. I drove across the country, leaving my beloved Colorado behind. I returned to North Carolina, greeted friends and family, then embarked on a literal walkabout on the Appalachian Trail.

Two months later, my knees gave out. I returned to Raleigh to do some physical therapy. I did that, but I never did get back on the trail. I ended up staying here to go to school and re-launch my career as an entrepreneur. Along the way, massive amounts of unplanned but vitally necessary self-healing occurred. It's been messy, difficult, awesome and a wild adventure.

Right now, there's only a few things that I know for certain:

  1. I have worked too hard to make this life change to give up on my dreams.
  2. I will only expend my energy on people who treat me with courtesy and respect.
  3. The Universe is supporting me in this change.
  4. Every day, I take steps to get my life in order.

Blessings, positive energy, gifts of light, monetary donations and any other type of support appreciated. Posts will be minimal while I get through this transition. Your support and understanding mean the world to me!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

3000 Blog Visitors

Rattle, Roar & Ritual has passed the 3,000 visitors mark! I am so grateful to have this outlet for my thoughts, opinions and ideas about spirituality. It is helping me transform and move into the next phase of my life. It is my sincere hope that my posts are helpful, amusing or inspiring to you in some way. Thank you for reading and commenting!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ethical Symbolism

A lot of Pagans begin their journey as solitaries, with books. I was sort of in that category myself. Actually, I had a ritual partner who was at the same point in the journey, and we did support each other quite a bit. But having said that, I mostly studied books on my own at first.

In most Pagan 101 books, a brief section is devoted to symbolism. Allow me to generalize and give you a summary:

"Hey guys, symbols are great and powerful - you should use them! Here are a few lists of magical alphabets and other mysterious symbols from around the world. Naw, don't worry, you're a baby witch, WHAT COULD GO WRONG?! You can use symbols in spells, write your Book of Shadows in a secret alphabet, make sigils and create talismans. Oh, and mark all your most personal ritual tools with these things, too! Yay symbols!"

At the time, I didn't think too much about it. But on the other hand, I didn't use any symbol that I didn't really understand or with which I had no cultural connection. I also didn't think too much about my avoidance of these things…in retrospect, it really was intuition. Thanks be to the Goddess for which, by the by!

Here's the thing: there is a big divide in opinions about symbolism. Some people are of the opinion that symbols only have what power we give them. Others believe that the symbol itself becomes imbued with energy accumulated by past usage of that symbol by many people.

I personally fall into the second camp. I think that symbols speak to us on the deepest levels of our being, and that powerful symbols become so to the degree that they do so. That's a mouthful. Let's show that in another way:

Symbol--->Evokes powerful emotion/transformation--->Symbol gets used by many people=Powerful Symbol

So what is this mysterious energy that imbues symbols? I believe that it's the residue of the ritual energy of the many human beings who have used the symbol, and that it is stored in the Akashic Records, aka the collective unconscious. So you could say that symbols are sub-language keys to universal wisdom.

Pretty heavy, right? I also think symbols deserve a bit more than a tiny section in an overview book.
Now, I understand the challenges that authors face. There is a lot to know when embarking on a study of magic, and space is limited. I'm certainly not targeting any particular author or book (above image of symbols is just an example). I get it. But it's also fairly irresponsible to write a book aimed at complete newbies wherein you tell them to use symbols without explaining why.

This same principle applies to Pagan clergy, ritual leaders, teachers and mentors. I've run across plenty of people who teach a particular technique, belief or usage of symbolism who say "do it this way". When asked why, their answer is sometimes "because I said so". They may embroider that answer with all sorts of comely clothing, much of which preys upon the insecurities of those new and uncertain of their path.

I propose that we use some ethics and common sense when choosing symbols to incorporate into our magical work. Take the time to find out where the symbol came from. If you don't know about that culture, time period, tradition, learn about it. Learn about what the symbol represents, and if possible, how it was used. Try to find out when it was used, and when it was not. It may also help to know who used the symbol (clergy, laypeople, men, women, etc). You may not find answers to all of these questions, but they are a good checklist to keep in mind.

Clergy, teachers and mentors, use the Campsite Rule as it applies to baby Pagans (with thanks to Dan Savage; if you don't know his work, go read Savage Love immediately):

"In a relationship/interaction with a large age, power and/or experience gap, the older partner/more experienced partner has the responsibility to leave the younger/less experienced partner in at least as good a state (mentally, emotionally and physically) as before the relationship/interaction. The campsite rule includes things like leaving the younger/less experienced partner with no brainwashing, no unwanted guru worship, and not overburdening them with your own opinions/baggage." *

If you are learning from someone else, cultivate a "Spiritual BS meter". Any of the following scenarios may mean a red flag:

  • Answers are phrased in a way that demeans you.
  • The answer is "because I said so" on a consistent basis.
  • Consistently tells you that what you think you know is wrong.
  • Symbols are secret knowledge that you have to bow & scrape/pass unseemly hazing rituals/pay outrageous amounts of money to obtain.
  • Only your teacher/guru/HP/book knows the REAL meaning. Everything else in the outside world is wrong or deceptive.
  • Your teacher/guru/HP can use the symbols however they want, but you can't. (note: this is not an excuse to avoid proper research, learning and preparation of your own)
  • Never says "I don't know".
Seekers, use critical thinking skills to do your own research. Taking this extra time will help you understand the context in which the symbol was originally used. It shows respect to the culture or tradition from which the symbol came. It makes your ritual work safer, and if I'm wrong about stored power, you still become more informed.

Everybody - try it for yourself. Meditate with symbols and see what impressions and feelings come up. Use symbols in rituals, spells, sigil and talisman construction. Become really familiar with them, and record your results. Remember, Contemporary Paganism is a living system, and you get what you give. Do the work - it's worth it!

*Slightly modified to fit this context, changes mine

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ritual Attire

The power of symbols, ritual tools, jewelry, masks and clothing is well known among all types of practitioners of magic. When we alter our appearance, it helps us to alter our consciousness in preparation for ritual or magical work. As we grow in experience, we learn that these things are not necessary. We are able to make magic in out in public, with no tools, and in our everyday clothing.

Ritual clothing, in particular, serves another function as well. In addition to helping to alter our own state of consciousness, it also affects the people around us. When we assume a leadership role, whether it be in teaching, leading ritual or providing spiritual services, it helps when we pay attention to our image. Like it or lump it, human beings care about and respond to how we look.

Pagans are pretty accepting – we don’t expect you to look like some Californian mass-media ideal of beauty. But presenting yourself well is still valuable. Take the time to bathe, apply scented oils, arrange your hair, put on spiritual jewelry and wear attractive clothing. Of course adjust this list to what fits you; the goal is to show through your appearance that you care for yourself. Practicing good posture helps too. People will have more confidence in you and give more weight to your words.

Contemporary Paganism being an ever-evolving community, we have a lot of options. We can use scholarship to look to the past and recreate what might have been. Others choose to wear some form of Christian-esque vestments (def: a robe of ceremony or office), which seems pretty smart, considering that most Americans are raised with some form of Christianity and thus automatically associate those types of garments with spiritual authority. Some go with the ubiquitous hooded robe common among witches and Druids. Yet others choose historical garments from the culture of their pantheon (for example, Heathens who wear Norse-style t-tunics).
In my opinion, what’s important is finding your own authentic image. Find something that speaks to your soul and makes you feel powerful, beautiful and sacred. Note my usage of the word authentic. It’s important to be aware of the trap that image-consciousness can create: it can be a way to get stuck with excessive ego or caught up in fantastical delusions. Keep it real, gang.

So as an Ordained Priestess, a shaman, a Yoga and martial arts teacher, what do I wear? Good question. That’s really a project in process. I’ve been through a lot of image evolutions in my mundane and spiritual life. You can really see the progress of my personal and spiritual development in those changes. Thank Goddess my close friends are supportive, that’s all I can say.

Early in my pagan career, I started with an undyed cotton robe based on a choir robe pattern. I still have it in storage, and I don’t feel beautiful when I wear it. I do feel humble and earthy, which feelings have their time and place. If I had had it with me, I would likely have worn it to my recent initiation, for example. A couple of winters ago, I made myself a righteous animal print fake fur ritual robe. I seriously love this robe. It is SO warm and I feel really good wearing it, both for witchy and shamanic pursuits. Protip: include fur-lined pockets.Trust me on this. Decadent!

In my last post, I tell the story of how I chose my new vestments. I ended up settling on garments that are traditional in India: salwar kameez and dupatta. Salwar are loose pajama pants, while the kameez is a long tunic (aka the kurta, which really refers to the men’s long tunic). The dupatta is a scarf, similar to what many Americans would know as a pashmina. See left for an example. I’m planning to make my own, because I enjoy sewing. I will likely make mine from cotton in bright colors.

What I like about this Indian-style garb is that it’s feminine, functional and street-friendly. I love a ritual robe, but I’m a very embodied person. I might feel the need to do some Yoga at a moment’s notice, get my groove on with some ecstatic dancing or bust out a headstand - all of which is awfully hard to do in a robe. At the same time, these clothes make me feel beautiful and connected to the Divine. It honors my spiritual foundations in Yoga. It also allows me to be out in public without getting too many stares.

I can also wear salwar kameez to Yoga class. I could even choose to wear the tunic with regular yoga pants. I have been struggling for some time to find my look for teaching Yoga. My Yoga teacher training taught us to wear something neutral, simple and professional so that our students focus on the teaching, not on us.

This bores me to tears and makes me sad. While from a business perspective, I’d like to reach as many people as I can…I’m just not willing to be bland. I don’t think that people really want boring Yoga teachers. Why come out of the house for someone who blends into the carefully neutral, calming studio walls? I personally want someone colorful, lively and inspiring – someone who has something interesting and different to offer. No offense, but I have had my fill of tall, slim, anemic, vegetarian and deadly earnest Yoga teachers. YAWN.

On the shamanic/woodsy side of things, I have a colorful history with what I have worn. There were a lot of broomstick skirts and gypsy sort of things for a while. I also purloined my mother’s hippie clothes from the 70’s. Thank Goddess no pictures remain of the handmade deerskin vest, loincloth and knee-high sandals of my teenage years. Egads. My tastes these days are more in the medieval woodswoman/mountain woman range. Yes, I too made myself a hat from an animal skin, with the bobcat’s face on the front of my head. Sorry, vegans -it's a shaman thing!

Since I’m a huntress and devotee of Artemis and the Horned One, my plan currently is to tan the next deerskins I take and make a pair of breeches and a jerkin (basically a long vest). Maybe a hood, we’ll see. With that I’ll wear the set of knee high moccasins (with fur, beads and a hidden knife sheath) that I’m working to finish up by this fall. That means I’ll have to finish up the fancy leather gun belt I’ve been planning for years…with a pistol on one side and my antique Bowie knife on the other.  

Ah, did I not mention my warrior side? Yeah, that’s a part of me as well. Training students in martial arts again is another thing on my list, and it too requires a uniform. A simple black gi (think karate uniform) and the black belt passed on to me by my sensei will do for that. On warm days, I created a t-shirt design for me and the class to wear with gi pants. No trouble there.

So, to sum up: examine who you are and what you do. Choose ritual, spiritual and liturgical clothing accordingly. Look well groomed and put together. Embrace your own power. Be awesome. Don’t let anyone dim your light and ROCK ON. You know I will!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ordination Report

I've been struggling with what to say about last week's initiation and ordination. Like many practitioners, I don't like to speak too much of magical work. But I also feel compelled to talk about this pivotal experience. So here we go!

My fast didn't go well at all. Kitchari did not give me enough energy to get through the day, and the whole thing fell apart. It seems that a week-long fast is not in the cards for me these days, unless that fast includes animal protein at lunchtime. I can get away with eggs and vegetables for breakfast, but a full day of massage means a full lunch or I melt down. I also ended up eating red meat for dinner - probably because I hadn't gotten enough calories and protein earlier in the day. After some soul searching, I decided to simply accept the demands of my body. Instead of restricting what I ate so rigidly, I focused on eating mindfully. I blessed each meal and took time to honor the Divine and feel gratitude.

I didn't have time to make a new ritual robe. I probably could have done it if I had a sewing machine at home, but going to a friend's house to work just didn't fit into the ol' calendar. Instead, I ended up with the perfect set of vestments for me, in typically synchronistic fashion.

A while ago, a friend of mine from India gave me a white kurta, which is a knee length cotton tunic with lovely white embroidery around the neckline. I've never worn it. It hung in my closet awaiting some special occasion. Meanwhile, back in yoga teacher training, we talked about clothing to wear while teaching. In the Yoga tradition, all white was the traditional color to wear.  My teachers and colleagues said they thought I ought to do it; that it would look good on me, etc.

That was nearly a year ago, and I've been searching for white yoga clothes ever since. It's a little tricky for me, being busty and swarthy as I am. Hello, mediterranean heritage! So far, I have found a white sports bra and a white camisole. I never really thought of wearing the kurta with it. In my head, I was looking for "some kind of white overshirt", but I never connected the dots to what was already in my closet.

As I prepared for this initiation, I thought of wearing a white robe. At some point, it occurred to me: why not wear a white yoga-style outfit? I could wear my kurta! So I did. I found some random knit capri pants, which I didn't really like, but got me through the night. I put on my white sports bra, the camisole and the kurta.

It felt right. Yoga is a big part of my spirituality, though I don't often think of it that way. But for me, it truly is the foundation of my practice. It's been a presence throughout my entire life, and it's how I was introduced to mindfulness, meditation, self-awareness and so many other things. In a way, it's like air. You never think about it, but you are breathing it all the time. This was a lovely way to honor that part of my life, and I feel very comfortable in those clothes to boot.

The day of my initiation was somewhat of a disaster. I took the entire day off, put my email on auto-respond and my phone on vibrate. It was supposed to be this restful, meditative day. Instead, every single thing was a trial. I had to run errands in the morning. I forgot a doctor's appointment and had to go over there in a hurry. I didn't get home until noon, and then I remembered I was supposed to be at a massage appointment at 4! And the cupcakes still needed to be baked! And what about my ritual bath?! Aaaaagghhhhh!!!

The ritual bath turned into a shower with chanting. The cupcakes got packed up and put in the truck unfrosted. I scrambled up to my massage and that too was a trial, but I soldiered on. Luckily, my best friend let me come over and use his kitchen to frost the cupcakes. This was a blessing in disguise as I then got hugs and congratulations from this very important person in my life.

Finally I got there and my High Priestess gave me this look. She knew exactly what was going on. I smiled and told her that I got a lesson in priestesshood: we have to do it in the midst of everyday chaos. She just nodded, full of understanding.

The ritual was lovely. My HP surprised me by including references to my shamanic journey in addition to my journey as a witch. I was truly overwhelmed by the love and support in the room. I feel so blessed to have found these women. They show me what love and support is supposed to feel like and I am so grateful.

My ordination with the Universal Life Church was much more prosaic: just a matter of a few mouse clicks. Now, the ULC doesn't necessarily have the best reputation. They will take anyone, and they do not require any type of training. Literally anyone over 13 can become a minister in their church.

But for someone like me, it's perfect. I have been studying for this all my life. I don't need further training to call myself a priestess. The ULC is interfaith - and my public work right at this moment is interfaith. The UFC also expressly does not require one to "kiss the ring", as it were. I don't do authoritarian structures well. A benevolent, accepting umbrella organization? Yes, thank you!

It also turns out that the ULC was started right here in NC, by a Christian minister who believed in religious freedom including freedom FROM religion. I love these words from their mission:

"We further proclaim that "We are all Children of the same Universe" and as such we each have a right to be here. Thus said, that is the way that your God and Mother Nature planned it."

Now that's something I can get behind.

So now it's a week later. The dust is beginning to settle. I've made my announcement about the event to friends and clients. Folks have teasingly called me "Reverend Tanaria". This amuses me. I will call myself an Ordained Priestess. I don't have a ministry, I have a priestessry. Sure it's weird, but so what? So am I!

In service to the Gods, I continue to serve all seekers who come to me with honest yearning for truth in their hearts, no matter what their path. Truly, this has always been my path. Now it's official.

Blessed be!