Thursday, December 8, 2016

To Know...

The Pagan Experience - To Know – To Will – To Dare and To Be Silent - These Four together are known as The Four Powers of the Sphinx and the Witch’s Pyramid. But, they are not limited to a specific spiritual path and show up in varying forms and combinations within all spiritual truths. So, holding the intention of exploring more deeply what these concepts mean to you, this month our focus is: To Be Silent. Use this month’s writing to dig a little deeper into what this topic means to you, both at the levels of the mundane and the spiritual…….

The common view of the witches pyramid puts 'To Be Silent' in association with the element of Earth. In my tradition and personal viewpoint, Earth is about embodiment - 'To Know'.

One of the benefits of aging for me is clarity. As I get older, I am beginning to see my life more clearly - what it has really been about and what it all means. It's been quite a journey so far, with many twists and turns, ups and downs, periods of beauty and heartbreak.

I'm on the brink of entering my 40th year. Four decades of adventure on this Earthwalk, and things are indeed becoming clear to me. I began my life on a homestead in upstate NY. We raised a good bit of our own food, hunted for more, and bought the rest from local farmers or an organic co-op. As a family, we spent a lot of time outdoors, hiking, camping, foraging for wild edibles and medicinals, and working in our garden. 

As I grew up, outdoor adventures continued in NC and NY. I became a competent paddler, sailor, and navigator with map and compass. I hiked uncountable miles, and taught myself backpacking. I cut my teeth on mountains (and caught mountain fever), forests, rivers, and the ocean. This part of my life was all about school, growing up, and survival.

Then I moved west to CO, and the adventures continued. Now I had a chance to learn about high altitude and alpine terrain - a habitat which felt deeply familiar and right to me. I got into rock climbing, mountaineering, mountain biking, and whitewater kayaking. A lot of my energy during this time was spent on various martial arts. I was training heavily in empty hand styles, as well as Renaissance fencing and archery. This part of my life was about study and becoming a functional human being.

Somewhere during my time in CO, I got lost. I was working at a corporate job, and it was a great one. I learned a lot and made a lot of friends. I attended college for a while during this time. But I longed to live in the mountains, and to do my true work in the world. For several years, I thought and thought, but I couldn't figure out how to get from where I was to where I wanted to go.

I hit a real crisis point, and I decided to make a bold move: to go on walkabout. I planned an expedition to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. I figured that this quiet time in nature would help me think things through, and I would figure out "what to do with my life".

That decision was the turning point in my life so far. While I only hiked half of the AT, the journey was far from over. I spent the next five years studying, building credentials in Yoga, spiritual leadership, and environmental education. I continued to have outdoor adventures, most notably flatwater paddling, which was fairly new to me. This part of my life, as it turns out, was about leadership and community building.

This year, as many of you know, I made another bold move: I retired from massage therapy and became a full-time travelling educator. It was terrifying to contemplate, but it turned out to be *exactly* what I needed on all levels of my being. It's been a tough year in many ways, but also an amazing and transformative one.

All of which I tell you so that I can share what I've learned, and what I know right now.

Here it is: 

  • Magic works. What you call it doesn't matter: just use your will to shape your reality.
  • The Universe WILL support you.
  • You get a lot more support when you do what you really love.
  • Most things will happen at the last minute, like that job offer you need, or the money to pay an emergency bill, etc.
  • The best stuff lies hidden behind a wall of fear.
  • Nature is the best medicine.
  • One must walk the walk in addition to talking the talk.
  • Be vulnerable and ask for help.
  • People are what give life meaning.
  • I am an introvert. Introverts can be very social, but need alone time to recharge.
  • It's ok for your life to be messy.
  • All of our seemingly unconnected skills, no matter how obsolete or odd, can come in handy.
  • Always be grateful. Gratitude is the gateway to abundance.
  • Everything good comes through networking, so cultivate your relationships carefully. 
  • It's necessary to take the next step without knowing where your foot will land.

There have been many, many articles written about manifestation aka magic, and the power to transform one's life. This one is mine. Do it, it works. Things have a wiggly, unpredictable, and indirect way of manifesting at times, but they happen. Take the risk, be willing to be vulnerable, and you will be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams.

The process of magic starts with Air - we get inspired and dare to dream a different reality. Then we move to Fire, where we use our will to begin manifesting our desire. We take a break, so to speak, with Water, where we reflect and allow the whole working to "cook". With Earth, we walk the walk. In our physical space, we act as if our desire is already manifest. We tune our vibration to the vibration we seek to attract. We become that which we seek. Thus, the knowledge of what we seek begins to grow within us.

What I know is that information becomes knowledge. Knowledge with practice and reflection becomes embodied, and this becomes wisdom. That means that it infuses all levels of our being - body, mind, and spirit. This is the lesson of Earth for me, at this time in my life. The Earth will support my growth and learning. It will shelter me, love me, and inspire me. I can manifest my dreams on this Earth. All I have to do is practice, to walk the path, and to be that which I seek. This is what I know.

What I know, deeply and to the core of my being, is that this is the way for me. To envision new adventures, to manifest them through my will, to leap into the unknown. To face my fears and achieve more than I ever dreamed. To continue to learn, grow, and evolve. To trust that Goddess/God/Great Mystery, ancestors, animal totems, and spirit allies have my back. This is my way. This is what I know.

My life has come full circle. My love of nature has been a strong thread throughout my life, and now, it's how I make my living. I also get to use all of my varied, wacky, and in some cases, obsolete skills. I am blessed with a beautiful group of friends, some of whom are my chosen family. I work with many positive, inspiring, and talented human beings. I'm finding more and more of my tribe all the time. It's a beautiful, terrifying, magical, and crazy journey. It's messy at times. I do the best I can, and most importantly, I keep step at a time. May you do the same.

Hail Earth, our bountiful and loving home! Hail the inner knowing of true embodiment that is our strength! Namaste. Blessed be. Naho!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

We Are Stronger Together

As a spiritual group, the Clan has no position on current events except this:

In order for the governmental process to work, we must remember that we are all related. Life is precious. Be respectful of others, *especially* when you disagree with them. Work toward the future in which you wish to live.

For empaths and other citizens who are upset by the election results or the unrest in our nation, remember that you are not alone. It's ok to feel all the feelings right now. Be present, feel what you feel, and send it to the Earth for recycling. Stick together with those you love.

Join me tonight and every night this week at 9p EST for a distance meditation. My intent is to hold space for our nation in turmoil, to be together, and to offer this mantra to the world:

"Om lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu."

May all beings be blessed, may my life serve all.

In the highest good of all beings, we offer energy and intent for healing, for necessary change, and simple presence in the now, difficult and bewildering though it may be. See you tonight!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Samhain Festivities

Our Clan celebrates Samhain on its astronomical date, this year 11/7, which is the true mid-point between Mabon and Yule.

For us, Halloween night was the beginning of a week long festival that culminates in a Samhain ritual. That night, we created a Samhain altar for our ancestors.

Each day, we light a candle in the window to guide the spirits. Each day, we perform a seasonal task, like creating a seasonal cornucopia or visiting the graveyard. 

I took a hike to remember my beloved dead, and I invited them to join me there. Grief had struck me pretty heavily, and I'm happy to say that after that hike, it receded to normal levels. Our tools work!

A most blessed Samhain to all! May you walk with the ancestors in this harvest of souls. Blessed be! Naho!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Pilgrimage of the Great Wheel: Great Dismal Swamp

This weekend, I had the opportunity to visit the Great Dismal Swamp, which is a point on the Pilgrimage of the Great Wheel. This sacred journey is something that has come to me in the last couple of years - I am visiting all the points of a great wheel of ley lines that covers the southeast of the US to experience their power and to honor these sacred places. Check out that linked post for details.

The Great Dismal Swamp is a lonely expanse of wood and marsh and swamp, and an area rich with history. It's a wildlife refuge, and was once used as a hideout on the Underground Railroad during the US Civil War. Local legends are rich concerning this place. It's a wild place, an impenetrable wilderness, a liminal space where the touches of civilization and law were light. What this land was to pre-European peoples I do not know, but I do know that they lived here - it was a vast region, once. To my eyes, it is a fascinating place. What secrets are hidden in its tangled wood? What lurks beneath its black waters? What do the fearsome stings of the swarming insects protect?

For me, this visit was a continuation of a period of intensive underworld work. The guardians of the underworld have made themselves known to me. I have been doing a great deal of journeywork, shadow work - working with the dark, hidden places within and below. Reflective, visionary work. Quiet, powerful work.

I spent the weekend mostly at the nearby Merchant's Millpond, which is another kind of swamp....a still place of towering cypress and tupelo gum, an enchanted, watery forest. A place in which the veil between the world is as thin as spider silk. A place where I was honored to witness a vulture feed. Turkey vultures and black vultures had found a deer, possibly lost in Hurricane Matthew, on the hummock of a cypress. There were birds at the carcass, birds in the branches, and yet more vultures circling in the sky above.

Sacred transformer, death eagle, purifier - I honor your wisdom! Teach me to soar on the thermals of life, conserving energy until opportunity presents itself. Teach me to ingest refuse, that which no longer serves, and bring it back into the great cycle, to take on new life and power my wings.

Teach me the mysteries of death, that gentle release that frees the spirit to carry on its journey. Teach me to release what is tired and worn-out and unnecessary, making space for the needed and new. Teach me, sacred Vulture!

When I came to the Great Dismal Swamp, I startled a vulture by the side of the road. It flew so close to me that it took my breath away. I was crawling along in my truck with all the windows down and there was this enormous bird, feathers looking more brown than black, with a mottled texture. It flew in front of me for some time before drifting into the woods.

Later, a Great Blue Heron led me deeper into the swamp, flying above the canal as I drove behind on the road. On and on it flew, gracefully gliding over the black waters...I honor you, heron! Teach me the ways of the stalker, the patient hunter who stands in the shallows, silent as a shadow, who strikes swift as an arrow.

Heron led me to Drummond Lake, which was much larger than I supposed. I paused here, ate and drank, made offering to the land. This writing is what happened next.

The voice of Spirit comes to me as the land.
Today, it says, do not hurry
do not do.
Today, sit in the swamp wind and be.
Simply exist.
Be present with the holly and the honeysuckle
the fox grape, the sumac, and the corpse berry.
Soak up the last sun of autumn,
glowing golden timeless time,
like the turtle on driftwood silver and brown
let the tiny yellow moth draw you in
to the meadow, sere and dry
wooly marsh grass waving like flags in the breeze

Today the voice of Spirit beckons
come and be with me
Commune with me as this place
Mother grandmother swamp
Listen to your sisters the songbirds
Listen to your mother the waters burbling
Watch your brothers, the waves
Let the four winds cleanse you
and father sky lift you up.

Be as one with the land
Exist in this dying time,
last blazing of beauty
before winter's sleep

Today I honor the Great Mystery
that moves within all things.
Today, I am free.

- JN 10/30/16

This weekend was passed in the dark of the Moon. I paddled the waters, I walked the land, I bathed in
the sun, listened to the rain, drank in the starlight, was cleansed by the winds, and offered my songs to the land. Mother grandmother swamp, I honor you! Your waters fill my dreams and draw me deep, deep below, to the underworld, the land of the ancestors, the home of the fae, kingdom of the Horned One.

I honor you, Great Medicine Wheel of Jomeokee! Great Guide, this pilgrimage I make in your honor. This land I walk to gain your wisdom, each step trodden by countless ancestors who have gone before me. Fill me with your medicine. Teach me, Great Guide. Lead me on...

Blessed be! Naho!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Season of Samhain Begins

This began as a facebook status update that I wrote last night, and I like it so much that I wanted to share it with the blogosphere. The season of Samhain has begun!

The expression of one's soul can never be lost. It is reflected in others, because we are all connected (like it or not). What is truly ours never leaves us forever- all things ebb and flow in this great dance of creation. 

Like ripples in a pond, we flow on; like the flashing of lightning, we come and go so quickly...echoes of generations of souls learning and loving and losing, finding and remembering, knowing and meeting once more. The season of Samhain is upon us, my tribe. 

It is time to burn away and shed what no longer serves. It is the time of the final harvest, my beloveds- the harvest of souls. On the farms, the slaughter begins. In the wild, the hunt is on. We care for our land, pruning and clearing and mulching. We scurry to complete our work of preparing for winter, gathering, processing and storing away the fruits of the land. 

When Samhain comes, we put on the last of the harvest feasts. We can set a place or places for those who have gone before. It is time to commune with our beloved dead, now as the veil grows thin. We remember, we recite their names, we tell their stories, we honor our ancestors. 

“Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future."

Blessed be! Naho!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Happy Mabon

The school at which I teach and reside celebrated the fall harvest this weekend with a giant party. The purpose of it was to raise funds for an awesome school program, but the true meaning of event was about Mabon, the second harvest.

Mabon is traditionally celebrated on the Fall Equinox, which occurred on September 22, just after 10:00 AM EDT. This is not the actual moment of equal night and day, but instead refers to the Earth's position on the celestial equator. We are now three quarters of the way through the solar year. This is considered the beginning of Autumn.

Lore about Mabon also discusses the time of equal day and equal night, which didn't occur until September 25. Little known fact: the times of the longest night, longest day, or equal day and night do not typically line up exactly with the solstices and equinoxes. This information isn't stored in any one place that I have found, but it can be dug up with the assistance of NASA.

SIDEBAR: I'm very interested in this, because the Old Religion, or what we know of it from archeology, is very much about archeoastronomy, or ancient astronomy. It's about measuring time, and marking the passage of the seasons through ritual and celebration, aka the Wheel of the Year. For me, doing these things adds such a richness to one's life, and a real connection to the land and the cyclical nature of our world.

But back to Mabon. We are now deep into the harvest season which began at Lughnasadh, the grain harvest. At Mabon, we harves fruits, berries, nuts, and seeds. Where I live, it's time to harvest and preserve staghorn sumac, apples, chestnuts, spicebush berries, partridge berries, hog peanuts, acorns, and paw paws.

All through the harvest season, we bring in the crops, both physical and metaphorical. We can, freeze, dry, pickle, jam, and candy all these wonderful fruits of the Earth to prepare for the lean times of winter. It's a time for the whole community to come together to complete this important work, and a time to celebrate all the abundance with which we are blessed.

Spiritually speaking, we consider what projects and intentions we nurtured through the year. It is time to
harvest them as well. What have we been growing with our magical work? What did we envision last Yule, dedicate ourselves to at Imbolc, bless the seeds for at Ostara, and sow at Beltane? How did these things grow? What have we gained and learned?

For me, this year has been rich. I am truly blessed and for this, I am so grateful. My physical health has improved. I have found a wonderful community. The work I am doing is fulfilling, and is furthering my personal and professional growth. The land on which I am blessed to live is so beautiful, and so abundant with life. Life is busy and good.

This weekend, our community came together to prepare a giant feast. The food was largely grown on our farm or collected wild from our land. If we didn't grow or gather it, we bought it from a local farmer or vintner. It was amazing, and quite a production. We decorated our great hall beautifully with flowers, fruit, and greenery. After the feast, we continued our merrymaking with song and dance, which was easy to do with all of the musical talent in our community.

Right now, I feel such a sense of contentment and ease. I know that I am in the right place, with the right people. I am on the path. My harvest is rich. I am thankful!

I hope that your Mabon, your harvest, is rich and abundant. I hope that it sustains you through the winter. May you be blessed with food, shelter, love, and community. May you know the contentment and gratitude that comes with the hard work of harvest. May the beauty of Autumn soothe and comfort your soul. A blessed Mabon to all.

Blessed be and naho!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

To Feel...

This post is part of The Pagan Experience, a group of writers of Earth-centered faiths. This is part of a series about the process of magic as framed by the five sacred elements - Air, Fire, Water, Earth, and Spirit. What does 'to feel' mean, on both a mundane and spiritual level?

To feel is to dive deep into the dark Waters of life, the swirling, hidden, uncertain, fruitful waters of dream and intuition, the waters of the Goddess's womb, the waters of our infinite hearts. Feeling is about surrender. We can choose to try to control our experiences at every moment, or we can surrender to the flow of existence, with all the folly and unexpected surprises that brings to us and simply feel.

When we give way to the all-pervading embrace of Water, we can truly explore the mystery of this Earthwalk. We are spiritual beings in fleshy bodies, having a wonderful adventure in time and space. These bodies are fascinating interlocking systems of stimulus and response, loaded with sensory perception. When we surrender to feeling, we inhabit our bodies deeply, and we experience our existence in a rich, full way.

The varied sensations we explore in Water are both sensations in our bodies and emotions in our hearts. As we explore our external world, we feel a variety of sensations - the warmth of the Sun on our skin, the joy of movement, the cool breeze, the pleasures of love, the delights of food and drink, the unforgettable smells that cue our memory so poignantly, the pains of injury, and on and on.

We feel these things so deeply, and we simultaneously experience a flood of emotion that is intertwined with the physical sensations. In many cases, an emotion itself involves a physical sensation. For example, after the day is done, you may be lying in bed, and you remember something stressful...and suddenly your chest is tight and a knot forms in your belly. On the positive side, you have looked at someone you love and felt a flood of warmth, softness, and joy that 'melts your heart'.

When we are immersed in feeling, we are connected to the Great Mystery, for it experiences the physicality and emotions of daily life through us. We are the mystery, a microcosm of the greater macrocosm that is the Mystery, a tiny part that nonetheless contains the whole. The Mystery looks out of
our eyes, sharing our wonder at the majesty of creation.

Living in flow, connected to all the feelings of body and heart center, we are also more deeply connected with others. To share the joy and pain of life with others is to have compassion for their suffering and bliss. It brings us to the understanding that we have so much in common - we all breathe the same air, walk under the same sun, howl at the same moon, and long for connection, belonging, and love.

"We live by the sun
We feel by the moon
We move by the stars

We live in all things
All things live in us

We call to each other
We listen to each other
Our hearts deepen with love and compassion

We live in all things
All things live in us"

-Stephanie Kaza (excerpt)

This kind of heart-centered, watery way of living in flow is a lunar way of being. The Moon is the progenitor of tides, both in the world's oceans, and in our hearts and beings. Women, especially, are cyclical beings who ebb and flow each month in tune with the cycle of the Moon. The Moon makes the waters rise and fall, and our hearts follow suit. When the Moon is full, we are full of energy and emotion, filled with inspiration and creativity. When the Moon is dark, we are reflective, immersed in dreams and visions. Knowing this mystery is a way of power - knowing when to work, when to create, when to rest, and when to dream in time with the Moon...these things the wise practitioner knows.

Surrendering to the flow of feeling is the next step in the process of magic. From a prior post"Knowing what you want is Air - getting inspired by a certain scenario and daring to believe it's possible. Working toward it, manifesting it, is Fire, where lives the Will. Choose it, choose it, choose it again." 

With Water, we allow our work to marinate, to "cook" or ferment, if you will. We reflect. We let the working rattle around in our subconscious, making all the mysterious connections with our personal set of experiences, symbols, and archetypes. Often information then bubbles up like a spring from our unconscious through dream, vision, or intuition. It may be a missing link in our thinking, or the idea that changes our life, allowing the fullness of our vision to manifest in the physical world. The ideas and wisdom that come to us in this way express the deepest truths within us. We know their rightness, we can feel it deep inside.Some people make the mistake of thinking that working magic is a linear, goal-oriented, action plan type of endeavor. This is the narrative that our dominant culture teaches us - decide what you want, figure out how to get it, work hard, achieve. Right? 

Not so - we get inspired, we do a working focused on what we want (not how to get it), then we enter the passive, reflective phase. We surrender to flow and *feel* the work we have done, and the changes it is already working within us. That is the lesson of Water - feeling, surrendering, flowing, reflecting, dreaming.

There is an ebb and a flow to magical working. In Air, we catch a dream as it blows by on the wind. In Fire, we glow with intensity as we work toward our intention. In Water, we flow...we reflect. It is a passive ebb in the cycle of magical working. 

Working with Water is a practice of non-doing. After all, Water must be calm to reflect our image clearly. 

Blessed be. Naho!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

To Will...

The Pagan Experience - To Know – To Will – To Dare and To Be Silent - These Four together are known as The Four Powers of the Sphinx and the Witch’s Pyramid. But, they are not limited to a specific spiritual path and show up in varying forms and combinations within all spiritual truths. So, holding the intention of exploring more deeply what these concepts mean to you, this month our focus is: To Will: What is it that you will (into) to be? How do you exert your will? What form does this will take as you strive towards w(W)ill to Action? Use this month’s writing to dig a little deeper into what this topic means to you, both at the levels of the mundane and the spiritual…….

I spent the summer teaching children. This was a tremendous act of will, one I likened to a marathon. It was a long period of intense effort, with very few breaks. It was also a bit like performance art - one is always on stage.
Every day, I had to think on several levels. As always, self-care had to come first. This was very difficult to maintain in that environment. Time and energy were both limited. Then, I had to think of my personal mission as an educator and spiritual leader. What am I trying to achieve? What is my message?

Of course, I had to keep my eye on my job description, to be sure that I fulfilled my duties to the community, my peers, and the children. That's quite a lot to do when one is working 14 hour days six days a week!

Every day presented a new challenge, and a raft of the same challenges that repeated each day: To maintain one's freshness in the face of exhaustion, heat, insects, and the like. To have patience for the young ones. To be put on the spot every moment, ready at a moment's notice to mentor, teach, inspire, mediate, or comfort. To actually teach something meaningful about Nature or some other topic. To make it all FUN!

This summer was like no other. I have faced many challenges by choice in my life, not least of which has been my journey with martial arts. Long hours, difficult training, and self-discipline were the order of the day. Sore muscles, exhaustion, frustration, fear...all these things were difficult to endure. But in this environment, teaching children, one must do all that AND maintain a positive, fun attitude 24/7.

I look back now that I'm on break and think "how ever did I do it". It all comes down to will. It was the path I chose. Every day, I got up and chose it again. Halfway through the summer, I fell ill. I refused to give up, and made a conscious choice to finish the summer, no matter what.

But it's more than that. Each moment of each day was a choice, an act of will. Surely, I wasn't perfect for all of those moments. There were moments I complained, or brooded, or asked for help. There were moments when I did lose patience. But I'm happy to say that these moments were the exception, and not the rule.

As often as necessary, I took it one day, or even one moment, at a time. I posted the schedule on my wall. I'd get up and think 'ok, breakfast, meeting, hike. Just make it to lunch'.

That's Will - when one is creating one's life consciously, in full recognition of one's powers, one can choose a course of action, then use their will to make it happen. Often, that means choosing actions that support a goal many times a day.

I'd say really, that is the essence of magic. Knowing what you want is Air - getting inspired by a certain scenario and daring to believe it's possible. Working toward it, manifesting it, is Fire, where lives the Will. Choose it, choose it, choose it again.

The magical part of this, of course, is that we often don't know how our Will may manifest. We focus on the goal, we repeat affirmations, work a spell, chant, etc. What happens next is the magic - the external world begins to align itself in accordance with our Will. The opportunities that do support our goals begin to appear. Then we can choose them.

And so it goes, one choice at a time.

"In the highest good of all, with harm to none. As I will it, so mote it be."

Sunday, May 29, 2016

To Dare...

The Pagan Experience - What is it that you “Dare” to be? Does risk factor into daring? Is “Dare” a noun, or a verb? Use this month’s writing to dig a little deeper into what this topic means to you, both at the levels of the mundane and the spiritual…….

My life went off the rails this spring. Just after Imbolc, I decided to leave my partner of several years. This entailed a lot of huge changes - a move, different job requirements, and impact to my coven. This precipitated months of transition in which I found a new home and a new job.

This is why I haven't written anything for The Pagan Experience so far this year, until now. This topic is perfect for a return to the project.  I was terrified to leave, but I was more afraid to stay. I knew, within the core of my being, that I wasn't living up to my fullest potential. 

One day, I snapped. I began to pack, and when I had a few days of supplies together, I left. I had no plan and nowhere to go. All I knew is that I could not stay in that home for a single moment more.

This is how transformation occurs - when our dissatisfaction with the known becomes stronger than our fear of the that moment, change is possible. 

For me, this journey has been very rich. I reached out to friends and family, who kindly assisted me. People opened their homes and their hearts to support me during this difficult time, which I deeply appreciate. People lent shoulders to cry on and listening ears. Learning to ask for and accept help with grace is a big lesson for me. 

In these three months, my life has utterly transformed. I have reclaimed myself, my body, my daily routine, my friends, and my interests. I am rebuilding my world, and it is a beautiful one. 

But essentially, connecting with the power of Air, the ability to dare to create change, is what has made this journey possible. I had to look within and remember my own power. I am a witch. I am a shaman. My job is to bend and shape reality to my will, in service to All That Is. How then, could I justify languishing in an abusive relationship? I could not. 

I had to dare to leave. I had to dare to leap into the unknown. I had to dare to take the first step, and to continue putting one foot in front of the other, even though I didn't know what was coming next, or even where I was going. I had to dare to call upon my community for help. I had to dare to sit with my emotions as they went through the whole gamut of trauma, shock, loss, anger, frustration, rage, sadness, melancholy, and acceptance. I had to dare to reclaim my dreams. I had to dare to work magic to bring those dreams into being. 

Daring is a multi-layered endeavor. In order to dare, we have to believe that change is possible. We have to realize that we have the power to create change. We have to know that we deserve something different, something better. We have to give ourselves permission to wield that power. We have to be willing to risk failure, to risk defeat, to risk uncertainty, to risk vulnerability. We must dare to trust our own power, and the support of our communities, our families, the Divine, and the forces of Nature herself. 

Daring is, in short, the essence of being a magical practitioner. It is the beginning of our journey through the elements to work magic. In my view, the winds blow over us and fill us with inspiration. We are then inspired to dare to use our power in our highest good, and the highest good of all beings. 

All hail Air, sacred breath of the Gods, inspirer! All hail the winds of change that fill us with daring!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Significance of Coven Membership

What does it mean to belong to a coven? What are the rights and duties of coven members and coven
leaders? How does it all work? These are questions every new Pagan has, or ought to have. In the beginning, we don't know what we don't know.

So you want to be in a coven. What does that entail? First off, be aware that every coven is different. We run the whole spectrum from British Traditional to Radical Faerie and everything in between. Some covens are quite structured and others are more loose. But the essential experience of a coven is inherently one of commitment and structure. Of hard work and dedication. Of unity and connection. Of study and practice. Of celebration and devotion.

What is a coven, then? A coven is a unified group of magical practitioners dedicated to working, celebrating, learning, and growing together in the Old Way, which is another way of saying that it's a group of followers of an Earth-based spiritual religion. But it's more than that. When one goes through the process of initiation, one is bound to the initiator. Our karma becomes entwined. It is a serious thing, and not to be undertaken lightly. So to join a coven, first of all, is to willingly connect yourself with your coven leader and with your fellow members. This bond is sacred - we must enter it in perfect love and perfect trust. A coven is a spiritual family.

Witchcraft, along with other types of magical traditions, has a structured application process. This is intentional, and quite necessary. Usually, one must first complete a formal written application. After that, there is normally an in-person meeting, either with the coven leader(s) alone or with the whole group. Some groups may have more steps, like attending "outer circle" events (aka open to the public).

Witches generally are asked to study for a year and a day before they are eligible to join a coven. This allows time for people totally new to the Craft to get a basic practitioner-level foundation that enables them to be a constructive participant in group rituals. It also allows time for the prospective member to learn about the specific tradition and ways of their prospective coven.

Most importantly, though, this year and a day of study is a trial period for both the Seeker and the coven leader(s). During that time, the coven leader(s) will be watching the Seeker to see how they conduct themselves at events, in training, and in relations with fellow coveners and the coven leader(s).

Speaking as a coven leader, I can say that we surely all have different criteria, but some things are true in general. We want to know if this prospective person is trustworthy, honest, respectful, and willing to do the work. Is this person willing to listen to guidance? Will this person listen to constructive feedback? Does this person have the necessary level of commitment to complete the training and truly learn the information? Most importantly, perhaps, is the matter of the prospective covener's level of self-knowledge. Does this person know who they are and what they want? Are they clear about their intentions with the group and with their personal path? Do they take responsibility for themselves and their actions? Can they clearly communicate their needs and desires? Are they willing to engage with conflict resolution? Will this person do their share of contributing to the group financially and emotionally? Do they have a spirit of curiousity, generosity, helpfulness and gratitude?

The prospective covener surely has many questions as well, some of which are bound to be: who are these people? Will they be kind to me? Is this a weirdo cult? Do they have something that I want in terms of knowledge and experience? What do they want from me? Do the beliefs of this group match my own? What does the training program involve? What happens at coven events? Do I belong here? What are the financial commitments involved? What are the time commitments involved? Do I like the other members of the group?

All these questions and many more are answered during this year of study. At the end of that time, if both parties are ready, the prospective covener may move forward into initiation and membership in the group. This does not mean that learning and growth stop. Much like in martial arts, the first level of initiation is only the beginning. Depending on the coven, there may be structured training for another two years or more. Generally, this first year of training and subsequent initiation entitles the covener to attend rituals and events.

Many witches choose to remain as individual practitioners forever, which is a perfectly valid choice. There is nothing lesser about this choice - group leadership is NOT for everyone, nor should it be. Focusing on one's own practice, one's own home, and one's own family is plenty of work for a lifetime, and is quite fulfilling. The majority of witches fit into this category.

Others are interested in leading rituals or in someday leading their own group. Depending on the structure of your prospective coven, all of these choices will be honored in different ways. Some covens do not allow coveners to lead rituals - the leadership is responsible for that task, though generally everyone in the group plays a role. Some covens have shared leadership, in which there is one overall coven leader, but individual rituals can be led by a rotating cast of qualified coveners. Other groups are quite communal - the Reclaiming tradition, for example, co-creates and co-leads rituals.

Prospective coveners have a responsibility to find out what their prospective coven's policies on leadership are, and to clearly communicate their interest or lack of interest in leadership to their prospective coven leader(s), or at least, their knowledge of such at the time. Coven leaders have a duty to clearly communicate the coven's policies on prospective leadership, including how this is handled in general, along with the timeline and the expectations of a prospective future leader.

The timeline for becoming a ritual leader is dependent on the particular coven's process, but it is safe to say that it takes a while. One does not walk in off the street and create a ritual. One does not take three classes at the local metaphysical shop and create a ritual. There is good reason for this - the powers that we raise in ritual (and here I'm mostly referring to the collective energy of the participants, along with the elementals and possibly the Divine - remember, this is real witchcraft and not TV - we do not raise demons) must be handled properly. The ritual leader is responsible for the experience of the participants. There is a structure and process inherent in ritual, and it requires thorough knowledge in order to plan and perform it safely and correctly. In order to do that, one must also be a totally solid magical practitioner, able to ground and center, raise energy, shape that energy to a goal, release the energy, then re-ground and center and release all the powers that help us create sacred space. This all takes a great deal of time to learn, practice and fully embody. There are no shortcuts in magic.

The timeline for becoming a coven leader is even longer - one must not only be a solid practitioner and be able to create and lead group rituals, but one must also be a mature human being. That means that one must be able to create and sustain healthy relationships, set and maintain healthy boundaries, have excellent self-care, live a healthy lifestyle, and have a relatively stable life. In addition to all that, one must have a deep knowledge of our faith (past and present), the processes and principles of magic, a deep and real relationship with the Earth and all the powers that live here, and an excellent understanding of the Universe and our place within it. For covens that are part of a tradition, a prospective coven leader must also have an in-depth knowledge of the history and practice of the tradition. They should be known to and approved of by all tradition leadership, in addition to their coven leader(s). Most important of all, a prospective coven leader must be called by the Divine. Truly, experience, training, and an initiation does not a coven leader make. Only the Divine can do that.

Coveners have a right to fair and ethical treatment by their coven leader(s). This includes things like: empowering and positive leadership, wise counsel, and good quality instruction. Coven leaders(s) should be dependable. Coven leader(s) should never exploit their coveners emotionally, financially, or sexually. A good coven leader will see the potential for your best self within you, and help you to bring it out. You'll know you've found a good coven leader when you feel that you can tell them anything, including your hurt feelings or issues with the leader him or herself. A good coven leader states and enforces their boundaries with compassion. A good coven leader is supportive and kind. A good coven leader sets goals for their coveners, and holds them to it for their own highest good!

In turn, coven leaders should be able to depend on their prospective coveners to show up on time, be prepared for events and classes, help with ritual set-up and clean-up, do the homework, sustain daily practices, contribute to the group financially, and generally behave in a respectful and grateful way to other coveners and the coven leader(s).

Remember - coven leaders put years and years (often a lifetime, or multiple lifetimes) of training, personal and professional development and investment in a great many tools, supplies and events into their vocation, all for minimal or no financial return. Coven leaders are a lot like martial arts masters - we fight on the spiritual plane rather than the physical, but the similarities are striking. Coven leaders master their skills deeply and pass them on to the community, for the good of all and largely for the love of it, in service to the Divine. Coven leaders put heart and soul into their work, and that incurs a debt that can never truly be repaid. In Japan, the debt of student to teacher is called 'on', and that burden is carried for life. Likewise, coven leaders are karmically bound to and responsible for their coveners for life. Everything that you do reflects upon us, for good or for ill. It is a sacred relationship, and like all relationships, it is a two-way street.

In my Clan of the Wildlings, seekers must email me with interest, fill out a written application, have an in-person meeting, then attend a year and a day of training, during which time they may or may not be invited to attend rituals. They will be invited to and expected to attend our public events, as well as public events in the community. Seekers are expected to have certain base skills like woodcraft and Yoga, or to begin gathering them, as well as a base level of physical fitness. Upon successful completion of the first year of training, seekers will be eligible to join the coven and attend rituals. In year two of training, coveners go more deeply into practice, learn shamanic techniques, and learn how to craft and facilitate rituals. In year three of training, coveners do a project of personal specialization (akin to a master's thesis), and only then are invited to lead group rituals, if they are ready and interested in doing so.

Our tradition is one in which a solid foundation of healthy living and daily spiritual practice are built before we go wild with shamanic practice. It is a discipline and a lifestyle. It is not for the faint of heart, or for the casually curious. We will challenge you to practice excellent self-care. We will challenge you to get serious about your spirituality and infuse it into your daily life. We will challenge you to do this for real, to go out there and get wet, get dirty, get cold, get hot, suffer just a little and revel in the bliss quite a lot!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The God in the Wild Wood

Or, another way of thinking about the World Tree for we lovers of the Horned One in his aspect as Cernunnos. Io kernunno!

“At the Sacred Centre, in the Grove of all Worlds, He sits with legs crossed beneath an ancient Oak. Entranced, connecting the three worlds Earth, Sea, and Sky and the worlds behind the worlds, the god and the Great Tree are One, His immense limbs widespread, stretching into distant sky and starry space. His massive trunk, spine of the Middleworld, is the heart of the Ancient Forest around which all Life, all worlds turn. His limitless root web growing deep into secret earth and Underworld. Above him the great turning circles of Sun, Moon, and Stars. All around Him subtle movements of the leaves in melodious, singing air. Everywhere the pulsing, gleaming Green awash in drifts of gold and shimmering mist. Beneath Him soft moss creeping over the dark, deep, moist of spawning earth. 

At His feet the great Cauldron from which the Five Rivers Flow. Through the forest stillness they come, whispering wings and secret glide, rustling leaves, and silent step, the first Ancestors, the Oldest Animals, to gather around Him: Blackbird, Keeper of the Gate; Stag of Seven Tines, Master of Time; Ancient Owl, Crone of the Night; Eagle, Lord of the Air, Eye of the Sun; and Salmon, Oldest of the Old, Wisest of the Wise leaping from the juncture of the Five Springs. 

He welcomes them and blesses them, and they honor Him, Cernunnos of the nut brown skin and lustrous curling hair. The god whose eyes flash star-fire, whose flesh is a reservoir of ancient waters, His cells alive with Mystery, original primeval essence. Naked, phallus erect, He wears a crown of antlers limned in green fire and twined with ivy. In his right hand the Torq of gold, testament of his nobility and his sacred pledge. In his left hand the horned serpent symbol of his sexual power sacred to the Goddess. Cernunnos in His Ancient Forest, His Sacred Temple, His Holy Grove, Cernunnos and His children dream the Worlds.”


Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Festival of the Runes

Day 1 of 9 informal altar

Official altar, showing offerings of bourbon and sausage.
Making up our own festivals is one of my favorite parts of tradition building. In our tradition, we use runes as our system of symbolism. To honor that great gift, I've created a Festival of the Runes.

I began with the old festival of Walpugisnacht:

"The festival of Walpurgis, a night both of revelry and darkness. The nine nights of April 22 (interestingly enough, the modern festival of Earth Day) to April 30 are venerated as rememberance of the AllFather's self-sacrifice upon the World Tree Yggdrasil. It was on the ninth night (April 30, Walpurgisnacht) that he beheld the Runes, grasped them, and ritually died for an instant. At that moment, all the Light in the 9 worlds is extinguished, and utter Chaos reigns. At the final stroke of midnight, the Light returns in dazzling brilliance, and the bale-fires are lit. On Walpurgisnacht, the dead have full sway upon the earth; it is the ending night of the Wild Hunt. May 1 is the festival of Thrimilci; the beginning of Summer. Thrimilci is a festival of joy and fertility, much like Ostara; however, most of the Northern World is finally escaping from the snow at this time."

When I dug a bit deeper, I found that Walberga (or Walpurga) was a Christian saint canonized in CE 860 who was credited with Christianizing many Germanic tribes. This saint's day was used to create a celebration that coincided with the Pagan Beltane celebrations. A classic move by the medieval church - distract people from their nature-based ancestral faith with pageantry.

For our celebration, I wanted to lose the medieval Christian overtones and keep the timing. Nine days of celebration to honor Odin and his discovery of the runes during the Wild Hunt of spring felt right to me. What we do is light a candle in the window to guide Odin to us. We create an altar honoring Odin and the runes. Each night, we make offerings to Odin, like mead and meat. We sing the song of the runes, then read nine passages from the Havamal.

I really enjoyed it. This is a simple celebration, and I really liked focusing on the wisdom of the Havamal. It's pithy and surprisingly relevant in the modern era. We can all learn to take care of business and be a good member of the community! Hail Odin!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Earth Day and a Personal Earth Pledge

In these uncertain times, it is seductively easy to give in to despair and helplessness. Our environment is so compromised, the climate is undeniably changing, species continue to go extinct, rivers are polluted, toxic waste is spilling into the ocean as we speak...what can you or I do about it?

There are many things one can do. Most important of these is to live fully and authentically, and to enjoy each moment as it comes. For today the Sun is shining upon our battered, bruised, but still beautiful Earth. Today, we celebrate Her with meditation, healing, song, food, and community. Today, we celebrate Earth Day.

This is the third time that I've hosted an Earth Day gathering. Each year, we gather in a forested park under a picnic shelter. We pool our energies in meditation to heal the Earth. We share food, drink, and fellowship. Some folks take a walk on the lovely trails.

Today, it occurred to me that we need to start walking our talk when it comes to public gatherings. As Pagans and other Earth-centric people of faith, we claim to worship the Earth and all the powers of Nature. But yet, so many Pagan events, including my own, use disposable plates, cups, and utensils. Granted, it is possible to buy compostable plates now, even cutlery in some cases. But their manufacture is an environmental impact that is not necessary.

I'm also lucky to be a part of the Earthskills movement, which is about reconnecting people to the land by teaching and sharing traditional and primitive skills. There are a constellation of earthskills gatherings and rendezvous all over the country. The southeast region, in which I live, is particularly full of them. I have been blessed to learn and teach at these gatherings, and one thing I absolutely love about them is that they require each participant to bring their own "mess kit".

At the gatherings, mealtimes are mostly communal. A central kitchen usually cooks two meals a day, and folks break bread together. It's a great place to meet more people and hear their stories about the event. Every person brings their own plate, bowl, mug and utensils. We stand in line and get served our healthy, delicious food, which often comes from local farms.

After we eat, we wash our mess kit in the communal washing stations provided by the gathering. Generally this is a row of tubs on a table and a slops bucket. You scrape your food scraps into the bucket, then knock off big particles in a pre-wash tub of water. Next, we scrub them in a tub of hot soapy water. Then rinse in a tub of cold plain water. Finally, we sanitize with a dip in a tub of bleach and water.

Stainless steel cup, water bottle, and utensils with a bandana.
Voila! It's a win-win situation all around. Event organizers have lower costs and less work to do. Participants get to use their favorite things, which at earthskills gatherings may include handmade gourd, clay, or wood bowls and mugs, or even hand-carved spoons and forks! Someone always has a garden or animals that eat the scraps. And the Earth wins biggest of all - a zero food waste gathering is the best option for Her.

Which leads me to my personal Earth Pledge for the year- I pledge to carry my own utensils and napkin everywhere I go. Whenever possible, I'll also bring my own plate and bowl. For years, I have already been carrying my water bottle with me.

So yeah, now I'm that hippie. I don't want your plastic bags. I don't want your plastic cutlery. No, thank you!

This entertains me. I've always been fairly "crunchy", as they say. I mean, what chance did I have to be otherwise? I thought wheat kernels were chewing gum when I was a child! (For readers new to this blog, I grew up on a small homestead that was largely self-sustaining)

I suppose this is what happens when one grows up. Core values become expressed in our actions. And that's a very good thing, for us and for the Earth.

Happy Earth Day!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Imbolc is Coming

In our tradition, Imbolc is the festival of midwinter. It is a celebration of the returning light, of the growing God, the promise of spring, and a time of dedication and initiation. Here in the depths of winter, we look into the fire and make our promises to the Gods and to ourselves. What intentions are we nurturing in this turn of the Wheel? Who do we want to become? 

The days have lengthened. For most of us, it's still light out when we finish work for the day. I don't know about you, but that cheers me up mightily.

Here at the Clan stronghold, great things are afoot. We have two dedicants finishing their first year of study. That means initiations at our Imbolc ritual - what a joyous prospect! Our little Clan is growing. We have weathered our first year. Our numbers are still small, but our members are dedicated and strong, creative and intelligent - beautiful women and developing shamanic witches all.  For all of this, I give thanks.

Meanwhile, we have one dedicant who came in partway through the year, and a new student waiting in the wings. That means that we will have two training classes going at once - Shamanic Witchcraft 101 (open to the public) and Shamanic Witchcraft 201 (closed to the public). What an exciting time it is!

It's also a time of intense concentration and work for me as a high priestess. I know exactly what my Imbolc dedication will be; I'm already doing it. The work of tradition creation and evolution is my task. I am loving this adventure, and blessed with inspiration and guidance from across the veil. For this, I give thanks. Several of my close allies in this Earthly realm are helping me by listening to me vent, acting as a sounding board, and giving their opinions of my ideas. For this, I give thanks.

Things have certainly evolved as I've gone along. Last year, we used Christopher Penczak's work as a textbook. This year, we will use a few books for specific topics. Eventually, I can see that our own book is needed. One step at a time. Slowly, slowly.

So if you've been wondering where all the new posts on this blog have gone...this is where. They've fallen by the wayside for a bit. I'll be back, and I'll be checking in as I have time. May your Imbolc celebrations be bright!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Ethics in Community

The Pagan Experience - This month the focus is on ETHICS… As a member of the human species we are faced with choices everyday. The responses we make are most often guided by our definition of values, standards and what we consider to be just and ethical behavior.
Add the complexity of walking a spiritual path and he topic of Ethics becomes one that reaches deeply into the fabric of who we wish to be and who we believe ourselves to be.
So, use this month’s writing to share, listen and explore your ethical landscape…
As we walk our path, making choices according to our personal code of ethics, we of course interact with others. We interact with family, friends, co-workers, business community and spiritual community. Today I'd like to share a few of my thoughts on ethical considerations around participating in Pagan community.

  1. Respect copyright laws. Contemporary Paganism is an evolving community of many traditions. Most of the time, the work that we now create is influenced by and/or based on the earlier work of others. It's important to ask permission of writers and artists before we use their work in works of our own. If you can't get permission, be sure to credit the author/creator. If you have obtained permission, be sure to use the material in the approved way, and credit the author properly.
  2. Collaboration instead of competition. Since we are such a small community, with many divisions within it, it's important for us to band together when possible, especially on community projects. Say you're interested in running a festival or a big event. Before you run out and create a new one, why not see if you can get involved in an existing one? Community festivals, expos and parties almost always can use more help and expertise, whereas creating something similar to an existing event will cause conflict and hard feelings, as well as divide the resources of an already small community.
  3. Be an encourager and helper. Want to see more awesome books, workshops, events, and works of art tailored to our community? Encourage your friends and acquaintances. Help them in any way you can. We have plenty of critics, but we always need more networkers and cheerleaders. Maybe you can't help directly, but maybe you know someone who could. Make the introduction. We never know what connections will be important. 
  4. Buy local. This goes along with #3. If we want awesome products, events, classes and such, we MUST support our local artists, writers, teachers, and so on. As one of those people, I can't stress this enough. Not only do these people desperately need our business to survive and pay their bills, it's also demoralizing when friends and acquaintances say how much they love our creations/services, but then do not buy them. 
  5. Consider your words carefully. Many people have written about the destructive power of gossip. I think we all can agree that it's a bad idea. But I'd like to take it one step further, or perhaps just change the conversation about our words in community. Consider what you say in light of how it will affect others. Are you willing to stand by what you said in front of your coven, your friends, the community at large? If not, refrain. Silence is sometimes the best policy.
  6. Make new friends. Have a great coven and great friends? Awesome. But do you know the other players in the community? Have you ever spoken to someone from a different path than yours? What about another coven in a similar tradition? What about that quiet new person sitting alone in the corner? Say hi, include them. Don't re-create middle school and it's ridiculous cliques. Get out there and get to know your community at large, more than just your own circle. Remember the saying "the greater the circle, the more the love grows". It's hard to fear or dislike people you know personally. Go meet them!
  7. Participate. I've written about this before, but I'll write about it again, and again, and again, until it's no longer relevant. Go out there and participate in that class, that sweat lodge, that festival, that book discussion group, that community party. Armchair quarterbacks don't win the game - you have to be in it to win it.
  8. Be an ambassador for the community. When you are out and about in the general public, try as much as possible to embody the values of our faith, and our community. Yes, I know that Contemporary Paganism is a huge community without a common set of beliefs. Yes, I know that you may or may not be out in public. Do what you can, when you can. Let people know that we're human beings like everyone else. We work, we have families, we pay our bills, we vote, and oh yeah, we're Pagan. 
  9. What happens in Circle, stays in Circle. Whether it's a deep emotional sharing that occurred during or after ritual, or the Pagan identity of an acquaintance, it's vital that we support and protect each other by preserving confidentiality.
These are suggested actions, of course, but they are based on ethical principles as applied to a community setting. Those values could be stated thusly:
  • Respect for others
  • Healthy Community
  • Inclusion
  • Ambassadorship
Can we all agree to those? I know I'm quite passionate about community building, and I know that is sometimes annoying to those who know me. But I really and truly think it's important that we unite, that we continue to work on our beloved community, and that we leave it better than we found it.  Join me, and when in doubt, just be excellent to each other.

Read more here and here.