Kids & Halloween

(Part one of three)

I love Halloween. I love the tip into the dark half of the year. I’m not very invested in all the trappings that come with mainstream Halloween stuff. I’m not super crafty, so the costume part isn’t that exciting for me. I try to avoid sugar as much as possible, so we go really easy on the candy. I don’t like a lot of cheap, plastic crap, so that narrows down the amount of stuff which with we decorate. But Halloween, as it is secularly practiced (did I just make up ‘secularly’?), is such a wonderful holiday for kids! Candy, costumes, play – facing the spooky things of the world – it’s all a wonderful treat for kids.

First jack-o-lanterns for the boy

My memories of Halloween as a kid involve carving pumpkins and dressing up for trick-or-treating. However, in South East Alaska, winter had already descended by the end of October and costumes were rarely awesome. Sometimes it had already started to snow, so you had to figure out a costume that would look good with a snow suit (not possible). If it hadn’t started snowing, it was likely the rain was blowing sideways and the temperatures were close to freezing, so what costume would look good with rain gear (not much)? As a female, it was hard to get too caught up in the Slutty X costumes, merely because staying warm and dry was a priority.

Halloween, or Samhain (sow-en), for the Celtic observers, is an important festival in the Pagan world. It marks the shifting of the year, from the light half to the dark half. Winter begins; the harvesting season is over. The ‘veils between the worlds’ is considered thin, meaning that we have more contact with the spirit realms, including the world of the dead. This is why we dress up – to confuse the evil spirits. In older times, dressing up and playing games was a way to throw off the respected cultural norms, allowing people the freedom to be something else. I think this is where the Sexy X costumes come from.

I refuse to link to any of the Sexy costumes, but you know what I’m referring to. I don’t know if they’ve gotten worse and more ubiquitous in the last decade (I suspect yes) or if I’m just getting old and happen to be a mother now (yes, to that too) that I find Halloween slightly more problematic. I certainly don’t want my daughter growing up thinking that it’s cool to be ‘Sexy Elmo’ (and yes, I’ve seen a picture of that costume). And then there’s the problem of all the sugar in a world already too disordered in its eating. Oh, it’s a parental conundrum.

Halloween spread

Here in Wales, and I think the greater United Kingdom, Halloween is not a Thing. Not many places decorate for it. Very few people dress up. Not many kids go trick-or-treating. Our first year here we had two knocks on the door! Last year we had about ten. I can appreciate this. However, my husband really wanted to have a little Halloween party for our son and a couple of families and their small children. So we decorated the house, laid out some food, and hosted 6 adults, two three-year olds, two two-year olds, a one-year old, and the 8 month old baby. Strangely enough, hardly any one touched the chocolate! I made warm apple cider (non-alcoholic), which must be an American specialty because this was the second party we’ve had where no one seems to know what it is!

Our three-year old boy dressed up as a witch. I was planning on dressing up as a man, with a tie and a moustache, but I have been sick for a week and didn’t have the energy to do much more than shower and show up. I even forgot to dress up the baby. No matter! She had fun on her own, playing with everyone else’s costume.

Baby girl with the stang

Halloween is a holiday that drapes over a few days. I think that traditionally in Celtic lands it lasted for three days. That suits me just fine. Sunday was the children’s party. Tonight I am attending a ritual, in the woods, with the local pagan society. Tuesday evening we will have a family dumb supper in honor of the dead. Wednesday I am singing with the local Church of Wales (Anglican/Episcopal) chapel in their service for All Souls Day.

May you have a festive All Hallow’s Eve, a blessed Samhain, and a happy Halloween! I hope you stay warm and dry!

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Diwali

There is a part of me that wishes I was still practicing Hinduism so that I could be celebrating Diwali right now. What a joyful, beautiful holiday. I suppose I could still observe it, but my head is fully ensconced in the upcoming Samhain/Halloween.

Maha Lakshmi

A blessed Diwali to my Hindu friends! May Lakshmi bless us all with her abundant blessings of wealth, beauty, and good fortune.

Perhaps: a post about the gods

Most witches and pagans are polytheists – or agnostic to greater or lesser extents. I’ve yet to meet anyone who calls hirself a pagan that is monotheistic, at least not in the way that anyone of the Abrahamic faiths would recognize. Plenty of people I know have patron deities or are henotheistic (honoring one god to the exclusion of the rest, yet acknowledging that other gods do exist). For a while I thought I tipped into the polytheistic non-dual (a description I first heard from T Thorn Coyle). In my mind that was a radical interpretation of monotheism, but I may have trying too hard to keep with in a Christian framework. A few nights ago a passing two sentences in a Feri initiate’s private blog got me thinking: what if the gods aren’t Gods? What if the gods are just little g gods? A form of entities different to us, bigger than us, but subject to their own forces and to the Ultimate Ground of Being, much like we are?

Victor Anderson said ‘God is Self and Self is God and God is a person like myself.’ That always rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t make any sense in my theological understanding. I can talk endlessly about the potential of divinization of the human person. I believe, firmly and utterly, in the inherent goodness, fullness, and dignity of the core of humanity and all of creation. I believe that humanity carries the spark of the Divine within, the breath of Life is present in each breath we take. ‘God is Self and Self is God.’ I believe this was part of what Jesus Christ was trying to teach us; I think this is what Tantric Hinduism is getting at. We are not separate. The Holy Mother who is the Ground of Being, that from which all of creation came and to whom everything, everyone returns, is our Creator. We are part and parcel of the wider whole. Recognizing this – knowing it in all our parts – is the goal of enlightenment and is liberation.

I may know this key to enlightenment with my brainy bits, but I certainly haven’t grasped it in my entirety. I’m not sure I can and still parent small children. I’m not sure I could handle the depths of compassion that embracing the Entirety of All would require. Hell, I still pat myself on the back when I laugh at my 3-year-old accidentally dumping a half-gallon of milk all over the floor, rather than swear and yell and grumble. I’m not sure I’m ready to embrace the power that being in concert with the G/gods would take. Baby steps, right?

So if we are not separate from the Ultimate One, then what’s all this talk about gods – plural? What’s with polytheism?

When I read the Iliad in school we discussed ancient Greek culture and talked about the gods. This was filed away under Mythology and Primitive Belief and we assumed that no one really believed in them then, nor does anyone now. From the generic Judeo-Christian point of view, who would dare believe in gods that were just as petty and ridiculous as us ‘mere’ humans. If those Greek gods were real then I thought the stories were demeaning, indeed. But I think I get it now. The gods are like us, only they are not of our material. Whether you want to think that the gods exist in a different parallel universe (like in the movie Thor, where they say that their world is different enough from ours that we think them gods) or maybe you like the idea that maybe they exist at a different frequency that we just can’t readily perceive (like how certain insects see colors we don’t), the issue is one of perception and understanding, not one of reality.

Until I moved to Wales I felt pretty agnostic about the gods. Were they just symbols? Projections of our best selves? Archetypes? How could all these different families be simultaneously real? I mean, the Greeks, Norse, Yoruba, and Celtic pantheons seem to have some overlap, but also seem to be their own coherent systems. How could they all be true? I’ve since learned that the Gods are real. I liken this experience to learning to kiss (or have sex). When I was a pre-teen and had my first kiss, I remember thinking, ‘THIS is what the big deal is about??’ A few years later I kissed some one else and discovered, oh my, yes, that is exactly what the big deal is all about. The same thing happened with ritual and the gods. Sure, I’d been to ritual – I’d even had a great time and quite enjoyed myself! But then, I circled with two other witches in Wales, on a dark, damp Welsh night and oh my. I discovered that the Gods are real. The Arddu showed up, swept through the front door and front hall and into the living room. He looked around, smiled amusedly, and went on his way. That experience has changed me. It wasn’t intimate. He didn’t pass along any knowledge. There was no exchange of pleasantries. But it was a moment where we met and I realized that this witchcraft stuff is not some figment of an overactive imagination. It’s the doorway to a new way of interacting with the world. The gods are real.

If the gods are people like myself, then the another of the Anderson’s sayings is crucially important: never submit your life force to anyone or anything. This is not saying always be strong, always dominate. This is not some kind of Ayn Rand power trip. This is about maintaining one’s dignity and integrity, one’s sense of Self. There are as many ways to submit one’s life force as there are people and combinations of people. Choosing to serve others is not submission. Even submission in a BDSM context is not necessarily submission in this context. Feri admonishes us not to bow down before the gods. This may seem the height of arrogance to those from other religions. I admit, it felt that way to me too for a long time. We honor the gods, we do not worship. It’s like the technical hair-splitting the Roman Catholics do with the Virgin Mary – hyperdulia (excess veneration) vs latria (adoration, reserved for the Holy Trinity). We can split hairs here too. Am I only honoring the gods? Might there be some adoration in there too? I think the human heart is messy and doesn’t split these hairs as cleanly as our minds would have us do.

Many grimoires and wise, experienced witches and magicians caution us not to worship, follow or even get friendly with just any spiritual being that introduces itself. If the spirit world is made up of a variety of things that are just on the edges of our perception, and if those things are not God Hirself, and if they are like us in any respect at all, then it behooves us to get to know any entity before we offer our allegiance and loyalty – just as we do in ‘real life.’ We do not submit our life force to anything or anyone. We insist on equality, respect, mutual trust and mutual loyalty.

If the different pantheons are different families or nations, like we humans are, what does this mean for syncretism or for finding ‘our gods’ in a relatively godless world? I don’t accept that Yahweh is The God. After years of biblical studies, on devotional and academic levels, I think Yahweh is just a patriarch in his own divine family. In all the years I spent trying to be a Christian, Yahweh never spoke to me, nor did Jesus. I felt a deep connection with something Big, but it never, ever seemed to line up with Yahweh. I never heard much from Jesus either. Listening to that still, small voice has obviously led me away from the Church. Perhaps those guys just aren’t my clan. Coming from a Judeo-Christian culture, but a secular family, I don’t know who my clan is. I’m definitely seeking them out. I read, I think, I meditate, I ask. I think some gods are particular to place. Who will appear when I move to Olympia? Will Ana and Arddu follow me there? Ganesha has made himself right at home with us and he is not ‘of’ Wales. Can a person have a Hindu god as a patron ‘saint’ of the family and still look to Old World European gods?

Changing my thinking about the gods from Big G gods to familial, clan gods has opened up my mind to so many new possibilities. All of a sudden pantheons make much more sense to me. It even helps make sense of Christianity. The gods are people like ourselves: messy, inter-related, powerful, limited, individual, cruel and kind, evolving in this world, all held under the hand of That Which Is. I think ‘polytheistic non-dual’ might still be the best way to sum up my theology at this time. Who knows what I’ll be thinking in a year’s time. Stay tuned.

Review of ‘Welsh Witches and Wizards’ by Michael Howard

It is with regret that this review is so short, but there is not much to say about this book. Mr Howard is well-respected in British folklore, magical and pagan publishing circles. I admit I was expecting more from this book. It’s mostly just a compilation of other sources. I learned a fair amount, mostly putting my existing knowledge of the history of witchcraft into a Welsh context. The book was enjoyable on one level for me, because many of the places mentioned are within a short driving distance of where I’m living! Many of the names of places were familiar to me. I now have a list of places to see and visit before we leave this fine country. Alas, if the reader doesn’t know Wales well I don’t think this book will have much to offer. It’s mostly history, and nothing all that new if you’re already a student of the history of witchcraft.

The most deeply disappointing aspect of this book is the lack of editing. There are an abundance of typos throughout the book, particularly in the spellings of Welsh names and places. Yes, Welsh looks funny to the English speaker, but Mr Howard supposedly lived in Wales for a time. For example, a name is spelled correctly and then misspelled only two sentences apart. If a non-Welsh speaker and brief Wales resident can notice a host of misspellings and typos, imagine the frustration of a native speaker!

I would recommend this book only for Welsh fanatics. Welsh witches will likely be familiar with everything here. I would recommend it as supplemental travel reading for interested visitors to Wales, but the price is rather prohibitive. Borrow it from a friend or the library.

For the love of tarot

I have had a love of tarot for well over a decade. In college I was fascinated by the mere idea, though no one I knew read it or knew anything about it. When I went off to grad school in Berkeley in my late 20s I finally bought myself a deck and started the slow process of learning about this intricate and beautiful art. Eight years on I’m still learning. I feel like I’m maybe, just maybe, no longer a beginner. Perhaps I’m at lower-intermediate level. I can do readings with some degree of accuracy for other people, though I still have to refer to my books far more than I’d like.

Tarot doesn’t have relate in a specific was to Feri; however most witches and/or pagans use some form of divination. I find that tarot that engages parts of my brain in a way I don’t normally use. Not only am I honing my intuition, I’m creative, I’m putting a puzzle together, I’m opening to something non-rational. On a spiritual level I’m letting my active, Talky brain use and get lost in pictures and definitions so that my Higher Self, my Godsoul, can connect with the Universe. Basically, I get out of my own way. I don’t know how to describe it without sounding seriously WOO. All I know is…. tarot works.

Let’s end a fallacy right now: tarot doesn’t Predict The Future, although it can highlight what is a likely outcome if this or that path is taken. Don’t like the proposed outcome? Change your path! Often I find tarot answers questions that weren’t asked, or that went unspoken. I find it better than therapy. I tend to be way too heady for talk therapy and tarot has a way of tapping into my issues and patterns, again in a way that bypasses my Big Fat Brain. On some level we see what we want to see, but part of the skill in tarot reading is that we learn to move past what we think we want to see and get to heart of the patterns and symbols.

The Magician in the Rider-Waite tarot

I love the art and symbology of the tarot. Most decks are based on the Rider-Waite deck.  Many decks incorporate Kabbalah and/or astrology, two things that have never piqued my interest all that much. The deck that I use, the Celtic Tarot, is one of those decks based on the Rider-Waite (the cards are much prettier in person, I promise). I admit that the one thing I come close to collecting, besides books in general, are tarot decks. I also own the Golden Tarot of the Tsar, another Rider-Waite-based one merged with Byzantine Orthodox Christian iconography. I’ve hardly used it for readings though, because I find it….. odd. It’s very beautiful, again the pictures on-line don’t do it justice. I have Brian Froud’s Fairy Oracle, because it’s just so damn beautiful. I don’t use it for readings – yet. After owning it for years I’m still learning this deck card by card. For whimsy/awesomeness’ sake I have Edward Gorey’s Fantod Deck. It’s another deck I’ve never used, but might just try one of these days soon.

Strength

From Robert Place's Alchemical Tarot

I’ve been thinking of trading out my old, faithful deck for a new one. I have the Alchemical Tarot waiting for me in the United States. There are a few other decks I’m waiting to be published. The Mary-El Tarot is one I’ve been following for five years. I’m hoping it finally goes on sale next year. Another deck to watch out for is the Chibi Tarot. My husband is actually designing his own deck! He, too, is fascinated by the tarot. His personal deck is another beautiful, complex art deck, the Tarot of Origins.

Art, symbols, the arcane and the occult, personal knowledge and mystery – what’s not to love?

The Moon, Chibi Tarot

Mary El's Queen of Swords

So much to read, so little uninterrupted time

I feel the shift to the dark half of the year. It’s still fully autumn here in west Wales, but the wind has been getting just a tad more chill and bite, the days grow shorter, rain is intermittent, flowers and mushrooms are rotting – winter is coming. I rather like the dark, though it can make the days feel a bit more rushed. There’s so much to fit into the days before I hunker down in the evenings with my tea and my baby and my reading!

There’s a lot going on in my family right now. The Current is pushing us out of the UK far sooner than we expected. We are preparing to move back to the US in December. Last week we dealt with a leaky radiator – it took 3 days to get a plumber! And now the 3-year-old is ill.  He is currently massaging his yoghurt into his hands like lotion as I type this. Instead of deep meaningful posts I’m going to link you to blogs and books I’ve been reading.

I check in daily, or just about, with The Wild Hunt. It keeps me up to date on pagan-relevant news from around the US and also the world. I seem to click on something from Patheos’ Pagan Portal every day.

There are a host of great witchcraft blogs out there. Some of them I’ve read through every post. Here are some of them:

New World Witchery covers topics relevant to the Americas.

The Witch of Forest Grove is a Canadian who practices an eclectic mix of traditional witchcrafts. She’s an incredible resource for me.

Following links from books to authors to other blogs I found The Starry Cave. It is a joint blog by three people, one of whom is Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold, a Norwegian, who writes in English and lives in Brazil. The other two bloggers write in Portuguese. Frisvold has published two books with the delicious Scarlet Imprint publishing house.

I read the entirety of Muninn’s Kiss’s blog at blogspot, but can no longer find it there. Much it is found here, on LiveJournal. While Kabbalah has not ever interested me, the merging of a strong love of place (Wyoming), Feri, and 1734 Witchcraft is thought-provoking and inspiring. It feels very honest to me. No posturing, just an honest seeker’s thoughts.

As far as books go, I am currently reading Michael Howard’s Welsh Witches and Wizards. Before I start ordering any more books I’ve got to read what’s on my shelves. After WWW, I’ll be reading XVI, a compilation put together by Scarlet Imprint and then Lux Haeresis. I adore these publishers; their books are works of art.

 

Values, part 1

Pagans get a bad rap in the media. Nonconformists and anti-establishment, the lot of them. Witches are next down the list of potentially scary people, what with their non-Christian and generally pro-feminist attitudes. Within this subculture it seems Feri/Faery folk get more bad rap.* I’ve heard them described as amoral, anarchist, elitist, exclusionary, black magicians who practice a sex cult. Honestly? Those descriptions are mostly true and mostly cultivated by Feri/Faery folk themselves! I’m not going to elaborate on any of those in the list, except for the first: amoral.

Most people seem to think there’s a difference between ethic and moral, even though they mean pretty much the same thing. I also hold a difference of nuance between the words: I think of morals as rules or guidelines established externally, that large groups of people, like a society, adhere to, whereas ethics are more on the personal, small group plane, rules enforced from within. In this case, I would agree that Feri is highly amoral yet highly ethical. To carry the distinction further, I think Feri has a core set of values, though these are expressed in as many ways as there are practitioners of the tradition.

Online you can find many explications of the Iron Pentacle. This will be my contribution to the list. I’m not going to get into the energetic or mystical applications of this pentacle. Suffice it to say that running the Iron Pentacle is a powerful meditation, helpful daily practice, and from what I understand, a bright beacon into the Otherworld announcing one’s presence.

Iron Pentacle, in black and white

Here is what these points mean to me.

Sex: Sex sits at the top. The pentacle begins from this place, although really it could start from any point. (Try it, see what you think.) Sex is, well, pretty straight forward on one level. It’s sex. Sweaty, delicious, primal – it’s the stuff from which life is made, literally. Stepping back one step from the x-rated, sex is also Life Force, equally primal, but more banal in a way. One of the marks of witchcraft is that its tools seek to help the witch tap into Life Force, connect with the current. Tantra uses different language, but in my mind is describing the same thing. Life force swirls all around us, all the time. Can we tap into that? Can we feel it? Harness it? Can we ride it? As a breastfeeding mother, my hormones are entirely out of whack, in comparison to what they were pre-baby. I just don’t have much of a sex drive (thank you body/evolution for naturally spacing my kids!), so for me, focusing on the sex point has been an exercise in feeling past just the rise of lust. Extrapolating sex into the value sphere, sex is a good thing. It’s not something to be afraid of or ashamed of. But it is something around which we have boundaries and we honor (the other pentacle points help do this). We can see and feel Life Force in sex, and we can feel and see sex in a kiss, in the energy of children playing in the park**, in a blade of grass inching through the crack in the cement.

Pride: This is word that I think is confused with another, regardless of strict definitions. Pride is not arrogance. Pride is more than self-esteem. Pride to me is lack of shame. It is respecting myself, my efforts, my accomplishments, and creating boundaries to protect these things. Too often I see people mistake self-possession and pride for arrogance, and mistake arrogance for swagger. Learning to say no falls into this point for me. Standing strong in my choices and taking responsibility for them are part of pride. I’d like to see more people embrace pride.

Self: Again, this raises another set of words that though they mean the same thing, have different nuances. Self-centeredness and selfish – they mean the same thing, but ideally people ought to be centered in themselves. Rooted. Taking pride in themselves. Centering their lives around themselves. This does not mean a person need be selfish – miserly, unwilling to share, defensive, quick to overlook others for their own gain, etc. If we are rooted in our selves, if we have healthy boundaries, we don’t need to be defensive, we can share freely, or we can say no and not feel bad about it. As a mother I am constantly giving of my self. Constantly. But I am rooted in my choices and I foster ways to come back to my self and meet my own needs. Only by being strong in my Self can I give of myself to others.

Power: This word is problematic, too! I maintain that there is nothing wrong with power. Everyone craves power. We want to feel that we have the ability to do things we want. On a physical level, I want the power to lift my fat baby. Energetically, I want the power to connect with the Gods, as well interact with strong boundaries and respect with the people I meet in my day. Do we choose power-over, or power-with? I think too often power is discussed as a pawn in a zero-sum game: some people have power and the more power one person has, the less power there is to go around. But it’s not like that! There is all the power in the world. Sure, my power doesn’t allow me to run the United States (not yet anyway), but that’s a role, a function, and says nothing about your power or the power in my daily life. We are not victims. Running the Iron Pentacle allows me to fuel power into my life.

Passion: I’ll admit that this one is a little fuzzy to me still. It’s not the kind of lustful passion that is confused with sex in pop songs and tv shows. But it’s not not that either. Passion, for me, relates to the feeling I get when I am at the opera, lost and rapt in the sound and beauty of the music. Passion is the ease and joy of hard work, when you look up at the clock and marvel at how the time flew by. Passion is a hunger. Not the hunger of starvation, where any slightly less rancid piece of food will do in order to fend off death. No, it’s the hunger of more nourishment, the desire for more of what makes your soul yell ‘YES!’

And then we return to sex. It all comes back to Life Force.

How are these values? Some may say they’re not. I say they are. These are things I’m teaching my children: to care for themselves, to foster and find Life Force all around them, not to be afraid of sex (well, I’ll teach them that when it’s appropriate), to have strong boundaries, to say No, to say Yes, to take pride in their achievements, to take responsibility for their choices and actions, to have passion in what they do, to be self-centered, to know their own strength, to share themselves, their power, their passion with others. These are the things I value.

What do you think?

*I think Wiccans get the worst rap by constantly being assumed to be “fluffy-bunnies.”

**Let me be abundantly clear that I DO NOT mean I see ‘sex in children’ as in ‘it is ok to sexualize children.’ NO. I see the free, uninhibited strength of Life Force in children. It is never, ever, NEVER ok to have sex or initiate anything sexual with a being that cannot comprehend the consequences and give complete consent. Just so we’re clear.