Navratri 2013

Navratri, nine nights devoted to the Holy Mother in her various forms, began on Saturday with the dark of the moon. Last year I kept the observance rather simple and personal. This year I feel pulled to engage with the holiday more deeply.

The first three days are a purification of sorts. The focus is on Durga, but also Kali and Parvati. I spent one day on each goddess, making kala, and working on letting go of what no longer serves me. I burned black candles and spent a lot of time in meditation. I pushed myself in my yoga practice.

Today begins three days of devotion to and focus on Lakshmi. I made an extra effort with my clothes and make up today. I made a sugar scrub with jojoba, olive, rose, and jasmine oils. I am taking time out for beautiful novels and music. Sitting in meditation this morning I realized how necessary this break from such seriousness is! It’s usually all Kali, all the time in my head! But a person needs a break from the unrelenting intensity She brings. Lakshmi says to me, “Flow. Seek out the beautiful in each moment. Create beauty in each moment. Bless each moment and person you touch.” Such a different outlook on the world!

Mahalakshmi

Mahalakshmi

As Lakshmi is the goddess of abundance, I will be asking for blessings upon my family’s finances, seeking Her assistance in finding a house for our growing family, and making donations to various organizations. I have learned that there is no receiving if you are not ready to give out of the abundance you already have.

After Lakshmi’s days come three days devoted to Saraswati. She is the patron goddess of sound, speech, and knowledge. I will petition Her for blessings on my voice and writing, and my husband’s business. The last day involves placing your books and tools used in your vocation in front of the altar. That means Sunday will be a media fast for me.

I’ve also brought some of the observance out into the main living area. I have a smaller altar area set up on the dining table. Flowers, a pot with water and rice (representing Ma as the earth and foundation of our sustenance), a cup for incense, a candle, and today’s banana offering. I light the candle morning and evening and say a simple prayer. It brings the observance a bit more into the family sphere, without having to involve them in my detailed observances.

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May you and yours be blessed with abundance of all good things! May you find the beauty that surrounds you and is in you! Jai Ma!

Finished Yantras

I finished my yantras! It’s taken me all week. Between finding the concentrated time and preparing myself, through meditation and chanting, it has been more challenging than I expected to finish such a small project.

I have no idea if these are “correct,” but they are infused with much intention, prayer, and enthusiasm.

Shiva yantra

Shiva yantra

Kali yantra

Kali yantra

Durga yantra

Durga yantra

I’m so pleased that I finally got around to making my own yantras. I found the process educational and meditative. Next I will hang them in my altar.

And yes, I know they look like something a child would do! Visual arts aren’t my skill, and because I have kids, crayons were the coloring medium of choice. These please my own inner-child, so I think all my parts are happy with the outcome.

 

Attempting Yantras

Yantras are intricate, geometrical Hindu designs. Tantric Hinduism uses them for meditation, magic, and devotion. It’s an ancient practice that involves a lot of training, preparation, and precision. So I thought I’d make some. In a morning. Silly me.

I have only ever seen yantras in books or on-line, never in person. I’ve been intrigued by the idea of doing some for myself since I first began my Hindu quarter at the beginning of this blog. Now, with my eldest child in kindergarten and my youngest in morning preschool, I have 2.5 hours of child-free time. I thought surely that would be enough time to make some small yantras. But I was wrong.

I don’t know exactly what the process or requirements are for making yantra. From what I can tell, it involves purification, meditation, preparations, and puja. So this morning I censed my house, made kala (a purification rite), meditated, aligned my souls, and made a brief puja. I called upon Durga and Kali. I made offerings and petitioned their blessings and assistance.

Then I began to draw. I am not a visual artist, but I did my best. My eyes started watering, my hand started cramping. I clearly don’t do this very often. By the time I was done drawing and inking my three mini-yantras an hour had flown and it was time to get my daughter from preschool!

Here is what I have so far:

Shiva yantra

Shiva yantra

Durga yantra

Durga yantra

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Kali yantra

I will have to do yet more puja tomorrow and spend some meditative time coloring them. There is a part of me that wonders if I’m bringing calamity on my house by not having the geometry exact or the lines just so. I figure that these are all gods I have a relationship with, I prepared myself to the best of my knowledge and abilities, and the efforts are in good faith. This isn’t some casual, smart-ass coloring project.

For comparison, here are some pictures of actual yantras:

Kali yantra

Kali yantra

Durga yantra

Durga yantra

Next week I’ll post my colored final yantras.

 

Observing the week with Shiva and Kali

I’ve been writing a lot more frequently about Traditional Witchcraft stuff, but what’s been happening with my Hindu practices, you might be wondering? I haven’t forgotten or forsaken it. I’ve returned to a practice that I gained much from during my Hindu quarter at the start of this blog: I devote one day a week each to Shiva and Kali.

Bangalore Shiva, wikimedia commons.

Bangalore Shiva, wikimedia commons. I find this statue incredibly beautiful.

Mondays are traditionally devoted to Shiva. Tuesdays are Kali’s day. On these days I refrain from eating beef. While many Hindus are vegetarian, not all are, and my family definitely is not. However, almost all Hindus abstain from eating beef, as they view the cow as sacred. After being a lactating mother I can see how the cow might be viewed as holy and life-giving. I also refrain from drinking any alcohol on Mondays. I listen to Hindu chants throughout the days. On Mondays it’s mostly variations of Om Namah Shivaya, on Tuesdays it’s mostly variations of chants to Kali or Durga. I use mantras when washing the dishes and sitting in meditation.

I feel that Shiva does not need extensive puja. Sitting in quiet meditation in honor of him and thinking on him while doing my morning yoga (which I’ve recommitted to doing) is puja enough. However, Kali is quite a bit more demanding and I am increasing my puja skills, endurance and knowledge for her Tuesday morning devotions.

On these two days I read something Hindu related. I have started a book about Lord Ganesha, as he is always honored in my home. Ganesh and Ma are always honored, bowed before, and blessed with incense first before any work I do, whether explicitly Hindu or not.

The rest of the week I focus on the work that I am doing with my Craft teachers and/or how I feel so moved.

In the past I have found that even one day a week focus on these gods has deepened my connections with them at a surprisingly quick pace. I find that Shiva brings a clarity and peacefulness, while Kali engenders a different kind of cunning focus, a fierceness, and a passionate devotion in me.

Collaging the year, part two: 2013

Yesterday I posted about my 2012 collage, what came to pass and what did not (click here to read that post).

For 2013 I did a tarot reading. I used the Mary-El tarot. I drew the 9 of Swords, the King of Disks, the Devil reversed, the 2 of Swords reversed, the Moon, and the Hanged Man. Basically, I have yet another intense year ahead of me. (What I’d like to do is take a moment to whine about how intense and challenging everything has been for the last few years and how I’d really love it if the Universe would cut me a break, but hey – I seem hard-wired for intense. I basically sign up for Challenging and Intense whenever I see it. I’ve done this to myself.)

Instead of feeling overwhelmed and depressed by my reading, I decided to collage what I wanted out of my year, using the reading as my guide. Here’s what I created:

Collage 2013

Collage 2013

The Olympia and 13 are self-explanatory, I hope.

First, we have the 9 of Swords: pressure, passing through challenges, the hero’s journey, facing fears, attending to business, dodging challenges with skill. Yet pressure creates diamonds. Facing challenges makes us stronger. Attending to business gets things done. I decided to use this period to focus on my work, with reminders to endure. To that end I have a picture of a study with lots of books – a reminder to read and write and think! A picture of an altar to Durga. I believe that picture of the naked lady and the owl is an advertisement for a band. It says ‘Tiger! Tiger! Cut them where they bleed.’ I like the art and love the contrast of wisdom, nakedness and passive posture with such aggressive language. That feels right and good at this time. Going radical speaks for itself… although I think I’ve already done that! It never hurts to have another reminder.

Next up is the King of Disks: the master of pleasure and his physical environment. The card in the Mary-El deck has a faun eating of Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil – and liking it! I get a sense of ‘having one’s cake and eating it too.’ This is a reminder to enjoy the physical delights of life. Sex, for sure, as well as the bounty of this land – hence, the 5 oysters (maybe that’s my unconscious choice for a third child right there!). There’s a picture of a lake in Washington. The word ‘vacation’ is important here, because my husband and I have had only one vacation in our 9.5 years together. We desperately need another one.

With the Devil and the 2 of Swords, both reversed, I see me dealing with boundaries, demons, unresolved issues, and issues of identity. I don’t see this as necessarily negative. Dealing with these things can lead to more freedom and healing. The Economist (one of my favorite magazines) had an article on the history of Hell in its holiday double issue. I got the pictures of the demons from there. Why not have some explicit pictures of what I’m up against! I also wanted an image of strength, representing overcoming such demons, and that’s what the picture of Pussy Riot demonstrating in an Orthodox church represents for me. (It also never hurts to have bad ass feminists on display.)

As for identity, I love the photo of Audrey Hepburn laughing. She embodies grace. In this picture she looks like she might be in her 30s (appropriate) and I choose to face my challenges with as much grace and joy as possible. Also, ‘never hide’ – a reminder that while I don’t need to be all up in anyone’s face, I need never hide either.

After struggles of identity and demons, I have the Moon and the Hanged Man to look forward to. The Moon can be a time of instability, of dreams, of the un/subconscious bubbling up, taboos. It’s also a deeply feminine card, one of mystery, and can represent cycles. I wonder if this might coincide with an autumn birth? Or perhaps after dealing with my demons and identity and the inevitable challenge to taboos those things entail, I’ll just want some rest.

The Hanged Man is a card of chosen self-sacrifice. I would like to be more like Odin, who sacrificed himself to himself for the sake of wisdom, rather than like Jesus, who martyred himself to himself.

Both of the final cards indicate a need for retreat, rest, and contemplation. I could certainly use more rest. I’ve got a big picture of fresh, clean bed and a person meditating in a beautiful, serene spot.

There are other images: I think ‘wake up!’ shouts its meaning loud and clear; there is a person singing love into her surroundings (and I promised Kali I would sing); the hands releasing fire/magic; the altar image of Om and Ganesh is always an auspicious addition to any sacred art; the image of the Taj Mahal represents India and my possible trip there this year; the peaceful priestess.

What’s not on this collage? I don’t have anything overtly representing another child, nor anything regarding the possibility of buying a house this year. Adam and I are hoping to buy a house – maybe that big king-sized bed is a nice home waiting for us at the end of the year!

I do have other goals for 2013. I want to learn to wild harvest nettles and devils club. I want to get back to my yoga practice. I want to learn to make a variety of Asian cuisines.

Overall, that tarot reading for the year ahead makes me want to collapse on the floor and yell out ‘you win, Universe! Uncle!’ But my collage brings me joy and I feel inspired to tackle what comes.

What do you think your year holds for you?

Navratri begins!

After doing my dark moon cleaning of the altar, I changed my altar just a little in preparation for Navratri. For the next 8 days I’ll observe this beautiful Hindu festival of Shakti principle. (I wrote about Navratri last year and recommend reading it for a little background.)

My Navratri altar

Navratri focuses on the manifestations of Durga, the Mahadevi, or in my Feri eyes, the Star Goddess, the Great Source from whom we all emerge and to whom we all return. For the next three days I’m focusing on the dark, purifying aspects, as seen in Kali. The picture of Kali, seen hung on the back of the case, is permanently affixed, as she is a deity I honor daily. While asking for boons and blessings is a common part of festivals and holidays, I like that this one kicks off with a focus on purification. It is not purification from our inherent evilness, but purification from the confusion of illusion (often self-inflicted), from obstacles to truth, and from the malaise of inaction. I’ve already made kala this morning and will make kala daily as part of my purification practice.

 

O, Kali Ma!

Slay the fears that limit my spirit.

O Kali Ma!

Dance upon the grave of my iniquities.

Many Hindus choose to fast for the entire holiday. That can mean any number of things: having only one meal a day, giving up meat, eating only grains and fruit…. ask ten Hindus, get ten different answers! I am abstaining from dairy and alcohol. (I already don’t eat grains, other than the occasional bit of rice.) I love dairy and alcohol. In fact, I have a 2/3 full bottle of bourbon sitting on my shelf and I’m not touching it! But I welcome this fast. It feels joyful and life-giving to me.

In the photo you can see a red scarf draped under my little table, with red candle holders. Sandalwood incense burns; the white shell holds two handfuls of rice as an offering. This morning I added a ramekin with turmeric in it. I’ll change out the offerings throughout the nine days. I plan to run the Iron and Pearl Pentacles, make kala, and have two sittings a day of prayer and meditation.

Already I feel the presence of Ma Durga. Her loving presence descended just a little last night, and I was grateful. This is a very personal holiday for me. I don’t have the kids involved at all. I retreat into my tiny office and sit at my altar – time just for me.

Jai Ma!

 

(If you observe Navratri, I’d love to hear how you involve your family, if at all.)

 

 

Navratri, as seen through Feri eyes

Navratri is a major Hindu celebration of the Shakti, or feminine, aspect of the Divine, celebrated over nine nights. I don’t understand Hindu astrology or calendar systems, but I’m sure it is no coincidence that it occurs close to the autumnal equinox and starts at the dark of the moon. Navratri celebrates Durga, who I see as the Dark Mother. The first three nights celebrate her fierce qualities, and focus on purification. The second three nights focus on her aspect as Lakshmi, goddess of abundance, wealth, and beauty. These are not merely physical qualities, though there’s nothing wrong with wanting more beauty or wealth, because these things relate to the spiritual nature as well. The last three nights concentrate on Saraswati, goddess of wisdom. Ultimately this is a form of abundance and is the goal of all good things.

You might be wondering why I’m talking about a Hindu festival. Isn’t this quarter about Feri? As you’ll find, Feri is very fluid. I think this is an auspicious hinge for my quarters. How could I possibly ignore such a perfect and beautiful festival, one that celebrates the Holy Mother? Let’s look at Navratri from more of a Feri perspective. I hope my Hindu readers will indulge me.

Without delving into the Feri cosmogony or pantheon (I’ll save that for another post) I’ll share with you a little bit about the Star Goddess, the ‘source deity’, as I see Her. Like Durga in many traditions, the Star Goddess is the Holy Mother, the source of all other divine expressions. Like the Hindu tradition, this doesn’t negate the personal integrity of other gods, but rather acknowledges the common Source of all things. She is the Beginning, the Ground of Being in whom we live, move, and have our being; from her all things emerge, and unto her all things return – as the prayer goes.*

She is black – like the night, like darkness, like our fears, the ultimate Black Heart of Innocence, the totality of colors and all things. Black is not a frightening nor evil color. It’s intensity and wholeness. Pure, unsullied, virgin. Many people equate these things with white, but I prefer black – because it’s all those ‘good’ things, without forgetting the ‘bad’ or ‘scary’ things that are part of us or our world as well.

If one wanted to look at the goddess in Navratri from a more Wiccan point of view, we can see aspects of the triple goddess. Durga, or Kali, can be seen as the crone figure, associating death with old age and darkness (sometimes known as Ana in the Feri tradition). Laskhmi might be the maiden figure, associated with youth and beauty and the more ‘frivolous’ things (possibly connected to Nimue in Feri). Saraswati in her mature, fullness of authority, might be linked to the mother figure (or Mari in Feri). I’m not a big fan of linking goddesses to phases of life or to fertility as these don’t necessarily reflect the universality of experience. I’m not saying they can’t, but it doesn’t speak deeply to me. All of these concepts, and thus goddesses, are ageless and independent of anything ‘fertile.’ And yet, they have much to teach us.

During Navratri all pujas are performed by women, since this festival is the pinnacle of Shakti worship. While the Star Goddess is termed Goddess and refered to as She and Her, the mystic in us knows that She is neither male nor female – she both, and then some! Shakti is the creative energy  of life force. She is the face we put on something so big, so vast, that we can scarcely comprehend it. In our day and age focusing this energy on the female side of things can be a liberating and restorative practice, particularly for those who have felt overwhelmed by the dominant masculinity of the mainstream world. Men and women look to the Holy Mother, perhaps not because She is a she, but because the change in language can snap us out of old ways of thinking and get us to see the Divine in a fresh way. Our hearts might be slightly more open. I know it was for me.

So how am I observing this festival now that I’m not practicing as a Hindu? I wake up and wash and meditate. I say good morning to Ganesh (he did NOT want to be put away). I light a candle honoring Durga. I say the Holy Mother prayer and I ask Kali to purify me, to slay the fears that limit me. I’ll do the same in the evening. In two days time I’ll switch to thinking about Lakshmi, praying for good things and offering her my gratitude for all I have been given. Prayer and offerings. Simple but joyful.

Jai Ma!

and

Blessed be!

 

*There’s more to the prayer. This first part might be familiar to many people, from many traditions. I learned it from T. Thorn Coyle.