Holiday Gift Guide for Magical Kids (and Kids at Heart)

When I’m shopping for my kids for birthdays or holidays, I rarely think to myself ‘is this Pagan?’ I don’t care if something is exactly my flavor of spirituality. What I’m looking for are things that foster creativity and enjoyment, and stories that reflect the values with which I and my husband are raising our family. There isn’t a lot of high quality Pagan- or Hindu-specific kid stuff out there (that I can find easily). But there are some things I’ve found and I’d like to share with you. Some of these books and media I’ve written about in other posts. I apologize for the repeats.

First, you’ll find no toys listed here. Basically anything that fosters imagination and creativity (paper and markers, blocks of any kind, dress up clothes, fake kitchen items, science kits, robotics kits, etc) are great for kids, as are anything that will get them outside. What could be more spiritual than creativity and nature? These sorts of ideas extrapolated for adults are also a good idea, because it’s rare to meet an adult who is getting enough creative or outside time. I know I’m not!

Books

We are a house full of readers. Below are some of the books I have particularly loved for kids of all ages.

Lakshmi, from Kathleen Edwards' Holy Stars.

Lakshmi, from Kathleen Edwards’ Holy Stars.

*Holy Stars by Kathleen Edwards is a great book for overviews of the world’s religious figures. Equal space is devoted to Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Yahweh, Muhammad, Lakshmi, Krishna, Buddha, Chango, and others. It’s all done in a graphic novel style that is engaging and fun to read. Snippets from prayers are included. It won’t tell the full story or answer all questions, but introducing kids of all ages to the world’s spiritual characters is a wonderful way to promote religious diversity, understanding, and literacy.

May not be ideal for kids under 4 or 5. Some of the gods’ stories can be…. scary. For example, the crucifixion of Jesus is not easy to explain to a 3-year-old!

Click on the image above to go to the author/illustrator’s site to see more images.

bigmomma*Big Momma Makes the World, by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, is a beautiful picture book telling the story of creation. What I love about this version is that it doesn’t use an old, white man as the Creator. Instead we see an African-American woman as the Creator. The images are simply gorgeous.The narrative voice is delightful. I think this book is appropriate for all but the most conservative of traditions.

This book is appropriate for all ages.

abc_cover_small* ABC Book of Shadows is a board book, perfect for tiny hands and little ones just learning their letters. I will admit that the art in this isn’t my favorite, but little eyes love the bright colors and child-like drawing. This book is written with a Wiccan point of view, and I’m not Wiccan, but you know? It doesn’t matter. As my son got older we were able to talk about some of the differences between what I believe and what the books says. No matter, this a well-loved book in our house. I’m pretty sure I have it memorized, that’s how many times we’ve read this. In fact, our copy is starting to fall apart. I don’t expect it to last beyond the third child!

Click on the image to go Itty Bitty Witch Works, the author’s small press.

elsa beskowchristmas* While not explicitly Pagan or religious, but simply marvelous all the same, are the works of Swedish author/illustrator Elsa Beskow. We have three of her books and I would gladly have more! My children love the pictures as well as the stories. Beskow focuses on images and cycles of nature from her native Sweden. Characters are embodiments of the elements, seasons, or folk tradition (such as trolls) that sometimes interact with human children. Some books are slightly more Christian in theme, but none of the books are ‘religious’ in any overt way. The length of the stories might be hard for kids under 3 to sit through, but the images will grab them. Content-wise, these books are appropriate for people of all ages and all traditions.

 

* A great find at our local library was Gillian Cross’s wonderful retelling of The odysseyOdyssey, with Neil Packer’s stunning illustrations. This isn’t a complete retelling, but it’s enough to entrance a child – and the parent who has to read it aloud! Books of ancient tales and myths, if well done, are popular in our house. This one was a particular favorite. In fact, we will be gifting our son with his own copy for the holidays.

Ideal to read aloud to pre-literate kids and great for older kids to read on their own. Click on the link above to see more images from inside.

sea of trolls * I have written at length about The Sea of Trolls. In fact, I consider it one of the best non-magic books about magic! Here’s part of what I’ve written before:

The Sea of Trolls is set in the 8th century in Saxon ‘England’. Our hero is Jack, an 11 yr old boy. His father longs for Lindisfarne, his mother keeps bees, his 5 yr old sister Lucy insists she’s a fairy princess, and he befriends a Druidic bard. In the first few chapters of the book, Jack is the bard’s apprentice and he begins learning and witnessing magic. Then comes the Viking invasion, and he and Lucy are carried off as slaves. We briefly see Picts and then Jack and Lucy are taken across the North Sea and must venture into Jotunheim, the land of the Ice Giants/Trolls.

It’s a wonderful story, with great characters. The writing is simple – very appropriate for readers 9-11 yrs old. While I like the story and enjoy reading it aloud to my son, what blows me away is the depiction of magic and spirit.

I have read this book many times to my son. There are perhaps two chapters (one on berserking, in particular) that might be too descriptive for your under 10 child – your mileage may vary. I admit to skipping bits here and there for my son.

This book is the first in a trilogy. I enjoyed the entire trilogy, but this is by far my favorite. A great easy read for the older kid or adult who likes fantasy, myth, and/or history.

GraveMercy_* For teens and adults who enjoy YA writing, I recommend Robin LaFevers’ His Fair Assassins series. Grave Mercy is the first in the historical fiction series. So far there are two books; I believe the third is coming out in the spring of 2014 (I can’t wait!). What’s great about these books are the strong female protagonists. They are trained assassins and nuns for the Breton god of Death, Mortaine. The young ladies haven’t really chosen their lives, and so their motives are complicated by politics and romance. I greatly enjoyed these stories.

What makes me include them here is the complex, if fictional, depiction of ‘the old gods’ existing in a newly Christianizing world. There is also an incredibly powerful vision of the god of Death at the end of Grave Mercy that made the theologian and Pagan in me jump for joy.

MeetPolkadot* The last book I want to recommend for kids is not spiritual at all, yet I think many readers of my blog will be interested in it. Meet Polkadot is an educational book on gender diversity for kids. Talcott Broadhead is a local (to me) author and social worker with a gender identity-diverse family. This book has bright illustrations and explores the topic through the eyes of Polkadot, a transgender child (or, for those that assume transgender means surgically altered, let me also throw in the phrase ‘gender neutral’). In a society that doesn’t know the difference between sex and gender (one is biology, the other is identity) and is suffocating under the tyranny of ‘blue is for boys, pink is for girls’ nonsense, this book is more than needed on bookshelves everywhere.

But better than my recommendation is the fact that my 5-year-old loved it. My nearly 3-year-old listened to the whole thing, though I don’t think she really understood much of it. We had great discussion afterwards, too. My son really wanted to know whether Polkadot was a boy or a girl – and that was a great opportunity to talk about the many ways people react to non-normative gender expressions.

This book is not available on Amazon. Please click on the either the picture or the link to go to Danger Dot Publishing.

Not books

* Once you’ve read all the books and you want to sit and watch something with positive Pagan values, I can recommend nothing as highly as the Avatar: The Last Airbender television series. I know, it came out years ago, but there still isn’t anything out there as compelling, with such outstanding design, strong females characters, well-written story arcs, and what I see as Pagan values. Sure, the last point is debatable, as there is nothing in the show explicitly Pagan. The series draws more from Asian and indigenous cultures than Western ones, yet this lack of Christian-based morality is a breath of fresh air. The values presented are all ones I hope my children (and myself!) emulate. I am sure I have seen every episode 30 times, and it still doesn’t bore me.

This program is suitable for kids over the age of 2 (the first season especially; the ending four episodes might be more appropriate for 5 and up – again your mileage may vary).

* Another cartoon that I recommend for its feminist leanings, excellent art and depictions of magic is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I am no fan of content created for marketing, but this cartoon series was designed and spearheaded by the amazing Lauren Faust. She’s worked on the Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends (two other cartoons that I am a big fan of). There is nothing spiritual about this series, but I can’t help but recommend something using magical tropes AND filled with strong female characters (and solid animation). I love Rainbow Dash, but suspect I’m more of a Twilight Sparkle. Suitable for all ages.

My son's Ganesh murti.

My son’s Ganesh murti.

* Finally, I think a small Ganesh murti can be ideal for kids. Their very own statue! Plus, small murtis aren’t often that expensive – usually between $10-20. Ganesh is a fantastic god to keep in a kid’s bedroom. He’s kind, loving, happy, and will keep watch over the littles! I like to say he’s a great gateway god!

Equinox Thoughts

Equinox is the time when light and dark is balanced. From here we tip discernibly into the Dark Season. While technically the Dark Season begins at Midsummer, when the nights begin to get longer, I don’t really feel the longer nights until around this Equinox time. The same goes for the growing days. I don’t feel their lengthening until spring Equinox.

Once upon a time, the Equinox meant for me giving the house a deep clean and fasting. The fasting has fallen by the wayside since I’ve mostly been either pregnant or nursing for nearly every Equinox in the last 6 years. Some day I’ll get back to fasting. Besides being an excellent spiritual discipline, it’s also really good for our bodies. (Intermittent fasting being very different from starving or chronic hunger, of course.)

Once again I’m pregnant and thus not fasting. I’m also not deep cleaning my house today. I like the idea of a twice yearly deep clean, but this week my spouse’s grandparents from Kansas are in town and I have my monthly training in Seattle tonight. So I’ll space out my cleaning slowly over the next week.

We are entering my favorite time of year. I love the chilly days and nights, the fall colors, the dark times, and all the holidays approaching: Navratri, Samhain, Diwali, Thanksgiving, Pancha Ganapati, Yule and Christmas.

May you find balance today. May you, in whatever ways you choose, prepare yourself for the long nights (or days) to come!

Ganesh Chaturthi

Yesterday was Ganesh Chaturthi – the first day of a ten (or so) day festival celebrating the birthday of Ganesh. In India this is a huge festival! Many people make murtis (statues) of Ganesh out of clay and then submerge and dissolve them in local rivers.

There is no Hindu community in my town with which to celebrate, and I have no interest in crafting a statue (maybe next year?), so my household celebrated by basically having a bit of a birthday party for Ganesh.

IMG_0715

I set up the altar on the dining table. We placed all of our Ganesha murtis (all four) on the cloth. There is a candle, lots of flowers, a singing bowl, sandalwood incense, a plate with chocolates (one for each of the family members), and a big bowl of sweet rice ‘pudding.’ I performed a puja for the whole family, and then we sat down to dinner. After we had eaten dinner at the table, we cleared away the dishes, sang happy birthday to Ganesh, and dished up the rice.

I left the altar up during the night. It was so pretty.

May the blessings of Ganesh – wisdom, truth, the removal of all obstacles, and the abundance of all good things – be with you and yours!

IMG_0717

Five Year Old Rituals

Last week my son had his 5 Year Old Rituals. What does that mean? Let’s start at the beginning.

My son was born prematurely and spent the first month of his life in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). It was easily the worst month of my life. Son, B, was born healthy and strong, though very, very small. He has grown to inherit both his mother’s and his father’s emotional intensity, so while he’s a bright, healthy, empathetic little guy, he’s also combative, struggles especially much with impulse control, and wants all the attention all the time. (Some of this is typical to the age, some is very clearly inherited personality.)

Me and my son, 24 hours old. He's less than 5 lbs.

Me and my son, 24 hours old. He’s less than 5 lbs.

Adam and I have wondered if some of the emotional intensity of our son is due to his month in the NICU. Surely, infants have no memory of such things? He was cared for, relatively healthy, and I was with him nearly 24/7. Two years ago our suspicions were confirmed. Sitting around the table in Wales, eating breakfast one morning, Adam and I were discussing when we would move. B was just shy of 3 1/2 years old. “Don’t leave me!” he said. “Of course we wouldn’t leave you,” we responded. “Don’t leave me like you did in the hospital,” he said. Now, B knows he spent a month in the hospital, but we’ve never given him the details. What he said next blew my mind. “You left me in the hospital and I was lonely. I tried to take my stickers off, but the doctors wouldn’t let me.” And here he touched the exact places on his torso where the monitors had been attached. He had indeed tried to rip them off repeatedly. He successfully managed to rip out his feeding tube two or three times in the first weeks as well. Besides showing me that even pre-term infants have the capacity for feelings and memory, this confirmed that his early experience was exacerbating the intensity of his emotions.

Fast forward to this summer.

At the Gathering I attended in Canada in May I had the pleasure of meeting a family raising their kids in their tradition (I think it was a branch of Wicca). Their eldest child, a male, had recently undergone his Coming of Age Ritual. I asked many questions, heard the story, their reasoning, and I witnessed how self-possessed their 14-year-old son was. I was really moved. Something else they told me was that they had been building up to it over years. It hadn’t come out of the blue, but had a context. Coming of age meant something specific for their family and also for the community they circled with.

My husband and I have talked off and on over the years about the lack of rituals in our Western world. We have them, but we don’t call them out as rituals, of course. Adam and I would like to have Coming of Age Rituals for our kids, but that context starts long before 12 or 14 or whenever they’re ready. So we decided to start at 5.

When I was pregnant with my son, we were living in California and the state had a big advertising campaign for healthy kids; 0-5 years were the ages covered. How could all of those ages be lumped together? I was confused. How is an infant and a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old similar? Now that I’ve got my own kids I see just how appropriate that grouping is. Only recently has my son left all the traces of babyhood behind. The leaps of emotional, intellectual, and physical development that occur through out these years are huge and consistent. And at five kids in the United State start kindergarten. Five felt like the right age to start rituals.

Over the course of the summer we’ve been talking about B’s ‘Five Year Old Rituals.’ He seemed excited. He couldn’t wait! Adam and I have been planning out what to do, what might have meaning for him, etc. We wanted an element of surprise. We wanted to incorporate a few aspects of ritual as Adam and I experience them. We wanted to bring in some of our spirit allies. We wanted a few tasks that would mark the end of an era and the beginning of something new, using the strengths that B has. And we would celebrate!

Last week he finally had them! And it was NOT what we expected.

After putting both kids to sleep, we woke B up and had him get dressed again. He had only been asleep for 10 minutes, but he sleeps deeply and did not want to wake up. We told him there were cupcakes waiting for him at the end of the ritual – that did the trick! While I set up a few things outside, he had to help Adam build a fire in the fire pit. He carried the wood and learned to light matches. He was awake and happy at this point. We sat on the ground and did a little grounding meditation. I said the Holy Mother prayer and called to Ganesh and our Ancestors for guidance.

Fire, made by my son and Adam

Fire, made by my son and Adam

At this point B was sitting on the ground with his hands over his ears. He didn’t want any of the prayers. I brought out some special spirit food incense and he was more than willing to help sprinkle it into the fire.

Then everything devolved into a nasty mess of name calling, tears, and yelling.

The backyard was dark, except for the fire in the pit. B ran around the backyard telling us our fire was an ‘idiot fire’ and it was weak because it wasn’t burning up to space. He was angry and crying. Adam and I were a little stunned. Hadn’t he been looking forward to this? We had to reinvent our three tasks and rethink the ritual.

For the first task we had planned to recreate a womb with our bodies and have him push out. Like the armchair psychologists we are, we hoped that maybe this would give him some sense of closure and empowerment around his birth story. In the end we didn’t do this, but there was some physical struggle, since he came up and starting trying to tip me out of my chair, hitting me and trying to throw a brick at me. So we held him tight and he screamed and pushed us away.

His next task was to jump the fire. While I held B and tried to get him to stop yelling (it was 10 at night, midweek, and the neighbors were trying to sleep), Adam started jumping over the fire. This got B’s attention. We told him his task was to jump the fire. He didn’t believe he could do it. We told him we’d help him and explained that it was ok to be scared. Finally we were able to convince him to try. We held his arms as he ran and when he jumped, we lifted him up over the fire. This scared the crap out of him and he started crying some more.

At this point we decided to move inside, so as not to wake the neighbors. I carried things downstairs to Adam’s office and altar. Adam and B put the fire out. Once downstairs we sat and grounded again and then asked B to tell us his story so far. He’s very articulate, with a great memory, but he wanted our help. We coaxed him and he told us the events of his life that he remembered.

Finally I anointed him with water from the jug in which I have water blessed for Kali. He wiped that off immediately. We said we were proud of him, that he was no longer a baby, but now a boy. We gifted him with his own statue of Ganesha, and with a little incense holder and incense matches. He giggled with delight at the statue, hugging it and crying out, “My very own Ganesh!” We finished with tiny cupcakes. Exhausted, we all tidied up and got ready for bed.

New Ganesh murti

New Ganesh murti

Was this a traumatic experience for him? I wondered if this might only make things worse. What a confusing and far more upsetting experience than we had expected or hoped for. Did we do the wrong thing in thinking this was appropriate? Tucking him into bed that night, he said he wanted me to sleep with him, that he didn’t want to be a boy but to stay a baby. Then he rolled over and fell asleep.

What was fascinating is that the next day he woke up and proudly told his sister that he had had his Five Year Old Rituals. We went out for a celebratory lunch altogether. Two kids, aged about 5 and 7, were sitting next to us. B said they’d probably had their Rituals too. His grandparents came over unexpectedly that afternoon and he proudly told them about his Rituals.

B practices lighting incense

B practices lighting incense

Later Adam told me that B had apologized in the morning for calling us names, saying that he was scared and he had wanted to shut down the things that were scaring him (the ritual), but he didn’t know how so he called us names.

In the end, this was a very different experience than either Adam or I expected. We learned a lot about our son. We learned that ritual with children is never going to go as we plan it. But it also served its purpose. Our son feels like he did something Significant and he feels proud of himself. Those are great things to hold in his heart as he heads off to kindergarten in two weeks time.

Passing Down the Trad

There’s a series of blog posts over at Patheos on passing along one’s faith to kids or a younger generation. I’ve really enjoyed reading the different perspectives. As I’ve got two kids of my own, ages 5 and 2.5, here are my two cents.

My husband, Adam, and I are raising our kids in a Pagan household. I don’t say that we are raising the kids as Pagans, or to be Pagans, but Adam and I run our house in a certain way, practice in a certain way, and celebrate in a certain way – a rather hodge podge, but decidedly Pagan way. The kids see us and hear us, and kids absorb what surrounds them.

Many Pagans were raised Christian and have issues with the indoctrination of their upbringing. Adam was raised Christian and it’s certainly had a detrimental impact on his life. I was raised secular, with no religion of any sort, really. My kids get the best of all worlds, I think. They get the knowledge and respect of world religions (thanks to having a religions studies scholar for a mother); they get the flexibility and ‘hands off’ attitude that worked for me; they get the guidance that their parents can provide and can witness in their parents’ practices; they get some semblance of tradition that they can either hang on to or choose to reject as they grow older.

Adam and I have no faith to pass down. It’s not about faith. We are passing along tools, values, and lore (as it is appropriate, and much of Feri lore is not at this point). Does this mean that we talk about the gods as archetypes or myths? No. As P Sufenas Virius Lupus suggests, if the gods are good enough for the grown ups, surely they are good enough for the kids? I agree. The kids see that mama and papa honor Ganesh (we have statues in nearly every room!). The kids know of several of mama’s gods and several of papa’s. They are welcome to honor – or not – as they see fit.

Ganesh, Remover of All Obstacles

Ganesh, Remover of All Obstacles

Much of what we pass down is based on expediency: does it work? do you experience it? Why worship a deity if you don’t feel like you’ve got a relationship? We talk about this and we talk about how to forge relationship with deity, the Land, or other spirits. If our kids grow up and feel that they’ve experienced nothing of meaning, so be it. Maybe they grow up and Jesus speaks to them, so be it.

Right now, at 5, we’re working on ‘controlling all our parts.’ This involves a lot of listening: what does your body tell you? What do you need? How are you feeling? What else do you sense? I use the word ‘control’ here, not because our triple souls need to be controlled, but because my 5-year-old struggles to keep his hands to himself (and every other body part) and keeping his parts in check is part of controlling his hands. We have worked on meditation and deep breathing. It’s something we started with both kids when they were around 18 months, with limited success, but you have to start young! Sometimes my son sits for 90 seconds at a time and practices his meditation. You gotta start somewhere!

We’ve also worked on raising energy while meditating. I’ve walked him through a couple of very short guided meditations. Then we talk about what he experienced. It’s fascinating to hear what he’s experiencing and how he connects that his regular day existence. For example, after one of the first meditations on raising a ball of light in his center, he then asked if he could create a spirit outside himself that would do his bidding. Could I teach him that?? I was floored at that connection, because yes, it is possible! However, I’ve never done that, and he needs to master sitting still first.

The kids see their parents sitting regularly, sometimes chanting, sometimes giving offerings, lighting candles and incense, and sometimes creating spells or reading tarot. Occasionally I’ll let one or both of the kids watch – sometimes because I’m doing something very simple that they won’t disrupt and sometimes because if I don’t have them with me I won’t get another chance that day to do my offering or whatnot. I’ve embraced that I may have pujas that are more chaotic than others, and that sometimes there just won’t be meditation, only a bow and an offering.

by Janko Hoener, via creative commons

by Janko Hoener, via creative commons

Adam and I are slowly creating holidays that reflect our deities, our experiences with Place and the Wheel of the Year, and the rhythms of our family. So far, Samhain/Halloween and Yule/Christmas are the big holidays of the year. There are other ones, scattered through out the year. Sometimes the kids are really interested and other times they couldn’t be bothered. I think that’s pretty normal, and there is very little pressure for them to be involved. But they see the grown ups doing it.

Can you see the theme here? The kids see what we do and can participate as they desire. There is no coercion, but I won’t say there isn’t any indoctrination. The kids hear what the grown ups talk about, and in our house it is not unusual to hear an hour-long discussion on tarot in a car ride to Seattle, or hear discussions of magic at the dinner table, or how different branches of Buddhism have different meditation techniques as we’re getting ready for bed.

These actions reflect our values. We support these values – of experience, of practice, of finding ways to communicate with others (whether human, spirit or other), of creativity – by surrounding ourselves with others who share similar values, even if they express them differently. We read and watch things* that encourage these values as well, and we talk about them.

So yeah, we are passing along our traditions, but they are traditions that are unfolding. Neither Adam nor I are initiated into anything. We’re both learning as we go. This too is valuable for our kids to witness. Not all of our tools or practices are appropriate for little kids. We are treading each age and stage carefully as we come to it. Ask me in another 5 years how we’re passing along our traditions and I’m sure I’ll have a different set of answers.

A woodcut by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark

A woodcut by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark

*Books and things that we particularly love for our kids:

Novels: The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
The Sea of Trolls – Nancy Farmer
Loads of fairy tales

Comic books and cartoons:
Avatar: The Last Airbender
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
Adventure Time
Any and everything by Hiyao Miyazaki (holding off on Princess Mononoke until the kids are older)

Sacrifice

The ever provocative Sam Webster posted about sacrifice this week at his biweekly blog on Patheos. Many people seemed off put at the idea of animal sacrifice, but Mr Webster spoke about the many different kinds of offerings and sacrifices that can be made. I think sacrifice is important – especially for modern Western people.

What is sacrifice? It is a giving of something precious, something that ‘feeds’ the gods or spirits, but I also view it as a gift. A simple gift might be on par with taking flowers or a bottle of wine to a friend’s house for dinner. A complicated offering might be akin to saving all year for your beloved’s birthday present.

In Hindu ritual there are many sacrifices: oil, lamps, spices, incense, fruit, flowers, breath (in the form of mantras and japa), etc. Many Pagans offer wine, food, candles, and incense. I don’t think most people think of lighting candles and incense as sacrifice, but it is. All offerings are sacrifice.

Cain and Abel Offering their sacrifices - Gustav Doré

Cain and Abel Offering their sacrifices – Gustav Doré

And then there’s blood sacrifice. Many people today seem to equate this with a barbaric past. Most of those same people eat meat. Even the strictest of vegans kill things to eat. They sacrifice carrots and grains for their own well-being. We all kill in order to live. There is a baffling hypocrisy in most people’s food politics. How is eating factory farmed meat and cheese more acceptable than sacrificing a goat or a chicken or a fish and offering part of that to one’s gods? I think when we start to kill things with our hands we gain a greater appreciation of what our food means.

We eat a lot of meat in our house and most times as I prepare it I verbally offer up thanks to the animal, the land, and the hands that made it possible for my family to eat. I am cognizant that other lives died and other hands worked hard so that my family (and yours) could be fed. This is sacrifice.

There is sacrifice in choosing to spend money on food that is healthy and ethical. Financially, cleaner, more sustainable food options cost more, but it is a sacrifice my family chooses to make (as we can). Donating to a charity or cause is also an act of sacrifice. Perhaps if we are very wealthy a $20 donation is no hardship at all; perhaps that $20 is a huge sacrifice.

My family donates money every month to the local food bank. Food is a big theme in our house; we eat well and believe that is a form of justice, health care and comfort, and we want to help others have those things too. We have a set donation range monthly, if things are tight I donate at the lower end, if things are easier I chose the higher end. But every month we donate. It’s easier these days, but for much of our first year here it was often a true test of my dedication. We haven’t told the food bank, but our donations are in honor of Ganesh (I may make a notation in my donation soon to make this honor more formal). He has assisted us tremendously and is our household patron ‘saint.’ I believe donating to others is an act of ‘repayment’ for our blessings. It is also an act that cultivates generosity.

Burning nag champa, by Cary Bass via Wikimedia Commons

Burning nag champa, by Cary Bass via Wikimedia Commons

Most of us are blessed with so much: food, shelter, access to internet, etc. I believe that a practice of offerings to our gods, our Ancestors, and the spirits of the Lands we inhabit, be it a blood sacrifice, a first portion of our meal, regular burning of incense, or even a hair from our heads, helps create a spirit of generosity in ourselves, forge relationship and trust between us and the spirits, and yes, actually feeds the spirits.

I’ve written about fasting before and it too is a form of sacrifice. I don’t think it ‘feeds’ the spirits so much as feeds our own souls. Of course, the devotion and dedication present in a fast can bring us closer to those things for which we fasted.

Our spiritual life is about connection. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices for greater connection. Even with our loved ones. I know that sometimes I really don’t want to say sorry; I might feel it is unwarranted or I’m still angry, but I know that a simple ‘I’m sorry I said X’ or ‘I’m sorry I was a rude about how I felt’ etc can bring healing and closeness. That stingy extraction feels like it costs me (pride?), but it feeds the relationship and strengthens connection.

In my own devotions I always light candles and burn incense. At various other times, I offer sweets, flowers, money, wine, food…. Occasionally I’ve offered my own blood and hair. I offer it all. Just as I offer up all of me to my partner and children and closest friends, I do the same for my gods.

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.