Holiday Gift Guide for the Mystic

It’s full on holiday shopping time. But what do you buy the mystic in your life? What do you get for the witch that has everything? Let me help you!

This is my first ever gift guide. I typically don’t want to encourage the commodification of sacred holidays, but who doesn’t like pretty things? And who doesn’t want to support independent artists and other small businesses?

So without further ado here are things that I would love – I mean, that the spiritual person in your life might love. In no particular order, I present to you a list of beautiful things. I’ll admit, I have expensive tastes. Some are these items are quite affordable, others …. well, that’s why there are wish lists.

Sri yantra from Ekabhumi

Sri yantra from Ekabhumi

Ekabhumi creates many beautiful things, but his yantras are glorious. These are large geometrical paintings, prayed over and infused with intention, much like icons in the Christian tradition. I would love to have one of these in my home. I think it would look beautiful over a lovely murti of a Shiva Nataraja, perhaps hanging in a yoga studio, or blessing some one’s home.

You can order Ekabhumi’s yantras here.

Beautiful garnet and copper japa mala by Bija Malas

Beautiful garnet and copper japa mala by Bija Malas

Several months ago I tried to make my own malas, prayer beads used in Hindu and Buddhist practice. I did not make it out of the bead store. I faced several challenges: the overwhelming choices presented at the bead shop, not knowing the meanings behind any of the stones, my limited budget, and the reality that I was not about to have the time, money or manual dexterity to create a practice mala, much less a beautiful final product. I went searching online and found Bija Malas.

Bija Malas are very pretty and seem quite affordable to me. There are shorter bracelet ones, along with more traditional 108 bead malas. While I long for a 108 bead mala, I don’t know which of those I would prefer! They are all so beautiful. These would make a valuable gift for the Buddhist, Hindu, yoga teacher or student, or meditator in your life.

Jet and amber necklace

Jet and amber necklace

Raven Edgewalker creates a wide array of crafts and wares for witches. I am particularly fond of her amber and jet jewelry. These two stones work well together to purify energy and to protect from and neutralize negative energy. Very handy for witches and sorcerers.

This particular necklace is available from greenwomancrafts for $49.

Alchemical Raven by Liv Rainey-Smith

Alchemical Raven by Liv Rainey-Smith

I love art and long to have a house full of art and crafts. I also adore word cuts. Liv Rainey-Smith combines my love of art, wood cuts, and occult themes. I discovered her work at the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle a few months ago. Her work changes regularly. There were several pieces I saw there that aren’t listed in her store now. I assume they sold – and for good reason!

This glorious cut is called Alchemical Raven and sells for $350.

For the literary and discerning magician, witch or occultist of any stripe, anything by Scarlet Imprint is a good choice. Their works never fail to be thought-provoking, informative, and created with the highest quality materials. Scarlet Imprint books are bound spells. Their latest offering is the two-volume edition of The Testament of Cyprian of the Mage, last in a series on grimoires by Jake Stratton-Kent. I, however, do not have Pomba Gira, and have wanted to read it for a while now.

Pomba Gira

Pomba Gira

Hey! This is the only one not sold! I'll take it!

Hey! This is the only one not sold! I’ll take it!

Another artist whose work makes my witchy heart beat faster is Lindsey Kustusch. Her raven and owl series are stunning. Sadly, they are almost all entirely sold out! The one pictured at left is the last one left!

She also has a series of paintings of San Francisco, and those are striking as well. Perhaps you know some one who has left their heart in San Francisco?

Her bottle still lifes are delightfully creepy and will likely appeal to those who love curiosities, as well as liquor. Not that I know anyone like that…..

Sarah Lawless is a writer, artist, crafter, and master salve maker. I would take just about anything from her. I can recommend her flying salves first hand. Her apothecaries are on hiatus for the holidays, but I still want to give her work a shout out. Her knives are stunning.

chibiTarot-smallImages-09-theHermitFinally, no gift guide is complete without a nod to the Chibi Tarot. Only the major arcana is available at this time. This may look like a silly cartoon deck, suitable for the kid, manga lover, or video gamer in your life. Do not be deceived! This is a legitimate and powerful deck. It’s also created by husband, who is writing a book along side this deck and gearing up to begin the minor arcana.

I think this collection of beautiful things is enough to get anyone’s gift giving juices flowing.  Stay tuned next week for recommendations for the kiddos! I guarantee that list won’t be as pricey as this one.

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Living Saraswati

Today begins the final three days of Navratri, in which Saraswati, goddess of language, knowledge and sound, is honored. I have an affinity with Her, as I have spent much of my life in pursuit of education and knowledge, as well as honing my singing skills.

Saraswati is comparable to the Greek goddess Athena in many ways. Both are independent; Saraswati, unlike most of the other Hindu goddesses, is not the consort of any male deity; her devotion to her studies means she has little time for domestic duties or love relationships. Like Athena who was born from the head of Zeus, Saraswati “emerged from Brahma’s mouth as the power of the creative word.” (Sally Kempton, Awakening Shakti, p. 178) Like Athena she has a bird as a companion, though a swan, not an owl. Sraswati is invoked for creative inspiration, musical skill, depth of knowledge, learning of languages, communication, wisdom, and all forms of general study. I think modern inclusions might be computer coding, scientific research, problem solving, and all forms of discernment. In a world where women have only recently had widespread access to education, I find it fascinating that a female has long been the embodiment of all these things!

Saraswati

Saraswati

As I sat in meditation yesterday I was reminded of the blessings I’ve received thanks to my education, and in the course of my studies I never forgot the privilege it was to be a woman, much less studying theology. In the United States, until fairly recently, it was a rare event for women to study theology. Several of the women that I studied under (including the iconic Rosemary Radford Ruether) received their doctorates in the 1960s and ’70s. Most of them did not write their dissertations on the topics for which they are now known. For example, Judith Plaskow, renowned Jewish feminist theologian, wrote her dissertation on the theologies of Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich, two Protestant theologians. I will wager a guess that the female professors I was able to study under at the graduate level had few, if any, female professors themselves when they were in school.

Looking at the broader history of Western religion and education, I can quickly name only three great female theologians before the mid-twentieth century, Saints Macrina, Hildegard von Bingen, and Julian of Norwich. Macrina the Younger was sister to two of the three great Cappadocian Fathers, Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory wrote about her, praising her intellect and claiming that she had a prominent role in his education. It is not unlikely that she influenced his theology, yet she wrote nothing of her own. Hildegard von Bingen lived in the twelfth century and was nothing short of a polymath genius. She was a mystic, a theologian, an abbess, a composer, and a scientist. Julian of Norwich, born in the mid-fourteenth century, is most famous for her Revelations of Divine Love, a collection of her mystical visions.

There are other mystics and influential female theologians, but not many in the grand sweep of a Christian tradition of two thousand years. Given that most people did not receive a formal education, and women not even until the late 19th century, I see my own education as a recent privilege and do not take it for granted. Even today in many parts of the world women are still denied access to an education. Many boys may receive only a basic education or are given only a religious education, without an understanding of science, arts, and the world around them.

We can see the struggle for learning in the life of young Malala Yousafzai. She is a Pakistani Muslim, so I hope she will forgive the comparison, but I see her as an incarnation of Saraswati. This is the young girl who was shot in the face by the Taliban for doggedly pursuing her studies, even after she had been warned to quit. She survived, had reconstructive surgery, and now speaks – in excellent English – around the world on behalf of education for all. Her determination and insistence that education is important, valuable, and necessary is full of Saraswati energy. Not only must she contain some fierce passion in her heart, and have the love and support of those closest to her, but surely she must be blessed by Saraswati and Athena and all the gods who love learning! I imagine Athena and Saraswati proudly blessing their bold daughter, Malala. I cannot help but think the gods love her: she was shot in the face and did not die, but held fast to her dedication to learning. With that dedication she now, at the age of 16, campaigns for everyone’s right to learn.

I am in awe of her. I will ask Saraswati for blessings upon her, her family, and her work.

As a white, middle class American it can be far too easy to take education for granted. I harbor a deep love of learning. I crave complex ideas, beautiful words, and critical thinking. And as a woman I do not take the opportunity for education for granted. I expect my children, a boy and girl, to value learning. My husband and I can talk about why and how our education and ability to learn has benefited us. I can point toward the history of women being allowed to learn at all. I can point to Malala, reminding them that in some parts of the world, it’s not just females who aren’t allowed to learn, but boys’ learning is limited as well. There are plenty of examples of how limited education is bad for all people and all societies. The rise of militant religious fundamentalism is but one very strong example.

In honor of Saraswati, I praise education. Let us educate our sons and daughters, let us honor all incarnations and glimpses of Saraswati and Athena, and let us continue to educate ourselves!

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.

IMG_0734

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.

 

Letting Go with Dhumavati

Having tools to develop my Self, as a spiritual being and as a form of self-therapy, are among the reasons I love practicing witchcraft and Hinduism. Both traditions serve my desire for theosis, or becoming a god, or achieving enlightenment.

One necessary ability in this journey is being able to see clearly. Tantric Hinduism does not encourage complete renunciation of the world, rather embracing the world and also seeing it clearly is its complex call to humans. Seeing clearly, particularly seeing one’s Self clearly, can be a very sobering experience.

I’d like to think that the power, self-confidence, and other strengths I’ve developed over the last few years of my practice are the most visible aspects of myself. But I’m not convinced that’s true, or that it’s important. As I pray to Kali Ma to “slay the fears that limit my spirit and dance upon the grave of my iniquities,” She gleefully gives me what I ask for. So my fears are laid before me and my iniquities spread out for all (or at least some very important people near me) to see.

I am still – still – sorting through the rubble of my relationship issues. In some of the situations I am not at ‘fault’ and in others I am most definitely at fault, but the lowest common denominator in all of it is…. me. There are certain areas of my life in which I cannot be trusted to make good judgment calls.  There are times when I act out of scarcity and those times are when I screw things up, bad. My Lady Kali lays this all before me. Again and again and again. I asked to slay my fears and dance on my iniquities, therefore I must see them. And oh, it is humbling.

In fact, it is so humbling as to feel humiliating, and I grieve. I sat before my altar this weekend and wept. I have feelings of shame, but it is my shame. None of the gods I work with now will have anything to do with shame; it’s not them putting shame on me. Instead, the gods, particularly of Hinduism, bear a profound compassion. They answer our prayers not out of spite, or to show us how flawed we are so that we can grovel for their grace, but so that we can see clearly and heal. The truth really will set us free.

I’ve been reading recently of Dhumavati, the goddess of widows and those with nothing left to lose. Her name means ‘Smoky One,’ for like smoke she is unattached to anything, she is barely seen, she is able to go wherever she wills, as no boundary can keep her out. She is withered and dirty, a crone. She seems a little insane since she has no ‘function’ and therefore needs not keep to any rules. She has nothing, is nothing, and can offer nothing. But she is full of compassion for those who grieve. She is a bestower of boons. She brings comfort; She knows what it is like to lose it all.

250px-Dhumavati

I realize I’ve had experiences with Dhumavati at a few other points in my life. She is powerful and not to be trifled with. In fact, she is considered inauspicious; married people and those with children are unwise to court her. I can understand: as a parent, and pregnant to boot, there are losses I would rather not know anything about. But I feel her again. There is a great deal of grief and loss that I don’t know what to do with, nor do I know how to stop making the same mistakes. So I petition her, placate her with offerings, and ask for her wisdom and comfort.

Dhum dhum dhumavati svaha

Dhumavati’s main lesson is to ‘let go.’ At the core of life is the brutal reality that we only think we’re in control of our lives. But if we take one step back we might see just how little control we have. We can let go. Often letting go creates more freedom and very little destruction. Sometimes letting go means the house of cards collapses and we have to see that we were clinging to an illusion. That is painful, but also freeing. Seeing clearly is freedom.

This song has been running through my head. Appropriate and so, so good. Enjoy.

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

IMG_0728

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.

 

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!