What I Do

Earlier in the week a friend on Facebook linked to a great blog post on a blog I’d never read before. The post is called The Keys to Success in Magic. It makes a great point, that most witches/magicians/sorcerers worth their salt don’t do magic most of the time. I’d say that’s true!

Midway through the post the author has a ‘flow chart’ of his practice. If I had to make a chart, this would be pretty close.

If we’re not making magic, what do we do?

I can’t speak for most other people, but clearly this gentleman and myself – and many of my magical and/or Pagan friends – are similar in our approaches. Let’s walk through this flow chart together.

The foundation of all practice is some form of meditative practice. I learned mine primarily from yoga, but it was in my training with T Thorn Coyle where I was pushed to incorporate meditation into a daily practice. Before I had kids I would do 20-30 minutes of sitting practice every morning. I sat, checked in with all my parts – my body, my emotions, and various souls – and breathed through whatever came up. It was during this time that I finally got a handle on my anxiety issues, all through a daily sitting practice.

Now that I have kids, my practice isn’t so extensive or regular, but there is some form of breathing exercise every day. If I had to wager a guess, I’d say I sit before my altar three to four days out of 7 in the week, but there is some form of conscious breathing moment every day. It truly is the foundation of all else.

Why is breathing so important? In my experience it is useful in several ways. It teaches us to connect with all of our parts. I am learning to listen. What is going on with myself, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually? I am getting better at listening to others, both human and non-human. I am learning that my thoughts might not be the truth of the matter, nor might they be the most important information in any given moment.

Mostly what happens when I sit in meditation is that my brain hits me with every task I need to keep track of: grocery lists, appointments, blog post ideas, etc. My ears strain to hear the kids in the other rooms. What I do is I thank my brain for taking care of all that information and I let it go, just focusing on the breath. One of these days I’ll get back to the deeper levels of meditation. It happened before, so I know it can happen again. But this tool, this ability to slow down and quiet the mind is invaluable. Being able to step outside my reactive thought processing and learn to listen with other parts of myself has been the key to my mental and spiritual health.

The creator of the above flow chart has listed devotions, offerings and energy work next. Again, I think these three things are the next most important acts, after meditation and before magical work.

Devotions and offerings are perhaps one and the same in my mind and practice. Every dark moon I replace the offerings of water. sometimes I offer special incenses. Sometimes I buy flowers for a certain god. Every Tuesday I do Kali puja. It was not until I delved into a three-month Hindu practice, back at the beginning of this blog, that I learned how important and powerful devotions could be. Elaborate or simple, they are a way to build connection with deities and spirits. I learn something new each time I do it. Occasionally I do something a puja for Shiva on Monday, sometimes something formal for the Red Goddess on Friday. But always, every Tuesday for Kali.

sometimes these rituals yield immediate results, and by that I mean, felt connection or certain blessings later in the day. Some days there’s no felt connection. Never do I feel it was a waste of my time.

Lastly, I would call the lessons I am doing for my Feri training my energy work. Right now we are working through the Iron Pentacle, a form of energy and value system, that is unique to the Feri tradition. Making kala, a form of purification, also falls into energy work. I make kala at least once a week, sometimes more as needed.

Lastly comes making magic. I include reading the tarot in this category, as well as spells or ritual. I don’t often read for myself. If I read it is usually for others. I go in phases, sometimes pulling a card every day, sometimes doing a reading on each full moon. For the last year I’ve been rather inactive with my cards.

When I do make magic, use spell work, or construct a larger ritual, there is always a specific need. I spend several days giving the purpose much thought, and once the intent and/or goal is clear, I figure out what course of action is most appropriate. I want to make sure the timing is right, that I have the items needed for whatever working I’m doing, and that I’ll have uninterrupted time and space to complete the working.

My experience is that, while I don’t make magic often, when I do, it is effective. I don’t think I’m any more innately gifted, psychic, or touched by the gods than anyone else. What I am is deliberate. I think the scaffolding of my practice also sets me up for success. Before magic comes gaining strength in skills and forging relationship with others, gods and spirit allies and the world around me. But before even that comes getting centered within myself and letting go of the chatter in my mind as much as possible.

If I could sum up in a less wordy way an answer to the question ‘if not magic, what do you do?’ the answer is basically: I breathe.

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Maxim Monday: Foresee the future

Foresee the future. I see this in two ways.

I suspect this Maxim is relating to thinking ahead and planning wisely for what may arise. Looking ahead and making plans  are important, whether that’s for later in the week or for our 5 year plans. I am a planner by nature. I like to have at least a vague sense of where I’m headed. As I’ve gotten older I worry less about the details and more about the larger picture. To think of it in slightly different terms, I try to be more intentional about my choices and trust that the details will fall as needed. Attempting to micromanage the details often means I miss out on something far better than I could have foreseen.

I also like that this could be a plug for divination.  Many Pagans really like divination. I definitely do! I think it’s a great tool. Some people use runes, some the entrails of chickens. Me, I prefer tarot. I use tarot for many types of insight, sometimes ‘foreseeing the future,’ although not usually like most people think. Tarot doesn’t tell us the future – the future is mutable! But often times the tarot can show us likely outcomes, or things that we might not be seeing. That perspective can be invaluable.

The Moon, from the Chibi Tarot

The Moon, from the Chibi Tarot

Off the cuff, what do I see in my future? Quite a bit of fun: in the next month I have two trips to Portland and a trip to Canada planned. I see some refocusing. More reading, more writing, more meditation, more offerings, more cleaning. I foresee a new template for this blog and a new professional website for my editing and writing. I see deeper connections with old and new friends, lovers, and family. I foresee this being a fantastic summer for me.

What do you foresee?

Getting a tarot reading

I didn’t get a tarot reading from some one until years after I started studying the tarot myself. It is very possible that my first reading wasn’t until 2009, in Daylesford, Australia, the one that suggested I’d be moving abroad – and soon. (She was right. We had decided to move to Wales the day prior, and 9 months later we were in Wales.) I still primarily read for myself. For the last year or two I’ve begun taking advantage of the many other people I know who read tarot. Sometimes it’s a good idea to get a different perspective.

It’s not that I’m bad at reading for myself. In fact, I’ve gotten a really good feel for my decks and my intuition. But sometimes, for sticky, highly charged issues, I don’t see as clearly for myself as I might otherwise, either because I’m unwilling, or maybe because I’m hoping for a certain answer, or maybe because I’ve asked the wrong question.

When my friend Gwydion said he was offering tarot readings, I said yes immediately (full disclosure: he gave me a discount on my reading if I would blog about it). There were actually several issues I wanted some clarification around and I finally narrowed it down to one (and no, I’m not going to tell you what it was. Bonus points if you can figure it out based on the cards below!).

My reading

My reading

You might notice the cards are in German. Gwydion lives in Germany (and is German). He blogs in both German and English. It’s sort of a modified Celtic cross style reading.

While almost every tarot deck booklet, book on tarot, or beginning reader suggests a Celtic cross layout, I have found that no reader has ever used that layout for me. In fact, I rarely use that layout for myself anymore. As I’ve gotten more and more comfortable with tarot cards I’ve moved away from using it; I often create my own layouts, based on the question and the information requested.

When I received the reading my first instinct was ‘did I not ask the right question? This seems so…. thin/not right/too simple.’ I was really annoyed. I read the whole thing out loud to Adam and he looked at me and said, ‘no, that reading was RIGHT ON.’ Which made me even crankier.

See, that’s the benefit of having some trusted external insight: sometimes you won’t like what you hear. But it’s a necessary part of growth! So I sat with the information, and then I sat with it some more. And you know? He’s right on. I wanted Different Information. I wanted the How, the What. I was looking for different answers. This is why is was a good idea to have some one else do a reading for me.

He nailed a couple of things. There were a couple of things where I felt his insight gave me a new and surprising way to see something old and frustrating. Mostly I feel encouraged. I’m tempted to go back and pay full price for readings on the rest of my issues.

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?

One year ago, Wales

Today, if the world hasn’t ended, marks one year since my family packed up and drove away from Lampeter. We pulled out of the driveway before dawn. We watched the sun rise on the incomparable Teifi Valley. Our car was headed for Cornwall to spend Christmas with friends before heading back to the United States. (I linked to my last real post in Wales over on today’s A Sense of Place.)

Teifi River valley; courtesy of Autumnsonata on flickr creative commons.

Teifi River valley; courtesy of Autumnsonata on flickr creative commons.

I find Washington to be far more wild than Wales. It makes sense: it’s not been as cultivated for as long as Wales has. The mountains are taller and there are more things that can kill you here. But the magic in the Welsh land hovers so close to the surface. The magic in Washington is more embedded in the tangled weeds and thorns. Maybe it’s hiding out, away from the freeways and masses of people. Most of Wales is comparably less populated. There is more space between people there.

Before we left Wales I did a tarot reading for us. The results included a rocky time financially, followed with material success. Overall it was a positive reading, revealing that this was a good choice for our continued growth. Those predictions ring true. We depleted our savings by moving across the world and getting back on our feet, but signs look like improvement in that area is on the way. Much of the magic that has occurred in the past year has been the inner work of shedding old friends, old patterns, old fears. I don’t doubt for a second that we are supposed to be in Olympia.

Tonight I’m hosting a small gathering to celebrate the return of the light, and I’ll raise a glass to Wales and my friends there. I’ll leave an offering for the Fey and spirits of the Land of here. They’ll get the first serving of the mulled wine and spiced cider I like to make. Most importantly I’ll get to celebrate the long night and the slow growth of the light with the people I love most in the world.

May you be with ones you love this season. There is nothing more important.

Morning Practice

Every morning I escape from the family routine of breakfast, showers, dishes, getting dressed, stop hitting your sister, and escape into my back room to sit. I used to get up before the kids and do this, but my son typically is wide awake at 6.30 ready to snuggle and be read to. Getting up at 5.30 would be wise, but just isn’t going to happen, if I’m being honest.

Sitting in my bathrobe (sometimes I’m dressed first, not usually) I light the candles and the incense, waving it in front of Ganesh. Jai Ganesh. Then I wave it front of Kali. Jai Ma. This time of year I wave it over my ancestor altar and and hail the Mighty Dead and my Ancestors. I wave the incense around the entire altar and myself, bow and get to sitting meditation.

Meditation lasts all of five to ten minutes. I miss the days where meditation alone lasted half an hour or more. I sit and breathe, trying to empty my brain and get centered in my body. Mostly I sit around wondering if I’ve taken the meat out to thaw for lunch, and what was I making for lunch again? Shoot, I never responded to that email from mother. When was the last time I called my sister? Oh crap, the baby bonked her head and needs Mama. Will she stop crying or do I need to attend?

After I give up, I pull a tarot card. I’ve been working my way through Mary El’s beautiful tarot deck. I take each card as an inspiration and mediation for the day. Today’s was the 9 of Swords. According to her this is about pressure, the kind that clarifies and helps us return to our home state of glory.

Mary-El’s 9 of Swords

It’s an apt card for the day. Especially as I sit in a few in reflection for a few more minutes. Pressure. The kids are in the next room, laughing and playing and whacking each other. Our walls are very thin. It’s as if they are playing in my office. I sit in meditation with the pressures of family life all around me. Blog, clean, nurse, snuggle, listen, cook, walk, play, read, sit, reflect, love – there is time for it all in the day, but is there space enough? This is my daily pressure, my practice as a monk/householder.

Control Anger

It’s Maxim Monday! And today’s is: control anger.

On the surface, I think, yes, we absolutely need to control our anger. I’m raising small children. How many times a day can I say the following? Keep your hands to yourself. Use your words. How are you feeling? We don’t hit people. If you hit anybody in any way with that, I will take it away for the rest of the day. Please be in control of all your parts. You may not call me names.

All of that is great advice for big or little people. We shouldn’t hit in anger or call people names. We should express our feelings verbally using I statements. We should be in control of all our parts (to my 4-year-old I mean arms, legs, feet, hands, etc; to grown ups I would say not just our body but all of our parts: brain, heart, and spirit, too).

Being in control of anger doesn’t mean we don’t get angry, though. In fact, I think anger is a valuable emotion, especially for women and other marginalized people. Getting angry can provide us with powerful  information: this hurts me, this situation is Not Good, I’ve been wronged, something needs to change. But for many women and many othered people there is a tendency for our experiences to be diminished – oh you’re making a big deal out of nothing, oh you’re just so emotional, get over it. So we learn to distrust our feelings. An angry woman is equated with a bitchy woman. An angry black woman gets pigeonholed as, well…. an angry black woman, the thought of which terrifies white society. But maybe black women have a ton of things to be angry about. Or a million people who want equal rights. Or hundreds of thousands of people who want economic or environmental justice. There are a LOT of reasons, personally private and broadly systemic, about which to be angry.

The key is what do we do with that anger. At whom do we direct it? A lot of the time, in my own personal experience, it gets directed inward. Instead of expressing my anger out of a fear of not being taken seriously I learned to turn all that emotion inward and against myself. I felt hurt so I’LL SHOW YOU. Such an ugly root of perfectionism. I learned to be STILL when at my most angry, still like a coiled viper, or a cornered animal getting ready to pounce, claws out, waiting to draw first blood. Utterly unhealthy.

I still don’t quite know what to do with my anger when I feel particularly ‘rage-y.’ I’m doing a better job than ever at not taking my emotions out on others. Nothing like parenting to highlight what areas need work. Many days, especially with a four-year old, controlling my anger is Life Lesson number 1.

I’m learning more and more to use my words, to keep my hands to myself, to seek out healthy ways to channel righteous indignation when I feel it, not to call people names. I’m learning to see anger as an ally, like the beast in the Strength card in tarot. Instead of feeling that it will devour me alive, I am riding it, learning from it, and yes, controlling it.

From Robert Place’s Alchemical Tarot, http://alchemicaltarot.com/