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Why I’m Glad I’m Pagan

 (This is just a list of some of the main reasons (in no particular order) that I am glad that I found my way home to Paganism.  Some of these will be discussed more fully in future blog posts.  And I have little doubt that I’ll think of 10 more reasons as soon as this posts.)

1) Paganism honors the feminine:  I don’t have to feel guilty, dirty, or unclean for being female.  Nor do I have to feel that I am in some way “less” because I am a woman.

2) There is no “One True Right Way.”  I never believed in proselytizing, even when I was a Christian.  I always felt that missionaries going out and trying to force people to believe the same things they did was wrong.  After all, their own beliefs had worked well for them for thousands of years – what hubris!

3) It gives me a sense of connection with the natural world.  The endless turning of the Wheel of the Year, the cycles of the seasons, of the moon, of my life:  they are all connected, and they are part of me and I am part of them

4) It gives me a sense of connection with Deity: The God and Goddess are here.  They are in the world (They are the world) not outside of it somewhere. And because of that, because They are part of the world and so am I, I have a sense of connection with Them – everywhere and all the time – not just in church on Sundays.

5) Immediacy.  Our God wasn’t born, didn’t live among us, didn’t die, didn’t disappear from Earth to dwell in Heaven.  No, our God is born every year, He does live among us, He (as the vegetation god) does die/sacrifice himself, and He is born again to repeat the cycle.  It’s not a one time thing and then gone: our God, like our religion, lives.

6) Paganism is not static or carved in stone.  It’s a living religion, one that grows and evolves and adapts to a changing knowledge-base.  I don’t need someone else to interpret “God’s Word” for me.

7) Paganism is not based in fear. I’m not going to burn in a fiery pit and cry and gnash my teeth for eternity.  I don’t have to be perfect in this lifetime: I can – and will – come back again to learn new lessons.   I’m not being judged for my actions and I don’t have to feel guilty, dirty, or unclean for being human. I don’t “fall short of the glory of God.”

8) Responsibility.  I am responsible for my own actions and their consequences.  And I have the power to create change in my life.  Yes, there is the Law of Return, that what you send out comes back to you, but there is no one leading me astray: Satan is not part of Paganism, not part of our pantheons – he strictly belongs to the Judeo/Christian/Islamic tradition.

9) I don’t have to follow a set of rule written by men thousands of years ago.  All I have to do to understand the laws of my religion is go out into the world and observe.

10) I don’t have to feel guilty, dirty, or unclean for having sexual thoughts or fantasies: sex is also natural, and part of the natural world.  “Sex” seemed like a taboo word to me growing up, but The God and Goddess are not celibate.

Familiars

It’s been a pretty busy week.  I’ve been working, writing, editing, and trying to create space for new members of the household…

Rats.

I was supposed to be getting some last month, taking the last four males from a litter.  The deal fell through, but she offered me first choice of a litter due in mid-March.

Meanwhile, however, I found another offer and called and I will be picking up three little boys this afternoon.

I am so excited!

I love critters of all types, and I’ve missed having a pet.  (The semi-feral cat doesn’t quite count.)

The cage for the rats will be right next to my computer (yeah, that’s gonna be good for productivity…) so we’ll get to know each other pretty well.

But that doesn’t mean that they are going to be acting as my familiars.

A witch’s familiar isn’t just a pet.

It’s not even a pet that you have a close relationship with, although that helps.

A witch’s familiar is a working partner.  It lends energy to rituals and it acts as a defender.

Depending on your belief system, a familiar can be one of many things.

It can be a pet with which you have an especially close bond.

It can be a spirit that has assumed an animal form and comes to assist a witch in his or her workings.

In a more shamanic tradition, it can be a spirit animal, perhaps not even a physical animal at all, and in addition to protecting the worker and aiding in rituals, it can retrieve information and relay it to its partner.

There are also totem animals, power spirits, etc.

Hmm… maybe I’ll do a series on animals in magic.

But, anyhow…

You don’t find a familiar – a familiar finds you.  They come to you when they are needed and they may choose to stay with you or they may leave when they have served their purpose and return if needed again, either in the same form or a different one.

I’ve never worked with a physical familiar, but I have had spirit animals show up, primarily big cats in a protective role.  I didn’t summon them or ask for them, they just showed up – and I was grateful.

Would I like to work with a familiar in a physical form?  I’m not certain. I think I would worry about it too much.

Not that the choice seems to be up to the witch…

Mercury Retrograde February 2014

It started on my birthday (and ends on my mother’s — how’s that for weird?) and it has been miserable this time around.

Usually, a retrograde Mercury doesn’t bother me all that much.  It’s more of a minor annoyance.  But this time…

I have had nothing but trouble with electronic devices.

My cell phone wouldn’t pick up a signal the other day, yet someone else was having no trouble at all.

My computer has been lagging and temperamental.  (Okay, it’s old and cranky but it’s not normally this cranky.)

The computers in at work really hate me.  I’ve been rebooting them seven times a shift or more.

There was some sort of a glitch and a scheduled payment didn’t happen.  (The money was in the account but somehow it just never happened.)

And let’s not talk about transportation issues.

But all that aside, a couple people have asked me about Mercury retrogrades, and at some point in explaining them the following came out:

Mercury retrogrades are not a good time for communication.  Messages are missed, misdirected, and misunderstood.  Communication is disrupted in one way or another.

But retrograde Mercury is a good time to meditate on communication: on how you communicate, on how you fail to communicate (remembering that communication is a two-way street — you not only have to speak, but listen), on what you do and do not say, on what blocks your own personal communication — with others, with the gods, with yourself.

There are always lessons — even from things like a retrograde Mercury.

In fact, the best lessons come from adversity.

And, I just realized that Mercury is the Roman version of Hermes, who is one of my primary deities, and I do believe He has been trying to get my attention.

So if you will all excuse me, I have a couple more days of retrograde to use to use to improve my communication with Him…

Be blessed, and blessed be.

New Year’s Day 2014

I’ve burned away the things that I don’t want to be a part of my life anymore – I wrote them on small slips of paper and fed them one by one to a candle flame in a small cauldron on my altar.  (Don’t worry – I had a bottle of water open and within reach – the element of Fire and I occasionally have issues.) Part of today will be spent meditating on the things that I want to draw into my life to replace the things I burned away. (Nature abhors a vacuum – if you banish something you need to replace it or it will sneak back.)

I’m also starting some new traditions this year.

One is an idea that I got from Face Book – a gift jar.  Throughout the year, whenever something good happens, write it on a piece of paper and put it in a jar.  Then on December 31 open the jar and read them as a reminder of the good things in your life.

(I have done something similar in the past – when I feel stressed and hounded by negativity I keep a Gift Journal.  It’s just a small notebook in which I write at least one “gift” each day.  It doesn’t have to be something tangible – it can be a beam of sunlight through clouds, something someone says, the caress of a breeze, anything that gives your spirit a boost.  The point is that “energy flows where attention goes” and it’s so easy to only focus on the negatives and not see the positives.  Change focus, change events.  As within, so without.)

I’m also doing a challenge (along with some friends) to spend time every day doing something creative.  For me this means something in addition to writing, which I do just about every day anyhow.  I’m hoping that this challenge will result in some finished cross stitch projects this year.  (And also a start on a Book of Shadows – or at least my CookBook of Shadows…)

Part of that creativity challenge will involve crocheting my way through the stash of yarn in the basement. I’m not sure how we came to have so much of it, but I think that it’s time that it gets turned into afghans and donated to charity: a homeless shelter or domestic violence shelter.

And, of course, there will be my ongoing work of becoming more focused on my spirituality on a daily basis, making it part of my daily life.

May all of you have a year filled with blessings.

So mote it be.

To Walk a Pagan Path

I started this blog because it occurred to me that my spiritual life was getting lost in the shuffle of the day-to-day concerns of modern life.  With everything else that I was doing it always seemed as if spirituality got pushed to a back burner, or was mufti-tasked with something else, and not given my full attention.

And that bothered me.

So, since I was “too busy” for religion, I took on something else – this blog.  It at least got me thinking about my path on a more in-depth and consistent level, even if I hadn’t actually increased the doing of it.

And shortly thereafter I started going to a weekly gathering of Pagans.  No workings, just getting together and socializing:  more attention to be paid to my path as I participated in and listened to conversations that flowed around me.

I was, however, still not quite succeeding at creating a daily practice.  Oh, sure – I was more focused on my religion, was devoting more time, energy, and though to it, but something was still missing.

Enter Alaric Albertsson’s book, To Walk a Pagan Path: Practical Spirituality for Every Day.

Hmmm, I thought when the Pagan Coffee Night’s group page announced that he would be there doing a book signing.  This sounds like something I could use.

So I bought a copy.

And, instead of relegating it to a shelf for “later” I read it.

And I took notes.

And I have added it to my list of recommended reading material.

This book is exactly what I was looking for, even though I didn’t know I was looking for it.

This isn’t just a “how to” book, or even a “this is how I do it” book – it is a “Do It” book.   In the very first chapter Alaric challenges you to stop reading and start doing, by dedicating yourself to the work of “Hal Siddu” – of developing traditions that bring together the body, mind, and spirit.

The rest of the first chapter is devoted to seven steps to assist you in that goal:
Connecting With Spirit
Creating Sacred Space
Creating Sacred Time
Sacralizing Daily Activities
Making Regular Sacrifices/Offerings (Observing regular (monthly) rituals)
Observing the Holy Tides (Wheel of the Year)
Finding Your Folk

Chapter Two talks about creating your own sacred calendar, based on the path that you personally follow and what resonates with you, with a strong emphasis on understanding why you celebrate the days that you do.  He gives examples of sacred days from various traditions, not only from his own path.

Chapter Three goes into daily devotions: everything from greeting the gods in the morning to meal time blessings to bedtime prayers, and everything in between as well, truly drawing the sacred into every facet of your day and making it a part of your daily life.

Chapter Four talks about familiars, discussing the pros and cons of various species as well as the historical accuracy (or inaccuracy) of the traditional “witch’s familiar.”  He also gives tips for training your familiar to participate in a circle.

Chapter Five, “Leaf and Fruit,” begins introducing you to ways to connect with the cycle of the year, in part through planting, tending, and harvesting a garden, or at least a few vegetables.  (I think I’m going to try to grow leaf lettuce and radishes in my planters next year.)

This theme continues in Chapter Six, “Bark and Branch” with ways to honor trees and woodland deities and spirits.

“The Birds and the Bees” (Chapter Seven) returns to the concept of knowing where your food comes from with a lengthy discussion of keeping hens and bees. (I know you were expecting it to be about something else.  Don’t try to deny it!)

Chapter Eight has some great recipes, making it near and dear to this Kitchen Witch’s heart.

Chapter Nine covers crafting items to be used in ritual:  candles, incense, corn dolls, even a scare crow – including how to make one for smaller spaces.  If I do plant lettuce and radishes in my planter boxes next year I am definitely making scarecrows to guard them.

The final chapter covers a variety of Yuletide traditions, and, of course, gives you suggestions and ideas on creating ones for your own sacred calendar.

The entire book is filled with humor, personal experiences and anecdotes, along with factual information presented in a way that is never dry.   This isn’t just a book that I’m going to recommend to others — it is one that I am going to keep and use as a reference for a long time to come.

 

 

Thanksgiving 2013

I had originally planned a post about reasons that I’m glad I’m Pagan, but that was before I realized that this is the day before Thanksgiving.

(Yeah, sometimes days get away from me…)

So instead I thought I would take this post to do the traditional listing of things I’m thankful for.

1) Friends: both online and in person. They keep me sane – most of the time.

2) Family: they may be a little a little hard to explain and things might be a little strained at times, but they are still there, and they are important.

3) Freedom: I live in a country where I am free to practice the religion I choose and to walk down the street unescorted, without having to answer to anyone – not all people are that lucky.

4) Paganism: I feel so much more at home on this path than I ever did as a Christian, and I am grateful to the forces that guided me home.

5) My deities: the way They impact my life, the way They have guided and protected and taught me, and simply for being so that I could find Them and know Them.

6) Internet: it makes job-hunting so much easier.  Plus, without it, I wouldn’t have some of the wonderful people who are a part of my life.

7) Creativity: writing, stitching, scrapbooking, all of the other hundred and one things I want to learn and do – they all help keep me sane. I really don’t understand people who have no hobbies other than television, who never feel the urge to create something. (I’m not judging them, I just don’t understand them.) (I don’t understand people who have totally spotless houses, either, but I sure wish I could be one of them!)

8) Home: I have a place to live, warm and dry and sheltered from the elements.  And I love it here – this apartment felt like home the first time I walked in the door to look at it.

9) Health: overall, I’m healthy.  Well, other than the fact that it’s bronchitis season.  (Oh, and that pesky weight thing, a.k.a. “the perpetual New Year’s Resolution.”)

10) Food: I love food (a little too much – see above) and I am grateful that I have enough to eat and the ability to cook it.

11) Clutter: yes, clutter. It means that I have more than I need, which means that I can help those who have less.  I have probably cut my wardrobe in half by donating clothes to charities, and I’m currently doing the same with books. (I have more clothes to go through too, but that’s going to wait until the next change of seasons.)  (It also means that I probably don’t need to spend money on craft supplies for the rest of my life.)

12) Sense of humor: yes, it’s warped and people don’t always understand it, but it allows me to revel in the ludicrousness of human behavior without being insulted (most of the time).

13) Imagination: without it I… The one thing I can’t seem to imagine is what it would be like to have no imagination.  It enriches my life in so many ways.

There are other things of course – those were just the first 13 things that popped into my head.  And just about each one of the above could be broken down into individual items, but that would leave me feeling a little overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed with gratitude.

 

 

 

 

Kitchen Witch

What is a kitchen witch?  There are a variety of answers to that, but the most common is that a kitchen witch is someone who uses the kitchen and cooking as their primary focus of magic.

Many also set up a small altar in the kitchen.  (When I find the image I want, I will have one to Hestia, the Greek goddess of the hearth, on, over, or near the stove, which is the modern-day equivalent of the hearth.)

I don’t know if I am strictly a kitchen witch, but I do use kitchen magic a great deal: from my own “traditional” meals at Sabbats to daily cooking to making something special.

And, as with many things on my path, I got my start long before I had heard of any form of Paganism, and back when “magic” was just something in fairy tales and fantasy novels.

I was in high school, and was tasked with making a meatloaf for supper.  Normally I didn’t mind cooking, but for some reason lost in the halls of time I really didn’t want to do it that night and was feeling somewhat resentful.

I asked my (paternal) grandfather why his meatloaf always tasted better than mine:   after all, he was the one that I had learned from.

He said he didn’t know, but he would watch me make it and see what I was doing that was different than the way he did it.

Ground beef in a bowl, salt and pepper added, eggs added, I started tearing bread into chunks and dropping them into the bowl, all under his watchful eye.

“It’s the way you’re tearing the bread,” he said, reaching out and taking it from me. Strong gentle fingers broke the bread into pieces.  “You have to do it with love.”

And in those words is the key to kitchen magic – to any magic, really:  intent.

Many years later those words still guide me in my cooking and I am aware of when I am not cooking in a spirit of love and nourishment, but doing it with an attitude of resentment.

I try to remain focused when cooking. (It’s not always possible, but I try.)

I stir widdershins to banish illness if cooking something when I’m sick (or for someone else who is sick), and deosil to draw in health and prosperity.

Of course, the direction you move the spoon isn’t all there is to it:  there is also the focus, intent, and visualization – illness leaving, or abundance and health coming in – imbuing the food with magic.

And, truly, it is the intent that makes the magic…

“You have to do it with love.”

Samhain 2013

First, let’s clear up my favorite bit of propaganda:  Samhain is not named after the Druid god of death.

For one thing, the Druids didn’t have a god of death.

For another thing, the name means “summer’s end.”

So how did it get to be associated with death, Druid god or not?

Simple, Samhain is the final harvest, the last of the three harvest festivals. Anything left in the fields after this belonged to the Fey and could not be harvested, but more than that, this is when animals that would not be kept through the winter were slaughtered and their meat preserved for the coming months.

Granted, in modern times we don’t worry so much about laying in supplies for the winter (except in areas where it snows and the mention of a possible snowstorm sends people on a frantic run to the grocery store for bread, milk, eggs, and toilet paper), so Samhain has taken on a different emphasis.

The Veil Between the Worlds is at its thinnest (see earlier comment about not taking the Fey’s food) and some believe that the spirits of the dead come back to visit their loved ones at this time.

So, at Samhain, Pagans honor their dead. (Think of it as our Memorial Day: we honor the spirits of those who have passed through the Veil.)

We do this in various ways: the most common are to set an extra place at the table for them and to spend some time meditating and remembering them and their influence on our lives.  Most of us also do some sort of divination now, although it doesn’t necessarily involve the spirits.

My own traditions for Samhain primarily revolve around a special meal with foods that (mostly) hold a special significance.

Ham: in honor of Cerridwen, Keeper of the Cauldron of Rebirth (and Inspiration), to Whom pigs were sacred and Who was known as “The Great Sow.” (It was not an insult – pigs were important.)

Along with the ham are potatoes, both white and sweet.  Why?  Well, I like potatoes.  But also because they grow beneath the ground so have a connection to death and the underworld.

Dessert consist of chocolate cherry upside down cake and pecan pies.  The pecan pies are in honor of my paternal grandfather as they were a favorite of his.  (He also loved three bean salad but I can’t stand the smell of it, let alone the taste, so he has to make do with dessert if he visits.)  And the chocolate cherry upside down cake because it is dark and sweet, and the red of the cherries on the near black of the cake is a reminder of the ancient association with death – blood spilled onto the earth.  (Add a plop of whipped cream, though, and it has the three colors of the Goddess, which gives me an excuse to make it any time.)

What traditions do you have for Samhain?  A special meal? A special ritual?  If you don’t have any, why not start?

A Lesson in Trust

I am writing this blog post as a thank you.

As some of you know, on August 31st I became unemployed, walking away from a job that I loved because there were just too many red flags being waved at me regarding the company that was taking over medical services at the jail where I worked.

It wasn’t an easy decision.  I cried.  I waffled, changing my mind on a nearly hourly basis for two weeks. And with every change of my mind I cried some more.

And I prayed.

And every answer I got said to leave.  The answers were soft, gentle, subtle: song lyrics that struck home and echoed in my head all day, a whisper of a breeze, a touch of the sun, a knowing that came from seemingly nowhere…

And every time that I made up my mind to leave, I felt a huge sense of peace.

But then fear intruded, and I waffled some more.  What if I couldn’t get unemployment? What if I couldn’t find a new job in time to pay the rent after my savings ran out?   What if, what if, what if?

I was torn, and the stress was making me physically ill.

But as much as I feared the what ifs, and as much as I knew that I would miss everything about my job, the thought of staying made me feel sick.  I had no trust in the things the new company was telling us.

But I also seemed to have no trust in myself to listen to the subtle messages that I was receiving.  (I trust my gods, I just didn’t trust that I was hearing Their voices and not my own.)

And then came a series of “last straws” that pushed me into my final decision.

And when the decision was finally made and my key and badge were turned in, the tears that night were not of regret for my decision or for fear of the future:  they were tears of loss – I was going to miss that job.  (And I still do.)

The decision to leave was the right one.

My stress level (which had been unbelievably high) dropped almost immediately.

And from what I’ve heard from former co-workers who stayed, it was an even bigger mess than I had thought it was going to be. More people have left and more are looking to leave.

And me?

September 1st was my first day of unemployment.

October 1st I got a phone call that I had been hired for a job that I had interviewed for last week.

A job that is closer to home and pays better.

It’s different than anything I have ever done before, and I am scared, but this time, around the small brief stabs of fears and self-doubt, and the occasional what ifs, there is an insulating layer of trust.

My gods have led me here, to this new place, this new experience.  They have cleared the path and lit the way for me.  How can I do anything but follow where They lead, singing in praise and gratitude?

I am blessed.

And I am thankful.

 

 

Mabon 2013

The fall equinox is this weekend, the second of the three harvest festivals of the Wheel of the Year.  It is a time to look at what we have harvested in our lives, to give thanks for abundance, to celebrate the fruits of our labors.

But it’s more than just a harvest festival: it is also the equinox, a time when day and night are equal.  To me it almost feels as if the Wheel pauses for a moment, giving us a chance to catch our breath before rolling us into the dark part of the year.

The equinoxes always lead me to think about balance, and how to achieve it in my daily life.

It isn’t easy.  I always seem to be juggling too many things: work (or the search for it, currently), my spiritual life, home and housework, my creativity (writing and counted cross stitch).  Inevitably it seems that one or more of these ends up taking a back seat to the others.

Lately I have been able to devote more attention to my spirituality, thanks in part to this blog: posting every week does wonders for focusing on a subject.

And not working helps:  it’s a lot easier to focus on spiritual matters when the mundane isn’t dragging you here and there and everywhere in a mad rush to get somewhere. (My challenge is to maintain that focus when I go back to work.)

There is also the ever-present challenge of my creative pursuits, primarily writing and counted cross stitch.  I need to learn to type with my toes so I can do both at once, but since that isn’t likely to happen, I would ideally love to find a way to feel like I am making progress on both crafts.  (We won’t discuss the other crafts that I also never seem to have enough time for: scrapbooking, dollhouses/miniatures, jewelry making, etc.)

And, of course, the guilt that there are so many other things that need to be done, that I should be doing instead…

I could, I suppose, make a schedule of sorts, but that feels too regimented and forced and compartmentalized. And not balanced.

For me, true balance means that all aspects of my life are united, that I’m not feeling pulled in different directions, guilted into doing this or that or the other.

But I’m not even sure if true balance is obtainable.  After all, the Wheel only pauses: it doesn’t remain poised on border between light and dark, and that’s not the lesson that it teaches.

No, the lesson of the Wheel is that there is always movement – but we always return to balance.