Thursday, December 29, 2011

Out With the Old, In With the Unknown

New Year, New You writing prompt 3: Something You've Been Putting Off

My secret shame is that I don't like cleaning and am not very good at keeping up with it. My mom had major back issues when I was a kid, so I grew up with housekeepers. My bff is German, and when we lived together, I paid more rent and she cleaned every week. I lived alone and did ok. And then Kevin and I moved in together a couple of years ago... My skills are not up to me plus a very messy dude and our two dogs.

I've been cleaning. Laundry galore! Mending! There's a pile of stuff outside for the dumpster. There are bags for donation. And I spent my free afternoon scrubbing the muddy dog footprints that are all through our bedroom (which is a stupid place for a back door) because Kevin doesn't put on their tiny muppet shoes to keep the mud out of the house. I mean scrubbing with a damn brush and a bucket so that I can actually mop for cleanliness and shine over the weekend. (Santa brought me some janitorial supplies that I'm almost embarrassed to be this excited about.) Yeah, I've been putting this stuff off, but these things are from being tired and not wanting to spend the small amount of leisure time I have cleaning the house.

What I've been putting off is cleaning up the back yard. Cash was forever smuggling out the carcasses of chew toys, gutted of their stuffing and squeakers. There were also the things he shouldn't have eaten that went through him, like entire tube socks. Gross, right? But he's dead, and he was my baby, and I couldn't make myself go out there to pick the stuff up and toss it out. I did it today, and it was hard. Really hard. It's been a grieving couple of days for me.

Letting go sucks sometimes. Kevin wants to hold onto objects that remind him of things, because it's hard for him to remember with his ADD. Or because he doesn't understand how a mundane household thing might have bad connotations for me - like that there are still parts of sheet sets around from his first marriage. I have nice household items that don't make sense in the life I've wound up making. Silk pillows and beautiful doodads don't do well in our house. It's a small house - smaller than apartments I've lived in on my own. I have to let go of ideas about how things should be, should look, should function, and who should do what jobs. Grad student living isn't known for letting the wives swan about doing fancy lady things while a housekeeper does the work.

Some long-held fantasies and the ghosts of lives past are being laid to rest in the pile of stuff leaving this house for good. At the core of everything I'm trying to change, there's major inertia from past things I've been holding on to. Building a new foundation or shoring up the old one doesn't mean I'm a total beginner or don't know anything. I'm having a hard time with that. Better get over that soon since I'm taking Jason Miller's Strategic Sorcery course in an effort to fortify my foundations and blast some bad habits into oblivion. What better way to start off a couple of years of learning than with a year of solid foundational teaching and practice?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

When Magic Fails

I never know when to put a bit of magic in the Failures column. That stuff can reach far and work longer than we have the patience to track it for. If you put a whole lot of energy into something and release it into the wide world, how far does it go? How long does it take to feel effects rippling back to you and when do you stop feeling them? Did the spell have a chance of success in the short term conditions of your life? And if its chances were slim, do we really count it as a failure? How often do you hear people talk about how their magic failed? It's like your ~*~sUpeR MaGicKaL pOwERz~*~ are the only factor in the whole damn universe that determine if something works out or not. Like it's me, a taper candle, and a half hour of visualizing versus a multinational financial crisis, and if that doesn't work out in my favor, I can't talk about it or else the whole wide world will think I'm a fraud.

Let me tell you about my biggest failure.

When I had acknowledged that the things I'd been doing for ages were, in fact, witchcraft, I did my first "witch spell". Instead of doing the kinds of things I'd grown up doing, I did a fifteen day job spell off the internet. Yeah, that's a one and a five. Every damn day at the right time and moon phase, I carefully followed Cunningham's instructions for creating sacred space, dressed that day's candle, and knelt in front of it concentrating on sending out the energy for that day's task. What I didn't know is that you don't have to build and push energy the entire time the candle burns. That's an awful lot of energy to have pushed at one thing.

And it worked. Sort of. I got interviews for positions at companies that were dream jobs. I got multiple interviews. The problem was that I'd pushed well beyond my sphere of influence and had done it right about the time the recession was really settling in. Nobody's going to hire someone who just barely qualifies on the minimum years of experience and would be getting a raise in excess of 50% if she got the job when they could hire someone with plenty of experience. I was bummed out, but I understood what had gone wrong. It actually gave me a lot of confidence.

Fast forward to this morning, when we're lying in bed, talking about packing up to come home from vacationing at the coast. My phone dings with an email telling me that I haven't gotten a job I had interviewed for. I'm pretty sure it was within my sphere of influence, and things had gone well, but I just hadn't moved on to the final round. I've spent YEARS doing work on and off for a new job, and it always gets me interviews, but it has yet to result in me getting a new job with insurance or higher pay. That's a few major, disappointing failures a year, every year, for a few years. I try different stuff each time, repeat what felt really powerful, refine things. None of it works.

What do I make of that? I don't really know, honestly. I've grown in my current position so as to be ready when a better opportunity comes along. Do I need to do bigger, stronger, more ferocious magic? Is the universe over there thunking its head into its desk because I'm not getting it: this path is closed, the door is shut, so climb through the freaking window! Maybe my job is one more thing stuck in liminal limbo for the next couple of years. I don't know what to do with it. But as I lay in bed with the now pointless mojo bag I'd made in my hand, I felt like an utter failure. I still do. Career improvements was a big part of what I wanted to work on in the new year. Hard to work on it if you're not sure what the problem is - me? the magic? the economy? the approaches used? that this isn't what I'm supposed to be doing?

I don't know what to tell you what to do when your magic fails. Review it, make sure it's something you're capable of pulling off, and try again with some changes. Are you being impatient? A lot of failures are actually just impatience. Sometimes it's a harder slog to the goal and things may not happen on our ideal time table. The one thing I do know is that when things go wrong, we should take heart and have hope, knowing that it's ok for things to not work every single time. I don't think acknowledging that makes me a bad witch or one who doesn't have faith. It makes me approach what I'm doing from new angles, consider if I shouldn't be working on a different aspect of the problem. Like the career thing - I don't care much about having a high-flying career. I want the upgrade so that I can have insurance and pay off my debts as quickly as possible. A better job seems like the most obvious solution, but maybe patience, frugality, and working on the debt instead of the job will give me the results I want.

Friday, December 23, 2011

New Year, New You: Goals

New Year, New You - Writing Prompt 2 : What do you want to accomplish in 2012 using both magical and mundane means?

I've noticed a shift toward being more productive and more active since beginning this. The house isn't quite clean (cement floors, dogs, and a backyard made of mud are making that REALLY hard recently), and the cleaned out closet items need to make it to the donation center. BUT. I'm seeing movement, I feel good, and I'm doing it in little steps without turning into a ball of anxiety and perfectionism.

 Magical goals: further my education in both practice and in book learning* forms; look into and evaluate some courses - I want to do cat yronwode's Hoodoo one, but don't know how great of an idea it is to start that the same year I'm planning a wedding; related to the courses, I want to see what's available near me as far as an in-person teacher for some things I'm interested in studying at an advanced level

Mundane goals: Navigate change with love and patience for myself. We're trying to get healthier, get organized, and be more frugal this year, which is important with the wedding looming out there at the end of 2012. There's change happening in every major area of my life. That's great! And scary! So my goal is to be patient, set reasonable goals, and be gentle with myself as I try to assimilate a lot of things all at the same time.

Seeing as how this experiment only goes through Valentine's Day, what I'm looking for are the seeds of good habits and progress. From previous experiences, I know that showing up and doing the work is the key to powering through lulls and plateaus and seeing remarkable progress. Magically: My goal is to actually do small, daily acts of magic instead of just thinking of the magic thing I could do to help something along. It doesn't have to be "special" to deserve some magical nudging. I'm doing well on the book learning part. A major thing I want to do is get in the habit of giving routine offerings to my spirits. Mundanely: Meditating helps me keep perspective. Getting healthier means walking short errands I might usually drive and having a fruit or veg snack when I'm hungry before reaching for anything else. I'm investigating quick, simple peasant food that's cheap and easy and can replace processed or convenience dinners on nights I'm tired. Go on walks to de-stress instead of ordering a pizza and watching a movie.

Magic will support the mundane naturally - what better little things to nudge along than mundane habits? If I can afford it, something like spiritual yoga classes are a major thing I've been wanting to add that would bridge the two areas well. When I do divination on why I'm not progressing towards goals, I'm always what's in the way. That's why my mundane goal is to be gentle with myself as I make lots of small changes. It's giving myself permission to fail and not see it as Failure. I'll fine tune and quiz the cards as I move along, but the main issue is for me to get out of my own way, realizing that it's better to try and not succeed then try again than to never try because I won't start until I have a success-guaranteed strategy in place. Success is never truly guaranteed, so there's no reason to keep waiting around to make things better.

And on that note, I'm going to do some more housecleaning - including going to buy the proper tools for the job and making a stronger all-purpose cleaner from scratch, put some things away, and finish up the present wrapping. And get these muddy dogs into the tub.

* Go go gadget hillbilly! Book learnin' so I don't turn out a n'ery do well! For someone with an English degree from a family of people with expert writing and communications skills, I sure do have some bits of my vocabulary that flagrantly expose my Ozark and Deep South roots. That mostly happens when I'm drunk...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Gearing up for a new year... already?

This is part of the New Year, New You project, first prompt.

Beginnings can be a fantastic rush of enthusiasm and planning and wonder at the endless possibilities. They can be terrifying - especially when they're a choice to step out of complacency or to admit that what you're doing isn't working for you anymore. There always seem to be places where we're beginning, ending, at a plateau, or struggling to keep up, and all of that's happening at the same time. For me, the hardest is starting new things as a way to get yourself out of the mire.

It's exactly what I need to be working on now. I am stuck, y'all. I took a year to relax after I accidentally exploded my life with an Imbolc ritual a couple years back. I asked for all the things I wanted to grow in my life, and I was dumb enough to make one of them Patience. A few things took off like a rocket, and the rest of them grew measurably, at the speed of continental drift. It's only recently that I've stopped being afraid of Brigid, the spell was that far-reaching. Rest has turned into complacency, bad habits, and that just sucks. There's always a reason for things not being how you want them to be, but if you never act on it, the reason becomes an excuse.

No more excuses. My main goal is to tackle changes with love and patience for myself. That's hard. People often remark that I have unattainable standards. Hey, at least they're only my standards for myself - the ones for everyone else are way lower. The universe has been thunking me upside the head about needing some new beginnings, right down to delivering a gorgeous statue of Ganesha and whisking heavy time burdens off of my shoulders. What am I going to do?
  • Clutter and organization have to be addressed - home, work, mental. Kevin's really messy, and I either need to get a routine in place or for us to find a compromise on how to share the work. We have a small house with limited storage, so it's time to get a system in place. Projects for magic, herbalism, the wedding, historical reenactment, and calligraphy all manage to creep out into the main part of the house. Shelving is insufficient, and I have got to find a way to get Kevin to give up some seriously awful old furniture that is more hindrance than useful. I hate that I'm stuck with this part alone, mostly, but it needs a cold, critical eye and a willingness to part with things that he simply doesn't have.
  • If I don't like the way something is, I either have to work to change it or change my attitude. UGH. I don't wanna. This is probably what I need to do most. Fix toxic things. Make our lives healthier. Work on my self-esteem. Just ugh.
  • Make frugality a game that's its own reward. My usual reaction to extended frugality is to swan about, sniffling like dispossessed royalty fallen on hard times. 
  • Take advantage of the season I'm in. I'm in a liminal place for the next couple of years while Kevin finishes his PhD. Lots of time alone means that I have uninterrupted time to really study the craft, meditate, be creative, and take care of myself (including exercise - this is the year I turn 30 after all). I need to understand this time as special and mine, rather than feeling ignored like I do sometimes. It feels almost gestational, as if whatever post-school job he gets will be our real beginning. It's definitely a special time I need to milk all the goodness out of.
    • Study: Half Price Books has delivered up some great foundational books in traditional witchcraft. Amazon has sent some serious stuff on herbalism and Medieval women's wisdom. It's my aim to work through these in a scholarly fashion, with notes and laser focus, to internalize the information. Naturally, continuing to learn my native plants and their super secret magical properties is part of this.
    • Practice: Everything doesn't have to be some huge working. I want to be in the habit of doing many small workings throughout the day, besides manipulating traffic on the interstate. Neck sore? Fix it with magic! Boss grumpy? Fix it with magic! I think this is the best way to learn to control my tendency to over-charge things.
    • Self: I have to be physical. I miss feeling strong and supple and lithe like I did a couple of years back. Walking, yoga, and meditation need to be seen as an essential part of my week, not optional or indulgent. Taking care of myself after I take care of everything else in my world is a horrible thing to do that diminishes myself and everything I do.
Am I doing anything towards this long, tedious list? Heck yeah. I have organization plans this weekend for fabric and historical reenactment gear and our walk-in closet, in hopes that my studio/witch room can just hold magic and art supplies. There may even be some moving around of furniture. I've got the shell to build a bar, which would free up major kitchen storage space.

I'm slowly making all of my own condition oils out of a proper formulary after someone showed me a Wiccan recipe for a strictly Hoodoo thing that definitely didn't have the right ingredients, which is when my head exploded. I think the book pays for itself on the fifth thing I make? I'm also trying wee bits of the magics that are a gentle nudge or kiss on the cheek compared to my usual level of force, which is like getting punched in the back of the head. It has the added benefit of making me feel magnanimous, which puts me in a good mood for dealing with holiday shoppers. I'm pretty sure that's progress, folks.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Blooming Where You're Planted

I stopped by the witch store on the way back home from town today to get a couple of things. The owner wasn't there, but the helper lady was. She's nice, but not exactly the best source of information. One time, she told me I couldn't be pagan married without it being a full Wiccan ceremony. Riiiight. Today, they had big glass nazars, so I asked if they had any of the little blue bead versions. She looked around, dropped her voice to a whisper, and told me apologetically that I'd "probably have to go to a botanica..." They she warned me that they had Jesus in there on things.

You need to understand that magical traditions that involve Christianity in some way abound down here. A huge number of people engage in some form of Santeria or magical enhancement to their Catholicism. And when I say it's prevalent? I mean that the tiny gas station grocery store down the road from me out here in the country has an end cap of Santeria candles, and that if it were any bigger, there would probably be spell candles or oils and soaps to go along with them. In the South, there's a lot of Christianity, a lot of folk magic, and a lot of people who do some very magical workings without every in a million years thinking they're doing anything outside the bounds of normal Christianity. To warn me about saint candles in a botanica is as ridiculous as warning me about pentacles in the neopagan bookstore. An us vs. them mentality just won't work.

If you read this blog or follow me on Tumblr, you know that I have a serious interest in understanding and using the regional traditions of folk magic and local plants in what I do. While there are things I love from the European traditions, my family has been in the New World since the 1600's. While there's a lot of German, Welsh, and English (and most of the rest of Western Europe) back there, we haven't kept the traditions, foods, or national identity of a single one of those people groups. It makes way less sense for me to trace my magical heritage back to a muddle of Europeans than it does to trace it back to powerful generational roots here in the South. Picking my European heritage is kind of random. Drawing from my New World heritage is generation upon generation in both the Ozark/Appalachian areas and in Texas. I'd rather spend my efforts there than bumbling about in European traditions because people act like they're the one true kind of magic. Nothing wrong with them, they're just not calling me at this time in my life.

It seems weird to order in plants and herbs that can't grow in my climate while ignoring the ones all around me because I'm trying to replicate the things my ancestors had growing in their yards. Unfortunately, nobody's written "Magical Plants of Texas Pastures and Their Uses". The lore I know about bringing good crops, understanding the weather, and which plants and animals are safe and dangerous is all from the South. There's magic deep in the land, and I can feel it welcome me, feel it call. I don't have a tradition, but what I do is traditional. I know what calls to me, what I just know to do without knowing why I know it. Why? The place I'm from hosts spirits, history, and life that flavors the kind of magic native to here. Working in that system flows more easily. If we moved to Wales, I'd dive into learning about Welsh magic because I'd be on the land that's home to those spirits, that history, and offers up the plants from that herbal tradition.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wildharvesting in Texas

My house is on pastureland south of Austin, which means there's not a whole lot of woodland or variety to pick from out here. (The land spirits are pretty great out here, though.) My parents live in a hilly, heavily wooded part of the city and are lucky enough to have land too steep and wild to be developed on either side of them. Several varieties of oaks, lots of juniper, wildflowers, huge bushes of rosemary, and all sorts of other goodies run wild. I was over there yesterday to pick up something and gathered up a few things - small clusters of oak leaves that had been knocked down and enough buckeyes to share with friends.

(These will be used for dyeing some of the wool for the handfasting cord I'm weaving this year. The leaves produce a lovely buttery golden color, and I love that they come from my parents' home. I'll gather some from Kevin's parents' house too before I actually color the yarn.) 

Most of what you read about regarding witchcraft and herbalism is from Europe. That is where the history comes from, you know. It's fascinating and lovely, BUT if your emphasis is on traditional craft using the materials available to you and you live in a totally different climate than the authors of those books, it's not as useful a repository of knowledge as you might like to find. It takes years and loads of patience to communicate with the various species to learn their uses. I'm very much aware of what a neophyte I am in my herbal knowledge. Plus, you sit down to communicate with a plant and it's not very talkative - is it the species or that particular plant?

The main issue is that even if you find what seems like an analogous plant, the energy and usage doesn't necessarily work. I'd like to make a wand, but none of the traditional woods grow in my area, so I want to find a good substitute. For example, the blackthorn tree and the mesquite tree are both kinda mean and have huge thorns, but instead of being protective, the mesquite is one of the hardest, meanest, death-dealing motherfuckers out there. They'll leech the land dry, killing everything else. Their seed pods are needle sharp on the ends and so hard that cows have to eat them and poop them out for the seeds to get exposed and have a chance to germinate. That's four stomachs of breaking down, people. Obviously, I can't just go out and substitute the energies of mesquite for blackthorn if I wanted to make a wand or staff out of it. The seed pods are cool, though, and they ask to be picked up and used, though I'm not sure what for. Sharp enough to draw blood, tenacious, beautiful, and they sound like a rattlesnake when you shake them. I think they sound perfect for difficult situations.

It's not like we don't have plenty of useful plants around here. There's a metric fuckton of Texas out there containing beachfront on the Gulf, pine forests, deserts, mountains, prairies, and several different kinds of rich farmland. There's lots to pick from when wild harvesting, providing you enjoy time in the car. Luckily for me, I have a hobby that involves a fair bit of traveling around the state during the year, and I try to pay attention when a plant calls out to me. If I don't know what it is and what it's for, I make some notes, look it up, and try to figure out its magical applications. Sometimes that's easy - like with the huge crop of thistles last spring brought, or with the mistletoe infestations the oaks have out west in the hill country. Studying Hoodoo has been an enormous help since its herbal tradition is largely based on plants in the American South. Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic by catherine yronwode is indispensable since it's a great compendium and lists other common names for the plants. I'm trying to learn more about Mexican herbalism, but I haven't found a book that focuses on the magic applications yet.

These are buckeyes from the prolific bush in my parents' yard. I'm really excited to have them. They're super useful in Hoodoo for luck in practical matters of money, gambling, and work matters of getting jobs and drawing in customers. In the non-touristy shops in New Orleans, I've seen tiny mojo hands using a buckeye nut dressed with the right oils and herbs, wrapped in a little square of proper fabric to bring luck to everyday things - a visit to the casino, found money, brighten your day, ward off the blues. They're also associated with male virility and helping with headaches, arthritis, and rheumatism. You just carry the nut or the mojo hand in your right front pocket. The male virility application amuses me because you dress the nut with the oil from the sides of your nose. Magic is weird sometimes...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Followup: Sacrifice

What's funny is that I wrote that, then shortly thereafter, got stuck for an extra long time commuting home in the Thanksgiving traffic. Long enough to listen to an hour of a podcast I haven't checked in on in months. It's by Ariel on the Law of Compensation (it's available in iTunes as part of The Druidic Craft of the Wise series). I like him as a perspective that augments the bulk of my traditional witchcraft learnings and listenings. Good mental exercises, good critical thinking and an emphasis on learning for yourself directly from Spirit.

Anyway... It was all about the give and take in relationships with the divine, namely a dedication to giving sacrifices joyfully and practicing a period of giving regular, small sacrifices in conjunction with small magic workings. It could be a tithe of money to do good in the world, giving up time, letting go of a favorite excuse that holds you back... all kinds of things. This sounds like a much more reasonable learning approach than scattering whiskey and blood all over the place in an effort to ramp things up.

Gotta love it when the answer drops right into your lap right after you ask the question.

What is sacrifice?

I have been thinking about sacrifice lately. What counts as sacrifice and what doesn't? What is the difference between sacrifice and offering when you are giving something to the gods? If a shot glass of rum or bourbon is an offering, is the whole bottle a sacrifice? A chart would be very handy. I do what seems right. A trickster guide used to hang around, so even doing what feels right and listening for guidance can feel like a trap sometimes. Besides, my understanding of sacrifice comes from the Judeo-Christian tradition, which means an animal, or maybe your own son.

It would be awesome if this post could be "5 Easy Ways to Offer the Right Sacrifice" or a handy dandy how-to guide full of practical tips. We all know that there's no free lunch. A reciprocal relationship is a good thing, but when you're trying to go deeper or move to the next level, it's not always easy to know what to do. There's a lot of misinformation floating around, and everything seems to have a caveat with it. Or what you're supposed to do involves living in a very different geography than I do.

I'm thinking about it because it feels like a season to be quiet and learn. Life has me hemmed in on all sides when it comes to thinking of finding a tradition right now: planning a wedding, my partner's grad school and career path that will almost surely require moving away, and the seeming absence of local groups that are something other than Wiccan or Thelemites. Even if something were here, it seems wrong to enter into a sort of trust with a group, knowing I won't be here long term. That doesn't mean I can't do the groundwork and study we should all do to know the primary sources modern theories and practices are based in.

If you've tried to make it through the 19th c. and earlier grimoires and esoteric writings, you know it's not exactly easy breezy. It's easy to read and not retain when the language and style are so different from our own. Is this sacrifice, this decision to study and learn? I hope so, because reading and rereading until some of it sticks feels like chopping wood and carrying water to learn enlightenment. Is it sacrifice to do the work to prove you're serious about learning something, or is that just the price of admission?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

All We Need Is Love

I've been trying to sort out what Cash's little puppy soul was here for, because maybe if I can do that, him being gone will seem less horribly cruel and unnecessary. He was a special needs dog, and he required an extra measure of grace for some of the things that went along with that. I have thousands in credit card debt from vet and specialist visits, surgery, etc. He would eat anything, and every single day was a struggle to keep an entire household's objects out of the mouth of a 70lb dog who would do things like lick the clean knives in the dishwasher. He was like a wild toddler. All that was completely eclipsed because of his love and joy. No matter what he did and how gross the consequences were, you didn't care because the level of love he gave you washed it all away.

I don't know why we only got three years with him. What I've realized in the midst of some pretty serious grieving (of which I didn't know I was capable), is that Cash was an agent for slow and profound change in our lives. He - not counseling or friends - broke down thick walls of cynicism in me and slowly grew my capacity to express love and delight with fewer and fewer restrictions or reservations. I feel like a hippie for saying it, but love really can transform anything and anyone in a profound way. We're all absolutely starved for it. You should have seen the outpouring of photos and letters I've gotten from friends, saying how much they loved Cash and how much they love us. Grandparents dying hasn't gotten anything more than a few, "Aw, I'm sorry... Are you ok?" responses. My dog, my funny little muppet faced labradoodle man, he touched more lives in a meaningful way in his few years than a lot of people do in decades.

Why? Because even an afternoon having the attention of a being of pure love lavished on you changes things. There are things in life I can't change, like genetics or brain chemistry, that have been painful struggles that are probably going to be with me for life. I can take the transformation Cash made in me and feed it, grow it, and share it with every being I interact with. It's an endless resource that makes my life better and other people's lives better and doesn't really require any effort to put out there. His love wiped away all the challenging things about him, and I'd take it all back on and more to have him back. And when I think that the people around me would be better off not having to deal with me and my challenging things, I'm going to think about the raw, gaping hole Cash left in my life and how I feel about him. The love and acceptance I get is a wild and precious gift that I need to honor instead of doubt. I want to return it magnified many times over. I want to live from a place of knowing I am loved and accepted instead of hoping that I am. I will work to further love and caring in the world.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Kýrie, eléison

One of our three dogs, my sweet, sweet Cash, died very suddenly this morning in a freak thing. He was fine, and he went out to go pee this morning, and when I opened the door to call them in for breakfast, he was lying in the yard, up on the rise where he likes to sit. He's had strange health problems for the three years of his labradoodle life, and the vet guesses that his little body wasn't put together quite right. We are just shattered, of course. I take great comfort in knowing that it couldn't be helped, that it wasn't anything we did or didn't do, and that it was instantaneous instead of him having to go through a long illness and lots of pain. I want to yell at the gods, beg mercy of them, but I have a suspicion that this is mercy on their part. I've just known someone would die this month, I just didn't think it would be one of my puppy boys.

He is truly the sweetest, most joyful being I have ever known. His love was immeasurably great, so much so that sometimes it was overwhelming enough to make me just weep while he sat with me on the couch because I don't know how to process that much love. He was my shadow everywhere. It's strange to sit alone without him under my desk. I don't know how to process it. Grieving isn't something I have a lot of experience with, and I love my animals more than I love most people. We wrapped him in the best sheet I had and had to give the body to the vet for cremation because the drought has made the ground too hard to dig by hand.

Perhaps it's growing up in a faith that seemed riddled with traps and pitfalls that guarantee punishment from above, but the hand of guilt is heavy on me. Did I do something to anger the gods? Am I not hearing something and being cruelly shaken awake? A kick in the pants to get with the program on spending time with the dead? Are things going wrong because I'm not doing what they want, or are they merely normal life stuff to go through? I keep catching snatches of visions of Cash being so happy, crossing over so free, finally having a body that will let him run and bound. I'm so afraid they're just being created by my own mind from wishful thinking because I'm good at visualizing.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Empress

She is me in Tarot. Or I am her, which in my deck is Demeter. The epitome of all things traditionally feminine, standing there pregnant in her field of ripe grain, pregnant, ruling fertility and marriage and the cycles of life and death. Pregnancy is a big deal in my personal symbolism and metaphors. Not that I picked it. I got smacked upside the head with it, can't escape it. It's a great metaphor, full of complicated nuances, and it's perfect for me. Part of the complication is that when you have dreams and astrology messages and all signs point to pregnancy, is it a real baby or is it a metaphorical baby? Gods and spirits are tricky, and I don't always remember to ask clarifying questions.

They're asking questions about if I want a baby right now, and the damned stars are telling both of us that we might have big news to announce at Thanksgiving in the form of either a real or a metaphorical baby. That's awesome! I feel like Mary, with all the special interventions about her having a baby. But it's scary, because hey! I'm not ready for babies right now. Three years? That sounds better. Let us get through this income frozen recession and the wedding next year and my bearded giant's PhD program and maybe have me on his insurance program before anything happens.

Dear gods, please let this be a metaphorical baby. Let it be the start of something new in my life, the growing seed of what's to come next, the ripe fruit to come out of a long, thorny section on my path. Let it be a gift from the god. Gifts from the divine have always been good, even when they're difficult and confusing. Please, let it be confident strides of progress. Things have been forming in the periphery, sliding into alignment to create something I get the gist of but can't comprehend yet. I'll keep watching and walking and learning, trusting that the gifts are good and won't be more than I can handle.

Monday, October 31, 2011

On Samhain Eve

I got quiet for a while. Things got weird and wrong here, I couldn't figure out how to fix them or even pin down what exactly was wrong to work on a fix, and I learned some important lessons about stewardship and responsibilities that come with gifts. Naturally, I am compounding everything with feeling sorry for myself and seeking out The Perfect Answer when simply acting in some way on the problem would turn things around in no time. I'm not quick to see the opportunities that present themselves in crisis. The universe has all but rented planes pulling message banners behind them to get me to understand what's very, very obvious.

While I see photos of beautiful altars and offerings going up for Samhain (some of you are doubtless celebrating right now), this is not the year for it for me. It's been a long, full, challenging year in both the mundane and magical parts of my life, doubly so where the effects of one spill over into the other. It feels right to let it close in stillness and contemplation with small observances.

Ok, I did carve a pumpkin - the second one of my life - to guard us against spirits and trick-or-treaters. The timing just doesn't feel right for the holiday, even if we're in the glorious midst of a cool front that makes the days warm instead of hot and the nights snappy. The heat and drought went on for so long that the growth cycles are off for all the plants. Putting together a huge wheel of the year ritual here and now feels like trying to pull of Christmas in a post-apocalyptic desert outpost. So instead of feeling left out of celebrating like people who have seasons, I will take a hint from the universe and let it be what it is. I wonder if the spirits around here feel as drained from the summer as the living do...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I breathe in; I am alive

It rained last night. It wasn't enough to make a big dent in the drought damage, but it was exquisite. I was grateful driving home in it, thanking the gods each time I had to turn up the speed on my wipers. I ran out into the backyard with the dogs and stood in the last dregs of the day's light, letting cold drops sting my face, and I cried. The dogs weren't even upset about getting rained on, something they normally hate. Muddy pawprints are everywhere.

I have been practicing Mindfulness as often as I can remember for the last week. I'm listening to the CD teaching set, Living Without Stress or Fear, courtesy of the library. It's a Buddhist retreat, and it is outstanding. It's my first real encounter with the practices and philosophies and exercises, and it has been so positive. I've never been able to center or ground so easily. The impact on my anxiety could be life-changing. Kevin says I've been different, better the past few days.

Other than the exercises I've learned to do, I have learned that being fully present in the moment is very difficult for me. Too much energy, an overactive mind, and the overachiever gene are hard to beat back. They can be handy in magic, bringing lots of focus, oomph, and precise tailoring and visualization - but that's not being present in the here and the now. I thought it was, but it's not. In the rain, I think I achieved my first few moments of being truly present in a week of trying. Nothing mattered more right then, it felt such a rare and precious thing to smell and hear that familiar thing, to have it sting my skin, to feel my shoes stick to the ground as dust turned instantly to mud glue, to sense the dogs running happy circles around the yard. It was great to be truly there in a calm moment, rather than just those of intense pain or pleasure or anger.

The ability to achieve peace quickly is undervalued in Western cultures. We're fast and loud and big. This month has been littered with unexpected expenses, none of them impacting my mood. Abraham, the poodle man, had to get a big chunk of speargrass dug out of a joint in his foot, which had been infected by it. My car stereo ate a library CD and had to be replaced. All new tires. The endless heat equals high bills. My phone is dying. The wedding will be much more expensive than I had hoped. All of that, and I have a deep well of peace. I haven't panicked about money. I've gotten frustrated and deeply angry with Kevin, then had calm, productive conversations that led to equitable agreements better than I had hoped for. I feel good. I feel strong. I feel stable, which is something I haven't felt in a long time.

My hope is that the practices of stillness, peace, and mindfulness will let me hear the spirits more clearly, with better discernment, so that we can make progress together in my learning. I had wanted a teacher, but the woman I would have asked told me that what I'm called to has to be taught to me individually, by spirits, and learned the hard way. All too often, there are no books for me, no tidy guides. Perhaps, though, there are guides to equip us with the skills we need to undertake the learning, like the Buddhist monk I'm listening to. And that? That is a really big deal to have outposts in the wilderness so that we can be supplied on the voyage instead of foraging for every morsel, every sundry supply. Something to be grateful for, indeed.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Last week, my psychiatrist and I talked about how the hardest thing I am having to learn as an adult is moderation. It seems so wrong to take the longer path, to not superstar excel as quickly as possible, even though I know that the point of so many things is the journey. Pushing and striving has its place, and that place is not in everyday circumstances. In this, being a witch is so good for me. So very good. No book hands down what my spirits need me to know. I must be quiet and listen, and before that, prepare for them, invite them, prepare myself. I must be slow, deliberate, and discerning about who I speak to and how much to trust their words. There are an awful lot of tricksters out there, which is a painful lesson brought entirely by haste.

Magic demands patience for the most part. It doesn't take too many times spending a year living the fallout of raising a lot of energy and throwing it it a poorly thought out working. (Pro tip: Don't ask Brigid for more money at work, a new job, and to finally, truly learn patience all in the same Imbolc ritual. You will get what you asked for, and it will be excruciating.) Books are good for a lot of things, but there come points that there isn't one out there that is for you and your path. Like the Moon card in Tarot, you step into the boat and go where it takes you in the deep, dark night. That takes faith. The faith takes good experiences and bad, so that you know you can handle either and come out alive. The gods and the ancestors are faithful to speak. I am learning to be faithful to arrive and to listen.

My practice teaches such good lessons. Unfortunately, the rest of my life hasn't necessarily started learning them yet. And so when the rest of that outside chaos pushes things off in my practice, it feels like a great, sad failure to myself and to the gods. The problem of never feeling like you're doing enough is a personal one with a high cost. I messed up for the last moon. I made homemade cornbread in the spirit flame's cast iron vessel. I made the harvest altar and decorated it. And then there were a couple of blips in my personal life, and I forgot to actually do anything. The cornbread for Grandmother still got offered, but not in the right way, and not to her so much as to the land. Nothing got done for the God of the Forest. I fail in the small things and fear that I'll never be faithful enough, get the offerings and rituals and secret messages right. Just as much, I fear being enslaved to the whole thing to the exclusion of the rest of my waking life. I fear losing the thin line between present, past, future, and whatever forces operate in the Otherworlds. I've always had dreams and visions, heard and seen things. I can choose not to obey, but I can't not be aware of what they want.

I think of taking off till the new moon, to regroup. But the day is overcast, heavy, and grey as rain (rain!) looms all around. I pray and ask for a break to the drought, for a generous watering for the land and the animals and the fires. If the rain comes, the harvest will surely come with it. If the rain comes, we will be saved. Instead of taking a break, Grandmother tells me to scrub the porch, clean up, quit worrying myself and be domestic. The porch is cleaned of a summer's worth of dust and ashes and schmutz. I will start the bread dough when I finish this, then take a ritual bath in the summer's spicy sweet harvest of sunflower petals, roses, and juniper. I will be forgiven, make amends, and not keep apologizing after everything is smoothed over. I am glad Grandmother is here to guide me, to lead me.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The coming harvest?

School is back in session. My friends up north have irksome Facebook posts about the crisp weather while it's still over a hundred degrees here in Texas and my sky is full of pale ecru smoke from the fires nearby. Fall comes in name only here, but I have faith. I am reminded of a line from a poem written by someone I used to know. It's about God and begs, "Come with Your suddenly, and take me away." It is dust bowl dry here. The earth has cracks so deep and wide we have to warn children away from them. We have learned in the last week that pine trees, parched yet rich with sap, literally explode when the fire burns around them. May the gods have mercy on us.

The animals in the fields are dying. They are shipping the cows and horses up north, losing future generations of livestock and livelihoods. The remaining cows huddle together under scrubby short mesquite trees, trying to find shade. The hay stubble they eat has been burnt by the sun past being yellow and brittle to being a warm grey and powdery. This should be our late summer planting season. Fields should be full of fresh, green grass and knee-high cotton. I was going to plant ornamental gourds to grow and dry for next fall's wedding decorations, but it is too hot and the restricted water allotment must be used to water the foundation to keep the house from cracking worse than it has already. The earth has pulled back from the house by several inches and half of the doors can't shut right. Still, I have faith.

Because I believe that fall will come, that it will bring the rains and the healing both the land and I ache for, I built it an altar. The stag, for the God of the Forest, whom I love so dearly; He that I hunt with, that I run with in visions, whose mantle I wear while setting things right - he crowns the thing because there is none other worthy of it. For Him, a bounty of beautiful gourds and carved acorns. Incense wreathed in grape vines. Hand-blown glass hurricanes with candles. A hand-woven cloth with intricately knotted fringe made by Indians in Mexico. There is sacred cornbread for Grandmother, baked in the spirit flame vessel.

It's hard here and now. Trying. Things seem to move with glacial speed, and hopes with good omens keep ending in disappointment. My soul aches for the imagery of harvest and the refreshing transition out of summer. Only what is there to harvest? When your magic work is around the wheel of the year, leading toward a season of harvest and the land is dead and scorched, what does that forecast for one's spiritual harvest? It scares me, but still, I have faith. Perhaps I should scatter mustard seeds over the altar...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gift Horse Inspection Time

I learned to do natal charts over the weekend. The free ones online always have such strange explanations. We did mine, which was a little odd, but then so am I. My guy's was enviable in how clear and true it rang out his life's work, successes, and dangers. It's a good life, full of good things, and I am grateful to be tied to it.

What was I expecting to see in mine or hear in a practiced interpretation? I'm not really sure. Deep down, I thought it might spit out my destiny or life's work and tell me what I should be when I grown up. Like it would say, hey! your Saturn is in Taurus, so you should be a firefighter. Unfortunately, I'm already grown up, and the star-predicted path of eclectic jobs and erratic income levels is one I know well. It makes it hard to get ahead or make big goals to work toward, since being on the corporate ladder feels more wrong every rung I ascend.

It explains the abject failure of all my giant, magic-fueled attempts to swan dive into an Important Career. It's incredible to know that I'm not failing my destiny doing what I've been doing. It means time to grow things, to harvest them from nature, to make things, to learn, to make home a haven of beauty, rest, and comfort. Yet it feels like I'm failing to not put my smarts and skills into a Profession of Vast Earning Potential.

The thing basically said that my role is to support Mr. Career over there, to be domestic, to be artistic, to have a quieter more flexible life. That's really cool. It's what I wanted to do my whole life. But to have it spelled out makes me a little sad and jealous, as though what I am called to is lesser, not very special, or even invisible compared to what he's doing. He would never think that, would be upset that I feel this way. We all want to be special and respected. I fear that I won't be because he will always overshadow me.

Perhaps this is less about astrology and more about hidden marriage fears. If I take myself out of competition with him, I won't be a superstar overachiever anymore. Doing what's right and good for me isn't a failure, but it seems that way at the moment. It feels like giving up the potential of being self-sufficient. Lies, lies, lies...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mother Mary Full of Grace Have Mercy

I put together a Queen of Heaven altar this afternoon to try and balance some of the Mercury mess happening in this house. Several years ago, I found this awesome antique piece in the back of a junk shop and am madly in love with it. I love Mary. Growing up fundamentalist Evangelical Christian, this is a monster taboo. I secretly prayed the rosary and bought icons when I was in Romania. When my mom was little, Mary would come to her in dreams, hold out her hand, and huge roses would unfurl from tiny buds as a gift to my mom. I love that.

In Greek, Mary is the Blessed Theotokos, meaning "light bearer", since she bore Christ. What that actually means in application is that she is the immortal one who literally births light and truth, bringing mercy to the world in a way that transcends all time. I think that's so beautiful, to have this woman who straddles life and death, working for us and mothering us and shepherding us with forgiveness on our bumbling paths. I adore Mary. Gestation and birthing of the complicated, large-picture truths of situations is a theme in my spiritual life. It's clear that it's something I am called to. I identify with her.

It feels fantastic in my little room here now, so peaceful. So lovely. I'm never afraid of her, only filled with gratitude and joy to approach her.

Mercury retrograde for the living and the dead

Mercury cannot get out of retrograde in Leo soon enough. It ruins relationship communication, throws off finances, and it makes my man distant and angst-ridden. This one had a big birthday (his) and a hellacious depressive episode (mine). Kind of a perfect storm of astrological clusterfuckery. We need a break from Mercury. I'm cleaning physically and spiritually today, then heading to west Texas for a weekend of creativity and witchery and jello shots.

Mercury rules communication, but when you communicate with the living and the dead, that gets complicated. It gets weird. I don't seek out the dead, never have, and don't think of myself as someone who really works with that. Never mind the riding of hedges, dreams and visions, and lifetime of observing spirit manifestations. Oh yeah, and the fact that they just show up and talk to me.

It's something I need to learn better control over, and until that happens, I'm being as careful as I know how to be. There are things you don't trifle with. Right before the retrograde period, my maternal grandparents showed up in the living room one morning when I was wondering about who would speak to me through a medium if I ever went to Lily Dale. It was a sweet time, healing some things that were left unfinished when she died, telling me how proud and happy they were about my engagement. Really nice, right? Mercury goes retrograde, and when I think about that, what is basically a shade of her shows up, animated but empty of a soul or anything, looking like she probably looks in her coffin now that she's been in there for a few years. It's horrible and rotten and wormy. It's hard to get it to leave.

I am so tired of bumbling through dealing with the dead. I don't know who to ask or learn from. I don't know what to make of signs sometimes, whether they're signs or gifts. Just this morning, Bo the familiar and I went to get coffee. In the closed up car, sitting in the driveway, a good-sized black feather dropped into my lap. As in materialized. It's the kind I used a year ago in my raven Halloween costume. Ravens don't live here, so is this an animal omen or a gift for the altar? Things are just weird right now. I hope this weekend with the ladies will offer up some answers or at least a respite.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I haven't been feeling incredibly witchy lately. Depression has been a bear these last few weeks, and I don't like working when I can't focus and my energy is icky. Things are getting better now, I think. We're having a terrible drought and heat in Texas. Everything is moving so very slowly, people and animals. The plants are all dying, even with watering and all the care I know how to give them. We're all out of sorts down here at the moment.

Since it just didn't feel like the right time to do a lot of work, I worked on building the skills and knowledge I need for when my energy does come back to normal. What does that mean? It means experimental making of mead in small batches. You can make some too! I've been dying to try my hand at sacred mead for specific holidays and purposes, and I'm thrilled to have found a way to dip my toes in without having to buy the full brewing setup.

This is the first batch. It has an especially delicious kind of apple in it, local honey, cardamom, cinnamon, Szechuan peppercorns, and culinary-grade rosebuds. My giant man and I are considering making wedding mead for our fall celebration. It would be awesome if it tasted good, it would be cost-effective, and we have a little time to find a great date and time and moon to make sure it's full of all the good things one would want. I'm really hoping we don't make vile mead on the trial run...

This is our backup batch, made with oranges, cloves, and currants. It's a supposedly fail-proof recipe. The bottles have punctured balloons on top to let gasses escape as it ferments, while keeping contaminants out. (Don't worry - wedding mead will be made with all the gizmos and tools.) I think it looks like I'm making prison wine, plus we're keeping it in the guest bathroom since it's nice and dark and cool in there. Classy!

Harvest has officially begun, but with the plants dying and everything dried out, there's not much to wildcraft into mead or anything else. Instead, I'm examining things I've learned in the last year, examining thought patterns. The good lessons are treasured and enjoyed and kept, while the rest is taken by the wind. Even though there is always bitter alongside the sweet, I'm not going to preserve the bitter parts this time around.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Right before harvest came, we did a lot of divination. Asked about Big Life Things and interpreted communally. When you read for yourself often, it's fascinating to have someone else do it for you or do it in a group. When that voice is different than my own, sometimes I have a hard time taking it in and letting it be. I want to circle around and find loopholes - especially when what I've been told is a truth I might not have been ready for or if it rings with the interpreter's voice rather than that of the Fates.

I've been reading through my tarot journal, seeing what I have been harvesting and sowing in small doses. Most of the readings I've done for myself, alone. Tarot is something I like, something that clicked the first time I picked it up. The dangerous part of reading for yourself and never getting another's voice in there is that you can recreate the narrative in small twists. Paint things different than they are because you want to see them that way. The cards will fight you, they should, and it's strange to look back and see the places you so wanted a certain result, got a different one, and the cards told the truth all along.

The tarot is a funny thing. People put so many rules and superstitions around it, keep it mysterious and veiled. As if all those cards can't be mysterious to the average bear without any help. It's a living thing with a personality and preferences. Even when you try and twist its voice, you can't hide from the truth you got told. That's especially true in matters of the heart. Looking back over the last 2-3 years of readings, I can't believe how stupid and willfully blind I was in patches. It makes me wonder if there are places I'm doing it now, assignations of meaning that don't quite seem right. Sometimes more will be revealed and make sense of itself in hindsight. I hope that's the case, that there are good things I'm too close to be able to see clearly.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lughnassah Signs and Symbols

If something happens in conjunction with a ritual or a working or some life thing, I generally know how to interpret it. Like we were considering buying a foreclosed home that perfectly met every last one of the criterion we had around a house - 3 blocks from campus on 2/3 acre with lots of room, an interesting floorplan, and killer long-term rental potential. But it had nasty, expensive issues that were being candy-coated, and I could just tell that the house knew me for what I was and wanted us strongly enough to be casting a sort of glamour (a witch's house if ever there had been one). We went to see it with our realtor a second time, and in the back yard, a huge doe had gotten in and was to panicky to find her way back out, even though it was easy and obvious. She got still and locked eyes with me for a long minute, and I just KNEW we needed to walk away. Deer are important to me, and while they mean different things, I know what's being communicated when one shows up.

Now, back to the most recent holiday on the calendar, when this happened:

The hand-blown glass candlesticks I took forever to find exploded in the middle of the night without making a sound, even though there was glass shattered all over the altar and the cement floor beneath. I was awake because Bo dog was going nuts in the special way he does when spirits other than the usual ones are in the house. His bark is even different and clear in its communication for nice vs. not nice spirits. Somehow, this never wakes up the man o' the house, who wakes up for things like dog farts. (no kidding)

I'm sure the physics of heat have something to do with it. But it was a weird night. The kind where something's definitely going on, but it's not bad or malicious. Just kind of foreign in how it feels. I accidentally rested my hand on the glowing ember of incense - which hurt at the time - but left no mark. The usual animals weren't outside, but instead a huge, fat, gorgeous toad was waiting for me. And then two saucer-sized pieces of glass broke and fell about three feet onto the cement floor without making a sound. I don't know how to read the signs. I don't know what to make of these things. Perhaps I harvested a sign that I have been heard...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The High Price of Withholding Information

Everyone's talking about secrecy right now. Some for, some against, and probably most of us mixed somewhere in between. Some is good, no doubt - there are things we do in our private relationships with gods and spirits and nature that are private. I don't need to openly explain the down and dirty details of how I do a thing, but I see no problem with it being public that I do it. If someone wants to know more, or are trying to learn, they can ask. Maybe I'll tell them, maybe I won't - that truly is a matter of personal discretion.

The discussion going on isn't about Paganism or Wicca or the sorts of things covered in books available at your neighborhood corporate storefront. It's about the things that really separate from that and deal with Witchcraft as a calling, something you can't really avoid once you're aware of it. We're talking about hedge-crossing, dealing with spirits and gods on a regular basis, and all of the rites, tributes, offerings, and responsibilities that go along with those relationships and experiences. It's not for everyone, nor should it be.

There's a huge space between the bulk of what's in the Llewellyn catalogue and being taught, in detail, how to journey to the Underworld and Get Shit Done. That space is where we are miserably failing people. Those who are foolish or power hungry can easily piece together enough information to get themselves into trouble, but not enough to get out of it or to know what precautions they should take. Those who are inundated with experiences and spirits are largely without practical, essential resources to understand what's going on, let alone resources for finding help or a teacher.

There seems to be too strong a drive to hide things away that I feel should be accessible. Protection and defense is a big one with me, mostly because there's no reason at all not to teach people to take charge of their own self-defense. I'm not talking about sage sticks and salt, but about teaching people that it's ok to take ownership of their space, their thoughts, their dreams, and kick spirits out if they're hassling them. Anyone who sits around saying that anything beyond politely asking them to move on and doing some smudging has obviously never had to deal with anything particularly nasty. What about the people that do? What about the people who are called and highly sensitive from childhood?

We can't stop people from doing stupid stuff if they're going to be reckless and play with big powers for fun. They're going to do it with intent or just because they opened something up and looked ripe for an opportunistic demon or spirit. In a foolish attempt to police these people, we spite a whole community of people like ourselves. Where are people supposed to go when they ask the right questions and the priestess or the magic shop owner have no resources to point them toward? Sitting around being snide about fluffy books and Wiccan dabblers who don't do the Real Serious Witch Stuff is just asinine when those are the only things people of any witchy orientation have ready access to. For most, something is better than nothing, and they will take what they can get in the way of an education. If we aren't providing educational and community resources, how can we expect that people will grow into the practices and disciplines beyond intro-level magics?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


That's right, Internet, I'm getting married. The WTBf asked on Father's Day during a beautiful toast about the wonderful love and values and people our families have given us. I'm supremely happy about getting to make it official, to build a life that is wholly our own, to belong to one another. That part of this is exquisite happiness and a great sort of relief to be becoming more autonomous as a unit, rather than as myself against the world.

I don't really want to plan a wedding. I've done enough wedding planning already for friends, and I have no precious illusions about what this means and how much it costs. People are already telling me what I can't do, when I can't do it, and not taking polite but firm refusals. My mother was asking me about officiants within an hour of the thing, pushing me at a Christian wedding with one of her minister brothers leading it. I don't know if it was that conversation or if something else happened, but they figured out that I'm a Pagan. Maybe my office smelled too much like incense. Maybe the altar looked more altar-y than I had thought. I don't know.

I got asked about it outright today, and it was bad. Worse than I'd ever expected because it came up when I had already spent hours having an anxiety attack. Not the best time for clarity, calm, or diplomacy when negotiating such a sticky issue. My mother thinks the vows being Christian are somehow tied to eternal salvation. I'm almost certain that she is unhappy about us getting married, and that hurts more deeply than anything she has ever done or said to me. More than the shitstorm on the way, thanks to them digging up the truth.

I had promised myself that I'd be honest about any of the things I hide if asked about them outright. I was. When anything but a particular flavor of Christianity is seen as a wrong move by me (but not necessarily the adherents), you know things won't go well that flavor is very officially Not Christian. I'm not sure if it makes it better or worse that I work with Jesus and that I still worship the Christian God as part of what I do. (Hey, it's what I was raised with, and it's a powerful, instinctual thing.) I do believe I am now in the "loved, but deemed unacceptable" category with my family. I'm not the first to go through this, won't be the last. We didn't even touch witchcraft, and it's not any of their damn business. Needless to say, this hurts a lot.

There are so many wonderful things going on right now, so many things I'm learning and doing and working on - all of which would be more interesting than this clusterfuck. I'll get back to those and back to the bittersweet task of getting to plan a wedding that's less stealthily pagan.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Viriliter Age | Act Courageously

I haven't been formally initiated into a tradition. No nudity and ceremonial flogging. No being smeared with oil and sprinkled with holy water. Part of me wants the ceremony because it is a demarcation and public declaration that you are dedicating yourself to something, that you take the yoke and follow the disciplines. It's something I take very seriously, and I get the feeling that I take it more seriously than a lot of people who are actually initiated.

People say you can't self-initiate. The power must be passed from one person to another, and you can't do that if you don't have the power. I get the importance of community, accountability, and spiritual mentorship. What I don't get is that denying solitary initiation's existence denies that a deity is incapable of initiating their own devotee without the help of a human. I have offered myself to serve and have been filled to overflowing. If I wind up on the floor, shaking and sweating, skin cold, and unable to talk for hours afterward, have I not been found as a worthy vessel by the divine? The purpose of initiation is irrevocable transformation, not attaining your +3 Robe of Sorcery and +5 Wand of Casting.

Whatever it truly means to have been initiated into the service of divinity happened a very long time ago. Maybe that's why I take it so seriously. The benefits of service outweigh the demands, but only when you let yourself be used as an instrument. Resisting will wreck you, and the work will still have to be done. I've already been made a fool and a freak for following instructions. It comes with the package when you sign up to serve. I've already been broken and re-formed more than once, and it will happen again. And then it will happen again after that. Their truth is incisive and inescapable. Its scars run deep and proud.

Maybe the gods call some people to huggles and snuggles and glittery kittens. I believe that we are all called to do our best to live in love, no matter what else we are called to. I don't walk with death and decay often, though it wouldn't surprise me if we interacted more in the future. Birth and death work together, and at this time, I am called to fecundity, gestation, birth, and nurturing. The Empress card. The mama bear who nurtures and protects in equal measure. It's fitting that I have these birthing hips. In my important dreams I am almost always heavily pregnant, even if I am handing out justice with a blade in my hand. Grandmother teaches me about these things, breaking my heart with the depth of her love, and I still cannot find words to express my gratitude.

Truth be told, the ongoing service and devotion is a lonely thing. Who can come with you when Grandmother points down the path and tells you to go in spite of your fears? We are often called to strange and uncomfortable work where it's easier not to have to explain yourself. There's more than enough of it to go around. Lonely, frustrated spirits of places and things and beings, eager things clamoring for your attention or for the chance to be a part of something, all of them ready to be heard by someone who can hear them. Those things are hard to ignore, hard to walk away from, and can affect you more deeply than you'll ever be able to explain. So you serve because you have been called.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Learning the Lay of the Land

This is what you look like if you go single dig the smaller of your two front beds on a day where it's 96°F in the shade. I've not dug up the land by hand since 1998, back when I spent a few months gutting and refinishing group homes for unwed Romanian mothers who had been kicked out by their families. I'm talking about using a scythe to clear the land, then digging and turning with spading forks, which is darn close to what I'm doing now. I can feel Grandmother (my own grandmother's grandmother) guiding me, feeding me knowledge I didn't have until she put it into my hands and head. I had no idea enriching and restoring dirt was such hard work. Her approval radiates around me, erasing any anger or frustration that might pop up.

The land nudges me along, too. What was a little uncooperative the first day I started weeding is suddenly teaching me the structures and growth stages of the things it's been growing forever. Things that have no place in a flower bed like great thorned thistles and jimson weed nearly as tall as I am with tenacious, vast root structures deep in the clay soil. They tangle around the husks of shrub roots whose insides have died and rotted, leaving only the woodiest outer layer. The small bed has been reduced to three sage bushes, smaller than basketballs, and the mint that has a plan to take over the world.

The land spirits here are... interesting. It's old pasture land, finally developed after years of disuse, and dotted with rental houses that show evidence of a crooked contractor cutting corners. There hasn't been time for years of tenants streaming in and out to make things go as sad and dormant as an elderly person in a home who never gets any visitors. I suppose it's wary, but not unfriendly right now. It is used to peace, to surviving the cycles of the seasons and nourishing cattle. At the nursery, my choices seemed to be more about making the garden idiot proof than anything. Now I know, after spending hours with my hands in this earth, that I made the choices of hardy native plants, native organic composts, and native cedar mulches because they are in keeping with the spirit and purpose that the land understands for itself.

I'm fixing the house, fixing the land, making it right so that we can stay happily until the WTBf is done with his PhD. The land and house are blessedly quiet and calm in comparison to the apartment living we've been used to. They're taking their time to assess us and my intentions. I'm doing the best I know how to do, and in return, small gifts are showing up. Herbs I haven't known how to find. Interesting things turning up as I turn the ground, like foreign coins and odd grubs with legs on the upper half of their body and disturbing, smashed in ochre colored faces. Most of what turns up is leftover building materials - plastic spacers, bent metal stakes, scraps of wood used to shim in the columns, and what seems to be an endless supply of concrete and masonry lumps. What they left in the back yard is far worse, and I'm honestly intimidated by the necessary prospect of it.

For now, the weekend is ahead, and I have a beautiful selection of plants, herbs, and flowers to place in the earth. Rosemary for protection. Lantana for color and to keep the critters away and attract butterflies (the smell gives it the taxonomical name lantana horrida). There's a bottlebrush tree which makes bright red flowers shaped like its namesake. And I have some small herbs to plant either in the earth or in pots - Mexican oregano, lemon balm, and rue.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

What's new with you?

The last couple of weeks have been CRAZY, what with being sick enough to miss two weeks of work, plus moving a couple of days back. I can't tell you how good it feels to be out of those apartments and into a house with a yard. No more listening to upstairs neighbor guy pee and blow his nose! We both feel profoundly blessed to be here, making a home together, working side by side. One of the best parts is that I get my own office/witch room. It's box city right now, but it'll be a fabulous retreat within a few days.

We are surrounded by pasture land. It's strange to hear cows and horses whilst sitting out on the verandah at night. We have the most wonderful view of the moon, though. It's wonderful beyond wonderful to sit out in the quiet and breeze at night, the moon and I smiling back at each other. The WTBf loves her, too, and we have been taking companionable breaks of silent admiration. He's a space freak, which makes him an ideal partner in crime for working with big lunar events and energies, even if he IS a Pastafarian.

The previous tenants didn't take care of the yard or the house all that well, so there's some work to be done around here before I can say we're truly settled. I've been prepping the flower beds in the cool of the evening so that I can work on improving the soil over the summer and plant in the fall. Here in Central Texas, it's already too hot to plant. Yuck. But I can make sure that the pests and weeds and sandy clay get taken care of to make way for some useful herbs. Great big rosemary bushes are my fondest hope. For now, there's sage and cinquefoil and mint growing in them.

I'm working up a home cleansing and blessing ritual that feels right for this place, for us, and for completing all the work I did to bring this new home for us into a concrete reality. I most definitely owe some spirits some presents...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lately, I feel stuck waiting, like a girl at a dance without a date. Too many directions and projects and paths to explore, but the time isn't right to march down a different path, let alone go exploring off in the woods. That's a blessing, actually. After the pummeling the last few years handed out, having time and space to recover, regroup, and get strong is something I really need. I need to pay attention and take advantage of it. It would be nice to just live instead of strive and scramble all the time.

I asked the Universe to teach me patience a while back, on that ill-conceived Imbolc, and situations are cropping up long after that where it is made clear that I am still being taught. Acceptance and wise use of the time and situations come more easily now, but too often I bend my knee and bow my head to it with hackles raised and eyes flashing. I understand that I am being shown where things are headed, then being made ready in the meantime. I still worry about things not working out right instead of accepting that I can't control the future and that I will be provided for.

Time to know myself and be sure of my decision is a wonderful blessing, but it's really difficult not to have milestones in view, or to feel like I'm progressing at all. All cooped up. There's this Gemma Hays song that says, "Today I ran for miles, just to see what I was made of. Today I ran for all that was mine." I tried that, but it was more like I ran for yards, found out I was made of lethargy, and now feel more held back than ever. When I look down the long-term road, things are extra uncertain. Pretty much the only certain things are that the WTBf and I love each other very much and work well together, and that it's practically impossible that he'll be able to work here, where we're from and where our families and friends are. While he works through his Doctorate, a lot of things are put on hold for me. No long-term career plans or grad school. Just kind of a holding pattern until we see what the Universe has in store for us.

It's not all about the uncertain future. Keeping me flustered and stuck in the short term, is our move in the next couple of weeks. My things have to be put away, then taken back out. Given new homes in our new home. I've been sick, so packing is running about ten days behind schedule. Everything must be properly boxed, labeled, and dealt with.

The disturbance of order and suspension of normal life make me anxious, put me in a funky headspace, even though moving is excellent and well worth the trouble. (A house with a yard, rather than a noisy apartment! More room!) My focus is crap because of the moving and things being out of place, in boxes. It's so pervasive that when I went down to meet my helper last night during meditation, she was waiting for me in my new kitchen, idly inspecting the way I was arranging things. Instead of running through the forests, I spend my sleeping hours organizing shining appliances, dishes, and glasses on a baker's rack or over-engineering the constructing of simple tables and bed frames. Ugh. I'll be glad when it's all said and done, the old apartment cleaned out and given back, everything put in its place in the new house, and us settled into a quieter, slightly more genteel life.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Why Do People Shy Away from Self-Defense in Magic?

I have had, to put it in the ladylike way I so often put things, a bug up my ass for a while about personal defense in magic and general attitudes toward it. An awful lot of people seem to not draw clear boundaries and guard them because, well, it's not nice. That's absurd. It operates on the assumption that every universal force is going to play by your conventions and ethos. When was the last time some criminal stopped just short of violating a victim because the victim wasn't the kind of person who would rob or rape or murder? We lock the doors of our houses at night, install alarm systems, have neighborhood watch groups. Why would magic be any different, and why on earth would it be a place to suddenly turn into a milquetoast? You have to be proactive. That's a lesson I learned the hard way, and it changed my understanding of magical ethics and my path permanently.

Bad things don't just go away or become nice. This isn't a sitcom. They get worse and wear you down until the wheels are falling off on every front. Taking care of yourself, your home, your people, and your life isn't bad, even if it requires aggression and ferocity. You've got to fix it and be practical about it. Think of it like roaches or mice or some other household vermin. It has GOT to go. So you clean house, then take preventative and protective steps to make sure the things don't come back in. We all know to call the exterminator or buy roach traps if the problem is pests. An awful lot of people don't know what to do when the problem is with energies and entities you can't fix with a trip to the grocery store.

There seem to be two extremes and not a lot of practical information in between them. You have very strong, complex protection magic in folk traditions like Santeria and Voudou, where these layers of protection are a matter of fact thing. I've heard people say that it's because of the acceptability and prevalence of hexing or working against people. There are some excellent, very easy ideas in root work, like Hoodoo, that are great to use, no matter how uncomfortable you are with the idea of being more aggressive in your protection.

Then you have the fluffy people who write books telling you to exorcise ghosts from your house permanently using only sage and an open window. Oh, and if that doesn't work, you must be drawing them to you with a bad attitude. The latter type often focuses on "psychic self-defense". I hate the term "psychic self-defense" because it's such a narrow, silly-sounding term for what should be a broad and very personal plan. I get why people use it. The problem is that there are so few resources out there on personal protection magic. To write some bit of fluff is a disservice to the community and dangerous to less experienced witches who may be scrambling for help because they've gotten in over their heads.

In the world of softer, gentler, upper-middle-class witchery, protection doesn't seem like something people take very seriously. Are they not very sensitive? Very aware? Do they not make connections between the thought "hey, that guy sitting next to me at the bar is kinda creepy" and the idea that maybe they should shield themselves in some way? I don't know about the general public. Maybe they don't like the idea of there being big, bad stuff out there or that there could be consequences to some fun, impulsive dabbling. When it comes to physical home security or online security, people seem to largely be willfully ignorant, as though not taking preventative steps will save them. It won't.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Maybe I'll finish my reading list in this lifetime... Maybe.

I come from a Very Christian Family. Growing up, I could never understand how my mom would easily spend as many as four or five hours a day reading religious books or being engaged in her own private practice of her faith. She must have hundreds of books on a vast array of topics related to it. Naturally, I swore I would never be weird like that, then have slowly begun doing the same thing.

I read quickly, and usually have four or five books going at once. But when it comes to something like magic, where taking time to process, internalize, and sort out how it fits with what I already believe is of paramount importance, it's hard to plow through things. It's also difficult to decide where to focus my attention. There's my trance work, which has been absolutely clamoring for attention recently. There's whatever sabbat is next, plus whatever normal stuff I'm working on in my life. I've really enjoyed getting into hoodoo and rootwork in the last year. Its practicality clicks for me. Lately, my practice and focus has gotten more primal and bloody than I would have guessed it would have as little as a year ago. I have super highly recommended books in both areas arriving this week.

But there are other things that important to me to read. I think I should go deep to understand and know the sources modern authors are often drawing from. There are at least a couple thousand pages in PDF ebooks that I have to give me a very basic, more accurate foundation in the old occult books, the Solomonic stuff, and systems that aren't my own (like Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca). I don't trust some modern book whose cites nothing telling me to draw some stuff and call on the power it represents. I want to know where to look it up, how to cross-reference it.

I want to know how other people manage this load, how they decide which area to spend time on at any given time. Especially when it comes to reading the more classical texts that are harder to understand, harder to apply, and much longer-winded than modern books. At no time do I ever sit down and think that it's a great time to pick up 800 pages of forgotten book and snuggle in. Maybe I'll find some sort of glorious discipline. I wonder if it's even really necessary to have that foundation, or if that's just academic conditioning rearing its head. Honestly, I'd rather spend those hours outside wandering, or in trance, or making stuff.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Broken

The last few years have been interesting. Deeply challenging. Hard. They've also been immensely rewarding in ways I would never have expected or predicted. Magic takes the path of least resistance, and the easiest thing to transform is you. So when you make some Great Big Changes and ask for help one Imbolc, change comes in torrents so strong you will spend the following moons asking for help processing and handling everything so that you aren't torn apart.

Asking for help working on your weaker character qualities all at once isn't efficient and noble of you - it's brutal. Asking to learn patience in a year where you have done nothing but try to wrestle a new, higher-paying job out of a recession economy (with surprising amounts of success) means every bit of progress will grind to a fucking halt. For almost an entire year, on the nose. I'm still skittish of Imbolc even if I am grateful for what the changes have brought, now that my broken life has had time to mend some.

My point is that while changes and transformations are good, they are rarely comfortable or smooth. We die to be reborn, again and again. Metaphorically and literally. The earliest stories in every culture are rife with these cycles of sex, fertility, birth, death, and rebirth. Yet when the play out in our own lives, we're surprised by it. There's no fairy godmother to wave a wand and shower you in glitter and fancy new gowns. It's you and whatever all-consuming, hopefully benevolent deity you called on. Be careful what you wish for and who you ask to grant that wish.

That truth is why I'm not very comfortable with too heavy a focus on the softer, gentler side of just about everything. No, acknowledging that the hard things exist or even paying them lip service at the right time of the year doesn't make for balance. It's imbalanced, skimming over the harder realities. It's trying to avoid the inevitable, putting you in the position of having to tap dance ever faster and harder to try to keep from having to face a natural part of the cycle. Forget that. Let yourself experience each piece of the cycle, knowing that it's temporary.

Temporary, yes, but also likely to have to be faced again at some point. That part sucks. Nobody wants to fight the dragon they thought they slew. There are upsides to having actually fought in the first place instead of cowering in a corner. You know what the depths are like. You know how to take countermeasures. You know the way out, through the tunnels, and back into the light. Do you welcome it? Hell, no. But having fought it before, you know its weaknesses and your best defenses against it. You already have your battle scars, and in getting them, you have taken away the power that fearing this unknown thing has. It may be dreadful and command your respect now, but the edges of it are defined and it has a familiar form.

The first time you fight the thing, you may finish shaking and scared, praying you actually killed it, running blind to find some place to wash the blood off your hands. The second or third time you face it down, you may crack open its ribs to take its heart as a trophy and eat it for dinner or wear it on a necklace next to the hearts of other foes you've conquered. I like that phase. It feels good and strong to let the feral, bloodthirsty part of yourself come out and do what it does best.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Sometimes, I make videos

I should probably not make videos before having coffee. The funny thing is that because of how anxious I get about Important Things! in life, when they don't happen super quickly, I freak out about it not having worked. This is a video of the second time I did the spell. Who knows which one worked, but I am taking the last of the paperwork and the check for the balance of deposits to some lovely people who are very likely going to let us rent one of their darling little houses.

I don't really know who to thank or how to thank them. I don't invoke a lot of deity. I pray to God, am getting comfortable with Goddess (grew up fundamentalist Christian), and call down the blood of Jesus on things on a semi-regular basis. I interact a lot with nature. So I went out and gave my main pecan tree some good blackstrap rum, then let him and the shrubs share a bottle of champagne. I'm working up some research on the what and when of offerings. Of course, they're pretty personal, so it'll be general.