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...