Monday, October 15, 2012

E is for Ecstatic Religious Experiences

There are things I don't talk much about regarding my experiences in religion because I have serious baggage from growing up in such a strongly charismatic Christian background. I've always had spirit contact and mild psychic abilities and dreams. When it's treated as a special sign and the attention is frightening and predatory, you learn to not talk about the weird stuff.

This isn't church, and I'm going to talk about the weird stuff. Rarely do I know what to make of it right away. It might take a day or a week or a few months for it to become clear, and even then, it's often only the beginning of the riddle. I don't understand why sometimes something so great comes near, changes everything, and then goes away again, perhaps never to return. Perhaps the Gods can't help but cyclone into our lives. Perhaps it's not being bound to time and space.

The great fear is that whatever one does in the encounter is not satisfactory, that the answers given are found wanting. There's still an episode with the Horned God, from about a year ago, that makes me feel sick with worry and confusion. He asked me a question. I panicked and looked the gift horse in the mouth, only to find myself back in my room knowing I'd made some kind of horrible mistake. And then my puppy dropped dead a couple of days later, for no reason they could find, and I spent the better part of the year afraid that it was a punishment for my failure. I still don't know about that one, but I do keep serving, keep offering, keep praying.

My favorite times are when it's overwhelming in a way that makes the practices of devotion almost unbearably sweet and tender for a long time afterward. I get that with Mary, the Blessed Theotokos a lot. I get it with those women who reign over home and family and marriage. I get it with some saints. I have always loved the saints dearly, and their legends made me feel safe and less strange about my own when I was growing up. They have been generous in communication and in their teaching.

The strangest of all the experiences I've had was when I called on Lugh last year. What started as gentle rocking as I prayed became a full seidr trance where I blacked out and had a very powerful experience. I woke up on the floor. Later in the evening, all of the candle holders on the altar exploded - glass shattered everywhere on the table and onto the cement floor, and nobody heard a thing even though I wasn't six feet away. The dog that wakes up and barks if you sneeze didn't stir. It was the strangest thing. It had been so long since I had an ecstatic experience strong enough to black out from full consciousness, and to have such a strong manifestation! It didn't seem negative. It was just breathtaking display of power.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

D is for Doubt

Lately, I have been in a cooler spell spiritually. That's fine - it's part of the natural order of things and just as acceptable as when I'm in a warmer spell and being inspired. The part that has been challenging has been a sort of wistfulness that my path has taken me out into the woods to do my own thing. It's cold and lonely in the night. It's hard not to feel abandoned if I compare myself to other people who are re-constructionists or in a tradition. They have books of instructions, mentors, training, scholarly resources to turn to if they're stuck in a rut.

I just kinda have...waiting. Hoping.

While I love what I've learned and the gifts I've been given, it is hard to forge your own path. It's like growing food from seed. So much work and preparation for inconsistent return. Fruit borne wild and robust and in a completely different sector than you've been toiling in. I have eight pots outside on the front porch. Seven failed to turn into plants. One is growing a surprise attack cantaloupe out of season with a vigor I've never experienced in years of failed gardening. It's Texas and still summery here, so there is hope that the fruit will grow into maturity. We have named it Cantaloupi Wan-Kenobi. (Apparently, I'm not great at judging when the compost won't grow into things if I mix it in dirt...)

It seems nice to have the rock of tradition to stand on, to have a thread of history to follow into the dark. When it feels like I'm recreating the wheel yet again, I wonder if I've made the right choices. Have I been too proud or stubborn by not setting aside my discomfort with X or Y and just joining something? Should I have worked harder to find some hidden society? Am I alone because I've been too impatient with the mess that is Pagans in Public™ and feared being associated with the absurdity of a few more than I wanted to chance finding the right people?

Fear of success is there, too. If I found a wonderful tradition or moved somewhere that one existed, and I had the chance to join, would I be up to snuff? What if all the work I've been doing for years is my mind playing tricks on me? While I know this is false, I sometimes feel like my experiences count for less because they're not within established parameters. Sometimes, I worry that the ridiculous levitating objects trick TV witches do is real and will be used to prove that I'm a phony.

I know this won't happen, that it's silly. I trust that what I'm doing is the right thing for me in the place and season my life is in right now, and that when there are shifts in that, it may take me to new places, new ways of worship, new gods, new spiritual relationships, and maybe a different form of devotion all together. It's just hard to remember that sometimes when you're slogging along...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

C is for Cleansing

In the last year, I've moved to making all of my own household cleaning products (except for soaps and dishwasher tabs). It started with floor wash and carpet sprinkles and has moved to all homemade all the time. Y'all know I love dual purpose magical and mundane things that cut down on work and time spent for regular maintenance. The recipes I use are broken down below, along with a tutorial for my all-purpose kitchen spray. They're ripe for expansion and personalization.

Magical benefits: While one could enchant the Windex to act as a barrier on gateways made of glass (mirrors, windows) and the detergent to make your clothes give you an extra special aura of attractiveness, those things aren't going to be quite the same as controlling the ingredients and process of making them yourself. Natural ingredients, the ability to add herbs and oils, plus the option to make them at advantageous times make this a no-brainer. The ingredients are classic things you use for magical house cleansing and protection anyway. Now they're doing the physical cleaning at the same time.

Practical benefits: It turns out that making most household cleaners is dirt cheap. You'll be ticked at yourself for paying $3-5 a bottle for them. The homemade stuff works better, even on hard water stains, and it doesn't have the chemicals that irritate your respiratory system (ok, the stuff with vinegar still smells like vinegar). The essential oils great for cleansing magic-wise are also great at cleansing and germ killing physically. Plus, they're the cheaper oils like mint, eucalyptus, orange, lemon, rosemary, and lemongrass.

Helpful Hints: There's a big difference in quality and longevity between the $1 bottle and the $3 bottle: get the more expensive one in the cleaning aisle because it will last for years instead of weeks. Tap water is the enemy because it has trace mineral deposits in there that can leave a film of lime buildup on the thing you just cleaned. You can always add a little more of the active ingredient or of the essential oils if it doesn't have enough oomph.

Peeps' All-Purpose Cleaning Spray
This is for a standard 32 oz. household cleaning bottle from the grocery store. It's easily divisible if your bottles are smaller. It takes about 30 minutes to make, including cooling time.
  • Purified or distilled water - about 3 3/4 c. 
  • 3 Tb. Borax
  • 2 Tb. Dr. Bronner's liquid castille soap
  • Essential oils of your choice (a few drops will do the job)
  • Optional: food coloring, herbs to infuse with the water
In a small saucepan, heat up the water and Borax together, stirring occasionally until the Borax is well-dissolved. Turn the heat off and let it cool down for about 20 minutes. Stir in the Dr. Bronner's soap, food coloring, and oils. (I got a little excited with the food coloring. It doesn't dye anything I spray it on, but usually a couple of drops will do it.) This would be an ideal time to enchant it specifically in conjunction with the oils you're using.

The oils you use are up to you. Orange is a great cleaner that dissolves dirt and brings in luck, love, happiness, and prosperity. Rosemary is an excellent protection herb that smells great and has anti-microbial properties. Eucalyptus wards off evil and is anti-bacterial. Lemon is an amazing cleaner that also cuts through bad stuff and clears it away. Mint breaks up bad stuff and repels evil.
Et voila! House cleaner! Shake it up before you use it to help distribute the oils evenly. It will get the nasty stuff off of the stove as well as 409.

Tub and Sink and Tile Cleaner
This works wonders on my evil and impossible hard water (yay country living). One thing I love about it is that vinegar is something I use anyway (with a little salt) to seal the drains as a gateway into the house. Now I just dump some salt on the drain when I'm rinsing this off. It cleans really well, but as with all cleaning, you will have to go over it with a sponge or scrubbing brush to work tough stuff loose. It's only a teeny weeny bit of elbow grease, I promise.

In a bottle, mix 2 parts Dawn with 3 parts white vinegar and add a few drops of an appropriate essential oil. It won't cover up the vinegar smell, but it will help. Spray it on, leave it for a few minutes, wash it off. It does great things for rust and calcium buildup rings at the top of the water in the toilet bowl, too.

Germs Be Gone! Spray
Instead of Lysol or bleach spray, you can use this. Grapefruit Seed Extract is an incredible anti-bacterial agent that you can use internally* and externally, as well as around the house. It's being tested as a hospital-grade antiseptic, so it should be up to the job of taking care of your household germs. It's available at health food stores like Whole Foods, and a small bottle will last you quite a while.
  • 4c./32 oz. distilled or purified water
  • 30 drops Grapefruit Seed Extract
  • Essential oils as desired
Spray down counter tops, doorknobs, light switches, bathrooms, produce, kitchen surfaces. It will kill mold and mildew and fungus without the odor of bleach or harsh chemicals.

*This has cured strep throat for me twice in the last decade. It's incredibly bitter, but you gargle with it several times daily. The blisters just went away within a couple of days while the other people I knew sick with it were sick for about a week. YMMV and read up on it some before taking it internally.

Glass Cleaner
The ingredients for a two year supply for our house costs less than a single bottle of Windex. Ammonia is nasty stuff that cleans like a dream. There's a reason it's in so many Hoodoo formulations for washes that get the nasties cleared out of your home.
  • 1.5 oz ammonia (the white kind, not the scented kind)
  • 5 oz rubbing alcohol (or vodka, whatever...)
  • Fill the rest of the bottle with purified or distilled water

Friday, July 13, 2012

B is for Blood and Bodily Fluids

Bodily fluids are a little less controversial than blood sacrifice over here in the US. People might be grossed out by them, but if they're scared enough or it's a big enough deal, practitioners who might be horrified at the idea of animal sacrifice will muster the courage to throw some urine or menstrual blood into something they're doing. And then there are those of us who wouldn't think twice about actually going out and pissing in the corners of our property to mark it as ours or asking our partner to ejaculate in a jar because we want to try an awesome sex magic thing.

These things are living parts of our selves, which makes them a really powerful tool and/or sacrifice. That doesn't stop people from yammering on about how horrific it is to use mingled sex fluids in a fertility ritual when you could use a rock and a leaf and call it a day. I'm in the camp that would paint fertility sigils on myself in jizz, bake vulva cookies to leave at the base of a sacred phallus, and anoint us with special infused oils before commencing the baby making. I'm ok with that. Maybe it's that it seems completely illogical to me not to use the physical elements of life-giving that we have as part of more serious workings. Have y'all ever asked deities about modern concerns like your body image or hangups? They're not going to suggest some nice tealights and massage oil and slow jams. They're going to wonder why someone with a nice big ass like you isn't out rutting up against the tree in your front yard where the neighbors can rejoice in your prowess and fertility.

I use blood in sacrifice and in workings sometimes. Maybe it was growing up is an alarmingly charismatic and literal Christian household where raining down the blood sacrifice on our heads and as protection was a normal thing to include in prayer. I don't know why it seems so ok, but it just does. Besides, I find that if I'm unsure about whether or not I should make myself bleed for a project, it will go ahead and stab me with a little sliver of something and take the sacrifice itself. I find that if I pray while I'm embroidering, it's the only time I actually prick myself enough to draw drops of blood while sewing. To me, that's a beautiful thing.

A note on animal sacrifice since it's part of blood sacrifice: I've never sacrificed an animal myself because I don't know how to kill humanely. I've never killed anything but an insect, so I'm not going to make that jump any time in the foreseeable future. It doesn't bother me in the least that it goes on. I try to take care of dead animals as I find them out here in the country. Bury them properly, help the spirit move on, leave offerings and blessings for it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A is for Aphrodisiacs

I'm going to do the Pagan Alphabet thingy because it'll get me back in the swing and also because what's happening in magic and witchery right now is that some stuff is settling in after some fast growth. I'm not quite sure what all I'm allowed to talk about, so I'm keeping my mouth shut.

I don't put much stock in the wonder working, lust inciting powers of oysters or sushi unless they're being served on a naked human platter. I do believe that adding textural and sensory varieties that please the tongue and the senses can heighten a romantic evening and draw the mind to other pleasures. Kitchen witchery can be very fun to play with, and I've had good success with enchanting dinner to get what I want afterwards. A certain orange and spice cake comes to mind... If you're interested in pursuing those routes and ramping them up magically, might I suggest Miller's excellent book, The Magical and Ritual Use of Aphrodisiacs.

Ritual is one of the key elements of seductive workings, particularly when what you're doing is part of keeping a long-term relationship steamy. There's huge power, psychological, psychic, and magic, in orchestrating events, actions, and sensory cues. It builds pathways you can tap into, both in the brain and in energy flow. I think rituals of desire and seduction are where it's at. Humans are easy to train and condition if it's done thoughtfully and consistently. We do it all the time in friendships, romantic relationships, partnerships, families. There are rewards for doing what people want you to do and consequences for stuff like not doing your chores. We form strong associations around sensory input, particularly when the result is an extreme (pleasure, suffering, anger, joy).

If you devise a ritual wherein you bathe with specific products or put on a certain perfume, meditate and get your intentions and energy all lined up and thrumming around you, then do the initiation on seducing your partner, you've built a powerful chain. Maybe it's a piece of clothing or jewelry. With action or scent or sensory ritual, you're conditioning yourself toward a certain head space and conditioning your partner toward associating a specific scent with feeling desired and sexy, then you reward the both of you with pleasure. It should go without saying that one would enchant or even ritually make from scratch the specific scent or products used in this.

Associating a sensory cue with behavior works really well. It's how working and service dogs are trained to separate work time from normal dog life. A different collar or harness or dog clothes conditions the animals to have a unique set of behaviors, tasks, and commands that go with wearing the thing. We do it with work: professional attire and grooming puts people in a different mindset and they behave differently.

I like that there are psychological reasons that back up and reinforce the magic in this method. From experiments with candles and other quick and dirty methods, I find that they don't go as planned because everyone's head isn't in the game when the thing is launched. If I'm horny and snuggly and my partner is frustrated and stressed out, the lust spell candle isn't going to give one or both of us what we're after, even if it does lead to an encounter. Conditioning plus magic allows you to set the pace and do a slow burn thing if you want. You can pounce your partner or you can do it as part of date night prep for one of those nights where you can hardly wait to get home.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Summer Experiments

We've been busy here with the last flurry of camping and weekend-long outdoor events that happen before it's too hot for us to do them without being absolutely miserable at best and sick with heat exhaustion at worst. It's over 95°F here already, which means I'm harvesting the herbs better suited to cooler climes, like lemon balm, cilantro/coriander, and something that I think is last year's miserably failed rue coming back victoriously. Mint and the Mexican variety of oregano just throw a middle finger up each and power on through the heat and horrid soil.

It may be far too hot to be trying this, but I'm doing a maceration experiment. A friend gave me deer antlers that have been collecting dust (and being gnawed by squirrels) in his garage. They were cleaned badly and still have bits of skin and fur attached to the skull caps. It's too stuck to pull off, so I'm going to see if I can't soften it up enough to take the tissues off before I peroxide them. It's the first time I've tried to remove remaining old tissue from anything, so I'm hoping I don't ruin them. I guess worst case, I can turn them into buttons for Medieval reenactment clothing.

Unexpected gifts and treasures, like this batch of antlers, are something that delights me for weeks and often months after the thing is in my possession. Just a few weeks ago, my guy and I were out shopping for Mother's Day gifts, and he happened upon some very nice stag's head stirrup cups that had been marked down hugely. I've been wanting stag's head altar stuff for ages, and what I find is always really expensive - even when it's on clearance at the discount store. Ice buckets and footed presentation bowls with great handles made of the horned heads cast in pewter would be lovely, but I'm not paying $160 for them at this point in my life. So when I've been secretly longing for stag things, most specifically for a stag stirrup cup, it makes me feel well-loved by the spirits and gods.

If you're not familiar with them, stirrup cups are small cups, often decorated with animal's heads, that were used to serve departing guests a small drink of sherry or port right before they were off - as in when they were already with their feet in the stirrups. It's a Scottish thing that turned into a fox hunting thing, and is now largely a posh royalty thing. Rather fitting since I work with Cernnunos. We'll see how he likes it since he's the one I make mead for. Proper he should have his own special vessel for it. I really wish I had bought more, so that there was a set. Oh well. Here's a pair similar to mine (only sterling and antique and MUCH nicer) that just went for auction at Christie's for almost $3700. Click the link if you haven't recently lusted after the historical wonders available to the highest bidder - like historical manuscripts. And furniture. And private islands.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Strategy and Cunning

Mundanely, I am a professional search marketing strategist and writer. It's my job to investigate, find and define problems, then find ways to make them better by utilizing a variety of approaches over time. I deal in data and analyitics and a rather good understanding of how people look for solutions to their problems so that when they go looking for an answer, the one I want them to find is right in front of them. It's a process that feels as dynamic as speed walking on those human conveyor belts at the airport while you talk on the phone and scarf a snack between flights. You never stop running or changing once you start the process.

You'd think all that strategy would be extra super handy in magic - and it certainly can be - but it's not easy to change pace from nonstop running to doing something and releasing it fully. It's my job to poke things with my sharp stick and keep poking them. A witch friend and fellow marketing person has been in town and staying with us for the last few days, and we've been talking a lot about strategy, restraint, and cunning twists in magical approaches to big nasty problems. Like people create wards for the house that recharge with certain weather phenomenon or activate in certain situations, you can do things where small bits you shoal together build and expand as things progress.

It's handy to think of this when working on relationships or interpersonal friction around the office. If I want a friend to have favor with a difficult boss at her new job, I want her to get credit for the good stuff, understanding and compassion when she messes up, and for the boss to have that quiet sense of really liking and respecting her when they interact. I can program that further so blows are softened if there are problems and opportunities for positive growth and increased responsibilities are available in a natural but accelerated way. Were I binding someone who was actively seeking to harm and manipulate as part of an abusive power game, I'd do things so that the harder they worked to do harm, the more easily their manipulations would be exposed by the people who need to be aware of them, plus the web of nastiness would turn in on them, tightening like restraints that get more constrictive the more you struggle. I want to see all that work for ill turned into good for the person they're trying to manipulate and harm.

We got a little drunk and were exploring a very old, very posh, very haunted hotel, talking about how our methods have shifted over time. Yeah, there are things every witch still needs to work on, but for the most part, we've both moved away from reactionary and panicked reactions to things toward calm, strategic, measured approaches. Aside from feeling a lot less doubt about if I took the right approach, it cuts WAY down on the odd overly-energized working that goes too far or too fast. Slow burn and honing ideal conditions is a better approach to keeping your relationship hot than, say, summoning a tidal wave of crushing lust that's neither satisfying or lasting. Better to have someone on your team who isn't pulling their weight have their eyes opened to the disparity in labor and have that realization prod them into lasting action than to grab them by the nose and force them into doing just the one task on your project. I still get what I want, only now I get what I want in a more lasting, long term way with a lot less angst and unpredictability, plus it seems to have delightfully rich unexpected benefits.