Thursday, December 11, 2014

A perspective for #AllLivesMatter

In the Pagan community, there is a unique respect for life.  All life is sacred, is immanently divine. So it makes sense that some people feel it is important to maintain that focus, to try to prevent false dichotomies and the creation of a hierarchy of life that is valued. I can understand that underlying concern behind the conversation.

But you see, that is already what has been happening. For centuries in the United States, some lives have been valued more than others. Black people are not always at the bottom of that hierarchy, it’s true. There are many lives that have fallen victim to the patriarchal over-culture.

For me, coming up in the feminist Goddess movement, my focus and concern has always been the influence of patriarchy on society. My knee jerk reaction is to say: “But, WOMEN are a larger group than any single race or culture. What about THE WOMEN!” However, we have enough awareness to recognize that patriarchy does not only affect women. And make no mistake, it is patriarchy and the oppress-and-dominate over-culture that is at fault for all devaluing of life.

My teacher, Shekhinah Mountainwater, told me the story of the 100th Monkey. I don’t know how factual it is, but it goes something like this: there was an isolated community of monkeys living in a rainforest near a river. The monkeys would gather food as they do. One day, a female started washing her food in the river. The next day, another monkey joined her. Each day, another monkey would join this revolutionary group, but the rest of the group continued gathering food the usual way, dirt and all. On the 100th day, another monkey joined. Seeing how many monkeys had joined the river group, suddenly all the monkeys started washing their food.

This story illustrates the concept of the “tipping point” or critical mass. There was no indication as to why all of the monkeys suddenly decided to change their behavior pattern. But suddenly, one act changed the entire community.

We can no longer ignore the fact that in our society, at this time, Black people are disproportionately victimized by police brutality, the prison industrial complex, and the daily effects of racism and prejudice. We are reaching critical mass. This does not leave out any other race, culture, or community. What it means is that THIS is the act that has the potential to start large-scale social change. It even has historical precedence (who can deny the influence of the Civil Rights movement?).

So, let it. You don’t have to get behind it if you don’t want to. But if we reach the tipping point, the cascade of social change has the potential to benefit All Lives. And there will be a new set of powerful allies to help.

If you are struggling with the idea, ask yourself, what are you afraid of? If Black Lives Matter is successful, what do you have to lose? What belief that you hold is threatened? Once you figure out what is at the root of your struggle, you can decide if it is really worth holding on to. 

If you feel you need to hold up the perspective that All Lives Matter, remember:

“We must recognize that the suffering of one person or one nation is the suffering of humanity.” – Dalai Lama XIV

Saturday, November 1, 2014

101 Series: Three Frameworks of Practice

Folks that are just coming to the path of Paganism, Wicca, or Goddess-worship often ask “what do I DO? How do you practice this religion?” It’s an important question, but one that is not always easy to answer. For one, the question comes out of a culture steeped in the practice of religion, not spirituality. Whether we come from an Abrahamic background or not, we are influenced by the belief that religion must be done correctly, that there is a right and a wrong way to be religious.

One of the beautiful things about the Pagan path is that there is no dogma (or very little, depending on who you ask). Your connection with the Divine is your own. You create your practice and way of connecting. Because that is truly what we are all seeking – connection with the Divine, whether it be God, a Goddess, the Earth, the Universe, our Self.

There are of course nuances, and some practices do require a very specific set of instructions. There are also many traditions and flavors underneath the umbrella of “Paganism.” However, those are not the purpose of this post. Here I want to offer a short set of guidelines and explanation for those questioning how to create their practice of spirituality.

In the majority of Pagan practice, you will find three frameworks for practicing spirituality. There are many others, but we’ll start with the basic three: Daily practice, spellwork, ritual.

Daily Practice

This the foundation, the bedrock, of every spiritual practice. It is also the most challenging. Daily practice requires your commitment and dedication. There will be no one watching you, no one to provide feedback, no one to cheer you on. At first, it will likely be just you, and the struggle to establish and commit to a practice that may not offer any immediate rewards.

I encourage you to do it anyway.

If you are searching for personal transformation and revelation, this is the path to it. It is the path to a deep river, a flow of consciousness and understanding that would be very difficult to achieve if you were only engaging in ritual or spellwork. A daily practice will support your continued work and added layers to your practice. It will support a deep and abiding connection with deity and the divine. The struggle of it is part of the process. You will come face to face with your inner voice, the one that plays the tape of negative self-talk. You will face your fear. You will face the frustration of monkey mind, the part of your mind that will not stop thinking. You will face your attachments and judgments. There will be moments of bliss, but it will not be easy.

I encourage you to do it anyway.

Because eventually, the self-talk will shift to encouragement. Your fear will be comforted and embraced. You will surf the waves of monkey mind. Your attachments will fall away. Your heart will open, you will be able to remain centered and calm, and you will know a connection with the divinity within and all around you. You will know it was all worth it.
Now, I say all this knowing full well just how damn difficult it is, how nearly impossible it feels some days. I stumble and let go of the practice regularly, even after years. And that is ok. Keep your sense of dedication, forgive yourself if you falter, and get back to it when you can.

Ok, so, how exactly do you do a daily practice? That is actually pretty simple. However you want to! A daily practice is just dedicating a few minutes every day to yourself and your spirit. The key is to be as regular as you can, and to find one or two things that really work for you and stay with them. A few examples:

  • Silent sitting/meditating. Start with 5-10 minutes of sitting silently. Allow thoughts to arise and pass by. Focus on the breath. This will train you to center and focus for more intensive work. It can also be the most important step in tuning in and getting to know yourself, paving the way for personal transformation.
  • Candle gazing. This is really just meditation with a focus point. It can also help to awaken intuition and divination skills. Sit for 5-10 minutes gazing at a candle flame. You can look at the center of the flame, the edges, the space around it; just focus on the flame and your breathing. Don’t try to interpret anything about the candle or any experience you may have. Just go with it.
  • Chanting/Singing/Toning. This is a fun option for people that may have difficulty focusing on one object for several minutes. Sound can be very healing, and this practice can also help awaken the ability to enter trance. You can sit or stand or dance if you choose. Find a chant or a song you like and practice it daily. You could chant one of the many Goddess chants, or a mantra, or write your own. You can also tone, which is chanting sounds as opposed to words. Start with vowel sounds and let it flow. Chanting OM or MA are also good starting points.
  • Going for a walk or other activity in nature. Our spirituality is based in reverence for the earth, and so not all of our practices should take place within four walls. Find a park, a path, or a trail that you like, and go there regularly. Notice the plants and animals around you, the way the place changes with the seasons. Feel the earth beneath your feet and the wind on your skin. Practice feeling at peace and one with nature.
  • Altar-tending and Devotion. You don’t have to have an altar to start a daily practice. I’ll write more about building altars at another time, but for now just know that an altar can be anything that holds symbols or objects that are personally meaningful to you. Shrines are similar to altars, except that they are specifically a place for a representation of a deity to “live” and is respected as such.  Both can serve as a focal point for your practice. Giving devotion to deity can be an important part of daily practice, but you don’t have to start there. If there is a deity you are interested in getting to know, you can start with an object or symbol that is relevant to their myth and worship. Meditate on that object, chant their name, and see what comes to you.

Finally, keeping a journal or record of your daily practice and what comes up for you can be very helpful. Knowing that you will be writing down what happens can put your mind at ease to fully participate in the practice. You will also be able to keep track of your progress and note any meaningful events.


Spellwork, or Magic(k), is often what newcomers have the most questions and concerns about. Is it good, is it bad, how do I do it correctly? This is one practice in which there are some specific tools, techniques, and “ingredients” used to be effective. But, for those who practice it, spellwork is really a method of prayer. As Christians pray for something to happen in their lives or for divine intervention, spellwork is a similar plea but with a bit more action behind it. The practice of magic is the use of action with intent combined with the power of symbolism. People that practice spellwork feel it is a direct connection with the divine and/or the forces of the universe. It is the use of energy to effect change. Rather than passively asking for divine assistance, a practitioner takes an active role in creating the change they want. It is ultimately a self-empowering practice that builds trust in one’s ability to have control in their own life. As such, it can be an important aspect of a Pagan or Wiccan spiritual practice.

By itself, spellwork is at best ineffective and at worst will have unintended effects. It will not, in my opinion and experience, lead to any deep connection with or understanding of the greater forces of the universe and the Divine. But it can help strengthen that connection. Spellwork shouldn’t be feared, but it does need to be understood. There are also important ethical considerations that basically come down to DO NOTHING TO INFLUENCE ANOTHER PERSON’S FREE WILL.

There are many resources available on doing magic, and I am not going to go into great detail here. But I will offer a few suggestions as a place to start:

Candle Magic
Basic candle magic uses only a candle and your own will and focus, but can be very effective. Different colors have different associations (green for abundance, red for passion, blue for healing, etc) but you can always just use a white candle. Take the candle and focus on your intention, the purpose of the magic and the intended outcome. You can carve a word or symbols into the candle, cleanse and bless it with water and salt, anoint it with oil. Light the candle and gaze at it, speaking and holding the focus of your intention. You can let the candle burn down completely or do this for a number of days depending upon your intent. Of course, you should always use something fireproof if you are going to let the candle burn unattended.

Natural Magic
Natural and Elemental magic uses the magic, power, and symbolism inherent in the natural world. Think about the associations you personally make to earth, air, fire, water. What does a seed symbolize? The sun? The ocean? You can use the energy of this symbolism in your magic to create change. A natural spell can be whatever you choose, as long as it is meaningful to you. It can be as simple as holding a stone and speaking your intention, or sprinkling water to cleanse yourself, or putting salt and sand in a bottle to trap negative energy.

A lovely, classic book on natural magic that I highly recommend is Scott Cunningham’s Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.


Ritual is a structure that is used to define sacred space and do some kind of spiritual work, either solitary or with a group of people. Ritual can be a place to honor Deity, do spellwork, honor the dead, or engage in transformational work; oftentimes more than one of these will be done in a ritual.

Rituals often mark a significant event, such as a Full or Dark Moon, one of the 8 holydays on the Wheel of the Year, or a feast day for a Goddess. They can also be a Rite of Passage, such as an initiation, or a first blood rite, or a marriage ceremony. What makes a ritual a ritual is the general structure it follows. A ritual is more “in depth” than your daily practice or spellwork. The structure can change but generally will include some form of the following in this order:

  • Cleansing and Grounding. To prepare the space, body, and spirit for the work, we will cleanse with salt, water and/or smoke. We then center our awareness and ground our energy into the circle.
  • Casting a circle. This defines the sacred space we are working in and creates a magical boundary. The act of defining the sacred space is said to place us “between the worlds” where we are no longer fully in physical reality and have the ability to reach the Divine and affect change on the world.
  • Calling the Directions. We invite the four cardinal directions: North, East, South, West and the Four Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Depending upon tradition you will start in the North or East and move clockwise, calling upon the direction and its associated element to join the circle and be honored. We then call Center – Spirit. This varies for different traditions, and sometimes this is combined with casting the circle.
  • Invocation. We invoke deity to the circle, to join us and be honored, to hear our prayers, and lend Her aid. The deity invoked will depend upon the type of ritual and who you are comfortable working with. I discourage invoking more than one deity into circle, unless you are very skilled and comfortable working with each of them.
  • Magical working, meditation, devotion. This is the “meat” of the ritual and is the essential purpose and intent. You should always have an intent for ritual; I discourage conducting a full ritual without a solid intent or work to do.
  • Sharing Food and Drink/Cakes and Ale. The sharing of blessed food builds community, and also does the important work of helping to ground us back into our bodies following ritual. You should always offer some to the deity and any other beings who lent their presence to your circle.
  • Devoking and Opening. Work in reverse to release the deity, release the directions (moving counter clockwise this time) and open the circle. I prefer to do this before food and drink.

Ritual can be an opportunity to begin deep transformational work and is an important aspect of practice. However to build the capacity and the foundation for good ritual, and to continue that work, it is very important to continue with a regular spiritual practice. It is also important to have someone to process with – engaging in spiritual work and transformation alone can be challenging when that transformation begins to happen. Having a trusted person to talk to will help you process the experiences.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Lammas, Lughnasadh, and Celebrating Your Personal Harvest

This week (in the Northern Hemisphere) is the celebration of Lughnasadh or Lammas, depending upon your particular flavor of Wicca.  And it is a cross-quarter day between the Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox.  

Ok, we’ll do a quick tangent here for folks who may not know the difference:

Lughnasadh is the Gaelic holy day.  Typically considered to be a celebration of the God Lugh (hence Lughnasadh), it was actually a day of games and celebrations for the first harvest in honor of his mother, Tailtu.

Lammas has its origins in more Anglo-Saxon tradition, and is also a celebration of the first harvest.  Loaves of bread were baked and used in blessings or charms.

It is also one of the cross-quarter days, a day that marks the exact middle point between a Solstice and Equinox (and as such actually floats a little year to year).

Regardless of the name, the overall theme of this holy day is the Harvest, and is the first of three harvest festivals.  For the ancient Pagans, it marked the time of the first Harvest, the first reaping.  It is a recognition of the hard work of the growing season, the sacrifice of feeding the tribe, and of gratitude.

Most of us aren’t involved in growing and feeding a tribe anymore, and our seasons vary drastically from the lands of our ancestors.  Yet, there is still something that seems to beat at the core of our experience and seeks to align with these ancient cycles, thus we can relate on some meta or archetypal level.

For me, the period of the First Harvest often brings some regret.  The prime planting and growing season is done and it’s time to reap what we have sown. (Am I the only one that always cringes a little and thinks “oh, sh*t” at that statement?)  I think about all the things I didn’t get around to “planting”.  The projects and plans I started to think about and never got around to implementing.  I think of my big dreams and goals for my life, and then mourn another year passing by in which I didn’t accomplish All The Things.

Then I think of the things I did accomplish.  And remember that I actually did a lot of amazing things.  Some of them I had planned, some of them I didn’t.  Some of them consciously moved me towards my goals, some were a shift initiated by a Goddess.  All of them have been another step on my journey.

People that want to make a difference in the world tend to get so bogged down and overcommitted, don’t we?  We forget that every little step moves us; sometimes forward, sometimes backward or sideways, but always movement and always toward our true purpose.

I’ll do another post on goal setting, which is really just intention setting in a buzzword jacket.  But for now, I offer this exercise to celebrate the Harvest in your life:

 Celebrating Your Personal Harvest

List the goals you set for yourself this Spring (or throughout the year).

List what you accomplished, whether you set it as a goal or not.

Take a look at your two lists. Which of your goals did you accomplish?  Write them on another piece of paper.  Place those on your altar.  Flex your muscles and give yourself a pat on the back.  Brag to your friends.  Good job, you!!!

What did you accomplish that you did not set out as a goal?  Were they helpful?  Do they offer an opportunity in your life?  Write those opportunities down to consider further.  Then write those accomplishments on another piece of paper, and also place them on your altar.  Offer your gratitude to the Divine for these gifts.  You did a great job by remaining open to the mystery.  Celebrate! Toast yourself!

Now, take a close look at the remainder of your list of goals.  These are goals that you did not accomplish.  Do they still apply?  Are they reasonable?  Do you want to continue to work toward them?  If not, now is the time to let them go, so you are not carrying the additional burden into the dark of the year.  Write the things you want to let go of on a piece of paper, and magically release them however feels appropriate to you.  I like to offer them to a corn dolly by placing them inside, and then burning the corn dolly.  You could bury them, burn them, compost them, offer them to the water, whatever works for you and is environmentally friendly.

Write down the goals that you are keeping.  Place them on your altar, tape them to your mirror, tuck them in your journal… just put them somewhere you will see them regularly.  Know that you can continue to work towards these goals.

Celebrate another toast to yourself, and enjoy the blessed life that you are co-creating every day!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Threshold Generation

Inspired by the death of Margot Adler, and the many before her.

I am an early 30-something. I read voraciously as a child, explored the world around me, and began having and recognizing my first spiritual experiences by the time I was 5. At 18, I had my first true Awakening to who I was and my purpose in this life. Through that time, I devoured every book I could find on Goddesses, Wicca, Witchcraft, and Paganism. Who were these people that felt so similar to the way I did? You mean there are others, and have been for a couple of decades? I’m not alone? I didn’t know anyone else personally, but knowing they were out there was exhilarating.

Enter the Internet. I remember the internet coming into my home my last year or two of high school. Suddenly, I had access to other people from all around the world. I began talking to others who had been in “The Community” for years. I had people to look up to, to emulate, to respect. Down the rabbit hole I went.

Many years and many communities later, here I stand. I was brought up having to learn everything on my own, but matured with connections to some of the most influential people in our movement. Some at arm’s length, some very close to my heart. I’ve participated in some amazing things, built and facilitated some incredible groups and organizations, and began leading in my early 20’s.

Technically, we are considered Generation Y. I hate that moniker and the entire stereotype that has formed around it. As Hecate Demeter said here, we don’t get the credit we deserve.

But, there is something generational happening. Those in my age range have been sandwiched between card catalogues and the dawn of the internet age, between the rise and fall of some of the greatest individuals of the movement(s), between struggling for information and being overwhelmed by it, between the passion of revolution and the passivity of numbness. We straddle two worlds and two eras.

We are the Threshold Generation.

We stand poised, ready, waiting, prepared to cross the threshold and fully step into our leadership. And yet, we look around and wonder, who and what are we going to lead?  An apathetic and disillusioned younger generation that would rather tweet than talk?  A planet that we have sickened? Countries ravaged by war and poverty?

And now, in the last couple of years, many foremothers, forefathers, and influential people of the Pagan Movement have died. We lost my own dear teacher and friend, Shekhinah Mountainwater, in August 2007, and I’ve struggled since. The losses are painful and sad. It also strikes a chord of fear and dismay in my heart. These people who laid the foundation and nurtured the soil of our movement are gone. I look around at what is left without them, and it worries me. Those who are like me in my generation want to do you proud, to carry the torch, to make a difference in this world that you cared so much about, and were brave enough to stand for.

There are a few lights that shine, but they are harder and harder to see in the fog of frightening news, “reality” TV, and information overload. Finding a mentor seems to be even harder, as people jockey for their 5 minutes of internet fame, and charge a thousand dollars or more for classes on “finding your inner ….” (I am 100% behind financially supporting the leaders, teachers, and clergy of our religions, but I see this getting out of control) Even finding like-minded individuals seems to be getting harder as we divide ourselves across lines of false conflict and illusion.

The need and desire is just as real now as it was when books like Drawing Down the Moon, Spiral Dance, The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries, Ariadne’s Thread, and others came out. It’s just clouded by the illusion of the age we live in.

I don’t yet know where we go from here. There is always talk about those buzzwords authenticity and inclusion and diversity; about right living, standing in your power, and being true to yourself while respecting differences. The challenges that face us are great. They might be insurmountable. But those who came before felt the same way and did it anyway, laying the foundation piece by piece, figuring it out as they went along. We must find a way to continue that work.

I plead to the older generations to reach out to those who are straddling worlds and trying to trudge on through the muck.  I call upon my generation to take your place among your peers - some of us do still give a shit.  And I promise the younger generation that I will do my best to leave a future for you, and my hand will be here when you are ready.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

This blog has laid dormant for years, and occasionally I would gaze at it, pondering. Quickly I would return to thinking that I could not manage a blog right now, and close the window. I started a couple of other blogs, specifically for my poetry, but eventually those too have become archives in the vast tombs of the internet.

Now, I am resurrecting it, and will be publishing to only this blog. Why continue to fragment and compartmentalize who I am? Why should I shy away from sharing all that I am and do with the world, especially when it is under some degree anonymity? Indeed. I shan't.

So, here we go. We'll take it a day at a time and see what magic happens! I hope you will join the journey.