Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Z: Zoomorphic deities

Yeah, Z is hard :) I thought I'd close out the month with some thoughts on a few Gods and Goddesses traditionally represented with animal qualities or in animal forms.

Possibly one of the first zoomorphic gods people think of is Anubis: the jackal-headed Ancient Egyptian god of the dead. Several ancient Egyptian deities have animal features, in fact, usually combined with human aspects.

Cernunnos or Herne, the Celtic or British Pagan Lord of the forest, is usually depicted as antlered, linking him specifically to native deer. Blodeuwedd, the Welsh Maiden Goddess, was transformed into an owl, according to the Mabinogion.

In the British tradition, hares are associated with the Goddess, possibly representing her or being sacred to her. This may be due to their tendency to become 'moongazy', drinking in the moonlight (also seen as feminine and therefore associated with the Goddess), which some see as a kind of worship or reverence.

And, of course, shamanistic cultures often worship animals directly, and shamanic leaders may don animal skins to help them take on attributes of an animal, thus leading some early explorers of these cultures to claim that the shamans are seen as part-human, part-animal.

Even Christian tradition represents the Holy Spirit as a dove, and associates some of the angels with animals.

Well, I've posted something for each letter of the alphabet... Thus ends my daily posting adventure! I'll be back on Saturday with my thoughts on the A-Z challenge. I'm currently planning to post weekly on Saturdays from here on.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Y: Yule

What else could Y be on a pagan blog? There are plenty of places online to learn about Yule in general terms: what it means et cetera, so I thought I'd simply explain how we celebrate Yule and Christmas in tandem.

As I've discussed elsewhere, I'm the only pagan in the house really (no-one else has a faith as such), so I don't impose too much on everyone else. Also, my extended family is really quite Christian and I have no desire to upset or offend anyone (or cause them to weep for my poor hellbound soul). One of the benefits to us in the way Christianity simply co-opted existing celebrations is that there is very little I could do to celebrate Yule that would look out of place to any of our relatives.

So, these are the dual purpose things that we do in December:

  • The tree - always a real one (love the smell)
  • Candles and fairy lights
  • Other greenery - mistletoe when we can get it, holly wreath etc
  • Spicy baking, lots of cinnamon and clove
  • Mulled wine (or, more often, red grape juice - tasty and good for the driving or teetotal visitors)
  • Thankfulness and looking backwards and forwards for New Year

Obviously, my celebrations should be earlier than everyone else's, but it's just easier if we keep to Christmas day for the feast and the gifts. It's all symbolic anyway.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

X: the Unknown

That's what all religion, all faith, all spirituality is about isn't it? That which we do not, cannot, know.

For myself, being pretty pragmatic and down to earth, I think (as I may have indicated in my "Universe" post) that our depictions of deity or the divine are imperfect and human-centric because that's where we are. We cannot understand completely, we do not know what lies 'beyond', so we imagine and we invent and we seek. I know that some believe they know what God is or is not, that they have been spoken to specifically and given messages, but ultimately I think that, just as we are flawed, our understanding and communication of these messages is flawed and becomes coloured by our experiences.

But isn't it great that still we seek, still we search and still we yearn for the truth that we are sure is 'out there', somewhere?

W: World Tree Spread using Wildwood Tarot

I'd like to occasionally feature actual readings on this blog, so I thought I'd try out this spread from the Wildwood Tarot book, as I haven't used it before and it looks like an interesting one. My work life is somewhat complex at the moment, so I've focused on that for this spread which the book describes as idea for situations that require a broad and comprehensive overview.

Position 1: Roots - The Knight of Bows, Fox (Knight of Wands)
Position 2: Branches - 7 of Vessels, Mourning (7 of Cups)
Position 3: East - The Knight of Arrows, Hawk (Knight of Swords)
Position 4: West - 11 The Woodward (Strength)
Position 5: South - 7 The Archer (The Chariot)
Position 6: North - The Queen of Bows, Hare (Queen of Wands)
Position 7: The Way Through the Woods - 2 of Vessels, Attraction (2 of Cups)
Position 8: The Wisdom of the World Tree - drawn only after reading the other cards

The first thing I notice about this spread is the patterns within it: 2 Bows court cards, 2 Vessels minor cards, 2 Knights, 2 majors, no Stones (Pentacles). In a spread about work matters, you could reasonably expect to see earth element cards like Stones or Pentacles. I think the fact that there aren't any here tells me that although I'm asking about work, this is not a mundane work-related question, but it's about what work represents for me in terms of my very essence and identity (the Bows), how I feel about work (the Vessels) and my stage in terms of life's journey (the majors and the Knights both suggest - in broad terms - being on the brink of something, being young in experience).

Taking the cards one by one more systematically now, I see that the Roots position answers "What is the root of the issue" and the Fox is, unsurprisingly, about cunning and being a good hunter. The book says "Determination leads you to success but sometimes at personal cost. Your life may change or enter a different path at any moment." I feel that this is about the struggles I'm having with finding the time and energy to solicit new work. I embarked on a freelance career almost a year ago, and have not branched out enugh in terms of finding new sources of work. This, I think, is the Fox's message to me: hunt more widely; work does not just come to you.

The Branches position has the question "What are the possibilities of the issue?" and I am somewhat dismayed to see the 7 of Vessels here, with its keyword of "Mourning". But then, reading the book's description of the card, it is not about loss (as I feared), but about mourning in the proper, most appropriate way. In some ways, I am damaged by my working past (the last situation which I left was not a positive experience), so perhaps the message here is that my new (and yes, although it's been almost a year, it is still very much new!) situation will be healing for me, and help me to mourn what I feel I lost.

The East position's question is "What do you take with you?" and the Hawk's answer is clearly about quick thinking and good ideas, which was certainly a reason for going freelance where I could work with my own ideas instead of toeing the line of others' ideas that I increasingly frequently didn't agree with. The book emphasises swiftness and subtlety and, as an Arrows (Swords) cards, this is related to the intellect, so I am happy to see that I can continue to create opportunities for myself that offer mental stimulation and challenge.

The West's position asks "What do you leave behind you?" and although on the surface, leaving The Woodward (traditionally Strength) behind may seem like a bad thing, I'm seeing this as leaving behind the need for so much strength, patience and dogged perseverance. In other words, this is a reassurance to me that I have taken the right step in leaving steady and secure employment that was literally driving me crazy.

The question in the South is "What do you hope for", and The Archer (or Chariot) in this position is perfect. The Archer rules her own destiny. Accompanied by her hunting dogs, she makes her own way in the world and is reliant on no-one else for her food or her wellbeing. Quite. The imagery of the bow (allied with wands  - fire - in this deck) and arrow (associated here with swords - air) perfectly sums up the nature of my work, which requires creativity and intellect above all else.

The North addresses the issue of "What you fear", and the Hare seems a little odd here, as the Queen of Wands often represents business success and strong interpersonal links. Am I afraid of success? Ouch. I have been fighting many low-level health issues lately that have reduced my energies and made it very difficult to get on with what I need to, and I have felt at times like I'm almost sabotaging myself by being unable to work as much as I should. Hmmm. I am aware that procrastination can be about fear of really trying in case it's not good enough. Maybe there is an element of that in there. The cards are pretty good at drawing out what you don't always want to acknowledge...

The Way Through the Woods, answering "What enables you to engage with the issue?" also seems strange to be the 2 of Vessels (or Cups), so often a card of new love. Two things sprung quickly to mind: I need to love what I'm doing (so that is perhaps a way to help me carve out projects that I'll want to work on), and my husband can help me. I'm certainly already aware of how much his belief in me and support of me enables me to do mad things like leap into freelancing, even though that has meant risking our family's financial security (I'm the main earner here). Looking at the book meanings for this card, this deck seems to emphasise that spark of attraction as being instinctive, intuitive and natural, so maybe this is a message to use my intuition more in figuring out my workload and finding work.

And finally, The Wisdom of the World Tree - the hidden wisdom of the issue - is revealed to be the Ten of Stones, Home (10 of Pentacles). So much for no stones/earth/pentacles - and what a lovely conclusion to have to this reading! If I had any remaining doubts about the sanity of my choices (and I do; I'm not always sure how we'll meet the bills each month, but so far we always have...), this is the card to allay them. Tens always represent a kind of conclusion to the suit's journey, so the 10 of Stones is about a place of security, safety and love - whether that's a literal place or a figurative, mental place. The card reminds me that security is what most concerns me, but it also reassures me with its lovely calming depiction of home. And home for me has only positive connotations, I am fortunate enough to be able to say. We may not have all the latest material crap, but we are rich in terms of our relationships.

The Wildwood tarot is gorgeous, by the way, and highly recommended, especially if you are a pagan. It uses animals and birds for court cards (as you've seen!) and woodland archetypes for the Majors, and is beautifully painted by Will Worthington.

Note for the curious: until the end of August 2012, I worked full time as a middle manager in a college for 16-19 yr olds. When a restructure due to funding cuts arrived, I opted for redundancy to build on my writing career, having published a textbook and several teachers' resources, and contributions to various teaching websites. I now teach part time on a supply basis and am working on various educational writing projects, as well as some writing projects which are more about personal satisfaction but may one day lead to more pubishing (such as this blog: I'd love to write on tarot and spirituality; I also have various children's stories languishing on my hard drive which I hope could one day become books). My struggle is balancing the work that I know will pay (teaching, writing teaching resources) with the work I want to break into but doesn't yet have as clear a market. I do enjoy the educational writing, and the teaching, but don't want that to be all of me, if that makes any sense at all.

I'd welcome any further insights or comments on my reading :)

V: Visualisation

I've written here before about my difficulties with visualisation, but that hasn't stopped me making good use of it in my family life. Personally, I've had difficulties with stress and depression since I was a teenager, so I think that teaching my children to handle stress is one of the most important things I've done. One of the ways I've done that is by teaching them visualisation techniques for relaxation.

Since our daughters were quite young (maybe 2 or 3 - I'm not really sure now), I helped them to get to sleep by putting them (each) in a bubble. This involved talking through a basic relaxation visualisation, where their auras were flooded with colour, while running my hands over the aura (like sealing the bubble). Initially, I'd suggest what colour they should see themselves bathed in, but eventually they could choose based on their mood (with minimal direction from me, such as steering her away from black or red - not great bedtime colours).

As well as the bubble, when they were a little older I also taught them some other visualisations or meditations to help them drift off. We also gave them a CD of children's guided meditations (from Toni Carmine Salerno), which they really enjoy. I've found that from doing these simple sleep exercises, they've become quite proficient at using their breath to calm themselves down. My hope is that this will prove to have set them up well in life

Saturday, 27 April 2013

U: Universe

The Universe seems to have become a contemporary, New Age version of or replacement for God. Have you noticed this? People talk of 'asking the Universe' for help, inspiration or even material goods, in the same way they would once have prayed for them.

I wonder if this is related to a modern tendency to see religious faith as outdated? (Note: I'm only able to speak of the UK's attitude to religion here; I'm aware that this is not the same around the world). It's interesting that if you think of the word "credulous", the word "fool" fairly naturally follows it - maybe this newly negative association for a word that once simply described a person who believed something implies a new impatience with faith.

So perhaps in an age when people seem to equate religion with backwardness, reference to the Universe as an all-powerful force feels more modern. Personally, I feel it's all just labels, and we all use whatever makes sense to us. One God, many Gods, something that isn't anthropomorphic like 'The Universe' or 'The Divine': I think it's all essentially the same and we just perceive it in our own individual (and imperfect, being human) way.

Grrr: an A-Z Hiatus

I have been unexpectedly offline for the past five days, so have not been able to post my A-Z blogs - a clear sign I should have had the lot ready and scheduled :(

Anyway, I have some posts ready to send, but don't want to put them all up at once, so I'll spread them out over the next couple of days til I get caught up. Please don't kick me out of the A-Z blogger club :)

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

T: Tarot - some beginners' resources

I've seen a few comments on my tarot-themed posts from people who have cards but don't really use them or aren't sure how to start, so I thought I'd share a few ideas for learning to work with them.

Joan Bunnings, Learning the Tarot

This is acknowledged as one of the best tarot learning methods, adopted as course book by the Tarot Association of the British Isles. The book focuses on keywords for each card, showing you how to combine these with positional meanings (within a spread, each location will have a particular meaning or theme) and with other cards to produce an overall story. In an incredible display of generosity, Bunnings has made her book freely available online. Please don't make the mistake of thinking this means it's worthless: it's actually invaluable.

Tarot Association of the British Isles (TABI)

Assuming you are in the UK, TABI are fantastic, with a lively forum, an excellent beginners' course and mentoring for more developed readers. You can also join their team of readers providing free readings via the website, which is a brilliant way to hone your skills. (If you're in the USA, the ATA - American Tarot Association - seems to be an equivalent, although of course I have no personal experience of them).

Teresa Michelsen, The Complete Tarot Reader: Everything You Need to Know from Start to Finish

This book is as comprehensive as the subtitle sounds. It's also very detailed, going way beyond the basics without requiring any prior knowledge.

I'll feature more in-depth reviews of decks and books as the blog develops, so there will also be something here for the more experienced reader. If that's you, I'd also recommend checking out my blogroll, as there are several good tarot blogs there. 

Monday, 22 April 2013

S: Symbols

The language of symbols is important to me in lots of ways. Obviously, as a Tarot reader, I need to understand and interpret the cards using a range of symbols, and also spells and visualisations often work by symbol, making use of the associations we have with things. In my more mundane life, though, I am an English teacher and work a lot with both language - which is a system of symbols - and literature, which relies heavily on our symbolic literacy.

Now, as an adult, I find it amusing to look back and think how much I always loved moons, hares and green men. Now, as a pagan, I see my attraction to these images as evidence that I was always drawn to the pagan path. Both the moon and the hare are goddess symbols, while the green man is associated with Cernunnos, Herne, Pan, Robin Hood and/or Robin Goodfellow: all lords of the forest.

How much richer our lives can be when we allow ourselves to connect with the language of symbols! Symbolic communication can be deeper than communication using words, since it can connect directly to the subconscious without requiring the medium of language which is, essentially, an abstraction.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

R: Rhythm

The pagan year has a clear rhythm, with a solar festival roughly every six weeks, and of course the thirteen moon cycles of the year.

Although I recognise that these are not truly ancient festivals (the Wheel of the Year as we now know it was conceptualised in the 1950s when Wicca was constructed), this is not a particular concern for me. My paganism is not about trying to recreate ancient practice exactly as it was centuries (or millenia) ago; it's about celebrating and connecting to the universe in a way that makes sense to me.

I appreciate the festivals, both solar and lunar, because they remind us of the natural cycles around us, which it's all too easy to be disconnected from these days, living as distantly from nature as we do. This, for me, is a key reason that paganism enriches my life. It enables me to feel connected and part of the universe, in a way that I never had previously. It's particularly interesting to me as a woman to see how my own natural hormonal cycles relate to those in nature, and I don't think that this is something I would have been aware of otherwise.

How rhythmic is your life?

Friday, 19 April 2013

Q: Quiet

Peace is a rare commodity in our modern lives, and of course this makes it all the more valuable. Time for quiet thought and meditation, whether it's with a spiritual focus or not, is precious and highly beneficial.

We all know this, but finding that time for oneself can sometimes feel selfish. It's easy to feel that we're 'stealing' time from others or from our responsibilities, when of course the truth is that a few minutes in quiet contemplation can make us more effective and efficient in our many roles.

For me, the best time to grab those few minutes to myself is in the early morning. I'm used now to getting up before everyone else, before I really 'need' to for work, to give myself that bit of space that will start my day off right. The odd times I don't manage it, or I foolishly fill that time with other things, I really notice the difference to my mood and my attitude, and I'm far less able to cope with things. I'm an anxious type, and have had difficulties dealing with stress in my everyday life, so I know that it's important to do this for me, to give me every chance to function the best that I can. At the same time, those very tendencies - and my busy work life (teaching, writing textbooks and teacher resources and trying to write children's fiction too) - can mean I squeeze out my quiet time to get more words done, more marking done etc and start the day frazzled.

The importance of those few quiet minutes - and really, just a few minutes can do the job - cannot be overstated.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

P: Prayer Beads

A while ago, I discovered a wonderful book called Pagan Prayer Beads by John Michael Greer and Clare Vaughn, which explains how to make your own prayer beads, as well as giving lots of ideas about how to use them. Basically, they're a meditation/visualisation/spell aid, which you use to help you focus. You have a mantra or chant to say with each bead, and you just follow the chain around. You can have your beads in blocked sets - for example, I have a lovely druidic set that I bought at an event, which has nine beads each in green, yellow and blue for the land, sky and sea - or you can use a repeating pattern. This prayer bead bracelet that I made has beads for the elements: tiger's eye chips for the earth, citrine for the air, polished red wood for fire and lapis lazuli for water.

I have used the one I made with various different sets of words, and sometimes when I'm preparing a spell or ritual, I'll use it to help me focus on how to work with each element. I also love that it's a bracelet, so I can wear it and remind myself of the blessings of each element discreetly.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

O: Outdoors

One of my favourite views: the dogs bombing off into the distance
What pagan doesn't love the outdoors? Can you really claim to follow an earth-centred religion without spending time out in nature?

I'm especially fond of woodland and forest, although open moorland is lovely too :). Having dogs and a relatively active lifestyle is also great for the kids - and us - of course. We are fortunate enough to live on the outskirts of a city with many brilliant country parks, and lots of wonderful countryside within easy reach for an afternoon's walk.

I also love the sea. I spent part of my childhood on the East Anglian coast, and now live in the Midlands, which means I appreciate the sea all the more when I get there these days. There truly is something special about sea air, although I must admit to not being very fond of the beach. Rock-pooly coastline is even more special (not least because there isn't any where I grew up).

What about you? What makes the best setting for a walk near you?

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

N: Negative cards, negative readings

Traditional Death cards are NOT cuddly!
As a tarot reader, you never want to give people negative readings and there are, of course, some cards which seem to have a life of their own in the popular imagination: Death being particularly notorious. And however much, you have a nice little spiel ready about 'change' and physical death being unlikely and often it being a necessary and ultimately positive change, people still tend to blanch when they see that card.

This is one of the reasons that most of us don't do those 'does he love me?/ will I get married?' questions. With a yes/no question, there's usually a preferred response - and one that the querent [person having the reading] doesn't want to hear. Asking 'what can I do to bring about...?' or 'why hasn't x happened?' gives the  querent possibilities and doesn't render them mere victims of fate, waiting around passively for something to happen to them. It also makes a purely negative response far less likely.

Monday, 15 April 2013

M: Moonstone

Moonstone is one of my favourite crystals. Interestingly, I've always been drawn to images of the moon (yes, I had that crescent moon and stars stuff all over my room as a teen), and I've always appreciated moonstone jewellery.

Due to associations between womanhood and the moon, moonstone has always been seen as a good stone for women, particularly for hormonal imbalances or fertility issues.

I've always found moonstone attractive - in all its forms: rainbow with the spectacular blue sheen or the versions in creamy and milky whites with browns. I usually have a piece on the altar and I often reach for it when I have anxiety or depression recurrences.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

L: Love Spells and Misconceptions

I thought I'd take the chance at this point to begin to dispel some of the fears and misconceptions that people have about paganism, many of which can be rather neatly exemplified by the concept of the 'Love Spell'.

A Love Spell is something that sounds nice, love after all being a positive force, yet a love spell - in the popular imagination - is a thing of evil. Robbing someone of a basic human right - free will - and seeking control over that person's emotions, creating love magically would have to be a bad thing. I find it impossible to believe that a real pagan would never cast such a spell.

Spellwork is usually about attracting or repelling something, and is most often about self-development in practice. Most pagans who do cast spells (not all do, of course) would probably not hesitate to cast a spell to help them find the love they're meant to have, to put themselves in the position to meet the right person. But love spells as in the movies (make X love me) - that's a big fat no-no.

In any spellwork, you have to think about possible consequences, and try to reduce these as far as possible. Some Wiccans in particular will include a line in their spells about working only for the good of all involved, or 'harming none', effectively asking the Universe to make sure that their request wouldn't be bad for anyone else before granting it.

Personally, I find that spells are a kind of meditation focus. I find it a useful exercise in making certain that I've clearly identified what it is I want (e.g. not simply 'a job' but I would be fairly precise about location, type of work, salary, hours etc - and make sure I add in something about harming none, so I don't have to worry about being responsible for someone else losing their job). I like to include the appropriate coloured candle, relevant incense or essential oil etc and to have something to do (e.g. create something to go on the altar to remind me of the spell), as well as a clear statement of intent which can then be used as a mantra for the following few days. I find that organising all that helps me to focus and be clear about what I want. It's definitely true that no-effort spells are more likely to be no-result spells. It's really not as simple as waving a wand!

Friday, 12 April 2013

K: Kings and Queens, Knights and Pages: The Tarot Court

The Tarot court cards are often those that we find hardest to interpret. A 'traditional divinatory' approach would often limit them to signifying people with specific physical appearances, based on the suit. Since modern Tarot is much more focused on self-development than prediction, "you will meet a dark-haired, dark-eyed man" is rather less than helpful.

There are now various established systems for reading court cards, and most readers will use a combination, selecting the most appropriate interpretation for each reading specifically. Many of these use some kind of system of meaning for the court position (i.e. there is a meaning for the 'kingness' of a card), which you combine with the suit drawn. This can be based on qualities associated with the character of a King (e.g. mature masculinity), Queen (mature femininity), Knight (relative immaturity - a teenage or adolescent kind of energy) or a Page (childhood innocence). Some readers will also assign an element to each of the four courts, and read each drawn court card as an interaction between the court position's energy and the energy of the suit (e.g. the King of Pentacles could be seen as Air of Earth).

I find that the system I use depends more on the deck than on anything else. Some decks change the court labels for different people (e.g. Knights and Pages become Princes and Princesses in the Thoth deck) or rename them entirely - the Songs for the Journey Home deck has (element name) Resolving, Creating, Awakening and Innocence for the four stages. Some of the more RWS (Rider-Waite-Smith) style decks will depict quite traditional characters on the court cards and will more often lend themselves to interpretation as a person.

If you read tarot and would like some help with courts, I'd recommend you follow Alison Cross's This Game of Thrones blog, which focuses specifically on the courts. A good book on the topic is Little and Greer's Understanding the Tarot Court, which goes into a lot of detail on various ways on approaching it.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

J: Journeying

Now this is something I have not done enough of. I fall too easily into the trap of being too busy and don't often enough give myself the time for mediation and visualisation. Plus, of course, I find it difficult, and it's always easier to put off something that doesn't come easily, right?
Siberian shaman, drawn by Dutch explorer Witsen in the 17th century
Journeying (sometimes described as 'shamanic journeying'), in its simplest form, is a kind of visualisation where you take a journey. This can be guided, or free form, but usually there is some kind of musical accompaniment, often drumming. It can be specifically linked to kinds of wisdom - for example, you can journey into a Tarot card, or to get to know Gods from a particular pantheon - or you can let your Higher Self, Inner Self or subconscious (or whatever you choose to name it) lead you where you need to go. On such freestyle journeys, it can help to have a natural location in mind to visualise as your starting point. I usually use a forest, since that feels comfortable to me. What makes it a journey, rather than just a meditation, is the idea of movement, however pre-planned or left to chance that may be.

My problem is a visual one. I really struggle to visualise and to actually see anything. I can talk myself through any kind of meditation or visualisation, and I can imagine things, but in the literal sense of visualisation, which clearly links to sight, I fail. I wonder if it's because I am not, as the kids at school would say, a 'visual learner'. It's funny, because I can respond to visual stimuli - reading the Tarot would be a bit difficult otherwise! - but even when reading I don't 'see' things. I know or sense things, having learnt to trust my intuition, but there's no sense of getting visions or any degree of clairvoyance.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

I: Incense

Image from Circle of Healing Center
Incense is an important component in formal rituals (like in Wicca or Druidry), used to represent the element of air. It's also useful in meditation, visualisation or spellworking (which, for me, is effectively a kind of visualisation with focus objects).

Incense is said to have been used in religious ceremonies for centuries as a means to carry offerings to the Gods. Traditional ground incense, made from valuable spices, fruits and resins, is smouldered over charcoal to allow its scent to be carried via smoke.

The reason it is useful in religious practices including ritual, visualisation and meditation is that it often includes ingredients such as Frankincense, which has the physical property of regulating breathing. This obviously has a calming effect and aids participants to focus.

Many new age and magickal supply shops sell a huge range of granular incenses these days, as well as the charcoal tablets and bronze censers, which can be found in pagan-friendly designs. Themed incenses for particular intents, or to work with specific deities are readily available, or you can make your own (although this is something I've never tried personally). I must admit to being a bit of a sucker for incense blends. I have them for the four elements, various intentions (divination, healing etc) and some specific energies and themes (e.g. a Green Man one and an Egyptian one).

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

H: Holy Days and Holidays

The Wheel of the Year
So, how do we celebrate holidays as a family? It's nothing like as straightforward a question as it should be, for several reasons, including:

  • My immediate family includes practising Christians who aren't aware of my paganism
  • Christianity was forced on me as a child and I don't want to do the same to my children
  • The culture I live in (the UK) is very much organised around Christian festivals

So, we celebrate Christmas with gifts and a tree, Easter with eggs (or other gifts) and I mark the Wheel of the Year festivals by myself. I keep an altar in the living room on the hearth, and do change it according to the season and any particular intent I'm working with. My family know about the festivals and sometimes have wanted to celebrate with me, but it's not an expectation. There are aspects of my practice that impact our family life (mostly natural living things rather than specific spiritual practices), but I generally keep the seasons in a solitary manner.

Image credit: By Midnightblueowl [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 8 April 2013

G: Green Man Tree Oracle by John Matthews and Will Worthington

This is a truly beautiful deck, offering 25 gorgeous cards and high quality accompanying book. The cards use the trees of the Celtic Tree Alphabet, and the deck is a great way to get to know this system - although I'm sure it would also appeal to those who are already familiar with it.

The book offers considerable background information on divination using trees, and on the concept of the Green Man before getting into each card separately. For every tree in the lavishly-illustrated deck, we get a single sentence summary of "Green Man Wisdom", as well as a detailed divinatory meaning and plenty of information about lore relating to that particular tree.

I drew a single card from this lovely deck to share with you, looking for a general message for today. I received

Scots Pine, for which the wisdom is "seek an overview".

Good advice indeed, since I've been very 'stuck in the details' lately. The divinatory meaning section talks about wise men shinning up trees and poles to gain a literal overview of their domain. I can't quite manage that, but I can remind myself to take a step back and examine the larger view. It's so easy to get bogged down in doing what you're doing without really thinking about why, isn't it? And that's how we end up sidetracked.

I've been kind of peripherally aware for a while that I'm not spending my time in the best ways to achieve my bigger goals because I'm, for example, picking up more teaching than I really want, which is depriving me of energy to do the writing that I want to. I seem to be eternally saying "I'll just get past xyz", and then I'll be able to do more 'me' writing. Well, it's not working. I need to commit to more regular fiction writing time, even if it's only small chunks.

Thank you, Scots Pine!

Saturday, 6 April 2013

F: Fatalism and Fortune-telling

Will my boyfriend ask me to marry him?

Am I ever going to be rich and successful?

How many children will I have?

What do these questions have in common?

Right - they're all things you shouldn't be asking a tarot reader. Long gone are the days of the reader acting as some kind of conduit to knowledge about everything that's going to happen. Long gone, in fact, are the days of thinking everything that's going to happen is already determined, with us being helpless puppets of fortune. Or at least, in tarot circles, these days are long gone. Out there, in the world of mind body spirit fairs and psychic evenings in the local pub, unfortunately there are still plenty of people who think it's worth paying for a reading to get a map of their future, to know what's going to happen to them, unequivocally.

Modern tarot is not like that. I haven't ever (except for on TV) seen a reader proclaim definitively "you will meet a man... he brings trouble". What we can offer is advice and often ideas on angles you haven't thought of. The best questions are phrased with "how can I" rather than "will I". For myself, I often read using a simple three-card format. A spread I use fairly regularly labels the three cards: what you should do; what you shouldn't do; what you're not seeing - and that last card is often the most valuable. Tarot is brilliant at revealing what I'm not thinking of, the unconsidered consequences of my grandest plans, or the unconscious motivation behind said plans.

Friday, 5 April 2013

E: Environment

Environmentalism is, I believe, important to those on a pagan path. If we venerate the earth and celebrate the turn of the seasons, surely doing all we can to protect the earth's resources becomes a sacred duty?

That said, I know I don't live in the greenest way possible. After all, here I am in my heated home, typing on a laptop under an electric light. Maybe if I were truly committed, I'd be generating my own electricity, or living in a hut in the woods. And yet, I am part of society, trying to minimise my family's impact on the environment while not entirely denying ourselves the benefits of these modern times.

I support Friends of the Earth and my local Wildlife Trust and get involved in campaigns (like the #beecause) where I can contribute, perhaps by writing to my MP, demonstrating my concern. We recycle (does anyone really not, these days?), we try to avoid the culture of disposable consumerism, we don't waste food or buy lots of prepackaged and highly processed foods, our home is insulated and we use low energy light bulbs et cetera et cetera. And we regularly make good use of the countryside around us - our two dogs might have some complaints if we didn't!

Ultimately, it's a tricky one. Being 'green' takes effort (like anything worthwhile, you might say), but how much is enough?

Thursday, 4 April 2013

D: Damh the Bard

D is for the fabulous pagan music of Damh the Bard. If you haven't discovered it yet, and you like the folk tradition and the bardic path, I would strongly recommend you go and rectify this immediately! He usually has a sample or two on his website to check out.

I've been a folk fan for quite a few years, and Damh has some great versions of trad songs, but it's his own pagan songs that I really love. Who could resist lyrics like these?:
Sunset, Moonrise,
See how the land is bathed,
In silver hue.
You feel so lonely,
Come with me and let me show,
There are others just like you.
Who feel the powers of Earth, Sea and Sky,
Of Dragon and Faerie and Shades of the night,
Hear the call of our ancestors of blood and bone,
Of womb and tomb, and standing stone..
Aren't they brilliant? These are the opening lines to The Cauldron Born, a stirring call to recognise your clan. His site also features his thoughtful blog and other projects, like the Spirit of Albion film, which dramatises a meeting between modern seekers and some of the Old Gods.

Oh, and there's another great D here too: the Druidcast podcast which Damh records monthly for OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids). It's around an hour and features pagan music, interviews with prominent pagans and discussions of all sorts of interesting topics.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

C: Chamomile - my favourite herb

Chamomile (Roman) is easily my favourite healing herb. Not only is it a soothing brew as a tea, but it is put to several other regular uses in my household.

I use the essential oil in a blend for tension headaches, and also neat and diluted in warm water for foot blisters and general soreness. We also use the tea (cooled of course) on cotton wool for eye problems such as styes and conjuncitivitis. (Note: do not put essential oils anywhere near your eyes.)

Did you know that the essential oil has antibacterial properties? (a lot of EOs do). It really is my go-to oil for lots of things, in the way that I know lavender is for many people. I personally intensely dislike lavender, and despite it being recommended to treat hayfever, I find it gives me a rash and makes me sneeze! As well as chamomile, I find that citrus oils end up in quite a few of my blends as I really like them. I'm not really a 'floral' person, but chamomile has quite an appley scent with a woody sort of undertone that appeals to me.

For me, using natural home remedies where possible is an important part of being pagan. It reminds me of the bounty that surrounds us, and helps us to avoid unnecessary chemicals and synthetic remedies.

Please note that I am not inherently opposed to modern medicine but I will use complementary treatments for simple everyday things and to (as the name suggests) complement allopathic treatments for more complex issues (such as my ongoing difficulties with anxiety and depression, which I do try to deal with without getting to the point where I need the GP's help, but I'll take the pills when I really need to).

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

B: Batons, Wands or Flame Songs

Batons for the Tarot de Marseille; Wands for Rider-Waite-Smith- inspired decks; Flame Songs for the wonderful Songs for the Journey Home.

Tarot is a system, but it's not as firm and fixed as some would have you believe. The cards have well-established meanings and possible interpretations, but different decks offer different shades within the pallette of possibilities. Thanks to this range, readings with different decks can take on different tones, and I have found some decks better suited to some kinds of reading than others.

In the example of the suit names that title this post, all relate to the fire element, with both batons and wands reminding us of something wooden, crafted by human hand from a living tree. Flame Songs is more direct, going straight to the element itself, but the cards within these suits all unite in themes of creativity, busy-ness (and business) and of projects requiring complex skills. For me, fire is the element most involved in spiritual belief - more instinctive than intellectual, more gut-reaction than emotion - and this idea can be seen woven through various cards from these suits also.

The flexibility and range within the broad structure of tarot is one of the things I love about it. Sometimes I'll read with two decks, comparing the angles I get by shuffling and drawing with one and then seeking out the same cards in the other. My knowledge of tarot has also enabled me to use themed decks to learn more about other subjects including Greek myth (The Mythic Tarot), the Celtic tradition (The Celtic Wisdom Tarot) and the sacred landscape of Britain (The Sacred Circle Tarot).

Basically, once again, I arrive at the conclusion that I enjoy making connections between things. Another reminder of the web that binds all things.

Monday, 1 April 2013

A: The Ages of Woman

A is for the Ages of Women (and also for Archetype).

Maid, Mother, Crone. The Triple Goddess. Phases of the Moon, Ages of Woman: a key aspect of paganism is the tripartite female deity.

One of the things I love about paganism is the freedom to make connections. Different mythologies, different pantheons often reflect and relate to one another.

  • Maiden goddesses, associated with the Spring, often with virginity and sometimes with hunting, can be found the world over. We may seek out Brigit, Diana or Blodeuwedd.
  • The Mother archetype, related to the Summer, fertility and creation are equally widespread, from Isis to Demeter to Juno.
  • Crone deities, linked with Winter, death and often war can also be found worldwide. Hecate, Persephone and Kali are examples.

These links between different systems speak to me of the amazing similarities between different peoples. Separated in terms of language, culture and geography, people have still represented the feminine divine in the same way. In some ways, a feminist approach to this representation might be to bristle at the seeming biological reductionism: women are their reproductive cycles. And yet, that isn't what we see at all, if we look closely at the range of femininity represented by goddesses the world over. Yes, we see doting mothers like Isis and grieving mothers like Demeter, but at the same time women opting for singlehood - huntress deities like Artemis and Diana can be seen to be choosing a life that isn't constrained by their ability to bear children.

Finally, A is also for Arlee Bird, creator of the A-Z challenge. It's thanks to him that I'll be blogging for A-Z this month. If you want to see more A-Z blogs, pop along to the A-Z focus blog.