life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

How Antidepressants Made Me Better at Witchcraft

Have you ever seen that meme about psychiatric medication? The one that’s all, “pills are trash, forests are medicine!” (Which, by the way, is a toxic, steaming load of horse puckey.)

It’s not an uncommon attitude in some new age and Pagan-adjacent circles. I could digress into a discussion of the destructive power of the naturalistic fallacy, but it’d take at least eleven posts just to contain it. Instead, I want to point out one thing:

Medication made me way better at everything, including witchcraft and Druidry.

A lot of people express reluctance at trying psychiatric medication, and I can’t blame them. It can take awhile to find the right one, and, after that, to work out the right dose. That’s frustrating, even scary. Some worry that medication will “dope them up,” reduce their creativity, or subdue the traits that make them them. For me, nothing could be further from the truth. Without the constant high-pitched background buzz of anxiety and panic disorder, I’m much freer. I have some side effects, but they’ve been a small price to pay.

I do occasionally feel stabs of resentment that I’m reliant on something “unnatural” — but that’s a me problem. If there were a “natural” equivalent to what I need, believe me, I would have found it. I didn’t, despite years of experimentation. I came close a few times, but there was no herbal remedy for my panic that didn’t also knock me unconscious, make me throw up, or worse.

The fact is, the idea of “perfect” physical or mental health is a construct. It’s not a birthright, it’s not even a natural concept. In Sick Woman Theory, Johanna Hedva explains,

“Sickness” as we speak of it today is a capitalist construct, as is its perceived binary opposite, “wellness.” The “well” person is the person well enough to go to work. The “sick” person is the one who can’t. What is so destructive about conceiving of wellness as the default, as the standard mode of existence, is that it invents illness as temporary. When being sick is an abhorrence to the norm, it allows us to conceive of care and support in the same way.

By contrast, in nature, an organism that is “well” is one that’s able to meet the challenges of its environment. That isn’t a super high bar to clear — it also very often doesn’t look like the human conception of wellness. In reality, few creatures would meet the definition of “well” to which humans aspire. Animals live with parasites. Crows steal lit matches and bow over ant hills, seeking relief from mites when they need to. One crow with an injured beak needed the help of his mate to eat, and she gave it. We find deer that have lived for years with teeth or bullets embedded in them, muscle and bone growing gnarls over what biology apparently considered an impolite intrusion. We find creatures that have existed, eaten, and fucked for a lifetime, tumors and abscesses locked away behind walls of thickened bone. As salmon amply demonstrate, as long as you can survive to adulthood and pass on your genes, nature doesn’t much care what state you’re in. If you end up truly unwell, you don’t survive. If you’re surviving, even if it takes an anthill, a patchwork of scars, or an understanding mate to keep you there, you’re doing well.

“Perfect wellness” is not a natural standard, and the kind of health sold by the wellness industry is not only unnatural, it is deeply damaging.

Natural perfect health is rare enough to be nearly mythical, because there is no real binary opposite to sickness. Everyone will experience a significant amount of pain and disability at some point in their life. Some are fortunate enough not to experience that until they are very old. For others, that point just comes earlier and lasts a bit longer.

We are pushed to consider caring for ourselves as temporary, which perpetuates the myth of being “well” as a default, natural state. As long as the aspirational standard of natural perfect health exists, we’ll keep working ourselves to death trying to reach it. So, the idea that you must be naturally, perfectly clear-headed in order to commune with the Divine or perform magic? It’s kind of crap.

It’s an idea that’s also used to delegitimize practices that use entheogens — practices where altered mental states are valuable, if not necessary. It derides rituals that use substances in favor of quiet, whitewashed sensibilities.

In my case, it’s just a lot easier for me to get things done when my brain isn’t dysfunctionally revved up on a constant stream of high-test adrenaline, neurons struggling to swap about four serotonin molecules between them. It doesn’t matter if the “things” I’m trying to do are dishes or divination.

It’s not wrong to prefer natural tools in ritual, but the standards that apply to a wand or an herb don’t work when you try to apply them to the self. Medication — the help that gets us closer to the functional, animalistic concept of “wellness” — isn’t an enemy or a detraction from spiritual experiences.

If you’re hanging in there, even if you need medication to keep you here, you’re doing well. Nature and the divine won’t reject you for that.

divination, life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

The Accidental Journey

When I was little, I loved to sleep. I still do, to be honest.

At least, the adults around me thought it was sleep. I wasn’t really sure what it was. While hypersomnia has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, sleeping was never really just a means to an end.

I didn’t really have any privacy growing up, I didn’t have my own bedroom until I moved out — if I didn’t have to share it with my brother, I had to share it with my mother. You couldn’t even get five minutes in the bathroom without someone either banging on the door or just barging in. But the time and space behind my eyelids was mine.

When I was little, I learned the patterns my brain followed when it started its spiral into sleep. As soon as my thoughts turned into free-association nonsense, I learned to tweak them just enough to influence my dreams. If I timed it just right, I could dream lucidly, or, if nothing else, have dreams that were vividly beautiful and meaningful to me.

Sometimes, I wouldn’t be tired enough to descend into sleep. I experimented with ways to make myself dream — slowing my breathing, blinking my eyes in certain patterns, listening to certain songs, repeating phrases or disembodied snippets of poetry under my breath.

The first “awake dream” I had shocked and confused me as much as it delighted me. It was brighter and more vivid than the most memorable lucid dream I had, and I still retained a sense of the “real” world around me — I had a sense of awareness in two places at once, and gently ignored the walls around me for the impossibly lush, green gateway ahead. Unlike a dream, I could control my body. Unlike a fantasy, I couldn’t control anything else.

I didn’t know hedge riding, shamanism, or path-walking was a thing yet, I was only eight or nine years old. I kept it to myself, knowing that my experiences would either be dismissed as childish make-believe or decried as somehow demonic.

It was a long time before I learned what it was, and how lucky I’d been. I learned that doing this could be useful for more than just me. I’d spent a lot of time journeying as a scared, angry kid, and was fortunate to find things that (for the most part) were helpful at soothing my hurts and teaching me to avoid the destructive patterns I was being taught. It was because I was able to accidentally find my way there that I was able to find my way into a better life.

I know I was extraordinarily lucky, and things could have gone very wrong if I hadn’t been. Waking, sleeping, or journeying, I’m grateful every day for the way they turned out.

Three white candles in the middle of dried vines.
life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

Walking the Talk

I had a dream the other night. It was about someone I haven’t seen in years, and virtually never dream about. We were close at one point, but time and circumstance eventually decided otherwise.

In this dream, I was faced with a decision: I wanted to try to take on some of a soul debt that they’d incurred, to make things right again. I kept being told that I couldn’t. It wasn’t mine to take, and nothing I did was actually going to “fix” things.

It’s a bad habit I have. I spent a lot of my childhood trying to manage people’s moods, to keep mommy from getting screamy, or my younger siblings from getting in trouble. I’ve always been sensitive to noises as it is, especially a raised voice or the sound of a slap. Even now, as an adult, the thought drives nails into my brain and twists my stomach into hard, acidic snarls. Like Kiko, who immediately searches for the source of the sound any time she hears a video of a kitten meowing, I tie myself in knots to make all of the bad things stop. While “trying to fix things” seems to be helpful on its face, it’s not a good habit to have. The ability to sit with discomfort and know when not to interfere is a skill worth cultivating.

This is all some very roundabout exposition to justify asking one question: Why do we do what we do?

The person in my dream once called themselves a shaman. There’s a lot of stuff tied up in that one word, many even hesitate to use it because it often comes with a heaping side of appropriated cultural practices. It’s one of those words, like “tattoo,” that is a loan word for a widespread thing. In some cultures shamanism was just called “journeying” or “hedge riding” (much as tattooing was called “pricking” or even “embroidering”) so using a distinct loan word from another culture had appeal. For most people curious about communicating with spirits through altered states of consciousness, it isn’t necessary to turn to appropriated cultural teachings. Your elders know the ways.

This person called themselves a shaman in a tradition where they were an outsider. But why?

Was it the appeal of gaining secret knowledge?
Was it an attempt to adopt something new and “exotic,” like a hermit crab coiling into a painted shell?
Or was it a genuine desire to use these skills to help their community?

Unfortunately, it didn’t end well. They lost friends and loved ones. They were pushed away. In the end, they weren’t any better off than when they started, and neither was their community. Whatever it was that they had sought, they didn’t obtain it.

I know another person who called themselves a green Druid witch. They were a powerful witch, too. But working within the framework they chose came with rules, so they found sly ways to work around them. So why adhere to a tradition to begin with?

Was it to position themselves as an expert?
Was it out of genuine belief and respect?
Was it because they thought it would fill a personal need?

In the end, that didn’t work out so well either.

I’ve also known doctors who seemed to practice more “eminence-based medicine” than anything else, so this isn’t restricted to people in the metaphysical/religious/esoteric community. There is no shortage of people with ulterior motives, even if they don’t realize it themselves.

In the pursuit of any knowledge, self-interrogation is important. Do we seek titles? Recognition? The uncovering of hidden talents? A broader set of skills for interacting with the world? Why do you do what you do?

Know yourself. Know your motivation. Self-deception always leads to loss.

 

Books, Neodruidry

The Book of Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker

Recently, I had enough free time to finally finish reading Joanna van der Hoeven’s The Book of Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker. While not completely solitary myself (I’m a solo practitioner, but still part of a group), I still wanted to see what new information and perspective I could gain from van der Hoeven’s work.

It’s an impressively comprehensive guide, split into four sections: theory, practice, study, and technique. The book begins by delving into what the Druids were, their history, and what became of them. After that comes a breakdown of the cosmology in van der Hoeven’s (and, from my experience, most) Druidry. She follows this with practice: meditation, spellcraft, prayer, ritual, and so on. There are rites and rituals geared specifically for hedge Druids, herblore, the Ogham, and even ethics.

I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy of all of the information presented here, but that’s something I’ve kind of come to expect from most books about witchcraft and paganism. Van der Hoeven does appear to have done her homework, as each reference has a citation. At this point, I don’t even really try to point out historical inaccuracies unless they’re particularly glaring (like one book’s claims about an “ancient Irish potato Goddess”). One thing I liked was the acknowledgement of the divide between the Druids and modern Druidry — no one can really, factually claim to follow the same faith and practices as the ancient Celtic peoples, we’re all working from what’s more-or-less a reproduction. That doesn’t mean modern Druidry has any less poignancy or value, it’s just the truth.

Books like this tend to hold the most appeal for beginners, since they tend to go over well-trodden ground. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed it — particularly the section on rites and rituals. Ever since I began to use the ADF ritual structure, I haven’t really been doing as much as I used to outside of that, since most everything I do follows that structure. I took a lot of inspiration from The Book of Hedge Druidry, both for practices to incorporate into my ADF-structured solo rituals, and as small workings on their own.

The book concludes with a section on ethics and acting within one’s community as a teacher and leader. Rather than the (in my opinion) rigid and often misinterpreted Threefold Law, van der Hoeven gives a thorough description of what it means to be centered, know yourself, and be able to act with honor for the good of everyone and everything around you. There’s no judgment, no finger-wagging, and no westernized idea of karma, just an explanation of what it means to act for the highest good.

Had I come at this book from a different perspective, there’s one specific area that would’ve disappointed me: The lack of real information on hedge riding. The bit of information provided about the Other worlds is enough to pique curiosity, but not really enough to prepare a solitary practitioner for journeying or spirit work.

All told, I found this book to be an accessible introduction to Druidry for the solitary (or just solo) practitioner. While I’ve definitely benefited from the study programs and ritual structure ADF provides, if I was completely on my own, van der Hoeven’s work would serve as a great jumping off point. I definitely recommend it to anyone curious about modern Druidry, or even just looking to expand their magical or religious bookshelf.

A sitting meerkat.
life, Neodruidry

I’m either coming out of this a genius, or with library paste for a brain.

I started isolation (okay, maybe not “started” — I don’t exactly keep an explosive social calendar) with the idea that I could take this time to do things. Clean my house! Meditate a lot! Start a new journal! Do a bunch of work!

Instead, I’m on my couch in my bathrobe and eating most of an apple pie for breakfast.

That’s okay, though. From the sound of things, so are a lot of other people.

That said, I was approved to study the ADF Initiate Path! It took two weeks of deliberation, and another two of voting, but I can start.
I just need the mental bandwidth to do it. Like the Dedicant Path, it’s a lot of reading, a lot of skill-building, and a lot of writing.

I have signed up for basically every web summit, webinar, and video course that’d have me, though. Three classes on Udemy. Something called a “Breathwork Summit” that I’m not entirely clear on. Another web series on astro-herbalism. If I can do it from bed, and lets me experience some semblance of human contact without the threat of someone coughing directly into my mouth, I’m on it like a hen on an egg.

On the other hand, I’m beginning to think that cramming so much into my head is detrimental to all of the stuff that’s already there. Knowing how to tie my shoes, for example.

Intracranial hypertension is pretty hinge on your memory-meat. That much I know. I did not, however, anticipate losing a skill that I’ve had since I was four. Like, I made a pair of ribbon ties for the curtains in my living room — just two bits of recycled sari silk in a very pretty turquoise blue. Nothing fancy, but they get the job done and it’s a lovely color. The bows kept coming untied.

I couldn’t figure out why. Baffled, I tried again and again. Finally, I sat on the floor with one of my shoes, and tried tying it.

Nothing. I tried again. Nothing. Loop, swoop, pull, right? But there was some step that I was missing. Some piece of knowledge that was just gone.

And that’s the story of how my partner walked into the living room to find me in tears and trying to learn how to tie my shoes.

(As it turns out, it was the bit at the beginning, where you make an X with the laces and pull. Completely gone. Unfortunately, tying much of anything doesn’t go terrible well without that part.)

I’m either going to come out of social isolation with all of the knowledge on the internet, or completely unable to navigate life. Not sure which yet.

I hope everyone else’s isolation is going as well as can be expected. If you’re looking for ways to help, here’s a place you can donate to to get needed supplies to the Hopi and Diné people. Your local food bank will also need donations (preferably of money, but food is important too). Meals on Wheels could also use some help keeping seniors in need fed and checked on. In-home workers are also being hit hard by COVID-19, and there’s a care fund set up to help them, too.

More people than this are being hurt by the pandemic, and I’m sure I’ve missed some ways to help ease the burden on them. If you know of any, please feel free to include them in the comments.

divination, life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

Ruis and Saille.

ADF-structured rituals have an oracle portion that gives us an opportunity to know how our offerings were received, know which blessings we are receiving in turn, and get messages from the spirits we work with. I’ve always used tarot for this, but I’ve been curious about branching out into journeying, geomancy, and other means of divination.

All of this is to say that, for my reading this week, I didn’t pull a card at all.

I’ve been trying to learn to divine using Ogham staves. It’s more than a little challenging for me — memorization isn’t my strong suit (to put it mildly), and the Ogham alphabet is visually very simple. That means that, somewhat like my experience with the Tarot of Marseilles, there isn’t a whole lot for me to go on. Unlike the ToM, however, Ogham letters don’t have suits or numerical cycles on their side, which makes it even more difficult.

My best bet? Lots of practice. There are far fewer Ogham letters than there are tarot cards, so I’m bound to absorb some of it eventually.

This week, I drew two staves. Since I can’t exactly shuffle wood, I placed them face down, mixed them up, and drew them the way I would a tarot card: I moved my receptive hand over the pieces, and waited for the little energetic “tug” that led me to the right ones.

An orange cat paws at a set of driftwood Ogham staves,
Kiko attempting to draw staves for me, featuring hazel and elder.

I drew Elder (Ruis) and Willow (Saille).

Elder stands for the passing of an old cycle. This can be something that is due to pass, or something that we want to hold onto. The elder tree has a lot of connections to death and rebirth, so it’s a reminder that the only constant is change.

Willow stands for balance and equilibrium. In some sources I’ve read, it also stands for cycles, learning, and taking time to accumulate knowledge before acting.

I’ve experienced a lot of synchronicity with regards to both of these things, just in the past two or three days alone. It’s a supermoon in Virgo. This afternoon, I was listening to a webinar about living as a highly sensitive person (which, for me, is pretty much shorthand for “on the verge of a nervous meltdown basically always”), and Dr. Christine Page was giving a talk about inviting change in order to quit burning yourself out and making yourself sick. I mean, as I was typing this, I had to pause because I got an alert on my phone. It was an email: “Tips for Working With Change,” from Sharon Ramel.

It’s spring, the birds are singing, the weather’s warming, the sap is starting to run. The trees are still bare, but there are plenty of little signs that the soil’s beginning to wake up. I can’t say that I know exactly what changes the willow and the elder and pointing to, but I can’t help but look forward to them.

 

life, Neodruidry

It’s decided (sort of)!

After finishing the Dedicant Path, I needed to figure out what to do. Continue with the Initiate Path? See what’s required to pursue ordainment? Join a Guild or Kin and follow their path of instruction? I gave myself until the 8th to decide, and I did.

For now, I’m going with the first one. Having read about it, it sounds like it will bring me the closest to where I want to be. The curriculum covers things that I have experience in, and that I know interest me (trancework, divination, ceremonial magic), and covers things that interest me, but which I lack confidence in (liturgy, the bardic arts).

I did apply to join a few Guilds as well, but I think I want to work on them afterward.
It’s funny — it all feels almost like declaring a major in college. (Hopefully it’ll involve less organic chem.)

The only thing standing between me and the Initiate’s Path right now is the Initiate’s letter. It’s the answers to three questions, seemingly designed to figure out why, exactly, the respondent is interested in pursuing initiation, and how they plan to use it when they have it. Knowing I’d spend weeks writing and re-writing if I let myself, I answered and explained myself as best as I could, and fired it off.

Now I just have to wait. I’ll know if it was acceptable within the next few weeks, then I get to jump into another round of reading and writing!

Burning incense.
life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

I passed! … Now what?

It took me some time, but I submitted my ADF Dedicant Path work, received some feedback, elaborated where I was asked to elaborate, and… I passed!

It’s an enormous relief — perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the feedback I received involved me being “too hard on [myself]” when rituals didn’t go perfectly to plan. I don’t consider myself a type A personality, I don’t really think I’m a perfectionist (well, most of the time), but I can see it. Completing this path work was very important to me. Upholding the virtues and things I’ve learned in the course of doing it is still important to me.

There’s only one problem: where do I go from here?

I’ve considered trying to pursue ordainment. There are also other paths of study within each of the Druidry guilds. With how long it took me to finish my Dedicant Path work to my satisfaction, I’m a little hesitant to jump into another round of studying and writing so soon. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t calling to me, though.

Do I explore other Druid groups alongside ADF, and see what knowledge they have to offer? Do I choose a guild or two to concentrate on?

I’m giving myself until February 8th. By then, I will have looked at my options and picked a course of action.

Fingers crossed that it’s a good one!

life, Neodruidry

The Return of Spring

Imbolc was this past Saturday.

I celebrated alone, as I often do — as much as I like having other Pagans to share with, i still really enjoy the headspace of a solitary ritual. It can get much more improvisational. If it feels right to do a ritual in the alley next to the dumpster and pour out my nature offerings right where the birds can get them, I can do that. If I want to honor my ancestors by making and offering of some of the really awesome BBQ pizza I reheated from the night before, I can do that. If the spirits move me and I want to cover my floor in newspaper, smear my body with paint, and express myself by doing the worm across a piece of unstretched canvas, I can do that.

Not that I did, or anything. But I could!

Oddly, being able to get out and about more now has given me more of an appreciation for solo rituals. The difference between having to celebrate alone and choosing to do so is much bigger than I thought.

I don’t generally get much opportunity to decorate for the High Days. Kiko would eat whatever I put out, and Pye would throw it on the floor in a fit of pique if he thought his food bowl didn’t contain the right ratio of freeze dried bits to crunchy bits. I love my cats dearly, but they are kind of jerks.

crocus-318293_640

And so, I had a small Imbolc celebration sitting in the big, comfy chair in my living room, with my coffee table as an altar and a very fancy candle I choose specifically as an offering for Brigid. The Nature Spirits received mung beans, my Ancestors received candy, the Shining Ones received bourbon and incense, and the waters of life were the tail end of a bottle of very excellent cucumber, mint, and geranium lemonade. (I’m a sucker for cucumber and herbal flavors.)

It was peaceful. It was low-key. It was just what it needed to be, in a place where the pavement often keeps me from being able to see the first early flowers make an appearance, on a day when the overcast sky seemed to blanket everything in downy gray and the brightness of spring still feels far away.

It was nice.

divination, Neodruidry

The Eight of Cups

The Eight of Cups shows a figure with their back turned to eight… well, cups. In Rider-Waite-Smith-inspired decks, it depicts a man hiking away and leaving the cups behind. Really, it’s a very simple, elegant way of portraying exactly what the Eight of Cups means: turning your back on something and moving on.

Few cards in tarot are entirely negative. Even The Devil can stand for earthly pleasure, and The Tower is the destruction that makes room for something new. The Eight of Cups is no different, really. It’s a letting go, but it’s a letting go of something that should be let go of.

I’m almost done with the Dedicant Path work that I’ve been working on for nearly two years now, delayed by a few health- and moving-related hiatuses, and further slowed by a self-imposed language study. Oddly enough, it’s not that I’m so close to finishing that I feel like I want to change direction. Not entirely, but enough.

My ethnic and cultural background is very mixed. (The only thing any of my ancestors have in common is that, from Russia to Canada, they all seemed to love the cold. When a handful of them ended up in Tennessee, the next generation wound up in New York. We are not a warm weather people.) I originally wanted to choose Ireland as my cultural focus, but began doubting myself — especially when it came to studying Gaeilge. So many other people focus on Irish paganism, and probably better than I. So, I changed. Now that I’m almost finished and ready to complete the writing assignment, I feel like doing that was a betrayal, of sorts. Is it dishonoring my ancestors to feel like it was too difficult, and I wouldn’t be as good at it as other people? How would I be bad at it, anyway?

So, after months of study, I’m changing my mind again. I don’t think I can confine myself to one cultural focus, though I need to for the purposes of finishing this right now. I might be terrible at remembering where to put the síneadh fada (counting Gaelige, only two of the languages I’ve studied even use diacritics — and I wasn’t much good at remembering the other one, either), but favoring the gods of some of my ancestors over the others would be a mistake.

You know, I almost miss the days when it seemed like I pulled nothing but Aces. They were less heavy.