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.

 

divination, life, Plants and Herbs

The Rowan and the Heather

This week, I wanted to dive back into Ogham divination. I’ve been practicing working with a pendulum made of a fallen cypress root, and the set I have is probably the most conducive to using it.

When I first learned pendulum divination as a preteen, I did it a simple way: hanging a ring or pendant from a piece of string into an empty glass, and asking it to show me “yes” and “no.” Usually, an even number of taps on the glass was a “yes,” while an odd one was a “no.” I’ve always enjoyed using pendulums, and I’ve been having a really interesting time devising ways to mix different types of divination together. Driftwood Ogham fews and a wood pendulum seemed a natural match!

I didn’t ask a specific question this time. So far, this set seems pretty good at telling me what I need to know. It isn’t much like tarot or Lenormand, in this respect. It’s less about answering questions than providing a different, more nebulous kind of insight. If Lenormand describes actions and situations, and tarot describes the energies and emotions surrounding those situations, Ogham is another layer entirely.

The pendulum was still over every oval of driftwood, except for two that made it swing in swift, ever-widening circles: Rowan and Heather.

Heather came up for me last week, when I asked specifically about working through some old patterns. These are things that are going to take more than a week to get past, so I’m not surprised to see this friend appear again.

Rowan is Luis. In Ogham divination, it represents protection from every kind of danger — physical, emotional, and spiritual. It’s defense, precaution, and care. Bind two rowan twigs into an equal-armed cross with red thread, and you have a protective charm. This points to either having protection, or needing it. In either case, it’s time to look to the things that make us feel safe.

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Honestly, it reassures me. If Heather points to needing to metaphorically “burn down” old protective patterns so new growth can emerge, Rowan tells me that they aren’t necessary. I am protected, I am safe. I don’t need them. There are healthy behaviors and mechanisms there, better ways to protect myself that don’t involve self-sabotage.

I can keep doing the work without fear, and I’ll be better for it.

 

 

divination, life

The Alder and the Heather

For this week’s divination, I went back to my driftwood Ogham set. I asked the question that, probably unsurprisingly, has been plaguing my mind lately:

How do I heal my self-confidence and get used to self-promotion?

I drew Alder and Heather.

Alder is Fearn, the fourth consonant of the Ogham alphabet. Symbolically, alder is a battle-tree. Magically, it’s said to help us face the things we fear. Alder likes to grow in areas that give it “wet feet” — this creates an association with the liminal space between earth and water, between the logical and the emotional, between the body and the heart. It’s wood is also naturally water-resistant, a useful characteristic for creating structures designed to last underwater! It’s a supportive, protective tree spirit, with strong connotations of defense in battle, whether that’s against others or oneself.

Alder tells us to create strong boundaries and defenses, so we don’t undermine ourselves with negative emotions and self-doubt. Any decisions made right now should be carefully considered, so your emotions don’t lead us to burn the bridges we should be building instead. Seeking guidance from the spiritual realm will be helpful here — the roots of the alder help us resist being eroded by our negative emotions, the way they help the earth resist erosion by the water, but, despite this assurance, it’s a mysterious tree that isn’t always forthcoming with how it’s going to do this.

Nice. I can see it. It matches the tarot reading I received the other night, when I was told that not only am I not self-promoting, I don’t always necessarily make the right decisions when it comes to things of that nature. So… Way to call me out, alder tree!

Next is Heather, Ur, the third vowel of the Ogham alphabet. Symbolically, it’s a plant of contrasts — it’s passion and enthusiasm, and the consequences of both. Magically, it’s said to open portal to the realm of the fae. (And fairies associated with heather are said to be particularly attracted to shy people, to boot.) Burning it brings rain, sleeping on it brings prophetic dreams of good luck, and carrying it is protective. Heather tops can be brewed into alcohol, and heather honey is particularly dark and thick. It’s a flowery, sensual, intoxicating plant.

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Unfortunately, heather also doesn’t produce terribly well. At least, not if it isn’t periodically burned to the ground! The word-Ogham kennings refer to cycles of growth, or the earth. It’s said to be connected to death and fate through its connection to the soil (a connection which is somewhat reinforced by its magical use for prophetic dreams).

Drawing Heather is often interpreted as enjoying a sweetness and time of repose, but the lesson here is clear: There’s time for drinking heather beer and eating heather honey, and a time for burning the heather to the ground. There’s a time for sweetness, and a time for death. Don’t worry, though, because the burning of the heather brings it back with renewed vigor.

Taken together, I can see a path emerge. I have behaviors in place that are protective for me, but paralyzing. (If you can’t handle positive attention, hiding most of yourself away is a great way to avoid it!) Alder’s protection can help me weather my own negative emotions. Heather shows me that, while destroying my deep-seated protective mechanisms won’t be pleasant, I’ll grow stronger and better than before if I do it. Doing what feels good, avoiding my fears, needs to be balanced out by burning the whole damn thing to the ground if I want to enjoy the sweetness of new growth.

It’s going to suck, but it’ll be okay.

Now I’ve just gotta make that list my therapist told me to. Sigh.

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

An Bealltainn toilichte!

Hello!

If you celebrate Beltane, I hope yours was a happy one. If not, I hope your May is going well. (Well, all four days of it, anyhow.)

I did a small, low-key ritual at home, to honor the Three Kindred and pray that this year’s metaphorical harvest is good. All of the omens were positive — blessings I really need right now. I had some candles, incense, a parlor palm for a tree, and a tiny bit of honey, beans, and whiskey for offerings. I didn’t have all of the woods to build a sacred fire, but I kindled a tiny one of oak, rowan, and ash twigs. I also didn’t have flowers or much in the way of decorations, but it was enough.

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Someday, I’ll be able to have a proper bonfire outside.

Saturday, I participated in a video call with one of my former teachers, a group of current- and former students, and entertainer Mandy Goodhandy, for tarot readings and cocktails. I had a lot of fun — and not just because it was the first time I’d spoken to someone who wasn’t either my partner or one of my cats in roughly a month.

When my turn came around, I asked a deceptively simple question: What do I have to do to obtain the life I want?

The answer? Learn to self-promote.

I’m, uh…
I’m not great at that.

Let me back up a few minutes. When my turn came around, both Mandy and my former teacher commented on my energy, that I seemed to exude a light. It was incredibly sweet and kind. Also absolutely terror-inducing.

I’m good at accepting compliments in the moment. At the very least, I can keep my idea-meat from short-circuiting long enough to smile and croak out a “thank you.” Inside, however, it’s more like

aaaaaa

spongebob

community

I’ve been working with my therapist about it. It’s slow going.

As you can probably see, this presents certain impediments to promoting myself. I make things, but, when it comes to showing them to other people, I panic. I’ve been taking small steps to try to get over it, but there’s still a huge element of self-sabotage when it comes to trying to attract attention — the one thing guaranteed to make me want to flee in terror.

I can catch a giant spider and let it outside. I can hook a rattlesnake. I can handle a spinal tap. I can take a lot of things in stride.
Just not that.

(Fun fact: When I was a little kid, I used to hide under the stable and cover my ears whenever anyone sang “Happy Birthday” to me. Though I no longer do this, the desire to has not lessened.)

And so that’s where I am. My therapist has tasked me with writing down good affirmations about myself, and reading them every day. (This is also slow going.) I’m trying to find meditations for boosting confidence. I’ve got a pouch of crystals waiting to be charged for self-esteem. At this point, I’d gulp flower essences by the pitcher if it seemed like it’d help.

I asked Lenormand cards for some guidance. They gave me Bear and Mountain. Stubbornness, and dominating obstacles. No secret tricks here, just doing the thing. Damn it.

Still, there’s no harvest without tilling. (I mean, there is no-till farmin, but work with me here.) There’s no reward without toil. If I want to have the harvest I’ve prayed for, I have to put in the work of… riding the bear up the mountain?
The metaphor’s gotten away from me a little bit, but you probably catch my drift.

From my house to yours, have a good week.

life

Snared in the Silver Lining

Druidry doesn’t have commandments. In ADF, we’re taught Virtues: Wisdom, Piety, Vision, Courage, Integrity, Perseverance, Hospitality, Moderation, and (metaphorical) Fertility. Though it isn’t explicitly named as a virtue, the idea of reciprocity is big, too. It’s kind of bundled into the concept of Hospitality, if you really think about it.

Hospitality is what ensures that no one is left behind, and everyone is taken care of — the person who turns up on your doorstep with nothing may be the person to feed you when you have nothing. It builds the reciprocal relationships that provide for everyone’s survival during hard times.

I have a hard time with reciprocity sometimes. Not because I find it unpleasant or mentally difficult to reciprocate; it’s just physically hard. I had a very tough time coming to terms with the idea of being disabled re: being taken care of, and all of the fear of abuse and abandonment that it brought up. Even when I got past those thoughts, I had to contend with the idea that I wasn’t always going to be able to return the favors I need to live. It severely impacted my relationships, even fractured a few of them.

All of this is to say that I think I’m having some kind of survivor’s guilt super hard, and it is extremely confusing.

The thought process goes a little like this:

  1. I’ve needed to be taken care of in the past, and wasn’t really able to return the favor.
  2. A pandemic strikes, and suddenly my efforts and expertise have a lot more impact.
  3. I feel more useful, and much less bad about all of the times that I needed help in the past. A silver lining!
  4. … It’s totally not okay to find a good side to a situation that’s causing so much pain to so many people.

See what I’m saying? It’s a hell of a thing to grapple with.
How much of a silver lining is okay to have?

My therapist recommends adding some joy to every day, in whatever form that may take. I’ve been painting more, and trying to do guided meditations that focus around the Law of Attraction. Usually, I don’t really want any truck with The Secret or Law of Attraction for reasons. Right now, though, I feel like being forced to listen to affirmations and focus only on the positive might be the nuclear option my brain needs.

I’m kind of kicking myself for not re-upping my supplies when all of this first hit the news — I’ve got some sweet orange oil, but not much else in the “joy promoting” area. It isn’t an area of magic I usually have to dabble in too often, but man I’d love to get my hands on a piece of genuine citrine, or even some dried hyacinth flowers!

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(Seriously, though. I can lay a hex, break it, flip it, and reverse it. I can draw in love, chase away enemies, cleanse a space, ward a house, protect a vehicle, revive a plant,  perform more kinds of divination than you can shake a stick at, and more. Joy, however, hasn’t been an area that I’ve focused on very much. Go figure!)

I hope you’re staying in and holding up well.

A sitting meerkat.
life

Happy birthday, here’s a spring roll.

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Kiko says, “Good morning! Wait, it’s what PM? Eh, whatever.”

It was my partner’s birthday recently. What do you do when bakeries are closed, grocery stores are picked over, and you haven’t seen a bag of flour in weeks?

Improvise!

In this case, with a tealight and some sweet mango and sticky rice spring rolls. It wasn’t a traditional birthday cake, but they were tasty.

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Right now, we’re trying to put off going out to the grocery store again until we absolutely have to. There’s a set of cloth masks en route to us as I type this, and we’ve got some  hydroknit shop rags for making ersatz mask filters. We’re out of fresh fruit and vegetables, and I’m getting to the point where I’m scouring Allrecipes for things I can cobble together out of a yam, a can of baked beans, and a bag of dry mini ravioli.

(I did manage to make a very tasty breakfast out of some frozen Belgian waffles, microwaved berries, honey, and crumbled goat cheese.)

We’re getting creative.

I haven’t taken pictures yet, but I’ve finally dug into my stash of recycled silk ribbon and beads — including some very pretty Czech glass and matte amethyst. I have a set of copper and glass frame pendants, unstretched canvas, and plenty of time to play around, so I’m going to see what I can come up with. I’m not usually a fan of trying to paint miniatures on medium-textured canvas, but necessity’s the mother of invention, and all.

I also have some idea for a spray. I’m not sure if it’s more accurately called a cleansing spray, maybe a “clearing” or “lifting” spray? I know I want to start with lavender water and some kind of citrus, but I’m not sure what type. Lemon doesn’t seem like it has quite the right vibe for what I’m looking for. Maybe bergamot? I haven’t worked with bergamot as much as I’d’ve liked to, so that’ll give me the chance to forge a stronger relationship with it. Then, I just need to feel out other ingredients to include…

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One interesting challenge for me is that I’m limited to working with whatever the grocery store has, and what I can forage from either a strip of gravel around a dumpster, or whatever manages to reach through the chainlink fence at the end of the alley. I don’t know exactly what kind of plants these are, I haven’t attempted an ID yet. If there’s one quality I’m positive they have, though, it’s resilience.

I think a lot of us could use a little extra resilience right now.

Here’s hoping you’re healthy, not too stir-crazy, and holding it together.

life

The Letter and the Spirit

It’s one thirty in the morning.

Pye is racing from room to room, stopping short with all four legs splayed out, bellowing into the night before zooming off.

I’m sitting on my (half-asleep) partner, eating a sandwich and babbling about this completely awesome idea I just had to set up a blanket tent in the living room, make s’mores, and watch a marathon of The Twilight Zone. (He does not remember this conversation, and it’s probably just as well.)

I also never thought I’d get to the point where my misophonia would be hardcore enough to make me want to punch myself in the face for chewing, but here we are.

 

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“I think we need to… go on a car ride, or something,” my partner suggests, voice heavy with concern.

“No,” I tell him. No, because, right now, the only place either of us goes is to the grocery store. No, because burning gas unnecessarily means eventually having to make an extra stop at the gas station to refill. That means touching surfaces that someone else has to touch afterward. It means walking on the ground where other people have to walk, then track whatever’s on that ground into their homes. What if we get in a car accident? That takes up two spots in the ER that could’ve been used by someone else.

It’s bad enough we have a (probably also unnecessary, but work with me here) decontamination protocol established for going to the grocery store: He goes. I make him wear elbow-length rubber gloves and cover his face with something to keep him from touching it. He comes home, leaves the groceries by the door, strips off his clothes and puts them by a bag near the door, dumps the gloves into a bucket of soapy water also by the door, and hops in the shower immediately. I empty any groceries I can into separate glass containers and throw the packaging out. If I can’t do that, I wipe the packaging with disinfectant. As soon as he’s out of the shower, he washes his clothes, takes out the trash, then washes his hands. It’s exhausting, time-consuming, and pretty ludicrous, but it keeps the health anxiety at bay. (At least, a little bit.)

Confinement’s making a lot of us kind of weird.

oddball

What’s still completely baffling to me, though, are all the stories of influencers choosing to skip town. “I’m doing what’s best for my family” seems to be the reasoning (though a cynical part of me wonders when they started considering their ad partners “family”). Doctors decry the behavior, worried that they’ll inadvertently encourage their followers to do the same. People in rural or tourist areas are worried because they aren’t set up to feed and supply these people off season — and they’re damn sure not set up to care for them if they get seriously ill, or bring the virus with them.

“I’m doing what’s best for my family,” but all leaving does is let you travel back in time a few days, maybe a few weeks. Before long, all of the places that people are fleeing to will experience their own peaks. What will they do then? Return home, after their home is finally seeing a decline in cases, and bring a new increase with them?

“I’m doing what’s best for my family,” it just involves acting contrary to the advice of doctors and potentially killing other people’s families in the process. For what? Instagrammable content and an illusory sense of temporary safety?

I read a comparison of pathogens to a coat of invisible wet paint. You touch it, maybe with your hand, or even your shoe, and it gets on you. You can’t see it, though, so you don’t notice all of the places you leave it behind or all of the people who end up touching it after you. You can avoid seeing other people, but you’re not really socially distancing if you’re out touching wet paint and tracking it everywhere you go. It’s the difference between following the letter of the recommendation, versus the spirit.

I get it, confinement sucks. I’m fortunate, in a strange way, because circumstances have made me used to keeping myself busy at home. I wish there was a way I could help take care of my grandfather, or go see my partner’s family, but we’d be doing more potential harm than good if we did. Staying confined isn’t just a way to keep us safe — it’s a way to keep us from unwittingly killing someone else. Taking care of each other means not making the (often underpaid) employees of stores, gas stations, and accommodations expose themselves to unnecessary risk.

Stay home. Please.