Ritual for creating stability using the Four of Pentacles

The 4 of Pentacles is traditionally seen as depicting a miser, someone who clings to possessions and physical objects at the expense of all else. For the purposes of this ritual, I would like to propose an alternate interpretation: someone creating stability.

In Mary K Greer’s wonderful book 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card, she suggests physically taking the position of the person depicted in a card. When I did this with the traditional Four of Pentacles, what I felt was that the person was holding the pentacle in front of herself almost as a shield or protection. The image also looks like a castle, and fours are typically about stability and balance. For myself, this fall has been a time of tremendous upheaval, and the whole Samhain season can feel that way to others as well. In response to that, the intent of this ritual is to help us create a sense of stability even while experiencing change.

I have written this as a largely silent ritual, but you may add words wherever you feel moved to do so.

Materials: Four stones – any stones will work, as long as they feel strong and stable; you can use your most precious crystals, or four stones found in your local landbase. I find that slightly larger stones give me a better sense of grounding, and you may actually prefer darker colored or ordinary stones for their grounding nature.
You may want to use the 4 of Pentacles from your favorite Tarot deck.

Ritual:

Ground and center yourself.

Cast the circle by walking it, imprinting your intention on the earth with your feet as you move.

Sit in the center of your circle.

Take the first stone, face East, and call the Powers of Air with your mind. Blow across the stone, and place it on the ground.

Take the second stone, face South, and call the Powers of Fire with your will. Warm the stone in your hands, and place it on the ground.

Take the third stone, face West, and call the Powers of Water with your heart. Lick your finger and touch it to the stone, then place it on the ground.

Take the fourth stone, face North, and call the Powers of Earth with your whole body. Feel the weight of the stone, and place it on the ground.

Meditate about what makes you feel stable or unstable, safe or unsafe at this time. Think about the ways you seek stability for yourself. What is working well for you and what is not working?

Reach out to the stones surrounding you and feel their stability, their fixed nature. Ground yourself more strongly into your landbase and know that it is always there for you.

Take up the position of the person in the traditional Four of Pentacles card, holding an imaginary disc in front of your body with one arm below it and one arm above it. Now instead of a coin or a shield begin to see this disc as the full moon, shining between your hands, glowing directly in front of you. How does the Goddess guide you to stability, even in the face of change?

When you are done, thank the Goddess and thank your landbase.

Touch each of the four stones in turn and silently thank the Powers of the Elements.

Open your circle by walking in the opposite direction.

Take time to reflect on your meditation over the next few days; you may wish to journal about it.

The Omphalos Meditation: an alternative grounding and centering visualization

Grounding and centering is a fundamental part of my practice. It’s often the first thing Pagans and Wiccans learn, and it can be almost deceptively simple: connect yourself with the energy of the world around you in order to come into better balance. It really is that simple, and like many simple things, it really has many layers of complexity hidden within it. I’ve been known to say that it may be the first lesson in Wicca because in some ways it’s the only lesson.

Most of us do this through a visualization exercise, and the most common one is the Tree of Life visualization or something like it. But that visualization is exceptionally difficult for me to do when laying down. When imagining the Tree of Life, the trunk of my body, and especially my spine, become the vertical axis of the tree. I send roots out of my feet and out of my sit bones, and I send branches out of my head and shoulders.

Laying down, when I begin to visualize roots, if I begin to visualize them coming out of my feet (which are not supporting me), those roots make a hard 90 degree turn to go down towards the earth. My branches make a similar abrupt turn out of my shoulders, and the whole result leaves me with the amusing but unfortunately distracting image of a tree trying to get comfortable on a pillow while pulling up its blankets with one leafy branch.

If instead I try to have both roots and branches come out of my center of gravity, I get the unpleasant visualization of having a tree growing through my  middle with only a small area of contact as I am more or less impaled. This does nothing to help me run that energy throughout my whole body; it is frankly counterproductive.

The real problem is that when I’m trying to ground and center while laying down, it’s often because I’m sick. This is a time when I seriously need to ground and center, but also a time when difficult visualization may be beyond my capacities. If I feel so bad that I’m having trouble getting out of bed, then it’s hard for me to hold competing images (I’m laying down, I’m sitting up; my feet (roots) are in the ground, my feet are up on the bed…). It’s also a time that I need to be in my body, to ground and center in my body directly, rather than trying to detach myself and imagine being perfectly healthy and sitting or standing upright. I have to be honest about where I am and what I’m doing if I’m going to ground and center effectively at all.

I’m developing the Omphalos Meditation as an alternative. Omphalos is the Greek for navel (bellybutton), and the idea of there being an omphalos, or navel of the world, which was a sacred site, comes from Greek mythology. Multiple religious artifacts which represented that omphalos have been found, including one which was in the temple of the oracle at Delphi.

The omphalos represents a point of connection. Just as the navel is a point of connection between mother and infant, the omphalos can symbolize the connection between earth and sky, which nurture each other, or between the spirit world which nurtures and sustains life in this world.

As this source and center, the omphalos is also a kind of axis mundi. The concept of the axis mundi as a spiritual center about which the world is organized can be found in multiple mythologies. Whether it’s a pillar or a tree of life, this organizing and connecting vertical axis is a vital symbol. Our Tree of Life meditation is a kind of axis mundi which connects us, orients us, and steadies us.

The omphalos can be kind of axis mundi, marking the center, but instead of insisting on strictly vertical imagery, it is more adaptable. And because it metaphorically echoes the bellybutton, it can easily be used to make a gentle, steadying connection through that part of the body while lying down.

To do the Omphalos Meditation, lean back or lie comfortably so that your center of gravity – which is usually just a few inches down from your navel – is supported. Close your eyes and breathe slowly and steadily.

Draw your attention to your belly, your navel, and its place as the center of your body. Feel it being supported. Imagine it as the top of a pillar which extends down, through your support, becoming wider as it descends. That pillar is formed of your belly, whatever you’re resting on, the ground beneath that, and the ground beneath that. Follow it down as it goes deeper and deeper, becoming wider and wider, until you realize that the foundation of the omphalos is the whole earth itself.

Feel that connection steadying you and supporting you. Draw strength from it as much as you need.

Now see that the pillar below you has a twin, extending upwards from your center and your belly, one made up of air and light, which reaches up from you as far as you can see. The same air that flows through you and moves your belly when you breathe is caressing you from the outside. The earth below you supports you, and the sky above you comes down to meet it, touching gently, meeting in balance at this center point where you are resting.

Draw support from the sky as well, feeling it balance the energy below you. Circulate that energy throughout yourself as you need.

When you are ready, take a final breath, release the images, and open your eyes.

 

Mabon: Jewels and Fruit

Grounding and centering.

I breathe in, and out. I sink my roots down, deeper, deeper. Breathe. Sink. Breathe. Sink.

When I am grounded, deep in the dark, I find the Mother. I spread my hands before her, and my tears spill through, becoming jewels that tumble into the soil.

I know instinctively that they are not for me. These are what I need to leave behind. They are fixed in form, and they need to be returned to her. I look to her to ask what I should take to nurture my soul.

She points to the dirt. And then I see the tiny, hairlike fibers of my roots that quest between the crumbs of the soil, finding the minuscule fragments of nutrients, the miniature droplets of moisture. The fragmentary crystals of minerals and elements that are what I can absorb and turn into something else, something of myself, something living. There are droplets of compassion, particles of patience, fragments that will feed me.

I draw deep; each one is small, but my roots are questing wide and deep, and they quench my thirst and feed my hunger quickly, richly. I draw myself up, pressing upwards, unraveling shoots and branches.

The Father shines down on me. I turn my green face to the sun, asking implicitly what I am to do; I cannot reach so high so quickly. Don’t worry, he reassures me: I am here to help draw you up. He is right, and my branches grow and spread into a gorgeous canopy.

I grow, breathing in air and basking in fire from above and pushing it down to feed even my deepest roots, drinking in water and drawing in nutrients from below and sending them pulsing skyward to provide the raw materials to my highest branches.

In between appear apples, dangling from my branches like drops of fire, like the most precious jewels on gossamer threads, but more beautiful, so much more beautiful as living things that carry within themselves the promise of life.

This is the dynamic balance of Mabon.

Spring in the Garage

I live in a deeply urban area; the buildings are several stories tall, parking is hard to find and often underground, and I have to drive to find a green space that I can’t see across. But as I was going to my car in the underground garage, the house sparrows that live there were singing up a storm, and the sound spoke of the onset of spring.

This wasn’t just a reminder that nature is “out there” somewhere in a pristine wildness independent of the urban density. This is my nature; this is my world, my bit of earth, my ecosystem. When I ground and center, tendrils of my roots twine around the rails of the Metro; I notice changes in the seasons in terms of the shops and businesses on my daily walks as well as in the plants and animals. I know the people at nearest stores, and waving a greeting to them gives me a sense of home just as checking in with the nearest trees does.

My home area is a wonderful example of the way that “nature” and “human areas” are not mutually exclusive; they are everywhere interpenetrating, coexisting and adapting, competing, cooperating, and thriving.

One of my friends was writing recently about how some people see anything that they don’t control as “weeds” or “vermin,” that is, things that need to be eliminated. I know some people think that way, but I simply can’t wrap my mind around it; it’s impossible for us to “control” our environments completely, even in the most monitored and managed areas. The house sparrows are a reminder of that, too – they love to live in conjunction with humans.

It’s true that most of the plants around here are cultivated, landscaped or manicured, but that doesn’t mean they’re controlled. They have their own lessons to teach me as spring starts to break out all over.

The plants around here are living within limitations; they grow and bloom, but they’re trimmed, too, shaped and directed in ways that they don’t get to choose. Even within those limits, though, they don’t just survive: they thrive. They live, fully and extravagantly, and even when they come up against those limits, they don’t let it stop them. They adapt, they cope, they manage, they deal. And frequently, they surprise us with the creative ways they do so; spring’s resurgence of vitality simply can’t be contained completely.

This is something I need to be reminded of, because I’ve been coming up against hard limits rather frequently lately. I need to know that it’s possible to be verdant and vital even while constrained.

The sparrows and the plants show me, over and over again, that life can find a way, and life will find a way.

So mote it be.

 

RD on Americans and their cars

After I mused about how Asphaltia’s influence spread along with the interstate highway system, it is interesting to see Religion Dispatches picking up on a related theme. The piece describes Michele Bachmann’s promise to return gas prices to $2 a gallon as tapping into some of Americans’ self-constructed myths about the sacred and the self:

The federal highway system — the real America — on the other hand, operates as widely dispersed, center-less system for individual travelers on separate routes, an enactment of the American protestant primordial act: the prioritizing, centering and sacralizing of the individual in pursuit of their own happiness.

I would argue that although Paganism is about connection, at its best, it tries to balance the individual and the group, prizing both and the connections between them. This is why grounding and centering can be a group act as well as an individual one. What do you think? How do Pagans construct their myths of the center, the sacred, and the self, and how do they relate to this idea of cars and travel?

Irene: with continuing updates

Dear all,

Spouse and I are putting our final preparations in place. We expect to have no problems riding the storm out, but just in case, I’ll use this post as an information center and will post updates every few hours. If you’re partying in place (like sheltering in place, but much more fun), feel free to join in the virtual conversation.

Bright blessings for safety and peace,

Lit

Grounding and Centering: The Tree of Life

This is a common visualization exercise; it’s common because it’s a simple and effective way to begin to relax and be present in the moment. Here’s my version of it, which gives you an idea of how you can lead yourself through it any time. While you’re learning it or if you prefer to have external guidance during a visualization, you may want to record yourself reading it aloud and play that back while doing the exercise.

Sit or stand comfortably and close your eyes. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Concentrate your awareness around your center of gravity, in the middle of your body. Visualize a seed or sapling there, ready to take root. Become aware of where your feet or sit-bones are connected to the earth, and imagine yourself as the sapling, taking root through your connection to the earth.

As you breathe in, feel yourself gathering your energy, and as you breathe out, let your roots dig deeper into the soil. They tunnel down and spread out as they grow. Feel yourself connecting with the dirt and stones and even the water table, deep below you. With each breath, push your roots a little bit further, gently, because roots will find their way around and through any obstacles that present themselves. As you get down to the bedrock, feel your roots touch the stones, and connect with the veins in the stones themselves, so that your roots go down into the very bones of the earth.

Pause there for a moment and let that connection strengthen. Let whatever is bothering you flow down and out into the earth and be diffused, and draw up from your roots whatever energy and sustenance you need. Feel the stability that your roots give you, so that you are balanced and steady.

Now, when you take a breath in, draw that flow up into yourself, into your trunk, and as you breathe out, start to put out leaves and branches. Breathe in, and feel the energy of the earth combine with your own to feed those branches,  and as you breathe out, feel them grow, reaching up through the sky. Let them divide and spread, so that some are thick and strong, and others end in delicate twigs that sway as the wind blows through them. Feel your leaves seeking out the sun’s energy, or the moon’s, or both. That energy flows into you, and mingles with what’s already there, strengthening your trunk and feeding you all the way down to your roots, too.

Rest there, letting the energy flow into you and through you, letting it nourish you, heal you, and replenish you.

When you’re ready, gently draw your roots and branches back in. You can do this by visualizing them shrinking back into you as you breathe in. You know they will always be there, and that you can extend them again, and connect with your environment again, at any time. For now, let them retract into you, so that you gradually become aware of the shape of your own body again. When you’re ready, open your eyes. Move gently when getting up after this.

Take a deep breath

This is an easy breathing exercise that is very useful. The goal is to take a deep breath, which sounds simple, but is a powerful way to calm both body and mind.

Put one hand flat on your chest, over your breastbone, and the other hand flat on your belly, over your belly button. Sit or lie comfortably so that your chest is not constricted (don’t hunch forward over a computer, for example). Breathe in, and as you do, notice how your hands move or don’t move. Breathe out slowly. The goal is to breathe deeply and slowly so that the hand on your belly moves more than the hand on your chest.

When you take a full deep breath, your diaphragm, below your lungs, pushes down to move your stomach and other abdominal organs out of the way so your lungs can expand. As a result, your belly goes out just a little bit. If you constrict your breathing and don’t move your belly, you end up breathing into just the upper parts of your lungs, maybe even moving your shoulders more than your belly. This shallow breathing is not as efficient, and causes you to take more rapid breaths. It also makes your whole body get more tense: your heart beats faster, your muscles are likely tighter, your hands are a little cooler and your digestion may slow down.

(Warning: Science!) Biologically, this type of shallow breathing raises the activity level of the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system, in spite of its name, is in charge of the “fight-or-flight” reflex. Most of us have plenty of stress, so the sympathetic nervous system gets plenty of work. We need to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to balance it out. Deep breathing does this by not only slowing the respiratory rate but also by activating the vagus nerve where it passes through the diaphragm, which is a key part of the parasympathetic nervous system and acts to lower the heart rate and blood pressure. It, along with the rest of the parasympathetic nervous system, signals the body that it can devote more time and energy to rest and repair.

This is why taking a deep breath is always the first step to grounding and centering. It’s the perfect way to calm your body physically, and that makes it possible to calm your mind and spirit, to reconnect with what’s going on inside of you and outside of you. So the next time somebody tells you to take a deep breath, try it!

 

Meditation Moment: Connection and Context

Last month, I talked about letting go of time to be wholly in the present moment. Worrying about a few pieces of the past or future disconnects us from the present moment, and also leads us to ignore the rest of the past and future as well.

Being wholly in the present moment is an experience of mystery and delight; each present moment, taken by itself, connects to all the moments, past and future. The immediacy of the present moment and the eternity of all moments have more in common with each other than they do with our usual ways of understanding and experiencing time.

Meditation can be a way of connecting opposites, both practically and mystically, and can help us see objects, experiences, and even ourselves in a wider context, with a more holistic vision.

Here’s a practical example: beginning drivers often feel overwhelmed with the amount of information coming at them. They feel like they need to be looking in all directions at once, watching every other car, looking for traffic signals and signs, and monitoring the dashboard. Trying to pay attention to everything makes it difficult for them to pay attention to any single thing.

As they learn to drive, they learn to limit their attention to only a few things at a time. They learn where to look to anticipate what’s going to happen, and they learn what parts of their visual field they can ignore. They learn when to check the dashboard and when to keep their eyes up on the road; they know when the rearview mirror is important and when it’s only a distraction.

We all learn ways to filter our attention: we can pay attention to everything, which means we end up not noticing anything, or we can pay attention to some things and ignore others.

Meditation lets us learn to use those filters in different ways. When we narrow our attention to the present moment, we can perceive that moment’s uniqueness. Such perception paradoxically widens our attention; we become more receptive not to the everyday noise that surrounds us but to the broader mystical context of each moment in time.

One meditation technique that I enjoy uses a juxtaposition of opposites and invites contemplation of similarities and differences to both harness the straying nature of the mind and emphasize connections such as this. The first time I did it, I was focusing on an arrangement of stones that consisted of mostly jagged, dark pieces of shale with a few round, clear marbles scattered throughout. Any similar contrast of yin/yang, dark/light, hard/soft, or similar will work.

Start out contemplating one end of the polarity, and when your attention wanders, bring it back to the other end of the polarity. Consider the dark, flat pieces of shale, and then shift to the round, translucent marbles. How do they express polarity? How are they similar? Is there a unity between the differences? As you keep doing this, shifting between the two becomes easier, and eventually the union of the contrasts becomes the main point of contemplation.

This contemplation on contrasts is a way of deliberately shifting what is in the foreground of our vision, what it is we’re paying attention to. When we contemplate one piece of a contrast, the counterpart is in the background; reversing the situation shows us that our attention determines what we perceive as foreground and background.

A beginning drawing exercise is to draw not an object but the shape of the space around it. This is another example of switching one’s focus to the background rather than the foreground. Exploring the contrasts between them, where they meet and interact, lets us understand both better. It leads to a more holistic vision that embraces both.

Starhawk described the difference between this holistic vision and normal awareness as the difference between seeing with a flashlight and seeing by starlight. The starlight vision sees patterns and shapes; it brings out the relationships between things rather than separating the world into foreground (which is attended to) and background (which is ignored).

Cultivating this alternative mode of awareness can give us a different perspective on ourselves as well as on our perception of time. Normally, I have myself in the foreground of my awareness: what am I doing, thinking, feeling? What do I do next?

As Pagans, many of us are familiar with a technique known as “grounding and centering,” and although there are many different ways to do this, most of the ones I’ve encountered are essentially adaptations of this meditation technique to reconnect our selves with our contexts.

Some people prefer to ground and center by getting in touch with the Earth first, usually through visualization, and then to draw on that connection to feel calm, collected, and refreshed within themselves. Others go about it in the opposite order, by sinking into their own consciousness first, and when they’ve touched their own core, then they connect to their surroundings. Either way is valid.

When we ground and center, we recognize how we exist in concert with our surroundings, and being more firmly aware of ourselves helps us connect to our whole world, just as being present in the moment helps us connect to all moments. The extremes, self and all, connect in the same paradoxical way as now and forever. If we widen our attention to our broader context first, we also end up with a better awareness of ourselves as part of that context by shifting our focus of attention away from ourselves.

We are often prompted to “ground and center” when beginning a group working. This instruction is more than a reminder to participants individually; it’s a necessary preface to asking individuals to open up to others. What connects us, after all, is our shared context, and locating ourselves as individuals within that larger situation prepares us to recognize and connect with others in a deeper way than we could if we approached them from only our isolated point of view. Recognizing the shared context lets us see what we already have in common with others, rather than seeing them as totally separate, isolated individuals.

We filter our attention in many ways in everyday life; learning to use those filters for our own purposes gives us valuable tools. Meditation and the specific practice of grounding and centering are ways we can cultivate the holistic vision, the starlight vision, that lets us connect with our context.

Daily practices: sacralizing the everyday

In one of Slacktivists’s recent posts, he writes about he wishes there were more ceremonies or rituals to acknowledge important turning points in one’s life. He gives the example of a Jewish community creating a community-wide ritual for a young person getting his or her driver’s license. This is one thing the Pagan community has done pretty well: we love creating rituals for all kinds of things. One of my friends wrote an absolutely fantastic transition-to-motherhood ritual, for example. But we don’t talk as much about the little rituals that are part of our daily practice.

These rituals are part of sacralizing the everyday. I believe in deity that is immanent as well as transcendent, so things like eating meals and leaving and returning to my home are interactions with spirit as well as with matter; they deserve to have their own rituals, even tiny ones. Those rituals make my daily practice not something that happens once, but something that is a constant process. Every ritual is a moment, even if just a breath, to ground and center, to adjust my perspective, to remember what’s important, to include the spiritual context of my life.

So I thought I’d share a few of my mini-rituals with you, and ask you about yours. How do you make the mundane magical and the straightforward spiritual?

One of my most important ones is my adaptation of a mezuzah. I have a trinity knot, which has spiritual significance for me, carved from cherry wood hanging just inside the door. When I go out, I touch it and murmur a prayer for myself as I travel and for my home and all who live in it. When I come back in, I touch it again in recognition that I am home and in thanks for the safe return.

I’ve found that this ritual’s meaning deepens over time. A lot of Pagans do some form of house warding or blessing. I visualize that delineation of the home’s space as like a cord looping around the edges of my home, with the ends tied together in a knot that rests in the trinity knot. Every time I murmur my blessing, it is also a way of reinforcing that boundary. It says, this is home, not because the outside is bad or dangerous, but this is home, because this space is ours, and we make it so, and we fill it with love.

I think this is especially important for me, because as a military spouse, I move frequently. Even as a child, I moved frequently; I don’t have a sense that I’m “from” some place in particular. So the place I live now doesn’t have years of familiarity that make it from a house into a home. It won’t be my home for very many more years. So I use rituals to make it my home now, and to acknowledge that on a regular basis, and I’ll use ritual to thank and release the space when we leave. Then I’ll hang my trinity knot in a new home, and continue the cycle.

The trinity knot and its prayer are about how home and family are linked. This is home, for now, because this is where my family lives and loves. When my family moves, we’ll still be family, and we’ll be able to transfer our wholeness in that way into a new space. And since my acknowledgment of that remains the same, the habit and meaning have a chance to accumulate, even if not in the same spot, but in the same time: in the same time of my experience as I go in and out of my home.

Another ritual is a blessing over meals, which is common to many religions, but for me explicitly acknowledges the cycles of life and death that are bound up in the meal. (It’s the whole plant-harvest-replant cycle of the Wheel of the Year in a dish!) I also have an altar that honors my ancestors, my living family, and those whom I consider part of my “chosen family,” my close friends and loved ones. I light a candle and incense there nearly every night, and if I have prayers to say for those folks, that’s when I do it. Journaling can be a ritual. What rituals do you have? What do they do for you, in your life and your practice?