Columbia, help us rise

My dear friend Hecate is fond of calling Washington, District of Columbia her shining city on a swamp. It’s an apt metaphor for politics. Columbia, help us rise above the swamp, and shine again.

columbia-freedomColumbia’s district isn’t quite as swampy as urban legend suggests. Still, it’s a good metaphor for politics, because that’s where human life starts: down in the mud and muck. As much as other religions would like to claim that there is some bedrock of truth with a capital “twue” that we can start from, my experience and belief lead me to see our foundations as much more earthy, organic, and prone to change. Like the old joke about the foundations of the universe, it’s turtles all the way down.

What’s amazing is that we can and do build great edifices out of those uncertain foundations. By virtue of our agreements with each other, our cooperation, and our valorization of certain principles, we raise up amazing structures and manage, more or less, to live in them. While we like to imagine our great monuments and governmental buildings of shining stone, and we splash the colors of the flag on anything that will stand still long enough, deep down at the foundations of this country are fragile pieces of paper and the agreements made by men – men whom we hold in esteem, yes, but men who were also flawed, and made of mud and muck just as much as any of us.

I have been saying since the emergence of the Tea Party that it is terribly dangerous to the functioning of a democracy and the system of representative government for people to elect politicians who proclaim their fundamental mission as NOT governing, politicians who claim that they do not believe that the institution they are going to be part of should exist in its current form and fulfill its current functions.

The Tea Party and other ultra-conservatives have announced from the beginning that their mission was to stop government from working the way it has been working. They have been true to their word. They have come to this shining city and rather than trying to participate in the building up, or suggesting different goals for building, or even just getting out of the way when they have lost a disagreement and multiple elections, they are actively hindering any progress, any ability to agree, any effort to raise ourselves up. They drag us back to the muck, kicking and screaming, and at the moment they have fulfilled their mission of stopping government from working.

Remember, these folks don’t really believe that the government should do much beyond run the military. It’s okay with them if kids don’t get cancer treatment and national parks are closed and so on – they’d rather see those things privatized anyway. This is why they were willing to take a shutdown, and insisted that it wouldn’t hurt people or the country very much. Being wrong has never stopped them before, and it didn’t stop them now.

So in these days I pray: Columbia, help us rise above. You stand at the apex of the building where our elected officials meet. Concentrate our voices, help us remind them that they are supposed to commit themselves to the rule of law, and of elections, and all the forms of life that help us build a shining city on swampy foundations and some pieces of paper and the ideals that even we can’t quite agree on. Columbia, help any who are willing to hear sense and to do their jobs within the institution they were sent to serve; help us to throw out any who insist on dragging everyone into the mud with them.

Columbia, help us rise.

September 11th and shadows

I read Hecate’s excellent post on the dark moon and working with shadows last week, and while I had done a ritual to observe the dark/new moon, I thought to myself, “I wish I’d done that instead.” One of the things about being a Witch is that you learn to be careful what you wish for. Over the next few days, my body reminded me that while my personal monthly cycle is not always in sync with the moon, it does present me with an unenviable opportunity to face my shadows on a regular basis. Now, on the heels of that, we arrive at a day that in the US will be used for contemplations of several kinds, and I am thinking that we should bring the skills of shadow work to this conversation, too.

Each grief proceeds at its own pace, and for some people who grieve September 11th, it will never be far enough away to try to approach it again from the different angle of shadow work. I understand that; I honor that, and wish that I had other comfort to offer. I do not write primarily to those people.

I write because I have experienced the ways that facing one’s shadows, recognizing them, understanding them, and ultimately integrating them, leads to healing and to wholeness. In the absence of this process, we feed our shadows’ power. We see our (denied or unrecognized) shadows everywhere, and we project them even where they don’t belong. We act out their patterns when other behavior would be a better use of our time and energy.

We should talk about our national shadows because they are very real, just as real as our national psyche and self-perception. And because our ideas of what it means to be American are diverse and varied, so are our shadows – but the shadows have an extra power, because they are harder to discuss, harder to see clearly. This inherent power makes them potent political weapons.

For example, I believe that the response of conservative news media to last year’s attack on the US compound in Benghazi was nothing more nor less than a deliberate attempt to inflame a shadow of September 11th in order to reinforce their political attitudes, especially the idea that we desperately need a Strong (Republican) Leader.

Similarly, some Congress members recently distorted the facts of September 11th in order to invoke its shadow to drum up support for one side of the current conflict in Egypt. But if we’ve observed anything in Egypt, it is that the Arab Spring will not lead directly to some miraculous Summer of Democracy. As a country, we should be careful what we wish for, and who we arm.

As a result, the discussion of what action to take with respect to Syria is covered in shadows: One of the biggest might be called World’s Policeman. This shadow is cast by some heroic history, but it is a shadow, not the thing itself, and it is one we need to be wary of. It often interacts with Sole Superpower, a shadow with even uglier implications. There are also shadows related to actions taken or not taken in military, political, and diplomatic ways more recently and more specifically.

Just as with individual shadow problems, there is a wealth of history that informs the development of these shadows and should be addressed as part of understanding them. (Have you ever seen the photo of Don Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein?) I may yet write more about that. For now, I want to plant the idea of working with our national shadows as something we should do.

But when I write we, I mean the individuals of the country, out of whom the country and her psyche are made. Specifically those of us who do magic, who work with shadow as part of our practice, we should take the lead here. I don’t have a simple recommendation; I don’t think shadow work is ever simple. So I ask you: how would you do shadow work with the country?

For me, I will work with Columbia, engaging with her and with my own personal corner of what it means to be America. I will dialogue with her, and her shadows, and my shadows, the way I have dialogued with my own shadows in the past, and I will try to integrate just a fragment more, so that in the future, I will have the wisdom of honest history and the resulting courage of my convictions to take a stand.

Recent labors

I’ve been quiet here lately, mostly to work on my dissertation (a finished draft of a chapterĀ  is such a satisfying thing!), but I’ve also had a few things appear elsewhere.

At PaganSquare, I’m tentatively trying a new kind of short commentary on different works. This approach will be less comprehensive than my reviews usually are, aimed at introducing some lesser-known works to a generalist audience rather than critiquing common materials. I tackle Israel Regardie’s compendium of Golden Dawn material to start:

Overall, Regardie’s compendium can be a paradox: nearly impenetrable to the casual reader, seemingly outdated and irrelevant, for those who have the interest and the patience to immerse themselves in it, it is fascinating and invaluable.

Read the whole thing.

In the fall issue of Circle Magazine, my article “Guarding the Theshold – Everyday Warding for the Home” is featured as part of the Home and Harvest theme:

I live in a busy urban area, so warding my home is vitally important to me on many levels. Creating a sense of mental and emotional privacy is a necessary part of urban life. More than that, though, my warding designates my home as a space set aside, defined by my intention, as the place I and my partner live and love. Casting and maintaining this magical boundary is not just about defining the edges of our home, but about shaping the very meaning of home in our everyday lives.

The full article is available through free download from the Circle website.

Have a wonderful Labor Day weekend, if you celebrate that, and if not, enjoy the turning of the seasons. May your labors bring you a bountiful harvest!

Information about handling selenite

Selenite is a mineral form that can be very useful, but it has some different physical properties than the harder stones we work with – like the quartz varieties – and I recently had some experience with it that I thought others might find helpful.

Selenite is named after the moon goddess Selene because the way its structure looks in light creates a white-on-white effect that resembles moonlight on water. It actually contains none of the element selenium. Selenite is a form of gypsum, which is a hydrated calcium sulfate. This means there are water molecules in the crystal lattice itself. If you add more water, gypsum can dissolve, but the process happens very slowly.

Gypsum is also very soft – softer than your fingernails. Selenite is probably the softest mineral that most of us work with on a regular basis. It should always be stored or carried with some cushioning, and not with any other stones rubbing up against it. On the other hand, its softness also means that it can be reshaped and polished fairly easily.

FYI, the mineral form called “desert rose” is (almost always) also a form of gypsum, which means that it is just as soft as selenite, but because of its formation it is less likely to show small scratches. I still wouldn’t carry it in a pouch with other stones.

Now for the practical experience:

I had a piece of selenite go through the washer recently. It was not appreciably smaller in size afterwards. The biggest effect was that the surface was much rougher all over. So even a thorough soaking and agitation does not instantly dissolve it, but it does definitely disturb the polished surface. I was thinking about how to restore the polish, and realized that since selenite has approximately the hardness of fingernails, the same things that I use to shape my fingernails might work on selenite – and they did!

I used a four-sided nail buffer to repolish my selenite. This is NOT your typical metal nail file. (One of those would probably chew through selenite pretty quickly, like a hacksaw.) A buffer is a series of four different grits mounted on a soft foam block. They’re not very common at regular drugstores, but you can find them in beauty supply shops or online. The kind I typically use has a blue surface for filing, a pink surface for smoothing ridges, a white surface for buffing, and a grey surface for polishing. The grey surface feels completely smooth, not like emery at all.

I used the pink, white, and grey surfaces in the same order I would on my nails. Please note that this did wear down the grit on my nail buffer quite a bit more than just doing my nails, so I’m going to need a new one soon, but I thought it was an inexpensive and easy solution! Plus, it was rather satisfying to repolish the piece myself; it’s always good to forge a hands-on relationship with one’s magical tools.

To buff, I found that circular motions were the most effective, and that the process took some time. On the other hand, once a polished surface is achieved, small scratches can be buffed out relatively quickly. If you just want to restore a small scratch, I would start with the white surface and go slowly; you can probably make it almost imperceptible without having to repolish too large of an area.

I hope some of you find this useful!

Brigid ornament

I’ve had my hands full lately, between working on my dissertation and coping with some personal things. One of the things I do to relax is embroidery, and I wound up stitching the following design as a prayer to Brigid for healing:

brigid ornament

I didn’t realize until I started that the three miniature emblems around the edge are symbols of the three countries of the UK – Irish shamrock, Scottish thistle, and English rose. That’s very appropriate for Brigid given her Celtic roots.

I hope to blog about a few other things soon, including how great Fertile Ground Gathering was. For now, here’s a photo of me teaching.

lit teaching fgg 2013

Many thanks to all the organizers who work so very hard to put on a truly magical event, and to all the wonderful folks I got to work with, teach, learn from, and play with.

Balancing, moving to the light

This week the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about striking down DOMA and Prop 8 in favor of marriage equality. I concentrated some of my Ostara work on this subject, and I will be taking part in an interfaith event to show support for marriage equality. There will be another event the night before. If you can come out and show support, that’s wonderful. If not, please consider directing some energy to this important event. Here are three ways you might join in this work:

Include support for marriage equality in your intention for either Ostara or the full moon:

The world is poised at the turning of the year towards increasing light, with warmth that will nurture many new lives. Let our symbols of new life in seeds and eggs remind us not just of physical fertility, but the possibility of new life brought about by love. In our own lives, let our love make space for new arrivals and open the way for new possibilities.

Pray to Columbia:

Hail Columbia, matron goddess of your district and of our government! You represent our highest ideals of freedom and liberty, calling us to fuller expression of equality. Columbia, help us change our laws to honor all forms of partnership, giving all acts of love and pleasure equal status under law.

Pray to Justice:

Justice, be not blind, but look into our hearts with piercing gaze to discern the ill intent of those who would rule over us with theocratic mandates full of hate. Redress the wrongs and balance the scales to provide equal recognition for all partnerships formed in love.

Bonus: as Hecate suggested, if you’re in the area, you might also consider visiting the Cyrus Cylinder, one of the first human rights documents in history, and empowering it as a symbol of the progress we’ve made and hope to continue making.

Landbase whispers: Spring is here

My landbase told me that spring arrived last Tuesday.

cherry blossoms in bowl

On Monday, I was walking in the rain, and I thought about something
Michael Smith mentioned at Sacred Space, alluding to the way a
religion that recognizes the divine immanent in nature has sacred
times not just marked by the predictable things measured on calendars
but also unpredictable sacred times that arrive in nature’s good time.
I was reminded of the way my friend Hecate is a keen observer of her
garden’s time, and how she wants to have impromptu parties to
celebrate the organic events that mark the times of the landbase.

One of my favorite of those organic timekeepers has been the first
flurries of snow. If I were to borrow and rewrite some of the
religious language I grew up with, it might read: “It is right and
salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks and
praise to you, o land, and especially to honor the first snowflakes by
dashing madly outside, running around with our mouths open to try to
catch a snowflake with our tongues, all of us, not just the
children…”

On Monday I realized that there is another of these childlike (but far
from childish) observances that I had forgotten, though. The rain on
Monday was the first rain that felt like a spring rain. It felt
different because it was the first time I hadn’t felt so bitterly cold
that all I wanted to do was bundle up and hide. I could keep my head
up, and look around me, appreciating the way the rain and wind played
together, pattering down gently enough to seem like a call to the land
to reawaken.

Comparing the two observances, and the way snow is coming less often,
but more dramatically when it does, make me worry about how these
organic timekeepers are affected by climate change. Will the next
generation of children have the memories of gentle snowflakes as
harbingers of winter, or only as the very wrath of winter’s teeth?
Will they appreciate the first warm rain as a respite from winter’s
cold, which is what makes it magical for me, or will they see is as
the harbinger of summer’s dreaded onslaught?

Now, I have no doubt that if there are people, and there are people
who are paying attention to the land – and there will always be
children who are paying attention to the land while they are playing,
because they haven’t learned to do anything different yet – then
people will find their own sacred organic time markers. I am not yet
such an old stick in the mud (although I may be becoming one) that I
will say that my time markers in this place are the only right and
good ones, and anything different that comes after me is a decay. But
I am afraid for these children of the future, because I am afraid of
the pain and heartache that are here now because of climate change,
and which will get worse before they get better.

But enough of my maunderings…on Monday, I felt the cool-warm rain,
and I remembered enough of my misspent childhood and listened enough
to the land’s sigh of relief that it was a time marker for me. And
then Tuesday…

Tuesday was supposed to be more rain all day. One of the consolations
of losing the wonder at every moment that is a hallmark of childhood
experience is the gain in perspective; “April showers bring May
flowers” was nothing more than singsong when I was splashing through
the puddles that I remembered on Monday, but now it is a statement of
promise, a different kind of wonder at the cycles of the year. But
Tuesday afternoon there was a break in the rain, and the sky opened,
and it was warm enough to go out with only a light coat.

That’s when I discovered that the cherry blossoms in the park near my
home are blooming already. Not peak bloom, and I’m sure they’re ahead
of the Tidal Basin, but enough and more than enough to fulfill all the
hope and promise of the rhyme. And the land – oh, the land was awake,
pattered into spring’s rising by the fall of raindrops as gentle and
persistent as a mother’s kisses on the forehead of a sleepy child.

And what a good reason to awake! The sun and sky made love to the land
with warmth after the rain that was enough to make the drowsiest
plants send out new shoots to savor the freshly-washed world. Some of
the cherry blossoms were knocked down by the rain, of course, but
plenty remained, and they were being nurtured with what they needed to
grow further.

Those that fell were a gift of grace, from the land to the land, and
to the people who live with the land. The land whispered, “Spring is
coming…spring is here!”

Kindle the fire in my deep well

Kindle the fire in my deep well, lady,
being the light in the midst of the dark,
healing the old wounds, the deep ones, the scarred ones,
believing in life in the middle of winter.

Kindle the fire in my deep well, lady,
to burn like a star on the surface of water.
Let my emotions give fuel to my will,
transform in the light of your brilliant blue flame.

I’m turning my attention away from the social stuff back to my own practice, to pause over this weekend and reach inside, reach up to the moon and out to the cold earth. It’s really, truly cold here for the first time this winter, and there’s just enough snow to make things a little interesting.

Next weekend is Imbolc, and even in the midst of the cold and the dark, I can tell the light is beginning to return, that the cold won’t last forever. So I honor all those things at once – the snow and the moon, the light and the dark, and I use this time to gather my will to take the next steps, to work to make change in the world.

These are some of the words I’m using to do that and to honor Brigid. May you find your own inspiration to do so as well.

Packing up pinecones

Since the sun came out in force again today, I am more aware than ever of the approach of Imbolc. I’m moved to pack away the pine cones that have been my seasonal decorations since just before Yule.

pinecones

I haven’t decided what, if any, kinds of things I’ll add to my altar next. For the time being, I can’t help but think of it as a blank slate, appropriately open to inspiration as I prepare to honor my beloved Brigid, whose flame and well alike are an outpouring of creativity.

In the meantime, I’ve tried sitting at a cold altar, and the results were interesting. By not having the presence of the Element concentrated in a specific representation – especially for Air and Fire – I was challenged to experience the presence of that Element in other ways. It made me recommit to strengthening my own internal connections with each Element.

I know that for myself I want to work on those connections in part to develop my ability to call the Quarters. Whether in individual work or group ritual, I find it easy to slip into concentrating on the words, and perhaps the actions, of calling, and to neglect the internal aspect of envisioning and connecting with the Element being called. Anybody else have that problem?

I had already thought about committing to a practice of concentrating on each Element for a week’s worth of meditations, and this experience has made me more determined to do so. I’ll start that after Imbolc, I think, in part because my habits for the new year are still settling in right now. One of the ways I’m going to approach that work will be to do concentrated visualization of all the different aspects of the Element that I can think of, hoping to build up a complex, many-layered composite of diverse experiences of air (the physical thing) that then transforms into a visualization of Air, the Element. I’m hoping that if I succeed in this diverse but unified visualization, it will become a sense of the “personality” of Air that I can tap into more easily in the future.

Have others done work like this? What did you find about it?

I did find that because the presence of Earth on my altar was the same as always, my attention was more drawn to it. As I go through these weeks, I’m definitely going to use the process of “highlighting” one Element on my altar as part of building up this visualization and tying it to my practice.

Hopefully I’ll have some interesting things to share as I go through this process. But that’s for after Imbolc. I don’t want to rush the Wheel; right now we’re still in the season of Earth (by my reckoning), and as we turn towards the Sabbat, I’m finding ways that Earth and I are opening and creating space for the newness that will come. Right now, it’s packing up pinecones. What is it for you?

Photo by the blogger; if you use it, please link back.

Ethical ‘love spells’

Since we’ve discussed why stereotypical “love spells” are unethical and almost always a reflection of rape culture, I want to mention two kinds of spells that address the desire for a relationship in ethical ways.

One good approach might be called the wide-field love spell. Someone who wrote to me put it very well when zie said: “I asked the universe to bring me MY love, the life-altering love I was supposed to find, rather than identifying anyone in particular.” That particular spell worked smashingly well for hir, and I’ve heard other similar accounts.

It should be fairly clear that this kind of spell isn’t treating someone else as an object of manipulation. There are lots of ways to do this spell; most of the differences depend on how specific you are about what you want that person to be like. Some people advocate more specificity, possibly right down to physical details, while others place their trust in the universe and/or deities about some or all of the fine points. (See also: “And her hair shall be what colour it please God!“) I think there’s some interesting discussion to be had about why some people prefer one approach over another that gets down to how and why we think magic works, or why we use it the way we do, but either way, it’s ethical by my lights.

Yes, you can use the “specificity” approach to try to get around the uncertainty. But if you say, “Dear Universe, please bring me My One Troo Luv, whoever that might be. I want him to be somebody in my second-period algebra class who has dreamy green eyes and plays soccer and is named Travis, or somebody just like him, for the good of all and harm to none, so mote it be!” then you are missing the point of not manipulating people. Also, the universe will laugh at you and Travis’ identical twin brother who is a real dork will follow you around for the rest of tenth grade. I’m just sayin’.

Another way that we avoid ethical concerns is that instead of casting a spell on someone else, we find a way to cast something else for a similar intent on ourselves. In the area of relationships, this usually amounts to casting a spell on oneself to make oneself more lovable and/or attractive. Notice that this has the same effect of widening the field, removing the issue of manipulating an individual.

There are also plenty of ways this can go wrong, of course. You can try magic to make yourself more attractive – and I have a strong suspicion that an eyeliner pencil or a makeup brush would work just fine as a magic wand – but if you fall into the trap of superficial thinking, you may be disappointed with the results. It might attract a superficial response, or it might attract a response from someone you can’t stand for other reasons. If instead of concentrating on appearance you work to make yourself more lovable, that’s a laudable goal and possibly will help you address some of your own internal issues but no guarantee of a satisfying relationship.

These approaches both involve a lot more uncertainty than the stereotypical “love spell.” That’s not an accident. Treating other people ethically involves not trying to control every detail of every occurrence, because to treat others ethically we have to recognize that they are full human beings in their own right, with their own histories, feelings, thoughts, goals, and motivations. This is about a lot more than free will: it’s about treating someone as a person, rather than objectifying them into a thing to be controlled. Being open to the unexpected, including even pain and loss, is what makes the joy and wonder of a real relationship possible in the first place. That’s the real magic of love.