Ritual for assisting transformation using the Eight of Wands

The 8 of Wands is a card representing energy, movement, and possibly the arrival of news. It is truly a card of Fire, because Fire is at heart about transformation, changing things from one state into another. If you’ve been doing any of the recent rituals, we want to draw on the gathering of energy that we worked on in May and the celebration of success that usually happens around Litha and bring those both together in order to put all of that to work towards a particular purpose that you choose. Of course, if you haven’t done the previous rituals, you can still do this one!

The Motherpeace card for 8 of Wands emphasizes these meanings by showing an archer shooting off arrows. (See the Motherpeace image by selecting 8 of Wands from the drop-down menu.) Take time either before you begin or after you’ve cast the circle to think about what you want to aim those arrows of intention at. What changes are happening in your journey right now? How can you advance them? What news is going to arrive? What messages are you sending out?

Materials: although none are strictly necessary, I suggest you use the 8 of Wands card from the Motherpeace or your favorite Tarot deck. You may also wish to place a candle alongside it to give you a spark of fire to use in your visualizations.

I suggest using the chant “She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes.” You can chant the words alone, or use the tune sung in this video. Don’t worry about the additional words; just stick with that basic chant.

Ritual:

Cast the circle quickly, seeing your intention moving swiftly along the paths you designate for it

Call the Quarters using these words or your own:

Air, blow straight and true to carry my words and thoughts!

Fire, power my intentions swiftly and surely!

Water, wash through me with the power of the tide!

Earth, let my intentions find their target!

Invoke a goddess of change and transformation such as Ceridwen or Hecate:

Goddess, queen of heaven, you remind us that all things change, just as your own appearance in the moon changes, always returning but never the same. On this night of full moon, I raise my energy to you to guide transformation in the direction I desire.

Alternately, invoke a messenger goddess like Iris or an archer goddess like Diana in your own words.

Take up your Tarot card and describe, out loud, the transformation, change, or message that you are sending out this evening. Light your candle, and carefully feel its heat as a tiny example of the energy that you are building up within yourself.

Chant: She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes

Raise energy while chanting, whether by dance, clapping, or other movement, or with your visualization alone. When you are ready, send all your energy flying out towards your target, launched like arrows to speed to your goal.

Pause and ground yourself afterwards.

Thank goddess:

Goddess of change and transformation, thank you for this moment and this energy to shape the difference I want to see in the world. Watch over it and me always, and go now with my thanks and praise.

Thank the Quarters:

Earth, my thanks for holding my goal steady!

Water, my thanks for keeping the tide flowing!

Fire, my thanks for the power of my intentions!

Air, my thanks for the words to describe the changes!

Open the circle, swiftly but surely, and ground yourself again. Either blow out your candle or let it burn out safely.

Ritual for gathering energy using the Four of Wands

With the arrival of Beltane, my rituals are moving into the suit of Wands and the Element of Fire. The first card I’ve chosen to do ritual around is the Four of Wands. In the Motherpeace Tarot, the image of this card is a woman sitting inside a pyramid. The Rider-Waite-Smith image is a couple dancing underneath a canopy held up by the four wands. In both images, the active energy of Wands, which is related to taking action in the world, is balanced by the stabilizing influence of the number four, which usually has to do with a fixed, lasting form. In this case, it is energy brought into structure, into a stable foundation for containing, raising, and directing that energy. (See the Motherpeace image by selecting 4 of Wands from the drop-down menu.)

This ritual is intended for the full moon on Wednesday, May 14th, but the visualization itself can be used in many contexts.

In this ritual, we will do an exercise to gather energy, using a visualization of a greenhouse as the structure that helps us amplify our own ability to hold energy. Now, we know that the greenhouse effect in our climate is having bad effects on our planet, but try to return to the original purpose of an actual, physical greenhouse – its ability to gather and contain the sun’s energy makes it possible to grow plants, with beautiful, beneficial results. In this ritual, we are working not with heat but with the metaphysical energy that we raise and direct in ritual.

After building up this energy, and practicing gathering and containing more energy than we usually do, we will release it out to Goddess. You can do this with a simple intent of thankfulness, perhaps for the energies of this season, or you can imbue it with a specific intent such as healing (for the earth, perhaps?) or to give you energy to take an action in the real world. Regardless, the main point here is to work with increasing the energy you are able to hold. As with any other skill, this ability can be built up over time, so try stretching yourself a little with this visualization.

Materials: I suggest you use four candles to mark the quarters of your space.

Ritual:

Cast your circle with your wand, staff (or a broom!), athame, or by walking the perimeter of your circle with one of the candles you will use to mark the quarters.

Call the quarters using these words or your own. As you call each quarter, light the candle in that direction, and visualize yourself putting down a stake to mark one corner of where you will build your structure.

Air, Powers of the East, bring me the energy of inspiration and communication. Hail and welcome, Air!

Fire, Powers of the South, bring me the energy of change and growth. Hail and welcome, Fire!

Water, Powers of the West, bring me the energy of emotion and flow. Hail and welcome, Water!

Earth, Powers of the North, bring me the energy of strength and stability. Hail and welcome, Earth!

Invoke a Goddess of this season if you wish. You might invoke Aphrodite, Juno, Freya, or the archetype of the Maiden or the Mother.

Now sit or stand comfortably near the center of your circle and begin your visualization. You already have the four stakes planted to mark the corners of your structure. Ground and center yourself, and open yourself to the world around you. Draw in energy from the earth and from the sky above, especially the full moon’s light. Draw in energy from your goddess if you called one. Draw energy in in whatever way is best for you – breath, movement, stillness, music, silence, words, trance, whatever works. Use this energy to expand your aura out away from your body, filling it up more and more as you do. Keep going until your aura reaches the edges of your circle, where it touches the quarters. There it takes root and becomes a solid structure, one which creates a pyramid or dome overhead.

Once this structure is established, keep filling it with energy. See yourself drawing energy from all these possible sources, especially the full moon, and as that energy enters your greenhouse, it becomes your energy, which fills and pulses within this space, until it is more energy than you have ever held before. The energy flows through you, and you are its focal point, but it fills the whole space and remains in balance with you, so that you are holding it gently and comfortably. Use the four quarters to stabilize your structure so that as it fills with energy it becomes stronger and more able to hold that energy.

Stay with this concentration of energy for as long as you are comfortable holding it. When you are ready, imbue the whole structure full of energy with an intention, whether that is celebration of the season or support for an action you wish to take in the future. Then see your structure opening at the top and sending all that energy out, upwards toward the full moon, in a great fountain of light.

Afterwards, ground yourself thoroughly. Damp your aura down to its usual size. You may feel tired after that big release, but hopefully you will also feel empowered from knowing that you have stretched your own boundaries and enhanced your ability to take such action again in the future, much like after a good workout.

Thank any goddess you called.

Thank the quarters for the kinds of energy they provided and for giving you the structure to draw in and contain that much energy.

Open the circle.

Extinguish your candles safely and ground yourself again.

Visualizations: Wind, Wheel of the Year, Desire

After all that heavy stuff this morning, I wanted to leave you with some visualizations my friend Grafton pointed out to me which I find absolutely amazingly beautiful and also spiritually meaningful to me. All of these come from HINT.FM, which is the collaboration of a couple of people very talented in both art and digital graphics. They’re doing some really amazing stuff, so if you like creative images, or you’ve read anything by Edward Tufte, you should check them out.

First up is a map of wind. You can look at the current wind patterns across the continental US, and you can also look back at different patterns that have occurred. I can’t say enough about how incredible this is. In one simple, lightly animated image, I can see the Rocky Mountains, I can feel the differential temperatures from Canada to Texas, I can grasp, in a totally nonverbal, visceral way, what not just wind but Wind, the Element of Air in action, is doing right now. I can see how my landbase fits into it, and also other places I’ve lived or loved.

Second is something called Flickr Flow, which actually tells us a lot about the Wheel of the Year. You’ve probably seen some of the representations that use icons to represent the way nature changes around the Wheel – a tree in four phases, or pumpkins at Samhain, snowflakes at Yule, lambs at Imbolc, etc. Well, this is sort of like that, except that it shows the Wheel emerging naturally from the random accumulation of photos on Flickr. The colors in photos change throughout the year: Winter is full of grays and blues, Spring has brilliant splashes of color, Summer is predominantly green, and Autumn’s leaf palette is more subdued. It’s a great example of how we all experience the tides of the Wheel, even if not in exactly the same ways, at the same times, or the same from year to year.

Finally, check out this image. When I first saw it, I thought it was a heat map, or an infrared image, where parts of the body that have lots of blood vessels close to the surface look brighter. Turns out it’s something like a map of desire: the “heat” is based loosely on how desirable people found certain areas of the human body. A lot of details are not explained on that page, and there’s probably a lot of interesting social construction of gender, women, desire, and so on wrapped up in it, but it’s still interesting to me how the results came out.

I think the creators made it look a bit like an infrared image deliberately, playing on the common metaphorical equation of desire with heat. I started to realize it’s not an infrared image when I started checking off major areas of the body with blood close to the surface: the face, lips and ears, are surprisingly dark, although they do get more attention than areas like, say, the forehead. The fingers, too, are almost wholly neglected, which I find odd: the spark of desire leaps between the gap of lovers’ fingers faster than a breath. Fingers and lips are instruments of desire and receivers of the same; perhaps that’s part of the difference between thinking about a person, a body, and an image on a screen. Regardless, as we approach the heat of Beltane fires, I encourage you to take a look at this image and reflect on it, and your own experiences of desire, whether sexual or other.

Framing and giving energy: How we work against DC40 matters

In light of the upcoming DC40 event, a lot of Pagans have expressed the opinion that responding to people like these fringe Christians only gives them more power, that it feeds them more energy to work with. That’s not necessarily true; the way we frame our response can determine whether we’re feeding them more energy or not.

Hecate has up another one of her oh-so-necessary posts about framing in response to DC40. I’d like to expand on that by giving some contrasting examples of responses that do and don’t reinforce fringe Christians’ framing of the situation.

My ideas for responses are focused on promoting a positive. That’s a basic principle of magic and affirmations: you say things that you want to happen. You don’t say “Please make sure this plane doesn’t crash,” because that’s talking about a plane crash. Negating a frame reinforces that frame. You say, “Let this trip be safe and smooth,” because that’s talking about what you want. Positive framing keeps your attention and energy on the desired outcome.

Now this isn’t just about saying “nice” things. It doesn’t have to be all sweetness and light; I fully understand that my vision of religious liberty is an affront to these would-be theocrats. That’s not a nice thing to say, in their world. But it is a positive framing in the sense that it keeps the focus on what I want.

You may choose to do a working like this using the idea of reflection, that the harmful intent and purpose will be reflected away from those it is meant to reach, possibly back on the originators. That’s fine, but again, framing matters. If you concentrate on what’s being reflected, you’re accepting their framing and directing your energy and attention to their harmful efforts. Concentrate instead on what’s doing the reflecting, and on the people who are being protected by that reflection.

Others raised the idea of “repurposing” the harmful intent or energy. I imagine that this can be done in positive-framing terms, but I seriously, seriously discourage it in this case. It’s extremely likely that you will end up feeding their energy. These people are strong and experienced and have a deep, deep passion behind their intent. They have a clear vision. They are not including a “an it harm none” or “for the greatest good of all” clause that you can latch onto for leverage to redirect them.

Magically speaking, stopping this energy is going to be hard, hard work. Think about it more in terms of momentum than electricity. Trying to repurpose this energy is like jumping in a truck going really, really fast and trying to get it to go in exactly the opposite direction without using the brakes.

I do include in my visualization the idea that any energy thrown at the shielding or at the wall of separation is grounded, harmlessly, and that since the shielding draws some of its strength from being connected to the earth, then in some sense their energy gets recycled to fuel the shield, but that’s an afterthought and not something I pay a lot of attention to.

In the mundane world, it is true that even negative attention often encourages its recipient. But, as a Pagan said about polyamory on the Wild Hunt today, “the road to equality lies through the fields of visibility.” Take Hecate’s advice and if you counter-protest in any public form, make it an opportunity for outreach and visibility for Pagans as good, normal people, not just about these fringe Christians.

Finally, there is the problem with responding to action rather than initiating action. That’s where a lot of other work matters so much. Being out as a Pagan can help; well-run Pagan Pride Days can help. Taking positive political and social action are essential. We’re already doing some of that, so let’s do more, as much as we can, and realize that that’s the real work of promoting religious plurality and understanding, and defending religious liberty.

Taking visualization further

Wiccans and Pagans often talk about and use visualization. Although I’m not the first person to point out that it’s misnamed, I’d like you to consider Laiima’s excellent musings about how she perceives the world in different ways and how you might enhance or change your visualizations.

If you’re just getting started with visualization, try exercises like the Tree of Life meditation, but don’t just concentrate on the visual. Use your imagination to construct a sensory experience for yourself that uses as many of your senses as you want: touch, taste, scent, and hearing, plus many more – how about balance, temperature, movement, and pressure?

If you have a dominant sense, either in terms of learning or in terms of perceiving the world, you might start with that one, while you learn to let your imagination run free, then add others. Or concentrate on more details than you have before – Laiima’s concentration on touch conveys how much information can be communicated through a very small amount of contact. Try it and see – and feel, too!

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.

Why love spells go pear-shaped

All right, everybody, time for your friendly local Witch to offer a February Public Service Announcement: Don’t do love spells. Just don’t.

Why? Because they go wrong. Yes, there are also issues of consent. (How would you feel if someone – not necessarily someone you liked, by the way, but anyone – did that to you? The Golden Rule applies in magic, too. Plus the physical equivalent would be very, very illegal, which is always a bad sign.) But I know, just as well as anyone, that when you’re in love, or out of love, or sort-of-but-not-quite in love, or you’re in but the other person’s out, magic seems like the perfect answer. After all, love is magical to begin with, right? Yes. And that’s exactly why love spells go wrong. Don’t do them. Beyond all the ethics, beyond anything else, don’t do it because you’ll hurt someone else and you’ll hurt yourself. Love spells go wrong.

I know, Valentine’s Day is coming up, and it’ll be during the waxing moon, getting near to full. Relationships are one of the Big Four reasons people who don’t usually work with magic either try to do magic themselves or approach Witches to do magic for them. (The others are, in approximate order, health, money, and revenge.) Trust Auntie Literata and don’t do it.

There are lots of cautionary stories out there about how love spells go wrong. (Two that come to mind are from Nancy Watson’s Practical Solitary Magic and Ellen Dugan’s Elements of Witchcraft, and both are instructive.) But I have good reason to think that love spells are inherently likely to go awry. Love is magical – and that magic doesn’t always interact well with the kind of reasoned, directed, intentional magic that Witches practice.

Love is a strong emotion, sure, and strong emotions generate a lot of energy which can be used to power a spell. But emotions alone don’t make magic (and a good thing, too!). Emotions generate energy and that energy has to be focused through intent. That focusing is usually called visualization. It’s a bit more complicated than it sounds, but the bottom line is that because of the way love makes us feel, it’s particularly difficult to redirect the energy it raises into a specific intent. Love makes us visualize all kinds of things; it overwhelms our usual ways of thinking and our self-control. Those are all amazing, wonderful, and magical things. But if you do a spell trying to use that energy, you’re likely to have all kinds of visualizations and intent going on, and the energy will either shoot off in a million different directions, not making much impact, or worse, it’s just as likely to go into one of the visualizations that you’re not very aware of. And that’s how love spells go wrong.

We’re not quite as good at controlling our minds as we like to think we are, especially in states of high emotion, like love, or blind fury. (There’s that “blindness” again – not a good metaphor for when you need to have your “visualizaton” as clear as possible.) There’s all kinds of things going on in the dark corners and in our unconscious. I personally think that a lot of the training Witches do to develop their skills at magic has to do with gaining better ability to understand oneself and direct one’s attention, focus, visualization, however you want to put it. At the same time, Witches learn to be honest with themselves and to do the kind of difficult self-examination that means I won’t be able to fool myself into thinking I’m visualizing getting my stolen property back when what I’m really desiring, underneath, is to see the thief caught and humiliated or punished. Even highly trained, experienced Witches have trouble unpacking all that when they’re in a state of high emotion, especially in love.

Why not just ask someone else, without the confusing burden of being in love, to do the spell for you? Lots of reasons: because they’re not involved, they’re less likely to be able to raise the energy and they’re less likely to be able to hold the precise visualization, but most of all, because they’re likely to tell you that they won’t do it. Rightly so: the trouble of doing love spells for ourselves teaches us the complexity involved means that doing it for others is ethically dangerous.

When my partner and I were going through a sticky period in the process of getting together (which we are, and very happily so for years now!), he asked me, half-jokingly, whether I’d put a spell on him. I said no, and before I could think about it, the truth popped out of my mouth: “Because if I had, we’d be in an even worse situation than we are now.” It was true then, and it’s true now. Love spells go wrong. Don’t do them.

What you can do, instead, are other kinds of spells. The most recommended substitute is a generic spell to draw love into your life without specifying the person. That’s fine, but it’s still prone to misfire in similar ways. I’d suggest a spell to enhance the lovable aspects of yourself – up to and including your appearance, as long as you remember that true beauty comes from the inside. Even more than that, I’d suggest a love spell on yourself, for yourself. If you don’t love yourself, you will have a hard time learning to love someone else, and you’re asking others to love you when you’re not able or willing to do so yourself. Get that straightened out, and the rest will follow. It’s not easy, but it’s the truth, and that’s one of the things Witches are for.