Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Call of the God

I am both proud and humbled to have contributed to this wonderful new anthology edited by Frances Billinghurst.

It's available on Amazon here.

Lurking amongst the shadows, slipping through our nightmares, teasing our peripheral vision, or simply crashing into our ordered lives, the Pagan God makes His presence felt in many ways.

From prehistoric paintings to the mystical wilderness of Arcadia, the power of the Pagan God can still be felt in this modern age as the beat of His hooves upon the earth entice us to reclaim the true power of the Divine Masculine.

"Call of the God: An Anthology Exploring the Divine Masculine within Modern Paganism" is a unique smorgasbord of essays, poems, fiction and artwork depicting the numerous manifestations of the God and how the Divine Masculine is depicted within modern Paganism around the world.

This anthology includes work from:
* Michael Howard (editor of "The Cauldron" as well as some 38 books),
* Pete Jennings (past Pagan Federation president and author of many books),
* Anna Franklin (author of 30 books and decks including "The Pagan Ways Tarot" and "The Sacred Circle Tarot"),
* Tony and Candia McKormack from British Pagan band Inkubus Sukkubus,
* Frances Billinghurst (author of "Dancing the Sacred Wheel", "In Her Sacred Name" and editor of this book),
* Shauna Aura Knight (mixed media artist and author),
* Polly Lind (New Zealand based tapestry artist),
* Peter Coughlin (writer of poetry, fiction and non-fiction),
* Patrick Larabee (artist and author of "Whisperings from the Void"),
* Rev Christian Ortz (author of Reiki Lunar and founder of the Mexican ezine "El Caldero-Espiritualidad de la Tierra" (The Cauldron-Earth Spirituality)).

Other contributors include: Adam Hearn, Michael Vickery, Rebecca Buchanan, Fabienne S. Morgana, Kali Cox, Cara Fenton, Chattering Magpie, Ilana Sturm, Steven Posch, Tania Poole, Martin Samson, Michelle Jeffrey, Jeff Brown, Eddie Massey, P. St Clair-Martin, ElSharra, Wayland the Smith, Ian Foot, Harriet Lock, Debbie Dawson, Donna Swindells, and L.J. LaBarthe.



Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Cycles and Learning from Them

It never ceases to amaze me how many people seem to have the same dramas over and over in their lives and never realise that there is a single common factor each time.   Surely, a simple examination of what has happened in those events would lead anyone able to tie their own shoes to the conclusion that the common factor is at least part of the cause.

Recently I noticed a facebook friend had frequent complaints of how people weren't there for her, she never had any money and was always sick with terrible migraines and what she was sure was a neurological problem.  From a distance admittedly, I was having my suspicions about what the causes were, but they were confirmed when people who knew her better staged an intervention and made it public.  She's an alcoholic who gets sick when going through withdrawals.  She takes advantage of people who then get sick of her crap.

However, she's in complete denial.  Everyone else is the problem and the world is against her.

A teenage girl of my acquaintance has the same sorts of things.  It's always the same drama, just the supporting roles are played by different people.  At what point will she realise that her choices and the types of people she surrounds herself with are the cause?

Now if you stick a fork in an electrical socket, you learn not to do that again.  Why is it that when given the equivalent electric shock of having your choices or behaviour repeatedly called out doesn't ever seem to teach the same lesson?

It really doesn't matter how right you convince yourself you are, if the same dramas keep happening in your life, it's something you are doing.  You are the common factor.

If you keep putting yourself out for other people, unsolicited, then you should expect that it's not going to be very well received and that you won't be respected for it.  In my experience, most of the time, it's interfering, not even remotely being helpful, regardless of what you tell yourself.  The people who do it might have the best of intentions on the surface, but there's usually also a sense of superiority that goes with it.  For the most part, such 'help' is often rude and unwanted.

You might bleat about how you've made sacrifices and are disappointed because your expectations weren't met.  If those sacrifices weren't requested or required, if you were just assuming that you knew best what other people wanted or needed, then that's all your own fault.  This isn't people taking advantage of your generosity or good nature.  I personally do not respond well to other people's expectations of me if I have made no commitment to meet those expectations - and often, I'm completely unaware of those expectations until I'm being bitched at about them.

This is just people, you might say.  Silly people.  And I'd agree.  But this disappoints me more in Witches and Magicians.

Now I'm not saying that we're any better or different, we are human first with all the beauties and failings that go with that.  However, with any serious magical path there is usually a lot of reflection, self-examination and looking for cause and effect. Self-honesty is important (in my opinion) to magic, because if you're not honest with yourself about your true deep down motivations and intent, then you're setting your work up for failure and unexpected results.  It's something I heard early on in my Witchcraft journey and I took to heart at the time and have had no reason to remove it from my praxis.  Witch, Know Thyself.

When patterns are repeating in my life, my first response is to see if there is something I am doing that may be causing it.  Am I allowing people to push me into doing things I don't want to do?  Do I need to say "no" more often?  Have I been enabling things in other people?  Am I that much of a bitch?  Do I keep being hearing the same complaints from different unrelated people?  Have I not learned the last two times I gave that person another chance?

It's not a pleasant process every time.  Sometimes it's quite demoralising and depressing.  Sometimes, although not often, it's heartwarming.

It's only after I can honestly say that the cause is not of my own doing that I look outwards for other causes.  Is there a physical reason for these cycles and patterns?  Is it repeated after a certain event or activity? Does it repeat at a regular time?  Could it possibly be that someone else is just an arse?

In a magical setting, this kind of brutal self-honesty is essential.  When you're planning a spell or working, if you're not truly honest and open with yourself about what your goals and motivations are, you could be working at cross-purposes with yourself.

There's a woman I've written about before.  She was wanting me to do something to get rid of her ex-husband.  I spent hours asking her questions (seriously, it was hours) and it seemed that she genuinely wanted him to be gone from her life and to leave her alone.  It was the three weeks of phone calls that I got afterwards that showed her true motivation - she really wanted him to realise he'd treated her badly and that she really was the love of his life and to come back to her and treat her like a princess this time.  It was never something she admitted to or even said, but it was clear in the way she talked about him, it was obvious in the way she hoped that if she called him for help with this thing, he'd feel some sense of honour or duty and choose to behave differently (this is something she actually did say).

I use this example because it's an easy way to paint this picture. Imagine if she'd been doing her own spell and working.  She was adamant she wanted him to be gone from her life and just leave her alone.  If she'd crafted a spell for that, but underneath she really wanted him back as her repentant shining white knight, how do you think that would have worked?

Even if it had been successful, how happy do you think she would have been with that result?

If you're trying to heal yourself but deep down you enjoy the sympathy and attention you get from being sick or injured, how well do you seriously think that's going to work?

If you're doing a spell to get a job, but really it's not a job you are truly interested in or you'd rather be at home collecting benefits, can you honestly say you'd put the required energy into the spell?

I personally believe that the cycles are lessons about yourself.  I don't have any clear idea whether I believe there's some Oversoul or Cosmic Teacher guiding these things but I have noticed that in my own case the lessons are repeated until I learn from them.  When I break the cycle, I stop being challenged in that way.

But it's always up to me to learn and break it.




Just in case you missed my notification in the comment section of the last post here it is.

Comments are not going anywhere nice. I've decided that comments are now going to require confirmation from me before they will be published on this blog and if they offer no additional value to the article/argument other than serving to insult then they will not be confirmed. If you don't like it, tough titties... go read another blog.

I will not tolerate personal attacks of any sort.  If you want to bully people then piss off and grow up.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Medicinal and Magical Herbalism

I've always been fascinated by Herbalism.  Once upon a time, I had fantasies of having a cupboard that I could go to and be able to cure any ills that beset my family.  It fitted in with the idealistic image I had of a Traditional Cunningwoman.  Herbs hanging from the rafters, jars filled with remedies, cures and charms and the ability to fix everything.  I pictured myself as an infallible healer of all things physical and spiritual.

Then I spent a year training at the Canterbury College of Natural Medicine.  I have a Certificate of Natural Health.  In that time, I learned that it's really not that simple and is usually a lot of work, trial and error.  There is so much more to it than reaching for the right herb or even the right part of the herb.

My certificate was a taster in a variety of modalities.  There were more in depth and advanced courses that could be taken to specialise in any of the areas that we studied.  While I did learn a lot of useful things that have made a difference to most minor ailments in my family, I recognise that it does not qualify me to treat anything more serious and I wouldn't try.

With this background in place, I am frequently horrified by herbal recommendations that I see online.  Many groups now have rules against giving medicinal herbal advice and with good reason.  Many apparently safe herbs have nasty contraindications and bad interactions with medication.  You can't know for sure when reading someone's question what the source of the problem is.  You can't know that they're telling you the whole truth, learn about family history and you can't know anything about their physicality - all of which are important.

Now there comes people wanting to be special and create their own websites.  I wrote about Mr V and his appalling website just a couple of days ago.  I am not going to provide a link to his website, because he takes page views and shares as validation - even though I know many of those views and shares are people reading it in horror and sharing it to other places as a warning about bad and dangerous information.

Instead, let me do a screenshot (he gave permission for this) of his latest offering, under the heading Angel's Turnip: A Monograph:

I guess we got lucky in that he's now citing sources.  But I also read up on one of those sources, the Plant Biographies by Sue Eland and found that he missed out some really important information.  To be specific:

Warning – bitter root is poisonous and should only be used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. It can cause nausea, purging, lowered heart rate, vomiting, appetite loss and death. The milky juice can cause blistering on the skin. Livestock have been killed by eating the leaves.

I'm quite sure that any of you reading can see why this is problematic.  On his website, he recommends chewing on a root as a cure for "some weird western medication" while one of his sources says it's poisonous and should only be used under qualified supervision.

This was raised, and well, I'll give you a snippet of how the conversation went:

This is a fairly standard response from this chap.  I pointed out that I have a herbal that recommends white lead and mercury in salves and ointments but so far that appears to have been ignored.

What really, really scares me about this is that people share his view that warning about the dangers of untrained, unqualified advice like this is just fear-mongering and that it's all perfectly safe.  He has no formal training - he has freely admitted this, he is picking and choosing what information to share from useful websites (leaving out the safety warnings) and using other questionable websites.

If a few leaves can kill livestock - animals with a digestive system designed to process many things that will kill people and weighing at least three times the average person and usually more like five or six times the weight of the average person - imagine what it will do to you.

Sadly, he just doesn't seem to take any of it seriously and beyond giving out warnings, I don't know what else I can do.

Will it take a death and a lawsuit before it stops?

Still disheartened


Sunday, 23 August 2015

Learning to Walk Before You Can Run

One of the reasons I started writing was because of the sheer volume of rubbish that is available regarding Witchcraft and Paganism.  Some of it is superficial, some of it is incomplete, some is very prejudicial and skewed towards or against certain paths, some of it is pure fantasy and some of it is completely incomprehensible.

It has always left me confused as to how some of it comes to be published.  In some cases, it's clear that a person practices that way and possibly it even works for them (if they actually do most of what they talk about), but their tone or their words say that this is the only right way to do it or that.

In the last couple of weeks, I have watched the creation of a new website that first laid claim to being a Shaman's archive and is now claiming to be a Wiccan archive.  The creator of this website, lets call him Mr. V, posts it up on his facebook group, now that he has decided to be a part of his group again, and asks for feedback.  There follows generally a loop:  Firstly, the experienced practitioners point out failure to cite sources, that this article has been scraped directly from another website or out of a book, going through the flaws in each article one at a time and suggestions that spellcheck is your friend and that an editor or proofreader would be a valuable thing.  Then Mr. V says things like "You guys have opened up my eyes" and "Okay I get it" and removes all content from the website.  He asks for suggestions and gets a lot of useful ones about learning to walk before he can run, getting some experience before trying to teach others and perhaps keeping a journal detailing this stuff he's trying rather than putting it up somewhere public where other beginners may assume that he knows what he's talking about. I can only assume that the next step is someone in the background blowing smoke up his arse and bitching about what a bunch of negative nellies those people are and he changes his mind and puts it all back up again and the cycle begins anew.

Normally, I would laugh and leave most of this alone.  But some of the information he has put up has been dangerous.  He claimed some things were safe to eat in small doses when really they are not.  They are toxic if uncooked and/or unripe.  Other completely toxic herbs had no warning about the dangers of ingesting them.  On his facebook group there were recommendations for ingesting crystals.  When this was thoroughly discussed including warnings from medical professionals, a PhD in Chemistry and others pointing out his failure to state which crystals and how they were prepared - it came way later that he was talking about only two specific crystals (which still remained unnamed) and making elixirs rather than grinding and eating the crystals as was first implied, he just told everyone that we have no idea how much he knows and what he's done successfully and finally he just deleted the thread.

The other concern about Mr. V is by his own accounts, he took a bunch of the herbs he claims are perfectly safe, to go on a Shamanic journey and ended up spending time in a Mental Health Facility after having a three month long psychotic break.  He's only just come back into society from this event.  We can't possibly know all the ins and outs of the story, but it doesn't inspire confidence in what he has to teach - especially as it doesn't seem like he wants to serve as a horrible warning or a "What Not To Do".  He also believes that because he's in Canada, he won't be legally liable for an American teen coming to harm by following his herbal advice.  This is completely fallacious by the way.

He claims he'd like "constructive criticism" this time, but what he means is a validation echo chamber.  He doesn't want to hear what is wrong with his article, he wants his ego stroked and for all of us to suddenly recognise how wise he is and how wrong we were about him all along.  We frequently hear complaints of "You don't know me, you don't know what I do or what I know" in petulant tantrums worthy of a terribly misunderstood teenager.  He's right, we don't.  All we can judge him by is what he posts and that is dreadful.

Although today that took a new turn.  Apparently he's fed up with the women picking on him even though he expected it because such sexism is common in pagan circles.  Somehow he's totally missed the men have been calling him on his stuff just as much as the women.  For the most part, the women have been far more polite.  But well, why pass up a chance to be a victim?  And such a whiny pathetic victim he was.

None of this is new, many people before him have done the same things and I know that.  It just scares me that there is this entire community of people basing their practices on this kind of website.  I keep telling myself that I know the type, they won't hear the warnings from those who know better, but I try anyway.  I keep feeling disappointed when they don't hear the warnings and resort to name calling, perpetual victimhood, flounces and bannings.  But I still find it in me to hope that the next one will be different.

Disheartened Blessings


Wednesday, 8 July 2015

What Does It Mean?

Within witchcraft and paganism there is plenty said about seeing messages in everyday things, finding meaning in the simplest of things.

While I agree that messages from higher powers can come in the simplest forms, I am often somewhat surprised by the lengths people will go to in order to find meanings in everything.

These two pictures are the kinds of things that commonly pop up in witchcraft groups.  They are vague, filled with unnecessary woo and feed the rampant stupidity that is taking over.

When you discover a feather, it means that a bird has lost it.  In my own case, the wind has probably blown through my chicken coop as I have birds of many different colours in there.  There are also a multitude of wild birds around.  They moult, they are caught by cats, hawks and magpies - all things that will cause them to drop feathers.  Discovering a feather usually means nothing more than it's no longer attached to a bird.

If you were to discover a feather in a place where it shouldn't be - in your handbag or underwear drawer (assuming you don't have any reason to have feathers there) - then and only then I would consider it to be a message or have another meaning.  First however, I would rule out all mundane options.  Then I would ask that if it's a message for it to be repeated and be made clearer.

If a feather is posted to you, depending on the type of feather, it can mean that someone wants you to know they're cursing you.  Or wants you to think they're cursing you.

As for candle flames, there are many reasons for a candle to have a strong or weak flame, for the flame to dance or jump or make noises or even for there to be two flames.  A poorly trimmed wick, the wrong wick for the size of the candle, a cheap candle that has been badly made, dirt or other materials on the wick or in the candle sometimes at the time of manufacture or even a faint draft.

When I was fairly new to all of this and believed that every little thing held a message, I used to frequently use essential oils in a vaporiser - one of those ones heated by a tea-light candle under the dish.  My vaporiser was round like a vase and had a teardrop shaped hole in the front for the candle.  The shape of the vaporiser meant that every time I burned a tea-light in there the flame danced and turned in circles.  But I do recall that I felt awestruck and filled with woo the first few times.

One time I was certain a candle was behaving oddly and there was a message in it was at a ritual for a specific Goddess.  The altar and the room were filled with candles.  The two on either side of the Goddess statue had flames standing strong, 4 - 6 inches high, while all the other candles were normal flames.  Those candles with the extra tall flames also burned considerably slower than the others, despite being the same candles from the same manufacturer out of presumably the same batch.  We took that as a sign that the Goddess was aware of being honoured and was pleased with it.

Another one I have come across:

"I got a double yolker egg this morning.  What does that mean?" 

I have hens of my own and I work in an egg farm.  Double yolkers are nothing particularly unusual or special.  It means that either a pullet (young bird just starting to lay) didn't finish yesterdays egg and you ended up with two eggs fused together in one shell or an older bird was interrupted partway through the egg formation process and didn't finish it until the next day and you ended up with two eggs fused together in one shell.  You can often tell a double yolker by looking at the shell.  There will sometimes be a raised line about a centimetre wide or less where the two eggs meet.  Less common, but it still happens is an egg inside an egg.  This is usually when the hen was interrupted earlier in the process - sometimes this tiny egg (without a yolk) is laid as a tiny egg of it's own. 

It isn't a sign of good luck (well, except that you were lucky to get two eggs when you were expecting one) or anything else. 

Driving to my nearest city one day, I passed a field that had three horses standing in a row.  They looked like some kind of sculpture.  They were almost nose to tail, in a straight line, with the same stance, size and identical in their position.  The front one was black, the middle one was brown and the last one was grey.  I had never seen horses do that before.  I thought it was odd but didn't think any more of it until I saw the same thing again in another field 50 kms away.  Another three horses with the same colouring, same order and same positions.  I asked then if that was supposed to be a message and if it was, could it be repeated and made clearer.  I didn't see anything like that again, so I have to chalk that one up as strange coincidence.  Perhaps that's a response to a weather pattern that I just hadn't seen before - I learned at a young age, when you see all the animals in all the paddocks facing in the same direction there's usually a storm coming from the direction they're facing away from.

I have never found these pictures and woo-filled memes to give an accurate representation of what the message might be, yet people persist in copying them down, repeating them to others as "ancient wisdom" and worst of all (to me) discouraging people from thinking for themselves.

When spirits or Gods or Higher Powers are sending you a message, it's in their own best interests to be sure that the message is clear to you and make sure you get it.  It doesn't make sense for them to give you obscure messages and then you have to rely on going on the internet to ask a bunch of self-styled wise folk what your message means.  Think about it.  There's the popular saying, ask 12 witches and get 13 different answers.

When a message is for you, it is for you and will be symbolic only to you.  If you're not sure whether something is a message, ask!  Ask for it to be repeated to be certain it's a message, ask for it to be made clearer because you don't understand.  If it's a message and not a random happenstance, then it will. 

Just because there's magic afoot doesn't mean there's no place for common sense and logic.  Think, rule out the mundane options and only then look for something supernatural.  Darwinism still works in witchcraft - the stupid and gullible don't tend to last long.



Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Sacred Storytelling and Mythology

It took me years to grasp the concept of Sacred Storytelling.

On the surface, it seems obvious but really it is not.  I thought it was the Myths and stories of Gods and Heroes, an attempt to understand Them but at the same time a thing that diminished Them.  It reduced Their strengths and virtues, Their passions and rages to human concerns, human emotions and sometimes an all too human pettiness.

I felt that it was a humanocentric way of pigeonholing Beings that were really beyond our comprehension.  Rather tragically, I think this may be the way many people think.

Many of our Deities are described in scathing terms because of what may have happened in one of the stories.  People rail over a different interpretation, or ask how can you worship a God who is little more than a serial rapist or a Classical version of a bitchy sorority princess.

Then there are those who take the stories as facts.  As lost history that has been covered up by the "winners".

Both are missing the point.

The Stories are more than that.  They can be the language of worship much like invocations and ritual.  They can be our way of telling our Gods how clever or wise or powerful we know They are.  A way of praising and honouring Them.

They can be a way of expressing our spirituality.  Even rewriting or retelling old stories with a slightly new twist can be a meaningful expression.  I read a version of the tale of Persephone and Hades that was a seduction rather than abduction and rape.  It was a beautiful and moving story that spoke to me about perceptions depending on the point of view of the storyteller.

They can be teaching tools.  Most stories have a lesson involved.  The Boy who Cried Wolf and Red Riding Hood are obvious ones from a Fairy Tale point of view.  I saw George RR Martin's open letter about the deaths in his works and I believe he raises the same point.  The deaths in A Song of Ice and Fire (or it's tv alterego Game of Thrones) all serve a purpose - they teach the consequences of foolish choices and decisions, especially those where the concept of honour has led to those choices.

For me, it was when I read Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes that I got it.  She talks about the bones of the stories.  How those bones hold a truth that speaks to us on an instinctive spiritual level.  Everything around the bones, the meat of the story, the skin that covers it is a way to support and protect those bones.  These are my words, it's been a while since I read it.  She describes the stories as map fragments, psychic markers and soul vitamins.

The stories might not have the same meaning to everyone but they often cause a reaction somewhere deep down.  For me, there was a story about a river woman who married a farmer and had his children.  Every so often she would creep off alone to sit by the river for hours, an activity she described as "going home".  It was something she needed to do to be able to continue in her life as a wife and mother.  In that story, I finally understood the roots of the breakup of my first marriage.  I grasped on a deep soul level the boundaries I'd failed to set for my own well-being and what I needed to do to heal.  I learned how to be a better me and it empowered me, it required me to be stronger about my own needs and not allow myself to feel selfish for doing so.

The old stories do have a kernel of history in them.  They tell us about the morals and values of the time, they give a glimpse into how life was for those who told them and those who listened to them.  Sometimes that glimpse is about what is considered to be fantastical and the pinnacle of desires and dreaming.  Sometimes that glimpse is about what is normally done in a day's work.  Sometimes, those glimpses are easily overlooked - in Dickens' tale A Christmas Carol, almost no one seems to notice that the shops were open on Christmas Day (otherwise he wouldn't have been able to go out and buy the feast for Cratchit and his family), people were working and going about their lives as they did every other day.

There are aspects of society that have a strong oral tradition.  Many claim that their stories are told the same as they have always been for thousands of years and that makes them more valid.  This may be true (even allowing for translation and semantic shifts) and this may be thousands of years of chinese whispers.  It is my own belief that the bones of the stories, the kernels of truth within them will still remain even if the meat has changed species completely in the meantime.

However, I don't believe anyone should be telling others what those bones are.  In my own beliefs, the truths you find will speak to you in a way that is for you alone.  You'll find the bones that you need right now and not notice the ones you're not ready for.  When you reread a book (fiction or non-fiction) you last read years ago, have you ever noticed how you get something different out of it?  There are parts of the story or details in the telling that you missed completely first (and sometimes second) time through, but they stand out glaringly obvious when you read it again.  This, I believe, is about the changes in you in that time.  Your growth, your priorities, what you value, the way you think will all have changed.  So if you can get different things from reading the same text twice, think about what it would be like for a different person entirely.  Their bones are for them, they'll have their own "Aha!" moments, their own lightbulbs going off and their own realisations and revelations.

And that is the heart of the Sacred Story.