Saturday, 28 February 2015

Week 9 (and 8 because I was away): Powers and Gifts

I'm a bit of a skeptic when it comes to a lot of things within the Pagan realm. You'd think someone who works with magic and Gods and other unseen entities would have less disbelief towards others' claims of 'powers' and 'gifts' and yet I often find myself rolling my eyes and scoffing when I hear claims of this that type.

What prompted this musing was a question on a Facebook group about the 'gifts' people have and the ensuing discussion. There were a lot of claims of 'gifts' and 'powers', each one appearing to be a one-up on the previous. I sat reading, shaking my head at the stories people offered up, thinking about how deluded each person was. Then I sat back and wondered, why did I react like that? It's not like I haven't personally experienced many of these things; dreams, visitations, the success of a spell and the fluctuations in energies around me. This got me thinking. Why the skepticism?

Personally I think the experiences are the exceptions and not the norm. I don't mean I'm the exception and I'm not discounting that things can happen, but I don't think they are 'powers' and 'gifts' that a person has. I've been known to ask for rain during a hot, sunny and cloudless day only for the heavens to open up five minutes later. I've also found myself out in the sun with no shade and burning from the heat wishing that the wind would pick up and blow a cloud across the sky to cover the sun, which has happened on a couple of occasions. With this sort of 'success' do I think that I have some special weather power/gift? Not at all. I'm inclined to believe it's a happy coincidence. Yes I believe words/thoughts have power, but my ego is not big enough to think that my thoughts are actually going to change the weather, regardless of how strange and closely correlated the events are.

Do I believe some people have talents that can be learned and exercised like any other mundane talent? Sure. I've seen some great tarot readers who have had to learn and hone their craft. Do I believe people who have psychic talent are crackpots? Of course not. Many of my friends have psychic leanings and of those I would trust a few with my life so if they see/feel things then I believe they see/feel them.

I wonder if my skepticism at someone claiming to be a great and powerful XYZ is that I'm really a scientific girl at heart. If a claim can't be quantified and verified then it is harder for me to accept it happened and wasn't a part of an imagined experience. I sometimes wonder if my own experiences are imagined because of this same skepticism. Is that something that other practitioners experience? A self doubt? I'm not talking about bringing doubt into spell work because I never doubt that. Doubt leads to failure. I mean that after you get good results, or after you have an 'otherworldy' experiecnce, do you have a moment of doubt where you wonder if it is just a coincidence or perhaps you just imagined it happened?

I will say though that I should be more tolerant when someone makes a claim of having experienced something. Sure it might not be verifiable, and could quite possibly be a coincidence, but does their believing it actually hurt me? As for my own experiences, why does it matter if the end result is the same? Do I really crave validation that my experiences are real? And real by what standards?

Unfortunately today's post is loaded with more questions than answers and crazy idle thoughts.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Week 7: Fiction - Introducing Charlie Turner

This is the beginning of a story about Charlie Turner, a young witch with a secret that she's kept to herself for most of her life, partly because she didn't think it strange in the beginning and then because she was worried about being thought of as a little too weird (and considering she's a witch in a predominantly Christian small country town that's saying something).  The story is only partially written as I got pulled in another direction. Perhaps, I'll be able to finish it here.

Breathe. Nice and slow. In through the nose. Feel the air as it revitalises each cell it touches. See the light of life flowing with that air. Breathe. Out through the mouth. The used toxic breath leaving the body, its task complete. In, two, three, four. Out, two, three, four. Slowly energy rises and the circle traced around me begins to glow, gently at first, and illuminating more and more with each breath taken. Roots earlier sent into the Earth, draw living energy from the Mother to aid in the task that lies ahead.

To the outside observer I’m merely sitting cross legged on a brown corduroy cushion, eyes closed, perhaps meditating, not unlike a myriad of devotees at some far eastern ashram. The small room devoid of furniture is lit barely by the soft flicker of a single black candle that sits slightly raised on a stack of books before me. The sound of a pan flute probably played by some java swigging hippie as he sits on the bank of a river, disguises my structured breathing. Completing the scene is the sweet aroma of clove incense, fingers of fragrant smoke curling through the air, dancing into each corner of the room.

Smack dab in the centre of this is me. Charlie, well Charmaine if we are being accurate though only my gran calls me that, Turner. Long black hair hanging freely past my waist, where a purple cord is tied around a well worn and wash discoloured white dress. Charlie Turner. Plump first year law student, who turned 18 four days ago. Charlie Turner. Witch. Yes that’s right. Sitting there on the set of what could be a very cheesy porno flick is a witch. I don’t look like what you might expect a witch to look like if you've never met one before. No I don’t have the hooked nose with the wart on the end. I don’t wear flowing black robes (often) nor do I wear (or even own for that matter) a black conical hat. But regardless of Disney stereotypes, witch, I am.

There's no significant calendar reason for tonight's activities. It’s not a Sabbat or a pagan holiday; and by the enveloping darkness outside it certainly is not a full moon. What I’m doing is something I’ve done many times before, and will probably do many times again and though how I do it has changed since I was young it always seems to start the same. Earlier this evening, I began by cleansing myself, which tonight was a long languid soak in a bath richly scented with home blended oil. As I lay there, relaxing in the warm, but rapidly cooling water, I let my worries drain from me. I pushed outward any negative thoughts and feelings that rose, letting the water wash it away. In addition to bathing in the cleansing water, I was surrounded in a soft white light, which came from within me to settle just around my body, leaving an iridescent glow. When I felt that I was ready, that I was cleansed and pure of mind and body, I rose from the water, towel dried off and donned the loosely fitting white dress.

The dress isn’t anything special. It’s not something I have had made just for ritual. It’s not even something I wear exclusively for magic, though it is getting to the stage where I doubt I'd wear it in public. I found it at a thrift store about a year ago when I was looking for furniture for my future student flat. The dress just caught my eye, and I couldn’t believe when it fit so well. It's the same with most of the tools I use for ritual. Each item has multiple uses or began life as something else. My censor is just an old beat up brass pot-plant holder I found at a country fete, the dishes that hold my water and salt are similar garage sale discoveries and the altar cloth is an old scarf I wear from time to time. I didn’t intentionally set out to find these items; to be honest I think they found me.

The censor is the only tool being used tonight. It sits on the stack of books beside the candle and from it incense swirls upwards. Right at this moment though, I don't notice any of it. I cannot see the candle. I cannot see nor smell the incense. I cannot hear the pan flute in the background. If you look closely you would see that my breathing has altered and is no longer a controlled and deliberate breath but has become soft and barely audible. My eyes no longer move beneath eyelids that also remain still. All tension has gone from my body and it sits there, completely relaxed in quiet repose, barely a whisper from sleep.

As the candle flame flickers in a fiery dance, one realisation would come over you.  I'm not moving because I'm no longer in my body.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Charging for Services

Recently there was a discussion (read argument) started about charging for magical services - tarot readings were included in this.

The person who started this discussion claimed that if someone comes to you in need, you have an obligation to do what they need and not charge for anything more than materials.  She did also go on to say that anyone who charges in that situation is an asshole and not a Real Witch.  Someone else said all people who charge are fakes.

The inevitable back and forth between several people followed.  There were several points raised though that I would like to explore further.

Magic For Personal Gain

There seem to be a few firmly held beliefs regarding the morality of using magic for personal gain.  Some seem to believe that there's some Universal Rule against this and that using magic for (any) gain is black magic or dark and evil.  However, their idea of what constitutes personal gain seems to be limited to monetary gain, love spells or power over someone.

Others hold that no personal gain is like a selfless act - there is no such beastie.  No matter what you do, you will be gaining from it in some way and that to tell yourself that you're against it is delusional.  They often also go on to point out that this "rule" has come from the tv show Charmed.

The Wiccan Ordains or 161 Laws based on Gerald Gardner's Old Laws was raised.  Specifically numbers 119, 120 and 121.  They read as follows:
119. Never accept money for the use of the art, for money ever smeareth the taker. 'Tis sorcerors and conjurers and the priests of the Christians who ever accept money for the use of their arts. And they sell pardons to let men escape from their sins.
120. Be not as these. If you accept no money, you will be free from temptation to use the art for evil causes.
121. All may use the art for their own advantage or for the advantage of the craft only if you are sure you harm none.

A commentary on the provenance and validity of these Rules can be found at Wicca: For the Rest of Us .

Interestingly, using it for your own advantage is not a problem - just money.

I learned that even Gardnerians don't necessarily agree fully with them or follow them - that comes down to each individual coven.  But even if they did, these Ordains or Laws apply to Wiccans and cannot be assumed to cover all who use the word Witch.

It was pointed out that Cunningfolk and Traditional Witches (Pre-Wicca) would expect payment.  If you didn't pay, you didn't get the work done.

What Constitutes Payment?

A further point in this discussion was about what constitutes as payment for services - trade, barter, gifts, donations (or koha as we'd call it in NZ).  No real answer was given from the Soapbox shouter.  

Someone raised using spirits, Gods or ancestors in magic or calling upon them for help.  In many traditions, the spirits demand payment - in some, they set the price.  That payment may take the form of specific foods or beverages as offerings, some valued item as sacrifice or time spent in praise and worship.  They may require that you charge $X and that half of that is to go to a certain charity.

As many wise folk have said repeatedly, it is foolish to constantly beg for favours from your Gods and Spirits and do nothing in return.

In the case of the person who raised this topic and used it to insult everyone who charges, she gets paid in warm fuzzies for having helped someone, testimonials and a sense of moral superiority.  These are all still payment for services rendered.  She benefits from her acts.

Value and Worth

Frequently raised by those defending their right to charge was placing value on yourself and your work.   This was countered by asking for payment "cheapens" or "prostitutes" magic.

For some people, tarot readings and magic for others is their livelihood.  This is what they do so that they can afford to live, eat and have choices in their lives. 

For others, charging separates those who seriously have issues from those who are just time-wasters.  I know someone who will now only take a booking with a deposit.  She's had too many people make a booking and not turn up for it.  She is turning others away because she is booked at that time.

In my own experience, I have learned that generally people don't value what they can get for free.  There have been a rare few that have valued and appreciated the things I've done purely out of the goodness of my heart.  More commonly, it becomes an expectation that I'll keep doing it whenever and wherever they happen to need it again.  I had a friend who asked for a reading on a fairly regular basis.  It got to the point that she'd come and visit me or I'd go and see her, we'd have coffee and a chat and I'd time how long it would be before she asked for a reading.  I was also always having to rescue her from some magical drama.  After a while, I said I couldn't read for her anymore because I knew too much and didn't trust that I wasn't just projecting my own crap into it.  I haven't seen her in a few years now.  I guess my friendship was all about doing things for free.

There is another woman who calls me every so often.  She almost demands (in an emotional blackmail, terribly desperate, so much drama way) that I drop everything and do what she needs.  She ties up my phone line for ages, not hearing me when I tell her I can't talk right now, or that I can't do anything at the moment.  She seems to have no concept of boundaries either - she's even asked if I had a spare room she could stay in.  She treats me as if I have nothing better to do with my life than step in and solve her latest drama.  Now to clarify, I've never actually done anything to help her in any of her dramas except listen to them a couple of times - it's not an expectation that has any basis in historical actions by me.

Another chap used to ring me up with some drama.  I did a couple of readings for free and offered some simple and common sense advice for his issue.  I found out he'd done the same with a friend who offered the same advice and gave him the same answers in a reading.  He called me about a month later to rave over a reader he'd paid who gave him this wonderful advice - which was exactly what he'd been told for free by me and the other friend.  He didn't listen to anyone but the one he paid.

I choose to place some value on myself and my abilities.  I value the wisdom I have gained and the time it has taken to get there.  I believe that anyone else can get to the same place with time and a little effort.  All the knowledge is out there, it just takes work to turn it from theory into practice.  I will not be treated as a doormat by someone who believes it should all be free.

Knowledge and Wisdom

I don't know why the difference between Knowledge and Wisdom is still so hard to understand for so many people.  One of the arguments in this discussion was that knowledge should be free.  Knowledge is free.  Wisdom is different - no one can give you wisdom, you need to understand the knowledge before it becomes wisdom.

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.  Wisdom is not putting tomato in a fruit salad.

This argument is also used as justification for illegally pirating books.  But it misses that in the back of those books is usually a bibliography - effectively a list of sources ie. where the knowledge came from.  However, the author took those sources and created something new and different with their own wisdom and bothered to make that wisdom available for others.  That effort deserves compensation.

Doing Tarot readings or magical work for people is no different.  Anyone can pick up a tarot deck and tell a story.  Anyone can learn all the book meanings for the cards and how laying the cards out this way means x, y and then z.  Most tarot readers take this to a deeper level.  Their experience in reading is not something you can just pick up from a book.  You aren't just paying for someone to flip over some cards and recite an arbitrary memorised meaning - you are paying for the wisdom and experience that recognises this card in this position with that card over there has usually meant something deeper. You are paying for their talent and abilities to hear other messages, to recognise patterns and to relate that to you.

A Need for Magical Intervention

Another point raised by the poster was how she'd never turn away anyone in true need.  When someone knocks at your door absolutely beside themselves, crying, shaking, hurt, scared and so on, you'd be a cold-hearted person indeed to demand payment before doing everything you could to help them.

At no point however, was she able to give us an example where a spell is needed as a first response over say, Police, Ambulance or some other form of professional help.  Only after a lot of questioning did she say that she recommends counselling or does any form of divination, digging or fact-finding to find the truth of the matter.  It had been directly asked enough times for me to wonder if this is true or if it was something she said to shut some of her detractors up.  She just said over and over that she'll do her spells for free for people in need and that anyone who turns away someone in this state is an asshole.

I have had close friends and family come to me in this state.  I will always do what I can for them.  Unless they're always in this state and it's time for a harsh life lesson about standing on your own two feet and not needing to be rescued repeatedly.  I think that's a completely different thing from having a random stranger knock at my door wanting or needing my help. 

Still, I can't think of a single situation that would require a spell first or in which a spell would be a good idea.  I can think of situations where I have called in magical help but only because I knew the back story and it wasn't a sudden out of the blue random visit.

Frauds and Scam Artists

Apparently, in the eyes of several, anyone who does ask for payment is a fake, is scamming you or is purely in it for the wrong reasons. 

No one disputed that there are fakes out there, there are people who'll take your money for little to no real work done.  However, to tar all who charge with the same brush is unfair and ill-informed.

I certainly wouldn't pay anyone online to do any work for me even if I wasn't perfectly capable of doing it for myself, unless they had come with strong recommendations from people I trust.  I've seen one crazy lady share photos of a curse that she was allegedly casting on our group.  Funnily enough on her blog, the description of the curse her husband was casting on another group altogether fit the pictures she sent to us.  Wow, multi-purpose curse, that's some talent.  And I certainly hope it had any effect on the other group because none of us have noticed anything at all.  My point is, how could you know that the work you'd paid for had been done?  If a photo is sent to you, how would you know that it isn't the same photo sent to every other sap who's paid for work?   There can be no guarantees, there is no way of separating the real from the fake.

Just as in any case when you are spending money on something you can't get a guarantee for, use your common sense.  If someone does a reading and then tells you they'll remove this curse/bad energy/negative spirit/some other terribly scary sounding affliction from you that you'd never previously noticed for a sum of $X - you're being scammed. 

The Conclusion of this Discussion

At the end of it all, the Original Poster claimed it was just a troll, lots of laughs and she learned a lot.  Thanks to everyone for handing her her ass on a plate.  Still somewhat cynical about this sudden back-down, but hey, it gave me food for thought.

The general consensus was that if you want to charge, then charge.  If you don't, then don't.  If you're willing to pay, then go to someone who charges and if you're not then go to someone who doesn't.



Sunday, 15 February 2015

Modern times and Paganism

There is a thing I am struggling with somewhat, bear with me, I'm finding it a bit of a challenge to adequately put words around.

In our modern world, we have this tendency to find amusement in old fashioned things.  Old ways of doing stuff.  Well, some stuff.  I am rather old-fashioned in my crafts, I don't just knit and crochet (which has my husband referring to me as a Nana) but I also spin and weave.  What I'm talking about though is different.

Medicine for example.  While herbalism has a fairly steady following, we'd fall about laughing if someone suggested bleeding us to cure a headache, flu or any other illness.

Technology is another, who writes letters any more?  Remember the old dial phones that were hard wired into the wall wherever the installer decided to put it when the house was built.  And having to wait up to a month for a line to become free when you moved somewhere.  I'm not quite old enough to remember party lines, but I do remember growing up on an Air Force base where we had to dial 2 before calling anyone off base and had to add three digits to our four digit phone numbers for anyone outside to call us.  Two tv channels and they finished at 10pm when you got either static or a test picture after that.

In so many ways, the old ways of doing things are met with a fond nostalgia, but little interest in returning to that way of life for any length of time.

Except Pagans.

It seems that for anything in Paganism to have value, it has to be old.  It requires some amount of antiquity and tradition to be right or valid.

Technopagans are a source of amusement and ridicule.

Fairly recently, I saw someone saying not to bother with any occult book written in the last 50 years.  And it was widely agreed with.

I'm trying though, to understand why this is.  Why is it that Pagans who will happily spend hours on the internet doing their research will scorn LED tea-light candles?  Anyone doing anything overly new, or trying to create something new is met with derision and snark.

There is a woman I know online, I won't refer to her as a friend, who swears by The Egyptian Secrets of Albertus Magnus, an old spell book of vague provenance.  It is available here for anyone who is interested by the way.  She claims to use the medicinal spells from it as her "go to" quite frequently.  I have been left wondering how she's getting along with all the white lead and mercury and praying over wounds although maybe that would explain a few things.

I mentioned to someone that I've been reading a number of these old spell books and their eyes lit up, "Oh, I would be very interested in reading that", right up until I tell them the websites where they are freely available and public domain.  As if being available to everyone who knows how to use Google somehow tainted them.

Suggest a modern spellbook and most of them roll their eyes.  They assume someone is making all sorts of crap up to cash in on beginners and new agers. 

Many of the Witchcraft histories that I've also been reading suggest that Cunningfolk used whatever worked.  When something new came along, they'd learn and incorporate it if it was useful - not sneer at it as being "not traditional".  This is why circle casting is now such a core part of modern pagan practise - even though it came from Christian Ceremonial magic.

I don't understand this.  I don't get it.  Why does something have to be traditional to have value?

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Week 6: Anti-vaccination is BS

I'm preempting this week's post with an warning that this is me ranting.  There are some who will be offended by the tone and content and accusations but to be perfectly honest if you are upset when the post content hits too close to home because you are one of the people this is aimed at, then frankly I don't care.  Vaccinate your children for all our sakes.

Anti-vaxxers make me mad. Really mad. I've had my run in with a few online and I even work with one.  What's an anti-vaxxer?  A parent who refuses to vaccinate their child against a number of diseases, some which can be life threatening.  Someone who, in their naivety (at best) or stupidity and negligence (at worst), puts not only their child at risk, but others, who for some reason are unable to be vaccinated. 

It's not that I don't believe a person is allowed to make decisions for their lives.  I do.  And parents should be allowed to make decisions for how they raise their children.  But there is a limit.  A line that needs to be drawn where we just say to parents, you don't know what you're talking about and you must do it this way.

There are some areas where this already happens.

  • No, you aren't allowed to shake your baby.  
  • No, you can't drive your car with your baby sitting on your lap.  
  • No, you can't leave a baby in a hot car while you go shopping.  
  • No, kids under 14 aren't allowed to look after themselves while you go out drinking, or to bingo, or to the country club or wherever. 

Of course there are the sane parents who will have looked at the list above, shaking their heads, knowing that they would never do any of those things. However they're not the reason the rules exist.  You see, the reason for the rules and laws about how we treat kids is because some parents will inevitably do these things and then some. They've been done, time and time again and just like any person who breaks a law (we call them criminals) the law enforcement people (police :P) need a mechanism to punish the criminals and deter others from following suit.

So how does this fit in with this rant about those parents who choose to forgo vaccinations for their children? It's simple really.  I believe there needs to be a rule, a law, that protects kids from the stupidity of their parents.   Just as there are laws requiring parents to buckle their kids into car seats, I believe there should be laws requiring vaccinations.

My question is why do some of the same parents who understand the rules above, and want to have no harm come to their children, also believe that they, in their lack of medical training, know better than all the trained professionals who say you need to vaccinate your child?

Dr Jennifer Raff wrote a great open letter to parents about all the arguments the anti-vaxxers use and the lies they try to sell to make their point, and discredits them with links to support what she says.  I could rehash it here, but to be perfectly honest, she has the PhD, not me.   You can read her words here

I don't think these parents are being malicious in their intent.  I think that many of them truly believe that vaccinations are bad and these parents think they are doing what's best for their kids.  It's that when confronted with the facts, these parents choose to figuratively stick their fingers in their ears and ignore the science.  Ignore those who have spent years studying and working in these fields.  Doctors, scientists and other professionals who know what they're talking about. 

This is why I think the choice for vaccinations needs to be taken out of the parent's hands.  They obviously aren't making a properly informed decision.  It's not really their fault.  In this day and age it's so easy for people to be bombarded with information and there's not a whole lot that can stop the dissemination of lies that many of the proponents of the anti-vaccination movement use to try to convince parents to join them.  They sow seeds of doubt and that doubt grows to the point where a once sane parent may look at their child and think, what if they're right?  What if it does cause XYZ?  Better safe than sorry.   And then the parent is hooked and the child is put at risk.

Parents can be highly emotional.  These parents, in their normal daily lives, are probably level headed and capable of making rational decisions based on fact rather than emotion.  But you put their children into the mix and instill a fear that something might happen, and that rationality disappears.  Instead of thinking, well there are hundreds of studies that prove that vaccinations are safe and don't cause autism, they read about that one fraudulent study by the doctor, Andrew Wakefield, who has now had his medical license revoked and the study results proved to be false and think, oh my, it might happen to my child, I better not risk it.

My dislike of anti-vaxxers comes from having a father who contracted polio as a child.  He was one of the lucky ones and only has a leg that is weaker and almost half as skinny as his other one.  The polio vaccine was not available when my father was a child but luckily there is no need for a child to suffer the deformities that can come with contracting polio.  After a lot of effort, polio has been eliminated in most countries and is one of those diseases that we hope will be eradicated.  There is a global push to do just that.  Unfortunately there has only ever been one disease that has been eradicated in human history and that was small pox which was declared eradicated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1980. 

I think there is some confusion in the terminology used when discussing diseases.  Eradication is different from elimination.  Eradication is the complete annihilation of a disease from the global population, though true eradication would be completely destroying all stocks of the disease.  The global initiative to eradicate small pox started in 1958 and took just over 20 years, and while it is eradicated, there are small stocks kept by some countries for study etc.  This is different from elimination where the spread of a disease is stopped in a country or other specified area but it still exists.

If more and more people move towards an anti-vaccine stance, then this can thwart eradication efforts.   One such disease is measles.  The measles vaccine was first used in 1963 and combined with the mumps and rubella vaccines, to create the MMR vaccine that became the focus of this crazy anti vaccine crusade, in 1971.

Many countries are striving to eliminate measles because of the high mortality rate of those who contract the illness.  It hasn't been eliminated in NZ yet, but in 2000 the US declared that it had been eliminated from within their borders.  How long it retains that status, in light of the recent outbreak in California which has been linked quite heavily to children who were voluntarily not vaccinated, remains to be seen.

According to the WHO, in 2013, there were 145 700 measles deaths globally.  This equates to about 400 a day or 16 deaths every hour.  Why should people be dying from an illness that we have a vaccine for?  It makes zero sense.  If these parents really love their kids, why would they put them at that risk?

Penn and Teller say it best in the video linked here.  Anti-vaccination is bullshit!