Posts By: Shauna Aura knight

Samhain Ritual in Madison WI

Posted by on Oct 9, 2019 in Uncategorized | No Comments

TreeSpooky

I’m excited to start offering workshops and rituals in the Madison, Wisconsin area. Soon I’ll be listing the events I’m hosting on my main website, but I thought I’d put this one here so I have a link I can give people other than a Facebook event.

Return to the Root: Samhain Ritual and Workshops

Do you seek community and spiritual connection?
Do you yearn to claim your magic?
Do the ancient mysteries call to you?

3:30 PM: Doors Open
4 PM: Workshop – Community Building, Leadership, Safety, and Consent
5 PM: Workshop – Temple of Sacred Sound: Chanting and Trancing Techniques
6:00 PM – Break
6:30 PM: Workshop – Samhain Traditions: Honoring the Harvest, our Ancestors, and the Beloved Dead
7:00 PM: Samhain Ritual: Return to the Root
7:10 Doors will close. Don’t be late!
Post-ritual: Folks are welcome to hang out and chat.

From light into darkness, the year has turned. This is year’s final harvest, the time when we seek community and draw together around the fire. It is when we seek the mysteries, when we journey down the roots of the World Tree into the depths to the Underworld, the land of ancestors, of dreaming and shadow. It is the center of the spiral path of initiation where we claim our magic.

All spiritual seekers are welcome. No bigotry or harassment will be tolerated. (A link to a formal safety/inclusivity policy will be posted soon.)

Location:
Dance Life Studio and Fitness, 6725 Seybold Rd, Madison, Wisconsin 53719

4pm – Community Building, Leadership, Safety, and Consent

How do you build a healthy community? This experiential workshop will offer magical and mundane tools to help build sustainable groups. Whether you define yourself as a leader, or you would just like some skills to better support a group, this workshop will address common challenges of small groups including drama, conflict, and issues of harassment and bigotry. We’ll explore tools and processes working with power and structure in groups, boundaries, communication, conflict resolution, safety/anti-harassment policies, group dynamics, as well as exploring what gifts we bring to our communities, and what challenges we face as leaders, organizers, and volunteers.

5pm — Temple of Sacred Sound: Chanting and Trancing Techniques

Chanting is an ancient form of spiritual, meditative, group, and personal practice. Join us to learn chants and work with the interplay of voices, harmonies, rhythm, and movement. We’ll explore different types of chants—chants for holding space, healing, trancework, journeying, and raising energy. We’ll also look at how rhythm and other instruments can add to the power of group chants. The first part of the workshop will be teaching and practicing techniques, and the second part will be a small ritual for healing or journeying. Together we will experience how the ecstatic energy of sound, rhythm, and movement can add depth to ritual or your own personal work. Will you bring your voice to the sacred singing bowl of community? *All skill levels welcome. Feel free to bring drums, shakers, didgeridoos, singing bowls, gongs, or other instruments you’re familiar with.

6pm – Break
This will NOT be a potluck event, but you’re welcome to bring a snack, sandwich, or other simple fare to eat during the break.

6:30 pm — Samhain Traditions: Honoring the Harvest, our Ancestors, and the Beloved Dead

This workshop will offer a chance to discuss various traditions for the dark time of year, and we’ll address the themes of the Return to the Root ritual. Samhain mean’s Summer’s End in Gaelic; it’s the end of the harvest season and the last preparation before winter. This seasonal celebration honors death as part of the cycle of life. It’s when we honor our ancestors and beloved dead. The nights grow longer and there is more space for silence, for inner reflection, for releasing and letting go and to acknowledge what we personally harvest this year. To honor the sacred life cycle of our bodies and the land we live on, we must also understand the depths of the Underworld, of death, of transformation.

7:00 PM: Samhain Ritual: Return to the Root

In this ritual, we will journey down the roots of the World Tree that bridges the realms…through the gates of the Underworld, down to the center, to the deep within. We seek the Well of Need, the sacred life-giving waters held in the depths of the earth. In these uncertain times, we seek our magic, we seek the song of our spirit, we seek the waters of the well. What calls you forth? Why would you risk the journey of transformation? What do you yearn for, and what do you fear? What challengers bar your way? What wisdom do your ancestors have for you? What beloved dead will you honor?

We seekers must each make this passage, we must each face our shadows and find the mirror in the center of our heart. Will you claim the power hidden in the shattered glass of your sacred heart? How do you make beauty from the broken? To claim your magic, to heal, to drink from the sacred well, we must release what no longer serves and let our old stories die.

Will you wake the song in your blood? Together we gather in the alchemy of ecstatic and participatory community ritual to dip our hands down into the waters of life…to sing and drum the call of our souls.

Admission:
Sliding scale is $5-$25, no one turned away. We’d rather have your voice and your presence whether or not you can afford to pay. Donations go to cover the space rental fee and supply costs.

Location: Dance Life Studio and Fitness, 6725 Seybold Rd, Madison, Wisconsin 53719

Children:
This event is not appropriate for children. Well-behaved and responsible teens are welcome to attend the workshops and ritual. Adult themes may be addressed, and workshops/rituals may require silence and stillness.

Facilitator: Shauna Aura Knight
Shauna is an author and artist living in Madison, WI. She writes books and teaches workshops on leadership, community building, consent, and facilitation skills in the Earth-Centered community. Find out more about her at www.shaunaauraknight.com or contact her via Facebook, at ShaunaAura@gmail.com, or via text message at 773-812-2917 with any questions or to find out how to become more involved in rituals and events like this.

Will you step into your deepest self?
Will you be the hero of your own journey?

 

 

Book Release: Path of a Seeker

Posted by on Feb 10, 2019 in Uncategorized | No Comments

CovePathofaSeeker_MediumI have had this book sitting there almost finished for about two years now, so it’s a huge relief to have it out the door and to the printers! Like some of my other works, this book is a collection of articles and essays that I’ve written, though in this case, the focus is on personal spiritual seeking and my own path of pilgrimage.

While there are still good tips in the book for leaders, and I think that the shadow work I’ve engaged in as a seeker and a leader might be of use to leaders, the intended audience isn’t just people leading  groups. It’s for anyone trying to find their way on what is often a confusing and daunting path.

Also,  this book focuses on my experiences as a modern Pagan; however, I believe that anyone that has explored holistic health and personal growth, has an interest in new age and metaphysical topics, or defines themselves as spiritual but not religious, will find a connection to these experiences.

Here’s a little more about the book, and some links to where you can get it. If you order books directly from me, I’ll be able to ship them in about two weeks.

Path of a Seeker: Pilgrimages, Passages, and Personal Transformations

The path of spiritual seeking is a spiral, a pulsation back and forth of challenges unique to each of us. Through our own experiences, we learn and find our way. The quest for inner growth means we must understand ourselves at a deeper level; we must change our old stories, release what does not serve us, and find our own deep inner wisdom to heal ourselves. What do you seek?

This book is a collection of articles and essays focusing on personal transformation in a way that is accessible and real, not perfectionist. You will find spiritual experiences that are shattering moments of bliss, dark nights of the soul, challenges with mental health, struggling with trauma and grief…and stories of love, of facing our shadows, of growing healthy boundaries and self-confidence, of reclaiming our power. The journey brings us from heartbreak into joy, love, and authenticity.

Why do you seek the inner mysteries?  What do you yearn for?

You can buy the book here:

Kindle Ebook on Amazon $9.99

Paperback (directly from the author) $20

 

 

Becoming Comfortable in Open Relationships

Posted by on Jan 28, 2019 in Uncategorized | No Comments

shutterstock_56046442I’ve been in open relationships of various formats for many years. For a long time I struggled with the label “polyamorous,” but I’ve come to accept it for myself, along with becoming comfortable with how polyamory and monogamy are a spectrum, not absolutes.

This is the essence of what polyamory means for me personally: I have to be able to be not just ok with my partner being with someone else, but genuinely glad for them. I have to be genuinely excited that my partner is happy, and in most cases, happy for the person/people they are spending time with too.

It’s being fully confident that my partner can love me, and other people. And that I can have feelings for more than one person, and those feelings don’t take away from anyone.

What’s Toxic?

Being polyamorous doesn’t mean I can’t also experience jealousy–some jealousy is normal. Or frustration when plans are complicated because I have more than two humans to schedule around. It’s that there’s something in there transcending the jealousy. Sure, there are times when I might want my partner’s attention and he’s with someone else. Or, scheduling dates is a twisted pile of spaghetti because we have multiple partners to schedule with. But ultimately for me, feeling comfortable with polyamory is me not worrying that my partner’s going to just find someone else and abandon me. Or, vice versa; that I’m not just dating one partner while looking for someone else I like better.

Image may contain: textWhat I think is most important for me isn’t so much whether I’m dating multiple people, but that I’m actively working against the toxic aspects of monogamy. I’m not one of those poly folks that thinks everyone should be poly and pressures people into it. In fact–that’s part of why I rejected the label in the first place.

I do, however, believe that monogamy has some toxic aspects that don’t serve anyone, and it’s worth examining relationship assumptions for relationships in any format. But I’ll get into that.

A few years ago I wrote a blog series on my own explorations in various different types of open relationships, i.e., ethically non-monogamous relationships. At the time, I was in an open relationship but hadn’t yet had the experience of being in love with more than one person at the same time.

In fact, it has been a little odd to realize that I’d never really been in love with any of my previous partners. I loved some of them, but I wasn’t in love, and there’s definitely a difference.

Why Avoid the Label?

Through good relationships, and bad, I learned a lot. The first reason I avoided the label “polyamorous”  was that, though I’d dated multiple men, I wasn’t in love with any of them. Friends, sure. Loving, sure. But I wasn’t “in love,” and I guess I didn’t feel like I fully qualified. The other reason was that there’s this really unfortunate thing where some of the most visibly polyamorous people in any given community are also the folks most likely to be sexually harassing, coercing, and lying to people to get sex. 

Now–we can say, “That’s not really polyamory,” all we want. It’s about as effective as saying that the abusive leaders in Paganism aren’t “really” Pagan. The point is that, at least in the Pagan community, the first exposure many people have to polyamory is the poly-pressuring person. The person sexually harassing others, or the person who isn’t poly at all but is cheating on their partner.

I’ve been cheated on by men who did that, and I’ve had men tell me they were poly and cheat on their partners with me. I also know of so many stories of people at Pagan gatherings, or in other groups, dealing with the unethical/creepy poly person. There are a few times when I’ve thrown up my hands and said, “Why is it always the abusive poly guy running the local polyamory meetup?”

However, I’ve also met a ton of really ethical poly folks, people with beautiful relationships, people working to learn better communication skills and how to be better partners and better humans.

Every subculture deals with people engaging in abuse, manipulation, and harassment. It’s not an intrinsic flaw with non-monogamous relationships.

But Feelings

When I wrote that blog series on open relationships, I hadn’t yet fallen for my partner G. We eventually acknowledged we had feelings for one another. I had to admit to myself that this was the first time I’d been in love with someone. Or at least, where that love was reciprocated.

I’ve had feelings of deep friendship and connection to past partners. But there was a visceral difference between “I love you and care for you” and “I’m in love with you.”

A year into the relationship with G, I developed feelings for someone else. He wasn’t in a fully open relationship, so we didn’t do anything about our mutual attraction, but I was able to experience feeling love for two separate people. And the love for the one didn’t take away the love for the other in any way. Love for the one didn’t make me want to abandon the other. It’s something that is hard to put into words, but I understood it fully once I experienced it.

It was also a unique experience to feel attraction to someone and be completely comfortable not doing anything about it. Something else that polyamory makes space for in a way that toxic monogamy doesn’t is the reality that we can love many people, and that those relationships are not required to be sexual (or romantic) to be valid.

Juggling Multiple Partners

One of my constant fears in relationships used to be letting my partner down. I’m busy, I get sucked into creative projects, I travel a lot. For my monogamous relationships in my 20’s and 30’s, I know my partners felt neglected. How much of that was them emotionally abusing me is a separate and more complex issue.

My response to this in my late 30’s was focusing on relationships with non-monogamous men with other partners; they were busy too. I wasn’t worried that they would be angry at me for not being constantly available. So I was dating men in open relationships, but I myself wasn’t dating multiple people. I was pretty comfortable with my partner seeing other people even if I wasn’t, because I didn’t have time anyways.

I still have mixed success with juggling multiple partners of my own. It seems to go the best when everyone else is also really busy.

When Poly Goes Badly

Fastforwarding through a lot of conflict, the relationship with G ended poorly. I had moved in with him and his wife. His wife made a show of welcoming me to the home, but ultimately that was a manipulative set up and she ended up being incredibly emotionally abusive. I finally was able to get the money together to move out of their house toward the end of 2017. (I’ll be writing more about abuse in poly relationships in the future.)

As I began trying to heal from the resulting trauma, I wondered, “How can I possibly try polyamory again? How could I ever trust a metamor (partner’s partner) after this kind of trauma?” Right after that, I even tried dating a guy casually, and it turned out that he had represented himself as not monogamous, but his other partner didn’t see it that way.

I wrestled with the trauma, with my fears about any relationships. Fears of discovering my partner’s abusive, or neglectful and unwilling to engage in emotional labor, or that just abandons me. Or that my metamor is abusive.

What Makes It Work

This is pretty obvious, but what makes relationships work whether monogamous or polyamorous is a good partner. Relationships are far less work when your partner is not manipulative, neglectful, abusive, or an asshole.

I met someone a year ago who has been an amazing partner. His code-name is Fantasy Author Boyfriend. We’re well suited to each other; we’re both writers, we’re both busy people. We love spending time together, but we also love having our own space. If I’ve got my head buried in a project (like this week I’m editing a book) he doesn’t worry that I don’t love him because I’m not available to hang out. And vice versa; I know that he’s busy and him not responding to a text doesn’t mean he’s leaving me.

Now–some of that is trust we had to build. Anxiety and C-PTSD are what they are, and I have my moments where I’m worried he’ll abandon me too. However, he also deals with anxiety, and he’s willing to engage in emotional labor with me. We fell in love with one another, but that was followed up with both of us caring for each other and putting the work in to communicate, be supportive, and respect each other’s boundaries.

It feels completely different from someone who is trying to manipulate me into thinking that I’m the one with the problem.

All of that is stuff I’d have to deal with in a monogamous relationship, too. It extends into polyamory, though–because of that work, I feel genuinely safe with my partner dating someone else. Because we do the work of communicating with one another openly and honestly, he knows I love him, I know he loves me, and we’re in a far better place to date other people without neglecting one another.

In other words–now that I’m in a relationship with a human being who isn’t manipulative, abusive, or otherwise a bad partner, trust is a heck of a lot easier. It’s easier for me to be happy when he says he has been chatting with someone online and they seem to have hit it off. He’s excited for me when I am going on a first date. Sometimes he helps me figure out a place to go out. Sometimes I help him flirt.

What is more important to either of us than who else we are dating is how we treat each other and the people we care about. We’ve both worked hard to make clear commitments to one another while avoiding the toxic aspects of monogamy.

Toxic Monogamy

I don’t have issues with monogamy, I have issues with the unfortunate cultural assumptions that go with it. This idea that once you commit to someone they own you, your time, and your affection. That feels so manipulative to me now. I also reject the idea that I’m supposed to be jealous because my partner is spending time with someone he cares about.

Given I’ve been cheated on (and used by cheaters), I have plenty of reason to inherently distrust men I’m partnered with. That being said, there are particular behaviors that also accompany cheating. There’s almost always a level of manipulation or abuse going on, so it’s never a standalone thing where cheating is the only problem in the relationship.

My partner and I don’t try to be everything to one another because that’s impossible. I no longer feel guilty when my partner wants to do something I’m not into, or if our schedules don’t line up. If he wants to go sing show tunes at karaoke, he has people he can do that with, platonic or romantic. It’s not a judgment against me

For me, so much of this is just about being comfortable. That the relationship is stable whether we’re dating other people or not. 

Metamors and Schedules

What has also transformed my experience of polyamory is that I started dating someone new. I’m still busy, but fortunately the pressure’s pretty low. We’re all pretty busy and there’s no huge blame or judgment when one or the other of us is busy. Also, his wife is awesome. And some of their other partners and friends are awesome. There isn’t a trace of the coercive abusive ick that I experienced with G’s wife.

Heck, sometimes I chat more with her than I do with the new guy I’m dating! I’m looking forward to becoming stronger friends with her as we get to know one another better.

Transparency, Communication, and Assumptions

One aspect of any relationship that is highly toxic is assumptions. The expectations aren’t communicated, it’s just assumed that this is how it’s “supposed” to go…and then your partner doesn’t follow the script, and you get pissed off. Or we bottle it up in a passive/aggressive dynamic til it explodes.

In polyamory, you really do have to talk about everything–or at least, if you take things for granted, the relationships unravel more quickly than monogamous ones because there are more humans involved.

I have found that being able to comfortably speak to my partner(s) transparently, and having them reciprocate this, is the core of what makes my relationship(s) work well. It can be a little awkward at first, but it has helped a lot to not make assumptions for each other, to respect each other’s boundaries. And the communication gets easier the more we are comfortable with one another.

My partner and I don’t assume that each other is obliged to attend family events, or assume how often we’re going to see each other, who pays for dinner, or a host of other things. We talk about what actually bothers us, we talk about what we need from one another.

Another interesting facet of polyamory for me is how much less attached I am to whether or not a relationship is sexual/romantic. Maybe a relationship starts out that way, then transitions to friendship. Or goes the other way. Or, the romantic aspect goes dormantht, and then years later rekindles.

Being poly means I don’t have to pretend that my partner’s never going to be attracted to someone else ever again (because, that’s unrealistic). It means that I’m not pressured to cut off contact with a former lover because my partner’s worried they’re somehow a threat.

As I said at the beginning: polyamory, for me, is being glad that my partner’s spending time with someone he loves. And knowing he’s glad for me when I am. And, relationships of any type are going to work better if they aren’t full of toxic, manipulative garbage. I’m glad to have found some equilibrium, and to have found good partners.

Monogamous or polyamorous, you can’t make someone respect your boundaries, care enough to do emotional labor, or making assumptions. You can’t make someone want to communicate transparently and genuinely. Finding that has been a small miracle in my life, and I do not take it for granted for a minute.

 

 

C-PTSD: It Can Get Better

Posted by on Jan 9, 2019 in Uncategorized | No Comments

6950774_xxl-[converted]I’ve been reading drafts of old blog posts. Things I started, and never finished over the past couple of years while I was dealing with some fairly intensive trauma. It’s good to see those snippets into the past, because I realize that–even though I still have bad days–it can get better.

Here’s something I wrote about two years ago:

“Some days, my heart is full of sorrow; other days, just heavy and numb. Today, like many days, I wake up and have trouble getting out of bed. It’s not the joint aches, it’s the fear of all the things yet to be done and the terror that my motivation has disappeared again. It’s wondering why I fight so hard. Some days, I have trouble finding any motivation at all, like it disappeared down a bottomless sacred well, always just beyond my reach. I want love to matter. I want love to be the force that changes us, the force that can change the world for the better. But, love isn’t always enough.

Two years later, I still sometimes struggle to get out of bed. But there are less days like that, and my heart is much less full of sorrow. I even have days where I’m just genuinely happy, which is something I was afraid I would never feel again.

In 2017, I had to struggle to get resources and help while living in a really awful abusive living situation. I didn’t have the income to move out, I didn’t have health insurance, I desperately needed therapy just to cope. To get help, I was having to blow spoons (Google “spoon theory” if you’re unfamiliar with the term) and I was constantly exhausted.

I asked for help; often, that help came in the form of, “Shouldn’t there be affordable housing?” or “You should be able to get free counseling.” Which isn’t really helpful to someone in a crisis, though I appreciate that folks were trying. One of the most helpful things was the person who actually found me a local clinic in my county that would see me several times before I had to prove my income.

Those clinic visits allowed me to get my medication for hypothyroid refilled and get a referral for therapy. And that helped me get stabilized enough to have the focus to do my taxes, which allowed me to prove my income and get on Medicaid and Food Stamps, and that led directly to my being able to get out of the abusive living situation.

Somewhere in all of that I discovered that my anxiety and depression was actually part of a package of C-PTSD (there are plenty of great resources if you Google this to understand the differences between PTSD and Complex PTSD). And that was a terrifying realization, but two years out from that and learning about C-PTSD and gaining more healthy coping techniques has helped me greatly improve my life.

It takes time. Just getting out of a traumatizing situation allows the brain to begin to heal. When you’re constantly worried about your emotional and/or physical safety, there’s no relaxing, there’s no rest. Two years ago I was constantly worried about losing my place to live or being harmed; the anxiety attacks just kept getting worse. Loud noises would trigger them (and, sometimes those loud noises were intentional on the part of my abuser). Remember, the brain is plastic; it’s flexible. The brain actively works to heal, and there are things we can do to build new pathways. The coping techniques take effort, but it’s worth it.

What has been crucial to my improved mental health is that I currently have a partner that understands anxiety. Instead of antagonizing me when I’m having a panic attack, he and I talk together about anxiety and how we can best help one another when we’re dealing with anxiety or depression.

Two years ago, my partner–instead of acknowledging my abusive metamour–ignored all the stuff we had talked about as far as helping me when I’m having anxiety, and instead he lashed out at me. I took over his role in the household as the scapegoat.

“The piece that is particularly angering for me right now is that it seems that, despite my having spent hours engaging in the emotional labor of talking through PTSD and anxiety–sometimes while I’m in a low-level anxiety attack–hours finding resources to share with him, and processing through our arguments and discussions to talk about what triggered me and why, and how it works, particularly the noise/anxiety/sleep combo…it’s not like he doesn’t know this stuff. This is a man that doesn’t like to do anything without a plan and without thinking about a half dozen contingency plans for the plan.

So, either all the work I’ve done talking about PTSD is for nothing because he wasn’t listening, or, he listened to what I said and doesn’t actually care enough to remember and think about the impact on me.”

It is like living in an entirely different world now that I’m almost two years clear of that situation. It’s like being on land and able to breathe clearly, when before I was stuck under the water, struggling to get to the surface. Everything took more effort because I wasn’t just swimming, I was swimming through mud.

I reread my past experiences and realize how much less I’m struggling with. Anxiety and depression lie to us; they tell us the worst things about ourselves and it can be hard to get out of the spiral once it starts. My anxiety likes to take pot shots at me for not being as productive these past years. For not writing as much, for not traveling and teaching.

And then I remember how much I struggled just to sleep. How much emotional effort it took to have any conversation with my (now ex) partner as he moved from being a victim of my metamour to being a perpetrator of abuse himself.

Most folks have a natural instinct to want to believe what people are telling you. What people who haven’t been abuse victims often don’t understand is that this is the instinct that gets us into the situations where we’re being emotionally manipulated in the first place.

Once I figured out I was being manipulated, once I figured out that my partner was not telling me the truth, I had to question everything.

“This is what it comes to in an abusive household. You fought for your relationship, you fell for the manipulations…you trusted and believed and held on because you believed love would win out. But at a certain point, you realize that you have to mistrust everything you hear. At a certain point, every single thing has to be examined. Am I being gaslighted? Am I being lied to? Am I being manipulated?

It’s exhausting. Thoroughly exhausting. And it’s necessary as long as you are interacting with your abuser(s).”

Being able to exist without having to question everything all the time has freed up my energy for a lot of other stuff. I’m starting to plan more traveling and teaching, vending my artwork at bigger events, and networking in the Madison, WI area. I moved here back in May and I’m finally starting to make some community connections that are leading to the potential creative collaborations.

I’m starting to organize workshops and events that will hopefully lead to more singing/chanting/trancing ritual magic in my local community. And maybe collaborating with other events and organizers in the fandom/geeky/gothy community. Maybe I’ll get to decorate a masquerade ball or build another life size Jabba the Hutt. You know–things that are actually fun. Things that make life worth living.

I’m also working to focus more on writing, and on painting stuff that sparks me, not just the stuff that will sell at festivals.

The trauma’s not gone. C-PTSD and anxiety and depression, and the resulting strain on my physical health, is not going away. But it’s manageable. It’s gotten better, and it’s going to continue to get better.

Don’t lose hope.

People Will Tell You Who They Are

Posted by on Jan 31, 2018 in Personal Growth | No Comments
The older I get, the more I realize that people will show me who they are if I let them. I’ve just had someone who I thought was becoming a close friend dump me via FB message and then block me, and all because his now girlfriend found out about how he lied to her about me. Here’s the context…and before I dive into that, an acknowledgement that I haven’t blogged here in a while. The open relationship I was in and (had posted about) crumbled because of the abuse of my metamour, and my now former partner’s enabling of that abuse not just of himself but of his kids and of me. In the wake of dealing with that heartbreak, I met someone new, and got my heart broken again when I wasn’t ready for it.
For transparency, I’m not naming this person; I do publicly name people who are egregiously abusive. I don’t feel this falls into that category. FWIW, I do wish his girlfriend well and I’m sorry that this hurt her. And if she ever contacts me for fact checking/confirmation, I’m certainly willing to talk to her.
Back to the current situation. So…back in late October I met a guy on an online dating site. He and I really clicked, but we recognized that there were some logistical issues, one being that he smoked, and I have scent/smoke issues. Another was that he was also seeing someone else and was very hopeful for that relationship, but that relationship was not steady/monogamous as of yet. And he and I chatted more and there was chemistry, so we attempted a compromise date in early November. I took an excedrin, he promised to shower as much smoky smell off himself as he could, and he bought an e-cig to use for the day before we went on a date.

Without making this another TMI corner, the chemistry was ludicrous. We saw each other a few times over the course of just over a couple of weeks. At the time, it seemed that his relationship with the girlfriend was crumbling, otherwise I’d have pushed to ensure she was on board with him seeing multiple people. (Usually, I prefer to meet partners before diving into physical intimacy to ensure that they’re actually ethically poly vs. cheating on their partners with me.) He was very clear that they were not yet monogamous. In fact, it seemed that any attempts he had made with the girlfriend to get her to commit to a more long-term relationship had her freaking out and pulling away. He seemed genuinely devastated but he wanted to respect her need for space.
I never actually met her, but was at an Irish musicians jam where she was present, and her body language toward him didn’t say, “Hey lover,” she was brusque and left the space at the end without any sign of affection toward him.
Even given their clearly complicated relationship, I was starting to say that I was fairly uncomfortable with her not knowing explicitly that he was also with someone else. He had said a few things to me along the lines of, “I’m trying really hard to not fall for you,” and that was reciprocated by me, although truthfully, I already had feelings. He told me he loved me. “I’m not in love with you–but I do love you. I care about you.” I was trying to not let myself get sucked into too much feeling because I didn’t want to be the “backup girl” in case this other woman he wanted a relationship with dumped him. I wanted to be with him only if he was genuinely interested in me on my own.
And yeah, I knew that–after my past year–I was vulnerable and desperate for affection and that my feelings were probably heightened because of that.
After a couple of weeks, the other GF did a 180 and told him she loved him, and he cut off the romantic side of our relationship via goddamned FB message. Not that there’s a good way to hear that, but in person would have been nice.
As it happened, I was already scheduled to go on a date that night with another poly guy I had seen; we were going to the local polyamory social that happened a block from this guy’s place, so I did get a chance to check in with him in person. He said, “I still love you, you’re still my friend.” I asked to talk about boundaries and agreements and he said, “I don’t know that we’re going to need any, we can still be friends and hang out, just no sex now.” I said, “That’ not how that is going to work,” but I didn’t have time to get into it.
I’m not going to lie, I had to deal with some serious heartbreak after that. And I’m still not through the heartbreak of losing Glen. Late November and December were tough for me.
After that he and I worked fairly hard to sustain a friendship but keep sex out of it. He did nothing at that point that I would at all consider cheating, other than the fact that some people consider emotional intimacy to be cheating. He started helping me record chants so I could put together a more professional sounding CD.
In December, I found out that his GF was worried about him cheating on her with me, and I found out that he had, indeed, never told her that he’d been seeing someone else while they were together. Even though she was the one pulling away at the time, she had the assumption of monogamy (and I have a whole separate rant on toxic monogamy assumptions). It turns out that she’s been cheated on repeatedly and was having serious anxiety about this.
I told him he had to tell her that he and I had been together. Because–we weren’t cheating on her. If I genuinely felt we were, I’d have already messaged her and given her a heads up. That being said, she was picking up on the intimacy, she wasn’t wrong about that. And causing her anxiety because she’s doubting her instincts isn’t something I’d wish on anyone, given I’ve lived it.
I was clear that I was willing to fall on my sword in the sense of, be open and honest with her that yes, we had been together, and yes, as soon as she committed to him, he cut off anything romantic/sexual with me, and that he clearly was completely in love with her and didn’t share those feelings with me. But, only if he fessed up and told her the truth.
We argued. He said some hurtful things, we stopped trying to talk about it via FB messenger and finally (after a few weeks of feeling like he was just blowing this off) he and I talked on the phone about it a few times, and then met in person.
I felt that we came to a basic compromise. He still refused to tell her, but he acknowledged that if she found out, it was his responsibility, that I wouldn’t be made the scapegoat if their relationship fell apart.
I said that I wasn’t going to lie to her. If asked about his and my relationship, how we met, I was not going to sustain his lie. And if being friends with him meant he expected me to, then I wasn’t going to be his friend. He agreed that I shouldn’t have to lie to her, or to his friends. There were other conversations and agreements but that was what was most relevant.
Today I woke up to a message in my inbox. He said that the GF had figured out that he and I had been together, and he felt the need to cut communication with me because being with her has been the best thing to happen to him in his life and he can’t risk damaging that. And then I could see I’d already been blocked.
No wonder I have abandonment issues.
Pro tip: There’s no salvaging a relationship like that after you’ve lied. I really think he convinced himself it was to protect her feelings, and I know he struggles with issues of codependency/enabling/fear of negative emotional responses from previous partners who have emotionally abused him. I get where his programming took over. Nevertheless, he didn’t give her agency to make a decision for herself.
And for her part, from everything he’s told me, it sounds like she’s doing the thing many victims of cheating and emotional abuse do (I know, because I’ve been there). She’s trying to control his behavior and who he spends time with. Here’s another pro tip: That doesn’t actually deter habitual cheaters. And in its own way, it can become manipulative and abusive behavior.
Apparently “I love you and am fully committed to being your friend” wasn’t worth much.
In December I pushed myself through the worst of the heartbreak/dopamine crash, so today isn’t as bad as it otherwise could be. I feel betrayed both personally and professionally, because I lost a friendship, and, I was in the middle of recording a CD with this man and he has source files of the music. We were doing a trade of his audio engineering in exchange for art.
I’m trying to let myself stay with being hurt instead of going into anger, which is so much easier.

Leadership Issues: Failure to Plan

Posted by on Jun 18, 2017 in Uncategorized | No Comments

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This post is both about venting my spleen about issues in my household, and a lesson in Pagan leadership, particularly event organizers. I live on a farm in a rural area, and the top of the silo half blew off in the storm last week and is now bouncing around precariously. Some parts have fallen, the rest needs to come down. I live with my boyfriend and his wife, and it turns out that my boyfriend’s wife (ie, my metamour) is highly emotionally abusive. It’s a complicated situation and the abuse impacts the rest of the scenario.

Getting back to the silo, my partner had a plan for doing this on Tuesday on his day off. (He works third shift on a rotating schedule of 12-hour shifts. This weekend he works Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, so he’s pretty wiped out by the end of that.) We talked through how I could help with the plan, and waiting til Tuesday gives me time to finish up some of my own backlogged to-do list.

My metamour, however, decided to just do it today on her own. This didn’t go well. But first, the backstory.

My boyfriend planned to borrow a friend’s truck with the appropriate towing capacity (his car can tow a lot, but not a full lift), rent a lift, and use his saw to cut through the straps holding the aluminum sails to the top of the silo. Since my partner works with tools and metal professionally, I was reasonably confident that he knows what will work. to remove the top of the silo.

We also talked through a backup plan so that, if needed, we could move my storage box from beneath the silo. this is the box part of a truck and I use it to store art supplies and ritual decor.

My boyfriend’s relatives rent his land and farm it, and they have a vehicle that could move the truck box. However, that would require me to unload a fair amount of the items because it’s a lot of fragile glass stuff. But, doable in about an hour, if it’s both of us and if we have my cart assembled, and maybe his car on hand to hold some of the stuff while the storage box gets moved.

I’m not going to be really useful on the tools and cutting end, but I offered to help spot him. My boyfriend is really bad with heights; I’m not totally comfortable but I literally took a job hanging lights in a concert hall to be able to cope better with heights, so I’m used to dangling on lifts.

Ok, so we have plan, and backup plan. Except, nope.

The metamour borrows the friend’s truck yesterday, and today goes and rents the lift and hauls that over. She gets it set up at the foot of the silo. It’s a very windy day, and to be honest, if we had that kind of wind, I’d have opted to cancel and reschedule the lift rental. But she goes forward, except, she has not planned to have anybody go up in the lift with her to spot her, or anyone on hand to help if there is an accident, except the 11-year old highly-distractable boychild. My boyfriend’s not available because hes’ in the middle of his 3-day work cycle and he sleeps during the day. I sleep during the day too, but I wouldn’t be available to help her anyways because I cut off all contact with my metamour when her emotional abuse became apparent. Again, part of a longer story, but the context is important.

Apparently, she couldn’t get the lift close enough to the silo to cut the top off, so she decides she’ll just move my storage box on her own without asking me or talking to my partner. She contacts the relatives with the vehicle that can move it. Fortunately, my boyfriend has woken up for work by this point and tells her no, she can’t just move it, it has to be emptied.

She insists that he told her it was empty, and he says “No, I said it didn’t have anything really heavy in it, but it’s full of fragile stuff.” So she cancels the relatives coming over to move the storage box.

What that leaves us with is several hundred dollars spent to rent the lift, and nothing to show for it.

Pagan Leadership, Planning, and Control Freaks

Here’s how this is a lesson for Pagan leadership, especially event organizers. So many organizers really fail to plan. Add to that the tendency to be micromanagers/perfectionists/control freaks, and you have a real problem.

My metamour, for instance, is absolutely certain that nobody can wash the dishes as well as she can. It’s also impossible to use her “system” to do the laundry and succeed at it, you’re guaranteed to fail. She is also convinced that some of the household carpentry was done wrong because she wasn’t the one to do it herself.

And sure, she knows more about carpentry than I do, and she’s far more of a neat freak than I am, so maybe she’s more attentive. That being said, I assisted her on a building project to build a cabinet to house her massage table and other related items, and the cabinet ended up being fairly crooked. It wasn’t so crooked that it couldn’t be used for its intended purpose, but it definitely wasn’t square. I was just helping hold boards and taking direction.

Feedback or Abuse?

Historically, my metamour gets upset when my boyfriend points out places where her lack of planning, or her control freak tendencies, have produced results that have actually been harmful to the household. She says he’s being abusive and attacking her. Having been witness to a few of her failures to plan, to her control freak behavior, and to their conversations, I realize how much of a similarity there is to problems I’ve witnessed in Pagan groups.

A lot of leaders feel attacked by feedback. And it’s true that being a leader means you have a target painted on your back. You’re going to get blamed for all sorts of stuff that isn’t your fault. And yes, I’ve been on the receiving end of feedback that ranges from useless to abusive.

But, when someone offers genuine feedback about an event or something else, you have to be able to listen to that.

I’ve seen a lot of Pagan event organizers especially start planning an event and they just pull the trigger on doing something that has drastic consequences for the rest of the event. That ranges from going forward with an event without having enough volunteers, to promoting an event before the venue was rented, to focusing on designing t-shirts (and buying them) before there’s even a solid plan for the event itself. I’ve seen event organizers make a ton of assumptions about how things will go; failing to plan enough space between vendor tables, failing to create a workable schedule.

I’ve made some rookie mistakes as an event organizer, and I’ve also had the problem many organizers do where I assumed that someone would do the job they said they would, and then they didn’t, and I had to do the job myself, and I did a less-good job of it. That stuff happens. But there’s a real problem when there’s a consistent failure to plan ahead, or when the failure to plan harms others.

And especially, when the person who failed to plan is called out for it with clear feedback and instead of listening to the feedback, they fire/exile the person for it, or they claim they are being attacked, bullied, and abused.

Worse yet is when the person is convinced that there wasn’t a problem in the first place, that they are right and they know exactly what they are doing.

Control Freaks

I know a thing or two about this; I consider myself a recovering control freak, and I’ve written a few articles in more depth about this tendency in leaders.  And here’s the breakdown: Sometimes, it’s worth it to be a control freak and a perfectionist. If you’re running an event where there’s a particular artistic vision you’re holding onto, and there are specific tasks that you really are the best person to do, ok. You get to be a perfectionist there and focus your efforts on getting those things done.

This is a balancing act that I do with a number of my rituals and events. There are specific things that maybe nobody else on the team has the skills to do; maybe nobody else is an artist, or another skillset. In my case, I want the altars and decorations set up a particular way, so I plan to have enough time to do that myself. Helpers can help me unpack the decor, and break it down for packing at the end, and can haul things around and save me a lot of time. But I want it set up a particular way and I know there’s no good way to communicate that to a volunteer, so I just take the time to do it myself. It’s actually one of the ways I center myself to prepare for a ritual.

And, I get enough positive feedback on my ritual decor, and my artwork in general, that I’m reasonably sure my sense of aesthetic has a positive impact on the work.

Often enough, though, a control freak isn’t actually the best person for a particular job. They may have this delusion that nobody can do it better than them, but as it happens, they aren’t actually as good at Task A as someone else. Or, maybe it’s a thing that someone else can do just fine, but they’ll do it in a different way.

Are You Sure You’re Right?

Given her history, I’m pretty sure my metamour decided to cut off the top of the silo with at least one of her motivations being she believes that nobody else was going to do as good of a job with it. I’m also pretty sure that my metamour still thinks she’s good at planning, even though I have two years of evidence to show that she isn’t. Everything from family trips to getting the day passes from 4-H to get the kids into the cat show to construction efforts; she wants to be the person who can do the thing, and her failure to plan has cost the household in time, money, and frustration.

Just a few weeks ago my boyfriend had to flip his schedule from nights to days (flipping schedules is really exhausting, if you haven’t done it) in order to attend a graduation of one of her family members. She got the time wrong by several hours. He slept for all of a couple hours, got up, got dressed, they got the kids packed into the van and began the drive. My metamour called a member of her family to confirm the time, after they began the drive, and found out that the graduation wasn’t til the afternoon. It was a 1-2 hour drive, so they turned around, he tried to take a nap, didn’t really get any sleep, and then got back in the car and tried again. This has a real cost to him and his health, plus I have seen her then turn around and get mad at him for not getting XYZ tasks done when he was dealing with all the extra work from her failure to plan.

Again–mistakes happen, but a consistent failure to be able to plan means that an event organizer really needs to consider if they are the best person for the job.

What if You Aren’t a Great Planner?

Often in Pagan groups, there are only so many people with the “bug” for event planning. There are only so many people with the drive to go and get it done. That being said, if a failure to plan is causing strife on your team, if it’s costing money, if your vendors, performers, speakers, or attendees are having issues that negatively impact them, you may want to take some time to consider what to do.

here are options that divide out roles, for instance. Let’s say you’re the go-getter-git’r’done person who can make the thing happen…but thinking ten steps ahead in chess moves is not so much your thing. What do you do? One potential solution here is that you can work to collaborate with someone who can talk through things with you.

In the Myers Briggs personality test, I (and probably my boyfriend) test out as an INTJ. That means that I have a plan, a contingency plan, and contingency for the contingency plan. I love strategizing and noodling out planning details for projects I’ll never even be part of, because I’m just that kind of nerd.

I can be annoying in the ideation phase of an event because I can see the problems in the details way before most other folks. Like, “Hey, let’s do an event at ____location. We can save money by catering it ourselves.” Me: “I’m pretty sure they require a caterer on their approved list.”

Yeah–that kind of thing can be annoying, but really it’s way better than renting the venue and then getting pissed off that they require a caterer, but you’ve already paid them, and then you have to tell people, “Sorry, there won’t be any food at all at this all-day event, and there are no food sellers within walking distance, and no, you can’t bring your own food onsite.” It’s a small detail that can blow an event.

When it’s Just Toxic

However, there’s really no hope for an event organizer that can’t plan ahead, and who is a control freak and thinks they are right all the time. That kind of disorganization, and micromanaging, is a toxic combination. Usually folks who do both of those also have a number of abusive tendencies, in my experience.

Sometimes the folks who don’t plan well get away with it, at least for a while. They’re charismatic and talk people into helping them out, or they luck out and wiggle their way through. My metamour, for instance, is charismatic and flirtatious. She often gets her way by flirting with people. I have frequently heard her say, “I’ll just show my tits to them and get them to move the furniture,” or some version of that. She delights in manipulating people to do what she wants, particularly through sexual flirtation. That can work for a time. Heck, this kind of abusive personality can even make you feel good about being manipulated if they are really skilled. It’s still toxic as hell.

If you’re noticing any of these behaviors in yourself (failure to plan, or being a control freak) don’t worry–there’s hope. If you can acknowledge you do it, you can usually work through it.

If you’re working with someone who is in total denial about those behaviors, or about any manipulative or abusive behaviors–the only advice I have is, cut ties. That toxic and abusive behavior is unlikely to change.


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Pantheacon 2017 Schedule

Posted by on Feb 15, 2017 in Uncategorized | No Comments

AWLogoIconHere it is, my schedule for this year’s Pantheacon. The bolded items are workshops or rituals I’m leading, or supporting. As always, we’ll see how many of the workshops I actually get to.

I am trying to carve out actual time for dinner this year; the last couple of years I had specific dinner engagements (one each year) and this year I have hopes to leave that time free to grab a meal with people I don’t get to see much. As always, with that much going on, who knows, but this is the theoretical schedule. Only thing I can guarantee is that I’ll be at the workshops and rituals I’m supposed to be at 🙂
Friday

  • 1:30 pm Nourishing Empowering Leadership (Starhawk)
  • 3:30 pm Architecture of Ritual: Engaging Participation
  • 5:00 Dinner
  • 7:00 pm The Awen I Sing from the Deep, or A Ritual for the Great Turning
  • 9:00 pm Cauldron Work: The Cauldron of Poesy
  • 11:00 pm Fifty Shades of Greyface

Saturday

  • 9:00 am Magickal Drumming – Ritual/Ceremonial Drumming workshop (Don Schulz)
  • 11:00 am Ritual Participation Skills (Phaedra Bonewits)
  • 1:30 pm Procession of the Fallen Light (Penczak)
  • 3:30 pm Chanting and Trancing workshop in the ADF Suite
  • (Hexenfest art show/auction)
  • 5:00 Dinner
  • 7:00 pm Mythpunk Masquerade (til 10)

Sunday

  • 10:00 am-12PM PaganBloggers.com in Sisterhood of Avalon suite
  • 1:30 pm Nonviolent De-escalation techniques (Rhyd Wildemuth Crystal Blanton)
  • 3:30 pm Journey to the Sacred Well: Seeking Our Magic
  • 7:00 pm Embracing Restorative Magic (Crystal Blanton)
  • 5:00 pm Dinner
  • 9:00 pm Dance Elemental/ ADF Ritual for Unity
  • 11:00 pm Hekate at the Crossroads: Meeting of Mind and Movement (Laura Tempest Zakroff)

Monday

  • 9:00 am Music, Magic, and the Art of Ritual Soundscapes (with Gwion Raven)
  • 11:00 am Biochemistry of trance: Optimizing going there and coming back

 

Workshop descriptions:

 

Architecture of Ritual: Engaging Participation

How do you raise energy in ritual? Ecstatic ritual creates potent rituals and transformative experiences. But how do you engage participation from people of different ages, different physical mobility, and with different learning modalities? How do you keep people chanting? We’ll explore the design of rituals and how layering trancework and ritual structure and flow can engage participation including chanting, movement, rhythm, as well as deeper participation through emotional connection. Participants will have the opportunity to practice ritual skills. Experienced and new ritualists welcome.

 

Bardic Music, Ritual Magic: Chanting and Trancing Techniques (ADF Suite)

Ecstatic ritual techniques such as chanting, drumming, and movement, work to engage the trance state. And humans are hard-wired to be inspired by myth, by story. Regardless of your tradition, these techniques can add dimension and potency to your rituals. These are also tools that can be layered. Want to experiment with trance journeys that are sung? Want to try adding harmonies or rhythm to your chanting? Want to learn how to bring the deep magic through story, and through authenticity, to get participants to actually participate? Class will involve hands-on exploration of techniques to engage deeply impactful ritual experiences.

 

Journey to the Sacred Well: Seeking Our Magic

Remember when we stood together under the starry sky, when we lifted our hands from the sacred well to drink? Join us for an ecstatic, participatory ritual to seek the magic of the ancient waters. If you could call out for the magic…the inspiration…life force and hope…would you dare? What incantation will you sing to wish on the stars? Seeking this magic means journeying down the roots of the world tree…gazing into the mirror of souls…seeking the mysteries of your very depths. What must you transform? And what is the dream in the center of your heart? Adults/mature teens only, closed at 15 min

 

Music, Magic, and the Art of Ritual Soundscapes (with Gwion Raven)

Can you hear the call, the kaleidoscope of sound and rhythm cascading together to weave our magic? We’ll go beyond chanting and into the rich tapestry of sound as ritual technology including: layered harmonies, vocal percussion, drumming, instruments, crafting extemporaneous chants, trancework, and more. Delve into the mysteries of our collective voices as we craft a sweet song of devotion, a furious incantation…as the beat of drums and stomping feet calls us home. Together we’ll create a musical intention; bring your voices, drums, bodies, and any instruments you like! All skill levels welcome.


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Full Moon Gratitude: February

Posted by on Feb 10, 2017 in Uncategorized | No Comments
15895254_10154889683535902_5352150398461547467_nI can’t believe Pantheacon’s in a week. So much to do! It’s full moon again, and I’m once again feeling a lot of gratitude, so I thought I’d post about that. Gods know we could all use a little hope in the world right now.

 
  • Today my hurdy gurdy will arrive. Yay!
  • In the past month I’ve managed to relist four of my fiction books (Werewolves in the Kitchen, Werewolves with Chocolate, The White Dress, the Autumn Leaves, and A Winter Knight’s Vigil). I had two publishers close their doors this past summer, so I had to publish them again on my own. (They’re all available as ebooks on Amazon, and will shortly be available in other formats. Message me if you need them in a format other than Kindle.)
  • This month I’ve also relisted my Dreamwork book, as well as produced a printed version of the book. (You can buy it directly from me for $10 + $3 in shipping and get a free gift of some postcards or greeting cards of my artwork.)
  • I’ve got most of the work done for two more books (the re-release of what was Spiritual Scents and is now Sacred Spark: Rituals Without Scent, Smoke, or Fire) and a new compilation of articles and essays, Path of a Seeker. Those will both be live within a few weeks.
  • I’ve been hauling ass on getting more paintings finished. (You can find my current inventory on my Storenvy site that I put up last month.) I’ll be caught up on my commissions within the next weeks, and I’ll also have made rather a lot of space in my room once the half-completed pieces get finished and moved into art storage or shipped out.
  • My Patreon’s going well. I’m slowly getting into the rhythm of populating it with content. I’m almost halfway to my first goal tier, which gets me closer to having more time to write
  • I wrote a few blog posts this month
  • I started creating black and white versions of my artwork. Still need to fine tune that, but it’s really coming along and I’ll soon have a lot more to share. Supporters of my Patreon will get access to the coloring book pages as printable downloads.
  • I have a therapist. We’ve only met twice, so she’s still getting to know me, but it’s good to have that in process.
  • My boyfriend and I are doing well, and are very much in love. We still have some issues to work through with our broader household, and I’m holding space for that.
  • Related to the household, I established some very firm boundaries to distance myself from the drama, and that’s taken me from having almost daily anxiety attacks to having had just a couple in the past month, and some of that was due to political stuff, not household matters.
  • There’s more but it’s a lot of fussy behind the scenes stuff.

Now let’s see how much I can get done in the last days before Pantheacon….I have ambitions.


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Your Hate has Made You Powerful

Posted by on Jan 24, 2017 in Activism, Personal Growth | No Comments

7622419_xxlThis one’s a repost as the blog it was on is now defunct. Though I wrote it a few years ago, it seemed appropriate given the political climate and the many people rising as activists to fight against a bigoted regime.

There’s a quote from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi that has nagged at me for years. In my 20′s, it was an inspiring quote that brought a lot of energy to me when the chips were down and I was fighting the good fight.

After I did a lot of feminist leadership training, I reversed my opinion on the line: “Your hate has made you powerful.”

Here’s what has itched at me.  Hate is “bad,” right? So why is it some of my greatest creative bursts come when I’ve been enraged enough to see red? I have painted large murals in mere hours when fueled by my wrath…I have felt that hot, dark pulse of creative inspiration in a moment of anger.

But if I am feeling hate, then I’m not a spiritually-developed, balanced person, right?

This was the struggle I went through as I engaged in a multi-year mystery school program of personal and spiritual development. This mystery school also led to my getting training as a leader of spiritual groups and facilitator of rituals. I had always thought of my anger as just one piece of my energy. I had thought that my anger was something that I–as an artist, a creative–had the power to transmute.

Sometimes I even thought of it like the Bene Gesserit women from the novel/movie Dune who transmute the Water of Life from a poison into a water that others can drink and that offers a deep spiritual experience. (Yes, sort of like Siberian Shamans and mushrooms, but that’s another post entirely.) However, the more work that I did in this leadership program, and the more I was exposed to principles of nonviolence, the more I began to fear my own anger. The more I began to do personal work exploring myself and my motivations and my emotions and my boundaries…the more shadows I encountered, the more I tried to work to “fix” myself.

And…I have to liken what happened at that point in my life to this metaphor. I was like a half-trained programmer working with a huge amount of code. I feel like I was trying to hack my life–hack my Self and self-identity–and I deleted too large of a line of code. Of course the rest of the app (in other words, me) didn’t work right after that.

What I mean is, I decided somewhere in there that anger, rage, and hate were inherently “bad” and if I was taking energy from them then that made me “bad” as well. So I basically began the process of cutting off that source of my energy, my power, my motivation.

It was like a tree cutting off half of its taproot system.

Motivation, Anger, and Bullying
I used to have a limitless supply of energy for a project. The bigger the project, the more energy I had for it. And somewhere in the depths of my brain…in my subconscious…in the mire of my old wounds and my pain from my past, the energy that I had often came from hate. Specifically, my hate for my peers who had abused me in middle school. Somewhere inside of me, every time I was doing some big huge project, like running an event, I was saying “Fuck you” to the kids who had bullied and abused me in school.

I just recently read an article about the long-term effects of childhood bullying.  http://www.bilerico.com/2014/04/bullying_causes_decades_of_harm_new_study_shows.php

I certainly suffered from years of poor self esteem, which has a rippling impact on the rest of my life. I’ve written other posts on working with the wounds of our past. Somehow, when I did a big creative project, like when I’d organize one of the Star Wars themed parties at a Sci-fi Convention, I felt like I was giving my classmates the finger. Like I was somehow proving that I was indeed better than them.

That I was beyond all that they had ever done to me.

There were times when my energy for a project was absolutely inexhaustible. There are times when I’ve stayed up for days, fueled by limitless energy. I think I maybe got a little unnerved when I realized how much of my creative energy was being sourced from the deep, bottomless well of “Fuck you.”

Need For Approval
Tied up within that was my own need for approval, largely from mentors. Since from grade school through high school I didn’t really have many friends among my peers, I had always sourced my need for approval from teachers, adults, and other people in authority. Basically, I wasn’t getting friendship or affection, but what I could get was approval for good grades, or approval for being “good.”

And, as you might expect, that became a factor when I began doing the deep personal work at this particular mystery school. I desperately wanted the approval of my mentors.

So when I learned how much anger towards those bullies I had been harboring those years, and when I was exposed to techniques of nonviolent communication, and as I did more personal growth work, I got the idea that sourcing my energy from anger made me “bad.”

Well, I didn’t want to be “bad.” I’d never get approval from my mentors if I was “bad,” right?

It took me rather a few years to unravel what I’d done to myself, and how I’d gone a little overboard in my course correction. I had already been facing a lot of depression symptoms–largely, exhaustion, brain fog, and lack of motivation or interest in things that used to interest me. Those symptoms got worse as the years went on.

Any time I felt a rush of energy from that “fuck you” source, I felt a rush of corresponding guilt, and then exhaustion. Instead of staying mad, I’d get tired. Many times, I’d feel the overwhelming need to sleep, immediately. I started doing less events, and less grandiose events. Less projects, less creative work. And then I’d get sad and tired thinking, I haven’t done any cool projects lately, nothing worth doing.

And that would make me more sad.

It’s really hard to say how much of this depression was from me trying to change too much internal programming, and how much was from what I’d later discover was an intolerance to gluten, dairy, and to other preservatives and chemicals. I can say that when I finally started eating the right foods for me (basically the paleo diet) many of my depression/exhaustion symptoms reduced tremendously.

But what I think also happened in the intervening years of personal growth work is that I regrew my taproots in a healthier way, and I renegotiated my work with my anger.

Boundaries and Self Esteem
Back when I was sourcing my project and creative energy in “Fuck you,” it was pretty simple math. I had terrible self esteem. I had a poor sense of self and self identity. When there are old wounds, old holes in the ego, one of the ways that manifests is through extreme defensiveness and arrogance. It’s a coping strategy.

I can sum it up as: if everyone is hating on me, then I have to defend myself proactively. And the best defense is to be better than the people who were making fun of me, bullying me. If I am superior to them, then what they did to me doesn’t hurt as bad somehow. But, that kind of behavior tends to extend out. It becomes easy to not just be arrogant towards the people who have bullied and harmed me, but to everyone, because everyone is a potential threat.

It’s the defense mechanism that keeps a lot of us sane when we’re being bullied and abused…but it can go too far.

In the years I was involved with that mystery school and the years after, I continued to do my personal work. I grew an actual, healthy sense of self esteem. I traded my arrogance for confidence. If someone teased me or insulted me, I would no longer lash out defensively. Instead, I’d realize that what they were saying probably was a lot less about me, and more about their own projections or issues. I got a lot more centered.

I began to be able to hear the difference between, “I don’t like what you did on ___ project,” and, “I think you suck.”

As I developed better boundaries, better self esteem, I got a lot less angry at my former bullies. I recognized that the adults around me weren’t all the kids from school. And then I began to recognize that the kids in school that bullied me, tormented me…that many of them were acting out their own issues of abuse.

That indeed, a lot of what they had done was not about me at all. I was just a convenient target.

What’s my Source?
For those many years, I had lost that energetic taproot. I was depressed a lot. I didn’t have the energy to do the big events, the inspiring events. I wondered rather a lot about where the source of my inspiration had gone, where my muse had gone. I felt I was on a desperate Grail quest, begging for the scraps of the edge of the cup to refill my heart again, to bring that life force back that seemed to have vanished from my life.

The combination of several things began to bring back my life force, my muse, my inspiration.

Changing my diet reduced my exhaustion, as did leaving an emotionally abusive relationship. But it was the years of work on building up a healthier sense of self esteem that formed the core of that. It was also remembering what it was that brought me energy and life force in the first place helped me to sink those new, healthy taproots back in. In other words, I began to remember that I used to do events that I was inspired to do. It wasn’t just that I ran an event or did a project because I wanted to show off–it was that I was genuinely interested.

And anger wasn’t bad, I realized. Anger was passion. Anger reminded me that I cared. If it was me being angry at some years-distant abuse, I had to think about what I was really angry at. If I was angry at someone for something and it turned out I was really actually projecting my anger from some long-distant wrong…then I knew I needed to look at that, examine it.

But it didn’t mean that all anger was automatically bad.

Anger
There’s the righteous anger of the activist, standing up against those who oppress others. There’s the righteous anger of the abused. Being angry at the people who abused me doesn’t make me bad.

There are all sorts of things in this world that make me angry and that I have nothing to do with that anger. I get angry at how people bully each other. I read the news or hear about people hurting each other and I am sad, hurt, angry, and it’s not something I can fix for them, not something that I can change. There are times when people have hurt me, and it’s ok to be angry at them.

I think that there’s a lot of anger that is sourced in love–and what I mean is, we get angry when something we love is violated or hurt.

I deeply believe that the most potent muse, the most potent source energy, is love. And love, passion, and anger are all a bare breath away from each other, emotionally. They make our blood pressure rise, our cheeks flush, our heart palpitate. I, in having the capacity to love, in choosing to feel desire, yearning, and passion…also have the capacity to be passionately angry when that which I love is violated.

In center of my heart I have the power to transmute my own fury into creativity, life-force. I bring myself back into alignment with love using that energy to spur me from entropy to action.

These days, I’m no longer cut off from anger as energy…I just have a far healthier relationship to my own rage. The core of my source energy  is following my calling, it’s working with the energy of what inspires me, of life and life force and love. And I’m a human being and I get angry, and that’s a part of things too.

Personal Growth: Creating New Shadows
In doing some of the personal growth work that I did, I created an entirely new shadow. What I mean by shadow is that we (humans) have basic needs. Needs like sex, food, shelter, approval, attention…except, culturally, we’re often taught that some of  these needs are bad.

When I began doing the work of personal transformation, I didn’t start out having issues around my anger. I was already using it for creative work, channeling it. But in that particular group where I did so much personal work, there was the subtle pressure that anger was “bad,” as I’ve said. So I created an entire shadow–I tried to not be angry ever. I thought that if I was perfect and centered and spiritual, then I wouldn’t be angry. That I should never feel hate.

Once I re-embraced that shadow, once I accepted that I’m a human being that feels anger and feels hate from time to time, then I could accept and love myself again instead of fighting myself. I could renegotiate my relationship to that anger.

Sometimes, I get pissed off, and I put that energy into my creative work, instead of hating myself even more for not being perfect.

Overall, I work to source my energy in love, in my calling. The work that really draws me is the work that I know is going to bring good things out there, bring some joy or serve community. Maybe it’s one of my fiction stories, or a painting. Maybe I’m teaching a workshop on leadership or running a weekend conference. Maybe I’m helping another author organize an event. When I focus on the joy, and let the occasional anger flow into the project and transmute it into something good, I feel pretty balanced.

There are times when “my hate has made me powerful.” Hate is that emotion that I feel when something I love is violated. When I need that boost of energy to make a big change in the world. I hope to help build the kind of world where we aren’t hurting each other so much. Where we try to help one another. Where we try to help heal each other.

I don’t live in that world yet, but every time I get angry, I try to fuel it into work that will help make this world a better place.


Filed under: Activism, Personal Growth

Compassion, Truth, and Bonesetting

Rift on the earth excellent background

I was taught that setting the bone is a crucial part of being a priest/ess, a leader. That sometimes we have to hurt in order to heal. And I was also taught that truth often hurts. We couch so many things in white lies to salve someone’s feelings, to soothe it over, to make it hurt less. But those attempts to ease pain in the short term often cause longer term pain. In essence–sometimes the deepest form of compassion is to say the hard thing. It hurts in the short term, but it heals in the long term.

I’ve written about the Frosts, and I’ve received a number of comments on my Facebook, and private messages, from people who feel that I lack compassion for Gavin Frost’s family by posting some reminders about their writings where they detail an entire chapter on sexual initiation of barely pubescent minors.

It’s not that I don’t have compassion, it’s that I’m not codependent. I’m not responsible for the feelings of the family members, and I certainly am not responsible for the feelings of those who support them somehow despite the horrific things the Frosts wrote. I am sorry that they lost a loved one, and I mean that sincerely. But I’m not going to lie about the Frosts just to make them feel better.

I’m reporting what has happened because it’s important to the broader community to not lie about Gavin Frost. You can’t ethically/honestly/journalistically write an article about a public figure and speak about the awesome stuff they did without speaking about the horrible stuff too. I’m not defaming the Frosts (or any other leader/elder I speak about), I’m speaking to things they wrote in their book or in blog posts, things they said in interviews.

Defamation means telling a lie, speaking an intentional untruth. It’s not defamation to speak the truth. And it’s not speaking ill of the dead to speak the truth of what that person did in their life.
My compassion is for the broader community, for the current future Pagans that need to remember our history so we don’t repeat it, so we don’t continue making space for leaders and authors that harm us.

I’ve not said anywhere that Gavin Frost sexually abused anyone, because I have no proof of that, so saying that would not be the truth. What I’ve said is that the chapter in the book by the Frosts (The Witches Bible and later, The Good Witches Bible) is a how-to manual for sexual abuse. And it’s a chapter, a guide, that Pagan/coven leaders have used or at least tried to use as a template. I personally know several people (and I know of others) who were harmed by coven leaders who were following the teachings of the Frosts.

My compassion is for the victims. My compassion is for all those who come after us who deserve better. My compassion and my love is for the community that (I hope) survives us. And my deepest hope is that this future Pagan community is not riddled with rape culture, misogyny, homophobia, nor with with unethical, harmful leaders. This goes far beyond the Frosts, but they are a part of our past, and sweeping what they wrote and said (and held to) under the rug is a lie.

I’m speaking up because people are eulogizing Gavin Frost without telling the whole story–or without knowing the whole story. What is remembered lives, and we must remember our failings as a community. One of our grossest failings collectively is failing to speak up when something’s wrong.

I don’t believe Gavin Frost was a completely bad person, any more than my ex was completely bad. People are complicated. The labels of “good” and “bad” aren’t really useful. People can do good things, and also bad things. People can be beloved teachers who helped you find your spiritual path, and they can also have taught and promoted some very harmful practices.

If you believe that I’m heartless for posting about the Frosts now, I’m not going to be able to convince you otherwise. But the way I was trained was in the magic of the bone-setting, of healing the longer term even if there is pain in the short term. That speaking the truth is healing, though it can hurt. There’s no way I can write about the topics that I do without hurting someone, but I do so with that intention of setting the bone, of longer term healing.

I don’t enjoy writing those posts about our harmful leaders and elders. Those are hard posts to write, and they lead to days of stress dealing with angry comments and hatemail. I lose friends when I post about these things. I lose paid teaching engagements. I don’t write these things without a cost to myself, but I write them because I love my community and I want to see it thrive. I want to see a healthy, sustainable Pagan community.

What is remembered lives, and we must not forget the mistakes of the past or we are doomed to repeat them.


Filed under: Activism, Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: Frosts, Gavin Frost, Pagan, Pagan community, Paganism, rape culture, sexual abuse, The Witches Bible

Ritual and Chanting Prep: My Voice Warm Up Playlist

Posted by on Jul 25, 2016 in Uncategorized | No Comments

DSC03633smWhen I teach workshops on chanting, or on chanting in context of trancework, energy building in ritual, or other logistics, I talk a lot about how important it is to sing a lot and keep your voice warmed up. In short, our voices are a muscle. Don’t expect to roll out of bed and have a good singing voice, or to have a strong singing voice to lead chants if the only time you sing is 8 times a year for sabbats (or less). While I don’t sing every day, I do sing at least a few times a week. One of the things I suggest to folks instead of singing scales (which, for my part, is pretty boring) is to find songs to sing along with. 

I thought I’d include my current voice warm up playlist for when I’m in my car singing. I don’t always play them in this order, and I have other songs that I listen to in between singing to give my voice a rest (and keep me energized for the next round of singing), but this is a fair approximation of the progression.

The first three songs are the ones I sing the most commonly. I often warm up singing along to Above and Beyond – Tri-State for at least 10-15 minutes before I move on to anything else. I sing Gaeta’s Lament a lot as well, but usually not until I’ve worked out any phlegm or funk in my throat. I often can’t hit the high/sustained note at the end of the song til I’ve been singing for 20-30 minutes.

It’s worth noting that I’m doing different things with these songs when I’m doing my voice warmups. Tri-State is a really simple song as far as the melody goes, and what I’m generally doing is just singing harmonic drones along with it. Songs with long, sustained notes are easier to pick up a harmony line for, and that’s why I like this song, because I can come up with my own harmonies and even some melodic progressions that complement the song just to develop my “ear” for what sounds good. I also use that song to keep my lung capacity strong. I sing droned (long sustained tones) for as long as I can. Sometimes I can sustain a note for 30-40 seconds, which is a pretty long time.

Another piece of the warmup is that by singing long sustained notes I can get a good feel for where my voice is. At first it might be gravelly or rough. I might be congested, there might be phlegm, my throat might be scratchy. I’ll go back and forth and sing other songs and come back to Tri-State because my voice can’t really hide from those long notes. Any roughness is going to come out. When I can sing that song smoothly, my voice is getting into good shape.

I sing Ubi Caritas and Ben Pode Santa Maria to work out my mouth muscles. There are lots of percussive words, lots of mouth shapes. Usually after I sing one of those my mouth/cheeks/jaw ache just a little, so I give it a rest and go back to Tri-State, or just listen to music for a bit. It’s like stretches before heavier exercise; I don’t want to tax the muscles too much at first, I want to warm them up.

I’m also playing with harmonies with Ubi Caritas, and with Ben Pode Santa Maria I actually sing a completely separate vocal percussion piece that overlays as a harmony line. Again–I’m playing with harmonies to develop my ear to hear what sounds good, and in my case, singing things that are far lower than the original vocalists because my voice is an octave or two lower than theirs.

With Bluetech – Worthy, sometimes I just sing along to the vocals, because I love the song. Sometimes I sing one of my cantillation pieces that I composed against it. By singing totally different words and listening to the words of the song, I’m putting myself into a state of trance, but I’m also stretching my ability to handle multiple things at the same time. I sometimes do this exercise while completing a third simple task like texting someone or writing down a to do list. It helps me to sink the cantillation songs I’ve composed into my muscle memory so I can be singing that in a ritual while attending to other logistics and not lose my place.

Sound of Silence by Disturbed is one of my newer warmup songs, and I’m not great at it just yet. It’s a tricky fit for my vocal range to sing the melody, though I can sustain plenty of harmonies. It’s a good test of my voice, though, when I’m really warmed up. If I can belt out some of the high notes I’m doing well. Same thing for the Star Spangled Banner. I sing the version in a minor key (because hey, I love me some minor key) and usually the first time I’ll sing a low harmony to it. However, when my voice is good and warmed up, I’ll sing the melody, and if I can hit those high notes and sustain them, my voice is pretty well warmed up for any chant I want to lead in ritual.

I’m working up a new playlist of songs to practice against to expand my musical skills, so once I have that together and have been using it I’ll post an update.

If there’s any interest at all, I could try and record myself singing along to these so you can get a sense of the kinds of vocal percussion and harmonies that I’m doing.

Ultimately, what helps is to sing along to 1. music you enjoy, and 2. music you can sing to. That means music that works with your vocal range, or that you can adapt and sing harmony to. It also means that you want to choose music that isn’t so complicated that you’ll get frustrated. The Sound of Silence is, for me, at the upper limit of how complicated a song I can sing along to. It’s more complicated than the others in terms of melodies and words. My vocal “stretch” song used to be Enya – May it Be from Lord of the Rings, which I didn’t include here because that song didn’t actually work so well for me to practice with. Even if I sing that one a lot lower, it’s not in a good spot for my vocal range, and I’m either singing it down at the bottom of my range, or way up at the top. The only way I can really sing along is if I sing harmony to it.

I update my sing along playlist all the time, and sometimes I just sing along to my road-trip techno for a change of pace.

The best thing you can do for your voice is to sing, to practice singing, to get your voice warmed up in a gentle way, to practice singing specific songs and chants until you know them and have them in your muscle memory. And then learning to add in harmonies, vocal percussion, or other pieces to the music…to expand your breath control and lung capacity…if you keep at it you’ll learn a lot of stuff about your own voice and be better able to sustain chanting in ritual.

And truly–music in ritual, particularly chanting, is pretty much one of the most potent magical and spiritual technique that I’ve experienced, so it’s worth doing. Almost everyone can sing, and even if you don’t think your voice sounds good, probably a lot of that is because you aren’t singing. Give it a shot; you’d be surprised how good you can sound if you’re regularly singing. I know I was; I used to be the tone deaf girl encouraged to sing quietly in grade school.

 

 

 

PS, if you like any of these songs, go on and pick up their works! It’s easy to find places you can buy their CDs or mp3s with a Google search.


Filed under: Uncategorized

Music, Magic, and Life on the Road

DSC03399My posts have been sporadic, and I apologize for that. As a writer, it’s really tough when I’m not able to do that writing thing. That being said, my past months have been chock full of new experiences that will give me writing fodder for months (and years) to come. I’ve been traveling and teaching at different festivals and events, and recently I’ve really been upping my game as a musician and connecting more with other Pagan musicians.

In fact, I am looking to host regular chanting/music circles in the southeast Wisconsin area, or within a couple of hours drive. (Interested? Contact me at Shaunaaura (at) gmail (dot) com) And I have it in mind to formally create some kind of trancey Pagan band/choir thing. I’m also looking at buying a few additional musical instruments slowly as I can afford them, and working to learn to play more of them. Or at least, get better at it. Frame drum, bodhran, more gongs..

This past week at Summerland Spirit Fest in Wisconsin, I learned a few things. I know a lot more about music than I thought, and my voice is a lot better than I thought. I also learned that I have so freaking much to learn about music, but it really is calling to me.

Ultimately, I’d love to compose and create music with others. A band, a choir…not sure what to call it. And yeah–not that I needed yet another creative project, but I feel that the work I’ve been doing has been building up to this, I just needed a little bit of a push from some experienced musicians to tell me I have the chops to pull it off.

So–special thanks to singer/songwriter/guitarist Brian Henke for pushing me to take that next step and encouraging me…and for dragging me up on stage to sing backup vocals for his most excellent Raven King song.

And thanks also to Tuatha Dea; I’ve been on the festival circuit for a while with them and we’ve interwoven on occasion with them supporting my rituals with drumming, but it was great to get a peek into the creative process. And Kathy–many thanks to you for saving my voice with your “Entertainer’s Secret” throat spray. My voice was about toast by the last night of the festival and I had to lead a chanting-intensive women’s ritual, then lead the energy chant for the combined attendees of the men’s and women’s ritual when we rejoined after. I caught the festival crud and the damp nights were not kind to my throat, but I learned another singer pro-tip in the form of the throat spray. Just ordered my own bottle for emergencies, too.

What I really loved the most about hanging out with the musicians at this festival was the spirit of collaboration. The other musicians were willing to answer my newbie questions about the various musical techniques they were employing or their processes. The music I know for leading chanting is different from performing songs, so I was working to be a sponge and absorb as much as I could. In fact, the musicians remind me a lot of the community of romance novel authors; it’s also very collaborative and supportive. With the musicians, there’s not really a sense of competition, even though each musician depends on CD sales to get paid for their time.

Instead, they’re looking for how to support one another and help, including helping those who are just stepping into musical work. I had offers of all sorts of help including folks from Murphy’s Midnight Rounders that agreed to teach me a bit about sound engineering theory so I can better use applications like Audacity to record and edit my own work.

One of my favorite moments of the festival was when a bunch of the musicians were just jamming. The Night Travelers had to leave before the fest was done (I imagine they had another gig to get to.) The banjo player for Night Travelers is rather famous as a banjo player, and I can see why. The guy has fingers that just fly and he’s inexhaustible. So a bunch of the musicians were all hanging out in the main lodge/hall of the festival, jamming until the wee hours. I finally had to bail at 2 or 3 in the morning since I had to be up and teaching in the morning, but it was pretty cool to experience. Other musicians were joining in with guitar, and I joined in with some harmonies.

And there were lots of other musicians collaborating as the fest went on. Beltana Spellsinger, Ginger Ackley, and Mel Dalton did a concert together, and pretty much all the musicians did some kind of collaboration as the week went on. I also got to hear musicians composing and working out new tunes and debuting them, which was pretty spiffy.

Some of the songs were exactly what I needed to hear in that moment.

I left Summerland Spirit Fest with my cup absolutely full. In my workshops, I had people asking great questions and diving into the singing/chanting techniques, and people working to support that in the rituals I led. In fact, right now it’s a little bittersweet since my brain is buzzing with things I want to write about, music I want to sing…and I instead am focusing on managing my next travel engagements.

Right now I’m very aware that I live in quite a liminal space. I’m an introvert, and all this travel has been really hard on me. It’s affecting my body, mind, and spirit health. And all the traveling means I have almost no time at all for writing. On the other hand, the work I do is by its nature collaborative and requires connecting and networking with new people. Our voices can’t harmonize if we aren’t in the same place together. So I both crave and dread the travel and the connection, and I’m working to hold that paradox.

I’m also in the liminal space of having so many creative projects I want to work on, and only so many hours in the day. But I’ve been seeking joy for the past years, and I’m getting closer to it. Music is part of the fire that lights me up, that’s for sure.

In the coming months as my tour season winds down (August is Texas, Kansas, Missouri, and Memphis, September is Virginia and New York and Ohio and maybe Indiana) I’m going to be looking for ways I can better balance some of this. I’m looking to plan a lot less travel for next year if I can find ways to bring in enough income to keep me afloat, and spend a lot more time writing, and also practicing as a musician and connecting to other musicians.

In short–I like my alone time, and I have a desperate need to hibernate. I need my focus time to write and create. But, I also love that collaborative nature of music and ritual. I can’t sing harmony by myself. So I’m out here actively looking for musicians (or people who want to become musicians) who are willing to devote the kind of time and energy to really build skill and make the music manifest.

I’m sure I’ll be writing about some of this more coherently when I’m not recovering from one trip and prepping for the next, but I’m trying my best to at least get a few thoughts down as I go along. More magic, more music. More time. Gods, for more time.


Filed under: Magic, Pagan Music, Ritual Tagged: community, magic, Music, ritual, singing

Boredom and Side Conversations in Ritual

DSC02414Another common question I get from people who lead rituals is, “How do you get people to stop having side conversations in ritual?” Truth is, I don’t often have this problem, so it took me a bit to figure out some suggestions I could offer. However, then I went back to some of my early training in rituals and remembered that most of the logistical problems in any ritual (or other facilitated activity) are resolved by skillful setup at the beginning. There are a lot of common ritual problems I don’t run into because I always start with a pre-ritual talk.
However, there are a number of different techniques that can help with unwanted side conversations and other related issues in rituals. The core of this is that you’re trying to get a group of people to focus.
There are a few major tips to help get your group to focus and not be distracted with side conversations.

Pre-Ritual Talk

Before you start the ritual, do a little talk/introduction. Go into the theme of the ritual, teach any chants you’re going to use or discuss any logistics, like, “At one point in the ritual we’ll be writing down our wishes on a piece of paper and then burning them in the fire.” That makes it easier to facilitate during the ritual without a big confusing moment where folks aren’t sure what they’re supposed to do.

The other thing you can lay out during that part of the ritual is agreements for behavior.

Typically I start out with the theme of the ritual, get people excited for it. “Today we celebrate Beltane, and what we’ll be doing in today’s ritual is focusing on ____.” Then I might say, “For today’s ritual, I’m going to ask for a few agreements from each of you. The first is that after we cast the circle, you’re welcome to leave if you need to use the restroom or take some space, but if you leave or return, please just do so quietly and with respect. Also, I ask that once we begin, you give your full attention to each person speaking and not have side conversations. That will help keep our energy focused together for this working.”

You’d be amazed how much asking for something helps it happen. An axiom of facilitation, and of groups, and of relationships for that matter, is that if you didn’t ask for it, don’t expect to get it. When you ask for people’s help in making something happen (like not having side conversations) they become complicit and can actively support it.

In other words, don’t expect people to read your mind. If you want people to not chatter during ritual, to not take pictures, to not text or answer phone calls, you can’t expect people to just know that those aren’t appropriate behaviors. Ask for the behavior you want.

Confidence and Presence

This one can take a little more time for a new facilitator, but when you get to a certain point, you may find you don’t need to specifically ask people to not have side conversations, they naturally won’t because your presence, your confidence, your charisma is engaging enough to keep the group focused.

The reason it took me some time to think about how to keep side conversations from happening is because I don’t even usually outline that agreement any longer. Not for rituals. For workshops, sure; people are naturally chatty during workshops in the format I use. I encourage conversation as a learning method instead of me just being a talking head.

In a ritual, though, I can’t remember the last time I actually asked people to not have side conversations. People just don’t do that when I’m leading a ritual, with few exceptions. I’d say a good percentage of that is because of my confidence, my presence. Some call it charisma, some call it energy. Whatever you want to call it, I (and the other facilitators I’m working with) are focused and present for the work of the ritual, and our focus and presence naturally extends into the rest of the group and inspires their focus and presence.

If you’re a newer facilitator, or you have issues with confidence as a public speaker, just know that this part of things will get easier with time. The more you do it, the more confidence you build, the easier it is to project that energy.

Don’t Design Boring Rituals

Probably the other biggest reason I don’t often have people talking to the side during a ritual is because I design rituals specifically so that there aren’t large chunks of boringness in the middle of the ritual. I often pick on things like Cakes and Ale or smudging, but there are any number of ritual logistics that can take a long, long, long time.

It’s beyond the scope of this brief article to talk about ways to handle ritual logistics and design rituals that aren’t boring, but in my book Ritual Facilitation I outline a number of different techniques for designing rituals and making sure your logistics don’t take forever. However, one basic red flag is if it’s something that each person in the group is going to have to do one at a time, and it’s going to take more than five minutes, you’re definitely running the risk of boredom and side conversations.

A deeper issue (and way beyond the scope of this post) is that many rituals have no point. What I mean is, I’ve attended dozens of public rituals that were boring not just because there was a large poorly-facilitated logistic at the core…but because there was no hook, no reason for me to be there, no reason for me to emotionally invest. That’s a far larger and more difficult issue to address, but it’s worth at least bringing up.

You’ll probably find that when you have a ritual that is–at the core–engaging, a ritual that draws you in, a ritual with deep impact…at these rituals, people are way to busy being engaged with the work of the ritual to have side conversations.

Engage The Group with Chanting

On the same vein, let’s say there are some logistics in your ritual that are just going to take a while. Maybe it’s a ritual for a hundred people and people are going to be lighting candles off of one another. Even if you have multiple candle-lighters, this could take a while. Or maybe you have multiple people aspecting/drawing down a deity, but it’s still going to take a while as each person gets a message from the deity or archetype. Or, you have different altars where people will go and do a thing.

First, if you have a one-at-a-time logistic, try to have another simultaneous logistic that is happening where people can do it as they are ready. If one altar has someone speaking oracles from a goddess and people are visiting the altar for a one-on-one experience, perhaps have another altar or two where multiple people can go at the same time.

My catch-all, though, is to engage the entire group with a simple chant. Even if I have a group of sixty people and it’s going to take them twenty minutes to visit multiple altars, if they’re singing a simple chant while they are waiting it keeps them busy, and it holds and sustains the energy for the whole group.

Picking the right chant, and having solid chant anchors, is crucial for that to work. But with a simple (yet engaging) chant, it’s amazing how much more focused the group can become.

Shutting Down Side Conversations

Worst case scenario here is that you’ve employed some of these techniques and those pesky, distracting side conversations are happening. You’re in the middle of your ritual. Now what? How do you gracefully call out the people talking and get them to stop without bringing your whole ritual to a screeching energetic halt?
The answer is definitely not raising your voice and asking everyone to shut up. Or calling out people from the center in a public and embarrassing way. If you do so, you’ve just tanked the energy of the ritual.
And yet, as the facilitator, if you want the side conversations to stop–and especially important, if you don’t want more people to get the idea that it’s ok to do that and add more distraction–you still need to make it stop.
I was once a supporting facilitator in a large group ritual at a Pagan conference. There were about a hundred attendees in a ballroom, and maybe a dozen facilitators. During the trance journey/meditation piece, there were five of us leading a multi-voice trance journey. I noticed that three women in my section if the circle/room were talking and giggling together. It was becoming more and more distracting.
Proximity is a great subtle way of shutting down those conversations. I didn’t shift what I was saying, but I just started getting closer and closer to them. When they didn’t stop, I gave them direct and sustained eye contact.
Pro tip: Usually at this point most people stop talking and look down, embarrassed. These three women did not.
I got closer still until I was maybe a foot or two away from them. We’re talking, close enough that it would invade our general sense of what’s acceptable social distance. I looked at them directly, dropped my voice down to not be audible to the rest of the group, and said something (still using my rhythmic trancey voice) along the lines of, “And taking a breath now into silence.”
For the people on either side of them, it was obvious I was talking to them and asking them to be quiet, so it wasn’t completely subtle, but it wasn’t like I was yelling at them in front of the whole group.
If you can subtly bring people to silence it’s going to support the energetic flow of the rest of the ritual.
If you have a ritual where perhaps you forgot to mention at the beginning that you didn’t want people to break into side conversations…and then it happens, sometimes it is best to just address that so you can move on. An example: You indicate that your participants should begin lighting their candles off of one another, and as soon as that begins, there are whispers, and then louder voices, and suddenly the whole room is speaking all at once, and that’s not the energetic signature you’re going for.
If you have a sound-making device like a singing bowl you can strike it; that sound will often gracefully bring a large group to silence.
You can also step to the center with your arms raised (do the physical gesture and take the center of the room before you try to speak over the group, just the physical gesture will bring some to silence so that you don’t have to shout as loud) and say something like, “Can I ask you to all take a breath together, let’s all take a breath together,” and repeat some version of that until people are silent again and joining you in a breath. Then, “It’s in our nature to speak while we do this. It’s in our nature to try and break the tension. But here in this moment, we want tension. We want silence. We want focus. Can you each light these candles together with breath, with silence? And if the urge to speak rises up, if you feel the urge to break the silence, to break the tension…just notice that urge, just hold that.”
Or whatever happens to be authentic for your ritual theme. You could also at that point introduce a ritual chant. “I neglected to teach the chant we’ll be singing while we light our candles. Let me sing it once through and then have you join me.”
Having an instrument like a singing bowl on hand is invaluable; the sound is high and cuts through conversation, and the non-human sound will instantly bring many folks to silence, which brings the volume in the room down so that your words can more easily be heard. It can be difficult to be heard over a large group that’s all talking, but it’s also energetically detrimental to try and shout over everyone to get them to be quiet.
Hopefully these quick tips offer you some tools as a facilitator to keep your group focused and bring more success to your rituals!

Filed under: Facilitation, Ritual Tagged: chanting, distractions, facilitation, ritual, side conversations

On Bad Cons & How You Kill An Event in Advance

Posted by on Feb 26, 2016 in Uncategorized | No Comments

Excellent article. While it focuses on scifi/fantasy/fandom, it’s very much applicable to the Pagan community. While there aren’t hundreds of hotel conventions for Pagans, we do have a few of them, and we have numerous festivals of various sizes. Harassment is often tolerated at these just as it is in fandom.
The day is going to come sooner rather than later where I will *not* participate in any event that does not have (and enforce) a safety/anti harassment policy

Mikki Kendall

So, I wasn’t going to bother with a formal response about the events at ConQuesT. I’ve never been, I probably won’t be going either. Not just because of the most recent hot mess, but because overwhelmingly con culture is a hot mess. And yeah, some people are trying to fix it. But as I watch people attempt to defend white women sexually harassing men of color…I feel like we’ve hit a point that demands an honest conversation about what’s really happening to cons. It’s not the aging of fandom (young fans are created every day, and I promise you they love to get together), it’s not political correctness run amok (hi, taking off your pants and rubbing against people without consent isn’t okay, neither is referring to Black people as sexy chocolate and licking your lips), it’s a fundamental belief that marginalized people don’t have a right to be treated…

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Filed under: Uncategorized

On Bad Cons & How You Kill An Event in Advance

Posted by on Feb 26, 2016 in Uncategorized | No Comments

Excellent article. While it focuses on scifi/fantasy/fandom, it’s very much applicable to the Pagan community. While there aren’t hundreds of hotel conventions for Pagans, we do have a few of them, and we have numerous festivals of various sizes. Harassment is often tolerated at these just as it is in fandom.
The day is going to come sooner rather than later where I will *not* participate in any event that does not have (and enforce) a safety/anti harassment policy

Mikki Kendall

So, I wasn’t going to bother with a formal response about the events at ConQuesT. I’ve never been, I probably won’t be going either. Not just because of the most recent hot mess, but because overwhelmingly con culture is a hot mess. And yeah, some people are trying to fix it. But as I watch people attempt to defend white women sexually harassing men of color…I feel like we’ve hit a point that demands an honest conversation about what’s really happening to cons. It’s not the aging of fandom (young fans are created every day, and I promise you they love to get together), it’s not political correctness run amok (hi, taking off your pants and rubbing against people without consent isn’t okay, neither is referring to Black people as sexy chocolate and licking your lips), it’s a fundamental belief that marginalized people don’t have a right to be treated…

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Singing: Discovering the Magic of Music

DSC03320Music in ritual–and in specific, singing–is probably the most potent magic I know. I’m sitting here trying to get all the final prep done for Pantheacon, as I leave in just a few hours. Part of my prep for any event is warming my voice up because I know how crucial it is to be able to have a strong voice to anchor the chanting. And when I travel and teach, I’m singing for days as I lead workshops and rituals, so I need that prep.

I had to rediscover music as an adult, and now it’s one of my great joys. In grade school I had a hard time in music class singing the right notes. I didn’t understand until a lot later that it was partly because of my allergies, but also, my voice was too deep to sing the “girl” parts. I couldn’t sing the high notes so I’d sing off key, and I was admonished to just sing quietly, or just given that “look” that told me I didn’t sound good but they weren’t going to say anything.

I never wanted to take band classes later because I was so afraid of sucking at it because of that experience, though I did have a keyboard at home and I’d figure out the notes for songs I liked. Years later I tried to teach myself how to mix techno, and that went well till I set a stereo on fire…I guess I needed more sound engineering theory. :p
It wasn’t until my late 20’s when I got involved with the Reclaiming tradition that I started singing again. I was told it was ok to sing the wrong notes. After a while, I learned that I could, indeed, sing the correct notes. After a few years, I also learned that most women tend to start chants at a higher pitch than I can follow, so I learned to sing low harmony.
Now, years later, here I am leading chants in rituals getting groups to sing, and teaching workshops on chanting, and I love it.
I’m teaching workshops on chanting at both Pantheacon and Convocation. And many other traditions also have been weaving in more of the power of music over the years. A Pantheacon attendee a year or so ago mentioned to me that they were fascinated to see some complicated musical techniques being used (or taught) that year, and that seemed to be something new but they commented on how effective it was.
This year, I was hoping to have a CD of chants and some trance journeys recorded. It’s not professional level recording work, but it’s at least decent recordings to get things out there as a resource. One thing people always ask me is, “Where can I find the chants you sing?” and, many of them you can’t.
I don’t quite have that done, but I’m committing to finishing it up when I return home from Pantheacon and Convocation.
People ask me all the time about ritual technique and specifically how to make ritual more potent. One answer is simple, it’s just not easy–learn to sing. Learn to drum, learn a simple instrument. Get a singing bowl or a shruti box and learn to use them well. But singing you can take anywhere, singing you don’t need an external tool for.
It’s not going to be quick. Learning to sing took me years, but it’s a big factor in what makes rituals go deeper, more intense. It’s worth putting in the time. Whenever a Pagan talks about ancient mysteries from our lost ancestors and all the druid lore that was never written down, trust me when I say this: our ancestors were singing. Our ancestors were using song and chant and drumming to effect a trance state. The Celtic poets were using the power of word and song to craft magic.
And you, too, can bring this magic.

Filed under: Personal Growth, Ritual Tagged: convocation, pantheacon, ritual, singing

Creativity and Fairytales

Posted by on Jan 30, 2016 in Artwork, ritual | No Comments

IMG_0437On Monday I’ll be posting on Patheos about creativity and obsession, and specifically referencing an event I decorated with a fairytale theme. I thought I’d put up a few images from that event. I’d love to host a masquerade ball in the Chicagoland/Milwaukee area; I certainly have the decor for it!

 

 

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Here also are some pictures of all the new blue decor set up as ritual altars. I have enough for an entire Grail temple at this point!

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Filed under: Artwork, Ritual

Book Release: Pagan Leadership Anthology

PaganLeadershipAnthologyCover_finalI’m very excited to announce the release of the Pagan Leadership Anthology. Taylor Ellwood invited me to co-edit this anthology with him almost two years ago, and it has finally come to fruition! Helping grow more resources for Pagan leaders is a passion of mine, and this anthology is priceless for all the collected wisdom it offers from many different leaders, many different traditions, and many different perspectives.

As I mention in the introduction of the book, sometimes the advice offered in one essay conflicts with what’s offered in another. The authors don’t always agree with each other, but you’ll still see some common patterns of experiences of what works and what doesn’t. The best part of this anthology, for me, was reading the experiences of the various authors. What they went through, the mistakes they made, and how they grew from them and came to learn better ways of leading.

Most of the authors have offered some version of: “I wish I’d had a resource like this when I was starting out.”

 

The Pagan Leadership Anthology: An Exploration of Leadership and Community in Paganism and Polytheism

Edited by Shauna Aura Knight and Taylor Ellwood

The words “Pagan Leadership” are often met with scorn and tales of failed groups and so-called Witch Wars. And yet, as our communities grow and mature, we find ourselves in dire need of healthy, ethical leaders. Most Pagans have seen what doesn’t work. But what does?  This anthology features over thirty authors, thirty essays, and decades of leadership experience sharing their failures and successes as leaders as well as showing you how you can become a better Pagan leader. Below is just some of what you will learn when you read this book:

  • Why personal work will help you become a better leader
  • How to become a better communicator
  • When to deal with predators in the community
  • How to resolve conflicts peacefully
  • Why you need bylaws when you build a group
  • And much, much more!

Pagan communities are evolving. To be an effective leader you need to know how to take care of your group and yourself. In this anthology you will get tools and techniques that work and help you become a better leader as well as enrich the overlapping Pagan communities.

The Pagan Leadership Anthology is available as an ebook and in print. Ebook: TBA  Print: $18.99 Immanion Press  | Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble

Topics include:

Group dynamics, conflict resolution, mentoring, egotism, creating community, burnout, communication, healthy boundaries, delegation, crisis, power, volunteers, personal work, leadership models, bylaws, sustainability, processes, responsibility, ethics, dual relationships, collaboration, scapegoating, visibility, transparency, fears, resentment, self knowledge, discrimination, ageism, exclusion, empowerment, respect, organizations, sovereignty, growth, vision, uprisings, triangulation, service, expectations, projection, betrayal, healing, restorative justice, longevity, tradition, innovation, dedication, teaching, ministry, pride, developing skills, learning, administration, authority, integrity, compassion, social skills, truth, blame, shame, hypocrisy, gossip, safety, harassment, avoidance, tension, problem solving, relationships, transformation, failure, success, strength, sacrifice, support, mistakes, forgiveness, organizing, event planning, outreach, education, transference, professional, self-care, instability, confidentiality, money, equality, partnership, politics, reflection, investment, controversy, challenge, social justice, values, privilege, unity, skill-building, vulnerability, judgment, attitudes, social norms, silence, assumptions, discomfort, accountability, cliques, punctuality, removing members, pedestals, control, weakness, consent, misconduct, infrastructure, fatigue, thriving, complaints, participation, stewardship, structure, confidence, fundraising, feedback, identity, stubbornness, rejection, discernment, inspiration.

Immanion Press is a small independent press based in the United Kingdom. Founded by author Storm Constantine, it expanded into occult nonfiction in 2004 with the publication of Taylor Ellwood’s Pop Culture Magick. Today, Immanion’s nonfiction line, under the Megalithica Books imprint, has a growing reputation for edgy, experimental texts on primarily intermediate and advanced pagan and occult topics. Find out more at http://www.immanion-press.com.


Filed under: Leadership Tagged: accountability, assumptions, attitudes, authority, avoidance, betrayal, blame, burnout, bylaws, challenge, cliques, collaboration, communication, compassion, complaints, confidence, confidentiality, conflict resolution, consent, controversy, creating community, crisis, delegation, developing skills, discernment, discrimination, dual relationships, egotism, empowerment, equality, ethics, event planning, exclusion, failure, feedback, forgiveness, fundraising, gossip, group dynamics, harassment, healthy boundaries, hypocrisy, infrastructure, inspiration, instability, integrity, judgment, leadership, leadership models, learning, mentoring, ministry, misconduct, mistakes, money, organizations, organizing, Pagan, Pagan Leadership Anthology, partnership, personal work, politics, power, pride, privilege, problem solving, processes, projection, punctuality, reflection, rejection, removing members, resentment, respect, responsibility, restorative justice, sacrifice, safety, scapegoating, self knowledge, self-care, service, shame, skill-building, social justice, social norms, social skills, Sovereignty, stewardship, structure, sustainability, teaching, tension, thriving, tradition, transference, transformation, transparency, triangulation, values, visibility, vision, volunteers

Pantheacon and ConVocation Schedule

AWLogoIconFor those of you attending Pantheacon in San Jose, or Convocation in Detroit, these are the places you are likely to find me. I have my specific workshops, rituals, and book signings that I’m offering in bold, and in italic I’ve highlighted any workshops that are focused on a project I’m involved in, such as a book launch for an anthology.

For those of you who have attended events like this, or are thinking about it, I thought I’d also mention some of how I list things on my schedule. Events like this get overwhelming and I’ve found it helps to not only schedule my time teaching or attending workshops, but to also specifically schedule social time with people I want to meet with. I also plan ahead for times I’m likely to be too tired to attend a workshop or ritual; I put question marks by these items. I work to carve out “blank” places in my schedule so I know when I might have availability to schedule a lunch/dinner/talk with someone.

Pantheacon

Thursday

6-9pm Registration
3 pm Early Bird Social
7–9 pm  All Pagan and Polytheist Meet and Greet
4pm-7pm ADF Suite
9pm Early Bird Evening Gathering

Friday

12:30 PM Opening Ritual
–Drop off books in Vendor Room
1:30 PM Connecting to the Soul’s Wisdom with Hypnosis (Brenda Titus)
3:30 The Outer Circle: Marginalization Within Paganism
5:00 Dinner with Patheos Pagan crew
7:00 Finding Your Personal Magic
9:00 Possessing the Dark, the Art of Choreolalia Ritualistic trance dance?
9:00 pm (til later) Gina Pond/Heretics @ suite

Saturday

9:00 am The Dark Side of Druidry
11:00 am Black Lives Matter: Restorative Justice for Healing and Change
12:30 pm recording podcast
1:30 pm Godless Bless: A Panel on Atheism/Agnosticism in Paganism
3:30 pm Chanting, Trancing, and Story: Ritual Techniques that Work
5:30 pm Book Signing in vendor area
7:00 PM Gender Diverse Pagans: Inclusivity or Hospitality
9:00 PM
11:00 Crossroads of Memory: A Trance Dance Ritual?
Facets of Freya: A Devotional Ritual in Honor of Freya?
12:15 Drum Jam?

Sunday

8:00 Voice warm up
9:00 Sacred Sound: Advanced Chanting for Rituals
11:00am – 1:00pm – Trance Roundtable (ADF Suite)
1:30 pm Pagan Consent Culture (Christine Hoff Kraemer in the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel suite)
3:30 pm Radical Inclusion for Pagans
3:30 pm Bardic Magic by John Beckett (ADF Suite)
5:00 pm
7:00 pm Creating Culture of Consent: Sacred Sexuality
9:00 pm Matronae Oracular Devotional: Dancing at the Well?
11:00 pm Mother of the New Time (Bloodroot Honey Priestess Tribe)?

Monday

9:00 From the Holy Mountain to the Sacred Cave: Journey of Descent
–or, prep for Sacred Fire ritual
11:00 Sacred Fire: Keepers of the Flame
12:30 pm Closing Ritual

 

Convocation

Thursday

3pm-7pm Setup art in art show
7:00 pm Opening Ritual?
8:00 pm Tentative: Pre-conference discussion/workshop for small group, TBA
10:30 pm Thursday Night Drumming?

Friday

9:30 am Climbing the Tree of Life
11:30 am Navigating the Pagan Blogosphere (Patheos crew)
1:00 pm
4:00 Body Stress Ecstatic Practices
5:30 Dinner with ____
10:00 Hel Invocation
Friday Night Drumming?

Saturday

8:30 Voice Warm up
9:30 am Sacred Sound: Dynamic Chanting for Ritual
11:30 am The Star and the Grail: Lighting our Way on the Hero’s Journey
2:00 pm The Writer’s Craft?
4:00 pm Sex Magic in the Northern Tradition
7:00 pm Summoning the Swan Maidens: An Exploration of Inspiration and Sensuality
9:30 Drumming?

Sunday

9:30am Rebirth: Pagan Leadership, Ethics, and Community
12:00 pm Encountering the Runes
1:30 Art Show Takedown


Filed under: Pagan Community Tagged: convocation, Pagan, pagan conferences, pantheacon, workshops

Chanting, Trancing, and Ecstatic Techniques for Aspecting Part 2

shutterstock_78222514This is part 2 of my post on using singing, toning, chanting, and other ecstatic techniques for aspecting and trance possession in ritual. You’re really going to want to read Part 1, and you’ll also likely want to read this post on the theology/function of aspecting and trance possession.

Toning and Singing

Toning is one of the best ways to get people singing. It’s very safe. And, there are instruments you can use to support and cradle the sound. It’s hard to get a big/enveloping sound with only 3 people in a small group. It’s even hard with 10, unless you’re all really committed to singing and making sound. You can use a singing bowl or a Shruti box or something else that makes a droning/toning sound and sing along with that.

There are two major types of chanting/breathwork–there’s chanting that slows your breathing (like toning) and there’s chanting that speeds up your breathing. One slows your heartbeat, one speeds it up. They do different things to your brainwaves too; the science on that is just a bit beyond my pay grade, but try it some time, you’ll feel the difference.

The type of chanting you use depends on what you want to happen. With trance possession in the style of Vodou, you’re looking at heavy drumming, dancing, and chanting in a faster way that makes your breathing staccato. Whereas if you have seen a roomful of Tibetan monks chanting steadily and slowly, that affects your consciousness differently.

Both are effective chanting techniques, but the question is, effective at what?

Toning

Toning and slower chants (like the Tibetan monks, or just singing OM) is an easier place to start. It’s safer, and it will build up people’s strength in their voices and their confidence.

I have a few of songs that I sing along to when I drive (here’s my start-up song) so I’m basically singing, toning, and harmonizing long drones for as long as I can sustain my breath. Here are all the reasons I do this:

  • Personal spiritual practice
  • Keeping my voice warmed up
  • Continually build my capacity to hold more air and control that air so I can sing for longer without needing to take a breath

I can hold a note for 20 seconds with no problem. Sometimes 30 or more if my voice is really in shape. That’s important for the way breathing shifts your body and your heart rate and your brainwaves; you’re using toning as a form of breathwork, and you’re using it to shift your consciousness in a very particular way, so the more control you have over when you take a breath will impact the kind of spiritual work you can do.

It’s also important as a facilitator. If you want to build your capacity to lead chants; you need to be able to control where you breathe. One of the biggest problems facilitators run into when leading a chant is that, when they take a breath, the group stops singing. When I chant with a group, I don’t breathe in the places you’d expect so that the chant just keeps going. I breathe when the group is singing strongly, not in the “expected” breathing spaces between the lines.

Faster/Rhythmic Chanting

Eventually, you might want to try something with more staccato breathing, and bring in drumming. It’s easier to do more complicated chants once your group is feeling stronger about singing and they’re used to it, and when there’s more safety/intimacy as a group.

These could be chants with more words, and chants that are intended to speed up as you go along. More words tends to force breathing more quickly, particularly if you are also moving or dancing, or even just rocking back and forth more and more quickly.

With larger groups, I tend to caution people away from using canned music (ie, playing a CD or MP3) but with a small group, it might work well if you use it a lot and are used to it. Really depends on the song. Pre-recorded music doesn’t allow for the energy to shift in the moment, however, it can be a place to start to help get people more comfortable.

For more physical trancework, think dancing to techno or heavy drumming, bellydance, or firespinning, and singing along with that. The movement plus the chanting will put you into a different kind of altered state than the calmer toning/droning.

Here’s a video that shows two different chants. The first is a slower chant used to hold space while we journeyed to the Sacred Well one at a time. The second chant is faster and speeds up leading to an energy peak. The audio’s not the best but you can at least see the progression.

Trance Possession

If you’re trying to effect a trance possession of one ritualist, then it becomes almost the opposite of what I do when I lead a chant. When I lead a chant for a group ritual, I’m anchoring the chant and working to get the group more comfortable, helping them sing it until it “takes off” on its own and then I guide it, shape it.

With a trance possession, the group encircles the Vessel, and works to get the Vessel possessed by shaping the energy, building it higher. There can still be a facilitator guiding the speed/energy, but the Vessel is giving over to the group energy and letting that shape the experience. The group is using their own energy to help the Vessel “get there.” So the Vessel may be dancing, but the group is singing, dancing, moving as well to help build that energy and help the Vessel get possessed/draw down. It’s a collaborative effort.

Here are some videos that show chanting and drumming used by a very skilled ritual/musical group. This group has practiced together for quite some time and they have a very specific tradition, though I’m unfamiliar with it or its roots. You can see how the group works to use music to build up the energy focusing on the person who is doing the trance dancing, and how they speed up/get more into it as they give over to the music. (There are a lot of videos of this group on the channel, but I’ll just post a few here)

You can get a sense of the kind of vulnerability of the vessel, which is why I so frequently emphasize that the sense of safety is crucial to practices like this in ritual. I’m able to get large groups there because there’s a sort of anonymity in a group larger than 50.

In a group smaller than 10, you need to trust each and every person in that group to be able to go into the kind of deep trance state for invocation/aspecting/trance possession. In our culture, we’re so often wired to laugh at the person who sings and dances if it’s not performance quality, and in ritual work like this, your ability to look “good” dancing isn’t what’s required. It isn’t even required to be a good singer, though being able to stay on the melody or harmonize does help. It’s required that you do it, that you give yourself over to it, that you sing and move your body and go into the rhythm.

It’s required that you participate, that you engage, that you are present, that you are bringing your energy through your voice and body. If you sing quietly or limit yourself to small, tight movements, because you’re nervous that you’ll be judged by the group, because you’re worried someone’s going to see your fat jiggling or any other perceived physical flaw, you won’t be able to go into the depths.

Thus–using these ecstatic techniques goes far beyond just singing and toning during ritual work. All of this weaves together.

Working This Into Group Practice

What I’d suggest more than anything if you want to weave ecstatic techniques, particularly singing, is teaching the techniques themselves and why you are using them. Teach your group the singing and chanting techniques. Encourage them to practice singing as a personal spiritual practice so that they get more comfortable singing alone and as a group together.

Pro tip: I warm my voice up for about an hour before leading a workshop or ritual. I don’t wake up in the morning with a ready-to-go voice, I need to work out the gravelly sound and warm up the muscles. Your voice is a muscle, and you’re more likely to be able to sing and stay on key if you 1. warm up your voice muscles by singing and 2. regularly sing the chants you’ll be singing in ritual.

I wish every ritual participant bothered to warm their voices up before a ritual so that they are ready to jump in and participate!

I learned the hard way that I have to keep my voice warmed up. I had been singing and leading chants in rituals for a couple of years, and then I ran a weekend-long class on Raising Energy in Ritual. The morning the class started, I led the group with the first chant I’d chosen. I’d sung it so many times I was surprised to hear my voice straining to reach some of the notes, and my voice sounding a little wavery, not strong at all. I realized that I hadn’t been singing in weeks. Your voice is a muscle and you lose muscle tone fast. And let’s face it, many of us wake up and cough, there’s phlegm, our voice is deeper and maybe a little hoarse. Not the most pleasant topic, but it’s important if you’re looking to sing in ritual.

It can take me a half hour to an hour to be ready to hit the notes and sustain them for group chanting, particularly if there are difficult acoustics (like I’m chanting in an open field with no tree cover or next to a soccer game). This is part of your work as a ritualist, as a leader, as a professional. Leading rituals is work, and singing in ritual takes dedication and practice just as it does for a professional musician.

Experimenting With Techniques

I also strongly suggest being willing to experiment. You might start out with the toning/droning kind of singing, since it’s a bit more accessible. But then you can switch it up.

There’s a trance technique I use, I call it the Trance Hammer where I have the whole group singing a note/tone, and then I sing something more complicated over that. (That article also now contains a video of the technique.) In that scenario, you only need one strong singer to handle the melody, the rest can handle the tone. This adds texture, and it’s also a trance technique called “confusion technique.” It works because your brain is trying to process two separate things–the toning, and the other song–and it sends you into a deeper subconscious state.

Once your group is comfortable with the idea of singing in ritual and willing to do that, you can try more complicated chants, or add in drumming. And sometimes it’ll work and sometimes you’ll fumble, but that’s the advantage of working with a smaller group; you get to try things out without screwing up a big public ritual.

Advanced Personal/Professional Practice

As part of my own personal practice that crosses over into professional-ritualist-practice, here’s something I do regularly. I practice singing songs/melodies that I’m going to use for sung trances like the cantillation/Trance Hammer technique I mention above. Here’s how I do it.

I’ll play a song that has a melody in harmony with what I’m singing, but with different words. (Here’s the song I use for this most frequently.) I practice singing over that and not getting distracted by the other words; in fact, I try to keep an ear open for the song that’s playing so that I can sing certain words at the same time, or certain notes at the same time. And, I do all that while I’m doing a third task that requires me to pay attention to basic logistics. It could be anything like folding paper or looking up directions on Google maps, just something kinesthetic that takes my attention. In my case, I might practice this technique while painting gold borderwork on one of my art pieces or gluing tissue paper to cardboard.

Sounds complicated? It is. But, it has to be.

I’m training my brain to know that song even in the midst of chaos, in the midst of a really complicated task, and in the midst of competing music. I’m training myself to be able to not just memorize that song, but  memorize it in a way that distractions at a festival, or logistical issues with a ritual, won’t make me lose what I’m supposed to be singing. I’ve memorized the melodies and words in a way that I can sing it even when dealing simultaneously with complicated ritual logistics, or people whispering a question into my ear about their cue for the next ritual part. I can even communicate with others by nodding or offering hand signs while I’m still singing and not lose my place.

And the side benefit is that when I practice this technique at home, I get myself into a trance state and it’s part of my own personal spiritual work.

 


Filed under: Facilitation, Ritual Tagged: aspecting, chanting, dancing, drawing down, ecstasis, ecstatic ritual, invocation, Pagan, Paganism, possession, ritual, shruti box, singing, singing bowl, theology, trance possession, trance work, trancing