magic

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

Do You Have a Spell for That?

shutterstock_101395927 [Converted]I get asked a lot of interesting questions when I travel and teach, or from people on social media; often, they are people I don’t really know all that well. Though I primarily teach leadership and facilitation skills, people often ask me, “Do you have a spell for that?” I’ve also seen people post rants on Facebook about some of the–for lack of better words–sloppy tendencies of many Pagans to take shortcuts. Both of these in many ways tie into some of the bad habits many people fall into when facilitating rituals, as well as issues of personal and spiritual growth. Often these are what I can classify as beginner mistakes, but they aren’t mistakes limited to people new to Paganism.

Out of the Box

I’ve seen a few rants on how modern Pagans just copy and past rituals and spells from the internet or books, vs. doing any personal work. My first thought on this is that using rituals “out of the box” (and by that I mean rituals they found online or in a book, or even that they learned from a mentor) can be a great way to start. It helps people gain familiarity with the structure of ritual by having an example to try out.

The problem comes in when people take it dogmatically–and that’s an unfortunate tendency people have, even when they are Pagans who have converted from more dogmatic faiths. People are often looking for rules and guidance and “Do it like this and it will work” sureties. I hear that all the time as a subtext when Pagans are asking me about spellwork. “And if I use this color candle, it’ll work, right?” or “What if I don’t have that exact oil?” “I need a sure-fire spell for ___, what do you have?”

In my opinion, many “out of the box” spells don’t work work because people don’t know how magic works. “What’s a spell you use for shielding,” or, “I need a spell for ___, do you have one?”

I don’t believe that physical spellwork (using oils, incense, candles, or herbs) works dogmatically. Nor do I believe that if you recite the spell exactly and perfectly it’ll work. I also am not a polytheist, I’m a pantheist. I don’t believe the gods or spirits grant wishes if you are in their favor (and ignore them if you aren’t in their favor).

A lot of people treat spellwork like it’s some kind of recipe that, faithfully followed, will instantly deliver the results you want without any additional work on your part.

That’s the kind of spellwork that you typically see on shows like Supernatural. Burn the right concoction, trace the correct sigil, and say the exactly correct words, and your spell will work. Well…works great as a system of rules for a fantasy TV show, but real life is messier than that. I mean–don’t get me wrong, I also write paranormal romance novels, so I occasionally use the flashy magic like that in my books. But I try to keep really clear on what’s fantasy, and what kind of magic is actually going to help someone in the real world.

So yeah; I think spells and rituals that you find in books or online, or even things that are passed down from your family or other oral tradition, are a great place to start. They can be a framework, training wheels. But that doesn’t mean if you do everything “right” it’ll work.

Now–this also doesn’t mean that you have to reinvent every spell, every ritual, each time. There is an inherent value in repetition. In fact, that’s one of the root meanings of the word “ritual.” But I’ll get to that in a bit.

Ritual Repeat

Sometimes having a ritual outline or script to work from is really helpful to start with. It lets you know what you’re supposed to do and when you’re supposed to do it, and offers up some sample words and phrases. The problem is that a ritual on paper is really different from a ritual with an actual group of people. I write about this particular ritual logistic all the time; most Wiccanate traditions (traditions that come out of or borrow pieces from Wicca) use Cakes and Ale in the ritual. These rituals are typically written assuming a small coven.

However, when a group is asked to put on a larger public ritual at something like a Pagan Pride, something that worked well for 15 people causes a major traffic jam for 100 people. Cakes and Ale can be a beautiful sharing for ten or twenty or even thirty folks. For those big public rituals it usually becomes a train wreck of logistics.

This is why I often stress being aware from dogma. Or more specifically, orthodoxy and orthopraxy…that is to say, being hidebound to documents or practices. If you facilitate rituals from the “It must be done this way!” perspective, then you will often end up failing to meet the actual intention of that part of ritual. Just because you’re doing it the way you read it or it was taught to you doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the spiritual goal of that piece.

What’s the intention of Cakes and Ale? Is there a better way to achieve that intention when you have a hundred-plus people? Just because the ritual in the book says that each person must, one at a time, take the cake and the ale, does that mean it’s a good idea to do it this way?

Pre-written rituals are a great guide, but I always caution people to not get hung up on the logistics. Sometimes, there’s a reason something must be done a certain way. Other times, it’s just that the writer was writing out the ritual with a specific assumption, such as you’d only be doing this in a coven of thirteen people. There are definitely times when spells and rituals need to be adapted. I think a lot of the skillset of moving into advanced work is being able to discern when this is the case.

Scripted Ritual

I have a whole soapbox about scripted rituals, and I’ve written a few articles on it already so I won’t rehash too much of that; I’ve written a few articles on the topic that appear in Circle Magazine, and also are collected in my Ritual Facilitation book. I think in some cases, the poetry of a pre-written ritual can have some magic, but only if the people facilitating that ritual have bardic/theatrical training. The reason is that the words written by the ritual writer might be authentically magical for them…but, generally most people offering a ritual will be able to more authentically connect to their own power/magic/juice by putting things into their own words vs. trying to memorize someone else’s.

The rituals I offer are typically extemporaneous, meaning each ritual facilitator internalizes the piece of the ritual they are facilitating and puts it into their own words based upon their experiences. This essentially forces each facilitator to go deep and do their own personal work to develop a relationship with an element, a deity, or whatever piece/facet of the ritual they are working with.

And it takes time to develop that relationship, just as it takes time to develop the public speaking skills to do a good job leading a group ritual.

Keeping the Pattern

There are definitely times when keeping the pattern of the ritual helps make the ritual more successful. Whether we’re talking about a spell or ritual that has been handed down in a particular tradition or through your family line, or something that has emerged through a festival community, or through another vehicle of tradition, sometimes the specific form of the ritual itself is part of the magic. Or, some of the logistics are what help make the ritual work.

There is absolutely power in repetition.

One way this works is just our consciousness, our brains. There’s a reason the word ritual is synonymous with “repetitive/rote,” because when we do something over and over, it automatically puts us into the right state of consciousness. That’s just science.

An example: At Diana’s Grove and in the Reclaiming tradition, many people use the middle-eastern frame drum to facilitate trance journeys. Specifically, a rhythm in 8 (1-2-3 1-2-3 1-2) played softly. Or, for you trance drummers, Doum Tik Tik Ka Tik Tik Ka Tik….You can watch a room full of people drop right into trance when that rhythm starts because they’ve entrained their consciousnesses that it works. Ritual, repetition, our brain likes it.

Added to that is the group mind; when something works for a majority of the group, there’s a sort of “hive mind” thing that happens and a newer, less experienced person will go into the flow. So if that tradition has been working together for 10 years, or 40 years, or however long, the newer person will have the benefit of that group response.

Another power of repeated work like that is that it does (typically) work to help each individual practitioner to build up their relationship with the aspects of that working. I think that any working becomes deeper once people understand it and its parts, vs. learning it by rote.

The green candle means nothing without understanding what it means on a more than intellectual level, an emotional level. When you’re doing an elemental invocation, you’re going to have more juice when you actually have a relationship with that element, vs. just lighting the sacred candle and speaking the handed-down pre-scripted words that don’t mean much to you.

That’s not to say there isn’t power in often-repeated words. I use a heck of a lot of repeated phrases in my own rituals, usually with chanting. There is power in the poetry of repeated phrases, chants, and songs. Mantras, or the Lord’s Prayer, or popular Pagan chants, or even sayings like “Blessed Be” or “So Mote It Be” or “Merry Meet, Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again.” The rhythm of the words, the repetition, serves the entrainment function of our brains, but it also will go deeper as we understand what the words/poetry/song mean for ourselves and our own relationship with ____, whatever ___ is. Elements, gods, the divine, spirits, etc.

 

Why Didn’t It Work?

Most magic has nothing to do with the wand, the athame, the incense, or the color of candle. It’s all about our own consciousness and internal work. The tools help get us into the state of consciousness that helps us to do the magic, but we still have work to do after that. In fact, a lot of my issue with people who are looking around for spells is that they are, in fact, looking to outsource their power. I find a lot of people out there feel completely overwhelmed and powerless in their own lives, and what they want out of Paganism, Witchcraft, and the Occult is the Phenomenal Cosmic Power to…take your pick. Get revenge, get out of an abusive relationship, make more money, make someone fall in love with them.

But, I think that’s why people naturally gravitate to those pre-written spells online or in books, and why it’s far easier to sell a 101-level book than the more advanced stuff. The more advanced spellwork and ritual work requires discernment, personal work, engaging our shadows, and adapting and negotiating work to tell the difference between, is this tradition a useful element, or is this dogma that doesn’t serve what we’re doing?

 

 

 

 

 


Filed under: Facilitation, Ritual Tagged: magic, repetition, ritual, spells

The Sun Card and the Solstice for #TarotBlogHop

SummerSolstice2_sm

Solstice Alignment, by Shauna Aura Knight (Prints available on Redbubble)

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I somehow scored the Sun card on the Summer Solstice Tarot Blog Hop! I’ve always been fascinated by the solstices, even before I really understood what it was to be Pagan. I was obsessed with Druids and megaliths as a kid, and I even tried to track where the sun rose based on alignments from my window.

Before I look at the usual symbolism of a Tarot card, I like to go back in time before there was a Tarot deck, before the “established” esoteric and occult symbolism, to the source of what probably inspired a lot of those symbols in the first place.

People often talk about magic, and all the lost ancient knowledge, but a lot of “ancient magic” is stuff we can do on our cellphones these days. Thousands of years ago, it was magic to be able to track the cycles of the sun. To predict the equinoxes and solstices. Thousands of years ago, the “computer” was a stone alignment–With a pointer stone and a gateway or sight-line stone, you can tell when the sun has hit solstice.

Sol-stice means sun is standing still. The sun rises further and further north every day (in the Northern Hemisphere) until it stops. It will seem to rise in the same place for about three days, five if your alignment is a little loose, and then it’ll clearly start heading back south.

And on the winter solstice, the same. If you have two stones aligned, you can view it stand still, and then begin to return.

Why Were Calendars Magical?
For our ancient ancestors this kind of knowledge was crucial. We needed to know how much time we had left for the growing and harvest season. How long the winter would last. In modern times, that doesn’t really seem very magical. We just look at a calendar; we can see when the full moon and new moon are, the equinoxes, the solstices. We always know what time it is. Our phones give us the weather forecast. But remember when this was magic, when this was wisdom passed down from the witches/shamans/druids/priestesses/medicineworkers.

And similarly, the sun itself was seen as magic, as life force. In colder climates, the disappearance of the sun in winter means darkness and cold. And our ancient ancestors certainly knew that the energy of the sun was somehow connected to the growing season. Pretty easy connection there–sun = warmth = life force = growing = food = abundance.

DSC02381

Sun Goddess Painting by Shauna Aura Knight (Available on Etsy)

The Sun and Dualism
One challenge I have with the sun image in modern esoteric and occult knowledge is how it’s become part of an inherently dualistic system. I’ve written before about dualism, but in a nutshell, dualism is the philosophical/religious idea that there is good and bad. Nondualism is the belief that there is no good or evil, that things just are.

Dualism becomes a problem because people tend to shoehorn everything into an opposing black/white duality. This duality then ends up (unwittingly) serving misogyny, racism, and other discrimination.

Many of the esoteric systems that modern Tarot is built on are based in dualistic systems.

The Kabballah and alchemy frequently look at things in terms of sun and moon, male and female, light and dark, white and black, transcendance and manifestation, heaven and earth. That in itself isn’t “bad,” however, it’s the dualistic tendency to lump things into Yes/No Good/Bad that becomes problematic.

  • Sun/male/active/Heaven/light/white/good
  • Moon/female/passive/Earth/dark/black/bad

In fact, I’d have to say that one of my major beefs with modern occult and esoteric symbolism is that it sometimes oversymbolizes the symbol and warps it out of context.

Whenever I’m working with Tarot cards, or with anything that has a heap of occult and esoteric symbolic knowledge associated with it, I like to look at the cultural context of those symbols. If the sun is associated with maleness and “good,” and the moon or the earth is associated with femaleness and “bad,” that’s not really a set of symbols I want to be working with. At least, not in that way.

ClockworkRisingSun

The Rising Sun, by Shauna Aura Knight

Return to the Source
In those instances, I like to go back to the source–the actual sun and its role in our year, in our lives. We depend on the sun for warmth, for the growing season, for everything we eat. When I was newly-come to Paganism I was very much into moon vs. sun, darkness, shadow…and I wore a lot of black…but eventually I came to reconnect with the sun itself, and to my own sunlight.

I just recently wrote an article for Eternal Haunted Summer on how I came to “reclaim my sunshine” as it were. I had always been shy, reclusive, but I wanted to become more. I wanted to learn to be a better leader, a better public speaker…but to do that I needed to be willing to shine. And I did.

It took a lot of personal and spiritual work.

The Sun is Outside, Not a Card
Connecting to the energies of the sun doesn’t necessarily require you to read a Tarot book, learn astrology, or become an expert in Kabballah. The Sun Card may be a piece of paper, and there may be plenty of books written about the symbolism, but the sun is outside. It’s in the sky. You can see the sunlight, feel it, almost smell it.

Go outside. Feel the sunlight on your skin. Think about how you respond to the sun during the course of the year. Is there a point during the winter when you crave the sunlight? Is there a point during the summer when the sun and heat are too much? Are there things you can only do during the daytime hours because you require the light? How do you feel when the sun sets, when the sun rises?

Can you hear how the animals around you respond to the sun? Where I live, the birds start their dawn song before the sun comes up.

DSC02609

Sun and the Tree of Life by Shauna Aura Knight

Sun and Science
I think that science and magic are inextricably linked. And yeah…maybe that takes some of the “magic’ out of it for some. Not for me. Knowing that a shooting star is a meteorite entering our atmosphere doesn’t make it any less cool. And knowing about the science of the sun doesn’t make that less cool either.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I begin to wonder how this amazing universe of ours even came to be…how our planet is somehow in that perfect distance from the sun where life can be sustained. How the reaction of the elements within the sun and the gravity strike the perfect balance that allows something like the sun to even exist. Stars, suns, supernovae, black holes…it’s all incredibly fascinating stuff.

Metaphysical Maps
I’m not suggesting throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. The sun card is associated (among other things) with confidence, warmth, life force, abundance, vitality, power, energy, luck, wellness, enthusiasm, enlightenment, illumination, brilliance, joy, radiance. I don’t think that those are wrong.

It’s more that I believe we often confuse the metaphysical and cosmological models like astrology, Kabballah, and Tarot with the universe these models are trying to describe. There’s the saying, the map is not the terrain, and I think it applies here. Our ancestors came up with these models and they’ve served a purpose, and continue to serve. But don’t ever confuse the models, metaphors, and symbols for the terrain they describe.

The universe is a vast and deep place. It’s likely that in a few hundred years, the scientific models we use today to understand physics and subatomic particles and the stars will be just as scientifically archaic as alchemy is to modern chemistry. And our modern computers will be as outdated and clunky as the megalithic calendar computers our ancestors carved in stone.

And yet, metaphor and myth and symbol still have their place, still have their power. There’s a reason that our dreams speak to us in the language of symbol, that myths hold their potency after thousands of years. When we divorce science from spirit, when we separate out that deep mythic aspect, we lose a piece of ourselves.

What is the Sun?

The sun hasn’t changed. It’s still the rising light that burns away the morning mist, the life-giving radiance that gives us enough light to see and work, the warmth to melt the snow and bring the harvest to fruition. The sun still sets in amber-blood brilliance before the silence of the dark and the stars settle over us again.

If you’re working with the Sun card in the Tarot–or any card, for that matter–and you’re caught up in the esoteric symbolism, think for a moment about the symbol before the symbol. Think about how this symbol came to be. Think about how this symbol came to have all those trappings and associations. Think about what inspired the people who created the Tarot, who created astrology and kabballah and alchemy. Think about whether or not those symbols and correspondences fit your values and your work.

And then let the sun itself inspire you.

 


Note: Artwork and illustrations above are available on my Etsy and Redbubble pages. See other examples of my work here on my blog.  15% off sale code JUNE2015 on Etsy.



Continue on the Tarot Blog hop:

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Filed under: Magic, Personal Growth Tagged: #tarotbloghop, archaeoastronomy, megaliths, Personal growth, solstice, solstices, summer solstice, sun, sun card, Tarot

The Sun Card and the Solstice for #TarotBlogHop

SummerSolstice2_sm

Solstice Alignment, by Shauna Aura Knight (Prints available on Redbubble)

PREVIOUS BLOG | MASTER LIST | NEXT BLOG

I somehow scored the Sun card on the Summer Solstice Tarot Blog Hop! I’ve always been fascinated by the solstices, even before I really understood what it was to be Pagan. I was obsessed with Druids and megaliths as a kid, and I even tried to track where the sun rose based on alignments from my window.

Before I look at the usual symbolism of a Tarot card, I like to go back in time before there was a Tarot deck, before the “established” esoteric and occult symbolism, to the source of what probably inspired a lot of those symbols in the first place.

People often talk about magic, and all the lost ancient knowledge, but a lot of “ancient magic” is stuff we can do on our cellphones these days. Thousands of years ago, it was magic to be able to track the cycles of the sun. To predict the equinoxes and solstices. Thousands of years ago, the “computer” was a stone alignment–With a pointer stone and a gateway or sight-line stone, you can tell when the sun has hit solstice.

Sol-stice means sun is standing still. The sun rises further and further north every day (in the Northern Hemisphere) until it stops. It will seem to rise in the same place for about three days, five if your alignment is a little loose, and then it’ll clearly start heading back south.

And on the winter solstice, the same. If you have two stones aligned, you can view it stand still, and then begin to return.

Why Were Calendars Magical?
For our ancient ancestors this kind of knowledge was crucial. We needed to know how much time we had left for the growing and harvest season. How long the winter would last. In modern times, that doesn’t really seem very magical. We just look at a calendar; we can see when the full moon and new moon are, the equinoxes, the solstices. We always know what time it is. Our phones give us the weather forecast. But remember when this was magic, when this was wisdom passed down from the witches/shamans/druids/priestesses/medicineworkers.

And similarly, the sun itself was seen as magic, as life force. In colder climates, the disappearance of the sun in winter means darkness and cold. And our ancient ancestors certainly knew that the energy of the sun was somehow connected to the growing season. Pretty easy connection there–sun = warmth = life force = growing = food = abundance.

DSC02381

Sun Goddess Painting by Shauna Aura Knight (Available on Etsy)

The Sun and Dualism
One challenge I have with the sun image in modern esoteric and occult knowledge is how it’s become part of an inherently dualistic system. I’ve written before about dualism, but in a nutshell, dualism is the philosophical/religious idea that there is good and bad. Nondualism is the belief that there is no good or evil, that things just are.

Dualism becomes a problem because people tend to shoehorn everything into an opposing black/white duality. This duality then ends up (unwittingly) serving misogyny, racism, and other discrimination.

Many of the esoteric systems that modern Tarot is built on are based in dualistic systems.

The Kabballah and alchemy frequently look at things in terms of sun and moon, male and female, light and dark, white and black, transcendance and manifestation, heaven and earth. That in itself isn’t “bad,” however, it’s the dualistic tendency to lump things into Yes/No Good/Bad that becomes problematic.

  • Sun/male/active/Heaven/light/white/good
  • Moon/female/passive/Earth/dark/black/bad

In fact, I’d have to say that one of my major beefs with modern occult and esoteric symbolism is that it sometimes oversymbolizes the symbol and warps it out of context.

Whenever I’m working with Tarot cards, or with anything that has a heap of occult and esoteric symbolic knowledge associated with it, I like to look at the cultural context of those symbols. If the sun is associated with maleness and “good,” and the moon or the earth is associated with femaleness and “bad,” that’s not really a set of symbols I want to be working with. At least, not in that way.

ClockworkRisingSun

The Rising Sun, by Shauna Aura Knight

Return to the Source
In those instances, I like to go back to the source–the actual sun and its role in our year, in our lives. We depend on the sun for warmth, for the growing season, for everything we eat. When I was newly-come to Paganism I was very much into moon vs. sun, darkness, shadow…and I wore a lot of black…but eventually I came to reconnect with the sun itself, and to my own sunlight.

I just recently wrote an article for Eternal Haunted Summer on how I came to “reclaim my sunshine” as it were. I had always been shy, reclusive, but I wanted to become more. I wanted to learn to be a better leader, a better public speaker…but to do that I needed to be willing to shine. And I did.

It took a lot of personal and spiritual work.

The Sun is Outside, Not a Card
Connecting to the energies of the sun doesn’t necessarily require you to read a Tarot book, learn astrology, or become an expert in Kabballah. The Sun Card may be a piece of paper, and there may be plenty of books written about the symbolism, but the sun is outside. It’s in the sky. You can see the sunlight, feel it, almost smell it.

Go outside. Feel the sunlight on your skin. Think about how you respond to the sun during the course of the year. Is there a point during the winter when you crave the sunlight? Is there a point during the summer when the sun and heat are too much? Are there things you can only do during the daytime hours because you require the light? How do you feel when the sun sets, when the sun rises?

Can you hear how the animals around you respond to the sun? Where I live, the birds start their dawn song before the sun comes up.

DSC02609

Sun and the Tree of Life by Shauna Aura Knight

Sun and Science
I think that science and magic are inextricably linked. And yeah…maybe that takes some of the “magic’ out of it for some. Not for me. Knowing that a shooting star is a meteorite entering our atmosphere doesn’t make it any less cool. And knowing about the science of the sun doesn’t make that less cool either.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I begin to wonder how this amazing universe of ours even came to be…how our planet is somehow in that perfect distance from the sun where life can be sustained. How the reaction of the elements within the sun and the gravity strike the perfect balance that allows something like the sun to even exist. Stars, suns, supernovae, black holes…it’s all incredibly fascinating stuff.

Metaphysical Maps
I’m not suggesting throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. The sun card is associated (among other things) with confidence, warmth, life force, abundance, vitality, power, energy, luck, wellness, enthusiasm, enlightenment, illumination, brilliance, joy, radiance. I don’t think that those are wrong.

It’s more that I believe we often confuse the metaphysical and cosmological models like astrology, Kabballah, and Tarot with the universe these models are trying to describe. There’s the saying, the map is not the terrain, and I think it applies here. Our ancestors came up with these models and they’ve served a purpose, and continue to serve. But don’t ever confuse the models, metaphors, and symbols for the terrain they describe.

The universe is a vast and deep place. It’s likely that in a few hundred years, the scientific models we use today to understand physics and subatomic particles and the stars will be just as scientifically archaic as alchemy is to modern chemistry. And our modern computers will be as outdated and clunky as the megalithic calendar computers our ancestors carved in stone.

And yet, metaphor and myth and symbol still have their place, still have their power. There’s a reason that our dreams speak to us in the language of symbol, that myths hold their potency after thousands of years. When we divorce science from spirit, when we separate out that deep mythic aspect, we lose a piece of ourselves.

What is the Sun?

The sun hasn’t changed. It’s still the rising light that burns away the morning mist, the life-giving radiance that gives us enough light to see and work, the warmth to melt the snow and bring the harvest to fruition. The sun still sets in amber-blood brilliance before the silence of the dark and the stars settle over us again.

If you’re working with the Sun card in the Tarot–or any card, for that matter–and you’re caught up in the esoteric symbolism, think for a moment about the symbol before the symbol. Think about how this symbol came to be. Think about how this symbol came to have all those trappings and associations. Think about what inspired the people who created the Tarot, who created astrology and kabballah and alchemy. Think about whether or not those symbols and correspondences fit your values and your work.

And then let the sun itself inspire you.

 


Note: Artwork and illustrations above are available on my Etsy and Redbubble pages. See other examples of my work here on my blog.  15% off sale code JUNE2015 on Etsy.



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Filed under: Magic, Personal Growth Tagged: #tarotbloghop, archaeoastronomy, megaliths, Personal growth, solstice, solstices, summer solstice, sun, sun card, Tarot

What is a Magician?

Posted by on Oct 30, 2014 in magic | Leave a comment

shutterstock_119862811I’ve been asking the question “What is magic” for rather a while now. I tried answering it over a series of blog posts (referenced at the end) but I still come down to some challenges with the word. Then I asked myself, “Well, what is a magician?” And for me, that question is far easier to answer.

What is a magician? A magician is one who understands the inner workings of the universe.  Magician, wizard, shaman, witch, priest, priestess…there are a lot of words for this. However, overall it’s someone who knows the mysteries. Let’s look into what that actually means.

There are times when people ask me, “Do you have a spell for ___?” Or, I’ll talk to seekers who are really sure that they have Phenomenal Cosmic Power because they read a book of spells and rituals, or because they had some psychic experiences. Or, because they are convinced that they are under psychic attack. (And I have a whole separate blog post on that.) The point is, a lot of people associate magic with power. Specifically, with wanting to gain power and control.

And with magic, it seems like the appeal for many is the power and control over this invisible mysterious force.

Knowledge is Power
Let’s take things back a step to a very old axiom. Knowledge is power. Let’s take things to a very pragmatic place. Most of the words we use these days like wizard, witch, druid, all likely hail from root words that mean, in various form, “wise one.” Though these days the word “wizard” often has a bit of a silly connotation, it comes from an older word, vizier, which was a term for an advisor and leader.

Let’s look at that word “occult,” which is often misused. Occult means “hidden.” Now, when you see pictures of the Medieval-era occultist, magician, or alchemist, what do you see? Often it’s the iconic images that share rather a lot with a wizard’s study or a mad scientist’s lab. Books, scrolls, test tubes, and usually the token skull on the desk.

In fact, skulls and other remains are generally used as a visual trope to imply “creepy” when used in context of a magician. But why?

Let’s go back to an iconic mad scientist, Leonardo DaVinci. Stacks of books, secret lab, inventions, human remains? Check, check, check. Human remains are thought of as creepy, but the people who were getting in trouble for studying these things were the original scientists. Many of these magicians, alchemists, occultists, and explorers were studying human anatomy back when that was still illegal (not to mention grounds for serious consequences from the church). These were the folks studying chemistry before it became chemistry. In short, these were scientists, but they got labeled as being “creepy.”

Sound familiar? Pagans and witches and magicians have born the brunt of that branding campaign as well.

Science is Magic
The more you know, the more it’s science. And the word science seems to take the wind out of many a seeker’s sails. “But, if it’s not science, then it’s not magical!” And yet, here’s the irony. Science implies that a theory was proven, and thus, the experiment can be reliably repeated. And what many magical seekers want is a spell that is reliable and repeatable. They want to read a spell and know the exact words to say, what oil to dress the candle with, what color candle to use, what color cloth, and what herbs to burn, in order to get the desired result.

If you are looking for precise instructions and repeatable results, you’re looking for science.

And guess what. A lot of the ancient so-called “lost” mysteries of our ancient Pagan ancestors? Science again. Our ancestors tracked the four directions before they had a compass. They tracked the equinoxes and solstices in stone. They tracked the cycles of the moon and the stars. They learned how to sing and dance to go into a trance state, they learned how to use particular herbs to heal people. They knew when the drought was coming by the signs they read in the earth and the patterns of the animals. They encoded some of that knowledge into songs and stories and traditions.

Guess what all of that is? Science. The shaman/witch/druid/medicine man of the tribe was the one who knew the mysteries, the magic. They were the one who understood the deeper underpinnings of the world. What they did would seem like magic to the uninitiated. Mysterious, unknown, hidden. If you don’t know how it works, then it’s magic.

And therein lies the rub. To be a magician is to understand how much of this is actually science. And initially, that may take the magic, mystery, and power out of it. It might be deflating to see the Matrix Code underlying the universe, to understand that what you’re doing is ultimately science.

Science is Beautiful
I know what fire is. I know that it’s a chemical reaction. But, looking into a candle flame is still magical. I know what a shooting star is. I know that it’s a meteorite burning up in the atmosphere. That makes it no less beautiful to me. I know why the moon cycles, I know why the stars twinkle. I know what is happening during an eclipse. None of these things make it less cool for me. In fact, knowing the science of what’s happening sometimes makes it more fascinating. To think of the layers and layers of math that it took for that moment to occur. That this planet, our bodies, our very universe, all are a factor of physics and math that seem infinitely complex.

I sometimes think that magic is science, and spirituality is putting the art back in.

Skill and Talent
These words get conflated a lot, but there’s a core difference. A talent is something you are born with. Some people are born with artistic talent, or are born with the ability to sing with perfect pitch, or a talent for math. A skill is something you can develop. A musician may be born with talent, but they still need to learn how to sing–how to strengthen their voice, how to improve their breath control, how to use particular vocal techniques. They may need to learn how to read music, or how to write music to compose.

If you attend a concert, it might seem magical…effortless. But, it takes rather a lot of work, thought, and planning. There are the various musicians who have worked together to make the music happen, practicing day after day. There are the lighting and sound crew, there are special effects.

What does that have to do with magic? Well…if magic is something you want skill at, you have to practice. You have to learn. You have to understand. A magician sees how the world works and can use that to manipulate an outcome. The more skill you gain as a musician, or a magician, the less what you are doing feels like an invisible force. It feels like hard work that is paying off.

You may have an affinity for magic or spiritual work, a talent for it. But if you really want magic, it’s going to require developing a lot of skills. It’s going to require practice, and learning. And ultimately, it’s going to require understanding how the universe works. The more you learn, the less it’ll feel like magic, and for many this is kind of a let down.

What is a Magician?
I believe that a magician is one who has gained knowledge and wisdom. One who knows the mysteries of science and of spirit/the unseen. A magician can effect change, they can cause ripples and shift currents. The universe has places where it is liquid, changeable if you know how.

What I find to be more of a pressing question is, what will you do with your phenomenal cosmic power when you gain it? Are you just out there to put a patch job on your ego to soothe the wounds of your past, to make you feel like you are important, to make you feel that you have power over others? If so, you’re not going to get very far. That’s why so many programs of magical and personal work put a focus on personal transformation. Why, indeed, I would go so far as to say that most magicians aren’t going to be very effective until they’ve faced a number of their own shadows. None of us are ever going to be “perfect” but if you’re out there doing magic because you’re afraid everyone’s out to get you, that you’re under psychic attack, or that you have to prove something to people…that’s not going to get you very far.

It’s also not to say that every magician “must” focus their work on making the world a better place. Magic is no more good or bad than a screwdriver is good or bad. It’s science, it’s the way the world works, and it’s gaining an understanding of that. However, if you are seeking to learn magic, especially in connection to taking on a role of serving community, then you have to look at what impact you are having on the people around you and the world around you.

Below are a series of articles I’ve written mulling the idea of “what is magic.” But here’s another article that might be tangentially of interest; it’s breaking down the Egyptian word “Heka” which is usually translated as “magic” but actually tends to mean “Authoritative speech.” I’ll be exploring that more in a future post.


Filed under: Magic

Mysteries: You Won’t Learn This In Books

Posted by on Oct 20, 2014 in magic, Pagan Community | Leave a comment

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The first thing most seekers want is books. And yes–books are valuable. I write books, I read books. But some things, you just can’t learn from reading. And that’s people involved in spiritual work mean when we say, “It’s a mystery.” The mysteries are the things that we can write about over and over, but you really won’t get it until you’ve experienced them for yourself.

I field a lot of questions from seekers on various online lists and groups, as well as when I travel and teach at events or offer events in Chicago. What’s the first question people usually ask me?

“What books should I read?”

What Do I Recommend?
First, let me offer what I usually recommend as far as books go, and then I’ll go into the difficulty with the book-focused Pagan seeker.

I usually recommend River and Joyce Higginbotham’s book Paganism because, though it does have a leaning toward a Wiccanate perspective or what I call “post-Wicca,” it’s not teaching Wicca specifically and it offers exercises to determine what you believe before choosing a particular tradition. It’s a book that many people gift to their friends/parents when they are coming out, so it’s pretty accessible.

However–I tell them that this is just a beginning, a way to figure out what they believe. The book offers some tools to figure out, are you a pantheist or a polytheist, what your core beliefs are, and more. These things are all useful in helping a seeker to figure out what tradition might be of interest.

Attend Rituals
Early on I try to encourage people to go and attend public Pagan events to get a sense of what might call to them. I suggest that they attend the rituals of different groups’ rituals. If it’s in Chicagoland, or another area where I have taught, I give them a run down of local groups. I try to give them a heads up on necessary local politics, for lack of better words, without overwhelming them. For instance, “There’s XYZ tradition that meets for sabbats over at ABC venue. They are nice folks, but they’ve been running that group for over a decade so they are a little bit of a clique. However, if you like the ritual work, keep going and you can become a part of the crew, just know that it’ll take time, and I know that’s frustrating for someone who shows up not knowing anyone.” Etc, etc.

But so very often, I know that people don’t ever go out and attend anything.

Why the Focus on Books?
Overall, I hear people wanting me to recommend books. And I think there are a few reasons, some that are helpful and some that aren’t. There are various online programs for Pagans these days that have hundreds, if not thousands of people signed up. Why? They want someone to tell them what to read, what they need to learn, and to say, “Yes, you passed this class.”

In the worst cases, we’re talking about seekers who fit a certain profile. These would be Pagans who come to it wanting to learn “powerful magic.” They want to learn the spell that will “magically” fix their life, which feels broken. Truth is, these folks are often wracked with poor self esteem. These are people who have been bulldozed by life, bullied, hurt. They want the power to change their lives and they think Paganism/Wicca/Spells is going to do it. And for these folks, no spellwork is going to fix their lives, not until they do the deep personal work. That work is possible to do from books, but, it’s also definitely one of those mysteries that a book can’t contain. It’s dependent on the individual practitioner.

I think that a lot of seekers are looking for a way to learn without having to physically attend a class. I also think many seekers are looking for a replication of their primary school experience where someone says, “Yes, I approve of you, you got an A. You have learned these mysteries.” Sometimes it’s a matter of travel distance–they are in a rural area without good transportation to get to any group activities. Or, they are Hellenic Reconstructionist and there aren’t any recons in their area, only Wiccan covens.Add to that all the cranky leaders and dysfunctional groups out there, as well as the really poorly-facilitated rituals, and I can see why people go for books.

Books are easier.

However, we start to run into a problem. Many Pagans confide in me that, though they’ve been reading Pagan books for 5-10 years, they have never ever felt like they could do a ritual, even a private one for themselves, because they are worried they don’t know enough.

Problems With the System
I think that it’s easier for people to go to books because people are afraid of looking stupid. There isn’t a lot of easy access to 101 education except through books. There are teaching covens, and the occasional Pagan class, or a bigger name author comes through town to teach a class, but in many areas there’s not really good access to basic 101 education unless you are taking an oath to a particular tradition. And, I have some issues about that, largely in how the word “oathbound” is often used to facilitate abuse, but that’s another post entirely.

In addition, most public rituals I have attended are really poorly facilitated, particularly in the sense of being accessible to new seekers. Many of these rituals give absolutely no way for people to access the divine unless they are already advanced practitioners on their own. I use ecstatic ritual not necessarily because of my theology, but because of science. It works. I’m not there to tell you what the divine looks like, I’m there to get you singing and dancing and in a trance state so that you can get there on your own.

I have actually burst into tears on a few occasions when people attend one of my rituals and say, “I’ve been Pagan for 20 years and I’ve never actually felt anything in ritual until now.” I’m not trying to toot my own horn–I’m just using the ecstatic ritual techniques that I learned. Techniques anyone can learn to use, but they don’t. They do ritual the way they learned to do ritual, without perhaps every questioning if there is a better, more effective way to do it.

It Takes Time to Learn This Stuff
Right now I’m struggling to write a book on how to facilitate effective rituals, because, it really is stuff that needs to be taught in person. I can talk to you about singing techniques and breath control, which is wholly different from the experience of 50 of us singing together and learning how to use that to connect to the divine. There’s a value in the book as a textbook. As a resource to explain how it works. But if you want to learn how to facilitate effective rituals, you need to do that in person. And you need to devote the time to it.

People often ask me to teach leadership and ritual techniques in 1.5 hour time slots, or maybe 3-4 hours, but when I propose a whole day, a weekend, or a 3-day, they are like, “Oh, no, that’s too long. We can’t take that much time”

It takes days of working together to get a group into an intimate/spiritual/working headspace. It takes that long to begin to break through the ego barrier, and that’s a whole function of the mysteries that is difficult to explain, and must be experienced. At Recaliming Witchcamps and intensives, or Diana’s Grove intensives, we had 3 or more days to get into the groove. They were retreats–you are away from the world, and there’s a reason that that is important for work like this.

Can’t You Teach That in an Hour?
If you want to actually learn leadership and facilitation, or, do deep personal transformative mystery school work, it’s a big time commitment. A decade ago, I experienced that it was a lot easier to fill a room full of 20 people for a weekend intensive. These days, people will ask me, “Can I just show up for part of one day?” Which…totally defeats the purpose of the intensive. Last time I taught a 3-day ritual intensive in Chicago, I had a local group leader (who had pre-registered) and 2 of his volunteers (who had not pre-registered) show up on the third day, and then get frustrated that nothing made sense.

I have found it harder and harder to get people to commit to longer intensives. It’s not just a money thing–given I always charge on a sliding scale. (There is the factor of people who can’t afford to take the time off of work, of course.). I do notice that more affluent people tend to be more willing to make the time commitment. Specifically, even when I offer reduced rates for people that I know are struggling financially, that doesn’t necessarily mean those folks will attend the class I’m offering.

It seems to be partially an issue of numbers within the Pagan community. In any given area, there often just isn’t a critical mass of interested folks to be able to offer education that is energetically and financially sustainable. It’s also an issue of dedication and effort. Again, it’s easier to pick up a book and read it when you feel like it. Way, way harder to drive 3 hours to the woods for several days to live communally, or devote three days a month to intensive education.

It seems like there are less and less people willing to make the sacrifice of the time commitment to do this work. It’s way easier to just buy a book. Even easier to buy a book that sits on a shelf and you don’t actually read or do the exercises.

What Would Offer a Better Model?
The most successful community models I’ve seen are congregational Pagan communities, usually organizing out of a UU church or some other unity initiative where it’s about community gatherings, not about one specific tradition.

I’ve been on a soap box about why Pagans need to learn how to raise money as groups. Because it takes money to be able to offer this work, there’s no way around it. You need space to do the work–land, or a rented retreat center or any private venue. You need facilitators, and you need facilitators who can devote their professional focus to that work. The only way to do that is to have self sustaining clergy/leaders, and the only way to do that is through some kind of tithing/fundraising.

I also see various organizations that serve the broader Pagan community emerging (or growing stronger) and I believe those resources will help.

But ultimately, I have to face a truth. You can lead the horse to water but you can’t make it drink. I can offer education to my community, but I can’t make anyone decide to sacrifice the time that it’s going to take to really learn these things. Individual seekers need to make that decision for themselves. But, there is another simple truth. Either you devote the time, or you don’t. And if you aren’t willing to devote the time, don’t expect to gain mastery.

Books are an excellent resource. They can help you begin your path. They can offer resources as you go along. They can teach you tools and techniques, give you background. Books are still part of the process.

However, if all you’re willing to do is read a book or a web site, don’t expect to experience the deeper mysteries.


Filed under: Magic, Pagan Community

Activism, Burnout, and Magic

shutterstock_18780682Sometimes bloggers will ask me to write a bit about my thoughts on a particular issue…and, being longwinded, I usually have a hard time coming up with a a concise quote. Tim Titus asked a really pertinent question and I had a lot of answer, so here’s the full text of what I wrote in response.

The issue is activism, overwhelm, burnout, and magic.

Tim Titus asked me:

“There are so many pressing social, environmental, human rights, and justice issues across the world right now that it can be hard to keep up. Many witches and other magickal people want to help, but the problems seem so widespread and so intractable that it can be hard to know where to start. Sometimes that leads us to just give up. How do you choose issues to take action on? Knowing that we can’t always physically lend aid, What magickal acts can you suggest to help heal some of the world’s most difficult problems?”

 

Here’s the original blog post on Tim’s site along with some great quotes from other Pagans.

This topic something I think about a lot. I’ve suffered various types of burnout not just as an activist but as an event planner, as an artist, and a writer. Specifically as an activist, I’ve learned to limit my focus. When I worry about all the ills of the world I get overwhelmed, stressed out, and I freeze up. In fact, as a kid I was so hypersensitive that seeing TV commercials with the starving kids in Ethiopia would make me physically ill. As an adult, I realized that watching the news stressed me out. In fact, I can’t even really watch TV shows about characters who are horrible people because I get too upset. I think about all the horrible people out there in the world and I want to just crawl into bed and hide.

While there are a lot of things in this world I’m concerned about, my activism in the past has primarily focused on environmental issues. While I’ve blogged and spoken about environmental activism to educate people how to live more sustainable lives, the bulk of my activism there has been through living more simply and reducing my own impact. I’ve also done a lot of what I’d call daily activism in the area of speaking up about privilege, bullying, racism, homophobia and transgender discrimination.

Impact on the Activist
Of late, my activism has focused a lot on supporting a sex positive culture and fighting rape culture, particularly within the Pagan umbrella. That’s a type of activism that works well with the resources I have at my disposal—social media, blogs, articles, and public speaking. I have written books, I have a following, and so I have a voice within the Pagan community/communities.

However, I’m the first to admit that this particular activism has also proven to be really emotionally exhausting. Whenever I put up a blog post taking someone to task or asking for accountability, and especially speaking up about sex and ethics issues, what folks might not realize is that I’m then dealing with days of intense comments. I’m dealing with the occasional hatemail, or even just long discussions with people who disagree with me. I value dissent, however, living my values and talking things out takes hours of time, and costs me in terms of stress and anxiety.

I also receive numerous messages from people who have been abused and who need someone to share their story with who will understand. Sometimes I’ll get a huge email from someone telling me about their story that they can’t speak up about because of the recriminations they will face. Other times people ask me to talk to them on the phone. And I’m honored that people feel safe checking in with me, but it is a lot of emotional weight to carry.

So every time I post one of those really intense articles or blog posts, we’re talking at least a full-time day of managing comments and emails, and about a week of what I’d sum up as emotional fallout.

What’s the impact on my life? Well, I’m mostly a hermit.

Coping
As an introvert, one of my primary coping mechanisms to avoid stress is simple; I avoid people most of the time. The more anxiety I have in my life, the harder it is for me to have the emotional resources to do things like simple social events. The impact on my life is that speaking up about these things and dealing with the fallout makes it hard for me to write, paint, or design–in other words, to do the things that bring in income.

The impact on my life is that the more stress I’m under, the harder it is for me to want to teach workshops at a Pagan Pride, or to organize a class or workshop in my local community, or even to go out on a date.

I value the work that I’m doing, and I acknowledge that activism is sacrifice. To build the world I want, I’m willing to let a little bit of my own blood. I mean that metaphorically in terms of my own energy. In other words, I’m willing to exchange some of my own life force to bring about the change; no change ever happened by everybody being comfortable. Someone has to sit in the wrong spot on the bus, drink from the water fountain, chain yourself to the tree, blow the whistle.

But, the various shaming, victim blaming, and other crap that I deal with has begun to edge toward “more than I’m willing to give.”

How Does Magic Help?
To the question of what magical acts I can suggest…that’s probably the toughest part of this question, because my relationship to the word “magic” is complicated. Or rather—I have struggled the past years to redefine magic for myself. I look at magic as understanding the mysteries of how the world works behind the scenes. I see magic as the power of transformation. Thus, I understand magic mostly in the sense of, determining a goal, and marshaling my resources (energetic, mental, and physical) toward that goal.

However, in the Pagan community, I experience that many people use the word “magic” to mean, “Imagining that I’m sending energy to something when I’m not willing to do the actual work to make it happen.”

So I tend to be leery of using the word “magic” in terms of activism.

Here’s the thing. Changing the world isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of work. There’s setting intention, and then there’s the physical work to do it. That’s part of magic too. While rituals and spells absolutely serve to set that intention, they also aren’t the whole package. You can’t say, “I want to heal the earth,” and then keep drinking bottled water and using resources the way most people do.

Once, years ago, I was asked to facilitate an earth healing ritual at a festival, and I likely will never do so again.Why? Because years later, the people of that festival leave piles of trash behind them when they return home. They eagerly discuss all year long all the extra camping supplies they’ll bring, and they load in tons of things like flats of bottled water and beer, and then they fail to even sort their recycling.

Maybe the ritual helped inspire some of them reduce their use of resources…but I think for most of them it was a way to fell like they were doing something to heal the earth, when they really weren’t. I think for most of them it was a “feel good” ritual.

Magic and Dedication
If you want magic, if you want change, it requires dedication. One of the daily pieces of magic that I do is speaking the truth. What I mean by that is, I’ve taken a vow to—as best I can—speak the truth. And that’s far more complicated than you might think. However, over time, this means that my words have more power, more magic, more ability to transform the world.

Here’s an example. Most people say, “I have to go do ___.” Do you have to? Or, are you choosing to? It doesn’t matter if the task is unpleasant and you’d rather not. Today I chose to go to the Post Office and spend $100 mailing out packages. I didn’t have to, I chose to. Many people say, “I have to go visit family for the holidays.” Or when asked if they can help with something, people will make up an excuse. “Oh, I can’t, I’m washing my hair.” We tell lies all the time.

I work to speak the truth, even when it’s awkward. I try to keep my tongue clean of lies and half truths. It not only builds up my personal magic, but my relentless honesty is part of what gives my blogs, articles, and public speaking their power. People believe me because they know I speak the truth. And–to speak the truth here, I don’t always manage it. I do my best to speak the truth whenever possible, but there are times when I slip up and speak the easy white lie or the half truth. But this is something I work hard at.

It takes daily commitment, and this is just one of my daily practices. Other consistent magical practices I engage in are relentless personal work and shadow work.

Overwhelmed
I suppose what I mean is, I think people mistake “magic” for “easy.” Magic is still work. However—what I would say is two things if you are finding yourself overwhelmed.

  1. If you are finding yourself overwhelmed by all the pain out there, you might need to take some space and work on your boundaries. You might need to say “No, I can’t help with that” for a while. And you might need to look at what activism to focus on, which is both looking at what you are most passionate about, and where you can have the most impact. There are a lot of different types of activism. I go back to the axiom, Know Thyself. Focus on what you care about, not on what you “should” be helping with. If you focus on the “shoulds” you’ll lose energy fast. Focus on where your fire is; your passion for the cause is your fuel. A good rule of thumb is, if it doesn’t piss you off, it’s probably not your calling.
  2. The other thing is that there is some magic that is really effective at transforming ourselves to keep our spirits up.

Magic for Centering
As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, I admit I don’t always use the tools at my disposal. Some of the tools that come from magic and ritual that are excellent for centering ourselves and keeping our spirits up include listening to music, and especially singing along to music or singing chants, using singing bowls…sound is incredibly powerful magic and can help you shift your mood from sad/anxious/depressed and into a more focused head space where you are making better decisions. Light a candle, light incense, do some intentional movement like Yoga or Tai Chi or exercise or go out dancing, or other forms of meditation.

I call this “short term” magic; the various actions we perform when doing ritual, spellwork, or personal devotional practice aren’t necessarily going to change the world in the long term, but they’re going to help you to be able to center and keep your focus so that you can sustain doing the work.

Magic and the Vision of the Future
Overall, a lot of magic is about knowing what the goal is, and looking at how you will approach working toward transforming yourself and the world to support that goal. And—for some of the big activism, there’s the realization that you will die with the work unfinished.

Let me tell you, that one’s hard. I’m still working with wrapping my head around that one. Look at the goals, and look at what you can, as an individual, reasonably accomplish. Keeping focus may help you to reduce your overwhelm.

I wish I could say pretty things here. I wish I could say it gets easier, but the truth is, most activists burn out. The truth is, most activists end up pissing people off because they are vocal about what they’d like to see change and speaking up about issues. The truth is, many activists have a hard time sleeping because they see shit running through their brain and can’t shut it off. Many activists have a hard  time being happy because they are so sensitive tot he pain in the world around them. Because they see past the curtain. They see the Matrix Code, as it were.

I’m writing this at a point of some serious activist burnout on my part. Writing about sex and ethics and leadership ethics in the Pagan community and having so many people tell me they’ve been sexually abused…and so many other people say that they still support leaders/teachers who are abusive. Or people saying that if you take sexually abusive practices out of their tradition it’s destroying their tradition…seeing so many verbally abusive Pagan leaders out there…it’s wearying.

When I post a blog about the abuses I went through with my ex fiance, I will have people simultaneously message me and yell at me to say, “Quit defending him, you keep making excuses for him,” and others messaging me saying, “Quit your whining, you blame everything on him, I’m sick of your woe-is-me posts.” And far worse messages, and the occasional threat.

I’m not really doing a good job with this post on selling people on being an activist, am I?

However, here’s why I keep at it. Because if I don’t, who will do this work? If I don’t act, can I look at myself in the mirror? Can I look into the faces of the next generation and feel like I did my best?

Callings aren’t easy. But somebody’s gotta do it.

For another great post on determining where to focus your energy as an activist, and when to hold a boundary, check out my friend Lauren’s post on Pagan Activist.


Filed under: Activism, Leadership, Magic, Pagan Community

Reblog: The Sleeper Must Awaken

Posted by on Aug 29, 2014 in magic | Leave a comment

I just posted a guest blog on Temet Nosce. It’s super geeky and references what I do in ritual with trance work and techniques the Bene Gesserit use in the fictional world of the science fiction book/movie Dune.

Here’s a snippet and a link to the whole post. Enjoy!

The Sleeper Must Awaken

Dune6

Science fiction and fantasy books and movies often delve into the fantastic, the unreal, the magical, the impossible…and yet so often they reflect a deeper truths. Sometimes, what looks like magic is actually just incredibly advanced technology.

I’m an admitted nerd for the old 1980′s David Lynch movie Dune. I realized something: A fair number of the trance techniques that I use are right out of the Bene Gesserit handbook.

The Bene Gesserit, if you’re unfamiliar with Dune, are an order of sisters in the far distant future of humankind.  They were colloquially known as “witches” because of how supernatural their powers seemed, but their powers were, at the core, rooted in science and discipline.

http://www.temetnosce.org/2014/08/29/the-sleeper-must-awaken/


Filed under: Magic

Lughnasadh: Abundance and Seeking Your Dreams

Lotus Queen

The Lotus Queen: One of my large mixed media pieces with gold, metal and glass pieces.

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I’m joining the Tarot Blog Hop on the theme of the Lughnassadh (harvest), and the abundance of the Queen of Disks.

In order to harvest, you have to have first planted the seeds. I find that when I’m the most often wrapped up in the spiral of self loathing and overwhelm, the root cause is that I wish I’d gotten things finished (or started) sooner.

You can’t realize a dream if you haven’t watered the garden and tended the land.

In my case, I look at the magical map I’ve created as an intention setting. I call it a Grail Map. I see the crucial projects that must get finished so that the bigger, larger-reaching dreams can be realized. Sometimes I get stuck thinking, “I should have had a novel published when I was 25,” “I should have gotten those MP3’s recorded by now, ” “I should have finished that book on facilitating ritual by now,” “I should have done dozens more paintings,” “I should have gotten more gigs doing magazine covers and book covers.”

“I Should” is a pretty big red flag; it’s a big time blame game.

Working with this particular magical map process, I have had a lot of success focusing my goals and then working out the steps to reach for those dreams. It really does help to break it out step by step and prioritize. Actually, the map is sort of a next step after doing something more nonverbal like the collage I wrote about in my Create an Outcome Card post.

Grail Map

This is a magical map of my goals, though I usually call it my Grail Map for obvious reasons.

What Harvest Do You Desire?

If you are trying to reach for specific dreams…if you’d like to harvest particular fruits…if you want to be like the Queen of Pentacles, rich in abundance…then you have to plant the seeds and tend them. Or, as I like to say a lot these days, “This book won’t write itself.” When I’m beating myself up about not having finished books earlier in my life, I stop, take a breath, and say, “OK. But I’m published now. And I’m publishing more books. It’s happening. I just have to keep going.”

This summer, I’m at a point of finally harvesting some of the fruits of my work. Though I’ve been traveling and teaching for years, and I’ve been writing novels since I was 12, it was just one year ago this month that I published my first book.

Now I have 7 books out, with more on the way. Yay! That’s a harvest I’m pretty excited about. I just finished an almost-final draft of a novel, and I’m finishing up another novel plus a few short stories. I’m looking at documents and collected notes that will become several future nonfiction books on ritual facilitation, a book on finding your personal magic, a book on the Grail quest.

While I’m not where I’d like to be as far as financial abundance, I can begin to feel the shift. I’m beginning to earn more income from my writing and my artwork.

What is Abundance, What is Success?

Recently I hosted author Taylor Ellwood in Chicago. Taylor has helped to re-ignite and refresh my view of magic and how magic works, which I explored in a 3-part blog post. Magic is often a challenging word for me, because I see so many people misuse the word. They want a spell for this, they want to know what incense to burn, they want phenomenal cosmic power. But, they don’t want to hear that magic is still a heck of a lot of work.

You don’t become the Queen of Pentacles without that work.

manifesting hires

Check out my friend Taylor’s book, Manifesting Wealth, if you’d like help doing more specific abundance magic.

Taylor’s work on magic reminded me of something we used to talk about a lot at the Diana’s Grove retreat center. We discussed the word abundance not just referring to financial prosperity, but to all the different types of abundance in our lives. In Taylor’s Wealth Magic workshop, it was great to brainstorm out with people a lot of different types of success, and that wealth doesn’t always mean money.

Here are some goals that are in my magical map:

  • Successful writer and artist
  • Become a guest at science fiction/fantasy conventions
  • Teach leadership, event design, public speaking for professional organizations
  • Financially stable
  • Able to buy a retreat center in several years to host spiritual events
  • Running large-scale spiritual/artistic/transformative conferences
  • Loving, stable, healthy romantic relationship
  • Healthy body, eat food grown locally/organically
  • Emotionally healthy/lessen depression
  • Get more skilled at music, learn more musical instruments (frame drum, shruti box)

Simplicity and Abundance

Financially stable can mean a lot of different things to different people. Certainly if I won the lottery, or became a bestselling author and brought in millions, I could find some good uses for that money. However, in the past decade I have worked to simplify my life, both in terms of focusing my work and also in terms of ecological activism. The less products we buy, the less fossil fuels we use, the less resources we use, and the less impact we have on the planet.

This is one of my "key tree" mixed media/magical talisman paintings. I work with the tree as a symbol of the World Tree and lifecycles, the Key for transformation and unlocking your potential.

This is one of my “key tree” mixed media/magical talisman paintings. I work with the tree as a symbol of the World Tree and lifecycles, the Key for transformation and unlocking your potential.

In my case, living simply has another impact–I don’t need much to live on at all. I’ve lived in a cabin in the woods with no running water, and I currently live in a one-room art studio with no water, no kitchen. I go over to the main house to cook and take a shower. By simplifying my life, I reduce my costs tremendously. That gives me hours and hours more time to write and paint.

Sacrifice and Giving Things Up

And–it’s a sacrifice. There are things I sacrifice to be able to do this. The Queen of Pentacles knows all about sacrifice, because there is no abundance, no harvest, without something dying for it. The vegetables and grains and meat that you are eating all had to die to bring life to you. The gasoline in your car came from decomposed bodies. The very ground we grow our food from, the ground that grows the grass that animals feed on, is full of the compost of dead plants and animals.

I recognized that if I wanted the time to write, there are things in my life I’d need to sacrifice.

A decade ago, I moved to the Diana’s Grove retreat center. I sacrificed a lot to do that, but what I gained was invaluable. I sacrificed a lot of stability, a life that I knew. I even sacrificed owning a television.

Beginning the Magic

If you’re reading this blog, I bet there are things in your life that you’d like to do. Dreams you have that are unfulfilled. Things you’ve wanted to reach for, or tried to reach for, that haven’t yet come to fruition. Sometimes the magic is in fully articulating that dream, that vision, that project. Write down what you want. Speak what you want to the universe, and to others. Speaking is a magical act, and writing/drawing is a magical act.

Then, begin to work through what it will take to realize that goal. For some, talking through things with a coach can be of use. For others, just a friend to bounce ideas off of may be sufficient. Begin to plot out what you’ll need to do and to learn to get to that point. And perhaps even what you’ll need to give up. You might be surprised what you can sacrifice when you need to.

It’s also valuable to do a tarot reading, to meditate or do trancework, or other magical work, with a deity or archetype to gain insight into what you need to do. Right now I have so many projects I could focus on that it’s hard to figure out what projects I need to focus on. Which ones will bring me the abundance and success that I need to bring other projects to fruition.

Queen of Pentacles from the Shadowscapes Tarot (the deck I use) illustrated by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

Queen of Pentacles from the Shadowscapes Tarot (the deck I use) illustrated by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

Wisdom of the Queen

You can also work with a specific archetype of abundance, like the Queen of Pentacles. In whatever way works for you, connect to her energy, to that archetype of abundance. Tell her your dreams. Tell her your desires. And ask her advice, ask her what you might need to do to get from A to Z.

But, also ask her what you might need to let go of, what you might need to sacrifice. She knows the mysteries of abundance, the mysteries of the Lughnassadh harvest. She understands that the only way to grow fruit is to have the rich, compost-heavy ground beneath it. That the dreams you are reaching for are rooted in the work of the past.

And then you might draw out a process map like my magical map, or even a to do list. If you’re familiar with the project management term Gantt chart, it’s a way to manage a project by looking at dependent tasks.

In other words–I can’t sell my book until it’s published. My book can’t get published til I have a publisher. I can’t get a publisher til I finish the book. That’s a pretty simple version, but you can begin to add in other details. I need business cards, I need postcards. I need a web site. I need the cover design for the book. I need to find conferences and events to speak about my fiction and nonfiction. All of these overlap with one another but if you begin to brainstorm out a number of the things you need, you’ll find that some will stick up as the important things that must be done first before you can do the later tasks.

To reach for that lush, ripe read fruit on the tree, you have to grow the roots. You have to tend the soil.

Asset Abundance Map

Another map that can be of use is looking at the assets you have, and the assets you need to grow. An example: when I started attending workshops on becoming a published fiction writer, I was overwhelmed by how many of the panelists talked about needing to be a good public speaker. I was utterly terrified–I was a wallflower. But, I took the bull by the horns and worked to become a good public speaker. This was not something that happened quickly, and there was a lot of compost in that process! But it’s now one of my assets, and before, it was something that was in the “need to grow” pile.

Some of your assets might be friends who can test read your book. In March I completed a draft of a paranormal romance novel about a wereleopard and a woman with an oracular magic. The first publisher I sent it to rejected it, though she offered some good feedback. I sent the story to a friend who gave some additional feedback, and I got to work. I just completed a second draft and soon it will be finished, and I’ll send it off to a different publisher.

My access to several people who are 1. willing to test read my books and 2. skilled enough to offer useful feedback, is a tremendous asset.

Assets can be things that we do well, and they can be people we know who can share their skills with us. Likewise, I’m a professional graphic designer. That means I’m able to design my own book covers and marketing materials, but it also means that I can trade my skills with friends. Right at the moment, in order to be able to afford to do things like print postcards about my fiction books, I’m finding that I will need to take on some freelance graphic design work to have the money to do that.

Bringing Your Harvest

Whatever your dreams are, whatever projects you’re working toward, I bet you have a lot of abundance going for you that you didn’t even know.

Magic happens through a combination of dreaming, meditating, planning, and work. Pulling cards, meditating with the Queen of Pentacles (or another archetype), crafting a collage, or other similar work can help you build up that energy toward the abundance and success you are reaching for. Setting those intentions and dreams down by speaking them and writing them helps to focus them. And going further to plan what steps will bring you closer to your goal, and identifying what assets you have and what you need to build, will help to further bring your dream into reality.

Actually doing that work is the only way to manifest a dream. The Queen of Pentacles knows a lot about hard work too! What dreams are you reaching for? What abundance do you seek?

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Filed under: Magic, Personal Growth Tagged: Lammas, magic, Personal growth, queen of pentacles, Tarot

Challenges with Personal Transformation

1979075_xlThere are some inherent challenges with the process of personal transformation. To put it into geek terms, you are hacking your own programming. And it’s going to impact your life. In other words, there are sometimes unintended consequences.

I think that facing the shadow tends to have repercussions–we’re hacking our self identity. We’re saying, “Yes, I identify that thing as bad, and yes, I do that thing, and I now have to accept that as part of my identity.”

Our ego doesn’t cope so well with that.

So very often the work I do comes down to recommending that people explore themselves, helping them to know themselves and do deeper personal work. And yet, I have to be crystal clear that there are consequences to this work. That when we change ourselves…things are going to change. It sounds obvious, but I know that for my own process it was a shock when things didn’t work the way they used to.

Things Will Get Worse Before They Get Better
In fact, there was a part of my personal growth work where I’m pretty sure that the work I was doing actually deepened my depression. I’ve written in the past about how, through my process, I cut myself off from a huge taproot of my own power and drive–my anger. At the Diana’s Grove retreat center, there was the subtle implication that anger like that was “bad.” Nothing anyone ever told me directly, but it was implied.

Before I intentionally worked to work “anger” out of my life, I used to get a lot of my “let’s plan an event guys” energy from my self-identity as an event planner. Specifically, I carried an old wound of rejection from my peers. And how it manifested was, “If I plan a really awesome event, then I’ll be giving the finger to all the people who told me I couldn’t, plus, all the kids that abused me in school.”

Of course that makes no rational sense, but the rage/showing off energy I pulled from that was pretty intense. When I cut that off, I lost a lot of my energy for doing things like that. I had to basically regrow a taproot.

Consequences
And in the years following that shift, as well as some others, I went deeper and deeper into a depression. And I managed to do a pretty good cover up of the severity of my depression, because it was embarrassing as hell. Or at least, I thought I was covering it well. There were a few folks that noticed how bad I was feeling, but I didn’t know that until later.

When my depression got bad enough that I was reaching for help, my (now) ex partner berated me for it. I felt pretty lost and alone and stuck.

It’s not to say that all personal growth work like this has such a wretched process. Sometimes things just work really well. But I think that any of us doing work, especially work that shifts our identity, and work that shifts how we relate to others, we have to realize that there will be some growing pains. We can’t pretend like doing this life-changing work isn’t going to change our lives.

And sometimes it’s going to cost us friends, relationships, jobs, and other pieces of our lives.

Boundaries
Boundaries are another core area where deep personal transformation work can lead to big changes in our lives that we aren’t expecting. A lot of boundaries work begins as just self awareness. We become aware of who we are, and who the other people are around us, and how we are not each other. My desire for you to join my event planning team does not mean that you will automatically do what I want, because we aren’t the same person. Similarly, a friend’s desire for me to be more extroverted and want to go to more social events with them doesn’t obligate me to do that, because we aren’t the same person.

Here are some of my previous posts on boundaries in case you want to learn more:
https://shaunaaura.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/authenticity-boundaries-shadows/
https://shaunaaura.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/assumptions-expectations-and-boundaries/
https://shaunaaura.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/harassment-and-boundaries/

But, boundaries becomes an interpersonal train wreck when we start saying “no.” When I say no to my friend or boyfriend or mom who want me to come out to an event that I don’t want to attend because I’m working on writing my book…they get hurt feelings.

No: The Great Rejection
Just because I’ve worked on my boundaries, doesn’t mean you’ve worked on yours. And in our culture, “No” is a great offense. No means I reject you, that I don’t even like you. I’ve worked for years to get better at hearing “No.” It’s still not easy, but  I can at least process it.

Boundaries work is crucial; we transform when we realize how much we are pressuring others. Or, how much we let ourselves get pressured. You can’t negotiate until you realize how much pressuring is happening. But, my awareness of my own boundaries doesn’t suddenly make everyone else’s boundaries better. Your family, spouse, boss, kids, teachers, friends…just because you have boundaries doesn’t mean anyone else will respect those boundaries.

So the rub is, you do all this personal growth work, often with the intention of reducing conflict and stress in your life–and then you’re suddenly causing more stress. When you start saying “No” to people, particularly to people who are used to saying yes, watch their stress and anger start to pop up. They’ll get agitated. They’ll bargain with you and bully you. They’ll rail at you for changing.

You did all this personal growth work to have better relationships, and then people start walking out of your life because you’re not their “yes man” any longer.

When we learn how to say no, we get treated like a jerk, and if we have always identified as the nice, helpful person, we have to rectify that with the new identity. We have to identify how much other people’s opinions of us matter, and decide how much of that we want to remain in our identity programming.

But when we remove that, there’s a backlash.

Boundaries and Betrayal
Sometimes it goes south really fast. “You betrayed me and did not live up to my expectations of you” can swiftly become, “You have always been evil and I hate you and will tear you down.” And all because we said “No” to someone who was used to us saying “Yes.”

Partly this is because most people are not very self reflective. And partly this is because people polarize really fast. While “splitting” is a term for people with Borderline personality’s tendency to see everyone around them as Good or Evil with no gray area, I personally experience that most people have difficulty holding a gray area, or holding paradox.

I can hold the paradox that you did this thing that really pisses me off…but, that doesn’t mean you are “bad” just because of that. I can hold both–that you pissed me off but you are still a basically good person. You pissing me off doesn’t require me to identify you as bad, forever and ever henceforth.

But gray areas are hard to maintain. People want boxes, a clear and final solution. Yes, no. Good, bad. We want to know what the right answer is, even if it’s an answer we don’t like. There’s also the challenge of cognitive dissonance–when we have an established belief, our brain literally fights us in challenging that belief.

So while we can work to shift our identity, and we can talk to our friends and family and other folks we know about how we are shifting our identity, that doesn’t mean that they will understand it or be able to support it.

What Now?
In the end, we can only continue to do our work, to become the best we can be. Sometimes the shifts we make will have an impact. And sometimes it might cost us in ways we aren’t expecting. I find that it’s better to be a little bit prepared for the reactions we might get from people. It gives me a little more patience with them–of course they are going to feel betrayed because I’m not doing what they want any more, or because my identity is shifting and I’m acting differently. And sometimes, if I can keep more calm while talking through things, it’s easier to find a solution.

But there also comes a point where I realize, even though I wanted a relationship to stay where it was at, if someone can’t respect who I am becoming, then I may indeed need to cut ties.

For anyone doing intensive transformation work–whether you call it personal work or spiritual work–I recommend having someone you can talk to, especially a trained counselor or therapist. I wish that I’d had that when I was doing some of the most grueling transformative work of my process, when I was stuck in that pit of depression. Having at least one person you can deeply trust to check in with about your process can really help.

This work is challenging, but that’s not going to stop me. This work is too important. I think about the world we could have together if we all worked to be more self reflective. If we worked to transform ourselves into our best selves…not denying our shadows but instead integrating them.

But that is the alchemical work of a lifetime.


Filed under: Leadership, Magic, Pagan Community, Personal Growth

Beltane and the Union of Opposites

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I’m joining the Tarot Blog Hop on the theme of the Beltane and the Union of Opposites.

More and more I have a challenge with opposites, or more specifically, binaries. Here’s what I mean. I think that they can be useful way to frame things, and in fact, I think people naturally think in binary terms. However, binary also creates black/white thinking. We humans get too used to the boxes, the pendulum swing…and we forget about the spectrum in the middle. This causes us no end of problems; typically when I write about that it’s in one of my leadership blog posts, but it finds its way into our magical and personal growth work as well.

On the other hand, there is some seriously powerful magic when we find that centerpoint, that balance of opposites.

The balance of opposites in the Tarot is often represented by the Lovers card, which is also the sixth card. The sacred geometry used to represent the balance of opposites is two triangles overlapping–a six-pointed star. In the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, this is represented best by Tiphareth, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiferet, which holds a position of balance of extremes. It is in the middle pillar holding the balance between Strength/Judgment and Mercy/Compassion. It’s also midway between Earth/Manifestation and Transcendant Spirit. Tiphareth is associated with beauty, balance, and love. It’s represented by a golden sun.

Now…what I think is sort of interesting–just to go on a metaphysical-nerd tangent–is that Venus (the planet/deity) is associated with a different sphere, but Venus is so often associated with beauty and love. Further, Venus (the planet) is the brightest object in our sky, after the Sun and the Moon, and thus held a lot of importance for our astronomy/astrology-obsessed ancestors. I’ve gone into some depth on this topic and how it connects to my own experience of divine communion in an essay published in the anthology “A Mantle of Stars.”

In fact, Venus is crucial for star observation and rectifying (aligning/correcting) the calendar. Every 8 years Venus sketches a wide looping spirograph around the Sun in the form of a rose-shaped pentacle. And every 8 years, you can use Venus to correct your solar, lunar, and sidereal (star) calendar to within a few minutes. Every 40 years you can correct your calendar to within a few seconds.

So we have a five-pointed star very clearly associated with the Goddess of Love. Roses, if you didn’t know, have 5 petals. Or at least, their petals are patterned in fives. Roses have continued to be associated with love and with Goddesses–in cathedrals you have rose windows, and Mary’s rosary, and you also have the rosy cross. In fact, the rose is often a symbol of the heart in the West, and occasionally it’s a metaphor for the Grail. The lotus would be the Eastern equivalent. The heart chakra is roughly in the center of our bodies and you can look at the heart as the meeting place of our various body functions–all blood must enter and leave the heart, so it is literally our center.

The Grail is another fantastic example of the union of opposites. Going back to that six-pointed star, this is actually a great visual for the Grail. The upward pointing triangle is typically associated with fire (active) whereas the downward pointing triangle is associated with water (receptive). Look at a chalice with a base; the cup part is the downward-pointing triangle. The base holding it up is the upward-pointing triangle.

And yet–here we get some mixed symbols again. The cup is usually associated just with water and is thought of as feminine, passive.

Here is where we start to run into some problems with those opposites and those boxes, where the symbolism starts becoming too rigid to be useful.

The Dangers of the Gender Binary
I’ve written in the past how I work to make rituals more inclusive for participants with diverse sexualities and allow for the entire spectrum of gender. In other words, I don’t really do the Wheel of the Year making the great heterosexual union of Goddess and God the focus of my work. I’ve written more about that in my Ritual Facilitation book, however, when I do a Beltane ritual I don’t focus so much on heterosexual sex.

It’s not because I think sex is bad or dirty…it’s that I don’t think that’s all there is to Beltane.

I can see how in an agrarian society–perhaps a village or a tribe where your entire group’s survival depended upon the fertility of the plants, the animals, and the humans–that maybe there needed to be a lot more magical and intentional work around fertility. Or at least the illusion of some control over fertility. For me, there are so many other avenues to explore in rituals. If I’m doing public ritual work, my job is to support the community with spiritual work that will serve and fill the group, and usually I’m focusing more on personal transformation work. In fact, nobody ever takes me up on sending them actual fertility energy.

I do work as an activist to support moving beyond the gender binary, and I’m also a supporter of non-dualist religious and spiritual work. I find that we often get caught up in those binaries and I think rather a lot of the problems with our society come out of the philosophical idea of dualism.

Actually, one of my challenges with most ceremonial magical traditions and orders is the fairly rigid binaries, often based upon the gender binary.

Do I think that the Sun is masculine and the Moon is feminine? Do I think that male is active, female is passive? Nope. Dualism is actually one of the really core problems I have with a lot of the dominant religions, because once you start going into that binary, that dualism, you eventually have the idea that there’s Good and Evil. And somehow, it always works out that Good is “up” and Bad is “down.” I like to call this the “gravity-based spiritual model.” Up is sky, masculine. Down is earth, feminine.

So you can see where dualism and gender binary-ism starts to cross over into a problematic area, because once you get your black/white dualism going, ultimately someone has to end up in the “evil” or “bad” box. Usually it’s women and people with darker skin. Dualism also makes bodies/the flesh/needs of the flesh “bad,” and transcendence/rising above the body “good.”

The good/evil dualism is how you end up with misogyny, sexism and racism. It’s how you end up with a sex-shaming culture, among a host of other cultural shadows.

Value of Opposites
I think there is some value to opposites, to binaries, because it’s an easy way to articulate a complicated concept. The problem comes in that we see everything fitting into those easy categories and we forget that there is a spectrum between. People are really terrible at holding paradox, at holding gray area, at holding the balance point.

And yet–maybe that’s the magic of this particular six pointed star, this particular balance of opposites.

Maybe that’s why the idea of the Union of Opposites holds so much allure for us–because it’s darned hard to do. Imagine holding two conflicting truths and not losing your mind. Imagine two people who both believe something that conflicts with each other’s beliefs, and yet, not making the other person wrong, holding the idea that their truth, and the other’s truth, could both be true without cancelling each other out.

Fire and Water
I tend to get pretty irked at the idea of assigning gender to metaphysical concepts or to planetary bodies, or anything that begins that quick slippery slope into dualism. Yes, I’m female, and yes, I’m heterosexual. In no way does that mean I’m supposed to hold a passive role, or any of the other gender associations with being female. Nor does that mean that my body is somehow bad. Or that my desire for sex is sinful or bad.

However, I do tend to like working with the concepts of Fire and Water, particularly around the idea of the Grail as well as the shamanic three worlds/tree of life. Fire and Water are opposites I can work with, as are Sky and Earth. I think of the water that falls from the sky to seep down into the ground, into the great cauldron of the waters below the ground that rise up through sacred springs to flow back out into the world, to rise up from the heat of the sun into the sky and fall again. I think of the fire that is the sun, that is the stars, the life-giving heat. I think of our bodies–gravity-bound as they are–and how we naturally reach up. When we think about reaching for something just out of reach, when we think about setting a magical intention to reach for a dream, we reach up, like the branches of the trees reach up for the sun. It’s instinctive.

And when we are working with our own shadows, our own inner darkness, it’s the closeness of the earth, the cave into the Underworld that calls us to that work. Under the earth in the cave, by the roots of the World Tree, the darkness isn’t bad. Down isn’t bad. Down and Darkness is depth, it’s the cycles of composting. Leaves composting are no more evil than our bodies are. Down and deep are the mysteries of decomposition and death. It’s the less-than-pretty things that we don’t always want to look at, and yet are part of the mysteries of life if we’d stop disowning them.

Fire and water is also the mystery of the cauldron, which was the precursor of the Grail. Without fire, you can’t heat up the cauldron. Without heat, there isn’t movement, there isn’t energy. For me, fire isn’t about gender, it’s about action. Water is about depth and dreaming.

I often think of water as that mysterious pool that holds the deep magic if I dip my hands in and reach down. It’s the waters of inspiration, the waters of life.

Grails, Service, and The Beloved
One of the mysteries of the Grail–which is a water-bearing vessel, and yet holds the properties of the Union of Opposites–is that it calls people to serve it. People often seek the Grail wanting to drink of the waters of inspiration and immortality, but the true Grail question isn’t asking the Grail what the Grail can do for you.

The Grail chooses its bearers based upon their ability to serve it. The Grail question is always, “How can I serve thee?” The Grail chooses those who are worthy to bear the vessel, those who will bring healing and inspiration. Like the heart, the mystery of the Grail is not about holding onto energy, but rather, systole and diastole–the heart must pump all the blood out of itself before it can refill.

I see that as part of that mystery of the Union of Opposites–the pulse of life, filling and refilling. The Union of Opposites is not static. It’s not a place we can stay. We get to be there for that brief moment, for that heartbeat, that moment of balance before we have to start over again. We can reach the fingertips of the divine, we can connect with that something beyond, but only for those briefest of moments.

The poetry of Rumi has often been an inspiration to me; Rumi often refers to the divine as “Beloved,” and the poems refer to that relationship with the divine as like a relationship with a lover.

But if you’ve experienced true mysticism–that is, direct communion with the divine, by whatever name you call it–you know that it’s a fleeting moment. You don’t get to stay there. You can hold onto that union for the briefest of moments. For me, it is often an ecstatic rapture, a weeping. For me it is a nondual state–grief and joy and sorrow are all one. My body is divine, it is a vessel of service, and I am simultaneously inside and outside my body. I am connected to the all-that-is. Most recently, this felt like being cradled in a great ocean, being held and told, “You are not alone. You were never alone.” I could feel that sense that the veil of flesh between us all is such an illusion. And that the separation from the Greater Whole that is the divine is just as painful for the divine as it is for us, but that there is some reason for it.

Finding that balance in the Union of Opposites, that divine connection, is the moment that inspires me. And it goes so far beyond gender and binaries.

Metaphysical Maps
All the metaphysical and cosmological models we have–the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the Tarot, correspondence tables, Astrology–I think all of it is an attempt to come up with a model and a metaphor for something that is really a lot larger and a lot deeper than that. And yet, we are human. We are compelled to design models to understand the universe. Just like mystic poets are compelled to try to capture their experience of divine communion by writing about it, even though nobody can actually convey a mystery–we can only live it for ourselves.

Our ancestors tracked the path of Venus in the sky over decades and centuries. And, other ancestors came up with the esoteric wisdom contained within the Tarot. Other ancestors figured out the wheel of the year, the cycles of equinoxes and solstices and connected those to the cycles of hunting and planting, and somewhere in there also mapped them to the cycle of human fertility, which is how we have come to associate Beltane with sex and fertility. Our ancestors have worked hard to understand the underpinnings of the universe and the cosmos, and to understand the the outer and the inner, the movement of the stars and the depths of ourselves and our shadows. Our ancestors have tried to put words to that divine communion, that perfect Union of Opposites that is so elusive.

So too can each of us work to understand ourselves. Can we find a way to find that point of balance and beauty and love without the “othering” of dualism? Without relying too much on that binary, particularly the gender binary?

It’s tough work. But then, I figure if my ancestors can spend 40 years tracking the cycle of Venus to align calendars, I can do a little bit of intensive personal work on my part to challenge some of my assumptions about the world and how things work.

What is a Union of Opposites for you? What does the Lovers card mean? And are there binaries you hold onto that perhaps no longer serve?

 

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Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: beltane, Kabbalah, Lovers, magic, Personal growth, personal transformation, Quaballah, Union of Opposites

What is Magic? Part 3

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I think that, with magic, we want proof. We want flash. We want miracles.  And when we don’t get those, we wonder what magic is. When we see how magic works, it doesn’t seem very flashy…or, we realize how unimportant the flash really is.

Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to put my finger on magic. Because magic is, at its core, one of the mysteries. You can’t work it til you experience it, and it’s really hard to put it into words.

People try. They write spell books that read more like recipes, they create informational graphics like the Kabbalistic Tree of Life to explain how the universe works…but that doesn’t teach what’s going on beneath. It’s a map, but it’s not the terrain. Nor is it the only map. It’s not the actual underpinnings of the universe, just one map to it that may or may not work for you or for me.

And at the core, I think that word magic has so much bound up in it. It’s a powerful, loaded word all on its own.

I think we desperately seek magic. We humans desperately seek that unexplained, that enchantment, that thrilling delight that there’s something intense below the surface. We seek that breathtaking reveal…and that’s the essence of the mysteries.

Once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. But it also isn’t something you can readily explain to others–that’s the nature of one of the mysteries.

Some people want to be part of the in-crowd that understands these mysteries, wanting that power, wanting to be special, wanting to control the forces of nature. I think magic will always have that inherent fascination and attraction. Take the word charisma; I talk a lot in my ritual classes about what charisma means and how to be a charismatic facilitator, but the word alone has that magical quality to it–a sparkle, a charm.

I think that what a lot of other folks want out of magic is to believe in miracles. To believe that there is something out there looking out for them, that’s going to rescue them in a time of need. Or perhaps we’re just looking for proof that there is some order to the universe and that we have some control over that.

I think perhaps it’s a little terrifying to think that we are alone on a floating marble spinning out in the blackness of space and that we’re on our own, that there’s no divine plan, no divine beings to rescue us, no powers to control all the things that could go wrong.

External Magic and Need
That’s also some of what I mean with what I wrote earlier…the more out of control I feel in a situation, the more I feel that I’m powerless and things are happening to me, the more I want something magical, mystical, and unseen to be able “rescue me,” in the case of working with the divine. Or…the power to manipulate the forces of the universe to rescue myself.

Now, again, that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe external magic is impossible. I have done the occasional specific, focused magical work to solve  a specific problem. In the class, Taylor spends some time talking about the difference between magic that is more reactive to fix a problem, vs. magic that is more intentional and by design, more proactive.

I think that it’s the easiest to see the direct impact of magic when we do the big external magic spell…but I think that the magic that has more power and more lasting impact tends to be more of the internal magic and magic by design.

I liken it to a laser beam and a tsunami. The tiny earthquake can cause the tsunami; that’s magic by design, working the subtle energies that have a bigger long-term impact. But most of the magic people talk about in the Pagan/magical communities and in books is more of the “laser beam” magic. People want to be able to light a specific candle and incense, chant specific words, and target their laser beam and have phenomenal immediate results.

What I think is really core to making any magic work is need. Deep need. The deeper the need, the more juice there is.

We start with that deep need. We need something to fuel the change. But we also need perception. We need to be able to perceive at least a little bit of that Matrix code of the universe. In many cases I think we do this by instinct. But one core piece of this is, we can’t ask for an outcome if we cannot perceive that outcome. The need leads to a focused intention. A lot of magic really boils down to, what do you want? And what are you willing to do to get that?

Through the popularization of the law of attraction, most folks probably already know that a positive intention works better than a negative one.

Most magical texts focus on the process in the form of spellwork. In other words, it breaks magic down to the recipe. But, a recipe is not a cake. Various functions are broken down into tactics, logistics, steps…use this incense, light that candle, use this sigil, do this only when the moon is ___, speak exactly these words…

Need Vs. Tactics
What I can tell you is that the most potent external magical work that I’ve personally done–the stuff that clearly had a particular external outcome–I wasn’t thinking too hard about the steps. It was pretty primal stuff; I was filled with a specific, driving need. I wasn’t lighting blessed candles and burning incense or looking at correspondence tables and spellbooks.

Sometimes I was rocking back and forth, weeping, burning things someone had given to me…breaking a symbol of someone else’s power over me…tearing apart a piece of furniture or a shirt to move past my rage…drawing symbols representing a particular intention in my own blood.

….And if bodily fluids gross you out, keep in mind that a lot of old magic uses urine, blood, and other bodily materials. I know candles and incense are “prettier” but the deep magic often requires that we move past “pretty.” I’ll write more about that in my Hexes Part 2 post coming up.

For that matter, I’ve used modern tools and woven magic into some of my graphic designs and artwork, or even into Facebook posts and blogging. Use the tools that work.

Specific tools and scents can become a mnemonic, but I don’t tend to believe they bear any power on their own, they just anchor the intention and are important because of their connection to me and my association with them. And not to discount that power–since I believe that most magic really is about intention. My associating a power with an object becomes part of the intention package.

We each are going to have our own associations with those things–candles, colors, sigils, tools, scents. It’s also utilizing the idea of what Starhawk calls Younger Self, Thorn calls Sticky One, or just going with the more visceral aspects of ourselves, working with the learning modalities that take us into our deeper self, getting at our subconscious.

I find that my talky self/conscious self doesn’t do great magical work. Me crying and rocking back and forth in front of a fire? Yes. Me trance dancing for hours til I’m sweating? Yes. Me zoned out working on a photoshop file for ten hours straight? Yes.

How Does it Work?
It’s not the candles doing the work, it’s not the incense or the athame. It’s your need, your juice, your focus. Your will. I think that’s probably half the battle–because, I work with a lot of people who genuinely cannot articulate what they want. Sometimes they can articulate what they don’t want, but often they can’t even articulate that.

I think that’s a lot of how external magic works. By perceiving that reality, that dream, that goal, you make it more likely to occur. If you can’t perceive the goal, you can’t reach for it very effectively.

I think rather a lot of magic, internal or external, is ringing the bell of the universe, if the universe were music. It’s saying, “Hey, I need it to happen. Pay attention to this, this is the outcome I want.” And sometimes, the Matrix code of the universe is going to be in alignment with that and the synchronicities will start to fall into place.

Sometimes, you are swimming upstream. Like if you are trying to levitate a rock.

People ask me all the time if I believe in energy healing, and I suppose the best answer I have is a quote from the movie Deep Impact. “Sometimes, the answer is no.” I believe we can pray and ask for healing, we can do energy healing, and sometimes it’ll work. And sometimes, it won’t.

I can say this though; if you don’t ring that bell, if you don’t imprint what you want into the probability field, it’s even less likely to happen.

What I think gets in our way is our ego hangups. I see a lot of people trying to do magic who get caught up in wanting their magic to work. And, it sounds pretty reasonable–of course you want that thing to happen, otherwise why would you be doing magic for it.

But, what seems to happen is that a lot of people chasing after magic are looking to be acknowledged as badasses–and that’s a problem, because ultimately that’s poor self esteem, that’s a hole in the ego. Thus, while I don’t believe internal work is the only magic, I do believe it’s the best place to start because if you have all those holes in your ego, it’s hard to hold water–hard to hold the spiritual juice that fuels your magic in the first place. It’s hard to have enough juice to make things happen; you’ll be spending all your energy on looking like a badass.

I have noticed that the healthier my self esteem got, the more true confidence I gained (vs. arrogance,) the more energy that I had for the work that called to me. I didn’t have to be defensive all the time. Being defensive takes a lot of energy.

Values, Beliefs, Ethics, and Morals
I find myself in agreement with Taylor’s writing on this topic–that our personal beliefs and ethics will significantly impact what type of magic we can do, or feel that we can do. If we’re trying to do something we genuinely don’t believe in, that isn’t really going to work. And if we’re going against our ethics, we’re going to be worrying about that and that’s also pretty ineffective for magical work.

Harm none is often the one ethical rule that’s cited for Pagans, though it’s actually something that comes out of modern Wicca and I have a feeling it was more of a PR move to make people feel more comfortable with the word “Witch.”

Though harm none is something that I think is good to aim for, I don’t really believe it’s possible. For that matter, I’ve written in my Pagan leadership articles that I see Pagans work out elaborate phrasings for their spellwork so that it serves the highest purpose and doesn’t hurt anyone…and then I’ve later seen that person doing incredibly harmful things to people. I don’t believe there’s much purpose in separating out what I do ethically in my magical/spiritual life and my mundane life; my ethics are my ethics.

Harm happens, and it’s a part of the cycle of life. When I eat fruit or vegetables or meat, I’ve contributed to the death of that plant or animal. When I brush my teeth, I’m killing millions of bacteria. When I apply for and get a job, I’m taking that job from someone else. When I fire someone from a job–even if they did poor work–I’m definitely screwing up their life. If I remove someone from my group for bad behavior, even though there is cause, that may be causing them harm. But it’s a choice that I’m comfortable making because it’s the right thing to do.

For me, my own ethical approach is trying to avoid harming whenever possible, but when I have to make a choice, I go with the Vulcan “Good of the many outweighs the good of the few or the one.” It’s a rule of thumb…and sometimes the path to hell is paved in good intentions. But I do my best; I still screw up sometimes.

I think that the essence of my belief as a Pantheist is that I can’t know every single impact my life will have. My stepping on this bug here may flap a butterfly’s wings there, and so on. The nature of God/The Divine is that there’s a pattern to it all, but it’s a way bigger pattern than I can encompass, and that’s about the place where I lean into agnosticism–there’s stuff I just don’t know. Can’t know.

I can strive to do the least harm possible. And sometimes, I need to hurt someone to prevent further harm. What I mean is, perhaps you come to me with a broken arm. I need to set the bone, and it’s going to hurt you. But, it’ll heal straight, and that’s what you really want.

I face situations like that all the time where I need to do or say something (like offer direct constructive feedback to a team member) that may cause shorter-term hurt and distress, but it’s in the interest of longer-term good.

What is Magic?
I think that magic is at its essence energy and shaping energy. And if I want to take the word magic out of it for just a moment, if I look at energy, I can look at how I can shape someone’s day with my intention. I get onto a city bus and smile, and thank the bus driver. Or, I get onto the bus, scowl, and berate him for the bus not taking my card.

I look at the way we each can impact each other’s energy, and how people can either work to make people’s day better with a smile, or work to make people’s day suck just by scowling and berating service employees.

That may seem pretty unmagical, but it’s energy, it’s intention followed through by action, and it’s largely unseen. In fact, going back to the example of charisma, one of the ways people try to encapsulate what makes someone charismatic boils down to, “They just made me smile, I felt good being around them.” That feels like magic, but really, all you need to do to have that kind of charisma magic is smile, and genuinely thank them for their work. That’s all it takes.

Not very flashy–but pretty effective.

What is magic for me?

Magic is the ability to tap the unseen. To change myself, to change the world around me, with my will. It’s also the ability to connect to that greater divine, to reach a fingertip past the veil to connect to that something larger. It’s the ability to inspire, to enchant, to bring the power of hope into people’s lives, to help others connect to that something larger, something deeper.

It’s the ability to focus on a particular intention, a dream, a goal…and to manifest that through my will, through my actions.

In my specific case, any of the magical work I do, I ultimately hold the the goal of bringing positive change to myself, to others, to the world around me. I look at speaking the truth as a form of poetic magic. I speak the truth and my words have power. And I speak the truth of what I will to be so, and my words have power. My upcoming Hexes and Curses Part 2 article will touch on truthspeaking as a form of hex or curse. Truth is my very favorite form of hex–or of any form of spellwork, for that matter, and I’ll explain more what I mean by that.

I think magic is, by its nature, mystery–something that is experienced and hard to explained. It’s power–the ability to take an action. And it’s in human nature to envy someone with a power we want.

Magic isn’t “making things happen without work.” It’s not levitating stones. Magic is the hidden, unseen that not everyone else can see, and so there is a mystery to it. When you see the unseen, you can shape it, reach for it, shift it. But you have to understand the language–magic has both an art to it, and a science.

Magic is still that thrill up my spine when some synchronicity falls into place or I connect to the divine. But it’s also technology.

Magic is shaping the world around me with my intention, and working to bring that into being.

 

** If you’re interested in exploring your own relationship to magic and getting a good baseline of training, I do recommend Taylor Ellwood’s class the Process of Magic.

 

 


Filed under: Magic, Personal Growth Tagged: Dion Fortune, magic, Thaumaturgy, theurgy

What Is Magic? Part 2

9181063_xlI think the word magic has different meanings in different contexts. I think across the board, it tends to mean “the hidden.” Or, things that happen in a way I can’t easily see/unravel.

A related definition might be how I see most people use it in terms of spellwork. “Magic is doing a spell and getting what I want without having to do any work.” I think the idea is that you set your intention, light the right colored candle, and the universe brings you what you want if you’re cool enough.

Obviously there are some problems with that concept. But if you haven’t read Part 1, you might want to go to the previous post and check that out so that this one makes a bit more sense.

I tend to use the definition that magic is science we don’t understand yet. It’s science, it’s just science we can’t readily perceive or see. If you want to know more about what I mean, watch the show “What the Bleep” for some pretty cool science that sounds an awful lot like magic.

I suppose one way to put it is that some of us can more easily see this type of magic because we’ve trained ourselves to, or because we have particular psychic abilities like precognition. But, the more we know about magic and how it works–the more it seems to become science and technique–the less magical it might seem. We’ll just chalk that up to paradox.

Ultimately, what I’ve come to is that magic is a lot like the Matrix code. In the ritual I mentioned in Part 1, there was that moment where I realized that so much of what I thought was magical in ritual was actually just ritual technique. It was like that moment where Neo wakes up and realizes what’s actually going on. It’s not a comfortable moment.

But understanding magic is going that layer deeper when Neo sees the underpinnings of the Matrix, when he can look at an object in the Matrix and see its underlying code. I think that that begins to describe what a skilled magician is doing and perceiving. They see/sense the underpinnings of the world, the energy, the physics, the quantum entanglement. I suppose it’s a general axiom that you can’t really manipulate/transform things unless you can see/perceive/feel them.

I think some of the common connotations of the word magic include cool, powerful…and the sense of control.

And I think it’s the idea of control–of power–that is where we start to run into some problems.

Illusion of Control
Imagine we live in a world where the elements can rip your house apart with a tornado or cause a tsunami or crops fail in drought…wait, we do live in that world. Ok, imagine that it’s 4,000 years ago. When the sun starts to go south it gets cold, and every year we wonder, will the days ever grow longer or will we all just freeze in eternal night? When the sun is blacked out in an eclipse or a comet appears in the sunset sky, we wonder, is this a portent of doom?

Now–you’re probably thinking, none of that is magic. True, it’s science. But at that time, it was part of the unseen, terrifying world. If you didn’t know why something was happening, or how you could fix that, it fell into that realm of the magical, the terrifying.

The druid/shaman/witch/wise person who knew the cycles of the seasons and the solstices, who knew the phases of the moon and when the eclipses happened–they held the magic. The wise one who held the mysteries knew what signs preceded a drought, what signs would lead to water or to game. They knew how to heal with specific herbs. None of this is magic, unless you don’t know the mysteries.

But I think part of what gets woven into our idea of magic is the idea that we can control these vast forces with enough magical juice. By vast forces, what I mean is the weather, for instance. The idea that we can end a drought, that we can turn aside a tsunami.

I’ll be honest. I believe in a lot of specific types of magic, and I believe in the power of intention, but for the really big stuff like that, I think it’s a lot of hubris on the part of the magical workers.

Though, I believe that a lot of magical beliefs and religious beliefs are actually social controls. The idea that if you live a good life and give to the church and follow the rules, that you’ll get rewarded in heaven…that’s a social control. Similarly, humans don’t cope well with feeling like we can’t control what’s going on, so the idea that we can do spellwork to break a drought or to turn aside a storm is also something that I feel falls into the category of social control.

Some of our ancestors certainly spent a lot of effort making offerings (including the occasional human sacrifice) to appease the gods and shift the weather, or end a war. Do I think it works like that? Not really. I think that everyone stays a lot calmer when we feel like we’re doing something.

We humans just don’t cope with the idea that the earth could shrug and we’re wiped out and we have no control over that. So I think in some cases, magic becomes an illusion of control.

I’m not saying that magic doesn’t ever work–I’m just talking in terms of perception and scale. And keep in mind, I’m also looking at magic from the perspective of, it’s working with the universe, with physics, with energy…and ultimately a lot of things that once were considered “magic” are now things you can do on your cell phone. You can tell the day/time of year, you can tell the compass points, you can tell what the weather is going to be like this week.

Internal And External Magic 
Let’s take a step back and talk about some specific types of magic framed as internal and external magic. In Part 1 I referenced how many of my mentors put forth the idea that the only “real” magic was doing personal work, in other words, transforming myself.

Now–you could do worse as far as an approach to magic, because most people come at magic from the more external-focused perspective. They are trying to impact the world around them without having done the personal work to become the person who can manifest that work. Much less, the personal work to approach magic without being egomaniacal about it.

And let’s be frank; in the Pagan and magical communities, there is no lack of egotistical “I’m a powerful magician” types.

Internal magic is basically working on myself, working to become a better, stronger person. The idea with this flow of magic is, by transforming myself, I can become the person who manifests my dreams. That the magic works on my consciousness and identity so that I myself, physically and through my actions, can manifest what I want.

Taken to an extreme, the idea is that no external magic works, ever. I’m not in that camp, I just tend to believe that the bigger and more physical an external magical working is, the more I’m swimming upstream against physics.

I want to make a brief re-mention of Dion Fortune’s definition of magic. In Part 1, I pondered whether the idea of “Changing consciousness at will” was a reference to being able to get into an altered state to be able to do magic, or, whether the magic was the change in consciousness, the change in self identity. Again, I think it’s both. If we’re talking about getting into a trance state/altered state, that certainly makes it easier to see the underlying “Matrix code” of the universe.

But, it’s also worth pointing out that internal magic–actually hacking your own personal programming to transform yourself and heal yourself–is some of the hardest work there is. Just because it’s internal doesn’t mean its easy.

External Magic
Getting back to external magic, I do believe that it is possible to influence the world around me with magic. But, again, I also believe that the more of an external physical result I want, the harder I have to work.

I also believe that a lot of people want to light the pink candle and wish for love and bam, the universe drops someone on their doorstep. Whatever spellwork you’re doing, you still need to do the physical, mundane work.

Too many people look at magic as “that thing that happened because I wished for it and I didn’t need to do any work.”

I believe that external magic requires an external action. Will is powerful, but without action, nothing happens. I look at a lot of the magical work that I do externally as changing consciousness. It’s actually fairly easy to change the consciousness of others just through writing. Posting a blog like this one, posting on my Facebook, I have the power to bring up ideas, to potentially change minds.

And if you think that isn’t magic, remember–changing consciousness is a part of magic. For that matter, think about how Bards and Poets were part of the druidic order.

Words, stories, and storytellers have always been a part of magic. So has music–think of the word enchantment. En-chant-ment. Chanting is a powerful technique for changing consciousness; I use it every time I facilitate a ritual.

I think that magic is easiest to achieve in ways that are more subtle, but the problem is, those results aren’t very flashy, and if you’re looking for big flashy results, internal magic/personal work isn’t what’s going to get you there. But then you have to ask yourself, why do you want the big flashy results? I know that once I did a lot of internal magical work, I had a lot less need for flash. The more self confidence I built, the less external validation I need.

Magic works really well for changing myself. It works well for changing the consciousness of myself and others where I have that influence. But the more specific external physical results I want, the more I’m swimming upstream against the nature of physics. Or, the more physical work I’m going to need to do to take it beyond just my intention and my will.

Magic and Self Identity
I have used magic to change my life, to become the person who can do the things I want to do. I have used magic to become the person who isn’t crippled by depression. This took will, it took focus, it took transforming my deepest programming about who I was.

I often refer to this type of magic as breaking the spell.

Every time someone repeats words to us, particularly those hurtful words like, “You’re fat, you’re ugly, you’re worthless, nobody likes you,” or whatever we’ve suffered in our past, that becomes a spell that binds us. See what I mean about the power of words? This is what I meant in my article on hexes and curses.

It’s pretty easy to hex someone, just keep repeating something until they believe it. (That’s also called emotional and verbal abuse.) But it’s a pretty powerful form of enchantment–I say this because it obviously works.

All the little things that we think every day, all the negative self talk…it’s all a spell that was cast over us. And then we keep casting the spell, over and over. I’ve written a bit more about this on the Pagan Activist blog http://paganactivist.com/2013/12/02/media-mind-control-myth-and-magic/

By shifting those stories, we break the spell that we–and society–have placed on ourselves. There are so many ways that we keep ourselves stuck in the role of victim, and then we contribute to our own problems, our own self image.

It’s powerful magical work to transform ourselves. To move past an addiction, to move past a damaging behavior. In my case, I can see the clear results of years of hard work and internal magic.

In March of this year I wrote 100,000 words, and I have several books published and more on the way. The me who was stuck in the pit of depression couldn’t have done that. My work paid off, but it’s not as flashy as what people have come to expect with “magic.”

Divine Communion
Divine communion is probably the most common type of magical work that I do besides internal magic. This type of magic falls under the category of theurgy.

Magic to connect to the divine is also often about changing consciousness. For that matter–I actually have a difficult time getting into a deep enough trance state to connect to the divine, which has frustrated me for a lot of my life.

In my tween and teen years, I felt like the divine was just beyond my fingertips. I had visions, I had dreams. The dreams got more intense in my 20’s and I began to experience something I called the Water Temple. It was like the Grail, but an entire temple, and I would connect to the flowing water and know that it was my goddess/angel. I’d feel that resonant sense in my chest, that tear-bringing sense of union.

And when I finally gained access to the kind of leadership training I had been seeking…those dreams and visions went away. I wrote about this at some length in my essay in the anthology “A Mantle of Stars.”

I don’t have words for the aching frustration of the years without that divine communion. That connection was what had called me to spiritual service in the first place. Now I was serving–but I was cut off. I could get other people into that headspace, but not myself.

Taylor Ellwood wrote something on his Facebook that resonated a lot with me. “The genuine experience of magic is something which changes you and your relationship to the universe. It’s not a result. It’s an ongoing relationship that informs how you experience the world and your place in it, as well as how you change it.”

That made me think for a good long while. I started to wonder, what is the difference between magic and mysticism? What’s the difference between magic and divine communion?

That’s when I went back to what I had been taught at the Diana’s Grove Mystery School and I had to acknowledge that some of their definitions of a Magical vs. a Mystery tradition (as I referenced in Part 1) were not really working for me, and were in many ways inaccurate.

Divine communion is a magical experience. In my essay in “A Mantle of Stars” I reference how I eventually found my way back to divine communion. I found myself at last in a weeping rapture, complete love and connection with that divine I had found just out of reach.

And there isn’t much point in putting it into words because that’s the nature of mystery–I can talk about it, but I can’t give you the experience. A mystery is something only you can live.

What is Magic?
And maybe that starts to get at what we want magic to be. We want proof. We want flash. We want miracles.  And when we don’t get those, we wonder what magic is. When we see how magic works, it doesn’t seem very flashy…or, we realize how unimportant the flash really is.

To be continued in Part 3…

** If you’re interested in exploring your own relationship to magic and getting a good baseline of training, I do recommend Taylor Ellwood’s class, the Process of Magic.


Filed under: Magic, Personal Growth Tagged: Dion Fortune, magic, Thaumaturgy, theurgy

What Is Magic? Part 2

9181063_xlI think the word magic has different meanings in different contexts. I think across the board, it tends to mean “the hidden.” Or, things that happen in a way I can’t easily see/unravel.

A related definition might be how I see most people use it in terms of spellwork. “Magic is doing a spell and getting what I want without having to do any work.” I think the idea is that you set your intention, light the right colored candle, and the universe brings you what you want if you’re cool enough.

Obviously there are some problems with that concept. But if you haven’t read Part 1, you might want to go to the previous post and check that out so that this one makes a bit more sense.

I tend to use the definition that magic is science we don’t understand yet. It’s science, it’s just science we can’t readily perceive or see. If you want to know more about what I mean, watch the show “What the Bleep” for some pretty cool science that sounds an awful lot like magic.

I suppose one way to put it is that some of us can more easily see this type of magic because we’ve trained ourselves to, or because we have particular psychic abilities like precognition. But, the more we know about magic and how it works–the more it seems to become science and technique–the less magical it might seem. We’ll just chalk that up to paradox.

Ultimately, what I’ve come to is that magic is a lot like the Matrix code. In the ritual I mentioned in Part 1, there was that moment where I realized that so much of what I thought was magical in ritual was actually just ritual technique. It was like that moment where Neo wakes up and realizes what’s actually going on. It’s not a comfortable moment.

But understanding magic is going that layer deeper when Neo sees the underpinnings of the Matrix, when he can look at an object in the Matrix and see its underlying code. I think that that begins to describe what a skilled magician is doing and perceiving. They see/sense the underpinnings of the world, the energy, the physics, the quantum entanglement. I suppose it’s a general axiom that you can’t really manipulate/transform things unless you can see/perceive/feel them.

I think some of the common connotations of the word magic include cool, powerful…and the sense of control.

And I think it’s the idea of control–of power–that is where we start to run into some problems.

Illusion of Control
Imagine we live in a world where the elements can rip your house apart with a tornado or cause a tsunami or crops fail in drought…wait, we do live in that world. Ok, imagine that it’s 4,000 years ago. When the sun starts to go south it gets cold, and every year we wonder, will the days ever grow longer or will we all just freeze in eternal night? When the sun is blacked out in an eclipse or a comet appears in the sunset sky, we wonder, is this a portent of doom?

Now–you’re probably thinking, none of that is magic. True, it’s science. But at that time, it was part of the unseen, terrifying world. If you didn’t know why something was happening, or how you could fix that, it fell into that realm of the magical, the terrifying.

The druid/shaman/witch/wise person who knew the cycles of the seasons and the solstices, who knew the phases of the moon and when the eclipses happened–they held the magic. The wise one who held the mysteries knew what signs preceded a drought, what signs would lead to water or to game. They knew how to heal with specific herbs. None of this is magic, unless you don’t know the mysteries.

But I think part of what gets woven into our idea of magic is the idea that we can control these vast forces with enough magical juice. By vast forces, what I mean is the weather, for instance. The idea that we can end a drought, that we can turn aside a tsunami.

I’ll be honest. I believe in a lot of specific types of magic, and I believe in the power of intention, but for the really big stuff like that, I think it’s a lot of hubris on the part of the magical workers.

Though, I believe that a lot of magical beliefs and religious beliefs are actually social controls. The idea that if you live a good life and give to the church and follow the rules, that you’ll get rewarded in heaven…that’s a social control. Similarly, humans don’t cope well with feeling like we can’t control what’s going on, so the idea that we can do spellwork to break a drought or to turn aside a storm is also something that I feel falls into the category of social control.

Some of our ancestors certainly spent a lot of effort making offerings (including the occasional human sacrifice) to appease the gods and shift the weather, or end a war. Do I think it works like that? Not really. I think that everyone stays a lot calmer when we feel like we’re doing something.

We humans just don’t cope with the idea that the earth could shrug and we’re wiped out and we have no control over that. So I think in some cases, magic becomes an illusion of control.

I’m not saying that magic doesn’t ever work–I’m just talking in terms of perception and scale. And keep in mind, I’m also looking at magic from the perspective of, it’s working with the universe, with physics, with energy…and ultimately a lot of things that once were considered “magic” are now things you can do on your cell phone. You can tell the day/time of year, you can tell the compass points, you can tell what the weather is going to be like this week.

Internal And External Magic 
Let’s take a step back and talk about some specific types of magic framed as internal and external magic. In Part 1 I referenced how many of my mentors put forth the idea that the only “real” magic was doing personal work, in other words, transforming myself.

Now–you could do worse as far as an approach to magic, because most people come at magic from the more external-focused perspective. They are trying to impact the world around them without having done the personal work to become the person who can manifest that work. Much less, the personal work to approach magic without being egomaniacal about it.

And let’s be frank; in the Pagan and magical communities, there is no lack of egotistical “I’m a powerful magician” types.

Internal magic is basically working on myself, working to become a better, stronger person. The idea with this flow of magic is, by transforming myself, I can become the person who manifests my dreams. That the magic works on my consciousness and identity so that I myself, physically and through my actions, can manifest what I want.

Taken to an extreme, the idea is that no external magic works, ever. I’m not in that camp, I just tend to believe that the bigger and more physical an external magical working is, the more I’m swimming upstream against physics.

I want to make a brief re-mention of Dion Fortune’s definition of magic. In Part 1, I pondered whether the idea of “Changing consciousness at will” was a reference to being able to get into an altered state to be able to do magic, or, whether the magic was the change in consciousness, the change in self identity. Again, I think it’s both. If we’re talking about getting into a trance state/altered state, that certainly makes it easier to see the underlying “Matrix code” of the universe.

But, it’s also worth pointing out that internal magic–actually hacking your own personal programming to transform yourself and heal yourself–is some of the hardest work there is. Just because it’s internal doesn’t mean its easy.

External Magic
Getting back to external magic, I do believe that it is possible to influence the world around me with magic. But, again, I also believe that the more of an external physical result I want, the harder I have to work.

I also believe that a lot of people want to light the pink candle and wish for love and bam, the universe drops someone on their doorstep. Whatever spellwork you’re doing, you still need to do the work.

Too many people look at magic as “that thing that happened because I wished for it and I didn’t need to do any work.”

I believe that external magic requires an external action. Will is powerful, but without action, nothing happens.

I look at a lot of the magical work that I do externally as changing consciousness. It’s actually fairly easy to change the consciousness of others just through writing. Posting a blog like this one, posting on my Facebook, I have the power to bring up ideas, to potentially change minds.

And if you think that isn’t magic, remember–changing consciousness is a part of magic. For that matter, think about how Bards and Poets were part of the druidic order.

Words, stories, and storytellers have always been a part of magic. So has music–think of the word enchantment. En-chant-ment. Chanting is a powerful technique for changing consciousness; I use it every time I facilitate a ritual.

I think that magic is easiest to achieve in ways that are more subtle, but the problem is, those results aren’t very flashy, and if you’re looking for big flashy results, internal magic/personal work isn’t what’s going to get you there. But then you have to ask yourself, why do you want the big flashy results? I know that once I did a lot of internal magical work, I had a lot less need for flash. The more self confidence I built, the less external validation I need.

Magic works really well for changing myself. It works well for changing the consciousness of myself and others where I have that influence. But the more specific external physical results I want, the more I’m swimming upstream against the nature of physics. Or, the more physical work I’m going to need to do to take it beyond just my intention and my will.

Magic and Self Identity
I have used magic to change my life, to become the person who can do the things I want to do. I have used magic to become the person who isn’t crippled by depression. This took will, it took focus, it took transforming my deepest programming about who I was.

I often refer to this type of magic as breaking the spell.

Every time someone repeats words to us, particularly those hurtful words like, “You’re fat, you’re ugly, you’re worthless, nobody likes you,” or whatever we’ve suffered in our past, that becomes a spell that binds us. See what I mean about the power of words? This is what I meant in my article on hexes and curses.

It’s pretty easy to hex someone, just keep repeating something until they believe it. That’s also called emotional and verbal abuse. But it’s a pretty powerful form of enchantment–I say this because it obviously works.

All the little things that we think every day, all the negative self talk…it’s all a spell that was cast over us. And then we keep casting the spell, over and over. By shifting those stories, we break the spell that we–and society–have placed on ourselves. There are so many ways that we keep ourselves stuck in the role of victim, and then we contribute to our own problems, our own self image.

It’s powerful magical work to transform ourselves. To move past an addiction, to move past a damaging behavior. In my case, I can see the clear results of years of hard work and internal magic.

In March of this year I wrote 100,000 words, and I have several books published and more on the way. The me who was stuck in the pit of depression couldn’t have done that. My work paid off, but it’s not as flashy as what people have come to expect with “magic.”

Divine Communion
Divine communion is probably the most common type of magical work that I do besides internal magic. This type of magic falls under the category of theurgy.

Magic to connect to the divine is also often about changing consciousness. For that matter–I actually have a difficult time getting into a deep enough trance state to connect to the divine, which has frustrated me for a lot of my life.

In my tween and teen years, I felt like the divine was just beyond my fingertips. I had visions, I had dreams. The dreams got more intense in my 20′s and I began to experience something I called the Water Temple. It was like the Grail, but an entire temple, and I would connect to the flowing water and know that it was my goddess/angel. I’d feel that resonant sense in my chest, that tear-bringing sense of union.

And when I finally gained access to the kind of leadership training I had been seeking…those dreams and visions went away. I wrote about this at some length in my essay in the anthology “A Mantle of Stars.”

I don’t have words for the aching frustration of the years without that divine communion. That connection was what had called me to spiritual service in the first place. Now I was serving–but I was cut off. I could get other people into that headspace, but not myself.

Taylor Ellwood wrote something on his Facebook that resonated a lot with me. “The genuine experience of magic is something which changes you and your relationship to the universe. It’s not a result. It’s an ongoing relationship that informs how you experience the world and your place in it, as well as how you change it.”

That made me think for a good long while. I started to wonder, what is the difference between magic and mysticism? What’s the difference between magic and divine communion?

That’s when I went back to what I had been taught at the Diana’s Grove Mystery School and I had to acknowledge that some of their definitions of a Magical vs. a Mystery tradition (as I referenced in Part 1) were not really working for me, and were in many ways inaccurate.

Divine communion is a magical experience. In my essay in “A Mantle of Stars” I reference how I eventually found my way back to divine communion. I found myself at last in a weeping rapture, complete love and connection with that divine I had found just out of reach.

And there isn’t much point in putting it into words because that’s the nature of mystery–I can talk about it, but I can’t give you the experience. A mystery is something only you can live.

What is Magic?
And maybe that starts to get at what we want magic to be. We want proof. We want flash. We want miracles.  And when we don’t get those, we wonder what magic is. When we see how magic works, it doesn’t seem very flashy…or, we realize how unimportant the flash really is.

To be continued in Part 3…

** If you’re interested in exploring your own relationship to magic and getting a good baseline of training, I do recommend Taylor Ellwood’s class, the Process of Magic.


Filed under: Magic, Personal Growth Tagged: Dion Fortune, magic, Thaumaturgy, theurgy

What is Magic?

9312433_xlI’m currently taking Taylor Ellwood’s online class, The Process of Magic. Largely, I’m interested in this class because I’ve never done any formal training in the Western Mystery Traditions when it comes to magic, and I’d like to piece together what I’ve learned through osmosis over the years.

Probably the more pressing reason for me to take this class is that over the years, my definition of magic has changed a few times.

When I wrote my Hexes and Curses article I got a lot of push-back from people who said I was wrong, that I didn’t understand how Hexes worked, or who even said, “Well, you obviously don’t believe in magic at all.”

The truth is, I do believe in magic–but, my relationship to magic has gotten both more complicated–and yet in some ways more simple–the more I’ve learned over the years. Like many things, I’ve gone back and forth to different sides of the pendulum, and so I’ve been asking myself this question a lot. What is magic? What do I believe about magic?

What is my definition of magic? Why do I use that definition? How does magic fit into my life? What are my core values and beliefs and how do those connect to my beliefs about magic?

These are some of the questions I’m pondering that are part of the homework for the class. And for me, coming up with that definition of magic is really the hard part, because that means I have to articulate if I believe in magic at all, and if so, what that means to me.

First I have to take a brief spin through my past to explain why the word magic is complicated for me. Because, what I realize is that if I don’t use the word “magic” in the sentence, I absolutely believe that I can shape the world around me with my will. Which is, in essence, a definition of magic. So why does the word magic bug me?

Magical Child
Like a lot of kids, I grew up with an imaginary friend and pretend magical powers. The more the other kids bullied and ostracized me, the more my fantasy world where I had magical powers seemed to draw me in. As I matured and realized that no, I didn’t really have the power to zap people with magical spells, I began connecting more with the idea of psychic powers. These felt different from the idea of magic spells, and yet–like magic–psychic abilities are hidden, unseen, mostly not proven by mainstream science. And only the “special” people seem to have them.

In fact, the foundation of my self-identity as a tween and teen was the idea that I was somehow special, somehow different, somehow better than all of my peers. It’s a common mental defense tactic in people who are bullied and abused. Ego removes the dangling threat of potential suicide with the compelling fantasy that we are somehow more special than anyone else.

For me, psychic abilities, and later my experiences of divine communion, were part of that compelling inner world of mine, part of my idea that I was somehow magical, special, better than the peers who abused me.

Psychic Abilities
Now–I wasn’t completely deluded; I knew I couldn’t shoot bolts of lightning out of my fingers. It’s also worth pointing out that I had a fair number of intense experiences of psychic phenomena, enough to prove it to me as a reality. I’ve had plenty of dreams of events that came to pass. I’ve had the occasional weirdly-accurate telepathic communication between myself and another person, either hearing words they were thinking, or them hearing words I was thinking. In some cases, I pulled an image right out of someone’s mind and described it to them.

In a few other rare cases, I had psychic “pings” about something they had done, usually related to sex or pregnancy. In a few cases, I knew when a close friend had had unprotected sex. In a few other cases, I knew eerily accurate details about a friend’s wife’s pregnancy. I knew she was pregnant months before they announced, I knew the due date, I even knew how old their first child would be when they had their second child, and that it would be a daughter. With another friend, I knew that he was going to accidentally get someone pregnant and what month. I told him, but it happened anyways.

So I’ve had enough proof of psychic abilities–and in specific, my own psychic abilities–for my own skepticism. I don’t really talk a lot about psychic woo-woo stuff because of two reasons. One is, psychic experiences like that are in no way predictable for me so people who want me to “prove” it or to do a reading on them, it doesn’t really work like that. Not for me, anyways.

The other reason is that a lot of the Pagans who talk a lot about their own psychic woo-woo experiences seem to be trying to impress people. Many seem to be trying to get attention but it comes across as being a show off and a jerk.

As I got older, I started to sort of realize and negotiate some conflicting ideas. Yes, I had had psychic experiences…no, they weren’t really on-demand. Despite many years of work, it wasn’t really something I controlled, it was just a piece of extra information that came up whether or not it was relevant or useful.

So my psychic abilities didn’t really make me “powerful” in any real sense. And they were real–I had enough proof of that–so they didn’t really feel magical, even though they were still unseen, hidden, unproveable to others.

Divine Communion 
The path of the mystic is the path of one who communes–connects–directly with the divine. I had had visions of a particular goddess/angel/spirit since I was young, and so in a way, though this did make me feel special and contributed to my sense of being different/unique/magical, as I got older, this too ceased to feel like magic. It was (and still is) transformative, intense, deep…and goes beyond words, but it didn’t feel the same as what people usually call “magic.”

In fact, in some of the training that I did in spiritual leadership, that particular mystery school took great pains to point out the differences between mysticism and magic, or more specifically, they defined themselves as a mystery tradition, not a magical tradition.

However, when I review what that particular mystery school taught, I realize that it was somewhat narrowly-defined and in some ways, erroneous. In fact, when I reread what they were teaching, it was basically shaping the definitions to suit their purposes, so I begin to realize how I started having such a problem with the word magic.

They wrote:

“Magical traditions:

  • Based on the belief that ritual, prayer, and/or spell can create change in the world outside the self – influence weather, other people’s behavior/thoughts, and group dynamics, such as politics
  • Invest forms and tools with specific powers and meanings (e.g., invocation summons the power of an element to do the invoker’s bidding; green candles bring healing) and, therefore, hold fairly rigidly to forms and feel strongly about the specific and exclusive uses of tools
  • See patterns in the world (e.g., the presence of an animal, a change in the weather) as a message about self
  • Often rely on a single intermediary who interprets doctrine and through which we learn about divine intention (e.g., a priest, priestess, minister)

Mystical traditions:

  • Based on the belief that ritual, prayer, and/or spell can change only the self – one’s own consciousness, behavior, perception

  • Use forms and tools to convey intention and meanings (e.g., invocation honors the power of an element and recognizes its influence; green candles represent green, growing, living things) and, therefore, use forms flexibly and creatively select tools to fit need/intention

  • See patterns in the world (e.g., the presence of an animal, a change in the weather) as a message about life and see self as a part of the patterns, not the object of the messages

  • Open to individuals’ varied interpretations of doctrine and diverse ways of connecting to divine intention.”

Now–I don’t disagree with all of this, but, it does put things in some pretty rigid terms, and in some cases uses the wrong terms completely. The word mysticism means direct communion with the divine, and that isn’t really addressed at all in the definition of Mystical Traditions in the above. For that matter, many mystical traditions have a central/hierarchical priest or priestess.

Definition of Magic–Dion Fortune
At the Diana’s Grove Mystery School, the definition of magic we were taught was based on Dion Fortune’s. “Magic is changing consciousness at will.” We were taught a variation–“Magic is changing my OWN consciousness at will.”

Now–I want to offer just a brief tangent thought. Dion Fortune’s definition could simultaneously be referring to two different things–the functions of magic, and the outcome. Getting into a trance state, or an altered state of consciousness, is one of the ways to do magical work. However, altering your consciousness is also a potential goal or outcome of magic. Which does Dion Fortune’s definition refer to? I like to think it probably refers in a sneaky way to both.

Back to my challenges with the word magic…Diana’s Grove was, at its core, agnostic, perhaps even a bit atheistic. We didn’t really talk about psychic abilities or woo-woo magic powers. In fact, anything that smacked of delusion and grandeur was kind of subtly discouraged if not outright referred to as being immature.

In essence, there was a pressure to believe that the idea of external magic was hubris. That the only real magic–the only magic that people could actually accomplish–was the magic of personal transformation.

Now–I get why there was the subtle and not-so-subtle disapproval of heavy woo-woo magic. It’s true that in the Pagan community, many of the people who go on and on about their psychic and magical powers are actually really immature and attention seeking. Or they just have really poor self esteem and are looking for positive attention. Or a combo of that and other things. So I get the idea of leaning in the other direction.

But I’m reminded over and over that humans just don’t do paradox well. We pendulum swing, we can’t hold space for gray area.

So now that I have reviewed where a lot of my assumptions about the word “magic” came from when I was doing my leadership training, where to go from there? First I have to go back to a few more of my experiences that disenchanted me with the word.

Ritual and Magic
During my three years at Diana’s Grove I began taking ritual roles with increasing responsibility. The Diana’s Grove rituals had at first felt magical and transformative to me. As I began learning the tricks to facilitate, the “magic” left those rituals. It just felt like technique.

I learned how to trance a group out. I learned about the power of eye contact. I learned about a lot of different techniques that facilitators use to entrance and enchant a group.

One night, I sort of cracked. I was at a weekend retreat at Diana’s Grove. It had been a stressful weekend, and I won’t go into the details of why, but by the time we were stepping into the evening ritual, my heart was thudding in my chest. Later that night someone would clue me in that what I was having was a panic attack. In the moment, I just realized I couldn’t get my heart to stop palpitating. I kept breathing evenly. I had three ritual roles that night. I stepped in for the first one, and the second. I did my part, and my heart kept thudding. When we all sat down/laid down for the trance journey, I had the spins so bad I had to keep my eyes open.

I stood up to do my third ritual role–each participant was to take a bead from a bowl and hand the bead to Persephone. The woman aspecting Persephone was supposed to take these beads to the Underworld. The beads would represent one wound from the past that each participant was ready to release for healing beneath the ground.

I was one of the people holding the bowls of beads. My job was to stand there and look into each person’s eyes and ask them trance questions while they worked to find the bead that would represent their wounds. So I’m standing there for long minutes. My heart is still palpitating but with even breathing I’m keeping things under control. And I’m asking the questions I’m supposed to ask. “What would would you leave behind? What would you release? What would you give over to Persephone, what would you release for healing in the Underworld? What no longer serves?”

People paw through the bowl of beads, hunting out that “perfect” bead. So I’m giving them deep meaningful eye contact, and asking these questions. But what I’m thinking in my head is, “This is just a fucking bead. It’s just a bowl of fucking beads. It doesn’t matter. None of this is fucking magical. It’s just a bead. Just pick one so I can set this thing down and we can move on. It doesn’t matter. None of this matters.”

I was obviously in a less-than-magical headspace. I had finally hit that point where I wondered, is all ritual just technique? Is there any magic to it at all?

At the end of that ritual when we were doing the final singing/dancing/energy raising, I burst into tears, probably from stress. After that is when a friend clued me in that those were all the symptoms of a panic attack. “But I wasn’t panicking,” I said. She laughed, and said, “Well, that’s because it’s you.”

The next year was my final year at Diana’s Grove doing my culminating year of leadership training, and I consciously worked to bring the magic back into ritual. And I found it again, to a certain extent. I realized that a lot of what I do in ritual is facilitation tricks…but, there’s also the authenticity piece beneath it.

It’s a form of alchemy. Technique + genuine, authentic connection = magic. And explaining that in more depth requires I talk a lot more about ritual facilitation, and that would take us way off topic.

Suffice to say, over the course of many years, I’ve found that there is still magic in ritual, even knowing what I do about facilitation technique, but it takes work to get there.

But then we come back to, what the heck does magic mean?

Magic
I think the word magic has different meanings in different contexts. I think across the board, it tends to mean “the hidden.” Or, things that happen in a way I can’t easily see/unravel. A related definition might be how I see most people use it in terms of spellwork. “Magic is doing a spell and getting what I want without having to do any work.” I think the idea is that you set your intention, light the right colored candle, and the universe brings you what you want if you’re cool enough.

Obviously there are some problems with that concept.

I tend to use the definition that magic is science we don’t understand yet. It’s science, it’s just science we can’t readily perceive or see. Or, that some of us can more easily see because we’ve trained ourselves to, but the more we know about it–the more it becomes science and technique–the less magical it might seem. We’ll just chalk that up to paradox.

I’ll continue this in Part 2 tomorrow.

 


Filed under: Magic, Personal Growth Tagged: Dion Fortune, magic

What is Magic?

9312433_xlI’m currently taking Taylor Ellwood’s online class, The Process of Magic. Largely, I’m interested in this class because I’ve never done any formal training in the Western Mystery Traditions when it comes to magic, and I’d like to piece together what I’ve learned through osmosis over the years.

Probably the more pressing reason for me to take this class is that over the years, my definition of magic has changed a few times.

When I wrote my Hexes and Curses article I got a lot of push-back from people who said I was wrong, that I didn’t understand how Hexes worked, or who even said, “Well, you obviously don’t believe in magic at all.”

The truth is, I do believe in magic–but, my relationship to magic has gotten both more complicated–and yet in some ways more simple–the more I’ve learned over the years. Like many things, I’ve gone back and forth to different sides of the pendulum, and so I’ve been asking myself this question a lot. What is magic? What do I believe about magic?

What is my definition of magic? Why do I use that definition? How does magic fit into my life? What are my core values and beliefs and how do those connect to my beliefs about magic?

These are some of the questions I’m pondering that are part of the homework for the class. And for me, coming up with that definition of magic is really the hard part, because that means I have to articulate if I believe in magic at all, and if so, what that means to me.

First I have to take a brief spin through my past to explain why the word magic is complicated for me. Because, what I realize is that if I don’t use the word “magic” in the sentence, I absolutely believe that I can shape the world around me with my will. Which is, in essence, a definition of magic. So why does the word magic bug me?

Magical Child
Like a lot of kids, I grew up with an imaginary friend and pretend magical powers. The more the other kids bullied and ostracized me, the more my fantasy world where I had magical powers seemed to draw me in. As I matured and realized that no, I didn’t really have the power to zap people with magical spells, I began connecting more with the idea of psychic powers. These felt different from the idea of magic spells, and yet–like magic–psychic abilities are hidden, unseen, mostly not proven by mainstream science. And only the “special” people seem to have them.

In fact, the foundation of my self-identity as a tween and teen was the idea that I was somehow special, somehow different, somehow better than all of my peers. It’s a common mental defense tactic in people who are bullied and abused. Ego removes the dangling threat of potential suicide with the compelling fantasy that we are somehow more special than anyone else.

For me, psychic abilities, and later my experiences of divine communion, were part of that compelling inner world of mine, part of my idea that I was somehow magical, special, better than the peers who abused me.

Psychic Abilities
Now–I wasn’t completely deluded; I knew I couldn’t shoot bolts of lightning out of my fingers. It’s also worth pointing out that I had a fair number of intense experiences of psychic phenomena, enough to prove it to me as a reality. I’ve had plenty of dreams of events that came to pass. I’ve had the occasional weirdly-accurate telepathic communication between myself and another person, either hearing words they were thinking, or them hearing words I was thinking. In some cases, I pulled an image right out of someone’s mind and described it to them.

In a few other rare cases, I had psychic “pings” about something they had done, usually related to sex or pregnancy. In a few cases, I knew when a close friend had had unprotected sex. In a few other cases, I knew eerily accurate details about a friend’s wife’s pregnancy. I knew she was pregnant months before they announced, I knew the due date, I even knew how old their first child would be when they had their second child, and that it would be a daughter. With another friend, I knew that he was going to accidentally get someone pregnant and what month. I told him, but it happened anyways.

So I’ve had enough proof of psychic abilities–and in specific, my own psychic abilities–for my own skepticism. I don’t really talk a lot about psychic woo-woo stuff because of two reasons. One is, psychic experiences like that are in no way predictable for me so people who want me to “prove” it or to do a reading on them, it doesn’t really work like that. Not for me, anyways.

The other reason is that a lot of the Pagans who talk a lot about their own psychic woo-woo experiences seem to be trying to impress people. Many seem to be trying to get attention but it comes across as being a show off and a jerk.

As I got older, I started to sort of realize and negotiate some conflicting ideas. Yes, I had had psychic experiences…no, they weren’t really on-demand. Despite many years of work, it wasn’t really something I controlled, it was just a piece of extra information that came up whether or not it was relevant or useful.

So my psychic abilities didn’t really make me “powerful” in any real sense. And they were real–I had enough proof of that–so they didn’t really feel magical, even though they were still unseen, hidden, unproveable to others.

Divine Communion 
The path of the mystic is the path of one who communes–connects–directly with the divine. I had had visions of a particular goddess/angel/spirit since I was young, and so in a way, though this did make me feel special and contributed to my sense of being different/unique/magical, as I got older, this too ceased to feel like magic. It was (and still is) transformative, intense, deep…and goes beyond words, but it didn’t feel the same as what people usually call “magic.”

In fact, in some of the training that I did in spiritual leadership, that particular mystery school took great pains to point out the differences between mysticism and magic, or more specifically, they defined themselves as a mystery tradition, not a magical tradition.

However, when I review what that particular mystery school taught, I realize that it was somewhat narrowly-defined and in some ways, erroneous. In fact, when I reread what they were teaching, it was basically shaping the definitions to suit their purposes, so I begin to realize how I started having such a problem with the word magic.

They wrote:

“Magical traditions:

  • Based on the belief that ritual, prayer, and/or spell can create change in the world outside the self – influence weather, other people’s behavior/thoughts, and group dynamics, such as politics
  • Invest forms and tools with specific powers and meanings (e.g., invocation summons the power of an element to do the invoker’s bidding; green candles bring healing) and, therefore, hold fairly rigidly to forms and feel strongly about the specific and exclusive uses of tools
  • See patterns in the world (e.g., the presence of an animal, a change in the weather) as a message about self
  • Often rely on a single intermediary who interprets doctrine and through which we learn about divine intention (e.g., a priest, priestess, minister)

Mystical traditions:

  • Based on the belief that ritual, prayer, and/or spell can change only the self – one’s own consciousness, behavior, perception

  • Use forms and tools to convey intention and meanings (e.g., invocation honors the power of an element and recognizes its influence; green candles represent green, growing, living things) and, therefore, use forms flexibly and creatively select tools to fit need/intention

  • See patterns in the world (e.g., the presence of an animal, a change in the weather) as a message about life and see self as a part of the patterns, not the object of the messages

  • Open to individuals’ varied interpretations of doctrine and diverse ways of connecting to divine intention.”

Now–I don’t disagree with all of this, but, it does put things in some pretty rigid terms, and in some cases uses the wrong terms completely. The word mysticism means direct communion with the divine, and that isn’t really addressed at all in the definition of Mystical Traditions in the above. For that matter, many mystical traditions have a central/hierarchical priest or priestess.

Definition of Magic–Dion Fortune
At the Diana’s Grove Mystery School, the definition of magic we were taught was based on Dion Fortune’s. “Magic is changing consciousness at will.” We were taught a variation–”Magic is changing my OWN consciousness at will.”

Now–I want to offer just a brief tangent thought. Dion Fortune’s definition could simultaneously be referring to two different things–the functions of magic, and the outcome. Getting into a trance state, or an altered state of consciousness, is one of the ways to do magical work. However, altering your consciousness is also a potential goal or outcome of magic. Which does Dion Fortune’s definition refer to? I like to think it probably refers in a sneaky way to both.

Back to my challenges with the word magic…Diana’s Grove was, at its core, agnostic, perhaps even a bit atheistic. We didn’t really talk about psychic abilities or woo-woo magic powers. In fact, anything that smacked of delusion and grandeur was kind of subtly discouraged if not outright referred to as being immature.

In essence, there was a pressure to believe that the idea of external magic was hubris. That the only real magic–the only magic that people could actually accomplish–was the magic of personal transformation.

Now–I get why there was the subtle and not-so-subtle disapproval of heavy woo-woo magic. It’s true that in the Pagan community, many of the people who go on and on about their psychic and magical powers are actually really immature and attention seeking. Or they just have really poor self esteem and are looking for positive attention. Or a combo of that and other things. So I get the idea of leaning in the other direction.

But I’m reminded over and over that humans just don’t do paradox well. We pendulum swing, we can’t hold space for gray area.

So now that I have reviewed where a lot of my assumptions about the word “magic” came from when I was doing my leadership training, where to go from there? First I have to go back to a few more of my experiences that disenchanted me with the word.

Ritual and Magic
During my three years at Diana’s Grove I began taking ritual roles with increasing responsibility. The Diana’s Grove rituals had at first felt magical and transformative to me. As I began learning the tricks to facilitate, the “magic” left those rituals. It just felt like technique.

I learned how to trance a group out. I learned about the power of eye contact. I learned about a lot of different techniques that facilitators use to entrance and enchant a group.

One night, I sort of cracked. I was at a weekend retreat at Diana’s Grove. It had been a stressful weekend, and I won’t go into the details of why, but by the time we were stepping into the evening ritual, my heart was thudding in my chest. Later that night someone would clue me in that what I was having was a panic attack. In the moment, I just realized I couldn’t get my heart to stop palpitating. I kept breathing evenly. I had three ritual roles that night. I stepped in for the first one, and the second. I did my part, and my heart kept thudding. When we all sat down/laid down for the trance journey, I had the spins so bad I had to keep my eyes open.

I stood up to do my third ritual role–each participant was to take a bead from a bowl and hand the bead to Persephone. The woman aspecting Persephone was supposed to take these beads to the Underworld. The beads would represent one wound from the past that each participant was ready to release for healing beneath the ground.

I was one of the people holding the bowls of beads. My job was to stand there and look into each person’s eyes and ask them trance questions while they worked to find the bead that would represent their wounds. So I’m standing there for long minutes. My heart is still palpitating but with even breathing I’m keeping things under control. And I’m asking the questions I’m supposed to ask. “What would would you leave behind? What would you release? What would you give over to Persephone, what would you release for healing in the Underworld? What no longer serves?”

People paw through the bowl of beads, hunting out that “perfect” bead. So I’m giving them deep meaningful eye contact, and asking these questions. But what I’m thinking in my head is, “This is just a fucking bead. It’s just a bowl of fucking beads. It doesn’t matter. None of this is fucking magical. It’s just a bead. Just pick one so I can set this thing down and we can move on. It doesn’t matter. None of this matters.”

I was obviously in a less-than-magical headspace. I had finally hit that point where I wondered, is all ritual just technique? Is there any magic to it at all?

At the end of that ritual when we were doing the final singing/dancing/energy raising, I burst into tears, probably from stress. After that is when a friend clued me in that those were all the symptoms of a panic attack. “But I wasn’t panicking,” I said. She laughed, and said, “Well, that’s because it’s you.”

The next year was my final year at Diana’s Grove doing my culminating year of leadership training, and I consciously worked to bring the magic back into ritual. And I found it again, to a certain extent. I realized that a lot of what I do in ritual is facilitation tricks…but, there’s also the authenticity piece beneath it.

It’s a form of alchemy. Technique + genuine, authentic connection = magic. And explaining that in more depth requires I talk a lot more about ritual facilitation, and that would take us way off topic.

Suffice to say, over the course of many years, I’ve found that there is still magic in ritual, even knowing what I do about facilitation technique, but it takes work to get there.

But then we come back to, what the heck does magic mean?

Magic
I think the word magic has different meanings in different contexts. I think across the board, it tends to mean “the hidden.” Or, things that happen in a way I can’t easily see/unravel. A related definition might be how I see most people use it in terms of spellwork. “Magic is doing a spell and getting what I want without having to do any work.” I think the idea is that you set your intention, light the right colored candle, and the universe brings you what you want if you’re cool enough.

Obviously there are some problems with that concept.

I tend to use the definition that magic is science we don’t understand yet. It’s science, it’s just science we can’t readily perceive or see. Or, that some of us can more easily see because we’ve trained ourselves to, but the more we know about it–the more it becomes science and technique–the less magical it might seem. We’ll just chalk that up to paradox.

I’ll continue this in Part 2 tomorrow.

 


Filed under: Magic, Personal Growth Tagged: Dion Fortune, magic

A Winter Knight’s Vigil: Pagans, Leadership, and Romance

WinterKnightsVigilCoverI’m sure that many of you probably don’t read romance. However, for those that do–I have a novella that came out today, A Winter Knight’s Vigil. Unlike most romance novels, this one deals with Pagan characters–and, not witches cursed with ancient powers, or druids who happen to be werewolves. Actual, regular Pagans.

The characters in the story are all members of a coven. The twelve of them are on a Winter Solstice retreat weekend in a woodland cabin. During the weekend, the two main characters, Tristan and Amber, both go through the various rituals and work through their own personal shadows.

Among these shadows are them dealing with their attraction to one another. Their coven has a rule that covenmates can’t get romantically entangled in order to prevent group dynamics and drama. After a hot night together, they have to face the consequences, and figure out if they’re going to hide what they did, or risk one or both of them getting kicked out of the coven.

Pagan Group Dynamics
While the book is not intended to teach in-depth ritual facilitation techniques or leadership for group dynamics, or even a guide to shadow work through Arthurian myth, all of those are components of the book. I hope to show a healthy way that things like that can be handled. Because, if you’ve read any of my blog posts about sex and ethics or other group dynamics, romances within the Pagan community tend to be one of the big problems with groups that go kablooey.

That being said, the book is an erotic romance, which means that there’s no closed doors. It’s rather spicy! So if that’s not your thing, you should know that up front :)

In the novella, Amber and Tristan are going through their own journey through the Longest Night vigil to step into Knighthood. To step into Service. To stand with integrity and make a commitment to their coven.

I think that non-Pagans will certainly enjoy the book–it’s about two people finding love together, it’s not about being Pagan. But, I also think that Pagans will get something special out of this story because it has some of the unique quirks of our community, of the things that we do. There’s Arthurian myth, there’s ritual work, there’s characters who do the Renaissance Faire and SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism), and just for fun, the coven hosts Heather Dale for a house concert.

Word of Mouth
If you like romance, consider checking out the book. And, if you know folks who like romance, consider the book as a Solstice gift or just mentioning it to people that might enjoy the story.

As more and more books are published, it’s sometimes difficult as an author without a massive marketing budget to get the word out about my works. Advertising is expensive. As I work to bring in enough income as an author and artist to fund my work so that I have time to write about Pagan leadership and ritual facilitation, I definitely appreciate any help my readers can offer in spreading the word.

I often say words are powerful magic, but it’s true. Word of mouth is pretty potent, particularly when promoting small and independent writers, artists, musicians, and publishers.

Pagan-Owned Businesses
I also want to give a shout-out here to Pagan Writers Press. All month long, Pagan Writers Press is offering discounts and giveaways to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Buying from PWP supports another Pagan-owned business and Pagan authors. PWP is a small press, and can also use any help you might offer in promoting their books.

What’s the best way you can help Pagan authors and Pagan-owned businesses? Other than buying books that you enjoy, the best way you can help is by sharing the link to the book on your Facebook or Twitter, and even just telling people about books that you like. Writing a nice review–even a short one–is a great way to help a book get more attention and sell more copies.

And, for those of you where Romance novels aren’t your thing, no worries. I have a book on Dreamwork coming out from Jupiter Gardens Press in a couple of weeks. Jupiter Gardens Press is another Pagan-owned business. More on that soon!

A Winter Knight’s Vigil is an erotic romance novella available through Pagan Writers Press.

About the Book:
Sexy, kilt-wearing Tristan has captured Amber’s attention on many occasions. But as members of the Kingsword coven, which has strict rules about intimate relationships inside the circle, dating him is out of the question.

When the coven heads to a secluded woodland cabin to celebrate the Winter Solstice, Amber finds herself closer than ever to Tristan. As the Longest Night approaches and their group’s ritual workings intensify, the pair realizes that they can no longer hide from their feelings.

Just as King Arthur held vigil before being knighted, Tristan and Amber face their shadows—and the realization that one or both of them might have to leave the coven.

Or can they be together without breaking their honor?

***

Excerpt (PG-13) Amber experiences a trancing and drumming ritual   |  Excerpt (Spicy hot)
Buy the book for $2.99  | Smashwords   | Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  All Romance eBooks

Free Giveaway: 
I’m hosting a giveaway including one hardcopy of the Wild Shifters anthology (with my story Werewolves in the Kitchen in it), one eBook of A Winter Knight’s Vigil, several pieces of hand-made jewelry, 3 gently used Sherrilyn Kenyon books, one set of 4 handmade cards, and one small painting. Click the link to enter by liking my FB page, following me on Twitter, and a host of other ways to gain additional entries.  9 winners will be chosen.


Filed under: Fiction Tagged: A Winter Knight’s Vigil, challenge, community building, Coven, fiction, fiction writing, Heather Dale, hero's journey, Kingsword, M/F, magic, Pagan Writers Press, pagans, paranormal romance, ritual, shadow work, shauna aura knight, teaser, urban fantasy, writing