Friday, June 1, 2012

Favorite Books

I have found that I am often asked what are my favorite books on Paganism or Witchcraft.  I guess having been a Pagan for so long, folks figure I have read quite a bit, and may actually have some good advice.  I have to admit I sometimes feel this is a loaded question.  Some books I have enjoyed would probably get me "run out of town" and some classics don't make the cut in my opinion.  So here is my list of five of my favorite authors and their books that I love.  These are NOT necessarily books I would put on a "must read list" if you were to ask what books I would suggest to someone who was just beginning to study.  These are simply the books that have spoken to me - the books that make me smile - the books that I thumb through time and time again when looking for inspiration. 

1.  Sybil Leek:  Diary of a Witch.  Published in 1969, I think I read it that year - and if not, certainly in 1970.  It's the book that changed my entire life.  It gave a name to what I was experiencing all along, and a direction to take it to the next level.  Though I think I read it at least 10 times throughout the 70's, I've not read it since.  Having read several other books that are now dated, I would hate to think that I would be disillusioned by the piece (after all, time changes everything).

2.  Pauline & Dan Campanelli: Wheel of the Year - Living The Magical Life and Ancient Ways: Reclaiming Pagan Traditions.  Who has read these books and not wanted to live as they do?  LOL.  They make you yearn for a simple lifestyle in a cottage somewhere.  Both books can be used to help inspire Sabbat celebrations, and keep your journey throughout the year on track.  These books are the ones I love to read on a stormy night by the fireplace...alot like the cover of Wheel of the Year!  They make me smile.

3.  Phyllis Curott:  Book of Shadows and Witch Crafting A Spiritual Guide to Making Magic .  Book of Shadows tells the story of Ms. Curott's personal journey into Paganism, Witchcraft and her relationship with the Goddess.  IMHO, it is required reading for anyone serious about pursuing this path.  It's a great read, refreshing and so different from the other cookie cutter books on Paganism and Witchcraft.  I am in the middle of Witch Crafting right now, and it's wonderful.  This is the "how to" book I wish I had read right after Diary of a Witch!

4.  Marion Green - A Witch Alone - Thirteen Moons to Master Natural Magic.  In my opnion, one of the best books to use if one is following a solitary path.  I really liked the exercises she includes at the end of each chapter, and the reading list that accompanies it.

5.  Shekhinah Mountainwater: Ariadne's Thread: A Workbook of Goddess Magic.  One of the best books to use for Goddess Studies.  Great for solitaires, great for women spiritual groups, just plain great.  I've used this book countless times to fill a small basket with questions that my coven uses to spark discussions. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Gaia – CELEBRATE Earth Day

Earth Day is April 22nd and it’s a Sunday this year.  What a great opportunity to really get in touch with Mother Earth and refocus our efforts in making the environment a priority.  What other element has its own special day?  Don’t let it just pass by – get out there and celebrate.  Make a difference!  Every little bit helps and can be the catalyst for a larger change down the road.  Here are some suggestions to get you thinking about how you can keep Earth Day sacred.

1.      Attend an Earth Day event.  Check your local paper or the local news website for a listing. 

2.      Organize an event yourself.  It doesn’t have to be a “pagan” gathering.  Perhaps you can simply rally the neighbors to walk around the neighborhood picking up trash.  Serve simple refreshments after and you can turn it into a social event as well and build strong relationships with those who live next to you.

3.      Don’t drive.  If at all possible, leave the car in the driveway for the day.  Walk where you need to go, or take public transportation.   Car pool if necessary. 

4.      Plan your errands.  While the car is taking a break, think about the errands you run during the week.  Are your trips to the store well thought out that you are only picking up groceries once a week and consolidating all your other stops into that one trip?  Are your stops in order so that you are not cris-crossing back and forth across town?  If you must have a car the rest of the year, use it wisely. 

5.      Recycle.  Though I would hope that as a Pagan you are already doing this, sometimes it’s helpful to take a look at your efforts and make sure you are still on track.  Do you take the easy way out and throw “just this one can” in the garbage since the recycling bin is not nearby?  Do you donate unused items to the local thrift shop?  Do you shop at the same thrift store to see if they have what you need?  Do you sell your items on a website or list them as a free giveaway?  Do you use what you already have for art projects?  The web is full of great creative ideas for items easily found around the home.  Get creative with cans, plastic bottles and toilet paper rolls.

6.      Keep electrical use to a minimum.  I HOPE you get through an entire day without the television or computer on.  Keep the lights off too (let’s face it; we probably all have enough candles to make it through a month long power outage.)  If you start to get jittery about not having TV or the computer, just remember that also means no laundry or vacuuming.  See?  I can see you smile already.

7.      Plant something.  There is no better way to get in touch with Mother Earth than getting your hands dirty.  Plant a tree, a vegetable garden, some flowers.  Get in there and DIG. 

8.      Research environmental organizations and choose one that you would love to support.  Even if you can’t financially help out, these groups often need volunteers.   Find one and commit to doing what you can to help them.  If you’d like to keep it on a local level, search parks or lakes/rivers that are nearby.  Frequently there is a group that works to protect that park or body of water.  Get involved.

9.      Teach.  Are you knowledgeable about composting?  Collecting rainwater or building your own rain barrel?  Solar energy?  Have you mastered simplicity and downscaling?  See if you can find a way to share what you know with others.

10.    Hold a ritual to Gaia.  Many Earth Day events have a place where you can “pledge” to go greener in everyday life.  Take it further and dedicate yourself and your efforts to Gaia in Sacred Space.  At the least, celebrate her and everything this earth has provided to us and say THANK YOU!

Friday, March 30, 2012


All that we know
all that we are
The sun is in the sky
The moon is in the sky
But Gaia is here
We touch her
We feel her 
We breathe her
Dirt beneath our feet
Leaves tumbling down
Rotate, Rotate
It doesn't matter.
We are here 
On Gaia
The Great Mother.

Air,  Fire, Water
If not the Mother Earth
Than where would they be?

We are born of earth
And at death we return
The Great Mother sustains us
And gives us hope.

I can say no more
Other than love and wish
And hope and pray
That what I plant can be harvested
That what I sow can surely be reaped
And that Gaia circles around the sun
And that we can rejoice in the new day.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Feasting During Ritual – Otherwise Known as Cakes and Ale

Raising energy during ritual for magickal work can be draining to the participants of the ritual.  Eating and drinking helps ground everyone and begins the journey back to the real world.  Yet this phase of the ritual, often referred to as Cakes and Ale, can ruin a perfectly crafted and executed ritual.  I've seen it happen way too often.  Attendees can be on top of the world after a successful energy raising, or reflective and deeply connected to deity after a meditation, only to be handed a paper cup of a kids drink in a color unknown in nature.  This is presented in conjunction with a mass produced confection containing only one pronounceable ingredient: water.  As if on cue, the reverent attendees turn into a cackle of school children, discussing everything "under the moon" including their last date with the plumber who helped them with the broken toilet.  Spare me!
If your group is going to incorporate Cakes and Ale as part of the ritual, be sure that everyone understands that this is truly PART OF THE RITUAL and that you are still in sacred space.  A predetermined set of guidelines helps to keep everyone focused on the task at hand with the right mindset.  These guidelines will help you keep the mood on the sacred.
1)        Have a Blessing.  It can be as simple as having the participants pass the items around the circle with the familiar words “May you never hunger, May you never thirst.”  Or the High Priest/Priestess can bless the offering much more elaborately.  Either way, participants should get the idea that this is a sacred act.

2)      Keep in mind the size of the ritual.  It is fairly easy to pass out cakes and ale in a timely manner when there are 13 or less participants; not as simple when there are 30.  Figure out ahead of time how to quickly distribute the items in order to keep everyone engaged.  This also includes planning for any necessary cleanup before the ritual continues (what are the participants suppose to do with those paper cups?)

3)      Ask yourself if after the blessing whether or not everyone should remain silent.  If you do allow talking, keep the subject matter on the ritual.  A passing comment such as “Look at the beautiful full moon!” or “Does anyone else notice the interesting shapes being made by the incense smoke?” may even enhance the ritual experience, especially if folks may find silence unsettling.  Save the talk about the dog’s fleas to after ritual.

4)      Carefully choose what you are going to serve to compliment the ritual.  There are lists of food correspondences for each Sabbat readily available, and often food items can be paired with the magical working. 

5)      Be considerate of dietary needs.  In a small ritual where everyone knows all the attendees it is fairly easy to accommodate the group – but even then sometimes things change.  Be sure to always announce prior to the start of the ritual exactly what is being served and any other information that if withheld, could literally mean life or death.  “The muffin contains eggs and milk.”  “I used peanut oil to bake this.”  Remember that not everyone can or wants to drink alcohol, even if it’s just a sip.  Water is usually a safe bet.

6)      If as a participant you find that you are not going to be able to partake of Cakes and Ale, say nothing.  There is no reason to put the host on the spot by proclaiming “I can’t eat that!” in front of the crowd.  Just accept the offering during the ritual, hold it to the heavens indicating you are offering it to deity, or close your eyes and hold it close to your heart.  Then simply pass it along to the next person.  It is respectful and keeps with the sacredness of the moment.  Afterwards a few words to the host, especially if you are going to circle with these folks again, are warranted.  “The cake looked delicious, but unfortunately I’m allergic to lemon” is all that is needed.

7)      The High Priest/Priestess should keep a close watch on the energy levels of the group.  When everyone has partaken of cakes and ale, move to the next part of the ritual quickly.  It goes a long way in keeping everyone on track.
If all else fails and you still feel that Cakes and Ale disrupts the flow of the ritual, drop it.  There are other ways to ground after energy raising if it’s immediately necessary. Hug a tree.  Get down on the ground (kneel, sit, lay) and press the palm of your hands flat against the ground or floor and reconnect with earth.  You can also raise both hands and give any excess energy to the sky.  Pat yourself down, clap your hands, stomp your feet, wiggle around.  Leave the feasting to after ritual where folks can laugh, tell jokes and discuss the cute plumber. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Earth and Money

East and Earth, North and Air
Two elements to despair

When I was trying to come up with a topic for this week’s blog this quick little rhyme came to me.  I had already written about my experiences with East, and how folks can from time to time lose that special connection with one of the elements.  Did I feel like I was experiencing the same thing with Earth?

I could visualize myself in ritual, standing in the North with arms outstretched.  My mind quickly made a checklist of those characteristics that are often contributed to Earth.  Stength.  Stability.  Endurance.  I could sense the quietness of midnight or snow falling steadily on a winter’s morning.  All I had to do was open the door and head outside to touch earth.  Plant my feet firmly on the ground or better yet, pick up some dirt, get a whiff of that musty aroma and run it through my fingers.  I hummed a few bars of Paul Simon’s “I Am a Rock” for good measure.  I felt connected, what was going on?

As often happens when one tries to concentrate or meditate, the mind wanders.  We all have an internal check list of projects and decisions that are pending.  We learn quickly to recognize those thoughts that creep in and then just let them go.  Or at least try to.  I was no different.  Internal conversation:

Me:  So I’m going to write about despair and Earth?
Mind:  Did you mail in the payment for the car insurance?
Me:  I can smell freshly mown grass as if it’s right here outside the window.
Mind:  Did you figure out a way to budget for taxes due next month?
Me:  Green.  I love the color green.
Mind:  How much do you think the hotel is going to cost?  We’re leaving in six weeks!   Where is that coming from?
Me:  I like brown too…
Mind:  Do you know how many expenses are coming up?  I think the family will be feasting on peanut butter and jelly for a long, long time.

Money.  From its color to the pentacles/coins of a Tarot deck.  It is the one elemental correspondence that seems so, can I use the word, mundane.  Many pagans try to pretend it’s not necessary to have money.  For years pagans have balked at the idea of having to pay someone to teach or counsel, even if that teacher had out of pocket expenses to do so.   Only recently has that attitude seemed to change – that folks realize that everyone needs to make a living.  As long as you’re not taking advantage of anyone, it’s okay to be compensated. 

But I digress.  I realized that my concern about my own financial situation had subconsciously changed my connection with the element Earth.  I thought about the term “The Power of Money”.  How appropriate – look at what it had done to me!  It wasn’t obvious either.  Just a silly rhyme that had played in my head made me pause.  Despair?  Earth?  What the heck?  I had to admit though that I was stressed about money lately. 

The things that happen in our everyday lives can greatly influence our relationships with everything on the magickal plane.  The elements, our totems, Deity.  You can’t separate the two.  It’s all part of the whole.  Just pay attention.  Work with the appropriate element to solve the problem.  Earth and I will be spending some quality time together.  Find the element that can help you.

Friday, March 2, 2012

East and The Kite

One of the first things a beginner to the Craft learns is how to cast a circle and call the Quarters.  A circle defines a protected space that is separate from the outside world.  It not only keeps unwanted energies out of the space, but helps contain the energy created by your working until it is time to release it.  An important part of creating that circle is to call the Quarters – each of the four elements: Air (East), Fire (South), Water (West) and Earth (North).  Sometimes Ether or Spirit is called as a fifth element (Center).  

We learn that each Quarter is equally important.  We memorize the appropriate direction, ritual tool, color, animal and deity association and all the attributes that go along with that element.  We know the time of day and the season of the year that corresponds with it.  We create and memorize a quarter call for each one, and eventually feel confident enough to burn the paper and call the quarter from what speaks to our heart.  That is usually the first moment when you realize that you have only been going through the motions and now you have that feeling that you actually succeeded in doing it.  You truly feel the presence of the element.  The room gets hotter when you speak of Fire.  There is a sudden downpour when you beckon to Water.
You get better at it and it becomes second nature.  You relish that feeling of working with the elements.  You may take anywhere from a week to a year to work with each element individually.   It’s a great opportunity to grow in your practice.  You’re excited about your work and your progress and then WHAM it happens.  You may be with a group of folks who are planning a ritual and asking for volunteers for Quarter Calls and they need someone for North/Earth and you feel panicked that they might ask you.  Why?  Because you suddenly realize that it’s not your strongest quarter.  You not only have a favorite one, but there’s one you really would rather not deal with.  There’s no way getting around it when working alone, but if you can dodge it otherwise, you would be more than happy to.

East was the Quarter I avoided for quite awhile.  When I lived farther north, I was in an area where almost every day you could feel wind.  It was always around you, and the sound of rustling leaves in the trees before a summer storm was magickal in of itself.  When the air was still, it had an eerie quality and you just knew something was amiss.  Paganism was a new beginning, I wasn’t even a Maiden yet when I started having spiritual experiences, I was born in the spring, spent summer vacations at the shore flying kites every evening, brought home every feather I could find and majored in literature and communications in college.  East and I were on very good terms.

Then I moved farther south.  What wind.  It’s either very still or we are under a hurricane or tornado watch.  We had one very windy day a few years back.  I sat on my porch for hours just listening to the trees sway with the breeze.  Last year we went to the mountains and I had a moment of homesickness when the wind picked up and there was that sound again.  I’ve moved way beyond the spring portion of the wheel in chronological years and I look hideous in yellow.  East and I had become merely acquaintances.
What can we do when we find that our relationship with an element is not quite what it should be?  A few years ago some friends and I gathered at the beach for a weekend away.  We planned on working on each of the elements individually for a few hours.  Part of our East project was to build a kite and then fly it on the beach.  First off, I’m not the most creative person when it comes to anything crafty, and my version of a kite was, shall we say, interesting.  But there I was, running across the sand trying to get the kite up in the air.  I had flown kites for years in my youth.  Instead, it stayed close to the ground and just spun wildly like a pinwheel that had too much to drink. But it made me laugh.  A lot.  I was a kid playing with a homemade toy.  The wind whipped that poor kite around until finally it tore apart.  I was still chuckling as I picked up the pieces.  The kite may have been a disaster, but I had once again connected to East.  I could see it, feel it, and hear it.  It was fun, just like the old days.  East had brought out the inner child.

If you find yourself hiding when volunteers are being sought for a particular element, then find a way to play with that element.  Figure out a way to have that element speak to the kid hiding inside.  Calling Quarters in ritual is serious.  But having a connection with the elements outside of ritual will enhance your journey through life.  Make it a fun one. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

To Dare

If you have been spell crafting for awhile, you probably have heard the term “To Know, To Dare, To Will and To Keep Silent.”  You may have even seen it with Will and Dare reversed.  It is a worthy guideline to help ensure a successful magickal working.  Most of it is pretty straightforward.

To Know - You have to know exactly what you want to accomplish.  The more precise you can be, the greater the likelihood that you will get what you want.  Write it down and be as specific as possible.  Draw your goal – or use another art form - if it helps to see it clearly.  Keep it in a positive light.  Know exactly what you are going to do in creating the spell.  Gather whatever materials you will need so everything is in order before you begin.

To Will – You have to want it.  The more emotionally attached you are to the goal; the better your chances to succeed.  Use whatever tools or visualization techniques you need to raise that emotional energy and awareness.  All the candles and rhymes won’t mean a thing if you don’t care.  Find that connection that will lift your spirits or tug at your heart strings.

To Keep Silent – Once the spell is done, let it go and let the universe take over.  Don’t talk about it, and certainly don’t dwell on it internally.  Take what steps you need to help it along, but do it with the mindset that it is all part of the course of the spell.  For example, if you cast a spell to win the lottery, it is okay to actually buy a lottery ticket and put it in your wallet and forget about it until after the drawing.  It is not okay to tell everyone that you cast a spell to win millions.  (We do all know that for the most part, spells for winning the lottery don’t work, right?)

That leaves To Dare.  It is the most complicated of the four in my opinion because it has more complex levels to it.  First of all, you have to dare to do the spell.  There is a reason you have to be precise in what you want to accomplish, careful in your choice of words.  You don’t want the universe to misunderstand and have the spell totally backfire.  Spells can be nerve-racking.  It’s an excellent reason to keep spells as simple and clear as possible. 

Second, you have to dare to follow through.  Do everything you can to make it work.  You may have crafted a beautiful spell to find a better job with higher pay in an industry you adore, but if you don’t polish up your resume, brush up on your skills, watch the classified ads and let those who can help you know that you are looking for another position; it’s probably not going to go very far.

Lastly, you have to dare to accept responsibility for the outcome of the spell – and accept the outcome itself.  Remember the adage “Be careful what you wish for.”  If the spell is a disaster, what are you going to do to fix it?  Will you have the courage to accept the results because upon reflection the outcome is really for the best?  If the results are okay, but not quite what you wanted, was it something you did to change the outcome or is the universe setting you up for something that is for your higher good?  Do you dare wait to find out?  If that job offer for a higher paying position comes through, do you dare accept it knowing that you will have to move 150 miles away from your family and friends?

To Know, To Dare, To Will and To Keep Silent.  Use those words as a template as you begin to put your spell together.  I would really focus on To Dare.  If you visualize every scenario and picture yourself facing each one with courage, it will aid in putting together a successful working.