a retreat: taking time

I’m currently in the midst of a two and a half day retreat focusing on a longtime interest of mine that I’ve been feeling blocked about for, well, years.

Anyway, I thought I’d do some comments on how, why, and when I do retreat work (and hopefully, by the time I’m done, my subconscious will have sorted out the next step in what I’m working on.)

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Thinking about magical jewelry

Apologies for lack of posting – I was seriously wiped out by a nasty cold for the last week (and not feeling great for other reasons for a few days before that.) And, of course, I’m about to be out and about for Thanksgiving, and likely not near a computer much if at all.

This did, however, get me thinking about magical jewelry, because I’m trying to decide what to pack for my plans (I’m seeing friends, and there may or may not be some ritual time, depending on how things fall out.) Especially since I’ve just done another talk at work today (to our comparative religions class) about Wicca.

Now, there is, of course, the old joke about the race for priestesses: each priestess puts on all of her jewelry, and whoever can drag themselves to the finish line first wins – because, somehow, we all accumulate it.

I try to be very good about this – as people around me have heard me say, I have only one neck, and only so many things that are going to go on it at a particular time. I therefore try really hard to make sure that any new additions meet a specific need or fill a gap when I wouldn’t otherwise be wearing something.

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Speaking truth

As mentioned earlier this week, I spent an hour and a half on Friday talking to the Diversity Club at the school I work at. (Both lunches, so it was different sets of kids, except for a couple who have a free period over lunch.) We had 23 students by the diversity director’s count (plus him, plus the other diversity director, who is not normally based on that campus.) Two boys, the rest girls, and mostly upperclassmen rather than freshmen.

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Talking about what we do

On Friday, I’m going to be talking to the Diversity Club at the school I work at – about Wicca, and historical witchcraft. I’ve only got 40 minutes or so, so it’s going to be interesting.

This came about in an interesting way – we’ve got a new Diversity Director this year, and he’s been picking a particular topic to talk about twice a week. At the end of September, he sent out a list of topics, through Oct 31st (which is both a regular meeting and Hallowe’en), with October 31st listed as a time to talk about the Witchcraft hunts, Hallowe’en and Wicca.

I looked at my work email, and wandered down the hallway to volunteer. (I’ve been quietly out at work to people I’m closer to, but haven’t been public about it, and he didn’t know my own religious affiliation.) We had a lovely chat – he has Pagan friends, but was delighted not to have to try and field questions directly.

We’re not sure whether I’ll out myself or not (I have been cautious of this with students, because my relationship with them is different than a teacher’s is: I see them far less consistently, and it’s important that all students feel comfortable asking me questions.) But at the same time, the school has a decent history of supporting different religious beliefs and (fact-based) discussion of them by faculty.

Having this conversation:

I’ve spent some time thinking about how I want to do this. I plan to be in there with an easel (my theory is that any conversation that includes the word Samhain, you probably want to have something write it on) and handouts (so that I can focus on taking their questions and discussing, rather than worrying about getting to everything.)

There are some things I know I want to touch on – for example, I’ve been told that a couple of them have made comments that Wicca isn’t a real religion, so I want to talk briefly about what makes a religion, and about how the US does and doesn’t recognise religions. (i.e. there’s no official process, but various Pagan groups and paths have the same kinds of recognition as other religious traditions – IRS non-profit religious status, recognition in the military, ability to grant ministerial credentials, and so on.)

I’ve also made a deliberate decision to avoid getting bogged down in details but to stay accurate (if simplified). For example, I say: “Traditional Wicca is a priesthood path – equivalent to a religious order with specific commitments. Many others adapt Wiccan practices and use the term Wiccan but may vary from what’s described below.” which gets the idea across (I hope!) that there are different ways people use the term.

Likewise, when I talk about ethics, I’ve said: “Ethics are based on personal responsibility for choices and their effects in the world. Free will is a particularly strong value. There is no concept of salvation by deity, but also no idea of original sin.” rather than getting into a discussion of the Rede and the Threefold Law.

I’m also focusing on witchcraft and religious witchcraft rather than the grand scope of Paganism, because that’s how it’s been advertised – but I do mention that it’s one of a larger grouping of Pagan religions, and made sure to include books that mention this.

And there are some things that are not in the handout at all – the “Are you Satanists?” thing, or the “What about sacrifices?” These are answered in a couple of the books I’ve referenced (and that our library owns: I’ll be leaving a few down there for a week or so), but I made a deliberate decision to avoid these questions in the handout, because why give people ideas if they don’t ask about it.

I’ve done my best to treat practices fairly and as if this is a totally normal and reasonable way for religions to work – straightforward, with a sense of depth and more going on for those who are interested.

Don’t worry, I’ll post something (probably Friday) on how it went. I’m talking to both lunch blocks, so it’ll be two different groups of kids. I suspect the hardest thing about it may be avoiding saying “We” and “I” in terms of Pagan practice.

(I’m also trying to figure out what I’m going to wear, since it’s also Hallowe’en. I think I’m going to make it the first wearing of a really gorgeous dress a friend found for me in a consignment store – it’s a pale green, with Celtic stenciling on the bottom) and a fun hat – a gift from the same friend, a Renaissance-faire style velvet snood style cap. And some of my amber jewelry, because I’ll be amused if anyone figures it out – none of it’s obviously Pagan, but anyone who knows a little about Wicca may make the connection.)

Creating the life I want to live

Today is my birthday (I’m 33). I’ve spent a bunch of the past few weeks thinking about something specific – about creating the life I want to live in.

I’m single: almost three years post-divorce, and now back at a point where I’d like to consider the possibility of a serious relationship again. But to do that, I need to make space and continue working on balance (and on continuing to expand my social circles a bit.)

I have a still-new coven, and how do I want that to take shape and grow? And how do I give it space to do so, and ways to incorporate ideas and things that are not me? We’ve got a good start, but there’s still a lot of work.

There are a lot of things that interest me: how do I make time for them, or figure out which ones to do? Music is a big thing on the plate, and it’s somewhat emotionally fraught for complicated reasons. There’s writing, and there’s fiber art, and there’s baking, and all the books I want to read, and somewhere in there exercise would be a good idea.

I have an ongoing relationship with multiple deities (the joys of polytheism). How do I continue to nuture and expand and explore within that context?

I have dear friends, family of choice, and family of origin, all of whom I want to spend time with. How do I balance that against scheduling limitations, and other things that also matter to me?

And how do I make my home, my hearth, my work the kinds of space I want to spend time in – between doing the things I want, and managing the mundane responsibilities as well as possible (dishes, laundry, bills).

These things are, to my way of thinking, the most fundamental kind of magic: reshaping my own life at the most fundamental levels with focused intention and desires. But these are all big and complicated issues.

So, I started with a party.

I knew that what I wanted for my birthday was a day full of good food, good company, and great conversation. What I got was all of those and then some (there was also some fabulous mead, and some very thoughtful and caring divination readings.)

But how did I get there?

Well, first, I have loving and caring and generous friends (who are also good cooks) which helps rather a lot. My covenmate hosted (she’s got more space suitable for a larger gathering) and another friend brought homemade scones, a range of delicious fruit spreads, and there was all sorts of other goodness.

Now, a couple of years ago, I might have made a few plaintive noises about what I wanted. And I might well have gotten some of it (I have nifty friends, after all.) But this year, for a range of reasons, I felt a lot more comfortable being quite specific.

And look! Wonderful things happened.

Why did it work?

Well, I was asking for help with things that the people helping generally like to do. That never hurts.

And while this was something of a production (both my covenmate and I spent most of Saturday cooking and otherwise prepping) it was the kind of production we generally *enjoy* doing a couple of times a year.

And third, it tied into other things. It’s a time to celebrate harvest and plenty and abundance – a gathering of great food and conversation and reflection on what to ponder as we move into the dark half of the year certainly fit very tidily in that. And, having poked our heads out and been sociable, we can now focus back on the coven building for a few months.

It’s not only a good model of friendships (and I am deeply grateful to everyone who helped make this happen – whether it was obvious stuff like cooking, or just showing up). But it’s very much a model of how I want to priestess. I obviously have Opinions and Ideas and Plans – capitals quite intentional. But I also want to be doing things I can do with people I care about, and find the things *they* enjoy and look forward to, and so on.

Getting that mix right yesterday? Very hope-inducing for my coming year and years.