A response to “What’s for dinner?”

Dianne Sylvan asked this question inĀ  a blog post yesterday, and I wanted to take time to do a more extensive response – both ’cause she’s a friend, and bec ause it’s part of my “I should talk about this sustainable priestessing thing here” goal for this year and this blog.

So, here goes: this post has a quickish overview of where my food habits are at the moment, where they’ve been over the past 18 months, and some staple meals that seem to be working pretty well for me, even if I’m tired.

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Ritual limits: plans that can help

Last post in this three post series on ritual limits and some ways to handle them thoughtfully, caringly, and meaningfully.

Again, I do not claim to have all the answers: just a few things that might be of help. Mostly, this post is about policies and forms.

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Ritual limits: role of the event planner

A comment from a friend about my last post brought up some excellent questions about the role of a larger organisational body in the question of ritual or workshop or whatever limits. (As, in the case in question, when a ritual is taking place at a larger event.)

I didn’t talk about this in the previous post, both for length reasons, and because the event organiser side is a bit more complicated for me to talk about clearly, but my friend made some excellent points that I do want to talk about more.

Background and disclaimer:

This is my personal blog, and here I am speaking only for me, and not for any organization I’ve volunteered with, either currently or in the past. All clear? Good.

That said, my experiences shape my opinions: and you might want to know where that experience comes from.

I’ve thought about many of these issues (and the more general question of how to make public and large scale events more accessible to more people) a great deal in part because of my time on the board of Twin Cities Pagan Pride since 2005, running both the fall Pagan Pride event (a two-day event in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, though we’re planning on going back to one day in 2011 to find a space with better walk-through/casual traffic) and our new project, Paganicon, (taking place later this month), which is a weekend hotel-based conference (albeit much smaller than Pantheacon: we’re likely to have somewhere between 100 and 150 people this year, which is just fine.)

I’ve also attended a small invite only Pagan festival for several years, and ran and helped with some other community focused events in the Society for Creative Anachronism and in science fiction fandom over the years, both places I’ve learned some things I apply to my current Pagan focus. Reasonably varied experience, basically but I haven’t seen and done everything, either.

I’ve got a particular interest for various reasons in overall accessibility of events – not just mobility needs or food allergies or identity limits, but things ranging from choices in accessibility tools (i.e. lipreading seats vs. ASL interpreters vs. real-time transcription options for those with hearing impairment) to looking at things like learning style differences, scheduling, and other details.

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Responsible ritual announcing

I’ve been thinking a lot about conversations around a ritual at last week’s Pantheacon that turned away both transgender women and men at the door without previously making it clear that it was a limited-access ritual. (Two posts with background and links to additional comments can be found here and here.)

[It’s worth noting that other rituals at the event were somewhat more explicit about limitations: my quick count through the program found 4 rituals identified as for women only, 2 identified as for men only, a couple with age limitations, and one ritual with additional limitations: all-white clothing and that participants not be bleeding (either via menstruation or cuts/scrapes)]

My thoughts on this are complex, both because of some of my own deeply held beliefs about ritual, and because I’ve had several years of doing Pagan event organizing. And also because of the knowledge that gender identity, the creation of women-only spaces (and how one defines who can participate in them) are both complex topics, and ones where there’s a lot of history, and many people on various angles of the conversation who have strong feelings, many of whom have felt hurt, left out, or otherwise not listened to at various points in the debates on the topic.

My first belief is that when we are talking about participatory religious ritual, that touches about transformation of the self, vulnerability within community or before the Gods, or anything else of that kind, that a fundamental right of the potential participants is to decide whether or not to participate in that ritual at that time. That means providing sufficient information to make an informed decision.

My second belief is the idea of religious group practice as a haptocracy, a word I coined from the Greek hapto or ‘to work’. In other words, the idea that the people doing the largest work to make something happen get the most say in how it happens. The people doing the work to plan and facilitate the ritual don’t stop being participants because they’re planning the thing: they still get to decide if there are circumstances in which they would not be comfortable participating.

Based on these two principles, I do clearly believe that if a group of people want to put on the effort of a ritual, they get to decide who can come. Those choices have a wide variety of consequences and results – but they still get to choose.

Likewise, people who might be interested in attending get to decide if they want to be in that space in that way, given the stated limits, requirements, or other description.

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Untangling old patterns: the untangling

So, a few days ago, I talked about the actual preparation work. And then I went and did it.

Note to self: please remember that you still need to rest a lot between housecleaning bits. Schedule accordingly. Note to everyone else: this meant I cleaned yesterday, and am doing the ritual stuff in a bit, rather than last night which was my original plan.

Either way, we’re now onto the untangling part. There are three things for me about untangling an old pattern, and turning it into a new pattern that better serves me. (Actually, there are four. We’ll get to that.)

Part one: Digging out the old stuff to its roots, so I know where it’s coming from. It’s a lot harder to reshape things if you’re only treating symptoms, not getting at causes.

Part two: Creating space for transition. Transitions are hard. Ritual makes them easier for me. (Maybe for you, too.) So do some other things.

Part three: Having a pretty clear idea of the new patterns I want to start shaping, and some ways to start doing that. I don’t need to have *every* idea how that’s going to happen – but a list of 3-5 small changes is really helpful.

Part four: Take notes. See what works. Rinse. Repeat. It doesn’t fit as tidily in the list, because it takes a while.

So, how do I do that? Again, I share not because I think I have all the answers here, but because the process of writing it out helps me out, and because people keep saying that some of what I suggest makes a lot of sense to them. If a particular thing doesn’t work for you, go do what does. Or try other stuff.

Digging deep:

Part of my digging deep is the preparation work I talked about in the previous post. That’s really about getting down to ground level: it’s getting all the books shelved so you can see what’s missing or misplaced. It’s looking at the garden, and getting the old leaves and mulch out, so you can see what you have, what you don’t have, and what’s weeds. It’s reorging your spice cabinet (or your yarn stash, or your hobby supplies) so you can figure out what you need in order to keep doing the stuff that’s important to you.

But there’s a bit more than that, too, which is usually the harder part. That’s figuring out what it is you want to change.

Now, it is not the end of the world if you don’t figure it out. However, in line with the “you get better long-term results if you treat the cause, not the symptom”, the closer you get to actual causes, the less work you have to do later. (On this thing. There will be more things. Life’s like that.)

On the other hand, even getting *one* of the symptoms can sometimes free up stuff for you in a totally new way, that lets you get traction on huge new areas of what you want to look at, change, or adjust.

In other words, I go about this in a “Let me spend some time on this, and see what happens, and then I’m going to move on to doing stuff, rather than getting stuck thinking about it.” The processing reading I mentioned last post is part of that time. Divination is part of that time. Meditation (in the “What’s going on here…” mode) is part of that time. Long walks, playing music, whatever. Therapy sessions, journalling, great conversations with a friend over mugs of tea can be part of that time.

This part also works best if it’s something you do over a period of time. If I know I’m going to be building up to some big planned change (as I did with my initiations in some ways), or an anniversary of particular magnitude, or whatever else, I consciously start working on this bit in little ways a few weeks or even a few months in advance.

Other times, I get to the point where I go “I really need to do something about X” only to realise that work I’ve been doing for a while is .. all about that thing. (This is where a regular journalling habit is very helpful.)

It would be aggravating, except for the part where it is so incredibly helpful.

Create space for transition:

One of the arguments for “Why do we do ritual?” is about the fact that transition is hard, and putting some framework around it makes it a little easier to face.

I was reminded of this by a conversation with a friend about a riding lesson (she picked up riding as an adult), and the fact she’d had a breakthrough about cantering. I wrote a comment to her about how it reminded me of a gruelling lesson in my teens, when I rode seriously.

We spent the entire lesson – about 50 minutes, after warming up – walking for three steps, cantering for three steps, walking for three steps, cantering for three steps. (Well, it was not that precise when we started. It was when we finished.) By the end, Dot (my beloved pony) and I were both dripping with sweat – despite the fact that we were in a totally unheated indoor ring in northern Massachusetts in February or March (so it was maybe 40 or 45 degrees Fahrenheit out.)

Anyway what I said was: “I stopped being scared of walk-canter transitions ever again, and it’s been a really interesting lesson about all sorts of other transitions – in writing, in life, in all sorts of other activities – ever since. I think they always feel awkward, until somehow we gain a knack or three for figuring out how to make them feel smoother for us, how to act as if, how to see ourselves on the other side of the transition a moment before we actually get there.”

Transforming ritual’s like that. It gives me a map for getting from this place to that other place, and some ways to orient myself when I get there. It’s not a perfect map – often, it’s a child’s idea of a map, with the trees totally out of scale, and the directions iffy. But it’s a beginning.

When I go and do ritual in a bit, I’m going to do some stuff that’s old and familiar and loved. I’m going to cast a circle, and create my sacred space, and use the words I’ve written, and the words I’ve learned from my much-loved teachers, and the gestures and movements that are as familiar to me as walking down the street, now. And I’m going to be standing in front of my altar, where every item has a story, and everything is there for a reason. That’s the me of history, which I value and honor and don’t want to lose.

And then I’m going to tear a bunch of bits of what I assume about what life looks like up into tiny little bits, and throw them in the air, and see what happens when they come down. To shake lose the “What else has to change to live the life I want?” To create new moments of possibility, and the potential of new patterns.

How I do that depends on what I’m doing. (Tonight’s work will involve the collapsing of previous work trick I really like from Rune Soup, some divination, some charging of statues for a particular goal, and some meditation. But it could have used a totally different set of tools, too. Those are the ones I’m up for right now.)

And somewhere in the middle of that, I very much hope (and aim for) something to give that little twist, that little pop of possibility and new potential. A chance for a new pattern, a better pattern, a scaffold that helps the new growth and change in a way that wasn’t open before. And for something to help ease me through that transition and change, so it’s not quite so overwhelming and scary.

(One of the reasons I spend so much time process geeking and ritual technology geeking and learning about how this stuff works is so that my chances of this kind of thing working improve. These days, that pop, that shift is pretty reliable, though the results still range from “Oh, duh, how did I miss that” to “How is *that* related? Huh. Gonna try it anyway.”, and everywhere in between.)

When we’re tired, and we’re stressed, we revert to the coping mechanisms that used to work for us. But sometimes – maybe even often – those things are not the thing that we need now. Ritual is part of how I poke at that question, and go “Ok, what *does* support where I want to go?” (Other parts include the Feldenkrais lessons I’ve been doing, and meditation, and conversations, and writing, and all sorts of other stuff. Diversity is good: no tool gets everything done.)

And then, I hope I will come out of the ritual, and I will have something to drink, and something to eat, and listen to some music, and go to sleep, and things will have begun to shift and change. Some changes will be tiny. Some will take a while to show up. But I also usually come up with a couple of direct active changes I can make, or steps toward my goal.

The ritual shapes the process – it gives it a space where I feel I can stretch a bit more, a space disconnected from usual time and space considerations, where the presences of the Gods and the Ancestors can support me, even when I’m working by myself. But ritual isn’t the only way there. (It’s one I really like, and that’s reliable for me. But you are not me.)

I’ve been reading a lot of Havi Brooks’ work recently, because she’s really good at talking about this stuff, and she goes at it in a way that has elements of what really works for me in the ritual part (taking time for that transition, honoring the insights, listening, paying attention) without being.. well, quite so ritually.

Three posts of hers I’d recommend on this are:

  • Insights – how she got to doing what she’s doing.
  • Avoidance – the art of getting out of avoidance, and why we avoid stuff anyway.
  • Don’t Face Your Fear – which is really the core of a lot of shadow work in a number of traditions that talk about it. Instead, look at less confrontational options.
  • Ok, one more. Her Book of You post is a really great starting point for pretty much anyone, and it’s now on my list of “things to make my witchy students at least spend some time with.” I plan to talk about this some more soon.

Frame for new patterns:

Ok, so I have just said to the universe “New patterns, please!” Left to itself, the universe has some mighty odd ideas about what those things should be. Some of those things might be great, but some of them might not be very well focused.

So, to help out, I need to create some framework for the new patterns to settle into. I usually start thinking about these well in advance of the ritual, but I often find that I’ll get one or two or three very specific ideas *during* ritual of what I really need to focus on.

Below are some of the things I use regularly, though they’re not the only things I use, nor the only things you can use. Consider them inspiration, not the canon list of possibilities.

I usually plan to try and do the new stuff on a regular basis (which doesn’t always mean daily!) for about three weeks, and then reevaluate. By then, I usually have a good idea if it’s working, or if I should try something else. (Or if something isn’t practical, but a modified version might be.)

Just plain new habits:

I’ve been less than entirely happy with my morning routine for a bit. It’s partly for a meds related reason that means I don’t eat for 45+ minutes after I wake up and take the pill, but feeling like I also don’t necessarily want to start my day with diving into email and the possibility of new things to add to my to-do list. Added to that, there are a couple of self-care things that I’d like to do that can be done with about 20 minutes, but are best done when I’m not tempted to be reading/doing other stuff on the computer.

So, for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to try watching a TEDtalk or three (depending on length) while doing those other things I want to do, then make breakfast, before I get into the rest of my morning computer time. Better chance of my eating breakfast, excellent chance of hearing some really inspiring and thought provoking stuff from great speakers, and if I’m right, I’ll be getting my brain and body better into gear to be more usefully productive on other things earlier in the day, without losing rest.

It’s only tangentially related to the magical work (which is about “Where is the new wonderful place I need to end up for the next stage of my life”). Except that, getting my brain going sooner in the morning, diving into great work, really can only help that. (Plus, I am certain, from the TEDtalks I’ve seen, that I’ll be picking up stuff that makes me an even better librarian.)


Music, when I remember to turn it on, is a huge part of my daily personal practice time. I set up playlists for elements (air, fire, water, earth), for seasonal cycles, for other things – but I also set them up for specific goals. The current “Untangling” playlist that I set up this week has 11 hours of music on it – all things that spoke to my doing that kind of work.

Sometimes I listen consciously, putting down everything else and just hearing. But most of the time, it drifts in and out of my active awareness. I’ll pause and hear a particular sentence, or a particular verse, and take something away from it. Tiny steps down a road.


I own very little ‘classic Pagan’ jewelry, and what I do own of it, I very rarely wear outside of ritual. What I do own is a lot of jewelry made with personality and intention, that I wear for specific reasons and moods. I’ve gotten out of the habit of wearing a lot of it the last year, and it’s time to change that. So, part of my morning practice is going to be putting something on.

Making music:

As I’ve talked about here, I have a harp I love very much, but an on-and-off again thing about playing. I’m pretty sure one of the reasons I fight the playing sometimes is because I recognise how powerful it is as a transformational tool for me.

Anyway. Time to do more playing again. Time to work more on that balance between playing other people’s music (duplicating something with an external structure, model, frame) and making it mine through interpretation. Of stretching skills and taking risk, and seeing how they work. And of the discipline of just sitting down every day, of keeping her in tune, and all the other little details.

(There are lots of other art forms that do this – but I do suggest exploring something that has that balance between stuff you come up with, and stuff someone else came up with, or deliberate restriction of format, or something. At least sometimes.)

Other senses:

I’ve also gotten out of my habit of using (natural) perfumes regularly. Another good thing to pick up again – scent is a potent trigger and reminder, but it’s also anchoring in useful ways.

Likewise, the lighting in my bedroom (which currently has two options: overhead light, or a table lamp without a good angle for reading in bed) has finally annoyed me to the point where I need something different. Today’s storm means going shopping for a cheap solution that I think will work (thank you Ikea!) is postponed, but I’ll get there this week.

When I talk about looking at the little stuff in patterns, this is part of what I mean – all of a sudden, the lighting that had been not-great, but okay for almost three years was suddenly so not right. Not sure why. But it’s an easy enough thing to fix (except for the snow delay), so why not.

Larger tools:

There are also larger tools. One of the reasons for taking on new names in ritual, for example, is to give a new framework for the work you’re doing. Some people cut or dye their hair for significant events and transformations. Some people get tattoos or new piercings.

Obviously, these also have much larger consequences, so they’re not things to be done lightly, or quickly, or without checking out the appropriate precautions.

Standard tools:

And yeah, there’s other stuff here: smaller ongoing spellwork. Crafting and cooking and cleaning with intention. Chants and songs and ritual dance work. Divination. Meditation. But I figure you probably know where to start with those if you’re inclined to use them.

Rinse. Repeat.

What the heading says. Do the stuff. See what works. See what doesn’t. Take notes. Get feedback from other people when appropriate. Adapt. Try new version until desired result.