One spirit in the dark

There’s a chant out there from the Spiral Rhythm CD I Am – that goes

One spirit in the dark, like a candle wavers.
Many spirits joined as one, burn with the power of the blazing sun.
There is strength in community, the circle empowers you and me.
The circle binds yet sets us free, as we will, so mote it be.

I listened tonight, as I walked home from my evening reference shift at work (random music shuffle is a form of divination and sometimes consolation) while I was thinking about a recent post on the blog Making Light which essentially asks “What happens when new spiritual experience opens up under our feet, and we’re not sure what to do with it?”

My answer is far too long for a comment there – and I knew this before I even started typing – so I figured it would be a fine post here instead. (Look! This blog still exists! Really!)

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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.)

Playlists:

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.

Jewelry:

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.

Untangling old patterns + energy – prep

Some time ago, a friend online asked me to expand more on how I go about untangling unwanted energy and patterns that I’m now done with. Let me start by saying I do *not* have all the answers for this – in fact, part of my delay in writing this post is that I’ve currently got some patterns I’m poking at, and feel very unsatisfied with the current state of my progress.

(Most to the point, I feel like I’m missing something specific that will let me solve the current stalemate, and that I’m looking right past it. If this sounds annoying, it is.)

On the other hand, a) there’s a bunch of stuff that I think other people might find useful, even though it’s not helping me with the current annoyance and b) it may be that writing about this helps me figure out my own next step. Which seems like a great reason for a blog post.

I begin with some preparation, namely getting down to basics and figuring out what’d be actually most helpful, along with some general good habits (which I’ll cover in this post) before going on to some more specific work designed to figure out the untangling and then untangle it better. (Which’ll be next post, because this one is approaching 2200 words.)

Step one: cleansing back to basics

My first basic step is to do a thorough round of cleansing on every handy level – that means physical body, energetic self, physical space, energy of the space, and emotional self.

Physical body: I am a firm believer in the power of the bath, both for physical and energetic cleansing. There’s a couple of reasons for this: it’s relaxing, but more than that, the skin is the largest organ in the body, and one of the biggest ways to dump waste chemicals from the body. (Don’t worry, I’ll come back to shower adaptations.)

Spending a day or two being really attentive to diet and sleep, some gentle exercise, getting plenty of water to drink, etc. preparatory to more involved work are also not a bad move. (And if you have a sauna handy, that is also a nice thing. I love the one at my local YWCA.)

Energetic body: Given that I’m taking a bath anyway, it’s a good excuse to do some energetic cleansing work. very fond of sea salt in my bathtub on a regular basis: I throw a handful in at least every other day if I’m not doing something else, but when I’m doing the serious cleansing bit, I go a bit further.

I use small-batch soaps from cottage industry folks mostly. (I’m fond of Chagrin Valley, but Etsy also has a bunch of great options.) If you shower, lots of places have sea salt soap bars these days. Or salt scrubs (these, you can make at home, too). Or you can sew up a little bag of appropriate herbs and hang them where the shower water passes through them. (Muslin tea bags work great, but felt can work just fine, too.)

My current cleansing blend is based on oils particularly associated with cleansing and removing toxins from the body. I’m currently favoring a blend of juniper berry, fennel, grapefruit, clary sage and whatever else smells right – just a couple of drops of each. Both lavender and rosemary are fairly cheap for essential oils, and are good all-purpose oils to have on hand (assuming you’re not allergic or sensitive) if you want to start somewhere.

Be aware of essential oil safety (use lightly, dilute extensively, and do your research if you have allergies, are pregnant, might want to be pregnant, or have ongoing medical concerns.)

Another approach is to use various folk traditions for cleansing baths. An easy one for people with access to a liquor store is a can or bottle of beer in the bath, or there are various herb/milk/other methods.

My go-to book for this kind of thing when I’m looking for something outside my normal habits is Spiritual Cleansing by Draja Mickaharic (and you can read the beginning of the Baths chapter via Google Books). He’s writing from a Christian-based Eastern European folk magic tradition, so you may want to adapt in various directions, but he gives lots of very practical advice, with common and widely available tools/ingredients.

Once I’m done with the bath, I may do additional energetic cleansing work through visualisation, aura cleansing exercises, or get someone who’s familiar with them to do them with me. Depends a lot on what’s going on and what’s practical. There’s more on my supplemental website for Seekers on the Cleansing page.

Physical space: What it says. It’s easier to set up new patterns when you aren’t surrounded by clutter and constant visual reminders of things you haven’t been paying attention to. (In my case, I think cleaning out the space under my bed is the next thing I really need to do, beyond some more ordinary cleaning. The amount I’m resisting doing it is particular suggestive, in fact.)

In general, when I do this kind of cleaning, I aim for:

  • Dishes are done, reasonably put away or in the dish rack (I don’t have a dishwasher)
  • Flat and other visible surfaces are free of extraneous books, and any library book/loaned item that can go back where it lives has been taken.
  • Bathtub, sinks have been cleaned (no visible soap ring, etc.)
  • Floors are swept, and where necessary, scrubbed/mopped. (I’m not hugely finicky, but I’m most picky about areas where I either sleep or do ritual: I know that seeing dust, a bit of mud that came in on a shoe, etc. will distract me.)
  • Small floor rugs, sheets, etc. recently washed (since I use a laundromat, this takes a little planning.)
  • Altar tidied and items cleaned as needed – no dust, no tarnish on silver bits, etc.

Since I have dust allergies, I usually plan to do significant cleaning that will kick up dust (like under the bed will) just before going out to do laundry, which both means that my sheets/etc. will not pick up dust in the air and that my air filter will have an hour or two to process through any dust in the air before I come home. (And does take some planning.)

On the personal side, I think my goal is to do a bunch of job-hunting and small tidying stuff tomorrow, so I can attack under-the-bed on Thursday (and go do laundry) so I can do work on the full moon on Friday.

Energy of the space: I find that cleaning the physical space does a lot to help the energy of the space, just like with the body. However, when I’m planning some serious untangling, I usually do some additional space cleansing and banishing – you can find some ideas on Home, Sweet Home on my Seekers site.

In general, I often use something scented (wax tart, spray of appropriate diluted essential oils, rinsing physical cleansing with some water with sea salt + essential oils in it, etc.) or do an energetic banishing of unwanted energy (clapping, sweeping, chimes, etc.)

Emotional self: This is the more complicated one: I usually use a combination of introspection, conversations with trusted friends, a divination method or three, and anything else that springs to mind to see if there’s anything coming up over and over again that I’m not apparently dealing with.

(I also talk to myself while driving the car, and I pay attention to what topics come up – usually I end up doing one-sided versions of conversations I’d like to have/am mentally rehearsing for. Sometimes it’s job-related, sometimes community related in other ways, whatever. Anyway, I pay attention to the patterns and topics I get stuck on.)

I do find that having a regular source of external feedback is very helpful to me. While I was training, this was my teachers (but now I’m a priestess and group leader in my own right, I need a replacement!) Some people have a regular therapy appointment for this and for other reasons, which can be a great option.

I’ve been doing Feldenkrais lessons, which have been partly about getting my physical body and energy levels back in a better balance (and they’re great for that), but I’ve discovered that they’re also great for giving me feedback on how I’m really handling things in my life at a given point. (Since emotional stress, tension, or poor habits show up in my body, and he spots them.)

In the same vein, martial arts training, dancing (in a class or other feedback-including setting), horseback riding (or other balance-requiring sports) and many other things can help in the same way, just because it gives you a different kind of feedback about your body and sense of self in the world (assuming that you don’t always have balance concerns or spatial awareness concerns for some other reason).

One other approach is journalling and/or writing letters that I don’t intend to send (sometimes writing to a theoretical audience who is not me forces me to be clear about things in a more productive way.) I do a fair bit of my journalling on social journal platforms (Dreamwidth.org and Livejournal.com, to be specific)

I often find that writing to a small selection of people who care for me, know a fair bit of background, etc. forces me to be both fierce and gentle with myself in the right ways – fierce in figuring out what’s wrong, but gentle in terms of where, how, and how much I blame myself for the past.

Doing it on a journal site, rather than in email means that people who have time/energy/attention to spare can respond, but the others don’t need to feel particularly guilty about not responding, which is handy. However, it requires building that network of connections first. Other people do conversations over tea or coffee with friends, long phone calls with someone who’s not local, or whatever else gets it out of the depths of their head and into the light.

The whole point of all of these steps is really to make sure that anything that might be clouding the ‘figuring out the problem’ is out of the way, and that I have space and self cleared to do that work without distraction. (They are also not bad things to have done, after all – but more to the point, if I’ve done them, it’s a lot harder to procrastinate on the more challenging bits of the work anymore.)

Step two: And what seems to be the problem?

Next step is to do what I can to figure out at least the general shape of the problem. Obviously, this helps with figuring out which of the tools that might help I should focus on. However, I’m not fixated on a ‘dig into the deep dark history to find the originating point’ approach (if I get that, it’s handy, but I’m a lot more interested in ‘here’s the thing that needs fixing right now’) .

I usually find that there are multiple approaches that offer at least something of a fix, some of which are more practical (or more rapid) than others, and so starting with those at least gets me forward movement while I work on the longer-term bits.

Divination is my first stop here, because, really, it’s useful for that. I generally aim for fairly substantial spreads for this kind of understanding (I’m fond of the Celtic Cross spread for all-purpose general). I may ask a friend to do a reading for me, as well, on essentially the same question, so that I can get a different perspective.

Meditation is also a good option, though a trickier one for me right now. (The health stuff has made a lot of the meditation patterns that worked well for me a little to a lot harder, and I’m still working through figuring out what works better now, and how much is just going to require more regular practice.) I usually use one of two different lightly guided meditations – travel to a specific location of importance in my astral bit of the universe, one of which has more potential interaction with other entities than the other.

And finally, there’s a quirk that works for me, but may not for you.

I pay attention to my reading: sometimes I seek out particular patterns in my reading because my subconscious is trying to work out a particular kind of issue, and the books I read (and particularly *reread*, which I do a lot, because otherwise my book budget and library requests will not keep up with my reading speed and volume).

I suspect that the current work would benefit from a reread through Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books, and through bits of Charles de Lint. (And maybe the yearly re-read of Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin)

In that reading, I often find stuff that will speak to me in a way I hadn’t anticipated, or remember from previous readings. Different things will stand out, based on what my subconscious is worrying over, but hasn’t fully verbalised. Giving my brain books to work with helps get it out, so I can deal with it in the clear light, not the clutter and shadows.

Some people find the same thing with art, or with music, or with some other form of creative expression. Experimenting (or paying attention) can be a lovely thing.

Health and Craft – more general thoughts

(A note here that my experiences and thoughts are focused on initiatory small-group work – in other words, stuff that is deliberately designed to create certain kinds of changes over a relatively short (and often intense) period of time, in service of a specific goal, and done with a quite small number of people. Some of the points here apply to other Pagan settings, but I think it will probably be fairly clear which is which.)

Part 1 has some background about my own experiences and experience working with chronic (and emerging) medical issues in the context of my religious witchcraft work. This part was brought about by someone who wrote a letter of interest to me about group work, and as part of that, wondered about how much detail about health issues was important. This is something I discuss in some detail on the current group information pages, but I felt it deserved to be broken out in a little more detail.

Much more below…

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Health and Craft – the personal bit

Hello, dear fearless readers of this blog. I realise I haven’t updated here since May. It’s been a complicated summer, as I’m job hunting again. (Which thus far has involved two trips out of state for interviews, plus all the ordinary stuff like resumes and cover letters and so on. If you know people hiring librarians passionate about connecting people with information they care about in either the Upper Midwest or New England, feel free to drop me a note. )

The other part is something I talked about back in March, which is health issues. And reminded by a letter of introduction from someone potentially interested in group work with me, I thought I’d take a moment to lay out some of my thoughts about the intersection of health and Craft work. This part deals with the personal bit, and my internal observations, part 2 will deal with how I think this impacts group work more broadly.

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