Something I’ve noticed is that when you start browsing Pagan books, the great majority of them are ‘Pagan 101’ – what is is/means to be Pagan, how Pagans practice their faith, etc. I am a researcher by nature, and tend to be drawn to books on spirituality and on Pagan paths in particular. It’s been disappointing to see the same material rehashed over and over and over again: what Sabbats are, correspondences, dedication rituals and how to ‘be’ pagan – the very basics. Oh sure, it’s a little different; re-branded or spiffed up and published under a new name or path, but so much of it is the same basic, beginner material that you can find all over the place.
I’ve been thinking about why that is; why so many books are ‘beginner’ style books for Pagan spirituality, and have come to several observations. First, I think that a lot of Pagan practice is ‘first generation’. People are dissatisfied with mainstream spirituality and they go exploring. Because there are so many different styles of Paganism, it’s hard to ‘pick one’, and so each style or path has its own interpretation of the Path. Additionally, there are different ‘branches’ of Paganism: Wiccan, Heathen, Asatru, Druidic, Dianic… the list goes on, each with their own specific way of doing things.
Secondly, as information and technology have increased access to information, the sheer volume of beginner Pagans has increased to the point that such a volume of beginner material is necessary. Since there are so many first generation Pagans, there isn’t a large population of people who have practiced long enough to move beyond basics. Although I know many who have been in practice for decades, a great many of those have switched paths or gone eclectic or solitary for lengths of time, and developed their own traditions, rituals and styles of practice and don’t feel the need to publish it publicly. Add to that the general consensus that Pagans don’t like to be told ‘what to do’ or ‘how to worship’, finding an open group to practice with can be extremely challenging, which leaves many/most new Pagans solitary.
Thirdly, of those who have practiced for extensive periods of time, they don’t feel the need to indoctrinate their children into their faith, allowing the children to find their own paths, as it were. Without that indoctrination, children who grow up Pagan may or may not feel the need to pursue their own spiritual path. I know several adults who were raised by Pagan parents and although they may be interested on the fringe, most tend not to practice actively, at least among the people I know in this situation. Obviously, that’s not true across the board, so no slight intended if you’re a third or fourth generation practicing Pagan. These are just my observations, and I’d be interested in hearing yours.
Though I understand these as logical explanations, and accept whatever other possible explanations there may be, they don’t mitigate the fact that the majority of Pagan-centered books available are beginner-level books. For those who have been practicing long enough to have personalized their faith and practice, investing in new books can be disappointing because even seemingly promising books end up containing only a little bit of new information. While I certainly do not claim any authority, I thought I would share some of the ways that I have found helped me to move beyond ‘Pagan 101’ and into a more deeply personal and meaningful practice.
One method I found to circumvent getting trapped in the newbie books has been to move outside of strictly Pagan-themed books and into history, philosophy and world religion books. (Side note: My path isn’t deity-centered, so if yours is, the same types of methods for researching and deepening your knowledge about your pantheon or deities applies.) Beyond a certain point, even the most devout reconstructionist Pagan practitioner is just making stuff up to fill in the gaps in whatever factual/historical recorded information they have managed to piece together. From that viewpoint, their opinion on how you should practice is no more authoritative than yours. Additionally, many strictly Pagan-themed books tend to be European in origin, which means that they may be making recommendations for alignments and correspondences for a different hemisphere, climate or botanical availability than where you;re practicing your path. I am a firm believer is adapting my practice to suit my environment and many nature or earth-based paths focus on that connectivity almost exclusively. It seems silly to try to find herbs or wood to work with that you wouldn’t have any personal connection with because you’ve never seen, touched or smelled it!
If your path is earth-based; hedge-witches, kitchen-witches, and the like, and herb-crafting is a big part of your practice, then you’ll only find a handful of information in your typical Pagan-themed herbal companions. Look into books on gardening – learn native flora and what grows best when. Growing your own herbs, flowers and plants can make them so much more effective when you need them to work and the connection that you have to your garden and materials is a big part of making your path come alive. Continue your education; learn about using plants as medicine, how to distill essential oils, and anything else that strikes your fancy from sources that aren’t strictly Pagan-oriented. If the only information you;re lacking is the magical correspondence, those are easy to find online. If food is your bag, then the same applies; research cooking and recipes; experiment with flavors and use herbs and ingredients that you grow yourself.
I’d also suggest researching folk magic – hoo-doo and root-work, Santeria, Native American religions and other types of old, earthy magic. Many of those types of religions can be hard to find information on, but it’s worth it when you do. If your ancestors come from those religions, then even more so. My personal task over the last year or so is considering how ancient holidays could be modernized. I have posts about Lupercalia and Matronalia, and will be doing similar posts this year. I may not get them ‘right’, but it’s been a fun experiment, and adds value to my practice.
Another way to find more meaning in your practice is just that – practice. If you are a new practitioner, especially if you’re coming out of a religion where Pagan things are taboo, then you may be reluctant to actually do the things that you’re reading about. Even if you’ve ‘been Pagan’ for a long time, but don’t practice, moving beyond the basics means getting your feet wet – sometimes literally (if ritual cleansing is part of your practice). If you haven’t found anything in what you’ve read that appeals to you, make something up! There’s no right or wrong way to do an Esbat or Sabbat Ritual; there’s no right of wrong way to perform a candle spell, or sage your house, or create an altar. Don’t be afraid to try something, whether it’s all written out for you or you make it up yourself. If it has meaning for you, then it works. I view my path as an ever-winding road, with new things to learn and try around every corner, and I’ve been practicing for twenty five years. Some things I’ve tried flopped entirely, some things worked for a time or were interesting to try out, but ultimately didn’t stick, while others have become a regular, essential part of my practice. our spiritual practice should add meaning and value to your life, even if it’s a simple ritual like lighting a candle and incense with your morning coffee.
My final tip for moving into a more mature practice is to connect with the Pagan Community. Not just online, but in person. If your local community hosts Pagan Pride Day, or has a ‘Pagans Night Out’ or other meet-up, make an effort to go. If you have children, look for (or organize!) a Pagan Playdate or Pagan Game Night. There’s a group in the Houston area of TX that hosts an Interfaith Tea & Game Night, and there are organizations like Celebration of Womanhood and Women Of Magic And Nature (WOMAN) that host retreats for Pagan women each year. Meeting the incredibly varied group of women at WOMAN for the last 2 years has been such a great way for me to learn and explore different paths and practice dynamics and has added to deepening the meaning and value in my own practice. Plus, it’s just plain nice to be around other people who have similar (even if very different) beliefs.
How have you moved beyond Pagan 101?
It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but with a new year comes new writing goals and so I am back at it again. Today, I want to write about a very simple tool; one that’s easy to use no matter what your background, training, path or other designation might be. This is magic that you can do anytime, anywhere; whether you’re locked away, comfortable in your broom closet or Pagan and Proud and shouting it from the rooftops. I’m talking about affirmations. Quite simply, they’re magic.
Before we venture into this topic, I want to clarify what affirmations are, and what they’re not. When I was looking for an image to go with this post, and I came across quite a few graphics that were examples of affirmations (or were supposed to be). While many were actual affirmations, many were ‘encouragement’ or ‘praise’ rather than true ‘affirmations’, so I wanted to take a moment to explain the difference. When we talk about affirmations, there’s a difference in the way they’re worded. These are not trite words of praise that can be uttered or offered and discarded. They’re not rote pats on the back, a la Stuart Smalley, wherein you try to make yourself feel better. No; true affirmations are more than just words; they’re statements of intent. They’re the same thing that magic spells and prayers are made of; they’re action phrases.
Some affirmations are a declaration to the world (or to only yourself, as the case may be) of your will made manifest; a statement of WILL come. It’s a promise that you are going to put actions to those words and bring that statement into reality. Other types of affirmations serve a different purpose. They are reminders to your most inner self about who you are in your core; about where you came from, and about what your future holds. Statements like ‘I am Love, personified’; “I am filled with Divine Light and Purpose’; and ‘I am a vessel of The Goddess – See Me Shine’ reconnect the world-weary self with the essence of what we are when the conscious part of our minds forget what the unconscious knows, inherently. These types of affirmations are a powerful tool that can literally re-write your internal monologue, especially if you struggle with negative thoughts, which many people struggle to overcome.
I’ve been using a variety of tools to manage my mental health, and affirmations are part of my routine. I tend to prefer to make my own tools; the act of creation, and the final product invested with my time, energy and intention always seems to work better for me as it’s already attuned to the purpose for which it was created. I spent some time a couple of years ago creating a deck of affirmation cards for myself. I just used index cards, colored, stamped and glittered (because I like shiny things) with the actual statements printed off and glued onto the decorated cards. They’re nothing fancy; I keep them in a plastic box I bought at the dollar store, but they’re uniquely mine and meaningful to me, which is really all that matters.
Affirmations are not just positive thinking. Anyone can think good thoughts. The word ‘affirm’ means ‘to state as a fact; assert strongly and publicly’. It’s not just a sentence that you read from a card; affirmations are things that you feel. They’re statements and truths that you know, to the deepest part of yourself. They’re echoes of past lives and loves and experiences; they’re the things that you forget when you’re running around trying to take care of all of the various responsibilities and obligations in your life. Affirmations can bring you back to center, and keep you grounded and focused on the direction that you want to move forward in.
Affirmations are powerful magic; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. ;)
As a practitioner of a religious path that is both utterly modern, but that has roots in the ages, obviously, I think the answer to this question is ‘yes’. Though I am not sure if ‘reviving’ is exactly the right word, because religion, like all things, must change and adapt with the passage of time if it is to survive.
There is great debate within the Pagan community as to whether or not Pagan practices (if not entire Pagan paths or traditions) are truly continuations of the Old Ways, or if they’re modern revivals and interpretations based on what limited information we can glean through history and archaeology. I tend to think the latter, but I suppose that some Pagan traditions may go back further than others relatively in-tact. Please let me be clear here; I do not mean ‘Wicca’ when I say ‘Pagan’; I think it’s widely accepted that Wicca is a modern religion. When I say Pagan, I include folk religions from the United States stemming from Africa and Haiti, as well as European and Germanic Pagan traditions, indigenous religions from the American continents, and tribal religions from the Americas, Africa and Australia (which may *actually* be continuations of older/ancient practices).
Some practices may have existed and may well have been handed down through the generations from parent to children (behind closed doors when necessary), but I feel like almost all of them, through various forms of persecution combined with the societal Christian indoctrination we tend to have in this country, have been eroded or tainted what would have otherwise been ‘pure’ Pagan traditions and practices. Part of that was systematic; other parts of it was purely due to the passage of time and the necessity of change to preserve the spirit of the tradition if not the path as a whole.
Back to the question at hand … is reviving the religions of the ancients even compatible with modern life?
In a word, yes. I would even go so far as to say that as our society and world becomes increasingly ‘high tech’, the fundamental connection with Nature and the Spirit World that most Pagans enjoy will lure others to seek out a similar connection. As the song says, “The Earth is our Mother“, and without an intimate connection with the ground we walk upon, we lose something of ourselves.
So how, in this high tech age, do we maintain that connection? If you’re Pagan, then you likely have a good handle on that already. In some form or fashion, you’re probably honoring the Turn of the Wheel each year, Observing the Cycle of the Moon each month, and Marking the Change of the Seasons. You may also, depending on your path and preferences, maintain a garden, meditate, work spells (pray), invoke deities and otherwise interact with either/both the physical Earth and the Spirit Realm. But if you’re not, then the answer is simple: go outside. That’s it; that’s the answer. Go outside. Be IN Nature. Look around and marvel at the wonders of the natural world. Look for signs and symbols, instances of hierophany, that move you to appreciate that the Earth is a Living Thing and it is our privilege and responsibility to be here on Her.
If you’re inclined towards a Pagan path, you’ll find the right steps as you go, but the main thing, I think, is the connection to the natural world.
What do you think?
‘Hierophany’ is a word that I’ve heard a few times over the past few years, and every time I hear it, it strikes a chord within. It’s a lovely word, and one that isn’t used very often, so when I do hear it somewhere, it definitely stands out. Hierophany is defined as ‘a manifestation of the sacred’, but this simple definition doesn’t quite measure up. I’ve found that hierophany is something that you experience, not necessarily something you can define, or even point to as ‘other’.
For me, it’s come at different times, but usually when I least expect it – this feeling like I’m not alone; like there’s a thing being shown just to me – a private thing between me and The Divine. It might be a feather floating to the ground, a butterfly (or moth of firefly) appearing out of nowhere, or a beam of sunlight that crosses my path just so. Oh sure; it’s as likely as not that these things are coincidence, or happenstance, and that I was just in the right place at the right time to see such a thing, and I’d probably agree with you most of the time that it was just a cool little thing that happened. But sometimes, there’s a definite feeling of Other to the Thing That Happens that just feels like more than that, and I think that’s really cool.
Recently, I came across some notes I took from a conference I went to a few years ago. I saw the word again, and it made me determined to look for those moments to see if I could find them just through the course of a normal day. The day turned into the week, turned into the month, and surprise, surprise – I can’t. Something about the act of looking makes them impossible to find, apparently. I mean, yes – I’ve seen butterflies, and sunbeams and rainbows and other things that ‘could’ be heirophany but clearly aren’t – because the feeling isn’t there. So now I’ve decided to top looking so hard and wait and see. I’ll report back when I have one of those moments of hierophany again!
What about you – do you know what I’m talking about? Have you experienced it?
Litha, or Midsummer, is the mid-point of the year – the Summer Solstice – a time of balance and transition from the light half of the year to the dark. One of my favorite myths is that of the Oak King and the Holly King, and Midsummer is the counterpart to Yule (or Midwinter). At Litha, the Oak King is slain and the Holly King rises up to lay claim to the latter half of the year. That’s not really relevant to this post, because although I love the retelling of that story at the vital points during the year, this Litha is all about housekeeping.
I have been remiss in my home-blessing duties; however much I try to re-frame ‘chores’ into ‘home blessings’ or ‘creating sacred space’, the fact is that I am just not a great housekeeper. There are always more interesting things to do than scrub the cabinet fronts or clean the ceiling fans… and so every once in a while it gets so bad that to not take the time to do some deep cleaning is just… well it’s just time to clean. And so this is where I have found myself now,coming up on Litha.
I really felt the need to ‘brighten’ things up – it felt dark and gloomy, and I know it’s my lack of attention to the space that’s allowing those energies to pile up, so I started in our living room. I went through an intense decluttering phase a few months ago, and though I did very well with cleaning the stuff out of the places it was cluttering up, I never got so far as to actually take the things out of my house. So they’ve been sitting in a corner, sucking up space and energy. Much of that’s actually, truly gone now, either out into the proper closet/storage spaces or tossed out into the rubbish bins. A few things made their way into the car to be taken to new homes, but the end result is amazing – so much brighter and cleaner and ‘light’ feeling! Sadly, even knowing how amazing ‘clean’ feels doesn’t help motivate me to be a better housekeeper much of the time… but I digress.
I also spent some time in the kitchen, enlisting the kids’ help in deep cleaning everything from the ceiling (and fan) down; cabinets, appliances, counters, organizing drawers, floors… all of it. Our table sits in a corner, and the actual corner tends to be a catch-all spot (for my things, especially) but even that’s now clean and tidy. There’s a little left to do; we’re supposed to clear out the living room and get a new sofa and coffee table soon, and I have a feeling paint will soon follow, depending on the colors of the new furniture, but even just those few changes have really shifted the feel of the space.
Litha and the Full Strawberry Moon both fell on Monday, so I did a simple ritual with the kids. I bought new Goddess and God candles and a new working candle for my altar, and changed the decor to reflect the warmer colors of summer. We also did something new; we set up a family altar in the living room. We have had a shelf with a smaller, less conspicuous altar space in there, and directional candles have always been at the cardinal points of the room, but now there’s an actual, dedicated altar there too, and set for Litha with deity candles and a family offering bowl. After our morning routine, we tidied things up, then smudged the house inside and out and laid new salt barriers on the windows and doors, walked the boundaries and left offerings for the border spirits. Afterwards, we spent a little time on Intentions and spellwork for the waning half of the year, celebrated the Moon, and had strawberry shortcake with sweet red wine.
How are you celebrating Midsummer this year?
When I think of nurturing myself, both within and outside of my spiritual practice and path, I tend to think of three areas that need attention: mind, body and spirit. For me, this is a very clear, easy to understand and relate to concept, but I recently had a conversation with a friend that helped me understand that it’s not for some people. In her situation, coming from a charismatic Christian faith as a child and moving into a less-defined, secular world-view as an adult, the term ‘spirit’ was a loaded term, and brought up associations with the supernatural that don’t work for her. I thought that was an interesting take on it, and wanted to explore that some in this post.
The idea of nurturing my mind is both simple and complex. At its most basic, nurturing my mind can be as easy as reading an article about something I am interested in, or watching an educational show or video with my kids, or even just having adult conversations with my husband or friends. It could also mean meeting someone new, or learning something new, or something new about an old friend; trying a new game or practicing music or planning something. Anything that engages my brain in learning or organizing or thinking works for me in this area.
Nurturing my mind can also mean quieting it. I try to make time to look inward, examining my thoughts or motivations and contemplating where I have made progress and where I still need to make changes. My meditative practice is an important part of both my personal Pagan practice and just general self-care; the mind directs the rest, so keeping my mind healthy and active is important to me.
The concept of nurturing my body is similarly multi-faceted. Movement is a big part of nurturing my body. Taking a walk or going on a hike is a great way to ‘move’. Dancing, whether it’s silly dances with the kids, ‘exercise’ dancing like Zumba or belly dancing, or more meditative ‘dancing’ like Mandala or Shiva Dance all have value in different ways. Anything that makes me sweat counts, from hula hooping to martial arts or other sports, swimming, biking or skating… it all works for me.
Tending to the basic needs of my body also factor in, from getting enough rest to eating healthy foods, or even indulging in a nap or slice of chocolate-chocolate chip cake. Taking/Making the time to shower and moisturize, and indulge in skin care and makeup or hair styling rituals can also satisfy the ‘body’ aspect of this triad, as can basic interaction and touch, from therapeutic touch like massage to cuddles on the couch with my kids. What I look for is often a release of endorphins, adrenaline, oxytocin or dopamine – those things that are released with exercise, contact or feeling good!
Somewhat less hard to define is the concept of nurturing my spirit. Even defining what one means when they say ‘spirit’, as I learned in conversation with my friend, can mean different things to different people. For me, the concept of ‘my spirit’ has to do with the inner-most part of me; the core ‘me-ness’ that makes me, me. It is the sum of all the things I am and do and feel and believe and that which animates me. It is the unspoken thing in me that makes me whole and unique. In that context, the idea of ‘nurturing my spirit’ means doing that which sparks joy in my heart, gives me energy and satisfaction, and fans the vital flame of my existence… and there are a great many ways that I can go about doing that. My ‘spirit’ things change daily – one day, I might feel the need to read purely for pleasure. Another day might see me creating art. A different day, I might need some romance or date night with my husband. Still another day might mean connecting with friends or spending time with my family. Sometimes, it’s sitting on the beach, or under the Full Moon, or smudging my house. They also change and have changed according to both the physical, earthly season (decorating for Samhain or Yule), and the season in my life I am in. Before I had kids, I had spirit things that I loved doing that were impractical with small children, so I tucked them away until they were more feasible as my kids got older. Some things I never picked back up again, and others, I’ve relished being able to add back into my routines.
Another aspect of ‘spirit’ for me does relate to my path and practice. My connection to deity, the sacred spaces I create within my home, and the practice part of my spirituality feeds my inner flame. Sometimes, my ‘spirit’ overlaps with a ‘body’ or ‘mind’ thing, especially in Ritual observances or meditative practice. Celebrations usually include all three of these areas!
In curious how you define ‘mind, body & spirit’, and what nurturing them mean to you. If you have time, post a comment and tell me how you nurture yourself!
Houston’s Pagan Pride day is coming up soon, and my Circle-mates and I are planning on having a vendor’s booth set up, which means that I am going into arts-and-crafty-mode very soon to prepare. I’ve been thinking about what kinds of things I have typically seen for sale at events like this and considering what I might want to make. As a consumer/practitioner, I don’t typically buy tools for my personal practice because I prefer to make them myself (for various reasons), but there are some things I can’t make, and some things I want to purchase because they have a level of craftsmanship that I lack. So in that vein, I’ve been considering what kinds might be attractive as a customer, what skills I have as a craftsman, and how the two might merge.
I have an Etsy store, but if you’ve ever clicked on the link, it’s usually closed; I don’t craft with sales in mind, so this is kind of a new thing for me. The only reason I started the store was because I went through a period of sculpture and thought the little figurines I made were cute, but I didn’t need quite so many of them! I ended up giving them away, and then lost the inspiration for sculpture, so my store has been closed for a long time. My next crafty endeavor was wood burning. Turns out I love doing that, so I started making spirit boards and boxes and other burned art projects. I kinda ran out of things I need personally, so that may be a great way to blend my talent with what someone else may be seeking.
But I am getting off-topic of what I really wanted to talk about, which is art. Yes, crafting is art, but I mean meaningful art. The argument could be made that all art is meaningful, but I am specifically talking about art with a purpose. In this case, Shadow Books (or Books of Shadows/Light/Mirrors or Grimoires – whatever you choose to call them individually or collectively – I call them all Shadow Books because it’s easier and I’m too lazy/busy to make the distinction). I love art journaling; I’ve been an avid fan for several years now. When I first started, it was just art for arts’ sake – nothing particularly meaningful behind it. But as I progressed, it took on new forms; I found myself working through personal issues through my art journals, and eventually that spread to my practice.
I was looking back through a few of my old journals, and came across these – a couple of Shadow Books in art journal format. They’re both fairly old, from around 2012. The one on the left is a more personal reflections journal (Book of Mirrors) and the one on the right is more path-based (Book of Shadows). It was interesting to go back through and read what I had written. Some of the things in the Mirror Book were dream logs, which was fun to go through. I don’t write my dreams down as often anymore and it’s actually something I miss doing now that I have had the opportunity to read back over how detailed my log was – I don’t remember that much anymore!
There is a lot of drawing in both of these books – something else I don’t do nearly as much anymore. I just don’t have the time – more to the point, I am not making the time to work on these kinds of reflections that I used to.
Over the next few weeks, I will be working on creating arts and crafts to offer to my local Pagan community. I do take pride in my work, and I put a lot of time and effort into making sure that anything I make that is to be used in practice is mindfully and intentionally made. I am grateful for both the skill and the opportunity to create beautiful things hat will serve its bearer well, and I love the thought that something I make might be passed down to a future witchling. I think this stroll back through my older books is also a wake-up call that I needed as a reminder of what I loved and to make time for that style of reflection and note-booking. As a Pagan, I like having the progression of my practice – how it’s changed and evolved over the years, and I think it will be an interesting keepsake to pass down to my children one day.
For now, I encourage you to try art journaling as a way to take notes and record how your practice looks and feels. Even if you’re not particularly ‘artsy’, it’s still a really great way to convey more than just words. If you’re raising witchlings, art journaling is a great thing to introduce to them – something you can do together!