Friday, March 30, 2012

G Is For Green and Growing Things

Okay, so I'm a bit late, again; I was having a block on the letter G. Alphabetical groupings don't necessarily make real sense; they aren't after all proper categories, just grouped together by more or less luck. So I've been finding I want to write about lots of things, but was having a hard time fitting it into the rules of the Pagan Blog Project.

Not that I'm giving up on it; I like that it is getting me to write here on this blog in a more consistent fashion. So I'm keeping it for now.

I've been working my way through Christopher Penczak's The Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft: Shadows, Spirits, and the Healing Journey. And though it's not one of the 'official' assignments in it, I'm finding I really want to learn more about herbs and plants. This is a big gap in my knowledge, one that really ought to be remedied if I am to call myself a Witch.

Now I've done plenty of gardening, and so I do know a few things about plants here and there; but this is a little different. This is about the history, the symbolism, the old connections and correspondences, not just the planting zone and does it want sun or shade. This is a more Witchy approach.

But it's a huge subject. And so I haven't known where to start.

But then it came to me: start where I am. I mean, that's where any of us have to start, anyway. And where I am is living on this little patch of land in New England, this yard. So I'll start there, with the plants that I've been looking at all my life, and then, maybe, branch out to the exotic stuff like mandrake (which I think is a couple planting zones out of my range, as I'm pretty sure it's native to the Mediterranean). So I'll start here, with my own yard.

To that end, then, this G is for Green and Growing Things is not going to be one article, but a series, as I find writing proper articles, for an audience, to be a very good way for me to make sense of information; in presenting it to others I have to make it make sense to myself, first. I'll give them all their own tag, too ("Herb Series"); I may even give them a listing of their own on the sidebar, just to make it easier for folks to find.

So I'm going to start with one of the most familiar plants in my yard, a plant that's always been there yet whose name I only figured out recently: greater celandine. Off to write!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

F Is For Feline Meditation

Funny, I had originally started posting this just as a bit of fun while I tried to think of the second F post for the Pagan Blog Project, as I had a bit of a block on it. But when I finished it I realized it was, after all, an entry for F. Well okay then.

This meditation requires a couple of willing participants. It will very much depend on the second of the two. The first being you, and the second being a happy cat who purrs loudly. You can see that this will depend on the cat. As it should.

But the next time you find yourself in close proximity to a happy cat give this a try. It works best if said happy cat is on your lap, but next to you within range of being touched is really all you need.

First, get that cat good and revved up and purring loud as a lawnmower. Then put your hand on the cat so that you can both feel and hear the purring. (You may need to keep patting the cat so it keeps up the loud purr).

Next, close your eyes and listen to that purr. Listen, really listen, to it. At the same time feel that purr. Feel it through your hand or wherever the cat is touching you, probably your lap.

Then, open yourself up and accept that purr into yourself. Let it fill your brain and your heart with joy.

Mind you, this is simply passively receiving what is freely offered to the air. You are most emphatically NOT pulling anything out of or from the cat; for one thing that would be rude, and for another this is a cat; seriously, don't be stupid: they will always out-witch you.

It works wonders as a mood lifter (well obviously) both in the moment and I think with more lasting effects, but it also works as practice in being in the here and now, in your body and grounded.

Give it a try!

Friday, March 16, 2012

F Is For Faery

I've been working my way through Christopher Penczak's book The Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft; this month, the third month of lessons since I started the book with the new year, is focused on the Lower World. Among other exercises such as finding your 'power animal,' (which I find I have to put in quotes because it doesn't seem like quite the right term to me), he also talks about beginning a relationship with the local fairies.

The thing about fairies, or faeries, or the Fay*, or the Good Folk, or whatever you call them in your neck of the woods, is that everyone knows, more or less, what they are, but no one can quite define them. I suppose that's appropriate, given their in-between nature. They might be nature spirits, the dwindled remains of former Gods, the Dead, all of the above, or something else entirely.

One thing that does seem to be agreed-upon, however, is that they have an aversion to iron. I have always taken this to mean that iron is a symbol of civilization and of mankind's determination to control and subjugate nature; and so as the voice of the wild, the fairies are naturally not too keen on the stuff.

Now that leaves me with a bit of a dilemma. You may have heard (or you may not have, since I imagine a few readers will have popped over from the Pagan Blog Project page), that my father was a hoarder. A hoarder who was also a mechanic, which influenced what he hoarded. Oh sure, he hoarded the usual things, newspapers, books, and used paper coffee cups, but his especial speciality was junk cars and, guess what, iron.

My sister and I have been cleaning up this yard for the last couple of years; that's a whole other blog. Hie thee over there for the gruesome details, including a video of the yard at its worst. Oh, it was bad. Trust me.

There were piles and piles of iron here, saved against Godsknow what dark future my father feared, though, honestly, my latest theory is that hoarders believe that if they save enough stuff for 'what-if' or 'someday' then they will be prepared. And by prepared I mean they think they will be able to avoid the bad stuff, because they have something saved just for that. And by bad stuff, I mean death. I really think that hoarders, or at least my father, think that if they save enough stuff they won't die.

Anyway. We've taken lots and lots of iron out of here in the last few years. By last count, and this is a real number because I have the receipts, we've brought more than seventeen tons of iron to the scrapyard. Yeah, seventeen tons. And it's not anywhere nearly cleaned yet. There's still plenty more where that came from.

The thing about iron is that is decomposes; it rusts. So even if we were at the point where we'd taken all the surface stuff away, there would still be bits and pieces of rust in the dirt. When we rake up the debris, the more we rake, the more iron and rust we find. My father hoarded this property for something like forty years; that's layer upon layer of rust, and leaves, and dirt, and I have no idea how far down it goes.

And there's plenty of iron in the soil around here anyway, just naturally. The local mill-stream runs red, and the rocks within are coated with it. We used to have well-water. I could never understand what people meant when they claimed water had no taste; to me it was this horrible metallic stuff. Once, my father put the faucet on a slow but steady dribble, then held a magnet to the side. The water bent.

And so where does that leave the local fairies? I can't imagine that any of them are going to want to come anywhere near my yard, not for a very very long time, like decades, maybe. Or if they do, or are here already, won't they be angry, really, really angry? Not that it is my fault, and yes, I am cleaning it up as best I can, but still. That much iron is not going to agree with them; it just can't.

And so I can't imagine inviting them in; it sounds, well, mean of me. Come hang out in a place that will hurt you. That's like asking your friends over when your smoke detector is stuck on alarm mode. Ouch. Penczak does say that it's optional, and something you should only do if you feel called to it; and so I think I will hold off on it for now.

I do think the fairies would approve of the clean-up job I'm doing; but I just don't think the place is anywhere near ready yet.

*Pet peeve from a Tolkienist: fey with an E describes a certain kind of who-cares-any-more clear-sighted despair due to being near to death and knowing it, for example in the late mental state of the guy of whom was said A Túrin Turambar turun ambar-tanen; it is not the same word as fay, which is another word for fairy. Maybe, maybe, under the definition of 'displaying unearthly qualities' it could be applied to fairy sorts, but, sorry, no, it's not just another way to spell 'fay.' SO STOP IT PEOPLE.

Friday, March 2, 2012

E Is For The Elements

Once upon a time I was in a coven. It was a while ago now; we split up when some of us moved north and others of us moved south and it just wasn't working, geographically, anyway.

In this coven, like a lot of others, when we cast circles we used the correspondences of east as air, south as fire, west as water, and north as earth.

I went along with it; it was what we did, and I guess I didn't think about it too much. But one thing always bothered me and never made any sense to me at all, and that was putting earth in the north.

North is winter. Winter is cold, dead, sleeping, comatose; none of this makes sense to me as earth. Oh I get that earth represents the Void in some ways, the black primal matter from which all else arises; but in my experience with the Void, or the wings of my daimon, shall we say, that black is not dead, but vibrantly alive, teeming with potential: radiant, even. And north and winter just don't fit that, for me.

If something is going to function as the I guess archetype of the element, then I'd expect that element to be awake, at least, and for earth, that means growth, luxurious unbridled inexhaustible life, zoë, as Kerényi would say. In other words, not winter.

But then in my wanderings about the internet I found this article: Re-Thinking the Watchtowers, by Mike Nichols. If you've never read it, go do that now, and then come back. I'll wait.

He makes a fairly compelling argument for doing it this way: east as earth, south as fire, west as water, and north as air.

So I tried it, since north as air fit with what I'd always seen, here in New England, which is so much like Old England, in both the lay of the land (once in fact the very same land, which split off with continental drift) and, more or less, in climate. North as the place from where the cold winds blow? Yes, that makes sense to me.

And it worked. Holy moly it worked. Everything got upped, got more powerful. I could feel it. Mostly, I think, because, like Nichols says in his article, you get a sort of 'generator' effect, of alternating 'feminine' and 'masculine' energies, of the obviously horizontal (earth and water, that which literally is the horizon and that which seeks the level, east and west) and the vertical (fire and air, both of which can flow upward, heat rising through the air, south and north); and it really does feel (to me, anyway) like an radial engine firing, round and round and round, building up power.

Now. One of Nichols's arguments for putting air in the north, is that it corresponds to the layout of the land, specifically the British Isles. When you look on the map, to the west is the Atlantic Ocean, to the south, the warmer lands (and eventually the equator), to the east, the great land mass of all of Asia, and to the north, the cold blustery Arctic, which, incidentally, is not land anyway, being a frozen ocean.

But then the other night I was again wandering about the internet and came across another web site talking about the elements and the directions; alas, I don't remember what the site was, so I can't link now, but the author recommended trying all kinds of different correspondences, to see what fit best for you. Everyone, after all, has different associations with things depending on circumstance and experience, or on how one's individual brain works.

So then I thought: well, much as I like England and wish I were there (I've been and it felt like home, oh my god it felt like home), I am not. I'm in New England. And when I look at the map of where I actually am, the land I am supposed to be grounded to, my landbase, as Hecate would say, what do I see? I see water, that same Atlantic Ocean, to my east, and the great mass of the rest of the country to my west. Now I know, west as the Sea over which the Dead pass, sure, that's very ingrained in folklore. Folklore that I've certainly read, and which resonates, because my family does ultimately come from those lands, but folklore which is still specific to a place that is not where I am now.

So I switched it again, putting water in the east, and earth in the west. It still has the same horizontal/vertical, feminine/masculine tension to it.

Now I've only just come up with this, and so I've only had one chance to try it, and that wasn't in a full circle, just as part of cleansing a space. But as I faced east, I could picture the ocean before me, the ocean I know and am familiar with; and facing west I saw the rest of the land, all the way across the Mississippi, over the plains, over the mountains, all the way, all this land, and I knew where I was. I could feel my feet firmly planted in the reality of this land, this specific place.

So I'd say, if you live on the eastern seaboard of the US (Hecate, yeah, I'm totally looking at you), give it a try. It grounded me instantly, profoundly, unthinkingly, just as a matter of course, because it represents where I am.