“Helping”

“Little Help?” by daviana-virginia on DeviantArt

The Pagan Blog Project: H is for “Helping”

Let’s talk about helping.  Most new people around the pagan community ask for a lot of help.  This is of course a great way to get to know people while starting to find your way.  Better yet, there is a seemingly endless number of people who are always willing to help by either giving you advice, imparting their own knowledge and opinions, or doing some kind of reading or spell for you.  Some will even talk to the gods for you to help you out.

It’s all great, right?

Well……..

There are a few ways I would like to approach this subject.  First, let’s talk about that new person.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed when you start to get into paganism and witchcraft, whether you are approaching it in a real group setting or an online one.  There is so much to learn, after all, and it’s all very interesting.  Therefore, it’s completely natural to look for mentors or at least experts on the subjects that most interest you in hopes of gaining some of that wisdom.

But how do you know who to trust?  How do you know that the other person isn’t purposefully or unintentionally feeding you misinformation?  At what point do you take what they are telling you and apply it to your own practices?

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you start your journey and begin to find people to look up to:

  1. Use your brain.  I would like to make this numbers 1-7 of this list, but we’ll just start with it so you can keep it in mind as you read.  Seriously though, if you use your brain at all times, you will avoid a large portion of the pitfalls newbies often fall into.  Question everything, and take nothing at face value.  Don’t assume everything you hear or read is correct.
  2. Consider why someone deserves your trust.  Not everyone is trustworthy, and even people who are genuinely trying to be helpful can mislead you.  Three and four below expand on this, but it’s also necessary to say that popularity does not equal trustworthiness.  Just because someone has fifty kabillion followers does not make them the Witch Queen.
  3. Look for credentials.  Or if not credentials, at least signs of real knowledge and research.  If you’re interested in a reconstructionist/revivalist path, find people who actively show their knowledge and cite their sources.  If you’re more into magic, the lines get a little blurrier depending on your personal views, but (going back to number 1) use your brain.  If something in a spell sounds dangerous, please don’t do it just because so-and-so said you should.
  4. Understand their motivation.  Are they working towards their own goals and enjoy helping others along the way?  Are they more in it for the attention, or even power?  Are they aware that they are also learners and are just looking for other people around their same level to work with?  These questions are usually not easy to answer right away, so be mindful the more you associate with someone.
  5. Students playing Teacher can often do the worst harm.  GLE on Tumblr wrote up a piece called “On Teaching” last year.  It is definitely worth a read, especially if you think you are getting to the point where you really do know your stuff and you feel advanced enough to start helping others.  Even if you are very knowledgeable, consider whether or not you are ready to deal with the consequences of being a teacher/leader/mentor.  Are you prepared to be responsible for someone else’s actions?  That’s a large part of teaching.
  6. Don’t be afraid to disagree or back out if you feel uncomfortable.  This goes right back to number 1 again.  USE YOUR BRAIN.  If you’ve gotten to a point where you respect someone and then suddenly start learning more about them or seeing their work and finding it against your personal beliefs, it’s okay to drop the whole thing.  I’ve learned this a lot in heathen circles when dealing with the unfortunately prominent racism issues.
  7. Don’t compare yourself to your mentor.  They (theoretically) have much more experience than you do.  Take your time, and don’t feel inferior because you aren’t as experienced or well-read as they are.  These kinds of feelings tend to just get in the way of actual growth, sparking superficial growth instead that could get you into trouble.

So what happens when you start to feel like you are no longer a new person?  After all, you’ve heard the answers so many times that you can rattle them off just as well as someone with ten more years of experience.  Why not do so?

First off, if you haven’t already read the link in number 5, do so now.

It may be tempting to try to glide from newbie to master in a matter of months.  Unfortunately, that just doesn’t happen (at least it shouldn’t).  Does that mean you have nothing to offer the greater community?  Absolutely not!  Likely after a few months you will have gleaned quite a bit of good information about your main interests.  Given another year you may be a bit of an expert and able to answer simple questions about them.  As you learn and grow, participate in discussions.  Ask questions.  Give your opinions.  Just don’t be quick to get your feelings hurt when someone who has been at this a lot longer has something to say and may disagree with you.  Take every occasion as an opportunity to learn.

This topic is important to me because I am definitely one of those people who wants to help even though I am not qualified.  I’m sure I said some silly things starting out, thinking I knew exactly what I was talking about.  Being around thirty years old and entering this sphere for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was severely lacking because most of the others around my age range were much further along their path.  It took me a very long time to stop comparing myself to their work and to stop trying to compensate for my perceived deficiencies by acting like I knew more than I did.

As a pagan blogger, it’s even more tempting to throw information around because you feel like that’s the only way anyone will take you seriously.  But, again, that usually just results in making a fool of yourself or, at worse, hurting someone.  I’ve found that treating blog posts like homework assignments helps me a lot.  It gives me a place to compile information I’ve found and toss ideas around with others closer to my experience range as well as with some more experienced than I am.  That’s a large part of what my rune study was, and even still I would find myself thinking I knew more than I did.

All in all, there’s nothing wrong with the desire to help and teach.  That just shows that you are serious and enthusiastic about your studies.  The trick is knowing how far to go and keeping a level head as you make decisions.

 

Storm Altar

April and May are probably the most dangerous months where I live in Tornado Alley.  Between damaging winds and hail and a near constant threat of tornadoes, Spring is the season I dread the most, despite how much we need the rain from these storms to break the drought we’ve been in for a very long time.

Last year I had a Storm Candle that I would light whenever a storm was heading our way.  We suffered minimal property damage last year, so I thought this year I would expand that idea to a full Storm Altar.

The various things pictured above are to encourage rainfall while maintaining protection from wind and hail.

From left to right:

  1. The Lantern – To me a lantern has always symbolized vigilance.  It represents Heimdall on my altars and shrines.
  2. The White Candle – This is my Storm Candle from last year.  The rune on it is the protective version of Hagalaz.
  3. The Rain Bottle – Filled with the rain from the first spring rainfall from last year, this bottle is here to encourage helpful rainfall and rejuvenation of the land.  The rune Laguz is written on the front.  However, on the back is the rune Algiz.  When we are at high threat of a tornado, I use this bottle to try to encourage the storm to unwind.
  4. The Sun – Hidden almost as often as it is shining during Spring, I keep this here as a reminder to myself that the storm and stress is necessary.  Summer will come eventually.
  5. Thor – Pretty sure he’s self-explanatory.  The candle and stone next to him are there for more storm imagery.
  6. The Green Candles – There is a line of four of these against the west side of the altar.  Most of our storms approach from the west.  The idea here is to break up wind in such a way that it can’t organize into a tornado.  The rune Eihwaz is written on each of these.
  7. The Two Feathers & Black Stone – The feathers are blue to emphasize the wind element.  The black stone has Algiz written on it.  When the wind picks up to where I don’t feel comfortable, the black stone goes on the feathers.
  8. The Nine Tealights – I use these any time I am asking for the assistance of Northern European deities because nine is a sacred number.  Burning nine candles down is also how I activate the altar.
  9. What’s with the bull in the background? – Well aside from the bull often being tied to fertility as is rain, it also is there because of personal associations I have with the rune Uruz and Thor.

No, I don’t have any illusion that I am capable of controlling the weather.  But if I can have any influence on keeping my family and house safe aside from the mundane things we do anyway, I’m going to do what I can.

I hope all of you who are in a similar situation get through Spring in one piece.

Hair

The Pagan Blog Project: H is for Hair

The past few weeks I’ve had a difficult time coming up with subjects for this blogging project.  This week I had a few too many ideas, but the subject of hair won out because it was extremely relevant today.

Like many people, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my hair.  Mine is a very textured dark brown, and it’s incredibly thick.  Because I was obsessed with pictures of beautiful Medieval and Renaissance women when I was younger, I grew it long to mimic those styles.

As I grew older, I kept it long for a few reasons.  For one, I am generally terrified of change.  For another, my hair provided something to hide behind.  I’m an incredibly shy person, so this actually mattered quite a bit.  Along with that, going to get my haircut meant having to talk to someone for at least half an hour with no escape.  And lastly, I had this weird attachment to my hair as some kind of historical documentation entity.  Like, I would play with the ends of my hair and think, “This was on my head when (such and such life event) happened to me.”  Cutting my hair was pretty much like cutting away pieces of my past.

I think these superstitions are what led to me to associate hair so heavily with power.  Hair appears in so many folktales and mythologies, especially in regards to women.  The brushing of Sedna’s hair, the cutting of Sif’s, the length of Rapunzel’s…  There are dozens.  For years this association was very important to me, but in the past 5-7 years or so it ceased to be.  I’ve had my hair cut every few years, meaning it would still get pretty long, but it wasn’t a big source of drama for me to chop it off to about my shoulders.

Today I had my first haircut in about two to three years, mainly because I had started to get tension headaches from the weight of my hair.  It’s shorter than I’ve ever had it, cut to about my ears rather than my shoulders.  It’s completely off my neck.  And it felt amazing to get rid of all that heaviness.

That thought made me think about my old ideas about the significance of hair.  I realized that in some ways my views haven’t changed, but what I do with them has.  The past can be very heavy, and the more of it you carry around with you, you inevitably start to feel the weight of it.  But it can also be very hard to let go.  In the past 5-7 years, I have learned how to let go of things.  I have learned that change is necessary to growth, even if it seems counter-intuitive to cut things away as a part of those changes.  In the case of plants, and hair too for that matter, cutting some back often means the rest is much healthier.  It’s a matter of examining and finding what is necessary to get rid of.

I also realized that my hair was something I used to hold on to this weird identity of myself.  While physically female, I identify as gender-neutral.  But growing up, I didn’t understand that, and would often be upset when teachers or others would refer to me as male (I have a gender-neutral name, too, a pretty neutral face, and a broader build, so this misidentification happened rather often).  I wouldn’t be upset at them for not seeing me as female, but at myself for not being female enough.  When I realized that growing my hair out made these issues stop, I held on to my hair as some kind of lifeline to normalcy.

Today, with my hair looking pretty much as gender-neutral as I am, I feel like I’ve overcome something.  I’ve both let go of my past and embraced the person I’ve become.  Maybe there really is power in hair, but I don’t think it’s all stored in the length of it.

 

Gnashing of Teeth

The Pagan Blog Project: G is for Gnashing of Teeth

“And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” - Matthew 13:42

My earliest memories of equating fear and religion came from the Christian church.  Like many children who are only really exposed to one religion growing up, I believed Christianity was the one true religion.  So I didn’t understand why a place of suffering needed to exist.

As I grew up and made friends who followed other faiths, the reality built around Christianity trembled in my mind.  For years I stayed in it completely out of fear.  After all, if I looked anywhere else, I would go to hell, right?  And there can’t be anything good about hell.

Thus the entire reason Christianity ultimately turned me away.  As it was taught to me, the message of love became warped into that of fear.  You must be Christian or else.  It was even worse that the stories I related most to in the Bible were the Fall and anything involving Satan or Lucifer.  Along with that, I saw church politics literally almost kill my father who was a pastor in my childhood.

After years of straying, I have come to some kind of peace with Christianity.  Parts of it even still speak to my spirit, but it took a very long break from it to shed that fear that had coiled itself around me.  I could not have faith in fear alone, and that’s all there was for so much time.

While I do not consider myself Christian anymore and doubt I will again, I am at least able to acknowledge it again as the religion which formed me and not count that as a negative.  I’ve found things to love about it again, and to respect in those that do follow it.  I also understand that what happened to me was a result of the religion in human hands, a danger no matter what path you walk.  There is still so much more that I know I can learn from Christianity, too.

I don’t pretend to know what happens beyond this life.  Maybe it will be a gnashing of teeth after all.  But if that’s the price of curiosity and knowledge, I’d still make the trade.

 

Gnoses and -isms

The Pagan Blog Project: G is for Gnoses and -isms

One thing I really like about the pagan community is that (in general) people are very accepting of others’ experiences in beliefs, even if they don’t agree with their own.  Of course, that’s also one of the main sources of contention in certain circles, especially groups that are much more lore-based rather than experience.  Usually, though, people seem to get along in a happy middle ground.

It’s really helpful to have a working knowledge of some terms, though, because otherwise you’re watching people throw these terms around without knowing what they’re talking about.  It can also be helpful as you go farther in your own path to consider the terms and find which seem to work for you.

I was going to actually write definitions out, but there was a lot of bread-baking today instead, so, yeah.  Instead I’m going to list some terms and you can do your own homework.  A lot of definitions can be found at this link, though.

  • Gnosis
  • Gnostic
  • Agnostic
  • UPG/Unverified Personal Gnosis
  • Praxis
  • Doxa
  • Theism
  • Atheism
  • Monotheism
  • Polytheism
  • Animism
  • Deism
  • Henotheism
  • Pantheism
  • Panentheism
  • Monism

Who knows, maybe in a couple of days I’ll fill them in myself. Right now it’s bedtime.

In which Cicadinae finally finds a use for Tarot.

2014-03-26 16.17.10

If you’ve followed me for awhile, at some point you’ve probably seen me bitch about my ineptitude with Tarot.  I’ve tried various decks, various means of interpretation, various ways of asking questions, of shuffling, of doing all that stuff.  In the end it’s pretty much the same thing: my mind is like, “Wow those pictures are pretty but I have no idea what you’re trying to tell me.”

People of course say keep practicing, but truth is for divination purposes I’ve found runes to work much better for me.  I think pictures, as beautiful and as meaningful as they are in Tarot, are actually causing part of the problem.  It’s just how I’m wired.  When it comes to real life matters or trying to communicate with that great beyond or whatever, runes are it for me.  They are simple (here meaning that they are free of distraction, not that they are easy to understand) and ignite my intuition much more effectively.  I also use them in magic often with a good amount of success.

So here I am with a dozen or so pretty Tarot decks now.  I flip through them every so often and sigh longingly, wishing I could do something with them beyond just admire them.  The Major Arcana especially holds keys to this itchy little part of my brain I haven’t been able to unlock…

Until today, when I suddenly figured out what the hell I need all these Tarot decks around for.

I’m a writer.  I also suffer from depression.  This means that when writer’s block hits, it turns into a THING very quickly.  The weird thing about writing and depression for me is that writing can be a ladder out of it just as easily as it can be the thing that pushes me into the pit.  When writer’s block joins in, you might as well just cover that pit with a boulder, me inside.

Last night I was on the verge of going over the side again after a pretty decent stretch of staying up top.  I’ve taken to keeping a handwritten journal that, when these things start, I vent all my worries and rages there.  Yeah, it sounds really negative, but it’s much better on the page than boiling around inside me.  I really don’t like therapists, and I find that the journal much more competently takes their place (and is much cheaper).

What started the episode was getting extremely frustrated with something I’ve been working on in which I’d written myself into a corner.  Nothing about it was right (nothing’s ever right when this starts) and it was stupid of me to think I could ever pretend to be a writer.  I think a term I used last night was “cosmic maid” – I felt like my whole lot in life was cleaning up other people’s creativity and enjoying it from afar, but not having the real ability to create it.

After the journal entry, I felt calm-ish.  I went down to my study (which doubles as my altar room) and tidied up some things.  Not feeling up to writing just then, I instead found some candles and incense and lit them on my writing desk with a very clear intent of cleansing the space of negative thought.  I then spent some time doing yoga and meditation, clearing myself of similar emotions.  Then I blew out the candles and went to bed.

Today after work I felt like I was ready to face it again.  I went into the room and relit the candles.  Then to encourage inspiration, I found a yellow taper, dressed it and runed it, and lit that with the other two.  As it started burning down, instead of writing the story, I had a conversation with myself (apparently I do this a lot).  I didn’t ask what was wrong with the story, but went back to the start.  What was the story actually trying to tell?  I wrote in this line of thought for over half an hour, feeling braver as I went along, eventually coming to the conclusion that the story was needing to be approached from a different angle.

I had a vague idea of what angle that was, but couldn’t really put a finger on it.  I stared at the inspiration candle a few minutes, then reached for one of my Tarot decks (the Tarot of the Magical Forest, one of my newer ones).  I focused on my beginning as I shuffled the cards.  What had happened right before the beginning?  Where was the real opening of the story?  Where was its immediate direction?  I got the above three cards.

Suddenly I was having a conversation with the cards and the story similar to how I read people having conversations with cards and spirits.  I didn’t even realize it was happening until I’d written another two pages on the reading, putting the pieces together.  The final card, Temperance, was especially interesting.  It had relevance to the story, but it was also a message to me as the author.

I’m pretty excited right now.  While I could not get the cards to work for me in readings for myself or as a communication tool with deities/spirits, my creative storytelling mind is able to work with them easily.  I didn’t realize the two sides of my mind were so separated, but it makes sense.

All in all, I’m glad I never gave up fully on Tarot.  It seems I have a lot more work to do with it now.

Review of The Norse Myths

Book Review: The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland

I’ve been trying to work up the courage and attention span to make it all the way through Eddas for awhile now.  I did read most of the Prose Edda until I got stuck somewhere in the Skáldskaparmál.  Since that didn’t go so well, I found this book for a good rundown on the myths.  What’s pretty great about it is that there’s a full list of notes in the back that tell you where the author pulled the material from and when he takes a little bit of liberty with the story.

Is it a replacement for the originals?  Certainly not, but if you just want some basics about Norse mythology, these are enjoyable as well as educational.  I especially liked his characterizations.  So often mythology is just relayed in writing so flatly and directly that it becomes stale, which is a shame because of how alive it is.  I never really felt that in this book.

The Thor and Loki stories were by far my favorites, partially due to the characterizations, but also just because I’ve always enjoyed those the most.  I continue to wish there was more surviving lore on the goddesses, but in general their stories were well represented here.

If you’re looking for a good starter book about Norse mythology, this is it!

For a full list of the pagan and magic related books I’ve read and reviewed, check out my Goodreads page.  I’m always looking for more Goodreads friends with similar interests, so feel free to send me a request!