Archive for January, 2014

Crafting the Craft

Week 3 (C): on why witchcraft is a craft

Paganism is all about practice. Meditation, prayers, spells, charms, offerings, the lot: all of these require practice and action. Whether the action takes place in the mind or in the physical world we inhabit is irrelevant. An act, whether cerebral or physical, is still an act. If we aren’t actively practicing our craft, what are we doing? Mouthing the names of goddesses without our hearts behind them.

I have a confession though: sometimes I am a lazy pagan. I don’t always cast a circle. I don’t always celebrate the sabbats with a ritual. I don’t always write my own spells. I try to do these things as often as possible, and I wish I could say that I managed to do them 100% of the time, but I’ll admit that sometimes life just gets in the way. Maybe it’s unavoidable, but sometimes I also think it’s because I allow life to get in the way. It’s all about prioritizing, and I don’t always put my spirituality first. Maybe that’s something I should work on changing.

"Reaching" Zhiwei Tu

“Reaching” Zhiwei Tu

I’m a dilettante, in the positive sense of the word; I’ve tried out a lot of different hobbies in my lifetime. Some of these have stuck, and some have not. Two years ago, I became a knitter. In a dark November, when I felt like I’d completely lost my bearings, I picked up a pair of bamboo needles and delved into a project that would take me nine months to complete. Knitting as a physical activity is both meditation and craft: I occasionally use the gentle rhythm of stitches to help with spells, and the act of making something becomes magic.

What I do in my spare time often becomes a way to make magic outside of ritual: knitting, baking, dancing, etc. Even though I’m not always able to do full rituals, cast formal circles, or write my own spells, I do my best to…well, practice. I practice the tenets of my spirituality and try to infuse my life with the magical qualities that attracted me to paganism in the first place. The activities in which I partake in pursuit of my spirituality keep my beliefs real and close to my heart, as do the mundane everyday tasks I must complete. Practice, as they say, makes perfect.


The (Not So) Secret Book

Week 4 (B): Book of Shadows

A Book of Shadows (BoS for short) is a pagan text comprised of rituals, invocations, blessings, divinatory results, and other related witchy things. My first was a spiralbound notebook with a black cover, on which I drew a triple moon pentagram with puff paint (cut me some slack, I was 13!). I’ve had many others over the years, but currently I have this beautiful blank book that I am steadily filling with spells, meditation guides, and other things:

IMG_20140108_003703

I also have a digital Book of Shadows, which is a constantly changing document that will hopefully one day be printed as a single volume for my own use. It is a hybrid, containing correspondences and other information that has been with me since my first Book of Shadows, to recently acquired information on balancing the chakras. While my handwritten one is simply writing because I cannot draw to save my life, my digital one is filled with art that moves my spirit. By comparison to my often messy handwriting in plain black ink, the digital BoS is an explosion of color.

My written Book of Shadows is actually more like what I’ve always called a mirror book. I don’t remember when or where I learned the term “mirror book”, so if anybody recognizes it feel free to chime in.  A mirror book is sort of like a witchy journal: it’s a collection of spells and invocations, just as a BoS is, but with notes on how well the spells work and what changes I might make, along with things like ritual poetry, a record of my dreams, and general thoughts on spirituality. I refer to it as my Book of Shadows, but because it’s also got elements of a mirror book, it’s really sort of both.

Behold! My original Book of Shadows in all its'...um...glory

Behold! My original BoS in all its…um…glory

Because I’m a lifelong journal writer—my first journal was when I was about 6 years old—so chronicling my pagan life comes naturally. When I started reading about paganism, I wanted to reflect on the things I was reading, so I wrote notes about the books. Nowadays I include the results of any tarot card readings I do, as well as the usual spell notes and sabbat records.

As a great collector of blank books and journals, I’ve probably had ten Books of Shadows in the last fifteen years. Most of my older ones are long gone, lost to the space constraints of apartment living and the constant moving. Of course, the digital BoS has survived, in one form or another. The thing that’s been most important to me is that, like most of my tools, no one touches my Book of Shadows except for me. It’s not a secret what’s in it, for the most part, but since no one touches it, the contents have become secret by default.

What does your Book of Shadows look like? Or does your tradition mandate that you cannot discuss it?


Brighid, Keeper of the Flame

Week 3 (B): Brighid, whose name means “exalted one”

Brighid, red-gold woman of flame and wave.
Brighid, honey combed sun of winter’s end.
Brighid, lead me home.

(invocation to Brighid, from an Imbolc healing ritual 2013, inspired by Patricia Monaghan)

When I was 14, I read about a Celtic goddess named Brighid (pronounced “breed”). From the moment her name touched my lips, I felt connected. I had been praying to the Goddess and the God, per my early understandings of what it was to be Wiccan, but I wasn’t explicitly naming them. After that, I started addressing the Goddess as Brighid. I was mostly interested in the fact that Brighid was described as a goddess of poetry. Given that I’d written a good deal of poetry since age twelve, this seemed as good a sign as any that I ought to claim Brighid as my patron goddess.

Two years later, as a junior in high school, I was pretty sure I’d settled on my life plan: I wanted to be a doctor. Specifically, I wanted to be an OB/GYN, though it’s more accurate to say that I wanted to be a midwife. I did not, however, know the midwives still existed. At the start of the year, I had read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant and was thrilled by the idea of being a woman who helped with birthing. It seemed like such a timeless profession, one in which I would feel connected to myself as a woman and to the millions of other midwives who had done the same thing. I shared my interests with my doctor, who very generously responded with an offer to let me accompany her to a few births. Sadly, I never took her up on her offer.

Once I felt solid in my future career choice of OB/GYN, the choice of Brighid as a patron goddess made even more sense; Brighid is often described as a healer. I went off to college, fully expecting to declare pre-med the following year. Sadly, it didn’t work out that way. I managed to contract a nasty case of chicken pox at age 19 a week before finals. Apparently mandatory quarantine didn’t qualify as a legitimate medical excuse to get extensions for my finals, so I failed all my classes. As a result of this, rather than be a year behind, I decided to step off my chosen path. I picked another major and ran with it, but always felt, in the back of my heart, like I’d missed an opportunity.

"Rise" by Silas Toball, Durwaigh Studios

“Rise” by Silas Toball, Durwaigh Studios

Now, almost a decade into my pursuit of that other path, things are changing yet again. I still have a strong connection to Brighid. I still write poems. But in questioning my current career path, I find myself coming back again and again to my deep interest in midwifery. I live just down the street from a midwife center, and the region I live in is rife with midwives. I am being eaten alive by indecision: do I continue to follow a path that is not making me nearly as happy as I was at the start of it because I have invested too much time in it to change, or do I follow an old path that has called to me for longer than the current one?

I feel lost, and I’ve been lax in my meditation. I can’t see any answers and I can barely form the questions. Brighid remains silent. Yet I have the sense that, regardless of which path I choose, I will always be a poet. I sense that I will also always be a healer, in one form or another, whether I am seeking to heal bodies or ignorance. And Brighid will always walk with me, her fiery presence at my back, my lantern in the dark.


From Amethyst, With Love

Week 2 (A): amethyst (a.k.a. violet quartz, SiO2, etc)

I work a fair amount with crystals. Mostly I use them as meditation aids, but I also add them to spell bottles and place them strategically on my altar when doing spellwork. For example, I have a nice quartz pyramid on my altar, which I use to focus and amplify my intentions. But of all the crystals I work with, amethyst is generally my first pick. I use it for pretty much everything, from creating a soothing environment to enhancing affection to protection.

There’s a piece of amethyst in my house blessing bottle to inspire peace and love in both inhabitants and visitors. When I start a series of planned chakra meditations later this year, I plan to use a piece to stimulate the crown chakra. Most books will mention amethyst as an all-inclusive healing stone, good for enhancing meditation. Simon and Sue Lily also recommend amethyst to maintain equilibrium in your life.

Cassandra Eason suggests that amethysts are good for emotional healing. Perhaps this is why when I was going through particularly painful periods of adolescence, I insisted on wearing amethyst almost every day. I was teased something vicious in middle school when I came out of the broom closet, and having amethyst against my skin reminded me that somewhere, someone loved me. Amethyst brought some measure of peace to this former tween scapegoat.

In my favorite book on crystals, Judy Hall’s The Crystal Bible says that amethyst, when used in combination with meditation, “turns thoughts away from the mundane into tranquility and deeper understanding” (54). Hall agrees with other authors when she says that amethyst helps to balance extremes. It also encourages spiritual wisdom and love of the divine, which explains why it works so well in conjunction with the crown chakra. Interestingly, Crystal Vaults disagrees and says that amethyst works best for stimulating the third eye chakra, but I prefer to work with lapiz lazuli for that purpose.

All in all, amethyst is a powerful stone that’s good for a variety of purposes. It’s also incredibly easy to find. The geodes are particularly beautiful. My parents have a huge one that I’m coveting. I’ve seen some incredibly beautiful (and incredibly expensive), gigantic geodes that stand nearly as tall as me at gem shows. I suppose what I like best about amethyst is that, regardless of what you’re using it for, it seems to achieve your purposes with love.

When I grow up, I want a massive amethyst geode that’s been fashioned into a table. I would use it for an altar and it would be wonderful.

amethysttable2

Further Reading

Crystal Vaults: Amethyst.

Eason, Cassandra. 2010. The Complete Crystal Handbook.

Hall, Judy. 2003. The Crystal Bible: A Definitive Guide to Crystals.

Lilly, Simon and Sue. 2010. Crystal Healing: The Practical Guide to Using Crystals for Health and Well-Being.