Archive for May, 2014

Quick, Hand Me That Karma!

Week 22 (K): quick, hand me that karma! or how people sometimes get concepts like karma wrong

You hear about karma everywhere, but definitions vary widely. I’ve heard karma referred to as “payback”, “life”, and “the universal force that controls all our lives” (yes, someone really said that). It’s both all and none of those things. Like most things that are explained simply, it’s far more complex than that.

Lotuses are often used as symbolic representations of karm

Lotuses are often used as symbolic representations of karma

Karma derives from a Sanskrit word that means action or work. It’s the idea that the present affects the future. It reminds me a little bit of the butterfly effect: the idea that the tiniest thing can result in huge changes down the road. Only instead of in terms of magnitude, karma is measured in terms of degree. That is, the good deeds you do in the present can positively affect your future, both in this life and the next. Conversely, bad intentions add up to future suffering.

Part of karma is the idea of causality. Both action and intention affect your life. Like attracts like, which is normally a phrase that makes me puke since it comes from some very foofy New Age principles that aren’t really my thing. But it’s also a truism: if you do bad things, bad things are more likely to happen to you. What you do, and the intentions behind your actions, affect your quality of life.

It’s more about consequences than it is about rewards and punishment. Coming back again to the “like attracts like”, it’s not that you’re being rewarded for being nice to people. It’s that what you do has consequences, and those consequences often match the deed. Reincarnation is another familiar (but commonly misunderstood) concept that’s closely tied to karma, which is why I mentioned that your actions can affect this life and the next.

So karma isn’t necessarily “the rule of three: what you send out comes back to thee”, which is how I’ve heard a good deal of pagans explain it. I think that’s an oversimplification of the idea that actions have consequences. And while the teacher side of me is a fan of simple explanations for complex concepts, it also flattens the idea of karma more than is necessary. Simplicity should only make something easier to understand; it shouldn’t dull the original.

Full disclosure: I’m mixing traditions here a bit in my explanation of karma. Most of this is Hindu tradition as I understand it, but there’s some Buddhist flavoring to this post as well. Part of the reason for this is because I’m an eclectic witch, so mixing traditions is a pretty common occurrence. If you understand karma differently, I’d love to hear more.

Karma is an ubiquitous feature of New Age and Pagan communities everywhere. People don’t think deeply about it as a concept though, and many rarely question what it actually is. The real answer is: complicated. Like string theory, if you think it’s simple and straightforward, you probably don’t understand it.

Further Reading

Karma on Encyclopædia Britannica

Karma on Wikipedia (surprisingly comprehensive)

The Manual of Life – Karma by Parvesh Singla

Physics and Punishments (a really excellent comparison of karma to Newton’s Third Law)


The Liebster Award, or Who is This Again? Part II

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Mistress of the Hearth generously nominated me for the Liebster award, which is kind of like a “get to know you while simultaneously getting you more followers” award. I believe in knowing who you’re reading, so I think this is a pretty cool idea. We’re all just people behind computer screens and keyboards, and I’d like to get to know you (and vice versa).

Today’s agenda is to share 11 facts about me, answer the 11 questions I was given, pick 11 blogs who have less than 200 followers to share with everybody, and ask them 11 new questions. Sooo…11 things about me, in very random order:

1) I helped a local farm with their chicken slaughter a few years ago. It was a really interesting experience. While I didn’t eat chicken for a month or two afterward, it definitely didn’t turn me into a vegetarian. What it did do was give me even more perspective about the importance of buying ethically slaughtered meats, which is what I try to do all the time now. (Before I just did it when I remembered. Now it’s either ethically slaughtered, preferably local, meat or I go without.)

2) Cooking and baking were both skills I taught myself. My mom was an excellent cook when I was growing up, so I was always pretty intimidated by the kitchen. Then a few years ago I decided I should just learn how. I started with baking; it’s easier for me because it’s so precise. I’m still improving on both, but I love to experiment.

3) Reading cookbooks calms me down. When I have a nightmare, I’ll get out of bed and browse my cookbook shelf. Ditto if I’ve had a bad day.

4) I’ve written poetry since I was 12. Ironically, it was a gym teacher who encouraged me to write more poems.

5) Going to weddings makes me so happy. Everybody else seems to hate them, but they bring me such joy.

6) In March 2013, I submitted a proposal to one of my favorite publishers for a contest to win a book contract. I didn’t win, but it really solidified the idea that I want to publish a memoir before I die. So I have a book proposal floating around on my computer if any publishers are interested. 😉

7) I shaved my head in 2007 and haven’t had hair longer than a few inches since then.

8) When I was a teenager, I wanted to create a charity that rescued abused or neglected horses, then paired them with abused kids in the foster system and/or people with eating disorders. The idea was that by caring for the horses, they would learn self-confidence, responsibility, and that tenderness between living beings can be a reality. I hope that someday I’ll still be able to do this.

9) I learned how to ride a bicycle when I was 24 years old.

10) I’m a bit of a technophile and I’ve had a kindle since 2008. I bought the first generation because I recognized the promise of being able to have hundreds of books in one compact package. My kindle is by far my favorite purchase in the last decade. (I do miss having tons of bookshelves sometimes, but not enough to want to switch back to physical books. Plus moving is way easier!)

11) In first or second grade the librarian reprimanded me for “checking out too many chapter books”. She was sure I wasn’t reading them (I was – I was a ridiculously advanced reader early on), told me to leave the chapter books for the older kids, and steered me towards the picture books. I burst into tears when I told my mom about it later. She started volunteering at the library soon after so she could smuggle chapter books for me.

Hopefully some of those were interesting to you, or at least made you laugh. Without further ado, the questions Mistress of the Hearth put forth:

What’s your favorite thing about blogging? I need to create, preferably every day. When I don’t write, my fingers get sad. Blogging is one way that I remind myself to write, and I get to interact with some very cool people while doing so (in a way that I don’t get to with other types of writing). Win-win!

Do you have plans and goals for what to blog about in the future, or do you just write whatever you’re inspired to at the moment? Truth? I almost always have a plan. New topics are always knocking around in my brain. I actually have a pretty massive list for the Pagan Blog Project tucked away, so any time I’m at a loss for what to do with a letter, I click over to said list.

What interests do you have that rarely or never appear on your blog? I actually think that most of my interests end up on here at one point or another. I like to knit, and sometimes I knit things for spellwork. I adore cooking, so things like my Eostre quiche show up here (I plan to put up more recipes in the future too!).

Do you believe the world is ultimately getting better, getting worse, or is about the same as it’s ever been and only seems to be changing because our lifespans are so short? This is a toughie. I’d really like to think it’s getting better. But, on the other hand, there are lots of shitty things in the world. I think it’s impossible to gauge whether it’s getting worse though. I think it’s more that because of the internet there’s a lot more shitty things that are more widely publicized. So because we hear about more, it’s easy to think the world is getting worse even if it might not be.

What’s your favorite holiday? Why? Samhain? Beltaine? Imbolc? Honestly I don’t know that I have a favorite. I’m rather fond of them all. Holidays mean joy, so how can you not like them all?

What are your top three favorite movies ever? Since it changes sometimes, or varies based on my mood, keep in mind that these are my top three for right now. In no particular order:

A) Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus

B) Blue Crush (no laughing, I’m serious)

C) Mistress of Spices

These are movies that make me smile, that make me feel magical, and that I could watch over and over again. And yes, there are many of those (like Amélie or Love and Other Disasters), but I think these three really do rank particularly high on my “OMG I loved that movie!” list.

What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year? Out of the 24 books I’ve gotten through so far this year, my favorites have been Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Peggy Vincent and The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan. The latter was creepy as all hell but I couldn’t put it down. In general, I don’t read scary books, and I’ll probably never be able to read it again because I slept with the lights on for a few weeks, but it really was an incredible book. The former was fantastic as well, and it was the inspiration for starting down my current path.

Are you a cat person, a dog person, or a no-pets person? None of the above. I’m an All The Animals person! I’ve had snakes and cats, but I also have a pretty big soft spot for lizards, rats, and dogs.

What issues do you get tired of hearing about (even if you actually agree with them)? I’m usually sick of hearing about presidential elections by the time they actually roll around, but that’s more because I get irritated with all the muckraking.

What are your favorite and least favorite things about where you live? I love the area I live in. It’s beautiful, it’s superbly gay-friendly, and the weather agrees with me most of the time. My apartment is beautiful, with lots of light, old-house quirks, and wood floors. It has “character”, which is what I usually look for in places I live. I appreciate the oddities of old houses that have been converted into apartments. Like, for example, the time the hall closet got locked from the inside because there was a deadbolt on the inside. Or how my bedroom is actually a converted dining room, evidenced by the built-in china cabinets. I sometimes wish I lived in a bigger city, but honestly this place suits me fine 98% of the time.

If you could have your absolute perfect meal, what would be on the menu? Like the movie question, it really depends. It would be very different if I wanted an adventurous meal, full of things I’ve never tried before, versus if I wanted comfort food. I’ll go with the comfort food for brevity’s sake since there’s a ton of things I want to try. Right now I’m craving slow-cooker almost-potato soup with bacon on top, which is sort of like really thin, very rich mashed potatoes; endive salad with spinach and pears; and fudgey cookies and cream cake for dessert (all things I’ve made that were particularly excellent). Aaaaand now I’m drooling a bit.

In terms of my nominations, here you all are, in all your fabulous linked glory:

All of the above blogs are excellent, and all are related to paganism in one way or another. And of course I follow many more wonderful folks, but I could only pick 11!.<3

Next up: my questions for you! Some are deliberately vague, to be left open to interpretation, so interpret them however you like.

  1. What is one thing about you that people can’t tell just by looking at you?
  2. What’s your favorite dessert?
  3. How do you wake up in the morning?
  4. Who do you think has the most potential to fix the world: politicians, activists, or regular folks (or none of the above)?
  5. Which book has most changed your life and how?
  6. Whom do you admire? Why?
  7. What fictional character are you most like?
  8. Tell me about your tattoos. If you don’t have any, what tattoo(s) would you like to get?
  9. What do you find beautiful?
  10. What is your signature dish? (Something you actually can and do make.)
  11. How do you channel your creativity?

Folks listed above, your tasks are as follows: link back to this blog, list 11 facts about you, answer my questions, choose 11 other blogs with 200 followers or less, and ask them 11 new questions. That’s it. Yay building a blog community! Yay getting to know people on the interwebs!


Kali, Dark Mother

Week 21 (K): Kali, the Hindu goddess of time and change

I became acquainted with Kali while walking home alone from school one night. I was terrified of how dark the street was, and the silence that seemed to follow me, and so I began to meditate on all of the strong goddesses. Kali, with her necklace of skulls and fearsome expression, was the first image that popped into my head. This is when I started to consider all that Kali had to offer. Prior to this, I had primarily been in service to Brighid (more about that here).

Contrary to appearances, Kali is loving to me. She has been called a goddess of death, though this is inaccurate: she’s actually more about change. The change of seasons, while sometimes harsh, is ultimately positive; the cycle must continue. As the goddess of time and change, she often stirs things up. Kali has been a warmth at my back, a protective presence in my life that has been very welcome. Kali is a mother goddess, which might seem strange to you if you’re not familiar. But fierce women can be mothers too. Mistress of the Hearth wrote an excellent post on misperceptions.

not the kind of mother you want to screw with

Not the kind of mother you want to screw with

Now it’s been almost ten years of worship. Kali’s picture has hung above my altar, prompting more questions from visitors than the rest of my altar put together. I affectionately refer to Kali as the black bitch goddess, because I believe that “bitch” can be an empowering title. She has taught me how love can be fierce, how sometimes something you perceive as a threat is actually working to protect you. I am grateful for her fierceness. I’ve found Brighid and Kali to be excellent complements to one another.

Further Reading

Kali: The Dark Mother


Witchy Jewelry

Week 20 (J): jewelry

Confession: I really like sparkly things. Interestingly, I don’t have a lot of pagan jewelry, but what I do have holds a goodly amount of meaning. Not all of it is identifiably pagan though. What follows is a brief explanation and accompanying photos of my small collection. Most of them are just reminders of faith, though some have more explicit purposes. Like Mama Fortuna, I find that rings work best for magical purposes, as they’re on my hands which I see regularly during the course of the day.

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This tiny pentacle ring is something I wear daily, on the middle finger of my right hand. I bought it at Sacred Grove the last time my witch-sister and I were together in person. I had wanted a subtle pentacle ring for years, and finally found this one, in the perfect size. I like a daily reminder of faith that’s a little more tangible than my triple goddess tattoo, yet not so visible that it causes people to question me about it.

 

 

 

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I wear the Medusa pendant when I am seeking change. Snakes have always been important in my life, and their constant cycle of shedding their skin to emerge anew makes them the perfect symbol for rebirth. I will also occasionally use this pendant as a reminder for when I am doing a banishing spell. I think of banishing spells as a cycle of renewal, so the Medusa is pretty apt.

 

 

 

 

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Originally I bought this pink moonstone ring because I just really like pink moonstone. It seems to be a relatively unusual stone, as I’ve never seen it anywhere but in California and people frequently comment on it, wondering what the stone is. Last year I drafted a self-love spell and decided that pink moonstone would be a perfect daily reminder. I haven’t finished the spell yet, but this ring has been waiting to be used for it. Some full moon soon I hope!

 

 

 

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This is one of my oldest pieces of pagan jewelry. I bought this triple moon ring from the Pyramid Collection years and years ago, and for a while wore it as a daily reminder of faith. Now that I have the tiny pentacle ring and my triple goddess wrist tattoo, I find I wear this ring far less frequently. It’s also quite large and heavy, neither of which really suit my jewelry preferences.

 

 

 

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I bought this pendant depicting Brighid over a decade ago. I think I found it in some junk shop, tucked away in a dusty glass case. I don’t wear it much since it’s very heavy–actually it feels like solid pewter–but I did string it on a necklace with some really beautiful garnets and amethyst.

 

 

 

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This is the only true piece of ritual jewelry I own, in that it’s something I don’t wear for anything but magical practice. I’m pretty sure this is a necklace my mother was getting rid of, and I rescued it from the donation box. What initially attracted me to it was the delicacy of the beadwork. When I was a serious practicing pagan, I noticed that the colors represent the four elements: earth (green), air (yellow), fire (red), and water (blue). Now I wear it when I am doing a full-on ritual (which is rare), or when I am seeking balance through spellwork.

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I use jewelry as a way to help me focus during spellwork or ritual, as well as a reminder of my faith. My jewelry is usually subtle enough that it doesn’t provoke unwanted conversation, which is nice. But it also can be a good introduction to the topic if I feel the need to chat about paganism to people I don’t know. So it really serves a variety of purposes.

in all their magical glory

Do you use any magical jewelry? What does it look like? Do you wear it openly or secretly?

Further Reading

Harzgeist on Jewelry with Religious Symbols

Itenumuti on Sacred Jewelry

Mama Fortuna on Jewelry