27 June 2011

Book Review – Travels Through Middle Earth by Alaric Albertsson

A few days ago I was in my favourite local shop, Edge of the Circle Books, and wandered over to the section on Northern Paganism (Saxon, Norse, Icelandic, etc.).  Normally I just glance over sections outside of my expertise but this time I stopped and took a closer look.  I realized that I know almost nothing about the beliefs and practices of a whole host of Pagans and figured I needed to work on that.  Like many, I was introduced to Paganism through the lens of Wicca and Celtic mythology.  The Celtic myths resonated with me and other really didn’t, so I never went to deeply into other pantheons or beliefs.  These days I’m spending far too much time with far too great a variety of people to allow my knowledge to be so limited.  After sifting around the shelves for a while I found Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan by Alaric Albertsson and it intrigued me.

The book is an easy read and is quite basic.  It outlines the fundamental tenants of Saxon Paganism – it’s deities, beliefs and practices – in a well written, conversational style.  If you’re already familiar with Wicca you’ll find many similarities.  Dear old Gerald Gardner took inspiration from many Saxon practices and incorporated them into Wicca.  One thing Albertsson does that I particularly like is draw attention to the places where Saxon Paganism specifically differs from both Wiccan and Norse Paganism.  For example, the differences between a Saxon cleansing and warding of a space before worship as opposed to the Wiccan practice of casting a circle – similar effects, but different on both a practical and philosophical level.

Other strong points include the depth of Albertsson’s explanations and his honesty.  Albertsson took the time to explore the philosophies and beliefs that underlie different Saxon practices, so you know learn not only what Saxons do but why.  I enjoyed his descriptions of various Saxon practices – such as herb work and astral travel – but particularly like the fact that he acknowledged that such practices are reconstructions of what the early Saxons may have practiced but that due to lack of written history we don’t actually know that they performed them.  His explanations of the deeper meanings of their magickal practices and how they fit into the overall scheme of Saxon belief were very well done.

Overall I enjoyed the book very much and really liked learning about another take on Paganism.  This book was a great introduction to the beliefs and practices of Saxon Paganism.  I’ve decided to read Albertsson’s second book Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer to learn a little more about the specifics of Saxon magick.  I’ll let you know how I like it.  If anyone has any suggestions for other books on Saxon Paganism (or any other kind really) that you think I should read please leave me a comment and I’ll add them to the list.

21 June 2011

Happy Solstice!

The sun is out!  The sun is out, it's warm and I'm stuck in a downtown high-rise. *sob*  I want to run and play and dance in the streets.  I want to have bonfire and fling flowers at people.  I want to sing rediculous songs with throngs of pgagns.  It's like spring fever hitting late.  How can I possibly concentrate on work on Solstice? 

To Summer, by William Blake

O thou who passest thro’ our valleys in
Thy strength, curb thy fierce steeds, allay the heat
That flames from their large nostrils! thou, O Summer,
Oft pitchedst here thy golden tent, and oft
Beneath our oaks hast slept, while we beheld
With joy, thy ruddy limbs and flourishing hair.

Beneath our thickest shades we oft have heard
Thy voice, when noon upon his fervid car
Rode o’er the deep of heaven: beside our springs
Sit down, and in our mossy valleys, on
Some bank beside a river clear, throw thy
Silk draperies off, and rush into the stream:
Our valleys love the Summer in his pride.

Our bards are famed who strike the silver wire:
Our youth are bolder than the southern swains:
Our maidens fairer in the sprightly dance:
We lack not songs, nor instruments of joy,
Nor echoes sweet, nor waters clear as heaven,
Nor laurel wreaths against the sultry heat.

Here's a link to a great article on the Solstice from Slacktiverse.

20 June 2011

On Summer Solstice

Today is Midsummer’s Eve and tomorrow is Litha – the Summer Solstice.  Here is Seattle it’s not feeling so summery just yet.  It’s supposed to hit the mid-70s tomorrow but I’m not sure I believe it.  Rae and I went to the Fremont Solstice Parade on Saturday which is always good fun.  We hiked the 2ish miles from Greenwood down to Fremont in a persistent drizzle and then I froze my tuchus off waiting for the parade to begin.  It was worth the chill to see the flying spaghetti monster wiggling down the road along with a cadre of naked bicyclists who must have been very chilly indeed.  I quite liked the whole troop of folks dressed as the characters from The Wizard of Oz.  We in Seattle seem to believe that if we act like it’s summer (think rooftop bbqs in the rain) then eventually the weather will bow to our collective denial and be nice, so rock on naked bicyclists.  I spend most Litha’s hiding from the sun and being rather cranky, but this year I think I can really get behind celebrating the strength and warmth of the sun.  This year I’m ready for it to be warm. 

Traditionally, Litha is the celebration of the most fertile agricultural season and the time when the Oak King is at the height of his power.  It is also a time when the veil between the worlds is thin, making it a great time for divination and communication with Faery realms (hence the famous play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream).  It’s a time for bonfires, feasts, making flower garlands, and feats of physical prowess.  The traditional celebration of Litha is really just a pagany version of the average 4th of July picnic.  The essence is about enjoying the good times while they’re here.

One of the most fun things about Litha is the presence of the Fay.  Midsummer’s Even is traditionally a time when the Good Folk come out in full force.  The barrier between their world and ours is at its thinnest at this time and they can pass to and fro with ease.  It’s a great time to make offerings of flowers or honey to ensure their friendship.  Even if you don’t traditionally work with the Fay, it doesn’t hurt to leave a little something for them on Litha because they’re going to be around and it’s always better to be on their good side.  I like to leave flowers, honey cakes, and a few dimes (or bits of tin foil – anything shiny really) as a way of showing respect, even though I don’t work with them often.  You never know when you’re going to need a Faery favour, so best keep the pump primed.

I plan to spend my Litha on the patio: reading in the sun, grilling, and journaling.  Much as I enjoy celebrating with friends (and I’ll be doing just that this weekend), I like to spend sacred time by myself.  I’ll have a nice quiet evening enjoying the sun (if there is any) and spend my time meditating and reflecting on what summer actually means to me.  For someone who walks the shadow path the glaring light of summer is not exactly the most comfortable and that makes big gatherings rather tricky – no one likes being a killjoy or at least I don’t.

For me, Litha marks a time of danger and potential.  The veils are thin so magick and divination are more potent, but is also means that things that really shouldn’t move between worlds can – and that often leads to problems that I get called on to fix.  In the past I’ve seen some spectacular magickal cockups at Litha that led to serious damage control by Lammas and Mabon.  Many magickal folks get so caught up in the frivolity and joy of the moment that they forget how much more potent things are at this time and consequently go too far.  It’s easier to unwittingly open a portal at this time than just about any other time of year.  Sure, it’s just as bad at Samhain, but people seem to be a lot more cautious then.  Litha is an amazing time to do magick that needs extra oomph, but please don’t be dumb about it just because the sun is out.

That’s enough sunshiny crap, back to reading World War Z.

15 June 2011

Ghostbusting - How to Banish a Ghost

I’ve had a lot of questions lately on what to do if your house is haunted and you want the ghost to leave.  My first reaction to this is almost always to ask what the ghost is doing that’s so bad.  In most cases ghosts are completely harmless.  They often just want a little acknowledgement of their presence – imagine being lost, confused, and no one being able to see or hear you; you’d be distressed too.  Unfortunately, it’s very easy to see a ghost’s attention grabbing behavior as threatening.  If the people involved are all adults, I like to make sure that a ghost is actually being threatening before I tell anyone how to get rid of them.  (See my previous post on the ethics of banishing.)  It’s extremely rare to find a haunting that really warrants banishing – I’ve seen maybe two cases in the last five years – but if people are really afraid or if people are getting hurt then here’s what you do.

How to banish a ghost

The simplest form of banishing is to simply ask the ghost to leave.  As I said before, most ghosts don’t want to scare anyone, they just want attention.  If you talk to it and explain that it’s frightening you (your child, etc.) and ask it to leave it will usually go if it’s able.  If asking nicely doesn’t work then you need to be a bit more commanding.  Speaking firmly and confidently, you must tell that this is your house and that it is not welcome and must leave.  If you are unsure of yourself or hesitant the ghost will know it and will probably not take you seriously.  If you are nervous, get other people to stand with you as you do this, a united front always gives extra strength to your words.  Take a deep calming breath and say: “You are unwelcome here. You must go now!”

Always trying this simple banishing before performing any stronger banishing.  The only entities that will actually leave as a result of this kind of banishing are going to be relatively friendly, or at least non-malevolent, because they are leaving of their own free will and are therefore unlikely to be nasty enough to cause harm to someone else or to return angry.  Stronger or more malevolent entities will be unmoved and will probably find it funny rather than insulting.

Ghost Banishing Ritual

Here’s a stronger, more involved ritual for ghosts who won’t or can’t leave on their own.  It is appropriate for use in most haunting scenarios, but not those where the ghost has caused any significant harm (it will be most effective against neutral or benign ghosts and could be potentially dangerous if the ghost is malevolent because you will be calling it into the open – if the ghost has not made its nature obvious, by being obviously friendly or harmful, then err on the side of caution and do not perform this banishing).  This ritual will be most effective if all the owners or primary users of the property participate, as long as they firmly want the ghost to go away and are not overly afraid.  Young children or anyone who is particularly afraid of the ghost should go elsewhere for the duration of the ritual.  The same applies to anyone with mixed or friendly feelings towards the ghost; we don’t want it getting mixed signals.

If it's at all possible, try to do this during the waning moon as it will enhance the effects.

You will need: an offering of food (e.g. nuts, an apple, milk, etc.), a small white candle (an electric tea light or even a small flashlight can work in a pinch), your favorite smudge or incense (an oil diffuser or strong sachet can work if you cannot burn incense), and a banishing essential oil such as peppermint, rue, or pine.

Begin with a thorough physical cleaning of the house – it gets the energy moving.

Identify the area where the ghostly phenomena are most common.  Is there a particular room where the ghost is most often seen, heard, or felt?  Does the ghost appear to one person or to many?  Place the offering of food in the area where the phenomena are concentrated, or next to the person on whom activity is centered. 

Have everyone who is participating in the ritual ground and center.  Have them take three deep, slow breaths.  Have them visualize breathing in bright energy and strength, and breathe out negativity and fear.  If you haven't yet, make sure you explain to any other participants what you intend to do and give them a chance to leave or stop the ritual if they don't want to proceed (particularly if it's their house having the banishing).

If the ghostly phenomena are concentrated in a particular area you should smudge the house beginning with the area next to the concentrated area and move counterclockwise throughout the space – not smudging the area of concentration.  If the activity centers around a person, have that person stay in one place while you smudge the outside area, moving counterclockwise until the only space remaining is wherever that person is.  Do not smudge the area where the phenomena are concentrated...Yet.

Get all the participants into the area of concentrated activity.  If necessary (if people seem nervous or frightened), repeat the centering (breathing in strength and breathing out fear). 
Anoint the white candle with the banishing oil, but do not light it yet, and call the spirit forward.  If the activity is focused in that room then you should say the following, if the activity is focused on a person – that person should say the following:

“I/We call forth the spirit that haunts this place/me.  I/We do not mean you any harm and give you this food as an offering and a show of goodwill.  I/We do not believe that you mean us any harm either.  Unfortunately, your presence here has become a problem. 

[Explain the reasons the ghost needs to leave, eg. frightening the owners/children, disrupting sleep, breaking things, etc.  Be thorough, but neutral.  Do not accuse the ghost of stirring up trouble. Just state what it has done and the problems it has caused.  If at all possible, have the people affected make this statement.]

I/We mean you no harm, but your time in this place has come to an end.  It is time for you to move on; you no longer belong here.  Move forward to the next phase of your existence.  Leave this place behind.  Follow the pull of your soul on to the next life and be at peace.  We offer the peace and love in our hearts to aid you, to help you move on.”

Have everyone hold positive thoughts in their minds, thoughts of peace, serenity, and love.  Have everyone tone the syllable “Ah.”  Let the tone shift and harmonize.  Fill the sound with as much positive energy as you can.  Let the tone crescendo, growing louder to fill the room.  Lead the sound to its peak and then let it fade.

Light the white candle.  Smudge the final area and all the participants.

If you think it necessary, re-smudge the whole house with incense and then go around the whole house ringing a bell or beating a drum.  This probably won't be necessary, but it doesn't hurt.

Have all the participants sit down for a hearty snack or small meal afterward.

10 June 2011

Dreams of the Zombie Apocalypse

Last night I had a series of really weird...not quite nightmares, but rather worse than dreams.  I only remember bits and pieces, but I know it started off with me living in a small town in the forest.  The town looked like a picturesque fairy tale village except for one small detail.  Rather than having a wall or fence to protect the town, the town was ringed with ghost lamps – human skulls on pikes lit with magick fire.  The ghost lamps protected the town from the evil spirits that roamed the forest after dark.  (Yes, my dreams are often freaky.)  Normally, the fire from the ghost lamps burned a healthy orange-red, like any other fire.  But, because this was one of my dreams, this was the day where at sunset the lamps fire went from orange to blue and slowly guttered out.  At that point we knew it was only a matter of time before the town was overrun by the angry dead.

Of course, here’s where dream logic comes into play.  I was living in this town and was aware of everything that was going on, but I was still in my actual house with my husband.  Our friend Scott was over fixing a car for some reason.  He saw the lamps go out and shouted at us to warn us that the zombies were coming (at this point they’d morphed from angry ghosts to shambling zombies – it’s a dream, whatcha gonna do).  I scrambled for my emergency kit and hurried to find shoes.  Then for some reason Ty and Scott started arguing over our exist strategy for what seemed like half an hour (zombie horde bearing down on us mind you).  Then the dream skipped forward to us driving to Priest Lake because we figured there wouldn’t be zombies there.

It was a very odd dream.  It’s more odd because I’ve had a series of similar dreams lately.  In all of them some serious metaphysical danger was approaching, but in none of them was I really frightened or panicky.  Are these dreams a result of stress or it something more interesting going on.  I may have to call my witches for readings.

06 June 2011

Haunted Seattle - Spooked in Seattle Pioneer Square

On Saturday we had the first gloriously sunny and warm day of the year.  It was a long time coming and I was determined to get out and enjoy as much of it as possible.  Of course, being me this did not mean spending the day on the beach.  Instead I spent my morning and early afternoon walking to and from Ballard from a friend’s house and my evening taking the Spooked in Seattle ghost tour of Pioneer Square.  The tour lasted about two hours and there was a nice combination of walking and standing that was quite comfortable.

The tour began at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop down on the waterfront and walked over and down into Pioneer Square.  One of the first things that sets this tour apart from other local tours, like the Market Ghost Tour, is how recent some of the stories are.  Most of the other tours I’ve been on focus a lot on history – the times of the city’s founding, the Gold Rush, etc.  This tour had its fair share of history, but a lot of the stories were much more recent.  One of the first stories our guide, Ross, told us was about the Pioneer Square Hotel which was a flop house in the 1970s.  Pioneer Square is still a bit seedy, so it’s not difficult to imagine.  Apparently the hotel owner was allowing the homeless to stay in the hotel if they signed over their social security checks to him.  Sometimes those people would then die in the hotel and the owner, rather than reporting this, would bury the bodies in the basement and continue to collect their checks.  Apparently this pissed off their ghosts and some of them continue to haunt the building.

Another standout location from the tour was the Arctic Club Hotel.  This was a beautiful building that used to be a gentlemens club back at the turn of the century.  The tour led us into the hotel and up into the Northern Lights Room for some choice tidbits.  If you ever saw the Stephen King movie Rose Red, then you’ll recognize the stunning glass domed ceiling because the movie shot several scenes here.  Once we all got comfy Ross told us about Marion Zioncheck, a man who was a congressional rep in the mid-1930s.  Apparently he was a wild man of Charlie Sheen proportions, once drunkenly driving a car onto the White House lawn when he was in a hurry.  Zioncheck had his offices on the fifth floor of the building and during a scandalous re-election campaign plummeted to his death from the window of what is now room 517.  Though a suicide note was left, some members of Zioncheck’s family believe to this day that he was murdered.  We may never know the truth, but it is believed that Zioncheck’s ghost haunts his former offices and has been known to ride the hotel elevator.

The tour then wound its way through Occidental Square and stopped at the Seattle Fallen Firefighter Memorial.  The memorial was inspired by the 1995 Chinatown warehouse fire that claimed the lives of several firefighters when the building collapsed around them.  I vividly remember watching those events unfold on the local news and have an Uncle who’s a fireman, so it was something to see.  The lot where the warehouse once stood is now a dirt parking lot and there have been witnesses who have claimed to hear yelling and smell smoke at the location.

Another element that really made this tour fun was the proper use of multimedia.  A lot of ghost tours have binders of old pictures and maybe an old newspaper clipping or two.  This tour had the obligator binder of old photos, but the guide also had an iPad that he put to good use.  He was able to show us dozens of archive photos, play EVPs (electronic voice phenomena) recorded by his investigative group, and even show us video pertaining to relevant events.  It was quite eerie watching video of a performance artist’s rope snapping knowing that he then fell six stories to his death right across from where you’re standing – eerie, but really cool.

I would highly recommend this tour for anyone interested in hauntings and some of the darker bits of Seattle history.

03 June 2011

A Brief Rant

Ok, this has nothing to do with magick whatsoever.  I just need to rant for a moment. *takes a deep breath*

Yes, I am a female.  No, I do not want to hold your baby.  I don't want to hear your baby.  I sure as hell don't want to smell your baby.  No, I do not think babies are cute (though I'm fairly decent at faking it). I do not have a maternal bone in my body.  I would happily sell my ovaries if I didn't need them to regulate my hormones.  I'm very glad that you've found being a parent rewarding and enriching.  Good for you.  You are not me.  No, telling me how special your children are doesn't make me want to have any.  My biological clock is more quiet than a mute gerbil.  I have no problem with other people breeding, I just don't care to join the club.  At no point in my entire life have I ever wanted children.  I didn't like children when I was one.  For the love of all the Gods leave me alone.

This rant was prompted by a co-worker bringing in her month old baby to show it to the office and I was asked by a different co-worker why I wasn't rushing to see the squeeling bundle of pinkness.  Saying that I was as interested in seeing someone's baby as I was in watching an appendectomy would have been rude.  So I was polite to my co-workers and did my ranting here.