28 December 2010

Reflections on the Winter Solstice

The whirlwind of family that is the holiday season is over.  Thank the Gods!  Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays.  I love the lights and decorations, seeing family and friends, and the recognition of the turning of the wheel.  It’s just that it’s exhausting.  For me, the hardest part of the secular holiday season is the fact that all those gatherings make it really difficult to get quiet time for magick and reflection – hence these thoughts not being set down until a week after solstice.

This year the Winter Solstice happened to coincide with a full lunar eclipse.  I was fortunate enough to have the house to myself on the night of the 20th and decided to do my Yule ritual then.  During that ritual I spent a fair amount of time meditating on the return of the light.  Traditionally, Yule is celebrated as the return of the light.  The longest night is filled with lights and feasting to drive out winter’s chill, with revellers safe in the knowledge that from then on each day would get a little longer until winter finally gave way to spring and summer.  However, I’ve always had a hard time thinking of Yule that way.

The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year – about 16 hours of darkness here in the Pacific Northwest.  In the old Celtic calendar Yule was considered the middle of winter, but in modern times we call it the beginning of winter.  I’ve always tied my practices to the weather I actually experience so I’ve always considered Yule to be just about the beginning of winter.  Sure, we may get the occasional Thanksgiving snow storm, but in most years the weather here in Seattle is wet and chilly until the end of December and then it goes to wet and cold.  Yes, the days get longer after Yule, but they also get colder and a lot less pleasant.  Anyone who’s spent a long time waiting for the bus in the wind and rain on a really cold day knows the misery of which I speak.  So yeah, not so much mid-winter for me.

To make it more complicated, I also don’t see winter as something that needs to be driven away or something from which to hide.  As I mentioned before, I worship the Crone – this means winter is a time of power and profound spirituality for me.  When I feel the wolves of winter screaming across the skies I feel power.  When the skies are dark and the rain comes in constant sheets it isn’t time to run and hide, it’s time to stand up and let those rains cleanse you.  Winter is harsh and it brings death to the land, but without it there would be no rebirth in the spring.  The land needs time to rest, time for the autumn leaves to compost and make the ground fertile.

Like the land, we also need that time to rest and reflect.  That’s what Yule has always meant for me.  It’s a time to set yourself apart from the bustle of the everyday; to take a moment to really look at your life and to determine what you no longer need.  Yule is a time for banishing, a time to let that which no longer serves to die and fall away so that you’re actually ready for the new growth of spring when it comes.  It can be hard to look at yourself and admit what isn’t working, but it’s very necessary.

This year I took the time to look at myself and realized that I’m still trying too hard to fit other people’s ideas of what I should be.  No, I am not a ray of sunshine.  No, I will never voluntarily wear pink.  Yes, I was a bit goth in college and yes I practice some very dark and spooky stuff, but that does not mean that I look like an extra in The Crow.  To be frank, I’m a geek and I look like a geek.  I am happy looking like a geek; by choice I wear jeans and t-shirts.  Yes, the colors to tend towards black, red, and purple but that’s not that unusual.  I really don’t feel the need to proclaim my alignment literally on my shirtsleeves.  I like my witchyness to be subtle.  Yes, being flashy gets you noticed but that’s just not who I am.  I am going to wear what I want to wear and act the way I want to act because it makes me happy.  I don’t have anything to prove.

This year I also spent some time reflecting on the spiritual significance of the winter sun.  As I mentioned before, I have a hard time seeing Yule as the return of the sun because the weather is so crappy immediately after.  Even when the sun does shine in the dead of winter it doesn’t seem to warm – instead of having things be dark and miserable it just makes things bright and miserable.  (Yes, I venerate winter and the introspection it forces on us, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy cold, wet feet.)  However, amidst my musings I found a reason to be grateful to the winter sun.  At the winter solstice the earth is at its farthest point from the sun, after that it begins to travel back towards the sun, light, and warmth.  What would happen if it didn’t go back?  What if the earth didn’t tilt back and forth?  The side farthest from the sun would likely freeze and become uninhabitable and the side closest to the sun would burn away in an eternal summer.  The winter sun might not be as friendly as the spring sun, but it keeps us alive.  Thanks for keeping us all alive Apollo, don’t be a stranger.

Welcome and Introductions

Welcome to Magick Under the Black Sun, a blog about the darker side of magick and pagan spirituality. It is my plan to update this blog weekly with thoughts and reflections on my personal practice and the darker side of magick in general.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Emily Carlin. I am a lifelong resident of the Seattle area and have been practicing dark magick for going on twelve years now. I am a graduate of and a professor in the Grey School (www.greyschool.com), where I am the Dean of the Dark Arts department. Some of you may know me as “Kalla,” as I have used this name in the magickal community for many years. I have switched to using my legal name because I am soon to be a published author and my book, Defense Against the Dark, is being published under my legal name.

I suppose the best way to start this blog is by explaining how I came to my current path. Pagan practices and spirituality have always resonated very strongly with me. It’s hard to pinpoint when my interest in paganism began, but I remember watching a PBS special on the ancient Druids when I was very young, maybe five or six, and remarking to my mother that worshipping the sun that gave us warmth and the crops that sustained us made a lot more sense than worshipping an angry bearded man in the sky. What my very Christian mother made of that at the time I do not recall.

My interest in the darker side of things also began when I was very young. I have been able to sense and communicate with sprits and other beings for as long as I can remember. When I was a child I had no idea how to process the occult information that my brain received and I was afraid to talk to anyone about it for fear that they would think I was crazy or lying. I was terrified of the things that I could sense but didn’t understand. So, like any industrious and naturally curious child I decided that I would learn everything I possibly could about what hid in the darkness so that I wouldn’t have to be afraid of it anymore. From that time onward, I have always devoured any bit of information on monsters, death, magick, and the occult that I could get my hands on.

My formal practice of paganism and magick didn’t begin until I left home to go to college. It all began during First-Year orientation at Wellesley. Orientation was a two week period where we First-Years had the whole college to ourselves to get acclimated and included several day trips into Boston and the surrounding area. I chose to go on a day trip to Salem, or as I call it Witchy Mecca. I went into every pagan shop and had to restrain myself from purchasing EVERYTHING! For the first time in my life I was surrounded by people who didn’t think talking to ghosts was nuts – instead, their reactions was “well of course you talk to ghosts, it’s rude to see them and not acknowledge them.” I bought a few books and read them cover to cover in just a few days.

I spent much of the next few weeks mulling over what I had read and deciding what I wanted to do with the information. I was still afraid that people would think I was crazy or worse – evil. Little did I know that the decision had already been made for me. When Samhain rolled around I discovered that one of the friends I had made was a pagan and she brought me to the college pagan group’s ritual – a ritual that would change everything for me. It’s not that the ritual was particularly good, in fact it was pretty mediocre, but something happened that I will never forget. At one point we were doing a guided meditation (that we later referred to as the “skittles meditation” – you’re sinking down, down on a fluffy pink cloud, now a blue one, now red...you get the idea), well I got bored and instead of walking down the broad forest path to my inner temple I buggered off into the forest. (Yes, knowing what I know now it was incredibly foolish of me to go wandering the astral by myself without the slightest idea what was out there, but it worked out well at the time.) After wandering through the dark forest for a while I came out into a clearing filled with people who, immediately upon seeing me, ran to me and I was engulfed in the most massive embrace. It would be impossible to describe how that felt. It was like the entire universe shook and all of reality was distilled into its pure essence and I knew I was home. These people were my ancestors, friends, and guides and they were welcoming me to my true path. At that moment I knew that I no longer had a choice to become a witch or not – I was already one and just hadn’t known.

From there everything just seemed to fall into place: I read every pagan book I could get my hands on, read every website, talked to anyone who didn’t shove me away. Details of my many misadventures in magick at Wellesley will have to wait for another entry, suffice it to say that I learned a lot in a very short amount of time. I found out everything I could about as many different magickal paths as I could and soon realized that I didn’t quite fit with any of them. At the time, the information I could find was all about either the “love and light” traditions of magick or the left hand path. The love and light was waaaaay too light for me, and the left hand stuff just seemed like an inverse of Christianity and I wasn’t interested in it either. So I started meditating on my own to see if the universe would point me in the right direction. It did.

Those of us who were there at the time fondly refer to Wellesley as a psychic accelerator. It’s full of ghosts, portals, and the assorted nasties attracted by 130 years of estrogen and stress. To be at all sensitive to metaphysical energies and live on that campus you either learn to protect yourself, transfer, or go completely nuts. I chose to learn to defend myself and learn I did. Soon it seemed that every metaphysical malady on campus was being laid on my doorstep or those of my friends. I felt like a real life Buffy the Vampire Slayer sometimes – and I liked it. I made magickal protection and self-defence my speciality and am now quite an expert. I’ve dealt with ghosts, demons, faeries, witch wars, and just about anything else you can think of. Protection became the major part of my magickal practice, but it didn’t quite fill up my spirituality. I wanted more.

They say to be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. What I wanted was to find a particular deity that I could really believe in and work with. For many pagans, such a call might be answered by Athena, Brigid, or Odin – not me, oh no. My call was answered by the Crone, and I don’t mean the kindly wise grandmother version of the Crone. My call was answered by the darkest aspect of the Crone, the Death Hag. That’s right folks, I worship death. No, this does not mean that I kill babies or small animals. No, I am not morbidly depressed all the time nor am I suicidal. No, this does not mean that I dress like a goth or an emo kid – unless I’m going to a party. A better explanation of my beliefs will have to wait for another entry.

My practice is about making myself a better person, improving my relationship with deity, and protection. Like many others, I believe it is my duty as a human to improve myself and become a better person. I use my magickal practices and spirituality to further this end. It is my goal to align myself with my deity as much as possible to grow closer to her and to become the best person I can be. As I mentioned before, I’m a bit of an expert in magickal protection and I feel it’s my duty to share what I know with as many people as possible. I see this work as service to my deity and an integral part of my spirituality. So yeah, that’s me in a nutshell. See you soon!