31 May 2011

Peninsula Adventure

I had a fantastically witchy Memorial Day weekend.  I went out to the Olympic Peninsula with a covenmate and basked in nature for two and a half days.  No, shadow work doesn’t have anything to do with nature and yes, I do most of my workings indoors, but I’m still a Pagan and I still love being out in nature.  Although the Cascades are my normal haunt when I want to get out, the Peninsula does have a special place in my heart.  One thing that the Peninsula has going for it that there are so very few people out there.  Apart from a few towns and villages, the Peninsula is largely uninhabited – most of it being state or national park or forest.  This gives it a special feeling of primitive wildness that is unmatched just about anywhere else I frequent.  Then there’s the rainforest.  If you haven’t been out to the Hoh Rainforest you’re missing out, just bring a really good raincoat or deal with being damp.

We got out to the Peninsula on Saturday evening, settling into our hotel in Forks.  We spent the evening drinking tea, doing massive amounts of tarot work, and generally figuring out how to direct our magickal lives for the next year or so.  I am blessed with some amazing tarot readers as friends and what I learn never ceases to amaze me.  One of the really important concepts that we explored was the idea of grounding and centering in deity.  Normally, when you ground and center you envision excess/unwanted energies flowing out of you and into the ground and then envision ambient/natural energies flowing into you and helping to anchor your magicks by centering your physical and etheric bodies together.  A common way of doing this is to envision yourself as a tree with roots going down into the earth to allow unwanted energy to flow out and branches reaching up into the sky to take in the energy of the universe.  This works just fine 99.999% of the time, but not always – particularly if you’re in a location with unpleasant energy or if the ambient energy just isn’t compatible with you.  The best way to deal with that sort of scenario is to just ground and center into a different location.  All of this work is done energetically by envisioning things, so there’s nothing to keep you from envisioning your roots growing into a particular location (like Mt. Rainier or Stonehenge) rather than where you happen to be.  However, if you have a very close relationship to a particular deity you might be able to get their permission to ground and center into the energy of that deity.  If you can get that kind of permission, then your deity will tell you how to go about doing so.  It’s a little bit disturbing and the results are a little like being half drawn down all day (having deity almost inhabiting you, but not quite).  I wouldn’t recommend doing this unless your deity actually tells you to, but it would be useful in an emergency where you needed every bit of energy you could get.

The next day we went hiking, first in the Hoh and then out to Cape Alava.  Every time we go to the Hoh we do the Hall of Mosses trail – a short (3/4 mile) walk through some really spectacular trees covered in moss.  After lunch we made the drive out to Lake Ozette to the Cape Alava trailhead.  The trail is a little over six miles round-trip (there’s a 9.2 miles loop that we decided against this time ‘round) on a boardwalk through the rainforest.  It is some of the most spectacularly beautiful and powerful wilderness I know.  Walking through the trees you can feel the power of the place coming through your feet and wafting off the trees.  It’s the sort of place that makes you think of magick and fairytales, as if an elf could come walking out of the woods at any moment.  There was a particular stretch of trail near the beach we nicknamed “Narnia” because it felt so magickal and alive.  The trail leads to a stretch of wild coastline with nothing but a few tents and sea lions for miles.  Down on the beach we sat on a piece of driftwood during misting rain, munching on dried fruit and jerky just listening to the surf, watching the birds, and marvelling at the ocean.  It’s a trek, but it’s worth it.

On Monday morning we bid Forks farewell and began the drive back to civilization.  (No, I don’t consider Forks civilization – anywhere wild enough to wake up to otters playing outside is not civilization.)  We always like to stop at Lake Cresent on our way home just to enjoy the last glimpses of turquoise glacial water and rising mists.  This much natural energy will keep me going for the next month or two.

23 May 2011

Shadow Magick II - Self-Cleansing

Once you’ve seen yourself clearly you can study yourself and determine what traits you have that are not serving you, whether they be bits of personality, habits, communication styles, or something else entirely.  Traits that no longer serve are the bits of yourself that are working against your goals or are in some way delaying your accomplishment of goals for personal growth and transformation.  These are not necessarily “bad” traits.  We often develop traits, like not caring what other people think or eating quickly, in order to protect ourselves (mentally, physically, spiritually) and those traits are appropriate when we’re threatened in certain ways.  However, once the threat has passed those traits can become problematic and end up being counterproductive.  That’s when it’s time to sever them and move on.

You can find a plethora of personal cleansing techniques on the web and in various New Age/Metaphysical books and most of them will work for most people.  However, for those of us who do a lot of shadow work the gentle garden variety cleansing can be a bit too gentle.  There are many cleansings that go along the lines of “step into the shower and visualize the water washing away your negativity/stagnant energy/unwanted trait/etc. and the black ooze of this flowing off your body and down into the drain.”  For an everyday cleansing that sort of thing is great, but it isn’t always enough.  Those sorts of cleansings area bit like vacuuming the carpet – it takes care of dust and a bit of grit, but does nothing for set in stains.  That requires something a bit stronger.

I recently performed the Order of Scathach Armouring Ritual which included a self-cleansing.  In that ritual you write down a list of traits of which you would like to be freed and then burn the list to banish them.  Before performing that ritual you do about six months of work.  After six months of introspection I was pretty much rid of the surface level grit that such a simple cleansing could effectively get rid of.  So I had to ramp things up a bit in order to feel really cleansed.  In the ritual you need a physical fire to burn your paper and I did this as step one of the process.  Then I closed my eyes and went to my astral temple (a sacred space in the astral plane that I can go to mentally and energetically to do workings that I don’t want to do physically – very useful when your mental work would be dangerous if carried out physically).

At my astral temple I called the spirits of fire to be present and to aid me.  They showed up in the form of a large magickal bonfire directly in front of me.  I asked the spirits of the fire to help me burn out the things I was having the most trouble with (self-doubt and fear).  I then, astrally, stepped into the fire and let the flame burn.  As the flames burn my clothes and skin I visualized all of my ingrained fears and doubts burning away.  I stayed in the fire until it seared through my bones and reduced all but the best parts of me to ash.  All that was left was the etheric body in its purest form.  As I stepped out of the flames my physical body regenerated without the old patterns.  I thanked the fire for its help and watched it depart.  I then returned to my physical body and completed my ritual.

This type of intense visualization is a very effective way of giving magickal workings extra oomph.  It’s not the sort of thing that anyone in their right mind would ever do physically – it would kill you.  But doing this sort of thing mentally sends a definite message to your subconscious and will generate much more powerful energy than your average rite.  It’s not for everyone, most people don’t want to dig so deeply to root out the source of their problems – particularly when they are the problem.

This sort of work should only be done after months of prep, working through the cycle of cleansing and realization gradually.  Every time you cleanse yourself of one kind of negativity it allows you to see the negativity underneath, you get rid of that and see what was below that, and so on forever.  This sort of work is never finished, but as you do it the process becomes its own reward.  With each layer of myself that I cleanse and purify I find myself become a stronger, kinder, wiser person.  It can be really hard to look at the components that have caused me problems over the year and harder still to see what I did to make it worse, but facing it sets me free.  Self-examination is hard work, but we owe it to ourselves to undertake it and become the best we can be.

17 May 2011

Momentum, I Has None

Some days you wake up and marvel at the world around you; the sun shining, the birds singing, blah blah blah.  Other days you hide under the pillow and hope that your alarm clock dies a horrible death.  I will give you three guesses as to which one of those was the case today and the first two don’t count.  I am one of those people who can build up a good head of steam and keep myself motivated and working for days.  Unfortunately, once that momentum is lost I have a hell of a time building it up again.  This is as true in my magick as it is in my mundane life.  When I’m on a roll I can write for days, cook gourmet meals, and connect to the divine with ease.  When I’m not...not so much.

Saturday was a good day, a motivated day.  I knew the weather was going to be nice in the morning and turn to rain by the afternoon, so I got up early and headed up the pass to get in some hiking.  I walked the Rattlesnake Ledge trail up by North Bend.  The trail is just about four miles round trip, with a decent amount of elevation.  For someone as out of shape as I am it was more than a little challenging.  It was worth it though.  The woods were quiet, the mountains beautiful, and the weather absolutely perfect.  It was basically a two hour long moving meditation and it was wonderful.  It was nice to let my mind come down from the buzz of constant though and just settle into my body and the present moment.

Unfortunately, once I got home the rain started up again and my moment was washed away.  This morning I woke up to icy feet and thick fog.  It’s putting my right back into my winter/introspective mode and out of my spring/action mode.  I love Seattle and all its rain, but the dark is even starting to get me down.  The sun is supposed to come out tomorrow and it really better.  I’m hoping that some sunshine will wake me back out of these doldrums.

I’m teaching a workshop tomorrow at Eastwest Books in Roosevelt and I’d better be energized by then.  If not, I may have to resort to cupcakes to perk myself up.  The workshop will be an abridged version of my Common Magickal Pests class at the Grey School.  I’ll be talking about annoying/dangerous metaphysical creatures and how to get them to leave you alone.  It should be good fun.

09 May 2011

Ethics of Banishing

I was doing a radio interview this weekend and the host asked me an interesting question: what is something that movies and television get wrong about paranormal entities.  The question threw me for a moment because the list is so long.  What do they get wrong?  Nearly everything.  It would be much easier to list what they get right, like occasional bits of folklore.  I decided to pick something that bothered me about the way media portrays the paranormal and that is ethics.  In a lot of media everything that is paranormal is automatically treated as evil and frightening and that’s just not the case.  Sure, there are plenty of very bad things out there but they’re absurdly rare.  Most of the paranormal creatures people are likely to run into are benign or nothing more than annoying – hardly the picture of terrifying menace that sells so very well.  There are plenty of practitioners that will banish any entity that even startles them – I know I did back before I got comfortable with them – but that’s hardly ideal.

As someone who deals with the paranormal rather more often than the average bear, I think it’s incredibly important to have a clear set of ethics when it comes to banishing paranormal entities.  Sentient beings think and feel; they may not think or feel in a way that is understandable to people, but they do.  Their thoughts and wills should not be simply disregarded because they’re inconvenient for us.

Does this mean we cannot protect ourselves against them?  Of course not.  It just means that we have to think before we act against them.  I try consider three grounds to be necessary before conducting a banishing on a sentient being: standing, failure of more polite methods, and self-defense or the defense of others.

Standing is a legal term meaning that someone has grounds upon which to be heard before a court.  In terms of banishing, to have standing means you have a personal reason to want or need the banishing.  For example, someone whose home was inhabited by an imp has a very immediate and personal reason to want the imp banished – it’s bugging them!  On the contrary, someone who had heard that the house down the street is haunted but doesn’t actually know the people that live there and hasn’t been asked for help does not have a personal or immediate reason to need or want the banishing.

Banishing is serious magick and should not be done lightly.  All acts of magick carry consequences and magick that potentially goes against the will of another can carry very serious consequences.  If you try to banish an entity and fail, the entity can become angry or even dangerous: it might come after you or, if it can’t get to you because of your protections, it might go after those around you.  Also, banishing can be harmful to the entity being banished.  Some banishings can feel very much like an energetic brawl, with the practitioner and the entity battering each other with energy until one of them gives in – hopefully the entity.  Imagine you’d been beat up and thrown out of your house; how would you feel?

The clearest form of standing is to own the property from which the entity would be banished.  You always have standing to eject unwanted entities from your property, particularly your home.  Standing can also be given to a practitioner by the owner of the property in questions asking the practitioner for help.  If your friend asks you for magickal help, then you’ve every right to give it if you so choose.  Such scenarios give very clear standing, less clear are situations where the practitioner does not own the property or when the practitioner chooses to intervene on the behalf of others without their asking.  A practitioner may have standing to banish in places such as their school or place of work if they have been personally affected by the entity or if a friend asking for their help has been affected.  A practitioner may also have standing to intervene when they see someone being physically or mentally harmed by an entity.  These are the grey areas for which each practitioner really needs to make their own choice.

Before doing a banishing it is always best to try more polite methods for getting an entity to move on.  Most entities that you will encounter are not malevolent – but that does not mean that they won’t be intrusive or difficult to live with.  Many entities don’t understand that their behavior is disruptive or unwelcome, or perhaps they are merely mischievous and don’t really mean us any harm.  Like intelligent children, many entities will stop negative behavior once it is pointed out to them. 

The number one justification for evicting an entity from any location is defense against harm.  If you feel that something is an imminent threat to your personal safety, you have the right to act to defend yourself.  That means that if you know an entity is present and you are afraid that if you do not banish it right away, it will harm you physically, emotionally, or spiritually.  You will have to use your judgment to discern whether something that does not currently pose a real danger but might do so in the near future needs to be banished.  If you feel that someone is being physically threatened or severely emotionally/spiritually threatened, then banishing is always appropriate.  In all other cases, you will have to use your judgment to determine if the entity poses a great enough threat to warrant banishing.

We have the right to reject an entity in cases of self-defense and the defense of others, where the person wanting the entity banished has ownership of the area and a genuine need to have the entity removed.  In the end you have to use your judgment and decide whether banishing is appropriate and necessary.  Remember, you never HAVE to banish an entity.  You always have a choice.

02 May 2011

Did I mention that the gods have an interesting sense of humor?

Despite having a truly wretched cold last week, I got well just in time for Beltane.  I was able to do my Walpurgistnach meditation on Friday night and then get up early Saturday morning to head to Spokane.  I was a bit snuffly on the drive over and managed to dehydrate myself pretty badly, but was otherwise fine.  We picked up our race packets and had a nice carb-tastic dinner.

Beltane morning dawned foggy and freezing, but the mist soon burned off and we were looking at a spectacular clear day.  After a light breakfast we, and 50,000 of our closest friends headed down to line up for Bloomsday.  In line people sand, played Frisbee with tortillas, and tossed sweatshirts into the trees (they later get picked up for charity).  Finally, after standing around for about an hour, our wave got to begin the 12k walk.

There’s nothing like some good physical activity to get an out of shape person to really live in the moment.  I spent my time thinking about my feet and knees, my posture, and my breathing and let stress melt away.  It was actually quite lovely.  I enjoyed the Beltane sun, listened to garage bands set up throughout the course and just let myself be.  I could see the new leaves budding on the trees and watch birds flitting about and was able to really appreciate the new life that’s finally returning to this part of the country.  It was a very cold, bleak winter and even a curmudgeon like me could really appreciate the warmth and greenery.  The walk felt fantastic and I think it may have actually killed the last dregs of my cold.  I felt better afterwards than before.

Of course, there’s always a price.  I spent last week so worried about being well enough to do Bloomsday that I didn’t really think about any of the other things that you need to worry about when doing a 12k.  I didn’t stock up on electrolytes or high energy snacks so by the time I got to the end I wanted a gallon of gatorade and about a pound of peanuts.  I also completely forgot that I had not been in the sun, at all, in about nine months.  Now I have a fair amount of melanin when I’ve been out in the sun off and on (thank-you mom).  I do not have melanin when I haven’t even seen the sun for more than five minutes at a stretch since last August.  Oh yes, I am sunburned.  I often get a tinge of red on the apples of my cheeks and that doesn’t really bother me, but my chest is burned like toast.  Yes oh gods of summer and sunshine, this winter baby went outside unprotected and got exactly what she deserved.  *pouts*