Friday, May 18, 2012

Joy

Everyone experiences joy, but some experience it more than others.  The difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is contentment or a good feeling, whereas joy is more of a state of being, is felt deeply, and often not even by choice.  Joy is evoked by something powerful within yourself, is PART of yourself, whereas happiness can be temporary and easily affected by outside events or circumstances.  For example, hanging out with my sister or getting to see her makes me happy; my sister moving back to where I live after being on the other side of the country for 15 years brings me joy.

Joy is also measured by the depths of your sorrow.  I wouldn't feel joy at my sister's return had I not missed her living here so much.  As Kahlil Gibran explains it:

"Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight..."

This helps to explain why it is that sometimes people who have gone through some really nasty shit in life are also some of the most joyful people we know.  The character of Maude, in the movie "Harold and Maude" comes to mind, as she was carefree, joyful, and spirited despite having endured World War II and being in a concentration camp.

So what is it that brings you joy?  And how, if at all, is your joyfulness connected to your spirituality or personal religious path?  One of my greatest joys is nature, which is of course deeply connected to my being Pagan.  Seeing the breathtaking acres of lavender and sunflowers in the South of France, looking up into the night sky and finding the constellation Scorpio, or picking a perfect, fragrant rose off of our bush fills me with joy.  Art also makes me joyful.  I'll never forget how I felt the first time I stood in front of an authentic Van Gogh painting or walked through a garden of bronze statues by Rodin.  Oh, and good food, of all kinds, definitely brings me joy.  Makes my world go 'round, more like.   And of course, like anyone, there are people who have been in my life or who are currently in it who bring me joy just by existing.

Once in awhile I will dream of something or someone I treasured that has been lost to me, and my heart leaps at seeing it/them again, only to sink when I awaken and realize that it is "not real." However, like Gibran pointed out, these kinds of experiences are probably what help me to feel greater joy in what IS real (at least right now), and I cherish them both. Memories, after all, can also bring joy.

Feel free to comment below on your own joys.  I would love to hear about them!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cheapo Tarot Update

From BN.com
In March I wrote a post about the nicely illustrated but kooky tarot cards I found at Dollar Tree.  You can read all about it here:  http://autumndamiana.blogspot.com/2012/03/cheapo-tarot.html

The gist of the post was that only the cards of the Major Arcana (trump cards) were complete and usable in this deck.  However, I found a great use for just these cards in one of my books the other day.

The book is "Exploring Spellcraft - How to Create and Cast Effective Spells" by Gerina Dunwich.  In chapter 4 of the book, called "Divination Before Incantation," she explains how many Witches do divination to determine the probable outcome of a spell before casting it, to make sure it's worth doing.  She then explains how to use just the Major Arcana to do this, and gives explanations for each of the cards based on their traditional meanings, but with the idea in mind that the question asked is about spellwork.  Both the upright and reversed meanings are addressed.

How cool is that?  Guess I know what I'll be using that crazy deck for now!


Monday, May 14, 2012

Spiritually-themed jewelry

One of my favorites.
Jewelry seems to play a pretty large role in any personal spiritual practice, especially in Paganism, since we Pagans looooove all things sparkly and shiny.  Because I run an Etsy shop with a Pagan/Wiccan, Metaphysical, and Earth-Centered Spirituality theme, I have given magical/spiritual jewelry quite a lot of thought.

There are literally millions of listings for "jewelry" on Etsy, and most of my witchy acquaintances who have shops there sell some type of it.  And yet, I've sold or traded more jewelry than anything else from my shop, so I must not be the only one who can see the value and/or the good energy in the jewelry I make.  Like I said, I put a lot of thought into it, and I try to put an equal amount of effort into my creations, too.  So I'm going to share my thoughts, insights, ideas, and advice on magical and spiritual jewelry, since I've been making and selling it for years.  (Note:  all jewelry pics are from items I have made, that have either sold or are currently for sale in my Etsy shop at http://www.etsy.com/shop/autumndamiana)

All glass, stone, and metal beads!
1.  Avoid plastic.
Plastic has it's place in kid's jewelry, because it's inexpensive and durable.  You also wouldn't want your rowdy youngster to smash a glass bead or component and get cut.  But other than that, plastic just looks and feels cheap and unnatural, and gives off weird vibes.  Why would you want those kinds of influences in something that's supposed to be sacred or magical?  Although more expensive, I recommend that you stick with jewelry made from stone, glass, metal, shell, bone, horn, wood, etc.

Good ol' jasper and hematite
2.  Know the properties.
A lot of people buy magical jewelry with the bling factor in mind, and I'm not sure why.  A bigger or shinier crystal does not automatically make it better, nor does a hefty price tag.  Some of my favorite stones and crystals to work with are very common, affordable, and not terribly flashy, and yet they have some of the most amazing properties and make really awesome magical tools.  Know the properties of the stones and crystals you buy; don't purchase them based on their looks alone.

Wheel of the Year
3.  Sometimes less is more.
Again, jewelry does not need to be huge or weigh a ton to have spiritual significance.  Are you wearing it for yourself, or are you trying to proclaim to the world how super-hardcore-uber-witchy you are?  Take this pentacle on the right, for instance.  It has been mounted on a copper "donut," which has been mounted on a filigree base.  Around the pentacle are eight crystals, symbolizing the eight Pagan holidays, with a multi-colored crystal in the center. And the entire pendant is about the size of a quarter.  Small and simple, yet beautiful meaningful at the same time.

OOAK design
4.  Don't be afraid of a little creativity.
I think everyone (at least secretly) wants to have or wear something unique, so why do I always see the same jewelry designs everywhere?  Don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against pentacles, Celtic knots, and triple-moon motifs, but they're certainly not the only alternative religious symbols.  But if you absolutely MUST wear these, then look for (or make) something with a little pizzazz.  Don't just accept charms thrown onto chains or earring hooks and call it a day.  BORING!  Put some effort into what you make, or choose something handmade and/or one of a kind (OOAK) if buying from someone else.  Better yet, come up with an idea and get it custom made!

Pagan and proud... and private.
5.  Make it personal.
Not everyone wants to go around proclaiming their religious beliefs with what they wear.  Some people are "in the broom closet," and some people think that religion is a private matter and just don't feel like being obvious or too conspicuous.  I can relate; the only time you'll see me flaunting a pentacle is in circle with other Pagans or at a Pagan festival.  That doesn't mean that I don't have choices when it comes to magical jewelry.  These understated Pagan earrings are a good example:  they have all four colors of the elements + purple for spirit, they feature a heart inside a circle (symbolizing our beliefs and practices), and they are made from both silver and gold to represent the balance between Goddess/God and feminine/masculine.  But they just look like a colorful pair of earrings to the casual observer! Just about anything can have magical or spiritual significance, so give it some thought and see what "ordinary" jewelry speaks in a magical language to you!  (P.S.  I try to stock a lot of this kind of "stealth" jewelry in my shop, especially in my kid/teen section.  Just FYI.)

For funky hippie/LGBT mojo!
Lastly, I want to say that the most important thing about any piece of spiritual or magical jewelry is that it has to "feel" good.  It doesn't matter how gorgeous, well-made, valuable, or rare any jewelry is if it gives you a strange or icky feeling when you put it on.  In many cases, the jewelry might have picked up some negative vibes and could use a good clearing/cleansing.  However, if that doesn't work, then you and that piece are simply incompatible, and you should sell, give away, or donate the jewelry, even if it was a gift.  By letting it go, you will be better off, and it's likely that the jewelry will find it's way into the hands of someone who IS compatible with it.  And you can find something better suited to you to replace it with.



Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Catholic and dollar store weirdness.

If you have read my other posts about the crazy/awesome things I find at the dollar store, then you are in for a treat.  I've never seen anything like this, and couldn't wait to share it.

I'm not trying to bash Catholicism.  I actually find it one of the more comforting forms of Christianity, at least what little I know about it.  But I'm not going to pretend I totally understand it, either.  And with that, I saw this at the dollar store and knew I had to bring it home because it was so... weird.

I've seen novena candles before.  They're just as commonly associated with Santeria, Hoodoo, Witchcraft, etc. these days as they are with Catholicism and Christianity.  But the ones I've seen (that don't outright list spell uses) all have pictures of Mary, Jesus, angels, or the saints on them.  So... since when did Catholics start worshiping Death?

Even more bizarre is the prayer to "Saintly Death" on the side of the candle.  it reads:

"Death, dear to my heart, don't abandon me, protect me and from this moment, cover my house, work or business so that you attract white energies of the universe so that it is never absent and that all our needs are covered by the divine power of God the Father.

By the virtues you possess I will overcome all obstacles and not tolerate people who wish me evil, but positive people who only know how to love and respect all human beings who inhabit this planet.

I do not covet riches, but a life without shortcomings and I welcome you to protect me at night and during the day.  So be it and it will.  Amen."

Note how the prayer ends, with "so be it and it will, amen."  Sounds quite a bit like "so mote it be," doesn't it?  But then again, Catholicism has always recognized the need for ritual, and a lot of what passes for prayer in the church could also be considered spellwork.

I like the prayer on the candle as a good all-purpose prayer to whoever, but what I don't get is why you would say it to Death, of all entities.

Also interesting is the way Saintly Death is portrayed.  He looks like a typical Grim Reaper, except his scythe is missing, and he wears the white robe of a saint.  I suppose this is to make him look more like the Angel of Death.  In one hand, he holds the Scales of Justice, and in the other hand is...  what, a crystal ball?  The earth?  He's also glowing against a starry night sky background.  And, I'm pretty sure that what the prayer says about attracting "white energies of the universe" is the reason that the candle color inside the jar is also white.

Has anyone else seen any really strange novena candles?  Now that I've seen this, I suppose there are all sorts of interesting beings being prayed to for various reasons.  The Catholic church literally recognizes thousands of saints, with a whole host of bizarre patronages.  In a quick search, I turned up patron saints for thieves, amputees, natural disasters, pallbearers, excessive rain, television, even things like fear of wasps and protection against moles!  So all things considered, I guess praying to Death isn't that weird after all.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Light the altar.

A typical fire pot
This post is about illumination; namely, other ways to light your altar or sacred space besides using candles or ordinary light fixtures. I often use daylight, but most Witches I know prefer to work at night.  And as awesome as it is to cast a circle under the light of the moon, it is unfortunately not very practical and is much harder than it sounds.  Consider that the moon waxes and wanes, moves across the sky, often disappears behind things like trees, buildings, rooftops, hills, etc. AND, of course, you can't always count on the weather to cooperate.  Or your schedule, for that matter, even when conditions are ideal.

I've got nothing against candles.  They are the perfect economical, space-saving, visually pleasing, historically connected, and commonly accepted way to light sacred space (among pretty much ALL religions.)  HOWEVER...

Some people simply can't do candles.  They have little kids, clumsy or curious pets, allergies, tight spaces (I accidentally set off the smoke alarm a bunch of times at my old apartment), or are not allowed to burn candles, like in dorm rooms, hotels, offices, shared living arrangements, etc.  Safety, health, and other restrictions aside,  I'm also starting to see candles in a different light (ha ha... no pun intended!)  I use them so much for magic, they're starting to feel a bit like spell components to me, and I think that it might be a good idea for me to light the altar with something else in these situations.

So, in the quest for something different, I've come up with some handy alternatives for the modern Witch to light his/her altar!  Please note that with any open flame, the safety requirements are similar to the ones used when burning candles, but not necessarily the same!  If in any doubt about what these might be, you should not mess with open flame light sources until you have done some research and understand how to use them safely!  Here are some methods of illumination I've seen used or have tried myself:

1.  Fire pit:  the chances are, if you aren't lighting candles inside, you are probably not burning fires in a fireplace, either.  (However, a fireplace makes a great source of light for any ritual!)  So why not go outside, and use a patio fire pit?  You can even make a charcoal grill work as a fire pit, in a pinch.  Plus you get that lovely camping/beach bonfire feel without having to leave your property.

2.  Fire pot:  this is the smaller, portable, tabletop answer if you can't have a fire pit (see pic). I see these a lot at hardware and import stores in the spring and summer months.  A fire pot is a small, vase-like container made out of a heat-proof material (usually ceramic) that has a metal well in it for  adding fuel.  The fuel is set on fire, and burns with a tall, visible flame. They are designed for outdoor use, but I suppose that they could be burned indoors as long as they were used in a well-ventilated area and kept far away from smoke alarms and anything flammable, like drapes.  A fire pot should also be put on a trivet if being burned inside, and make sure to keep the included snuffer handy just in case you need to put the fire out before the fuel has been exhausted.  And NEVER add fuel while it is burning!  (Follow the included instructions.)

3.  Cauldron fire:  Some people use their cauldrons as candle holders, but that's not what I'm talking about.  This is an actual fire built inside the cauldron, where you use it like a fire pot. Fuels used for this vary; wood, herbs, charcoal, briquettes, gel or liquid fuel, or even Sterno cans can be used, but in every case, I recommend that you only use an actual cast iron cauldron to make a fire in, since the fire tends to get very hot. Again, this is probably better suited for outdoor use, but I have seen some pretty impressive cauldron fires done indoors with no problems.  If you decide to go this route, do some extensive research first, and use common sense - NEVER add fuel while the fire is burning, use a trivet or slab of stone or concrete to set the cauldron on, have a lid or pile of sand to snuff the fire out with (DO NOT USE WATER), etc.  Better yet, get someone who has some experience with this sort of thing to show you how it's done.

From wineenthusiast.com
4.  Tiki torches:  You can treat these the same as the above portable fire sources.  The best thing about them, in fact, is that they are portable; just stick them in wherever you have grass, dirt, or sand.  They are also pretty inexpensive, and tend to be sold in sets so you have plenty of light to go around.  Plus, they have that groovy retro party vibe!  Unfortunately, these are strictly for outdoor use only.

5.  Oil lamps:  Admittedly, these are a lot like candles, but they are just different enough to make them worth considering.  For starters, they burn cleaner and there's no dripping wax to worry about.  They also last a lot longer than candles and can be used over and over again.  I've also seen kits where you can make a pretty wine bottle or other decorative container (perhaps one with sentimental value?) into an oil lamp yourself.  This opportunity to personalize the lamp makes it a more attractive choice to many people.

6.  Light Strings:  this is one of my favorite non-fire sources of illumination.  No one objects to the use of these, as long as you're not overpowering an outlet with connected strings.  For all-purpose use, I suggest good ole plain white.  In the dark, they give you that "starlight" effect, and they are common enough that it won't look like you left your holiday decorations up too long.  On the other hand, you can get different colors for different occasions, since basic strings are pretty cheap, too. (Although certain colors might only be available seasonally.)  By far the best feature of a light string is that they are safe for use anywhere.

Photo by Saltmiser, from Wikipedia
7.  Lava lamps:  Ok, you can stop laughing now!  Seriously, this is my number one choice for a non-fire light on my altar.  There are two reasons for this:  1.  I know I'm going to sound like a drug-addled hippie if I say this, but I feel like it's a great meditation exercise to stare at a lava lamp, and 2.  I love the fact that a lava lamp combines the elements of fire (electricity) and water together, because you don't see this combo that often.  Hell, you could even throw earth (the wax) and air (the bubbling pattern) in there if you really want to, which makes the lava lamp an awesome all-around elemental light source!  They are also very safe and fairly inexpensive.

8.  Night lights:  I know these are bordering on the ordinary, but think about it:  how often do you really use a night light, anyway?  They're perfect for lighting a small room when casting a circle, as the light is low and provides good ambiance, they're perfectly safe, and they are also small enough to be tucked away in a drawer when not being used.  Plus, there are some really gorgeous stained glass, stone, porcelain, and laser-cut wood night lights available, some of them with magical patterns like fairies, mermaids, moons, and even pentacles.  Do a few searches online and you'll be surprised how many cool night lights are out there.

9.  Star projector:  this is stretching it a bit, but I know there are a lot of Pagans out there that long to be outdoors as much as possible for their rituals.  So why not bring the outdoors in, and pretend you are outside with a star projector?  Granted, a good one is going to cost you, but I've seen a good one in use and I have to say, it's quite the sight.  This is probably the most fun of all the options, and I highly recommend it if you want to include kids in your indoor rituals because it's safe and educational, too!

I'm sure there are many other ways you can think up to illuminate your altar or sacred space besides the ones I've listed.  I refrained from mentioning a few, such as battery-powered candles and lights, black lights, glow sticks, and lanterns.  Some of these don't have such great effects in my opinion, and some (like the glow sticks) I don't feel are environmentally responsible.  However, as with any other spiritual practice, you need to use whatever feels right and resonates with you personally.  And of course it has to be a safe and practical choice as well!  I would love to hear if anyone has ever tried any of these alternative light sources personally, what you thought of them, and what you would do differently (if anything).  Please, by all means, illuminate me!




Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Two reasons to celebrate today...

For the first one, Happy Beltane! (And to everyone below the equator, Happy Samhain!)

And secondly, for those of you who were kind enough to buy a 2012 Llewellyn's Witches' Calendar, today is the day you get to flip to May, which has my article!  Yay!

It's a short piece, and it's all about plant familiars.  Most of it is based on my personal experience with plants.  I wish I'd had more room to discuss this topic, because once I got started, I realized I had a lot to say.  But it's a good introduction on the subject.  Take a look if you get the chance!