Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Shadow Self: Meeting Your Shadow

Apologies, dear readers, for not posting lately, especially after such a wonderful response to my last blog post.  Real life, as it often does, gets in the way, but I should be back, at least for a couple of weeks.

On the topic of shadow work, let me give those of you who may try this a caveat: Shadow work is often intense.  It requires a great amount of self-care (and I don't mean doing this work and then sinking into ones addictions, such as drinking, and going on a 3 day bender).  To face your shadow is to face the ugliest part of yourself.  It is to face those parts of yourself, which you have deemed unsavory.  It is to gaze upon the piece of yourself that you have abused, neglected, or otherwise subjected to horrible things within your life.  This is not easy.  This is not comfortable.  This can be a touch dangerous (as with any magical practice.)  So, tread carefully, my friends, if you choose to embark upon this path.  And, as always, if you would like to discuss your findings once you have begun, then please, feel free to email me using the contact form on the right of this page.


Since we have discussed, in general, what the Shadow is, I will not rehash that.  Today, I will discuss ways to work with the Shadow, some negatives that can be turned into positives via the shadow, and post a meditation on how to meet him or her.

The inherently negative nature of the Shadow Self and our repression of it reveals many things about the society we live in.  As a culture, we are encouraged to ignore the more unsavory aspects of our personalities and, indeed, look down upon those who might engage in their own negative needs.  The absolute need for everything to be 'of the light' is silliness.  Even the darkness has its place and its usefulness.

We look upon thieves and murderers with disdain.  We look upon those selfish people we know much the same way.  However, those are aspects of the Shadow Self running amok.  If the Shadow wants to kill someone, we have to ask it why?  The reasoning is going to be varied, but it boils down to some reason dealing with the Self.  "This person took my -fill in the blank-."  "This person is a bad apple."  "This person is so horrible they don't deserve to live."

The Shadow can be quite violent if that violence is not released in an appropriate manner.  I knew someone working with the Shadow one time who would engage in violent video games to allow that Shadow Self to be as violent as it needed to be.  This is a good example of allowing the Shadow what it needs, instead of containing it until it reaches critical mass and there is a fist fight over something stupid.  My own Shadow was once quite violent out of frustration from inaction.  I refuse to engage in physical violence.  For me, I allowed her frustration to come out by writing violent and gory short stories.  Once those stories were written, we burned them.  Just because I know that I can be cruel, doesn't mean that I have to act upon that cruelness.

So, if the Shadow can be engaged positively, what are a few symptoms that our Shadows need to be worked with and how do we work these things out without our Shadow taking over?  First, we have to really examine our own behaviors.  (This is the difficult part.)  We have to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, "What are my own issues?"  Do you have a problem with anger, greed, fear, addiction, lack of self-worth?  Are you self destructive or do you simply let others around you run you over?  Obviously, these aren't the only questions to ask, but I find them to be some of the most common.  You have to look within to the things you know about yourself, the things you repress or don't want to admit, to find what you need to work on.  Once this is done, you can go to your Shadow and he or she will give you more things, from my own experience, the things you didn't even know you needed to work on.  Now, let's discuss fear and greed as positives before we get to the meditation to the Shadow.

Most people look at the words "fear" and "greed" and wonder just how those can be positive things.  Fear is an emotion of warning.  "Don't get too close to the edge of that cliff or you might fall!" "Don't go into the deep end of the swimming pool if you can't swim!"  "Don't touch that wild animal, it might bite you!"  Those are relatively healthy warnings of fear.  Being wary of strange dogs and other potentially dangerous situations is what fear can do in a positive manner.

Fear in a negative manner would be things like, "Meeting new people is bad and they will hurt you." "Don't do this new thing because it might not turn out like you want it to." "You know people are horrible, so don't bother with them."  "Don't trust anyone but yourself or you will be let down."  This is the Shadow running amok and putting irrational thoughts and emotions in ones head.

If fear can be good, then how can greed be good?  Greed is an excessive need for possessions or, even an unnecessary need for the best possessions.  It can be 'keeping up with the Jones'.  Greed can lead to the hoarding of stuff or money.  It leads to the irrational need of possessions over people.  Does this mean those who are well off are greedy?  Not necessarily.  Maybe they are ambitious.  I know many people who have what they have and they are satisfied with it, but they work toward the future.  They understand that there may not always be a steady paycheck.  They understand that there may not always be time to prepare for those things, so they work now to make sure that when times are lean they have what they may need. The ambitious strive to keep what they have in lean times while the greedy strive to have everything they want right now.

Having read this far, I hope you are a little more prepared to meet your Shadow Self.  I hope you have taken a good look in the mirror and acknowledged the things about yourself that you don't necessarily like.  Now, it is time to meditate.  Do not be shocked at the actions or state of your Shadow when you come upon him or her.  Assuming you are relatively adept at meditation, I will cut out the relaxation/beginning of the meditation because if you don't know how to begin a meditation, then you shouldn't be trying to meet your Shadow.

Shadow Meditation

1. Find a place you will be comfortable and uninterrupted for at least a half hour and begin your meditation process.

2. When you have reached a place of complete relaxation, visualize a door.  Open it.

3. The door opens to a landing with a corridor stairs spiraling downward.  You count the steps 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

4.  This leads to a second landing.  This landing opens up to a cavernous space beyond the dim lighting, even as the stairs spiral downward more. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

5.  You come to a second door.  It is closed and locked.  There are signs that this door has not been opened in many years.

6.  You know you are in the right place as you open the lock and the door.  You step through to the other side.

7. The room is dimly lit and as your eyes adjust, you take in the features of the room.  You pick up a movement and you walk cautiously toward it.

8.  As you get closer, torches spring to life, illuminating what moved.  It is your Shadow Self.  Look at it.  What have you done to it?  It reacts to your presence.

9. Stand there and watch it, out of reach.  When it stops reacting speak to it.  Begin building its trust in you again.  Ask it questions.  What does it need from you?  Tell it what you need from it. If your Shadow is bound in some way, make a bargain with it and release it.  (If it refuses to bargain, it is up to you if you want to leave it bound until you have created some bond of trust with it.)

10.  You have done all you can for now, so you thank your Shadow for giving you the wisdom you need at this time and you promise to visit often.  You turn around and leave through the same heavy door you came in through.

11.  Closing the door behind you, to ascend the first flight of stairs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and come to the landing.

12.  Once again, the corridor narrows and you spiral up the next flight of stairs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and you have reached the first door.  You walk through it.

13.  Once through the door, you come back to your body, relaxed and refreshed and fully remembering this experience.

14. Write down everything you experienced with your Shadow.  Write down what it told you, how you felt when you saw it, what state it was in, everything.  Write down your bargain with it so you will remember and keep that bargain.

Once you have met your Shadow, it is paramount that you go back to that place and visit.  This is an exercise in trusting yourself and keeping your word.  Please, if you can not do this after care, then do not do this meditation.  DO NOT piss your Shadow off because you won't keep your word to take care of it.  This WILL do more harm than good.  Also, please, use common sense and don't simply do whatever your Shadow tells you or let your Shadow take over.  This is also very bad.

As always, dearest readers, if you are doing this and need to speak to someone who has been through it, you can email me via the contact page (at lightgoddess(at)gmail(dot)com) or you can contact me here.

Brightest blessings, friends!!

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Shadow Self

Occasionally, one hears whispers of a practitioner doing shadow work.  What is the Shadow?  What, exactly, is Shadow work?  The Shadow is that part of ourselves that we have hidden away in the darkness.  It is that part of ourselves that we do not like or understand.  It is the personification of all that is negative about our personality.  The Shadow is nearly equivalent to the Ego.  Shadow work is working with the Ego and finding that place where we have locked away the things we don't like about our selves.  It's facing our own demons.  When we personify that part of us which we hate, and look at it, really examine it, we sometimes find out that it isn't the monster, but we are.

My own shadow was chained and stripped of her dignity when I discovered her.  She was living like an animal, half-starved, within the darkest recesses of my own soul.  When I approached, of course, she attacked.  She didn't retreat, so I hadn't broken her.  Thank the gods!  I watched her come at me over and over.  She wasn't interested in listening to me for sure.  She eventually tired and I sat down just out of her reach (because I know me and I know how clever I can be).  "Are you ready to listen?" I asked.

She looked at me and growled.  "You know who I am," I said.  "I have come here to let you go, not chain you farther."

Her expression changed from anger to curiosity.

I looked hard at what I'd done to myself.  I was ashamed.  This piece of me was something I had spent many years trying to force to 'be good.'  This piece of me was untamed.  She sat back as I released her, not saying a word, but not really trusting me, either.  My Shadow contained all of my fears, some healthy, some unhealthy, some outright ridiculous.

For the next several weeks, I had many conversations with her.  In reality, she drove me a bit crazy.  I would spend quiet moments at my job trying to concentrate and she would throw alien emotions at me, images of horrific things, or worse, images of distasteful words and deeds that made her feel powerful and needed, but left me bewildered.  She was challenging me to keep my word that I would not lock her up again.  I spent that time feeling very uncomfortable within my own skin.  Yet, I kept my word.

I became very conscious of my words and, usually, let her have her say (in my mind) before I would respond in earnest to whomever I was talking to.  Occasionally, I would let her scathing wit bubble up and, because it was so out of character for me to say such things, those around me would laugh heartily in surprise.

This, however, is just my experience in working with the Shadow.  I have come to love her very much.  I have been reading things lately that say the Shadow should be destroyed and I completely disagree with that sentiment.  I would never vanquish a part of myself because I find it to be unpalatable.  I would rather discover why I find those things undesirable.  Wicca is a journey of self-discovery, isn't it?  How can I discover anything about myself if I am just destroying the things I don't like?

I see the 'destruction' of the Shadow as the ultimate Ego bait-and-switch.  "I am so learned, wise, etc. that I have destroyed the darkest part of myself, vanquished it forever."  Really?!?  That statement doesn't sound very altruistic to me.  It doesn't sound very learned or wise, either.  The mere suggestion that the Shadow can be destroyed sounds too good to be true.  (Guess what they say about things like that!)

From where I sit, if one believes that the Shadow can be destroyed, then the Shadow has already taken over.  The practitioner has become complacent in his or her learning and believes that no one 'below' them can teach them anything new.  Just the act of seeing people as 'below' or 'less than' is also an act of the Shadow.  (I believe that we all have things to learn from each other, no matter where we are on our paths.)

I have learned a great many things from my Shadow self.  She says, "You have been learning Craft for nearly 15 years! Own that!"  I reply, "You are right, but it has only been nearly 15 years.  That is a mere blip in time for so many more people than me!"  She then replies, "Yes, it is more than some and less than most, but you should still own it.  That is nearly the sum of your adult life!"  So, I own it (mostly, I have just begun to own it and verbalizing it still makes me uncomfortable because I feel like I know so little).

Because I work with my Shadow on a regular basis, I have chosen to recognize that I may have had some experiences others have not.  I choose to recognize that I can bring something to the table in discussions.  In that recognition, I also see that I have to watch my words and deeds.  She is still here and, sometimes, my Shadow doesn't like how things are playing out, so she throws a fit.  She is, after all, still my Shadow.

In the future, I plan on doing a 'Practicals' blog on working with the Shadow, if there is any interest.  It may even become a sub-set in the 'Practicals' series if my beloved readers wish it so.  If you would like to know more about the Shadow or privately discuss some of your own experiences with it, you can always email me using the contact form, or you can message me on Facebook here.

Until then, brightest blessings, Friends!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Practicals: Grounding and Shielding

I have a poll here, and have gotten 2 votes (YAY!!), both requesting to see more practical workings, so I am going to start a series called "The Practicals".  It will be geared more toward the novice to intermediate practitioner as opposed to the newest practitioners of Wicca and the Craft (meaning you should already have some working knowledge of the subject).  The Practicals will discuss briefly what the subject is, why I believe it is important for those who are relatively new (or a good refresher for us all) and then move into ways to work with it in your daily life.

I am going to preface this with a caveat: Try these suggestions as your own risk!  They are suggestions of things that work for me as well as some that haven't!  If you find yourself trying any suggestion and it failing, remove it by doing the opposite of what you did to add it.  Please, please, use common sense! 

Grounding and shielding were two of the very first things I learned as a wee baby pagan.  I was interacting with people on the internet, one after another, chat room and message board, what I heard from Wiccans, Witches, and pagans across the spectrum, "If you can already meditate, then you must learn to ground and shield."  Since that time and coming to work with the wider community, I now understand the need for such basic practices as grounding and shielding.  Not only that, but I understand the need to teach these things.

More than once I have been to a festival or an open circle where people participating in the main ritual didn't know how to ground after the cone of power was raised and released and, for whatever reason, the HPS didn't do a few grounding chants during or after cakes and ale.  The ritual fell into total chaos, of course, because everyone was high on energy and couldn't or didn't want to let it go.  Even worse, I think, is going to a festival where there is trouble in the host group (or groups) and those emotions aren't shielded from the festival goers.  No one wants to go to a festival and feel the tension, pain, or outright hate between two people or groups of people.  Lastly, is the person or group of people at a festival or open gathering who can't or don't want to control their own energy.  (I prefer to believe that it is option one.)  These people end up being a black hole for energy and then whatever may come back out (sometimes it's no energy, other times it's all of it, just distorted) flies about in a chaotic vortex, much like blending a smoothie without the blender lid.  So, what are some options for dealing with these kinds of people or situations?

First, know your own best practices for grounding and shielding.  If you don't know what works best for you, then you can't help anyone else.  So, we will begin here with the definition of grounding and shielding.  Grounding is "releasing excess energy that has built up from ritual or other vigorous activities."  The best example of this was given to me a several years ago.  One is perfectly grounded in those first few moments after orgasm, when you don't want (or can't) to do anything but lie there and breathe.  I have had those moments after a particularly good ritual, but how do we carry those moments with us in every day life?

There are many meditations for grounding.  The most popular being the Tree Meditation.  Visualizing roots into the ground and limbs into the sky and draining away excess energy and replacing it with earth and sky energies.  Not many of us have time in the middle of our day, though, to sit for a few minutes in quiet contemplation.  So, what then?  I have found many more practical (and inconspicuous) methods through the years.  Some work better for me than others.  The first is carrying a worry stone.  It can be anything from a flat river rock to a specific type of tumbled stone (i.e hematite, for many).

Being a stone keeper, I have always been one to have a collection of rocks and stones.  The Stone People have always spoken to me (even before I was pagan and knew about these things).  Stones are, literally, bits of the earth we can carry around in our pockets or on a piece of jewelry. Those bits of earth carry the same grounding properties as the land they were born from.  When one can't 'be a tree', one can always carry a stone in his or her pocket and touch it when needed.

Another practical way to ground, is to touch a tree.  The Tree People are often happy to take excess energy from us if we offer it.  It should be noted here that if it is autumn or winter, the trees are slumbering or approaching it, so offering them an excess of energy during that time could disturb their rest.  Another option is walking barefoot on the grass, or in the winter, having an indoor plant or two that one can take care of.

Some people also benefit from the use of water as a grounding conduit.  What is better than a nice hot bath or shower after a tough day out in the world?  Water works in a couple of different ways to ground.  If you are one to take magical baths or showers, it washes away the ick of the day both literally and energetically.  Being the element of emotions, it can help to bring troubles into balance thus aiding in grounding.

Once your individual best grounding practice has been found, it will be a case of repeating it until it becomes second nature.  I have come to a point in my own practice that I can ground myself by simply pushing the energy through my own feet or crown chakras, but this has taken me a good, long time to get proficient.

Shielding, I have found, is a bit trickier.  Shielding is "energetically blocking unwanted energy or emotions which may effect us."  I find shielding to be trickier because, so often, some part of us wants to be part of the drama we find ourselves surrounded with.  It can't be blocked if we want this drama.  I also find it to be trickier because the setting of intent must be a very specific thing that must also be well thought out (i.e "What could be the consequence of this particular shield?").  With all of that said, everyone does have natural shields that they have developed just by living life and, for some, these suffice for a long time, sometimes for their whole lifetime.

Probably the most well known shielding technique is the drawing down of the white light of the universe.  In essence, one creates a 'bubble' of white light around them charged with a specific intent.  This technique doesn't work so well for me personally.  I find it to be too generic for my particular needs, but it is definitely a good place to start.

I learned shielding in a very different way from most people.  Where most people learn to shield with the white light, I learned to make specific shields with intentions and layer them on top of one another.  This is both good and bad.  It means that my own shields are very specific and may let things through that I may not want because I have not come across that particular energy or emotion yet.  It is also trying on occasion because my intent may be too broad and it blocks out otherwise good energies.  Also, these layers can be difficult to deconstruct if I need to because they have been in place for so long.

An example of a layered shield would be:

Layer one (right against the skin) is the white universal light.  It allows everything in except for the lowest of energetic vibrations.
Layer two (just on top of that) is a finely woven net of a specific color.  This shield allows the finest bits of energy to seep through so that I can feel what is going on around me and choose to let it in or not.
Layer three is a looser woven net of a specific color.  This shield allows more energy to filter through.
Layer four (the outer layer) is a bubble of some specific material (glass, a mirror, a soap bubble with a sheen, etc.).  This shield can be the most or least protective, based upon intent, but also the most tricky.

Imagine, if you will, this particular shield configuration with the outer layer being a mirror.  Mirrors reflect.  If one walks into a hostile environment (like someone at work having it out for you) with a mirror as the outer layer of a shield, things could get sticky very quickly.  If one works with someone who is inherently negative, that mirror shield is going to reflect that negativity back at that person.  What happens when our worst qualities are manifest back at us?  If we are unwilling to acknowledge those qualities, then our own negativity intensifies.  So, imagine what it must be like to be a muggle who doesn't understand energy, how it works, or what is happening when one gets back what they put out.  This kind of shield can be quite shocking and agitating.

Let's, for the sake of argument, say one did not make a mirror for an outer shield, but just a bubble of some fine material, transparent both ways.  The negativity projected could get through to the second shield, the first 'net'.  It was then filtered through to the second 'net' and then on to the white light.  What one might feel is a slight discomfort, that intuitive feeling that something is wrong.

This is, from where I sit, what shielding is supposed to do.  It allows us to set intent for the kind of energies we will and will not allow in our lives.  These shields also will protect us from surrounding ourselves with the wrong kinds of people, in general, depending upon intent.  However, shields can also draw to us those who are psychic vampires (usually these are the types who do not consciously feed on people).  They feel that energy, especially good energy, and they want to get through it, to the energy of the practitioner.

Other ways of shielding that I have found work (sometimes with a little trial and error), are charging a body wash, lotion, or oil with a specific intent and then putting it on or charging a piece of jewelry or clothing.

Some of these things work for some people and some of these things don't. When it comes to grounding and shielding, I have very specific things that I do which work for me.  Sometimes they work for others, sometimes not.  What techniques have you found to shield and ground yourself that might not be found in books or online?  What have you found that simply didn't work?  What worked best for you?

Until next time, Brightest blessings, friends!!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Never Again, the Burning Times!

When I started my search into all things Craft nearly a decade and a half ago, the phrase 'Never again the burning times' was shouted so often and by so many, I though it was a big deal.  I thought that, maybe, there was proof that millions of witches were burned by the Christians or some such tragedy against our kind.  I found out that there was no proof, but anecdotes of the numbers of witches burned.  More importantly, as it was pointed out by a beautiful and wizened friend of mine, the burning times is about blind obedience.  I say 'is' because, what if we (as a people) never actually left?

Through my years working with the community, first online and now face-to-face, I have seen many instances of title chasing and ego fluffing, which lead to blind obedience.  I have seen and experienced these things.  My Gods remind me that titles are bestowed by men.  Titles can also be taken away by those same men.  Titles lead to chains.  Chains lead to bindings.  Those bindings lead to doing what you are told to do because it's 'right'.   Titles can be sloughed off when they become too restrictive so there is no need for the trappings of doing what you are told because you are X Title.  Titles don't free us from thinking for ourselves.
They are supposed to, if we earn them properly, give us the knowledge and wisdom to make better choices when we think for ourselves.

So, if titles aren't necessary, why do we chase them?  Because, in a group structure, titles imply rank, status, and maybe, just maybe, honor, trustworthiness, and intelligence, among other things.  They have come to mean something more than what they are, a way to classify who has learned what.  I bring this up because I look at many around me who have achieved one rank or another within their particular brand of Craft and I can, sometimes, look directly through the illusions they cast and see the person behind the title.  Sometimes, it takes me a little bit longer to see, but in nearly every instance of parting those illusions, the person I have seen has been someone I didn't want to become.  Sometimes I see past those illusions and I see a person who is very much someone I would like to emulate, though.

I have seen leaders, very knowledgeable people, very dynamic people, inherently good people, with their deeds, if not their words, advocate to their students that it is okay to quit jobs for their Craft, and live on government assistance of one kind or another because it gives the student all the time in the world, then, to learn (or maybe 'fast track' their learning).  I have been the one having my ego fluffed just as long as I was doing what I was told, then, as soon as I stopped doing what I was told (or questioned it, or followed the path my own Gods set out) I was forgotten, cast aside, and no longer seemed to matter.

So, if we, as students of the Craft, are being told that we are taught how to think, not what to think, then why do we get caught up in the illusions of others?  Why do we get wrapped up in the egos of those who 'know more' or who have 'been around longer'?  Why do we, as students, allow them to tell us what our Gods have set out for us, instead of searching for ourselves?  The Burning Times has always been about blind obedience, ego, greed.  Aren't those the exact things that we, as pagans, are trying to transcend?

Now is the time for us, as individuals and as groups, to do a bit of soul searching.  As practitioners are we serving ourselves or are we serving our Gods?  Are we trying to make money?  Do we want minions or followers?  Do we, genuinely, want to see our students be the best people they can be or do we just want someone there to carry on our work?  Do we want our students to challenge us and our vision or do we want them to simply do what they are told?  When do we step out of our, predominantly, Christian way of thinking and wanting to be told what to do, and begin thinking for ourselves, doing for ourselves?

I, for one, remember The Burning Times.  I honor those who burned, Witches and Christians alike.  I refuse to obey blindly, as a cattle to slaughter, those who may or may not have my own best interests at heart.  I look to my Gods for signs.  I listen to the spirit of the trees, the rocks, my animal brethren.  Mostly, I listen to my intuition.  Once I shove my emotions to the side and quiet my own ego, it whispers with conviction the road I must take.  Do you do the same?

Brightest Blessings, Friends!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Familiars, Totems, and Guides: What's the Difference? Does it Matter?

There are vastly different schools of thought within the pagan community about animal familiars, totem animals, animal guides, or power animals and what they are, what they aren't, how many you can have, and how you get one.  Obviously, with animal guides, totems, and power animals (and yes, I use those words non-interchangeably for a reason) it will depend upon the path you or your teacher walk as to which words are used and if they are used in an interchangeable manner, among other things.  With the witch's familiar things get even more ambiguous, so we will start there.

In Medieval European folk-belief, the familiar was a spirit who would help the cunning-folk (which they tended to categorize differently from Witches) with his or her practice of magic.  Sometimes this entity would take the form of an animal while other times it might be incorporeal, according to various accounts.  However, for the sake of argument, we are going to focus on animal familiars, the most recognizable concept in most modern Wiccan traditions.

In most modern practices, the animal familiar is a helper with magic.  Traditionally, the familiar is a cat, specifically a black cat, but this is not always the case.  I have known witches and Wiccans with dogs, snakes, mice, cats, and a menagerie of other animal familiars.  In today's world, the animal familiar tends to be an animal that the practitioner has a special connection to.

In the early days of my own practice, I never put much stock into the notion of a familiar.  I had a dog, a very large, caring, and mundane canine, and I didn't see the need to have another animal.  Then, I met a stray Lab.  It was December and she was cold, hungry, and obviously in need of medical care.  (Someone had thought it would be fun to take this gentle soul and carve her up with a knife of some kind.)  So it was, I had two, rather large, blonde dogs.  Belle was a large Labrador Retriever, and I'm almost certain, not 'just' dog.

About a year after bringing her into my life, I was chosen (literally) by a tiny tabby kitten whose litter mates all had names of Greek deities.  He didn't, though.  At about six weeks old, when all of his siblings were climbing on everything and falling and being super adorable, he sat patiently at my feet, watching me, until my sister noticed him and told me to pick him up.  He perched on my shoulder and snuggled into my hair.  I was chosen and had to figure out how to introduce this little guy to my two giant dogs without them eating him.  They didn't eat him and, as a matter of fact, Belle took to him like he was her tiny little brother.  Her tiny little brother, then grew up and became her small-ish brother.  At adulthood, he was as large as a Boston Terrier, weighing in at somewhere around 25 pounds.  (That's a LOT of cat!)

 As time went on, I noticed that the two of them would come into my crafting room whenever I was working energy.  I wouldn't call them, they would just come.  Mr. Mao would sit at the edge of my circle and watch as Belle would dance and wiggle and help me raise energy.  To this day, I believe that I had a familiar and a guardian.  The latter, something that I didn't know could happen (at the time).  Even my very conservative, Christian mother commented on the strangeness of my animals, often telling me that there was 'something not right' about my cat.  He loved her, but his stares unnerved her, I think.

As for animal guides, totems, and power animals, this concept is a whole different beast (pardon the pun).  As a general rule, these labels come from shamanic backgrounds all over the world.  These creatures are purely etheric, generally, and guide us in the astral plane or Otherworlds.  Depending on your flavor of shamanic practice, the 'rules' change in regards to animal guides.

Many moons ago, when I was learning a particular brand of indigenous shamanism, I was taught that the words 'totem' and 'power animal' were synonymous, but 'animal guide' meant something different. In reality, my teacher used the word 'totem' in lieu of 'power animal', but now I don't remember why she had such an aversion (it was around 10 years ago).  So, that being the case (in my own teachings), why was there this clear delineation?

That particular line was drawn because totems had a couple of different categories and you didn't just have one.  There were familial totems and your own personal totem, which meant you could have up to 5 different animals that were with you from birth.  The familial totems were from each of the 4 branches of your family and, to my understanding, were more like guardian spirits.  They were there and, once you began your walk, they guided and protected you.  Your personal totem could be one of these animals, too, or it could be something completely different, and it works in the same way power animals do.

On top of these particular animals, you have 'animal guides'.  These are the animals you meet in the Otherworlds who are there to help you on your journey.  They may or may not manifest in the physical (as an upsurge of seeing them at odd times or experiencing odd behavior from them), but they are there to give you messages and impart omens.  These animals also only stay until it is clear whether or not you learned their particular lesson or received their message.  There is, very much, a transience to their presence.

Since that time, I have learned that there are diverse ideas of totems/power animals and how we get and keep them, but the most prolific is that we all have one and we have had it since birth, no matter how long it takes us to actually discover it.  I find this teaching just as comfortable as the many totems/guides teaching.  It's less complicated.  It's more concrete.  Everyone can identify with it, no matter how much or little they have been exposed to a shamanic path.

If you walk a shamanic path, what are your experiences?  Were you taught something completely different from what I have talked about?  Were you taught something similar?  Do you have any specific thought about familiars and how they come to us?  Did your Wiccan or Craft Tradition teach something all together different in terms of familiars?  I would love to hear your thoughts on this, dear readers.  I am always looking to have my horizons expanded based upon the experiences of others.

Brightest Blessings, Friends!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Paganism 101: A Review

This week's blog is a wee bit different than my normal weekly writing.  This week, it is a book review for my friends at Moon Books.  Moon Books is a company we should all watch.  I have a couple of their books and they are jewels in a world of re-hashed Wicca 101 literature.

The newest publication is Paganism 101: An Introduction to Paganism by 101 Pagans.  Part One, Who We Are, explores Druidry, Wicca, Shamanism, Heathen, Goddess Worshiper, Christo-Pagan, Witch, and Eclectic Pagan with five essays on each topic.  Each of these essays gives a different perspective on how the author identifies his or her practice using the preferred label.  Graeme K. Talboys sums it up perfectly in his Druid essay, saying, "Ask ten Druids what it means to be Druid and you will get eleven answers. This is because it is personal." (p. 4 Paganism 101)  Each of the eight topics in part one work well to give a newcomer to paganism a well rounded perspective on some of the most common paths found in today's world.

Part Two, What We Believe, explores Deities, Nature, Ethics, the Afterlife, Ancestors, and the Past and Present of pagansim, with five essays on each by another round of authors.  The section on ethics runs the gamut in terms of how pagans may deem their actions right or wrong, mentioning various things like relativism, the Wiccan Rede and Law of Returns.  The essays on pagan afterlife are just as intriguing and thought provoking.

Part Three, What We Do, speaks on Ritual, Magic, Prayer and Meditation, Healing, Herbalism, and Celebrant Work within the broader pagan community.  The essays on ritual hit home with me.  As one who has come to a point where ritual is, mostly, unnecessary to achieve a spiritual mind-set, the advantages and disadvantages were discussed.  Not only that, it was also mentioned, in one essay, how sometimes certain elaborate rituals become 'sterile' energetically.  While I have experienced that personally with more elaborate rituals, it should be remembered that smaller group rituals can also be susceptible to the same thing for various reasons.

Having hit (some of) the high notes in this review (as I don't want to completely spoil it for those who are seeking), I believe this compilation of essays has something to offer everyone who is seeking a pagan path, even if one doesn't know exactly what it is just yet.  It explores the most popular paths within the pagan construct, how we see Deity, the afterlife, ritual and magic, among other topics.  All of the essays are well thought-out, beautifully written in their varying styles, and a pretty easy read for one who may not know much about these topics.  This book was a joy to read (even for this more experienced witch) and I do believe that Moon Books hit it out of the park with this one!!

Brightest Blessings, Friends!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Anger and the Pain it Causes

In its various guises, Anger has been on my mind a lot lately.  When I use the word 'anger', I should probably be more specific and say misdirected anger.  As with any word or action, anger can be a good thing and used to a good purpose, when directed appropriately.  That said, I haven't been angry but I have watched those around me succumb to their own anger.  Watching this process made me think.  It made me reflect upon my own anger, but more importantly, I began to reflect upon the anger projected on me by others, their reactions, and the lengths they would go to, to see me hurt in some physical or emotional way.  Even now, I search my memory for actions on my part that would have precipitated such an angry outburst from these people.

In late 2010 my life imploded slightly.  I found myself without a job and living with a friend.  I was completely freaked out by this.  My life had, mostly, been orderly with some sense of direction and I found myself with none.  My friend and I managed as best as we could to make this arrangement work.  We did well for about 3 months and then one Sunday, I found myself backed into a corner with her screaming at me about some strange overreaction she was having.  Honestly, I was kind of clueless about the accusations being thrown at me.  I was confused, to say the least.  When I told my friend she'd lost her mind (not in so many words, mind you), she and another friend of hers attacked me physically.  Now, I must add here, I don't like physical violence of any kind, but I had no choice other than defend myself.  When the fight was over, the three of us were in a pile on the floor.  I thought it was over.  It wasn't.  Once we untangled ourselves and I was told to leave (because I totally would have stayed with someone who liked to attack people physically), I tried to start packing my stuff.  My friend decided that it would be fun to tell her daughter that I 'beat her up,' so her daughter would come after me.  Thankfully, I talked the daughter out of a fight, called some friends for help, and left, leaving many things behind.

Over the next month, I lived with some more friends, doing my best to stay out of the way.  This time it was a friend and her husband.  When I moved in, my friend told me not to plan on staying very long because she was leaving her husband after the holidays (it was early December).  The holidays passed and my friend announced that she was moving out.  Her husband blamed me.  He tried to get physically violent with me and she and I left, seeing refuge with yet other friends who so graciously opened their home to us both.  Long story short, this time, he did not want to let me get all of my things.  He stole from me, pawned some expensive electronics of mine, and was a general pain in the ass.  When I was finally able to get my stuff (his landlord forced the issue, I believe), I had lost more stuff.

I can't say that I was ever angry at either of them for what they did to me.  I can't say that I am angry now, not even over the loss of most of my stuff.  In the months after these incidents, I watched these two people wallow in their anger.  They lost or gave up many of the things that they loved while living in that anger.  It was heart-breaking for me to see and hear what was happening in their lives (because some people found it necessary to tell me).  

I didn't understand what I did so wrong.  I didn't understand why I was driving the people around me crazy.  I didn't understand why they were projecting their own concepts and anger over them onto me.  I was worried that I was going to do the same thing to one of my current roommates and still not understand what was going on around me.  I consulted with my high priest about why these things happened and why their anger was so disproportionate to what I perceived actually happened. What he said to me baffled me and gave me hope that I could prevent this from happening in the future (if I could figure out what it meant and how to do it, of course).

He said that, sometimes, people's energy changes so much that, without their understanding (or consent!), their energy affects people and when that happens, those whose energy vibrates at a lower level become agitated just being in the presence of that particular person.  He told me that I must learn to mask my energy to keep this from happening over and over again.  He didn't tell me how to do this, but that is his way, to let me figure it out on my own.  

Even more importantly than learning to mask my own energy, I observed what kind of damage anger does.  I watched both of these people, neither of whom I have any ill will toward, fight with themselves on a roller coaster of emotion.  I could see which decisions appeared to be made in anger and which ones weren't.  I learned to be compassionate toward them.  I learned to love them instead of pity them.  I learned that, ultimately, we punish ourselves with our anger, not anyone else.

Now, more than ever, when someone gets angry at me, I do my best to step back and be an observer.  Did I do anything wrong?  Did I say something wrong?  Is it just my mere presence?  I do my best to not succumb to my own anger.  Sometimes I succeed, other times, not so much.  I suppose that one must ride his or her own roller coaster of emotion to the end when it comes to anger and how it affects us individually.

Brightest Blessings, Friends!