Imbolc

Feb 1, 2016
I've been struggling with these rituals since I started the Dedicant's Path, requiring me to do every damn high day ritual or face starting the whole thing over again. The doing them is fine - the doing them is soothing and fulfilling, even when not entirely transporting. But the getting around to doing them...well, that's much harder.

I keep thinking that this isn't the right time, that if I just had more time to prepare, more time to spend on the work, it would be so much better. This is a flaw in my psychology I'm very aware of; I always feel like now is not the right time. And I always feel so much better when it's done anyway.

This is the first Imbolc I've celebrated in several years; that small victory is not enough, but it is something. While my first favorite pagan holiday was Samhain, once I settled into my practice a little more, Imbolc took pride of p
lace. It's perfectly timed: a month after the secular bustle of late December holidays have settled down, but well before actual spring, it gives you something to look forward to in the dead of winter. It's a promise, that it will get better.

(I never understood Imbolc as First Spring until I was in Ireland in the winter of 2004/2005. It really is spring in the beginning of February in Ireland. Everything is green. Tiny flowers are blooming. Lambs are, there is no other word for it, gamboling in the fields. We don't have the same climate here in Chicago, but the slow brightening of the sky is - well, it's not nothing.)

But more importantly, Imbolc is the feast of my patron goddess, Brigit, Lady of the Flames, keeper of the hearth and the forge and the poetic fire. She is one of the greatest teachers I have ever had, and a source of unwavering support through the darkest times in my life. I have been feeling her presence in my life very strongly of late; I've been creating in new ways, feeling the fire of inspiration like I haven't felt in years. So it felt right and good to honor her, this unnaturally warm February evening.

"Cups10". Licensed under PD-US via Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cups10.jpg#/media/File:Cups10.jpg
I burned a painting I'd done in sacrifice to Brigit. It was one of the most powerful sacrifices I've made, because I didn't want to do it. The painting came out much better than I'd hoped and I liked it, but I knew it was hers by right. I had meant to have some other Work in my ritual, something else to honor her, but I didn't have everything ready and I knew that if I didn't do the ritual tonight, I'd let it slip away and miss it entirely. And after all, the painting seemed enough. (And I could not have asked for a better blessing in return - as my omen from the gods, I drew the Ten of Cups.)

I felt a connection in this ritual that I had been struggling for when I started this practice, back in Samhain. It doesn't feel like I've done enough; I haven't done nearly what I usually do for Imbolc. But it is something, and it is more than the nothing I've done so far this year. I think I will stretch out the holiday with a good spring clean this upcoming weekend, and a loaf or two of fresh bread as well. Poetic fire is all well and good, but it's the hearthfire that keeps us alive.

Catching up

Jan 26, 2016
It's been a while since I posted about my dedicant's path progress, and it's true, I've fallen off the wagon a little bit with the work. I think I got thrown off kilter around New Year's, and I haven't completed one of the weekly assignments since then. It's not looking good for this week, either...but I'll get back to it next week, I promise.

That doesn't mean I haven't been doing anything. I've been meditating pretty much every day. It's amazing what it does for my stability - it used to be that if I had a bad evening, that spoiled my whole day, and probably the next one too, because I'd stay up late trying to get something to balance out the bad evening to happen. (Spoiler: it usually didn't.) Now, I meditate every night at 10:00, and all the crap just goes away. It's sometimes there waiting for me in the morning, but it doesn't ruin my whole evening.

I've played with the Two Powers meditation as well, ADF's particular variation on the grounding-and-centering exercise. I like it, but it doesn't yet feel like I'm connecting to something real more than it feels like a particularly pretty set of images. I expect that will come with time.

I have not been good about getting out into nature - but it's January in Chicago, and I'm sorry, nature is not hospitable in this climate at this time of year. I'm starting to think I should have chosen something I can do from indoors for this particular aspect of the work - tracking the phases of the moon, maybe, or feeding the squirrels who live right outside my window. I suppose there's nothing stopping me from doing that now.

But this Sunday is Imbolc, my favorite holiday, and the one I keep missing due to inattentiveness. I just finished painting my altar decorations (which also may become sacrifices; I'm not sure yet) and I'm planning on doing some baking later in the week. I'm excited. And this should help get me back in the swing of things.

It is always the same step, but you have to keep taking it.

Jan 3, 2016
As I mentioned before, I've been using the Stop, Breathe and Think app to work on my meditation practice. I've tried meditation lots of times in the past, but I was never able to stick with it - but I was trying it with just plain old "sit and think of nothing" meditation, and I kept getting frustrated that I couldn't, well, think of nothing. Then I read The Mindful Way Through Depression and finally understood that that was the point; then I started working on my Dedicant Path in earnest, including the required mental training practice. 

For years I thought that I couldn't meditate before bed, because surely I'd fall asleep. Since I always complain about how long it takes me to fall asleep I don't know why I thought that. A couple of weeks ago, faced with the requirement not only to meditate but to document my progress, I realized that if I didn't set a regular schedule it wasn't going to happen, and I added meditation to my bedtime ritual: after the shower, but before that last hour or so of reading. Turns out that works beautifully. I'm more relaxed and better able to fall asleep, I know I'm not going to be interrupted, and my mind has begun to fall naturally into mindfulness later in the evening (which also helps keep me from accidentally staying up past my bedtime).

And then, last night, something weird happened. I sat down to do my evening meditation and I didn't want to listen to a guided meditation - I wanted quiet. I wanted to sit quietly alone with my breath. I'd never actively wanted this before, so I was conservative and set the timer for four minutes, which is about how long I usually spend, but it wasn't long enough. I did another four and felt fully settled, but also like I could have sat there for much longer, watching thoughts go by, breathing. It was outstanding. 

This is one of those Mysteries, the moment of understanding something that you've been told countless times that finally makes sense in your bones. I love those moments. The more of them that happen to me, the more I understand that they only happen after you've spent time with something, and that by definition that means I have to spend time with things I don't really understand before I can reach them.

Something I haven't mentioned, either in this blog or out loud to myself just yet - I've been feeling very disconnected from the gods, since long before I started this Path. Doing ritual gives me a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, but that connection is still missing. I'm starting to see a glimmer, though, not of the connection itself but of the possibility that it's out there, if I keep spending time with the possibility. Is this faith? 

Yule

Dec 29, 2015
Well, Yule was a long time ago, but it's been busy (surely one day Yule will again fall on a day I have off, and I can actually take some time to do the thing properly?) and I didn't get it written up soon enough.

Once again I used the ritual text from the Crane Breviary and found it entirely adequate but underwhelming. (It also leaves out some of my favorite bits of the one group ADF ritual I attended, such as the offering to the Outsiders, which means I forget about them until after it's too late.) I'm afraid this means I'm going to have to write my own for Imbolg. Which means I'm going to have to plan ahead a little better for that one.

Yes, once again I was woefully underprepared - worse this time than Samhain. I also realized partway through the ritual that the text made much more sense for the day *after* the solstice, whereas I was doing ritual at night just a couple of hours before astronomical solstice. Preparation, preparation.

But I did have offerings for everyone - oil and wine for the gods and the ancestors, nuts and pinecones for the Good Neighbors, a mirror for the sun, grain for the Earth Mother. And the ritual itself went fairly smoothly, although it lacked that particular ineffable quality that I associate with really good ritual. I called Manannan as Gatekeeper again, and that relationship seems to be going fairly well, so I suspect I should do something else to strengthen it between holidays.

I did run into a small snag with logistics - my printer stopped working, so I had to read the text of the ritual off my tablet. I didn't like it. Of course, I don't particularly like reading text off paper either, so maybe the answer is just that I need to memorize the liturgy before I become really satisfied with my rituals. More preparation.

For omens I drew the Queen of Cups, the Page of Swords reversed, and the Two of Cups reversed - emotional security, undelivered promises, and a misunderstanding. (To dramatically oversimplify.) I can't help but think about the job I didn't take at the beginning of December, the move I'm not going to make after all. I'm sure I made the right decision, but it is a loss of opportunity. If nothing else, it means I'm going to have to work harder to make sure I take advantage of the opportunities I do have, the ones I didn't lose by not moving.

I also can't help but compare the amount of time I spent on Christmas, a family and social holiday, versus Yule, a religious and personally meaningful holiday. Granted, there were far fewer people expecting things from me for Yule - but those people were the gods and spirits. I'm going to have to think about priorities too, it seems. And work on my preparation.

Io Saturnalia!

Dec 21, 2015
I am a little surprised to discover that Yule appears to be my favorite holiday. For the longest time it was Samhain - because it's witchy, I guess, and because liminality appeals to me. But for several years now I've been finding the liminality of Samhain and Beltane to be more of a drain on my energy than anything else. Then it was Imbolc, being as it was the holiday of my patroness, but we are not going to talk about how long it's been since I've properly celebrated Imbolc. But Yule - well, I always know when the Solstice is coming. The others depend on my awareness of the calendar, but I can feel Yule in my bones.

I grew up in a Christian household, and we celebrated Christmas. Still do, for the most part - I'm going back to Iowa to see my family in just a couple of days. I have an artificial Christmas tree up in my living room because my lease forbids real trees, but it doesn't say anything about wreaths, so I have a pine wreath on the door which I'll cannibalize for my altar decorations this evening. I have already spent too much money on presents, and I'm planning to go out today and spend more. Christmas is still a big part of this season for me, and I'm sure that's part of the reason I haven't traditionally thought of Yule as an important holiday for me: I was trying to get out from under the Christian influence.

It's a terrible cliché of pagan writing, but nevertheless it is true that Christmas is in December because of Yule. There is a reason everyone has a party on the winter solstice, and even all our modern conveniences can't change the fact that the sun has been gone, and she is coming back.

The sun is coming back.

Wow.

Alone in my mind

Dec 15, 2015
Last week's homework for the Dedicant Path was to begin a program of mental training. I, er, have not been particularly rigorous about this.

I started meditating regularly - which, for purposes of this discussion, means at least once a week - a few months ago, when I started going to therapy. My depression seems to be at its worst in the summer, for some reason, and I was trying to head things off at the pass. "At this point I would suggest meditation, except everyone always tells me they're doing it wrong," my therapist said more than once. "They're not. That's how it works." I don't know if she was using reverse psychology on me or what, but I finally threw up my hands and decided to start meditating.

I've never been very good at seated meditation. I get self-conscious and begin to be convinced that I'm breathing wrong. But walking meditation hasn't worked well for me either, so I scrounged around for an app that might work. I settled on Stop, Breathe, and Think, an app that has a soothing, friendly-sounding narrator and enough guided meditations that I haven't gotten bored yet. Between this and The Mindful Way Through Depression, the book that finally convinced me that I wasn't meditating wrong after all, my mental health has improved drastically.

So I kept up my meditations last week, but I'm not quite sure this is the thing I want to be doing for my religion. The guided meditations in Stop, Breathe, and Think are very Buddhist, and I still don't do terribly well with un-guided sitting meditation. But it can't hurt for going on with, and perhaps with luck I'll stumble upon a good alternative soon. It's much easier to stumble upon these things when you're looking for them.

Altars

Dec 6, 2015
I've had a hellishly busy week, so I was relieved to see that this week's Dedicant Path work was simple: build an altar. I already have an altar; how hard could it be to transition it to an ADF style?

Harder than I thought, actually, and also simpler.

The altar was in the back of my mind all week, churning around, and I could never come up with an image I liked. I knew, though, that I wanted it to be in the living room. I live alone, finally, so there's no reason for it to be tucked away. I want to use my altar for more than just high day rituals, and making it easy to reach makes that easier.

main altar


But what to include? I've been pagan for about fifteen years now, and I've accumulated a lot of Pagan Stuff. You know the kind. Candles in every color, bowls and jars and oils and bits of natural debris, athames and wands and divinatory tools of every kind.

In the end, I went for simple, not only because I was pressed for time in the chaos of this week but also because I just found out I'll be moving by the end of the month. I'm an overdecorator by nature, so in my new home I'll probably end up loading a table down with witchy nonsense, but for now I've settled for using my houseplant as the Tree, my cauldron as the Well, and my tripartate candleabra as the Flame, plus my offering cup. It's the bare bones of an altar, and I like it for now.

traveling altar - packed
traveling altar - set up
And then, since I'm getting ready to move and may not have a new home until February, I decided to overhaul my traveling altar, too. I've had this for years, a carved wooden box full of everything I think I might need to do ritual or magic if I'm away from my home altar. This box was cluttered too, so I stripped it down to the basics: a piece of felt for an altar cloth, a broken branch from the trees where I've been doing my nature practice for the Tree, a small dish for the Well, and a candle for the Flame. I added a tiny clay bowl for offerings, a serpent/flame talisman I made that represents Brigid, and a mini Tarot deck for casting omens. (It's handy to have a divination-tool addiction, sometimes.) On second thought, I'll keep my primary Tarot deck on the main altar, too; it's been out, as I do some studying, but there's no reason it can't rest there instead of on the coffee table.

It's a small thing for me, building a new altar, but I'm glad it's done. I could use an excuse for some peace and quiet in the next month.

A small delay

Nov 23, 2015
I'm holding back a week on the DP schedule. Two reasons - one, it'll give me a chance to get caught up on my reading. (I meant to do my reading last week, really I did!) And two, the schedule suffers from the unfortunate but unavoidable fact that the High Days aren't evenly spaced throughout the year. This way, I'll get an extra week of reading in and my homework will line up nicely for Yule.

Expect to see my reaction to my first Indo-European studies text here next week! (And oh, do I have Opinions.)

An Hour In Nature (Cold Winter Coming)

Nov 15, 2015
So I'm working through the ADF Dedicant's Path with the assistance of a handy guidebook called The ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year (delightfully included in ADF membership), which lays out all the work you have to do for the DP week by week, with homework. Since I am notorious for starting big and finishing not at all, I figured this was probably the best way to handle things. I rushed the first couple of weeks to do my first ritual at Samhain, and now I'm settling in for the long haul. The guide strongly suggests keeping a journal for all the steps along the way, and indeed some parts of the journal are required as part of the formal documentation of the work; you may consider this my dedicant's journal.

The homework for week four was to spend an hour in nature. After all, we are druids, we are neo-pagans, and nature is important to us. The guidebook acknowledges that many people do start at Samhain and therefore in many parts of the world it's getting cold outside. The only concession it makes is to warn you not to pick a spot that's likely to be difficult to get to in the snow. So out I went, into the late autumn weather, to see what I could commune with.

At first I'd planned to go out to one of the many forest preserves in Chicagoland, but after doing some of the reading I decided instead to stick to my own backyard, for several reasons. One is that if I'm going to make this a regular practice, I'm much more likely to avoid going out all the way to a forest preserve than I am to avoid stepping out my door and hanging out with a tree for a while. But another is more philosophical.

We tend, in the developed world, to think of nature as "out there," somewhere separate from our homes and daily lives. But it isn't. Nature is, in fact, everything everywhere all around us. Humans are nature, and human-made things are nature. The seasons turn in cities and in the countries alike - weather changes, the sun rises and sets earlier or later depending on the time of year, the moon spins through her cycle no matter where you stand on the planet. Now granted, there's a difference in the kind of nature from my houseplant to the linden trees in the yard to the prairie preserves five miles away to the Grand Canyon halfway across the country, but it's all nature. I didn't want to emphasize the difference but the closeness - so I went out in the yard.

I went first to the tree in the corner of the property, out of sight of most of the other apartments in my building, where I leave my offerings after ritual. I'd been there not five minutes when a fat grey squirrel ran under the fence and stopped shock still within a foot of me. Then she climbed to the top of the fence and started making angry squirrel noises, presumably warning all the other squirrels (there are a lot of them) that some human had come invading their territory. So I moved. I don't want to be rude, after all.

There's another small cluster of trees up by the side door to the building - four almost in a square, and another one nearby, with a stump right next to it. I settled into the square, partially sheltered from the wind, and wondered what kind of trees they were. Well, thanks to the glory of the modern age, I can find out, right? About half an hour with Google and the Arbor Day tree identifier informed me that they are probably linden trees, which are nice shady ornamentals, useful soft wood that is good for carving, and produce medicinal flowers which make a lovely tea. I'd like a more confident identification before I go consuming anything, but I must say that I'm intrigued by the thought of linden-flower tea. I'll have to keep that in mind come spring.

Near the end of my hour, I did a grounding and centering meditation. moving my awareness throughout my body before pushing it down into the ground and through the grass, into the earth to meet the Mother. I'm fairly certain the chills I got from that are different from the ones I was getting from the wind. It wasn't the kind of day I'd have picked for this work on my own - but I'm glad I did it, nonetheless, and I'll do it again.

(And since I'm a druid, some elementary astrological observations seem pertinent: the moon is a narrow waxing crescent, and sunset was at about 4:30 in the afternoon.)

Samhain 2015

Nov 9, 2015
Samhain 2015 altar


I performed my first ADF-style Samhain ritual on the morning of November 1st. I usually prefer to do it on Halloween night, but I'd been at work all day (in a corset, no less) and I wanted to be fresh for the first ritual I'd done in six months.

I set up my altar on a table facing the window that usually isn't used for anything, using my houseplant (a legacy from my grandmother's funeral) as the Tree, a single red taper for the Flame, and my small copper cauldron as the Well. I also set aside another bowl for offerings. I sat, which I usually don't do, in one of my dining chairs; it worked much better than I expected. For the text of the ritual, I used the ritual in the Crane Breviary & Guide Book sample provided on the ADF website. It wasn't ideal for my purposes - I have some intellectual doubts about Cernunnos which interfere with my spiritual connections, and some of the terminology isn't natural for me - but one of the reasons I joined ADF in the first place was to have resources like this to work from instead of making up my own religion from scratch every time I tried to do anything. So in the interests of getting a ritual accomplished without tearing my own hair out (or becoming so frustrated with the customization process that I didn't get it done at all), I went ahead with what was there, with two small adjustments: I called Manannan as Gatekeeper, and I added my First Oath in the Working segment.

Next time, I want more poetry.

I may have done my First Oath before, in the spring when I first joined ADF and was ambitious enough to start the Dedicant's Path right away, before my depression took over and I had to start again. I honestly can't remember. I figured that if I couldn't remember, it wouldn't hurt anything to start over. Based on the advice in The Dedicant's Path Through the Wheel of the Year and [that one article on the website], I set it to rhythm and chanted it, which rang better in my ears and in my soul than just speaking the words. I'd like to incorporate a chant of my First Oath into a regular practice - but I'll need a regular practice for that to work.
offerings

So I offered sacrifices of oil and silver coins to Cernunnos, despite my reservations, and thought them well accepted; I offered sacrifices of whiskey and apples to the Ancestors, which went over very well. I wrote a letter to my grandmother, who passed in 2006, and who I was very close with when she was alive. I miss her advice and her practicality, and it was good to be able to tell her so, and to be heard. I drew the omens from my Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck. I'd love to use ogam for my omens, and I think eventually I will, but for the time being I know the Tarot well enough to read it without references. I'll learn the ogam in time. From the Ancestors, I drew the Six of Wands, victory and recognition. From the Fair Folk, the Knight of Pentacles, financial stability. And from the Gods, The Sun, joy. And above and beyond the omens themselves, I liked the nice way they fit into the patterns of the Tarot, from concrete to abstract, in a way I think fits the three categories of spirits well.
at the end of ritual

I'm still struggling with how I feel in ritual. I keep wanting it to be more than it is, to sweep me away and feel incredible and profound. It felt real, this time, but not profound. (It may just be that I'm not familiar enough yet with the ADF Order of Ritual to combine script and visualization effectively.) I could see the Gates opening in my mind's eye, and closing again at the end of the ritual, but I could not tell you how things were different when they were open. I felt the presence of the Ancestors, but not so much of the spirits or the gods (although I admit there was something from Manannan that I don't yet understand). But. The physical sensations were extremely powerful. The smell of oil and whiskey and apples and grain was profound and satisfying. My hands remembered how to make offerings, where to rest during ritual, how to hold the dip pen I always used to use in my ritual writings. I felt settled and peaceful when I was done, moreso than I have done in a long time, and I know the ritual that I did was the right thing to do.

Samhain

Oct 30, 2015

Samhain is one of the two major times of transition in the Irish calendar, the end of summer and the beginning of winter, and the end of the old year and the beginning of the old. (I think that's interesting, actually, that the year begins with early winter rather than ending in it: it really does highlight winter as a season of dormancy rather than strictly of death). It's a harvest time, but a late harvest: the last feast of plenty before the long, cold winter. In Irish lore and cycles, it's the time when the cattle herds were culled: those not expected to survive the winter formed the highlight the feast. 

 As a feast of the late harvest, the season of death and waiting, it's also a feast of the ancestors. At the end of the year, Donn gathers up the year's dead and brings them to the Isle of the Dead, somewhere in the west. The boundary between worlds is thin at the turning of the seasons, as one thing turns into another, so now is when we reach across that boundary to give thanks and praise, and to share one more meal with those who have gone before. 

 Samhain was the first Pagan holiday I ever celebrated, and I can still remember it vividly, the altar I set up in my childhood bedroom, the candles burning in the darkness, the cold October air stirring the flames into portents. It remains my favorite holiday, a season of death as transformation, a time to take joy in the abundance of the past year and reflect on its lessons. 

 I have a busy Samhain season this year: On Saturday I'll be at work at the library all day long, dressed as Janet Carter from the ballad of Tam Lin (another Samhain story). I have my ritual planned for Sunday, in which I'll also swear my First Oath as part of the Dedicant's Path. (Hopefully I'll have it written by then.) But Sunday is also the first of November, which is the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, which means I'll be spending at least several hours writing the first few thousand words of this year's novel. And then it's back to work on Monday - for a book discussion in the local brewpub. A better feast location I could not imagine.

First steps

Oct 27, 2015
Earlier this year, I joined Ár nDraíocht Féin, one of the two largest druidry organizations in the world. I was tremendously fed up with my community, here in the most Republican county in Illinois, and I wanted to do something to stake my claim on my own identity. And, living in the most Republican county in Illinois for the past three and a half years, throwing money at it seemed to be a reasonable solution.

 That, and I like ADF's style. They present themselves proudly as a neopagan organization, but they're not Wicca-based, only Wicca-influenced. Druidry really is the strongest current running through the order, from the organization's hierarchy to the emphasis on study and learning (and the prevalence of practicing Celtic pagans). I remembered them fondly from my time as a baby pagan when I eagerly sought out every article Isaac Bonewitz wrote. And, perhaps most importantly, ADF offers a real, thorough, self-driven course of druidic study. I was tired of trying to build a religion entirely on my own. It wasn't working, and it was exhausting. A path of study that I didn't entirely disagree with was sounding good enough.

I didn't exactly start the Dedicant's Path right away. I wanted to, and I meant to. The first High Holy Day after I signed on was Ostara, and I joined the local grove for their ritual. It was...interesting. (It'd been a long time since I celebrated ritual with other people, and even longer since I celebrated it with an established group. I'd forgotten how much intra-circle politics could affect things.) I'd had a rough winter, and I badly wanted this to be the beginning of something new and good. I prayed as hard as I could; I offered an egg to the Well in sacrifice, and I couldn't feel a damn thing. I kept going, for a little while. I celebrated the Summer Solstice for the first time in a long time. I read the materials they sent me. It never went anywhere.

But it's coming to the end of the year now, and it feels like it's time. The rough winter turned into a rough summer, and fall has barely happened here this year, but I've been working hard. I have a therapist again for the first time in years, one I actually get along with. I'm learning how mindfulness helps stop my depression from taking over my life. I feel like I'm becoming me again. And it's coming to the end of the year, and it feels like it's time. I joined ADF not expecting to agree with everything that they do, not expecting to become a major part of the organization, just to add a little structure to a life that badly needs it, and perhaps make it easier to find others walking similar paths. There are other things I want to explore, things that fall outside ADF's domain: Feri, and twentieth century occultism, and American witchcraft traditions. But the older I get the less I feel I have to do everything at once. I am doing this now, this Dedicant's Path, a year of practice and exploration - the First Triad of piety, virtue, and study. I want to see what I can do, and I want to prove that I can do it.

That's what I'm afraid of: that I won't, that I'll lose focus again and drop it in a couple of months, that I'll forget I'm supposed to be doing something important and it will vanish into the minutae of daily life. I fear this tendency that I know I have, but I'm starting to believe that my fear of it is one of the things keeping it alive, and the only thing to do is to go forward anyway, to be gentle with myself when I fall short of my own expectations, and to always, always move forward. I have resources now, the whole of an international order of druids behind me, with their research, their rituals, and their support. I am learning that I do not have to do this on my own. I hope I'll learn things I haven't even thought of yet.

It's so bright out here in the darkness

Dec 22, 2011
So I see that I managed to keep up my one-year project for a good...five months. Not too shabby. My excuse is this: My theme for the month of June was "Hearth and Home," and I was going to work on getting my apartment closer to the kind of environment I really want to live in. And then I had a job interview in the beginning of June, and it went really well, and I thought, How great would it be if I could move in my Hearth and Home month, and set up a whole new apartment? Well, I didn't get the job - they called me on my birthday to tell me they'd offered it to someone else - and I was a little crushed.

I did the same thing last year. I had an interview I thought went well for a job I was sure I was qualified for, and I would have ended up starting right around Samhain. Perfect, I thought; a new start for a new year. Talk about things coming to fruition. I didn't get that job either.

Well, I managed it this year. After a year and ten months of job searching, I've finally gotten a position as an Adult Services Librarian - exactly what I want to be doing! - starting on All Soul's Day. Talk about things coming to fruition.

If I've been absent from here, it's because of a combination of fairly crippling depression and my work on my professional blog (which, you will understand, I am not really inclined to link up to this blog at all). Now, of course, I'm moving and settling into a new job. I doubt there's anyone out there still paying attention. I thought for a while about closing down this blog, but I just couldn't make myself do it. This is my safe space. This is where I can talk about depression, and magic, and the gods, and anything else I need to talk about sometimes, without having to worry about coming out to anyone. I'll still be here, sometimes. I hope to be here more often. But my life is so full right now - We'll see. We'll see.

I'm in a much larger city than I was before - greater Chicagoland versus Madison, Wisconsin - and as I sit my traditional Longest Night vigil, I really don't know if I'll be able to see the sun come up. The light from the city reflects off the haze and the low-hanging clouds. It could be discouraging if I wanted it to be (it's true I can't see very many stars) but I actually find it a little reassuring this year. Even if I did not sit vigil, there would be light enough to entice the sun back, if only so it can prove its superiority.

Less than two hours left to go. We'll see.

Blessed Solstice, everyone, and welcome the light back.

The Virtue Project: May - Work

May 17, 2011
There is a passage in Little Essays Toward Truth where Alestair Crowley talks about how the point is not just to learn the qabbalah, it is to learn the qabbalah so completely that it becomes part of everything, so that everywhere you look you see the connection between one thing and another. I think I am reaching that point with this project. Good. (I suppose.)

I had decided that May would be the month of Work. I took this on two levels; first, May marks my year and a day from graduation. I've been looking for a library-related job for a year and more, and while one is still not forthcoming, I refuse to give up. Second, work has always meant to me much more than the thing you get paid for; it is also The Work, that thing that is most important to you, your purpose in this world. I am not so confident as to imagine that I know what that is, but it clearly cannot be ignored. I am trying to figure out what I can do for it.

And then, because I was discouraged at having received three job rejections in quick succession, and because they asked, I volunteered to take on some more hours at my current job to help cover the summer rush. I figured I could use the extra money, and it couldn't hurt anything. I was wrong. I was immediately shifted from 20 hours a week starting at ten in the morning to 40 hours a week starting at 6:30 or 7. (Add in a half an hour drive to get to work, and you begin to see my problem.) Oh, and swing shifts for the day I couldn't get in in the morning because I was volunteering: working until 10 PM and then back at seven the next morning.

I panicked. This was NOT OKAY. And after a week of utter anguish, I told the scheduler that I couldn't do it. I think that was one of the hardest things I'd ever done, telling someone I couldn't follow through on a promise I'd made. But I was rapidly reaching the point where calling in for mental health days would not be optional -- and that was after only a week. I used the D-word, told her that my depression was getting worse and I just couldn't cope, and she's pared my schedule back down to 9 AM start times and no more than 30 hours a week. That I can manage.

So due to no particular plans of my own, I have learned something about myself this month. I cannot work for forty hours a week in a call center. I lose all respect for myself and for the rest of humanity. And I cannot get up at five in the morning, no matter how early I go to bed the night before, and stay sane. In fact, I am happiest when I have a couple of hours in the morning to myself before going to work, so long a those hours aren't before sunrise. I may not always be able to convince my employers to give me that ideal schedule, but at least now I know what it is and can try.

And The Work? Right now, it is keeping myself sane and not giving up on all my other responsibilities while my schedule straightens itself out. My goals from the previous four months are slipping a little, and I never have managed to write every day. But I am still looking for that other job, and I have some ideas about working for myself, ideas that make my heart beat a little faster every time I turn them over in my mind. I am taking the long view, for now, largely because I can't do anything else. But I have managed to carve out enough space in my life to allow for regular glimpses of that long view, and that means a great deal.

The Virtue Project: April - Art

Apr 27, 2011
I have hit my first real slump. It's April, the proper beginning of spring in the upper Midwest, and National Poetry Month besides, so I decided that April's goal would be to work on my art. Every day, just a little bit of art. I have a lot of things I do - tapestry, embroidery, sewing - but it's my writing I've been wanting to work on the most.

I stumbled over an answer when somebody asked me the other day if I was a writer. I finally spat out a yes, and explained that I've been trying to convince myself that I could call myself a writer even when I haven't finished anything in years. He agreed that that was difficult, but said that he thought it still counted.

I stopped writing for a couple of years. Writing fiction, that is; I've been writing blog posts and analysis and journals for ever. But it's fiction that I think of as "real" writing, and I hadn't been doing any. When I first went to therapy and the therapist asked when I would feel that I wasn't depressed any more, I said, "When I start writing again." And I haven't been writing regularly since then, although I have been doing more in the past few months than I have for years.

Planning to write, though, is not writing. Sketching outlines is not writing. Research is not writing. Setting up a writing-only computer and workspace is not writing. Only writing is writing, and I haven't managed to write so much as a hundred words a day three days in a row.

I have managed more than half the days in the month, though. Well, almost. I have made progress on three big projects, which is more than has been happening. And just because it's difficult doesn't mean that's a good reason to give up on the goal.

My inspiration lately has been an interview with, of all people, Tim Gunn. A little snippet of it appeared in a Smithsonian magazine last year, and I've been thinking about it ever since. I won't let my students give up on something they don't like, he said. I tell them, make it work. You learn more from trying to fix the parts of it that don't work than you would from only ever finishing things that seem to be going well.

So that has been my watchword for the month. "Make it work." I'm forcing my way through last November's NaNoWriMo novel, even though it seems to be stumbling along helplessly through the second act, and I am still trying to write every day.

The Virtue Project: March - Money

Mar 27, 2011
I've edited my plans a little bit and designated March the month of money. I've already received my federal tax return, after all, and I still have to file my state taxes. More than that, since I'm working only part-time now but looking for more work, I've been worrying quite a bit about just what I can afford. It seemed like a good time to pay a little attention to that worry.

Money is a terribly fraught topic in our society. There's a little bit of that Victorian attitude still clinging to the subject, the sense that it is something that We Do Not Talk About, while at the same time money is the primary goal of huge parts of our society. That's what capitalism is, after all. And then there's that peculiar American belief that there's no such thing as class.

That's been bothering me a bit, lately. Socially I'm most definitely upper-middle-class, while financially at the moment, well, I could apply for all kinds of government assistance if I wanted to, and I might get it. I'm lucky enough - extraordinarily lucky, I know - to have a family that is helping to support me and can afford it without too much difficulty. As it is, I didn't owe anything in taxes for last year; I didn't make enough.

But between the help from my family and my generally frugal tendencies, I'm ending up with a little bit of a surplus every month. Not much, mind, but enough that I can spend a little money just for fun and not worry about checks clearing before I pay my rent. I still worry. I keep enough of a cushion in my account that I don't have to fret about the balance, but I worry about having to dip into my savings account. I worry about my long-term prospects. I worry about doctor's bills and the fact that I need new eyeglasses and the fact that I haven't been to a dentist in years.

I could probably afford to go. I can afford to pay the urgent care bill from the morning I woke up terrified I had appendicitis. It won't be fun, but I can do it. So I'm trying to teach myself to stop worrying. What else, indeed, is money for?

It's tempting to look at pagan societies' attitudes toward money, but that can only be misleading, because pagan societies were not really capitalistic. Which is not to say they couldn't have been, simply that they weren't, and trying to make a comparison can be treacherous. In modern paganism, money is often looked down upon; one is not supposed to pay for teaching, or supplies, or one is supposed to pay directly without any haggling. I can never keep the rules straight.

The rules do seem, as far as I can tell, to be aimed at reducing the influence money has over the magickal experience. Like any other rules, they can only work that way if the practitioner applies them with that intent, otherwise they're just details that are getting in the way.

My goal for the month has been getting the details out of the way. I don't know that I've succeeded - a month is a short time in which to do a lot of work, after all. I've spent most of the month fiddling around with this post, trying to make it say what I want it to say. This time, I generated the goals after the fact, because I needed a month to get them all lined up. I need to make more money than I do now, certainly. But I also need to remember what it's for: so that I can live contentedly the kind of life I want, now as well as in the future.

One of the points of this project is that the goals should be concrete, so here goes: By the end of the year, I will have another source of income. I will manage my budget so that I put money away in savings every month, so I stop worrying about the future. And I will manage my budget so I spend a certain amount -- a small amount right now, but more when I get that second income -- and no less on things I want rather than things I need. If that means going out for dinner on the last day of every month just to spend out my "wants" budget, well...it's a hard life, but somebody has to live it.

February: Energy

Feb 15, 2011
But first, the January wrapup


If I accomplished nothing else in January, I figured out what I was doing with this whole year-long project. I want to improve my status quo, to make the baseline of my life a little bit better than it is right now, and I wanted to do it in a way that integrated all of these parts of my life so that these new habits would stick. This has given me some excellent insights into planning out the rest of my goals, and I'm excited to see how it keeps going.


So how did I do with my January goals of daily recordkeeping? Pretty well, actually. Not perfect -- I didn't manage every single day -- but perfect isn't necessary. Trying is. I admit, the past few days have been an exercise in giving myself permission to fail, between two fourteen-hour days in a row, an appendicitis scare (fortunately it was nothing more serious than a strained muscle), and the resulting complete breakdown of my schedule at home. But I will start over again, and that will be enough. (Is it terribly cliché of me to admit to an Alanis Morissette song as my mantra?)


February: Energy


Although it starts with the festival of Brigid, February is, in the Upper Midwest, the absolute depths of winter, and for me usually the hardest month of the year. It's brighter, but not bright enough; still freezing cold and snowing; and spring seems forever away.


Usually, anyway. This year we had our January thaw just this past week, and they're predicting temperatures in the fifties tomorrow and Thursday. But I planned for the usual February, so that is the work I am doing anyway.


If the first component in achieving anything is optimism -- the belief that it can be achieved -- the second step is energy, the power to make it so. I thought about including the Magick 101 kind of energy work in my goals for this month, but that just wasn't what came to mind when I contemplated what I needed in order to make my life work. I have tried, in the past, to set goals like "honor the full moon every month" or "work through the exercises in The Inner Temple of Witchcraft" but they all fall apart when I get home from work and don't have the energy to do anything but cook dinner and collapse on the couch.


We are creatures made of meat, not just spiritual beings, and the body needs just as much attention as the soul. So my goals for this month are all very physical ones, the mundane list of things they always tell you to do to be healthier and have more energy: at least eight hours of sleep every night and get up at the same time every morning, a good breakfast and a snack midday to keep me running, and exercise at least three times a week. (Daily would be better, but let's be realistic here.) Since I also tend to get hit pretty badly with seasonal depression, I've added sitting under my daylight lamp for at least half an hour a day to my regimen. It does indeed seem to help.


And since it's already halfway through February by the time I've gotten around to posting this, how have I been doing? Not as well as January, I admit, but not too shabbily either. It does seem to help to have a list of things I need to do and a place to check them off. I've been using a little web widget called Joe's Goals to track my daily goals, and there's something very satisfying about a row of little green checks all across the screen. I shall keep my mantra in mind, and work on improvement rather than perfection. Perfection is boring, anyway, right?

The Annual Brigid in Cyberspace Poetry Reading

Feb 1, 2011
(Are we doing this again this year? Why not.)

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.
Crowned with lilies and with laurel they go: but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains - but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,-
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.


--Edna St. Vincent Millay


It's not very springlike today here in the upper midwest as we buckle down for what the weather service is calling a "historic snowstorm," but that doesn't mean it's not coming. Happy Imbolc, everyone.

The Virtue Project: January - Optimism

Jan 6, 2011
I chose to start out my Project with optimism because it seemed to me to be the one thing absolutely necessary to making this happen. Optimism means the belief that things can change for the better, the sense that there are good things out there even if you can't see them yet. I suppose the more traditional word to use is hope, but I think there's a distinction there that I want to draw. Hope, to me, does not necessarily imply that you will ever get any closer to those good things, while optimism seems to contain more motion, more actual change. I need actual change, not just the promise of change to come.

I picked the Dagda for this month because he is, quite literally, the Good God - the caretaking father, the provider. And in most of the stories about him, he has a damn good sense of humor about things, which is a necessary component to optimism. I've been looking forward to reading up on more stories about him, and catching up with the great and glorious backlog of the Celtic Myth Podcast.

One of the things I'm focusing on with this project is having concrete, achievable goals to help me actually apply the principles I've chosen to focus on. (This is where the Happiness Project model is really useful, because there are so many good examples to draw from.) So I have three main goals for this month: to keep a daily journal, to stop reading things I've come to refer to as "Schadenfreude porn," and to visualize success.

First off, the daily journal. I started doing this when I was really depressed a couple of years ago, in an attempt to track my mood, and discovered that it was a great motivation. Basically, at the end of the day, I would write down everything I had accomplished. My goal was to have done at least three things. What "doing something" meant might change from day to day - on a good day, I might write a story or a blog post, finish a piece of embroidery, and clean the living room. On a bad day, getting out of bed, making lunch, and resting might count. But I always had at least three things I had done that day that were of value. I'm adding a component to it this time: a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It is a terrible thing to wake up in the morning and realize that the only reason to get out of bed is to go to work, so that you can afford to pay the rent so that you have someplace to keep your bed. Not worth it. So I've been adding a list of things happening tomorrow to the daily journal. I find this really helpful, because these aren't necessarily goals, just things I'm looking forward to doing (or sometimes, things I'm looking forward to getting over with).

Schadenfreude porn. I read a lot of complaint logs -- The Librarians Who Say MoFo, Customers Suck, Not Always Right, The Art of Trolling, to list just my daily rounds. But you know, reading a lot about how people suck and are kind of stupid is not the most encouraging daily entertainment. Time to switch the blogroll bck over to Cute Overload and away from this kind of negativity, which is realy the last thing I need right now. It's also generally a pretty nasty form of gossip -- I tell myself never to say something behind someone's back that I wouldn't say to their face, but it's pretty easy to tell yourself that when you know you would never meet these people face to face.

Visualizing success. I waffled for a while about including this as a goal, because it seems so froofy The Secret kind of thing. But then I realized, there's nothing wrong with visualization per se; the problem with The Secret is that it stops there. Visualization is not enough, but it is necessary; it is impossible to achieve success if you don't know what the victory conditions are. When I first graduated in May, I had all these ideas about where my life was going to go next. And as I continued to not get a job, I slowly stopped making those plans. I want to go back to planning agan, to having real goals for myself and my life. I've been working on the actual stereotypical five-year-plan, as well as a more self assessment-based set of goals for the year and a much stranger, larger, and more exciting list of things I would like to be able to say about my life at the end of it.

My original thought for choosing optimism for January was that it was not only a necessary precondition, but a nice internal sort of thing to be focusing on here in the depths of winter. I expected it to be much harder than it's turned out to be, actually. I'm finding it a little bit like writing turned out to be during NaNoWriMo -- scary to start with, but the more you do it, the easier it gets, until you're drowning in ideas and have to start organizing in self-defense. It's an encouraging way to start out the year, I must say.

Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight

Dec 21, 2010
It's never really properly dark when it snows, not in a city. You get the street lights and the house lights and all the other little light sources and they all reflect off of a billion billion snowflakes lying in treacherous heaps out there in the driveway, and the whole world seems to glow, even in the middle of the longest night of the year, even as the earth casts a shadow over the moon and the only light from the sky is ancient star-light years out of date. There's something I like about that paradox. It seems reassuring.

I like to sit vigil on the Longest Night, to keep a light burning and make sure the sun comes up like it's supposed to. It's important that the sun comes up, someone should be paying attention to it. Some years it's easy to do, and some years it's hard, but it's one of those things I have to do. It seems necessary somehow.

It's not an easy year, this year. Not quite four in the morning and my bed is looking reeealy comfy right now. I haven't gotten the work done on my Christmas-related projects that I'd hoped to. But you know, I really only have one thing to do tonight, and that is to keep an eye out for morning.

I like to think of this time as the opposite of faith, which isn't skepticism or denial, but stubbornness. Faith would be going to bed and trusting that the sun would come up in the morning; skepticism would be double-checking to make sure this thing is really going to happen. That's not really what I'm doing here. I'm more...willing the sun to come up. Or else. I mean, I'd get by if it didn't, if instead of the sun rising a mere ball of burning gas appeared over the horizon, but that is not the kind of winter I want to have. So I'll sit here, and yawn, and light one candle off the end of another, and wait for the sun to come up. It had damn well better.