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.

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.


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.

The Virtue Project: An Introduction

Dec 12, 2010
It's getting to be that time again, time to think about the next year and what it might bring. While theologically I've always thought of the year ending at Samhain and beginning again at Yule, with the Dark Time in between as a period for reflection and meditation, there is something compelling about that new calendar, isn't there?

For 2010, I had three goals: get a professional librarian job, get a new apartment, and get a cat. Unfortunately those were sequential goals -- I couldn't move until I knew where my job would be, and until I had a steady source of income and a relatively permanent residence, I could not take on responsibility for another life. Well, I didn't get a job in 2010. Most of this is due to the economy, leaving me competing with 200+ people for every job opening, many of whom are laid-off librarians with more experience than I have. Still, it's a little discouraging.

I'm not abandoning those goals. They're good, valuable goals, and they're things I want deeply. But for 2011, I'm doing something a little different.

Earlier this year, I read the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. It's an account of how she set out to spend one year pursuing definite, quantifiable goals to help herself be happier. I'd been reading her excellent blog for a while, and playing with the Happiness Project Toolbox, and I found the book an excellent addition to those resources. It inspired me to start making notes toward my own Happiness Project.

Last month I ran across those notes in my everyday notebook, the little blank book I carry with me everywhere to store ideas and plans in. And I thought, why not? Why not do this? As I reflected on the idea, though, it occurred to me that what I was planning wasn't really a happiness project, because happiness wasn't specifically my goal. What I wanted was to inhabit my life more fully, to become more certain in myself and my goals, and to deepen my understanding of myself and the world around me. What I wanted was to become more virtuous.

I have to thank Brendan Myers for giving me that word back. I grew up in a fairly Puritanized culture where "virtue" was a code-word for sexual abstinence and pious humility, holier-than-thou confessions and an overwhelming lack of fun. But I read The Other Side of Virtue last year, and it too gave me all kinds of ideas for where to go with my life and my plans. I wasn't equipped to do anything with those ideas at the time, but I think I'm ready for it now.

So my goal for 2011 is my Virtue Project, modeled very closely on Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project, where she picked a particular aspect of her life to work on each month and chose direct and quantifiable goals to help make her happier with that aspect. I decided to add a patron deity to each month as well, as one of my ongoing goals has been to become more familiar, both intellectually and personally, with the Irish deities and mythology I feel such a strong connection with.

My tentative outline for the year looks like this --
January - Optimism - the Dagda
February - Energy - Brid
March - Health - Dian Cecht
April - Money - the Morrigan
May - Work - Lug
June - Indulgence - Finn
July - Creativity - Ogma
August - Freinds - Ferdia
September - Family - Anu
October - Love - Bres
November - Mindfulness - ?
December - Perspective - Nuada

My next project, to start after Yule when the sun returns and offers a little boost to this ambitious project, is to start writing out the individual goals for each month. The tricky part will be making them concrete enough to follow through on, yet realistic enough that I can get them done while working, volunteering, and applying for jobs like a crazy person (and hopefully interviewing, moving, and starting a new job!). And I'll be blogging about it all, of course.

In the meantime, I've been thinking about rereading The Other Side of Virtue, and if anyone has any recommendations for other Pagan books on virtue, ethics, or the good life, I'd love to read those, too. (I could have sworn I saw mention of a couple when Myers' book came out, but I can't find them now.) And if anyone has some suggestions for an Irish patron for that tricky mindfulness month, I'd appreciate it.

Little Epiphanies

Dec 1, 2010
One of the things I enjoy about reading so much is being able to get little moments of epiphany from just about anywhere. I was reading the first Cadfael book a couple of weeks ago, for instance, when an offhanded remark managed to highlight for me the important distinction between a worldview based on hierarchy and a worldview based on community.

The Cadfael books are a series of murder mysteries by Ellis Peters, which are really just as much about medieval monastic culture in England-almost-Wales as they are anything else. Cadfael, played brilliantly by Derek Jacobi in the TV adaptation, is a former Crusader who joined a monastery when he decided he was too old to go about soldiering any more, and now he's the go-to guy for mysteries, interpersonal politics, and forensic investigation.

Cadfael was born Welsh, and in the first book, Prior Robert (a Norman by birth) has decided that what their monastery needs is a saint to look over them, and he's decided upon a little Welsh saint from just over the border, so Cadfael goes with him to keep an eye on things, and to translate. This is just as well, since Prior Robert runs into some resistance from the locals, including Rhisiart, the most prominent landowner in the area.

And there's this little aside in one passage -- I don't have the book to hand, so I can't quote it directly -- about how Rhisiart and Robert are just never going to understand each other, since they're driven by such separate things. Robert comes from a world of hierarchy, where what he wants is to be more important than someone else, which he's trying to do by acquiring a saint to bring honor to their monastery; Rhisiart comes from a world of community, where what he wants is to play his particular role to the best of his abilities, because it doesn't matter if a landowner is more important than the man who drives the cattle or the woman who makes the honey or the priest who tends the church, because the community can't work without all of them doing their jobs.

And I realized, that is what I want out of my life. I want to be the person doing my job to the best of my ability, because it doesn't matter if someone else is more important, the whole system falls down if I can't do my job. Now, the world is a bigger place than it used to be, so one person not doing their job isn't as big of a disaster, but it all contributes. Every little bit helps. And I don't have to be hierarchy-important, I just have to be community-important.

Which is just as well, because librarians don't get paid much, and out-of-work librarians get paid even less. I'm still waiting for a job -- well, working for and waiting for, I'm writing job applications like crazy again. I'm not completely unemployed, I did manage to find a job that actually manages to be somewhat relevant in addition to paying my rent, but it's not quite the same. And it's hard, in this world where "what you do" means "what your job is," to keep doing your work when it's so hard to find someone who will acknowledge you for it. But every little bit helps, and every little epiphany puts me a few steps closer to being able to stand up on my own, to hold up my end of the community even now, in the darkest times.


Oct 31, 2010
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

A blessed Samhain to you all, and as we move into the darkest part of the year, may you carry your own light with you.

More Useful Than You Think

Oct 27, 2010
I think the Tarot is vastly underrated as a tool for dealing with depression. After all, the most popular form of therapy right now for depression is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in which you learn not what deep childhood trauma influenced your depression but how your day-to-day thinking influences your depression. It's about spotting irrational thought patterns and changing them, heading off a bout of depression at the pass, as it were.

Take me. I interviewed for a job on the first of October, and I haven't heard back from them yet. I know it's a city position and city governments are notoriously slow, but I get a little neurotic about waiting to hear back from people about things like this, plus my new part-time job is asking if they can move me on to the next level of training. I decided that if I hadn't heard from them by Friday afternoon, I'd call and see what was up.

And then I started thinking. The whole application process has been a little weird, because I submitted my application just before the city turned over their application submission software, so I don't show up on the website, even though they not only received my application, they interviewed me. What if, I thought, they sent out rejection letters via that software, and I just haven't gotten it yet? What if, horror of horrors, they sent out acceptance letters via that software, and I haven't gotten it?

This is clearly insane. No one would do that. But I sat there last night in front of my loom, thinking these thoughts, and I could feel my chances of sleep ebbing away. And then I glanced over at my altar, where I'd drawn a trio of Tarot cards a few days ago, as I was trying to decide what to do about November when I didn't know if I'd be moving or not. (The Knight of Swords; the Seven of Pentacles, reversed; and the Three of Cups. Encouraging, to say the least.) And I cut the deck halfway through and found The Hierophant staring back at me. 

Does it get a lot more obvious than that? Let the goddamn bureaucracy do its thing, woman, and stop worrying about it. And you know, I did. I went to bed and have decided to stick with my plan of calling Friday rather than freaking out and calling today. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in action, with a little assistance. 

Do I think the Tarot really knows what's going on, or is it just a convenient way of externalizing my own internal processes? Hell if I know. I've never been good at "yes, but what do you believe reeealy happens?" questions, because I don't particularly care. What "really" happens is such a weird question anyway -- even science isn't particularly good at it, for all they thought Newtonian Motion was an accurate description of the universe for so long, and I am far from the Isaac Newton of magick. What I know is the Tarot is a useful little thing, sometimes a useful big thing, and it helps to make me less crazy. That's good enough for me.


Oct 16, 2010
It's been a long and bitter summer, and I haven't been online for much of it. In some ways that's good for me, handwork keeps me occupied and gives me something productive at the end of the day, and I've been able to turn some of it into the seed of an online business which is keeping me busy if nothing else. (Really nothing else at this point, but you know. I haven't actually listed anything for sale yet.)

I read a post on someone's livejournal a long time ago now, long enough that I can't remember who it was, but it stuck with me. They were leaving their Feri group -- not because Feri wasn't right for them, or because they didn't love the group, but because they didn't have the energy right now to put into it, and rather than cutting out something unimportant, they were leaving the group because it was too important to them to do it badly.

I've been feeling like that lately, I suppose. Working on my religion is too important to do badly, but I have nothing left right now but desperation and need. I'm waiting to hear back from a job I interviewed for a couple of weeks ago; I got a rejection yesterday from another interview. I'm working part time in the meantime, but taking claims in a call center is not the most fulfilling work in the world, and I'm spending a day's worth of pay every two weeks just on gas to get there.

I have found myself praying often, in that way that Pagans tend to say they don't, asking for help when I have nothing left to offer. And, well burying coins at the base of a tree in the backyard. (I can't get at the city well to leave offerings there.) And I'm still getting up in the morning and going to work, going to the library to volunteer, writing job applications and sending them out although I've stopped expecting to hear back. So I suppose it's working. But mostly, I've been taking a break. I finished school at Beltane, and I had hoped to have a job by Samhain. And I suppose I still might, but it depends on that call I'm waiting for right now. If it doesn't come, I'll have to start shoring myself up for a very long, cold winter.

Warning: Incredibly stereotypical girly pagan-blog post topic ahead

Aug 20, 2010
I'll say this about menstrual cramps, they are wonderfully focusing. When I went to bed last night (or rather, this morning at 5am, thanks to a combination of hormones and too much caffeine) my mind was racing, full of things to do, plans to make. When I got up this morning, I was nowhere but right here and now. In pain.

I need a little bit of this, honestly. I've been living in the future for the past couple of months. Unemployment will do that to you -- "Ooh, a new book by my favorite author -- oh, I'll buy it when I get a job." "You know what I really want? A Guinness stew from the Irish pub downtown. Well, that will be my celebratory dinner when I get a job." "I hate my dresser. Oh well, I have a bigger one that doesn't fit here, but will go in the new apartment" (and all together now:) "when I get a job."

The worst part is that all of this is good advice. When you're not working and your parents have offered to help you out with the rent until something turns up, buying new books and having expensive dinners and contemplating furniture purchases are all bad ideas. And it's probably better, too, to tell myself that I can have these things when I can afford them rather than just saying no. But that nebulous future of "when I get a job," which could be anywhere from two to six months in the future, is eating up my life.

Except this morning, when I woke up, instead of looking around my apartment and thinking, "I can't wait until I live alone in my new apartment and the fact that no one washed the dishes is entirely my fault and has nothing to do with anyone else," I just picked up the broom and started sweeping. Because thinking is too difficult when I hurt this much. "When the Midol kicks in" has become a future as hoped-for as "when I get a job" (and seems about as likely right now, dammit).

There is also something kind of...relaxing? About physical pain after months of mental anguish. I just turned down my second job. Both of them were terrible -- one of them was in an area I couldn't have lived in, the other didn't pay enough to live someplace I would have liked to live -- but that's a lot of guilt anyway. At least when my uterus hurts I know what to do about it.

If the Universe wants me to focus more on the here and now, though, there have got to be more pleasant ways to go about it.

Letting Go, Looking Back

Jul 23, 2010
It seems like every time I have a spiritual crisis I respond by getting rid of things. This time, I finally admitted to myself that I'm never going to be an herbalist. It's something that seems like it should be ideal for me -- handcrafting magic, making something out of nothing, plus a solid tie to centuries of casual household magic -- but I just don't have the patience for plants. They don't do it for me. I emptied all of the apothecary jars full of rosemary and peony and jasmine leaves into the back yard and sent the jars over to Goodwill; my collection of herbal references went to the used book store. I have much more space now, and I feel much happier with that, but that still doesn't solve the original problem.

Perhaps it has something to do with something I've been reading about elsewhere in the blogosphere -- intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is why you do the things you love. It's the reason why the thing itself is enjoyable, rather than something you do because you ought to. Eating food because it's tasty, not because it's a part of your new diet plan. Shooting archery because it's fun and challenging and an excellent form of active meditation, not because I feel like I should exercise.

Praying because...?

I think the urge to get rid of things is a sign that I've lost track of that intrinsic motivation; it's been buried under a pile of books and paraphernalia and, more importantly, that which those things represent. A sense that I am obligated to practice, rather than doing so because it brings me joy, because it is the right thing to do.

I have been feeling, increasingly, that I have no right to call myself Pagan if I don't do something about my practice, and yet this thought is crippling my ability to practice. I love the idea that orthopraxy, rather than orthodoxy, is what unites modern Paganism, but somehow this has morphed into a subconscious sense that I'm doing it wrong.

I wish I had an answer to this problem, but an easy answer would be a cheat, because it's a real difficulty. I do need to practice in order to fulfill myself as a witch and a Pagan; feeling like I need to practice is crushing. Part of the problem is, doubtless, in the overly-broad term "practice;" what does that include? Do I need to perform devotions every day in order to feel right? Every week? At the dark of the moon? Is it devotions, or spirit travel, or divination, or what? I've never quite worked these questions out for myself. Now appears to be the time.

This week I visited my parents for my mom and my sister's birthdays. I slept in the room I grew up in, the room I first cast a circle in, the room I became who I am in. I can remember my first Samhain ritual, and I remember that I had a very clear sense of otherworldliness, and how it filled me with delight. I cannot remember that feeling itself anymore.