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of the year, even as the earth casts a shadow over the moon and the only light from the sky is ancient star-light years out of date.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.

Finding the Time

Jul 16, 2010
The second time I went to therapy, in the beginning of my second year of library school, I expressed the frustration that I wasn't able to do everything that I wanted to -- it wasn't that I didn't have the time, just that I couldn't make myself do it. I would spend my free time reading or playing video games instead of doing these other things that were more important to me, like writing or practicing my religion. And the therapist said, well, you need to set some priorities; you can't do everything, so decide what is most important to you. And she probably offered some other suggestions, too, but I'm afraid I can no longer remember what they are. I can remember whether or not they helped (hint: no).

Not being able to get anything accomplished other than sleep and video games is a symptom of depression, of course. (I'm not sure if the video games are part of the official diagnosis or not, but they should be.) It was earlier this week, when I decided that my major accomplishment for the day would be a shower, that I realized how depressed I'd gotten again. Unemployment will do that to you, but I was in denial. I always start out my vacations -- and I'd been thinking of this summer as a vacation, at least until August -- intending to do all kinds of wonderful things that I didn't have time for while I was in school or working, and it never quite happens. Do I just get depressed when I don't have something that needs to get done, some external motivation? Possibly.

When I sat down to start writing a new blog post, my first inclination was to say that I hadn't been able to find the time to update. Which is both true and not true. I have had more time than I know what to do with; I have, at most, two (completely voluntary) obligations a week, for a total of four hours. But I really haven't been able to find the time -- or perhaps it's the mental space I haven't been able to find, because all too often the thought of writing something, anything, for public consumption has been overwhelming.

I lost the habit of daily prayers and readings when I went to a professional conference in DC at the end of last month, and I haven't been able to pick it up again. Last night I wiped a thick layer of dust off my altar. I haven't been able to find the time. Time is not an objective measure, an arc of numbers on a clock, but an experience. When we're enjoying ourselves, we say that time flies; at ten minutes to five on a Friday afternoon, it crawls. In a hot July in the midst of one job-hunting disappointment after another, it seems to vanish altogether until everything runs together in a long string of sticky afternoons and inadequate resumes.

I know -- I know, in a deep part of myself -- that I could make time come back if I worked at it, if I spoke to my gods again and traveled to their secret places and paid attention to my own mind. The thought is, actually, a little frightening. The sense of time passing may only enforce how long it's been that I've been unemployed, how much longer it might be, how much trouble I could be in if I can't get a job soon. Or it may help cement my sense of self, give me an anchor even if I can't make the rest of the world acknowledge my skills and talents.

I got up before noon for the first time in a week today, ate breakfast and lunch and took the bus downtown to work in the library, where I wrote so many blog posts during the school year while avoiding my homework. I haven't dusted off the altar yet. We'll see. We'll see.


May 10, 2010
Happy Bealtaine! Yes, already. Amazing, isn't it? And I'm more than a week late again, but what can I say, I don't tend to spend a lot of time on my computer on holidays.

In the Irish tradition, the year is divided into two parts, summer and winter, the heat and the cold. Bealtaine is the transition from winter to summer -- when our lives expand a little more into the outdoors. (I've already started drying my laundry on the line in the backyard.) It's the end of the storytelling season -- when all you can do at the end of work is sit by the fire and tell stories -- and the beginning of the season of action, when the work at the end of the day is done and there is still light to do something else.

It's also the traditional day for spring cleaning. I got the rest of my end-of-semester frustrations out by taking the rugs outside and beating them, scrubbing out the bathroom, and generally polishing my apartment until it shone. It was remarkably satisfying.

Not half as satisfying, though, as the other thing I managed to get accomplished for Bealtaine: I finished all of my final projects. Yep, I am now officially done with grad school -- and as of this Sunday, I will be able to put on my job applications that I have a Masters in Library and Information Studies, rather than that I'm working on one. Woohoo!

I'm ridiculously pleased that I managed to get everything done for Bealtaine, since all of my official due dates were actually after the fact. It was very important to me, though, to get it all finished before summer started. This is a major turning point in the year, and it's a major turning point in my life, and matching them up just made sense. I, too, am turning from studying to working -- at least I hope to be working soon -- and having that transition also seemed to help smooth my way through this psychically dangerous time of year. I always get depressed around Bealtaine and Samhain, but it wasn't nearly as bad this time around as it has been before.

So although it may be chilly outside right now (it certainly is in Wisconsin), happy summer! What are you doing this summer?

News of the Fail

Apr 9, 2010
Um. An entire article on Christians and Jews adapting yoga to their spiritual practice, an article that actually admits, for once, that yoga has a spiritual component, and not one quote from someone using it as a Hindu spiritual practice? Fail, LA Times.

Further Reading

Apr 6, 2010
I haven't been able to get words out in a coherent order lately, so here are some other people who are (and have been) saying things much better than I can.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, Ursula K. LeGuin.

On responsibility, Bruce Baugh at Making Light

Ulysses, Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Holy Fire, T. Thorn Coyle

The Gulf, Albert Goldbarth

(I am not as melancholy as this collection may seem. Thunderstorms encourage deep and thinking thoughts, as the sky closes in around us.)

Spring Cleaning

Mar 22, 2010
I've got a new look for the blog, what do you think? The black was getting a little oppressive. I can't completely abandon my morbid side, though, so there's still a raven. I stumbled on this free layout completely accidentally, and I love it.

Spring is really hitting me in my happy place right now. A couple of weeks ago we had seventy-degree weather -- unheard of in Wisconsin in March! -- and although it snowed on the equinox, it's warmed up a little again and the grass is still green and the lilies are starting to pop up out of the ground and yes, even the rabbits have moved back into their home under the trailer that's been sitting in our front yard for the past several years. (Don't talk to me, talk to my landlord.) As far as I'm concerned, it's spring now, and anything else is backsliding.

Unfortunately I still have a month or so left of classes. I didn't know you could get senioritis in a two-year program, but here I am, itching to be done. And I keep writing job applications, even though I've heard back from only two of the ones I've sent out since February. Hope springs eternal. It's all more than a little stressful, but I keep telling myself that this is good change. It doesn't stop me from wanting it to be over.

At least in this way the academic calendar matches with the turning of the seasons pretty well; unlike the beginning of the semesters, in the Spring when everything else is lurching toward change us poor graduates are being thrown out into a wider world that actually seems pretty welcoming, even if the economy hasn't shaped up enough yet and the job market is a little thin. At least it'll be summer, and few things are as bad as they could possibly be in summer.

on the Internet you are never alone

Mar 14, 2010
The Wild Hunt has been keeping us updated on the story of Dale Halferty, the Iowa schoolteacher who refused to let a student build a Wiccan altar table in shop class and is now under suspension for his refusal to back down from his statements that "This witchcraft stuff - it's terrible for our kids."

I'm not sure why this story hit me so hard; perhaps it's because I was a teenage Wiccan in small-town Iowa. I know where Guthrie Center is; I know people who live there. I could have been this kid, if I had been brave enough to attempt to tie my religion into my class projects.

Seventy of this guy's classmates signed a petition saying that they didn't want witchcraft practiced at their school. For a sense of proportion, Guthrie Center High School has a student population of 185.

As far as I can tell, both the school and the media have been handling the story pretty well. The teacher has been put on unpaid leave, and the media are addressing this as a civil liberties issue with very little scaremongering about Wicca. (Well, the Guthrie Center Times article is a little shakier, but really very good for a small-town Iowa paper.)

As is right and proper, we don't know the student's name. I'm sure everyone in Guthrie Center, and probably most of the people in central Iowa, know who he is, but in no way do I think his name ought to be thrown about on the Internet. Still, I wish I could send him some support.

I wish I could say, I know just how you must feel. I feel a little bit of it right now, remembering being in high school, remembering how it feels to know that people don't want you there because you're Not Their Kind Of Person. Remembering the social isolation that comes of not having a church when church activities take up at least three days of the week. Remembering people shrugging your weirdness off as just a fad, something you'll grow out of when you stop trying to shock people for fun.

I wish I could say, my sister cried for an hour when I told her I was Pagan, and her church group prayed for me for a year, until she finally decided that a church that told her that I was going to hell wasn't worth her devotion. I wish I could say, my mother still doesn't quite understand what I do, but she's come to accept it. I wish I could say, I still don't even know if my father knows what I do, and I'm afraid to ask.

I wish I could say to this unnameable high school student, good for you for standing up to yourself. Dale Halferty thinks he's a good person and doesn't see what he did wrong, and you have to fight to get people to understand things like this sometimes. I wish I could say, it's only four more months until graduation. Hang in there.

I wish I could say to him, the whole world isn't like this. There are places you can practice out in the open and most people won't blink, and if they do the community will have your back, not just in apathy or condescension but in honest truth. You can cut your ties with the place you grew up in and try to scrub out the culture that shaped you and edit your conversations with your extended family and be, really, pretty happy in your practice and in your life. You lose things. It's hard.

Or you can be the kind of person who fights tooth and nail like this your whole life, and makes the world a little easier for the rest of us to live in. You lose things that way, too. It's even harder. I'm not that kind of person, but maybe you are.

I wish I could say, whatever path you choose, whichever way you go, I wish you only the best. You have the support of the whole Pagan community behind you, and I hope you know that. I hope you vanity Google this story every day and see how we're standing behind you, even though this may seem like a small thing in the grand scheme of the universe. Because so many of us know that feeling, the cut of ignorance combined with disdain, and we wish we'd done enough so that no one else ever had to feel it again. We're not there yet. Not yet.

May your gods protect you, and support you, and hold you in the light.

Reading sticks

Mar 5, 2010
I really have to thank Feithline for her suggestion of daily divination as part of a spiritual practice. I was working with Tarot cards for a while, but the other day I remembered that I'd bought an ogam set last year, and I pulled that out of the drawer.

Ogam is an ancient Irish alphabet, probably dating to sometime in the Roman period -- that is to say, when the Romans settled in Britain and had the most extensive contact with insular Celtic peoples. It's most often found on single standing stones which are not grave markers, so the suggestion is that the inspiration for them came from inscribed Roman monuments. The manuscript tradition, though, implies that ogam was a sacred alphabet associated with the druí and the filí, the priests and the poets.

I am hugely indebted -- as is the rest of the Pagan and Celtic Reconstructionist community -- to Erynn Rowan Laurie for her work in turning the ogam into a divination system. Her book Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom is absolutely invaluable to anyone working with ogam, Irish traditions, or the difficulty of reconstructing an ancient belief without falling into the same fluffy Wicca-101 systems that do no justice to the original. Yes, I really love this book.

On a personal note, I'm finding the ogam speaks to me much more clearly than the tarot does -- which is hugely desirable for a one-draw-a-day reading, although I can definitely see reasons I'd still use the tarot. I've always been drawn to tarot over other divinatory systems because it's so rich in symbolism, but ogam has that too -- it's just not visual symbolism. There are three distinct kennings that still exist for the ogam. They're not explanations of the system, they're more like mnemonics or koans. I think they read like prose poetry if you read them from beginning to end. But what this means for divination is that each fid -- each symbol -- has at least three more-or-less cryptic associations to draw from, not to mention the literal meaning of the letter name as written in the manuscript (some of which are untranslatable). That's a lot of symbolism to dig through every morning.

And there's another aspect of ogam I've always wanted to poke at, one that Laurie doesn't go into in her book, but that I'm starting to wonder about again. You see, ogam is made up of four sets of five, sets of hash marks really (there is another theory that says that ogam is derived from Roman numerals -- you can see why), distinguished by which way they run across the center line: to the left, to the right, straight across, or across at a slant. I'm discovering a pattern in my draws. (I took this picture yesterday. And this morning, what did I draw? Yep, lus, the last of the two-mark letters.)

Three is a hugely important number in Irish mythology, of course. One is also relevant -- one-eyed figures are very powerful, and often can see things that others can't. Some spells are done with one hand, or standing on one foot. In this context, I think that two might represent a whole -- not a pair or a balance, but a symmetrical unity. That would certainly make sense for my life right now, but I think I need to do a little more work on the subject. (Oh woe, a new topic for research! Whatever shall I do? *hand to head in a dramatic fashion*)

Daily Practice

Feb 13, 2010
listening --
I drew the Seven of Swords the other day. (I keep meaning to draw a card every day, but I don't always make it. Of course, when I leave it sit for a few days, sometimes I find that it means more by the time I get around to properly doing an interpretation.) I read it first as "getting away with something," but although that was the interpretation that stuck in my head, I didn't know quite what it meant. Today, while I was sitting in the library working on some homework, the card popped into my mind again and I looked it up. One of the interpretations was "lone wolf." I thought about how disappointed I was that my roommate has all but lost her job because it means that I don't have any time in the apartment by myself any more, and I knew what the card meant.

light --
The light coming in through the dining room window when I was making lunch was so vivid today. It looked like the light you get in the summer, at around 10:00 in the morning when I've just come back from the huge farmer's market downtown, hot and bright and molten, almost like something living. It's the only kind of light that makes my kitchen look big. It isn't spring yet in Wisconsin, but the light is back.

expression --
I wrote a poem during Imbolg, when I kept Brigid's flame lit for two nights and a day. (I wrote two poems, but one of them is terrible and I don't know how to fix it.) It's too much about me right now, so I keep poking at it, to make it about something else. It's also about the light in the dining room window, and food fresh from the farmer's market, and spring after a long winter. But there's also a person at the middle of it, and I don't quite know who she is just yet. I haven't figured out quite how to be quiet and let her speak through me.

offering --
I don't give up very much, it's true. Sometimes I think of May Morrison saying, "You will never understand the true nature of sacrifice." (Don't worry, I have no intention of murdering local policemen in the name of it.) Besides, the lakes are too frozen to drop anything into them right now, and clogging up the locks with gold jewelry is probably a bad idea. I share a lot, though. A view of the barren treetops with the full moon, a fresh snowfall with the frozen earth, a warm patch of sunlight with a lush green houseplant. And I say hello to everything I pass, and I speak to the gods as though they're always listening, even though they're probably not. Perhaps in some ways my attention is enough.

Happy Imbolg

Feb 1, 2010
For an Imbolg present to me from the Universe, I got over my cold. Yay!

For an Imbolg present from the Internet to you, through me, I'd like to link you to one of my favorite new poems. I'd hate to repost it here, as it was a personal gift, but you can read it here, deep in the discussion threads of Making Light (which is a regular source of excellent poetry).

The Brain and the Soul

Jan 30, 2010
I want to recommend an article to y'all before it vanishes behind the NY Times' newly-reimposed pay wall: The Americanization of Mental Illness. It's a great article overall, but it's the bit on the last page that realy grabbed me: the bit about American view of the self, the one that relies on self-determination and free will. They contrast this in the article with kinship groups and ancestry, but I don't think that quite gets at it (or at least, it doesn't get at all of it). The American (modern/Western/whatever) focus on self-determination rules out a view of the world that says that some things, you can have no control over.

This is not an uncommon observation in social science circles, or in political commentary; because we want to believe that we are masters of our own destiny, we pretend that horrible accidents can't happen to us, and that's why people don't want socialized medicine. But this article made me think -- what does that do to our selves? What is the impact on the soul when we assume that we are responsible for everything that happens to us?

This article argues that the disease model doesn't actually improve the situation, because "I have a brain disease" becomes a kind of identity, something you can never escape. But in cultures where the spirit-possession model of mental illness still holds forth, it's something entirely outside you: you've been attacked, and when it goes away, you're not just better, you are without its influence at all.

I'm not saying that spirit possession is an inherently better way to view mental illness; there are certainly situations where that model has resulted in horrific abuse. I know people for whom it has. But it does make me wonder. I have recurring bouts with moderate depression -- never bad enough that I can't get out of bed, but I'm aware that kind of despair may lay in my future -- what would it feel like if I could think of the depression as something that was not-me? Something foreign, that could be banished entirely instead of kept under careful control? Would that really help?

This is, by the way, something that has always bothered me a little bit about modern Pagan magic, at least the way I learned it, through 101 books and websites in the 90s. It may have changed since then, and I know I've seen other takes on magic that don't bother me as much. But when I learned magic, the focus was very much on personal power, the sense that you, alone can make things work the way you want them to. And I've led a pretty priviliged life, and I know the world doesn't work that way. Some Things Just Happen. It's like playing chicken with trains at a railway crossing: the Universe is bigger than you, and it packs a bigger punch.

(It took me until the second edit through this post to realize that my point has already been summed up much more elegantly in an episode of Babylon 5: "I used to think it was awful that life wasn't fair. And then I thought, wouldn't it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the Universe." That quote's been a favorite of mine for a long time.)

State of the Witch

Jan 16, 2010
I haven't written anything about myself in ages, not here or on any of my other blogs, or even in a journal at home. I'm feeling a little stuck. So here I am, in bullet points.

  • I've started working at a second job, which is really less a job than a favor for a friend that I'm getting paid for. Raven of Ravenworks, the most awesome Renaissance-metaphysical-and-associated-shiny-things store in the southern Wisconsin/northern Illinois area, is on holiday in Florida until March. Therefore, I get to help people play dress-up until then, and occasionally take their money when they decide to take their dress-up clothes home. Easily the most fun I've ever been paid for, even if it is playing merry hell with my last semester schedule.

  • This is my last semester of grad school! Oh my god. Attentive readers will recall that I'm in library school, so I don't have to write a thesis or anything, and but so therefore most of my stress lies in trying to find a job this spring. In this economy. In a library. Oh, dear.

  • I don't want to leave Madison, and I'm going to have to. I didn't realize how much I've established myself here, how many relationships I've made and groups I belong to, until I started thinking about how I'm going to have to leave. But at this point, it's probably move halfway across the country or stay here and work in a pizza joint. And to make it worse, I don't actually *have* that job halfway across the country yet, so I can't bring myself to start pulling up roots. This is not going to be fun.

  • I am having what is easily the best winter I've had in years. Antidepressants are a wonderful thing. (I'm well aware that most of the effect might be due to the placebo effect, but that's fine with me. I don't care why I'm better, only that I haven't spent most of this winter in a black hole, able to see the sky but unable to climb out towards it.) That said, I can't wait for it to be spring. Imbolg is coming, but this is Wisconsin, not Ireland, and a January thaw isn't spring.

  • I miss blogging. I've been working with Tarot again, and moving through the SpiritsCast 101 projects, and doing a lot of kitchen witchery. I'll work on keeping you all more informed.

So what's going on with you?