Uncategorized

Spirituality Without Labels

“How do you know when you’ve passed through a threshold on your spiritual path?” I asked him, thinking that he might have a huge, profound, soul-stirring kind of response.

He never has answers, of course. He just asks questions until I come up with the answers on my own. I know this, because it’s what coaches do, and I’m becoming a life coach myself. We’re trained not to problem solve, but to hold space for the client to reach their own personal truths and revelations.

Deep down, I knew. I always know, but I think I needed to say it out loud, admit it to myself, and make it real somehow. He’s good for that—sort of like a priest in a confessional, but without all the associated guilt and absolution. He’d probably hate being compared to a priest, though. I think witch doctor would be a little more accurate, since I’m the witch and he’s my shrink. (See what I did there?)

I told him that I felt like I didn’t really belong under the pagan label anymore, and I said this with a wistful kind of sadness inside. This was the community that had helped me heal from my church wounds. This was the community that introduced me to the concept of balance between Goddess and God, Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine. This was the community where I had experienced sisterhood, women’s mysteries, transformative rituals, and years of study in the esoteric arts.

Then I launched into why I hate labels, because they’re limiting. The second you label yourself, you’ve created a container that will only let you grow so much. It’s like a plant that gets root bound. If you don’t transplant it into a larger pot, its roots will keep circling around and around until they finally run out of space and the plant’s wellbeing suffers.

I felt constriction and repression in church many years ago, which is why I explored other paths. What I was feeling this time is more akin to restlessness or boredom. I was appreciative of all that I had learned and experienced in paganism, but I also had to acknowledge that the enthusiasm I felt years ago was no longer there. I wasn’t meeting teachers and elders who genuinely inspired me with their wisdom, grace, and deep connection with Spirit. It was easy for me to teach and hold space for others, but no one seemed able to do the same for me.

“Take a deep breath, and check in with your womb,” he said.

He knows my womb is my best oracle, despite all the divination tools I own. I felt my breath sinking down into my pelvis, clearing away the cobwebs and debris from my inner vision.

“I see an empty house, clean swept and ready for a new occupant. I’m walking out the door. All of my things are loaded onto a truck, waiting to take me somewhere. I just don’t know where exactly,” I said.

“Then everything you need for the next phase of your journey is going with you,” he said.

I took comfort in knowing that it all had purpose, that it would serve me well later on. Meanwhile, I rest in this in-between place of spirituality without labels, opening up to whatever awaits, calling in my next teacher and tribe, and offering gratitude…so much gratitude…for where this road has led me.

Copyright © 2018 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.

Mythology

Meeting the Wolves of Eclipse Season

 

The origin of the word eclipse comes from the Greek ékleipsis, meaning to abandon, forsake, or fail to appear. Our modern understanding of the word is that light is being dimmed or obscured by something else. We apply it to astronomical phenomena as well as our inner light, fame, or stardom. There are many ways that one can be eclipsed.

Every culture has its own myths about why the sun and moon seem to disappear temporarily at certain times. Eclipses were mysterious and a bit frightening for our ancestors, so they created their own fanciful explanations. Though we have scientific data now, there is still value in studying the ancient tales. They reach into the psyche and help us work with what we’re feeling and experiencing, not just what we’re seeing in the heavens.

One that has grabbed my attention during this extremely potent eclipse season is the Norse myth of Sól, goddess of the sun, and her brother Máni, god of the moon.

According to one version of the story, Sól didn’t start out as a goddess. Her father, Mundilfari, thought she was so lovely that he named her after the sun, and he named her brother after the moon. That didn’t sit well with the gods, so they forced Sól to drive the chariot of the sun as punishment for her father’s arrogance. Sól had to race quickly across the skies to avoid being devoured by the wolf Sköll, who chased her continuously. On rare occasions, Sköll (repulsion) would get close enough to nip at Sól’s chariot, causing a solar eclipse. Máni suffered a similar fate, as he had to drive the chariot of the moon while being chased by the wolf Hati (hatred). When Hati got close enough to take a bite, a lunar eclipse resulted.

What are we to make of this tale, and how can it help us now?

It would be easy to demonize Sköll and Hati, those “evil” wolves that never give Sól and Máni a break. That would be a mistake, however. What the wolves represent, at least in my own interpretation, is everything we haven’t integrated, or the lingering, unfinished business of our lives. The past continues to chase us until it finally catches up. Sköll and Hati are the unacknowledged parts of ourselves, and the eclipse is the moment when we must deal with whatever we’ve been trying to outrun.

We’re in a time of radical shifts, abrupt endings and beginnings, and profound awakenings. Do you know the wolves that are chasing you? Can you call them by name? Is it possible to turn around and befriend them this time, so that they don’t have to bite to get your attention? We can look at eclipse season with dread, or we can embrace it as an opportunity for growth and change. The choice is ever ours.

There are plenty of articles out there on how to get through an eclipse. Most advise slowing down, practicing radical self-care, and becoming aware of what needs to be released. I would also look at where the lunar and solar eclipses are showing up in your natal chart. See which areas of your life may be impacted. It happens to be the 5th and 11th houses for me, and much of that energy is already being stirred in the areas of creativity and community in a positive way. Grab your Tarot deck, and try this helpful spread by BiddyTarot if you’re so inclined. Above all, walk through this gateway consciously and mindfully with infinite love for yourself and others. Take a lesson from Söl and Máni, as you drive your chariot onward. Learn from your wolves. Reach down to pet them this time.

Blessed Be

Copyright © 2017 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.

Goddess, Sabbats

Corn Woman’s Wisdom on Lughnasadh

 

There are two predominant themes for Lughnasadh: one is sacrifice, and the other is nourishment. There have been years when sacrifice has shown up stronger for me, when I’ve had to give up something or become more aware of when I’m being a martyr. This year, however, Goddess is asking me to look harder at how well I nourish myself on the most basic level: with food.

I am not a foodie, though there are times when I wish I could be one. Eating is something I do to live, but I don’t live to eat. When I’m overly stressed, I’ll skip meals or eat sparingly. Some people are stress eaters, but I’m more of a stress starver. Nothing kills my appetite faster than anxiety or depression. Most of the time, I cruise along on an even keel. If someone is rude or cuts me off in traffic, it’s no big deal. I can let that small stuff go. I don’t surround myself with drama, so my everyday life is generally calm and peaceful. I’ve worked hard to create an environment that supports, rather than siphons.

Throw in a major stressor like a death in the family or moving, however, and I’m turning green at the gills over just the smell of food cooking. Then all my healthy meal planning goes out the window, and I’m just trying to choke down a Saltine cracker to keep body and soul together. It’s frustrating, especially for a Virgo. We’re supposed to be the health nuts of the Zodiac, right?

So when I drew a card from The Goddess Oracle on the New Moon in Leo, and Corn Woman showed up in all of her grain-abundant glory, my first thought was: fuck. My next thought was: how can I possibly eat well and nourish myself when I’m still mourning the loss of my beloved canine and familiar? On top of losing Baxter just one week prior, I was still adjusting to life in a new place. I felt thoroughly wrung out in mind, body, and spirit, as though part of me had simply left this world along with my dog. I didn’t have a manual that said: How to Eat When You’re Grieving and You Don’t Know a Soul in Town. Someone should create one, though.

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The Goddess Oracle by Amy Sophia Marashinsky. Illustrated by Hrana Janto.

What I did have was Corn Woman staring at me from my altar, gently but firmly reminding me that I can’t ignore the basics of life and expect to feel better on any level. Of course it would be corn. I mean, you normally see wheat fields associated with Lughnasadh, but that’s Europe. This is south Alabama, and we have corn, which functions as both grain when it’s dry and vegetable when it’s fresh. It’s also extremely abundant at this time of year. The message was getting louder and clearer: foundation, staple, plain, essential, sustenance. I didn’t need to become a gourmet overnight, but I would have to find a way to love myself better with the simple abundance that Mother Earth provides.

I began with questions, which is the starting point for any type of change and course correction. What am I resisting? What don’t I like about the whole cycle of procuring, preparing, and eating food? We have it much easier than our ancestors, after all. I can cook, thanks to a mom who cared enough to teach me how. Other people practically get off on being in the kitchen, so why doesn’t it excite me? More to the point, why is eating and nourishment the first thing I drop when life gets excruciatingly painful?

Biologically, it’s fight or flight. All my body knows is that it’s facing some sort of crisis. It can’t distinguish between an emotional trauma and a physical attack. It’s programmed not to waste time digesting when survival means getting out of town or fighting to the death. After four decades on this planet, it still doesn’t know that it won’t actually die from a broken heart.

I’ve learned a few techniques for calming the fight or flight response through meditation and energy medicine, but resilience isn’t built overnight. It takes years of consistently applying those practices, and I certainly haven’t mastered them yet.

Spiritually, I prefer to focus on ‘higher’ things. I think it would be fantastic if we could live on air and gain back all the time we spend on food (spoken like one ruled by Mercury!) Eating brings me down to the mundane level, and I don’t always enjoy being there. It feels dense, heavy, and slow. It forces me to be in touch with my body and its needs, instead of floating around in my upper chakras where I’m more comfortable. People often describe me as grounded, but what they don’t know is that I can appear to be Zen on the outside even when I’m dying on the inside. I come from a long line of stoics, and they taught me too well, unfortunately.

Feeling truly grounded takes more work and more willingness on my part to really be in those lower chakras, and that is where I meet my resistance every time a major crisis comes up. I don’t want to be in my body while I’m processing a ton of grief and pain, but abandoning it doesn’t work, either. It just results in feeling weaker and less able to handle the situation that surrounds me.

Corn Woman symbolizes true nourishment, and that means feeding the soul and the body. It is the time spent in the circle, the trance, or the vision quest… and it is the feast afterward to ground and center oneself in this world. No matter how high and far our spirits may travel, we must return to this earth walk, even when it hurts, until our time here has ended.

The lesson is a hard one, and I will most likely be examining my complicated relationship with food for quite some time. Still, I’m grateful for Lughnasadh, for the turning of the wheel, for life, for the first harvest, for the bountiful earth, and for Corn Woman’s wisdom. May we all be well nourished.

Blessed Be

Copyright © 2017 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.

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Witchcraft

Too Far Out of the Broom Closet

A well-meaning friend suggested that I might want to be a little less witchy here in lower Alabama. I can understand why she would give that advice. I certainly don’t wish to be a target for people who will probably never try to understand other points of view, let alone something as controversial and misunderstood as witchcraft. There is always the pressure to blend in, conform, and adopt the “when in Rome” mentality. That goes double for a tiny military town like this one.

In my current stage of life, though, I’m politely but firmly ignoring that pressure. I’m too far out of the broom closet to get shoved back in, and I refuse to make myself smaller and more digestible for others. Either they can handle all that I am, or they can choke on me. While my spiritual path is not the first thing I lead with upon being introduced to someone new, it’s also not something I’ll hide or tiptoe around if I’m asked about it directly. Anyone who wants to do a diligent search can find me easily enough on this blog and on Instagram—I identify as a witch in both places. I understand there is value in speaking to someone at his/her level, which I try to do as much as I’m able, but not to the extent that I feel compromised or lessened in any way.

I’ve watched people bristle over the word witch for the last 15 years, when I first started rolling it around on my tongue and applying it to myself. It felt like a new black dress that I hadn’t quite grown into yet, but I wore it anyway, trusting that it would fit perfectly someday. Now the sleeves drape gracefully, the hem falls where it should, and the bodice hugs me tenderly in all the right places. Witch I am. Witch I shall always be, even when I don’t feel like witching (see previous post). My path is strange, winding, and quite lonely at times, but at least it is my own.

I know it’s a bit more socially acceptable for most if I just talk about the Goddess or the Divine Feminine and avoid the “w” word. I’ve done that in person and on this blog for years. The waters are always calmer if I talk about energy and holistic healing without mentioning things like spells and rituals. It’s disappointing, and it feels like watered down whiskey every single time. If you have ever stood in a cast circle and felt the currents of energy running around and through you, if you have ever invoked the Goddess under a full moon, if you have ever summoned the elements and felt the wild, infinite power of each one…well, then you understand.

I’ve been around the New Age community enough to know that witch can send ripples through a room and silence it faster than you can blink. I’ve made the mistake too many times of thinking that acceptance would be automatic, only to find myself shunned by people who hoard crystals, play with oracle cards, carry on conversations with dead people…and still show up for church on Sunday. It was all rather confusing, or maybe they were confused about their own path. It all served to teach me that (a) I can never assume anything about the tolerance level of any group, and (b) I don’t ever have to stay in a situation where I’m not welcomed for who and what I am.

When you can’t find community, sometimes you have to create one. I lead a small study group for solitary or eclectic witches, meaning those who are not affiliated with a particular coven or system. We draw from many sources. We do our own thing, but we also enjoy having an online forum where we can read books together, discuss them, and share our questions and observations. We’re currently reading The Inner Temple of Witchcraft by Christopher Penczak, which offers plenty of meaty material for witches old and new. In Chapter 4, he leads with a paragraph that reaffirms what it means to wear the mantle of the wise:

The witch’s path is not an easy road to walk. Through the roots of our history, we have seen the persecution of those who practice the art of magick and the mysteries of the Goddess and God. Though death is not the result in this day and age, witches are still discriminated against. If you can handle the difficulties, the life of the witch is very joyous, filled with never-ending study and exploration. Witches learn many disciplines to ply their craft. One must be a dedicated student, but also have the passion, the fire, necessary to live life as a witch. Witchcraft is constantly adapting and evolving, calling creative, daring people to it. (59)

I heard that call, as I’m sure many of you did as well. We are writing our own history as we go. Future generations will base their opinions and ideas on what “witch” means by how we present ourselves and what we leave behind. It is my hope that we leave them with a definition of kindness, healing, love, strength, and reverence for the world around us.

Blessed Be

Copyright © 2017 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.


Penczak, Christopher. The Inner Temple of Witchcraft: Magick, Meditation, and Psychic Development. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2002. Print.

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Goddess, Poetry

Cauldron of Cerridwen

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“Cerridwen” from Fées et Déesses, by Erlé Ferronnière

I am at ease in your velvety darkness
that covers and heals me
in places the light cannot reach,
because I am much too weary now
for all that blinding brightness.

Under the supple, lustrous rays of the moon,
I stare into the swirling black void
of the cauldron that you stir and stir,
seeing the eons pass behind and before me,
giving myself, once again,
to your magick of transformation.

I have died so many times,
so many lives, so many selves,
eternally decaying and rebirthing,
as the never-ending spiral
pulls inward and spins outward.

What shall we create this time, Dark Mother?
What shall bubble up from the detritus?

I hold nothing back from you,
White Sow, Shape-shifter,
Keeper of Knowledge and Inspiration.
All that I am is yours,
as it ever has been
and ever shall be.

Copyright © 2016 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.

Goddess, Mythology

Laughing Out Loud: Goddesses of Mirth and Revelry

I remember chatting with a friend at a coffee shop after a period of intense cosmic energy that had left us a bit flabbergasted. We were getting mighty tired of feeling like pinballs in the inscrutable game of life, and both of us were wondering when things were going to feel lighter, easier, or at least not quite so darn Saturn-ish.

“Is there a goddess of laughter? Because I need that one!” she said.

“Actually, there is! Look up Baubo,” I said. “She’s a Greek goddess who rules laughter and all things crass and unmentionable.”

I hadn’t studied much about Baubo up to that point—I just knew she was the goddess in the Eleusinian mysteries who made Demeter cackle so much that she ceased mourning for her daughter Persephone. This was no small act, considering that the Earth was suffering under an endless winter without Demeter’s attention. Restoring her spirit gave her the courage she needed to secure Persephone’s release from Hades, thereby allowing spring to enliven and quicken the land again. Powerful magick, indeed.

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Greek terra-cotta figurine of Baubo holding a lyre.

Laughter is good medicine, and Baubo is the queen of deep belly laughs, dirty jokes, and unbridled sexuality. I would compare her to Mae West or Amy Schumer. She is a goddess who speaks directly from her genitals, and your approval is neither sought nor required. Precious little survives of her likeness and her story, but the unearthed figurines of her depict either her face in her belly with the vulva forming her chin or an exaggerated vulva between her legs. Whatever she was hiding under her skirt certainly gave Demeter the giggles.

If you invite Baubo into your life, be prepared to find humor in just about everything, to laugh until your sides hurt, to flaunt your fabulous self, and to stop apologizing for being “too much” for the curmudgeons. If they can’t laugh along with you, dear one, it’s their loss.

Another goddess who gives no fucks is Uzume (pronounced oo-zoo-may) from Japanese mythology. She is a shaman goddess who found herself in a similar role to Baubo as court jester, clown, and one who saves the day through raffish humor.

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Uzume, from The Goddess Oracle by Amy Sophia Marashinsky

As the story goes, Amaterasu, the life-giving, compassionate goddess of the Sun, had hidden herself in a cave. She was severely depressed and grieving over the violent actions of her brother, Susano-o. He was quite jealous of her power, so he went on a rampage, slaughtered a young horse (a sacred animal to the goddess), and threw its carcass into her weaving room. He destroyed her looms, ruined all of the valuable fabric, and terrified all of the women who were working there at the time. In some versions of the story, he kills all of the attendants and wounds Amaterasu as well.

Her refusal to come out of the cave after this episode was beginning to distress all of the other gods and goddesses. The rice fields were dying, and the situation was getting desperate. They had tried to lure her out with no success, and then Uzume showed up at the cave entrance. She begins by looking quite serious and refined and then proceeds to lift her kimono for a frenzied, erotic dance that made all the assembled deities howl with laughter. When Amaterasu became curious enough to venture outside, the others sealed the cave so she could not return. Balance was restored to the land once again by a goddess who understood the power of comedy.


So here we are about halfway through a Mercury retrograde, and I know it’s eclipse season, and the Equinox is less than two weeks away, and the holidays are coming, and the election is looming, and the world is exploding, and Winter is coming…yeah, I get that.

But laugh. Really. Find some cat videos on YouTube. Go see some live stand-up comedy. Check out the People of Walmart. Do whatever it takes to laugh so damn hard that tears roll down your face, and ask Baubo and Uzume to help you.

Blessed Be

Copyright © 2016 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Sabbats

Lughnasadh: Honoring the Space Between

 

A SONG of the good green grass!
A song no more of the city streets;
A song of farms—a song of the soil of fields.
A song with the smell of sun-dried hay, where the nimble pitchers handle the pitch-fork;
A song tasting of new wheat, and of fresh-husk’d maize.
Walt Whitman, “A Carol of Harvest for 1867”

The word I would use to describe Lughnasadh is liminal: occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. Summer isn’t over yet, and autumn hasn’t begun. There is still work to do—the harvesting of crops, especially grain, if you happen to be a farmer. For most of us, however, the harvest is more akin to deep reflection, taking stock, and looking at how the intentions we have put out into the world have developed.

What has grown? What has withered? What can be gathered in and used for nourishment? Was it worth the sacrifices we made? Are we enjoying the fruits of our labors at all? We pause. We consider. We begin to winnow out anything that isn’t useful. We dance in the sacred space between “no longer” and “not yet.”

My coven celebrates the astrological date of Lughnasadh when the sun reaches 15 degrees in the sign of Leo. In the northern hemisphere, this marks a seasonal shift toward autumn, as it is the exact midpoint between a solstice and an equinox.

Again, there is the overriding theme of being poised without having to move in either direction. For me, nothing captures this better than The Hanged Man of the Tarot, and he has been making a frequent appearance lately.

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The DriudCraft Tarot by Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm

This card disturbed me a little when I first encountered it years ago. The whole idea of being hung upside down seemed barbaric. I imagined the blood rushing to my head, the ropes chafing at my ankle and wrists, and the constant exposure to the elements. I thought of insects biting and stinging and feeling helpless to swat them away. Some decks show The Hanged Man underwater, which is even more unsettling if you suffer from aquaphobia.

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The Herbal Tarot by Michael Tierra and Candis Cantin

Yet, he seems to endure his restriction with a contented expression on his face. There is an air of quiet resignation about him. He has accepted what fate has delivered and knows that struggling is futile. Rather than focusing on his outward circumstances, he goes within and finds peace. He appears to have chosen this particular trial and is managing it gracefully, like Odin’s shamanic initiation upon Yggdrasil.

If you flip him right side up, The Hanged Man becomes the cosmic dancer of The World card, the very last trump in the Major Arcana. But he hasn’t achieved that supreme level of integration yet—he cannot avoid spending some quality time in the Underworld first.

We can learn much from this placid figure about honoring the space between. As an American, I was brought up to believe that achievement is paramount. Competition is instilled from elementary school onward, because how else would we survive in a capitalist economy? You either climb the ladder or dwell in various levels of poverty. So we develop this driving force to be the best at whatever we try and to constantly set higher bars for ourselves.

I’m not saying that pursuing goals is a bad thing, but when 40 million of our citizens have anxiety disorders and 17.3 million die from cardiovascular disease every year…you have to wonder if we’re doing it right. Maybe we haven’t been taught the value of BE-ing along with DO-ing. After all, what does it profit us to gain the whole world and lose our souls?

That is what The Hanged Man is finding again as he sways from the branches of the World Tree—his radiantly beautiful soul. He is teaching us that liminal space is healing space and that a divinely ordered time out is often just what we need. There is no place in the past worth revisiting and no place in the future to run toward. There is nothing to be accomplished immediately and no all-important five-year plan to hatch. As we celebrate the first of the harvest Sabbats, casting our magic circles once again to honor the Old Ones, let us drink in the sanctity of being between the worlds. In the midst of an ever-changing and frequently chaotic era, may we listen to the subtle whispers of nature, reminding us to Be Here. Be Now. Just Be.

©2016 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.

Goddess

The Goddess as Challenger

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The great traditions of the goddess emphasize her overwhelming power, but call us to love her. Not in spite of her power, but because of it. Not in spite of death, but because of life. It is not easy to travel on the path of the goddess, but once her challenges are met, life is filled with unimaginable sweetness. -Patricia Monaghan, The Goddess Companion

Finding the Goddess can feel like coming home, like being nurtured and loved at last after so many years of searching for…belonging? acceptance? something that honors the feminine in a world that has glorified the masculine? I remember that feeling. After suffering through a patriarchal Baptist upbringing, the Goddess was like a cool drink of water from a sacred well. Here I was free to be entirely myself. Here my gifts were acknowledged, even celebrated. Here I found sisters (and a few brothers) who were cut from the same cloth.

I exhaled…releasing the poisonous vapors of original sin, menstrual shame, sexual repression, and misogyny. I inhaled the truth of the soul’s incorruptible perfection, my sacred blood, second chakra liberation, and an abiding, fierce love of myself as a woman and representation of She Who Is. There was no going back. Even if I had wanted to retrace my steps, She would have corrected my course again. The Goddess is tolerant of many things, but playing small is not one of them.

She loves us, feeds us until we’re strong again, and then kicks us right out of the nest when the time is right, like any strong, wise mother would do.

I’m reminded of these brilliant lines by Erin Hanson:

There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?

She knows the only way we’ll find out is if we step right up to the edge of our comfort zone and swan dive into a future we cannot see. Sometimes we are gently nudged. Sometimes we are shoved.

Gentle nudging is when the same message keeps showing up in different ways. Maybe you’ve always wanted to take up pottery, but you keep talking yourself out of signing up for a class. You’re too busy. You’re not even artistic. You might be a terrible potter, and all that money would be wasted. But then a flyer shows up in the mail about a pottery class in your town. You flip open a magazine, and there’s an article about the therapeutic effects of working with clay. You’re surfing through channels, and there’s a documentary about famous women potters. That’s a nudge. That’s the Goddess saying, “Take the class already, and quit making excuses. How many messages do I really need to send?”

Getting shoved is when you ignore all of those messages, deny your inner calling, and then chaos arrives. You break a finger through some unfortunate accident. Now your hand is useless for a while. So while your bones are healing and you are cursing the annoying splint you have to wear, you wish like hell that you had gone to that pottery class last weekend while you still had two perfectly intact hands. Ouch.

Thus, my second major awakening to the Goddess was discovering that She is both the Benevolent Mother and the Challenger. (Well, hello there Kali Ma, Morrighan, Hecate, Baba Yaga…and all others who have taught me so much while kicking my butt at the same time).

Challengers question things and create opposition in order to force some growth. They swoop in and utterly destroy anything that has gone way past its expiration date. It’s part of their job. They clean shit up, and you won’t always like their methods. It’s not like a quick Saturday morning dusting and vacuuming. Nope. It’s more like taking a bulldozer to the whole house and starting over with a new foundation.

They want the real you…minus all the false walls you’ve erected and the useless objects that weigh you down. You know what I’m talking about: the job that still sux no matter how many positive affirmations you’ve stuck on the mirror, the relationship that doesn’t work no matter how much counseling you’ve tried, and the friends that are beginning to feel more like frenemies. That stuff will devour you from the inside out, and it would be a travesty if you exit this life before accomplishing all the amazing things you came here to do.

Goddess knows this far better than you can imagine, which is why she shows up as Challenger with sword in hand (or wrecking ball), poised and ready to rearrange your life and priorities. The truth is that we just don’t have a lot of time to waste on being meek, mild, and mediocre. The world needs repair, and we are the bandages, my friends. So if Goddess is showing you some tough love right now, know that it is because you are worthy and those natural gifts you’ve been hiding are extraordinary. Claim them. Use them. Start from the fresh, fertile ground she has leveled for you. Grow something that will benefit the seventh generation and beyond. I believe in you.

Blessed Be

© 2016 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.

Rituals, Shamanism

Creating Ritual

 

Sacred ritual, properly guided by an experienced shaman, can create a “whole brain” experience that awakens the curiosity of the neocortex, satisfies the need for safety of our more primitive limbic brain, and makes ecstatic states accessed by the frontal lobes of the higher brain possible. Ritual performed wholeheartedly allows us to transcend our limiting roles and beliefs and experience more elevated states of being. – Alberto Villoldo
Awakening to the Spirit World: The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation by Sandra Ingerman & Hank Wesselman

The Random House Dictionary defines ritual as “an established or prescribed procedure for a religious or other rite.” That’s a rather ho-hum definition that suggests following something very structured and scripted that may or may not be inspirational. The word itself can feel heavy and laden with centuries of doing the same thing over and over again in the vain hope of recreating a sense of wonder and ecstasy. It can also suggest something mundane, like brushing one’s teeth or applying deodorant.

Yet, the idea of being in a ritual and experiencing something ethereal is part of what drew me to paganism. I wanted to be out of my head, out of my body, and out of this world if possible. After working in sacred circles for many years, I now see ritual as a catalyst for spiritual transformation when it flows from the heart and is fueled by strong intention and desire. A well-designed ritual has the power to transport us to a different level. We enter the circle, and we are changed by what occurs inside. The change may be instant or gradual, but there is no denying that a shift occurs.

That magical shift in thought and awareness is something that modern society has tried hard to achieve through psychology, but we’re now waking up to the fact that traditional methods are losing some ground. A paper published in the Psychological Bulletin revealed that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is roughly half as effective as it used to be in treating depression, for example. It’s quite possible to lie on a couch and talk about a problem with a therapist for years without ever making progress. Perhaps the frustration over “getting stuck” is one of the reasons people are seeking something much older and more shamanic in origin. Rituals use symbols that work with the subconscious mind to bring about lasting (and sometimes dramatic) changes. It’s more than just venting about what hurts—it’s getting to the root of the issue and healing it on a deep level.

When designing group rituals, I look at what’s happening seasonally, astrologically, and energetically. Are we in the dark half or light half of the year? Are we more inwardly focused and reflective or more active and expressive? What solar and lunar influences are at play? What is the overall mood of the group? Sometimes there is a need for rest and recovery; sometimes it’s more about raising energy for particular goal.

Tarot can also be helpful when I need guidance on developing a ritual theme. During the month of March, for example, I did a reading on what the focus should be for the next women’s circle. I drew the Eight of Pentacles, the Hanged Man in a reversed position, and the Nine of Pentacles. I’m sure there are many ways to interpret those cards, but I was seeing frustration over being out of alignment with one’s higher calling. Too much time and effort was being wasted on making widgets instead of making a life. The graceful ease and refinement depicted in the Nine of Pentacles hadn’t quite manifested, but the desire was certainly there.

Given that the date for the circle was near the Spring Equinox, it was the perfect opportunity to focus on planting seeds, both literal and symbolic. Our ritual focal point was the blessing and planting of some organic basil seeds, which are now quite leafy and ready to transplant into a larger container! Basil is associated with drawing money and success while warding against misfortune, so its properties also matched our intentions. (Plus, it makes a yummy pesto).

My personal rituals often begin with a shamanic journey. Most of the time, I know what I want to address, but I don’t always have immediate inspiration on how I will go about it. So I let the sound of a drum take me deep into theta where I can meet with a trusted spirit guide. I’ve received advice on ritual timing, herbs, incantations, crystals, talismans, and more just from traveling in the astral realm. I tend to trust what my guides tell me more than the ready-made spells available in books and on the Internet. Those were fine when I was new to the Craft, but eventually, I wanted something more personal and specific to my needs.

After learning what I need to know from my journey, I do the ritual. I inscribe the candle with runes, create the mojo bag, bury the object, paint something with menstrual blood, make a collage, chant the words, dance like a banshee…whatever needs to be done (as long as it’s legal). Then I let it go. This last step is crucial—when a ritual is over, obsessing about the outcome won’t help. I trust that I’ve done all I can, and I leave the rest up to forces greater than I am to work out the details. I believe that all rituals work—even the ones that seem to affect nothing, because they are sending a message that everything is in stasis for a reason.

I won’t say that rituals are the solution to every problem—if you need professional help, please go get it. But I will say that serving as my own priestess and shaman has helped me navigate the seasons of my life and deal with the harder blows like divorce, death, and illness. I didn’t have to trek deep into the Amazon or climb the Himalayas to find a guru, either. I became my own. I’ve never felt completely powerless, because I knew that as long as I had breath in this body, I could at least be fully present in sacred space and do something that symbolized what I wanted to achieve. If there is one magickal axiom I still trust completely, it is this: As above, so below. As within, so without. As the universe, so the soul.

Blessed Be

References

Johnsen, T. J., & Friborg, O. (2015, May 11). The Effects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as an Anti-Depressive Treatment is Falling: A Meta-Analysis. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/bul0000015

© 2016 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.