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30 October 2012

the week of Samhain festivities continues!

The day between the full moon and Samhain - today - my coven is having our Samhain ritual. Which means I'm leaving my little town for the first time since Friday. I have class tonight, too. Statistics, bleh. I don't know about statistics class, but I'm feeling well enough for ritual. My energy is somewhat better than neutral - a huge improvement. I even cooked  myself lunch today. I'm quite pleased with myself. And despite my misgivings, I'm leaning toward being ok with the new medicine. So far, it seems like it's a good thing.

Pumpkin carving and more Samhain stories tonight tomorrow!

29 October 2012

time out

I took this weekend off from the world.

Saturday's plan to go to the flea market and the farmer's market got cancelled. I just couldn't do it. I didn't sleep Friday night. I was exhausted Saturday morning - but still unable to sleep - and I worried about the safety of driving.

Maybe I could have slept, I don't know. Every time I laid my head on my pillow, the tears came. It was too painful to let my mind wander. So I distracted it with books and games. And before I knew how late it was, the sun was rising.

My new meds came in the mail Saturday morning. I checked my mail, because I promised Archer I would. I took a dose, then took a nap.

Today is day three of the new meds. It seems to be helping. I got to sleep before 1am Saturday night, and before midnight last night. That's a huge improvement. I've been getting to sleep around 4-5am for the past several weeks. Except for the nights I stay with Archer - then I get to sleep by 11pm, usually - but those are too few and far between.

Enough of that. I'm feeling gradually better. Today I feel... like I don't want to move, but I can  move, and that's an improvement. Today I have the strength to fight back.

I'm still skipping class today. I'm not quite that  ambitious. Yet. I'll have to make myself go tomorrow. That's my statistics class, and I can't afford to miss that one.

I did still include my child in some Samhain activities this weekend. We talked about our town's local ghosts, did some baking from our "harvest" at the grocery store Friday night, and explored our family tree on Which, by the way, is completely addictive.


I did something else Friday night. I continued the oracle reading I had started on Thursday.

Thursday, I had drawn the first three. After the reading I left the cards in order, setting them on my altar. Friday, it felt right to continue.

In shorthand, I would read this as (roughly): "Remember what's good (otter); return the loyalty of dogs, they will guide you (dog); speak kindly to yourself (fox). Healing requires transformation (adder); persistence will bring you home (ram); find the strength to lead yourself, to be ok with being alone (wolf). Connect to what matters, leave the rest behind (hawk); be open to nourishment offered by others, particularly feminine deities (cow); you will find your place in the world through this journey (horse). These are the lessons to balance destructiveness with construction, to resolve long-buried conflicts and begin a new life (raven).

Good advice. I hope I can do it.

I use The Druid Animal Oracle Deck by Philip & Stephanie Carr-Gomm, illustrated by Bill Worthington.

27 October 2012

a week of Samhain festivities: day 2

Day 2: Saturday 27 October

It's Farmer's Market Day! Yay!

We're going to round up the Last Harvest with a trip to our town's Farmer's Market. It's always an awesome event, but of course being so close to Halloween, it'll be even awesomer on this day.

Then home for carving pumpkins and making Pumpkin Pie Spice Butter! Double Yay!

Pumpkin carving is a great time to talk about the thinning of the veil. I'm taking a certain amount of homeschooling-mom pleasure in the fact that in Child is learning about metaphors in our Literature lessons right now, and I can reinforce that lesson by explaining the metaphor of the veil. I look at it this way (and this is roughly how I will explain it to Child):

The "veil" is a metaphor we use to describe the thin, porous separation between the world we can see and touch with our bodies, and the world that only our souls can feel. It's like the difference between body and soul. These two things - our bodies and our souls - are connected and so entwined that it can be hard to tell where one begins and the other ends, but they are also two different things. The two worlds are like that - it's hard to tell sometimes where the physical world ends and the spirit world begins, but they are in fact two distinct worlds which happen to be located in the same places. Now, even though we are souls, we still live in our physical bodies in the physical world. There are other beings who live in the spirit world only, and we can only see them when they find ways to reach our souls, or when they find a way to cross the "veil" and enter the physical world. This is important to know because during this time of year, the veil thins. It is thinnest on the night of Samhain, which is the same night as Halloween. The thinning of the veil makes it easier for spirits to communicate across the veil. So Samhain night is the easiest night of the year for us to communicate with those in the spirit world, while staying in the physical world.

Child's inevitable question: Who lives in the spirit world? The souls of the dead who have not yet been reborn, the spiritual memories of our ancestors, the elemental energies, and the deities. 


We will have a dinner story with our meal this evening; I'll read "Journey to the Shining Isle" by Starhawk, tweaking it ever so slightly, to replace the generic goddess stirring the cauldron of souls with the named Goddess, Babd of the Morrigan.


Our town has innumerable festivities planned for this weekend; we'll wander about and join in as we please, between our family events.


To make the pumpkin pie spice butter, combine these ingredients, mix well, then store in the refrigerator for up to three weeks:

4 tbs softened unsalted butter
4 tbs pumpkin puree
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp grated or dried nutmeg
1/8 tsp salt

(the cloves, ginger, and nutmeg can be substituted as a group, with 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice)

I got this recipe from Witchin in the Kitchen's facebook page.

The fall leaves clip art used above came from this website:

26 October 2012

vervet monkeys and totemism

V snuck up on me.

I lost track of the alphabet somewhere between last week and today.

Which means, obviously, that I'll be talking about Vervet Monkeys today.


Please, try to contain your excitement.

Who said pastels aren't manly?

Actually, I do have a point (and it has nothing to do with colorful genitalia).

A recent revelation about how to read my animal oracle cards (or any cards) for divination has led me - as I said then - to view aspects of my spirituality differently. I started really looking at the qualities of each animal, as opposed to trying to memorize the meaning of each card. Sounds like a "duh" moment, but it took me awhile to get there. Anyway, this morning I was thinking about Vervets, because I was trying to think of a "V" word for my Pagan Blog Project post, and "Vervets" is a much better word than "vicissitudes." Well, maybe it isn't, but it's better for my brain this morning. I need something a little lighter today.

Thus, Vervets.

A friend of mine took that picture (above) while we were in Rwanda this summer. It's an adult male Vervet Monkey. You can tell because it has baby-blue balls. True story.

So having decided to talk about Vervets, I began pondering what lessons a Vervet might confer, were I to draw it from my oracle deck. Not that I have a Vervet card, but if I did. Specifically, I started thinking about what makes Vervets different from other monkeys, and from other primates.

And then I thought, "well it's not like drawing a vervet monkey would give the same advice as drawing a baboon." But... that sentence might actually not make sense to anyone who isn't into primatology in some capacity, so I'll expand. You can tell a lot about a species by how they play, because juvenile play is a huge indicator of how the species will behave as adults.

Vervets have a relatively loose hierarchy in their social structures, and they engage in about as much solitary play as social play. Baboons, on the other hand, have a oft-contested and rigidly enforced social hierarchy - their play is almost always social play, because those skills are important for them to develop. ... That's just one difference in the character of the two species; there are many more. We don't even have to go into their physical differences, which are great enough.

If I were to draw a Baboon card, I would interpret it as a lesson in hierarchies, power, and family loyalties. A Vervet would be a lesson in flexibility, oneness with your environment, and being comfortable in your own skin - even if you have baby-blue balls. It's like comparing vikings with hippies. Two very different animals. Each species of primate - and there are many - is different from the others.

So I wonder, for those who have "monkey" totems, which one do you have? It pays to do the research on this.


And then  I thought, maybe I should create a primate oracle deck. That would be interesting. That's a project for the winter holiday season, when I don't have to go to classes all week. I'll keep you posted.

a week of Samhain festivities: day 1

So I decided to make a big deal of Samhain this year. You know, as opposed to Halloween, which has always been a big deal. This year Child's getting involved, and I'm taking the opportunity to finally teach Child some of my beliefs. This will be a week(ish)-long celebration. I'm excited.

I've noticed I'm getting better at planning activities for Child since I started homeschooling. Come to think of it... my whole life is getting more organized. All because the homeschooling schedule demands it. 
Huh. Didn't see that coming.

Day 1: Friday 26 October

Samhain - Summer's End, in the language of our (Child's and my) Scottish ancestors. We can feel it here in the high desert. Summer is ending; it gets cool every night, now, and the days are short and the lengthening nights are often windy.

We homeschool, so instead of the regularly scheduled history lesson (the beginning of the Age of Exploration, if you're curious), Child will be learning about the history of Samhain. I've hopped across the internet and scoured my own books, and come up with a plain-language but thorough enough story of the holiday. I'll share it in a separate post.

This evening, Child and I will participate in a haunted house event at my college to kick off the season. On our way home, we'll stop at the grocery store and "harvest" a large hunk of beef to roast, some potatoes, apples, and sweet potatoes (yay pie!). We'll pick up some cider and mead, and pumpkins too. I'm using the shopping trip to explain the harvest that our ancestors would have done, and that I participated in as a young'un growing up on a cattle farm.

I'm cutting the festivities there, for today. Child's attention span is easily overloaded.

If Child's interest is still engaged when we get home, we might talk some about the predators our ancestors would have seen this time of year - notably, wolves - because of the relative scarcity of prey, and the not-quite-too-cold-yet conditions that would keep them moving about, rather than hiding in dens. And bears, which would be preparing for hibernation.

The fall leaves clip art used above came from this website:

finding hope

Cloistered in my bedroom, doing my get-ready-for-bed routine - putting away the clutter of clean laundry, notebooks, and miscellany that coats my bed each day - I saw my oracle cards, had a moment of love, and realized, "duh, I should ask my oracle cards how to get myself back into balance." This deck is all about balance; every answer I've ever gotten, for anyone, from this deck, has pointed toward a more balanced [whatever the situation called for].

So I sat on my now-cleanish bed, and shuffled. And drew.


Now, usually I'm looking immediately for the symbolism of each card; this time, after drawing the first card (the Dog), I thought, "huh, maybe this is literal." Maybe that's because I just got back from taking Bella for a walk, and playing with both dogs and their toys after the walk - activities which improved my mood. It wasn't a drastic improvement, but still, any improvement is good. There hasn't been any in so long. My instincts tell me to listen to that first thought, and consider the very recent improvement to be proof.

So before drawing the second and third cards, I felt there was a literal quality to this reading that I haven't seen much in previous readings. Then, the Fox - the High Priestess in my coven believes the Fox may be trying to reach me, in the sense that s/he might be a totem animal I'm meant to learn from.

And the Otter. Oh, the Otter. If I had any doubts that this was a literal reading, they disappeared with the appearance of the Otter. Remember my Otter story?

...ok, here I have to break into what I was about to say, and replace it. This is what just happened. Just now.

I went to my list of blog posts and searched for "otter" because I wanted to link the post with my otter story right where I said, "Remember my Otter story?" A quick reference for anyone who was curious and didn't know what I was talking about. The four posts I've done recently about otters came up, but so did one more, from quite a while ago: "dichotomy: survivor v. whore." That made me curious; I hadn't started working with Otter back then. Otters weren't even really on my radar at that point. I figured I must have done a reading that I logged in that post, since my oracle cards were really the only place I came into contact with otters, then. So I clicked the link, to see what I said. Sure enough, I had done a reading and gotten Otter. I read on, remembering the post. It was a highly emotional time for me - more than now, because things were more volatile then. I was still so devastated by then-recent events that my emotions and wits felt so scattered much of the time. Now, I'm just dealing with Depression - an illness, not a symptom of trying times. I got to the bottom of the post, and went on to the comments. Reading Archer's comments to me... how do I describe it? They just made me feel warm inside, loved. I smiled.

And I'm glad I followed the otter back to that post, to that time.

I know what my depression is; for the most part, I know how to combat it. Recently, I've been overwhelmed by the siege.

I need to remember to play with my dogs; exercising them, exercises me - and that's good for my health. The Dog of my oracle deck is a protector; I believe my dogs help protect me from myself.

I need to remember that Archer loves me, has always loved me, even when I didn't feel worthy. Even before I knew what to think about him, when I couldn't have seen it because I didn't believe it was possible. The Otter led me back there, and I needed that. His lesson, always pertinent, is a reminder that things are ok. I have a stuffed otter (not a real one, a toy; the silkiest stuffed toy I've ever touched). Just holding him makes me feel a little better. Juvenile, but better nonetheless.

And the Fox, I believe, is me. Surrounded by those who love me, trying to keep the words in my head from becoming weapons, used to break me down from the inside, out. I've decided - just now - that it's time for me to start trying to work with Fox. But the message in this reading from Fox seems clear (besides needing to work with her/him) - my greatest difficulty in battling my depression is in the shame I associate with certain memories. Most don't actually warrant shame on my part, some embarrassment in a few perhaps, but not shame. Nevertheless, the shame is there. And when the litany of my misdeeds begins to play through my memories, it's this that does the most damage. I cut myself with my own words; Fox counsels care with communication, so that words do not become weapons through deceit. I'm working hard, lately, to remember the good things, when the bad things try to take over my thoughts. Practice makes perfect, right? Maybe not. But I'm getting better at it.

Tonight, I found hope.

Now, I'll link you back to that Otter story. Enjoy.

25 October 2012

poetry? prose? whatever.

the long highway stretches out before me
a lonely song from a makeshift radio, the only voice in my head
if I close my eyes, would it all just go away?
would there be time for fear or pain, if I didn't know what was coming?
the quiet solitude of oblivion
so welcoming

24 October 2012

the Chariot: 8/78 days of tarot

Oh how I wish I could harness some of her energy. She's forging ahead, full-steam and full of power. She is going somewhere, with momentum. She is purposeful, unheeding - or unconcerned - about the stormy skies around her.

And she's ... holding an umbrella?

Oh right, stormy skies.

Really, I think the umbrella adds to the unconcerned feel, kind of a "I'm going to get shit done, and hold my little umbrella, too." Like doing construction work in high heels and still kicking ass.

From the book: "'Despite any concerns you may have, I am in control of this situation.' ...The thunder of hoofbeats shakes the earth and yet her slight form remains perfectly still as the horsepower vibrates the reins. This confident young woman is intent upon forward movement and progress in the face of many challenges. The energy she directs is moving at dangerously high speeds. In the midst of the swirling chaos  she remains steady and focused."

Yes! What they said. Exactly. Awesome.
I can relate to that, even though I haven't been feeling it lately.

Reading on... "If it is your turn to drive the chariot, you will find yourself wanting to move in a certain direction. You will be confident in that direction. Getting started will be the hardest part."

Yeah no shit. That would be me, every single morning.

The final word: "Once you start moving, there won't be much that can stop you until you reach your goal."

Well I hope that turns out to be true.

I just talked to my psychiatrist this morning. She's getting me in for appointments more frequently these days. She wants to add a second antidepressant to my morning routine, an SSRI. The welbutrin (well, bupropion actually, which is a generic form of welbutrin, because the VA is fucking cheap) hasn't been enough lately. I'm not keeping up with my life. I'm functioning at a lower level than what I consider the minimum acceptable. Not far below, but still, not where I need to be.

For the most part, I can get through daily stuff, but nothing extra. Some important things have been dropped by the wayside.

I haven't seen my girlfriend in too long. I even missed a party at her house.

I have commissions to finish, and to start, ones that I want very much to do for their own sakes. I just can't seem to find the steam.

I just got a letter from DES (the Arizona agency that handles food stamps, state health care, welfare, and some other need-based assistance programs). They rejected my renewal for food stamps because I didn't make it into their office for an interview in time. ["Interview" is becoming such a vague term.... it's what they're calling it when I bring in paperwork that could just as easily been faxed or emailed.] I'll have to get in there this week and apply again. Otherwise the food stamps will come in later than usual - or not at all - next month. That's important. That's $300 a month I can't afford to replace.

The thing is, I can't get started in the mornings. I drag myself (kicking and screaming, yes) out of bed at a decent hour. I get my child's schooling done, or as close to done as I can before I go to my class (and the babysitter takes over). Usually, I make it to class. I've had to skip a few times, when I just couldn't make myself go. In the afternoons and evenings, when I have time to work on commissions or do other errands, I just can't make myself do it.

I am the Chariot, in reverse.

How do I turn this around?

Image of the card from:

23 October 2012

the Lovers: 7/78 days of tarot

When I first saw this card, and its name, I thought, "Oh, it's about love. And here's two lovers who seem well-balanced, if a little unsure. Or maybe that's just a sedate happiness. Yes, let's go with that. And... who's the angel lady? She seems like she approves... oh wait, did their hands manifest her? No wonder she approves."

I wasn't feeling this card. I chalk that up to my own issues.

I tried a bit more analysis, looking at the parts of the card, the artistic details and symbology. I noticed that the lights on either side felt balanced, so I counted: four on one side, six on the other. But, the six "lights" were yellow flowers, and smaller than the four gas lamps on the other side. So, balanced in a gestalt sense, but not numerically.

I felt like I wasn't really getting anywhere, so I opened the book a little sooner than I usually would.

Sayeth the book: "Core meaning: Making a decision that makes your heart glad."

Hmm. My confusion increased. Maybe it's the insomnia, but I was having serious trouble here. This is where things get sticky, because I couldn't see more than a tenuous connection between good decision-making skills and falling in love. (Poor decision-making, on the other hand, seems to have a strong track record in my history of love.) Really, I've never seen love as a choice made. I've long had this vague notion of love as something that happened, like the flu - unpredictable overall, but more likely in certain preventable circumstances, and bound to hurt once it takes up residence. I read a little more.

"[W]henever the right two things come together, something transformative and magical happens."

Then I thought of Archer, and it all came together. 

The lights are unbalanced individually, but balanced when seen as a whole. 

The angel is a conjuration of the lovers' decision to love; she is representative of the greater magic that happens when the right decision is made. 

The two people - the masculinized technology on the left, and the feminized natural world on the right - must be joined, unified, not separated.

The two people are confident; I know this confidence, because I feel it when Archer holds my hand.

"The Lovers" is the union of two good things into a whole,
which is better than its parts. 
Ours is the decision to unite, or not. 

19 October 2012

the Hierophant: 6/78 days of tarot

My tarot deck just shuffled itself.

I picked it up to find the next card, then remembered the deck had slipped off my nightstand a few days ago and been hastily tossed back into a stack. So I took pains to re-organize it before starting my observation today. Just as I was putting the last card back in place, the deck practically leapt out of my fingers in a graceful slide toward the floor.

Exasperated, I gathered it up and organized it, in the order the cards had come in. I'd been keeping them unshuffled, thinking it would aid me in going through the deck as I learned each card, in order. Then I realized I probably should just let them be unshuffled. I think the deck was tired of being unshuffled. Stifled, it seemed to say.

Well, it's not like the "next" card is going to disappear from the deck just because it has been shuffled, so now I'm shuffling them.

They seem less tense. I think rigid orderliness didn't suit them. Can't say I blame them.


On we go, to the Hierophant, card number 5, the 6th card in a once-orderly deck. 

Here is a man who has spent long years in pursuit of wisdom. He is well-read, and wise enough to share what he has learned. He's not aggressive, but he's no pushover either. There's strength left in those arms. The children gather, seeking wisdom - seeking that essential key to a better path. In sharing his knowledge, he expresses his active participation in the world; he has learned much, and experienced much that could not be read. He is, perhaps, a philosopher who frequently leaves the library to test his ideas in the world.

The book says: "the Hierophant is one who teaches us how to live in accordance with our sacred beliefs... He is the bridge between theory and practice. He creates a connection between spiritual belief and daily life... The apple [holy crap there's an apple! How did I miss that?!]... if you cut an apple crosswise, the center forms a pentagram, representing the four elements of the physical world under the guidance of Spirit. Our Hierophant, shown here as a humble, compassionate, and wise teacher, weaves together all these notions and more, and gives them to us as keys to open up our own understanding."

Apples! The nourishment of the soul, a sacred fruit for a sacred purpose.
(I can't believe I missed that.)

18 October 2012

underworld (into the forest)

The best memories of my childhood are of being in the forest, alone.

My thoughts were more clear there than they were in any other setting at that time. Today I learned that the imagery of the forest still has the power to bring me clarity of thought, or at least to bring to a state of calm which allows for a greater degree of clarity. This state of calm is not the calm of absence, the calm of lack; it is the calm of vibrancy, of womb-like life, a symphony of souls, blanketing the forest like a mist.

There in the foothills of the Adirondacks, I found shelter in the forest; it saved me from my home.

This could be a picture of the woods surrounding my father's house.
It isn't, but it  looks exactly like it, right down to the grown-over tractor trail.

Such a strong connection to the spirits, there... as though the Underworld were closer in a forest...
It seems there are many connections between forests and the Underworld - which I'm sorta using as shorthand for a comprehensive  label describing all things on the other side of the veil. 

I remember escaping into the forest, running from the tension and the hurt; the season didn't matter, the forest always welcomed me. It hid me, sheltered me from my step-mother, who rarely left the house and wasn't "fool enough" to go walking in the woods.  

We logged those woods, as a family, every autumn. We would be finishing up right around this time of year, if we still lived there. Logging was one of the few things we ever did cooperatively. Once every few years, Dad would hire a guy to come in with his percherons and cut down the trees of a certain size. That year and the few following years, we would spend the late summer and most of autumn finding the felled trees and harvesting them. Dad wielded the chainsaw, slicing the trunks and branches down to carryable size. My step-siblings and I (often it was just my step-brother and I, as my step-sister didn't care for this work) would load the pieces into the wagon. My step-mother helped with the loading sometimes; usually she just drove the tractor. In her defense (I suppose), she did usually make my step-sister help with the unloading, once we got the wood back to the house. There, Dad or my step-brother or I would chop it down smaller with the ax, so it could fit in the wood stove we used to heat the house. We'd stack it along the wall of the house, near the back door.

One year, my father's grip slipped, and he sheared off some of the skin on his palm with the chainsaw. He went back to the house, cleaned it up and put a bandage around his hand. My step-mother insisted he go to the emergency room. So he went, and the doctor took the bandage off, cleaned it out again, put a new bandage on, told him he was lucky, and gave him some painkillers. I doubt he ever took them. That was the year we had to wait to haul in the rest of the wood, and we ended up going back in between snowfalls so we'd have enough to last til spring. Only Dad was allowed to use the chainsaw.

I liked being there in the woods. It made me feel safe even when my step-mother was there. As though the strength of the forest overpowered whatever drove her and made her cruel. In hindsight, it seemed that it was true. I have so very few memories of her being angry while we were in the woods, and so many more of her being neutral, or even pleasant, during that work. There, I could shrug off what cruelty did come; it lacked significance.

I felt more powerful in the forest. There was no need to fear. In part, I think that was because there were no walls to close me in, to trap me. There were no corners to back into. But there was  space. There were many hiding places, and I knew them well. She could barely find the trail. It was more than that, though. The forest felt sentient and beloved, an active shelter for those who loved it back.

These are the citadels, the natural cathedrals, the monasteries of the sentient Earth. Starhawk writes, "Branches are patterns of flow, of collection, concentration, and dispersal." (The Earth Path, page 188) She How many mythologies can we think of which describe trees - or a tree - as connecting two or more worlds? This site (which is interesting in it's own right) lists more than a dozen cultures with "cosmic tree" myths. The Forest, with it's dramatic seasonal cycles, has long and wide been a symbols for human cycles of life. In a place that is so alive, so long-lived, and composed of trees to touch all worlds, it's no wonder there is such a strong spiritual presence. I've come to believe that forests are places where the Underworld is unusually close to our physical world. If nothing else, their patterns of branches and roots are powerful symbols of the cycle of life and death: we flow through, collecting and dispersing as our paths lead us from one world to the next, and back, again and again, and again.

This gorge was a twenty minute drive from our farm.
It's a tourist attraction, but still one of the most spiritual places I've ever been.


This post is an expansion of my last Pagan Blog Project post,
"Unobtrusive magic (under the bridge)." 
Let's consider it Part 2.


Image sources:

15 October 2012


There's a particular flavor of confidence from which dominance wells, and it tastes a lot like steel. I don't know where it comes from, but it twines with a natural sort of competence that cannot be taught, only grown.

It's quite rare.

Samhain is acomin' it edges nearer, and the desert autumn comes fully into season...

I think it's time to include my Child in a rite. This is the sort of thing Child can understand. Honoring those who have passed beyond this life and into another makes sense to Child. Now I just need to come up with an inclusive ritual.

We will honor my paternal grandparents and my sister, none of whom my Child remembers, but we will also honor some who are known to Child, like our cats Naanaa and Alison, and our dog Chaunzy.

We will pay respect to Hela in our ritual.

This might be a good time to foster a stronger relationship with our home and the spirits that live here, or even our totem animals.

It will have to be very active, to keep Child's attention.

That's what I know at this stage of planning, which is preliminary at best.


I've decided to take some tips from Circle Round, by Starhawk, Diane Baker, and Anne Hill. There are quite a few suggestions for activities, so I'm thinking of making a week of it, maybe doing one or two things each day for the five days or so before, then culminating with a Feast of the Dead ritual (of my own devising) on Samhain.

14 October 2012

existential bones

It's very easy to get content-oriented and think that all we can know, can be thought. There's a problem with that. We think about ourselves thinking, but there are very few thoughts that are truly free of encumbrance. We're always thinking about who's doing the thinking. Because our gut-level instincts are cemented by age 10-12, who we become is who somebody else thought we were. This shapes our developmental trajectory, which becomes introjected, which becomes part of our Self. (This is using Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance.) We then lock ourselves into a role, shaped by that developmental trajectory, which reinforces or diminishes our conception of our Self. If our views of ourselves came largely from our gut-level images and emotional programming, and if those come from somebody else, and then those roles confirm that, and those roles are related to our Ego (Self), by the time we look at a terrorist and ask who they are, there are many levels of lens through which we must peer, thus creating nearly immeasurable distortion.

We need to get beyond descriptive and get to the analytic. "Because of" is descriptive; "I did A because of B, but I also did A because of who I am." We have to look at the energy of who one is, and who one believes ourselves to be. A terrorist might say "this is who I am," but who they are is not who they thing they are - this is true for all people - and "this is who I am" is descriptive; it's an adjective that describes an aspect of how they see themselves, but does not actually define who they are. The people who are living their authentic selves don't have to describe what they are; when asked, they might not know what you're asking. Remember when Mother Teresa was asked why she was so charitable, she replied that she wasn't charitable - she was just doing what needed to be done. 

[From my notes, from the Psychology of Terrorism class I'm taking; this is a moderately paraphrased transcript of the actual lecture.]

So how to we get to the core, the root, the real person? How do we get there without being descriptive? The psychotherapist trained in existentialist theory would say, 'be what you describe; if you feel you are A, then really be A, and see where that takes you. Be fully in every moment, and strip that moment from its connections - just Be.'


I don't know about that 'just be' bit. Living fully in the moment has been a mixed bag, in my experience. On one hand, I need to do more connecting the dots of my experiences. Alternately, I am happiest when I'm only in the moment, and not re-living all the mistakes of past as though there were a vindictive broken record in my head.

But I understand, too, what his point was. When I paint, I don't know how or why I do it; I just paint. There's no purpose, other than to be. 

12 October 2012

u is for... unobtrusive magic (under the bridge)

Unobtrusive magic... tends to be forgotten.

I love this song. Maybe "love" isn't the word for it. I feel this song, deep within me - I know this feeling, that singular connection to place. That unobtrusive magic. Nobody's looking for it, usually. No human had to call it, create it, energize it. It is. It is natural. It's the spirit of place, or the energy of life coalescing, and we only find it when our mind is quiet enough to hear it speak. Like in the song, it's easiest to feel the energy of a place when we're alone - when we're not listening for other people, other things, other whatever. But maybe that's just me. There have been times in my life in which I felt completely alone except for the place I was in - the place was  my constant, closest companion; I was lonelier for leaving it, and felt most comfortable when I was immersed in that place, and in solitude.

Every time I hear this song, it brings me back to Sioux City, Iowa. I was 11 or 13, or somewhere in there, and I rode my bike all over that city, alone and free for a few hours at a time. Those lonely hours were the least complicated, and most soothing hours of my time in that city. It was as if the city itself were my companion, and she was just as lonely as I was.

There have been other places where I felt that connection to a place, though each has its own flavor. Sioux City was the loneliest place I have ever felt. We had that in common. The woods of my father's farm felt matronly and maternal; I needed that so much, then, that I wonder if some of that wasn't my own projections. Either way, it served me well. The town I live in now feels happily social - its energy is fed by love from its inhabitants, and in return it sings vibrantly. If I think back far enough, I've always felt that energy - for better or worse - in my homes and even in places I've only visited.

We forget, sometimes, how important place  is. Living in a place that has an energy dissonant to your own never seems to end well for the person, in my experience. The place has to feel right, our energies have to mesh cooperatively, if not smoothly.

For me, the energy of a place has turned out to be one of the most important factors in where I chose to live. I'm so very sensitive to the feelings I get from things and places... any feel of dissonance throws me off, feeds my depression and taints my happiness like a slow oil leak fouling a clear pond. It's more dangerous for being unobtrusive - sometimes I don't realize it was there at all until I move away, and it's gone. It was like that in my last home. I thought all the miserable feelings I had there were circumstantial (a lot of crappy things happened there). Looking back, I'm not sure that explains all of it. Since I moved, I have felt an aversion to even driving through that area. Again, I would have thought it was just me, but others have mentioned it as well. Others, who have no reason to dislike the place, have said they just don't like going there, and they're not sure why - it "just doesn't feel right."

It's an unobtrusive magic, but no less important for being so.


(That is all.)

11 October 2012

the Emperor: 5/78 days of tarot

He's composed, masterful, calm on his throne, unworried but not without concern. 'Calm, cool, and collected,' indeed - this one seems to exemplify confidence. He's cautious, I think, but in a balanced way that doesn't descend into fearfulness. He's too competent for fearfulness. He isn't ostentatious, either. There's no need. This is a man who is focused on the material world, and confident in his place there. He's resourceful, and ultimately responsible.

He reminds me of Archer.


The book says: "The Emperor, unlike the Empress,  has strictly political and worldly associations... Through creating plans and systems, he ensures the effective distribution of resources, ideally providing enough for all. The four emblems on his throne represent the four elements of air, water, earth, and fire. Symbolically, these are the finite resources at his disposal that must be used for the good of all. Through creating systems upon which we depend, he creates peace and stability in daily life."

Ah yes, I can see that. Also, he feels distant, but not remote. I suppose there's always a bit of distancing necessary if one is going to organize a life, any life.

09 October 2012

the Empress: 4/78 days of tarot

Indolent. That was the first word that came to mind when I saw her. She appears surly, bordering on petulant, but not actually spoiled. She's rather harsh on the senses, all bent angles and almost-hidden motherhood, but she shouldn't be underestimated - she's powerful, and can afford to be haughty. She is femininity and realism all rolled into one.


The book says this: "The appearance of the Empress promises abundance in your life. She heralds a time of creativity... However, there is something very important to keep in mind while considering the act of creation. Our Empress, our Mother Nature, may manifest ultimately as a calm pastoral scene, a charming field, or a lush garden, but soul-restoring environments were built on endless births and deaths. The process isn't always pretty... It all comes from the heart of your creative being; as it fights its way into this world, expect a little bit of a mess."

I should note that it could be that the harshness I perceived is somewhat indicative of my own conflicts with motherhood in general.

I'm working on my understanding of her, mulling over the 'feel' I get from her, and tumbling that around with the description from the text (which of course says a lot more than just the bit I've quoted here). I do think her 'haughtiness' is earned, not affected. Presiding over cycles of birth and death might engender a certain jadedness  and even a valid feeling of superiority. Her motherhood, though partially veiled, isn't actively being hidden, she just isn't making a big show of it. That's just one aspect of her, and there no need for her to flaunt it; it is what it is, and that's both good and neutral. - A hard pill for me to swallow, given my distaste for motherhood in general, but there it is.

I've reached for my mouse to publish this post, ending my written meditations on the Empress, several times. Each time, I've paused, then written some more. I keep feeling like I need to work more on this card and my understanding of it, but I'm muddling through it a bit too slowly for my hands' taste. I get antsy when I type -and think - this slowly. This card has become a wad of peanut butter in my mental mouth. I'll think on it, and come back to it later, I'm sure.

08 October 2012

the High Priestess: 3/78 days of tarot

I like her.

She has a glean in her eye - the one I can see - and she's very inviting. She makes me want to try... something, anything. Whatever it is that she's offering. Curiosity oozes from her, infectiously. She's reading the cards, one hand on a crystal ball, and I want to know what she knows. The only way to find out, I suspect, is to try.


The book says this: "The High Priestess symbolizes truth and wisdom and understanding. The maddening thing about her, though, is that she represents the kind of knowing that cannot be told and refuses to be confined to the restrictions of order and language... High Priestess truths reside in the heart and soul and can only be learned via direct experience. It is the wisdom gained through an initiatory experience. It cannot be explained or studied. It is simply known."


I like the intuitive nature of this deck. The imagery really gives me an accurate feel for the meaning of the cards. That is making learning the cards much easier than it has been in the past, when I was looking at cards full of esoteric symbols I didn't understand. I may not be catching much of the symbolism in these cards, but their intent gets across nonetheless.

Well played, Aly Fell.


I'm having a hard time right now. The past few weeks, I've had to take more of my anti-depressants, just to be functional. It's not even enough to make me 'ok" - just functional, in the barest sense of the word. I'm not able to elicit the mental acuity I need to actually keep up (never mind excel) in my classes. Meh. I'm just so tired... even when I'm not.

But I have to say, I'm handling it better than I have in the past. At least I am  functional, even if just barely. That's a point in my favor.

This too shall pass, and I know it will. I just have to get through it.
Yeah, I'm mostly just giving that phrase lip-service, but I think the more I say it, the better chance I have at believing it. Let's hope.

I'm going to work on some more productive posts... that usually helps my mood.

shameless self plug!

I'm pretty excited about this.

Last weekend, I went to Phoenix to get digital copies and prints made of some of my paintings.

And it worked! And they look awesome! Yay!

I'm slowly getting them uploaded onto Society6. I have three up so far (out of seven). Check them out!

I'll put a link on my side bar, too.

05 October 2012

t is for terrorism... with or without religion

I'm taking a class on the psychology of terrorism this semester. We've started by discussing the psychology of the terrorists; later we'll discuss the victims. It has been... enlightening. It's very much a practical application of things I've already learned about psychology, applied a way I hadn't anticipated, but I understand.

Now, my poor reader, I'm subjecting you to what I've learned.


First, addressing "normal" versus "abnormal":

Our text, and our professor, has hypothesized (with, I admit, substantial evidence to support them) that terrorists are not afflicted with a psychopathology (mental illness); they are not abnormal.

Before we move on, let's cover the definitions. For our purposes, "terrorists" are those people with the psychological and/or situational composition and content which allows or encourages them to act out terrorist events - or those events which are perpetrated specifically to  create mass fear.

Essentially, my professor's argument is that because we - that's the royal we - have not been able to find, in our research, any psychopathology in the mental state of terrorists, we must then assume that they are not abnormal. Rather, they are normal people who have acted in dramatically abnormal ways. Of course this flies in the face of all the ways the public at large hears about terrorists and their activities, but I'm really not concerned with public bias. I don't disagree that "normal" people can be made to act extremely irrationally in ways that even are extremely violent or horrific (Nazi Germany, anybody?).

However, calling the minds of terrorists "normal" bothers me. Maybe it's an emotional reaction rather than a rational reaction, and maybe I'm wrong. But I'm not convinced that terrorists are not abnormal. Statistically it is abnormal, and if we convince ourselves that a healthy mind is a normal mind (which I'm not sure I believe), then surely we do not want to say that the pathology of terrorism can be present in a healthy mind? Want might have nothing to do with it.

My rebuttal is this: if normal is healthy, and the psychology of a terrorist is unhealthy, then the psychology of a terrorist does not equal normal, and therefore is abnormal. But, if healthy is not the same as normal, then the relative healthiness of a terrorist's mind is immaterial. If by normal we mean statistically in the majority, then terrorism (meaning the psychology thereof), which is statistically in the minority, is not normal, and therefore is abnormal.

I do think that normal and abnormal must be mutually exclusive, and compose the entirety of this particular continuum, in order for those terms to be valuable. However, I think that normal and abnormal each have subcategories. Within abnormality there is another spectrum, in my opinion, which contains everything from the most dangerous sociopaths to unusual but harmless (perhaps even healthy) outliers. Terrorists, I think, must exist somewhere in the abnormal spectrum. Perhaps they are not psychopaths, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are normal. It might not even mean they are healthy.


Regardless, I believe the point my professor is trying to make is that whatever is 'wrong' with the mind of a terrorist, it isn't something we can diagnose as a disorder; the problem is more likely a developmental weakness - a flaw in their development as a human being which is not a pathology, but a vulnerability to... whatever it is that leads them to act in such horrifying ways. And that seems very plausible to me. Likely, even.

First, then, it's important to understand that an act of terrorism is a defensive  act, with an individual psychosocial motivation for which religion is only an excuse, not a cause. That's right: religion, even fundamental religion, does not cause terrorism. We're all familiar with the maxim 'correlation is not causation,' right? Well, adherence to a fundamental religious ideal is symptomatic of the same flaw that allows for the terrorist mindset. They are comorbid, if you will, but there is no evidence for a causal relationship between the two. Indeed, there's not even a logical path toward evidence which might only suggest causation.


I think it's important here to separate religion and culture. Many of the things we westerners decry about Islam and not religiously-derived at all. The role of women is the most glaringly obvious example. Take the rural Saudis, for example. In their culture, they practice a pretty extreme (from our perspective) subjugation of women which manifests as a near-invisible role for those women. [Just to be perfectly clear, I'm not talking about the practice of wearing the hijab or vieling in any form; I'm talking about laws/rules/codes which prevent women from speaking, driving, or getting an education - things of that nature, which still a woman's mind, not those which cover her face.]  Religious context is given in the defense of these practices, but they are not derived from religion; they began as cultural practices, which then got incorporated into their daily practice of Islam. Ok, so see how that makes the practices look religious? Yeah, I get that, but there are some logical issues with calling those practices religious. Let's go beyond the cultural - not religious - origins of the practices in this debate, and look at the implications of all this.

We'd like to avoid painting all of Islam with one brush, right? If only because we don't want somebody doing the same with our own religion. I'm certainly not the same as every other pagan in the way I practice, nor are all Christians the same, or Buddhists, etc. So we could call the religion of rural Saudis by a name which distinguishes them from other Islamic paths - something I'm fairly sure would upset them, for reasons that could comprise a whole nother post. Already, we've labeled that and similar Islamic variations as "fundamentalist," and that's the problem. Because the practices which make women invisible in the rural Saudi culture - to stick with one example - are not part of the fundamental nature of Islam. Those are cultural practices which have become integrated with their religious world view, in part because they have no separation between their religious worldview and their secular worldview. The two are unified, and anything which exists in one, also exists in the other - and that is a cultural phenomenon. More on that later.

I'd like to take this part of the conversation one step further. Imagine a "fundamentalist" from any other religion. I'll pick Christianity, just because it's the first that comes to my mind, and is probably the easiest to point out as an example. Around these parts (meaning, the western world), we all know somebody who's a Christian. We probably know good people who are Christians, and bad people who are Christians. Neither are good or bad because they are Christians. Now, move that up a level: we know of cultures, now or in the past, in which the people are uniformly Christian. Still, both good and bad people existed. Now let's think of some different sects of Christianity - everything from Pentecostals to orthodox Catholics to Congregationalists come to mind. Oh, can't forget the Quakers. Which of those is fundamentalist, would you say? Which of those fundamentally  Christian? See the problem? What practices could we consider fundamentally Christian? If we defined fundamental Christianity as some do, it would be living in a way devoted to a literal interpretation of the Bible. So... polygamy, slavery, and concubines are cool, just don't eat any shellfish, and you could be fundamentally Christian, too! Except, that many Christians, I think, would probably be offended by that evaluation of what it means, on a fundamental level, to be Christian. Likely, they would say it has more to do with being a good person than what you eat or who you screw. So there are issues with calling any one practice a sign of fundamental religion.


Back to what I said about the unified world view - remember that? If a person doesn't segregate the physical and the divine, if their deity is their reality, then does it really matter to them if their practices are cultural or religious? No, probably not, because everything  they do is related somehow to their religion. There is no separation. And that's not inherently a bad thing. Hel, it would probably make a lot of people act a lot better if more of us thought that way. But that difference does  matter when we're looking from the outside in, trying to figure out why people do bad things.

Imagine this - I'm summarizing here, because I just realized how long this post is - imagine there's a person who learned to trust, but never learned to think autonomously (think Erik Erikson, if you're into psychology), and somehow that person gets the approval and protection of a small group of people who create a womb-like social environment for that trusting, dependent person. That person would not need religion to encourage them to follow the group, particularly if that group came stocked with a charismatic leader somewhere in the ranks.

Now, picture that same person in an agrarian culture with a unified worldview, and put that culture under attack from modernization - everything that person knows is being challenged. The human response to that challenge is fear, which then instigates defensiveness. A cornered human, like any other animal, is likely to resort to violence.

Something to think on. I may do a part two to this post. For now, it's plenty long enough.

What does this all mean? At the end of the day, it means that no one religion causes terrorism.

the Magician: 2/78 days of tarot

He's a bit sinister-looking, this guy, with his little pointy goatee and his cloak covering his body; his small dark eyes and one foot leading from his defensive posture add to the impression. But there's skill in that stance, and confidence that doesn't come from smoke and mirrors alone. I'm not sure that he's above such tricks, but I do believe he has worked very hard to perfect his capabilities - whatever those are. He is card number I of the first twenty-two, which range from 0 to XXI.

He feels much more distant to me than the Fool did - maybe that says something about me. I wouldn't be surprised. Maybe it speaks to the difficulty I've had concentrating on my schoolwork this semester. Also, not surprising.


The book says this: "The Magician is a master of magic. He has learned to sense the energy of the universe and has become adept at directing it. These skills allow him to accomplish nearly impossible tasks in a way that appears effortless. Don't be fooled, though. He acquired those skills through discipline and practice. The accomplishments are more than the results of mere hard work. They contain an unidentifiable something... That energy lifts the work from the merely perfect to the divine."

So skills, and the work to perfect those skills, are important and can be used to make 'magic' - the sum is more than the parts, when the work has been done beforehand and applied appropriately.


I've been looking at him for, what, three days now? I think it's time to set him back into the deck, and move on to the next. His time for me will come.

04 October 2012

letter to Dad

Looking back, remembering the way you taught - so many students learned to think for themselves because of the joy you took in teaching. You influenced so many young lives for the better, I think the effect must have been exponentially Good. The light in your eyes - that light which I'm sure my mother fell in love with - never shone so bright as when you were in a classroom, talking about Plato's cave, or Aristotle's Golden Mean. I hope the memory of those times stays with you, even if all others fail.

I've come to accept that it's too late for you to step out of the cave your current wife has crafted for you. I've given up the idea of you knocking down her walls in a burst of comprehension. I have given up on us. It's in your hands, now, and I know that your hands will stay as still as they have been all these years. I miss you, and I mourn. But I'm choosing to remember your happiness, and mine, because there's nothing more I can do to bring you back. An attack on her walls would only reinforce them; my silence reinforces them further - our relationship is in your paralyzed hands. So I grieve, and in my memories I skip those times that you have been still. I remember those times your were alive, animated, teaching. You were happy, and so was I. I'm grateful for those times, and I hope they stay with you, too.

02 October 2012

tarot, and the 78 days project: 1/78

I've been thinking about how to introduce my new tarot deck - when it gets here - to my existing oracle deck. I don't want there to be any tension between the two.

I don't think of my oracle deck as being so petty; I do think of myself potentially having some internal concerns over becoming unbalanced in my connections to the two decks (my existing connection with my oracle cards, and the connection I hope to develop with my new tarot cards).

I ordered this deck, by the way. It should be here today.

While looking for that picture, I found this review. I'm glad I read it - I feel like I have a better grasp on what I'm going to use this deck for. Of course that could change when it actually gets here, but at least I have a stronger starting point now.

The differences in the purposes of the decks (determined largely by their respective 'personalities') will guide me in their use. My oracle cards almost always speak more to the hidden aspects of the querent's personality  (or sometimes, not-so-hidden) which are relevant to the question, thus guiding almost entire from the inside of the person's psyche in a way which seeks balance in all things. I get the impression the incoming tarot deck might be less subtle.

UPS can't get here soon enough!

Going back to my original concerns - introducing the new deck to the old deck - I think I'd like to do a little rephrasing. I'm no longer so concerned with potential tension between the two decks. I think that was probably some pretty intense projection on my part. However, each new strongly energetic item that enters my home must figure out - or be taught - to live harmoniously with the other energies of my home. Discontent is not tolerable. But... I don't know whether this deck will show up full of its own energy, or void, waiting to be developed. My oracle deck had its own, but it was distant or perhaps immature. That might also have been merely emblematic of our lack of connection, which had yet to be built.

So, we'll see when it gets here, and take it from there because I'm unable to draw conclusions without more information.


What brought this on:

I've been eyeballing the steampunk tarot deck for quite some time, and I'm not entirely sure why.

I love the aesthetic of the steampunk style - which was what first drew my eye to the genre - and as I learn more about the ideas inherent in the style, I've become enamored of the entirety. I've never had the money to get involved, though. Having a child does terrible things to budgets of time, money, and energy.

I have been growing more curious about learning tarot. Always before, tarot has been somewhat intimidating to me. There are so many cards, and layers of meaning which vary by the type of card (major arcana, minor... etc) - it just seemed like a lot. That's changed, gradually, since I've been thinking about how I read the cards. I'm finding the idea of learning tarot less intimidating, and more approachable. But I still didn't have a deck, and as much as I liked the steampunk deck's aesthetic, I still didn't buy it.

I've been shopping around, testing the feel of many decks in my mind. None felt right. They felt alien, and I didn't know if that were just the unfamiliarity, or if it was a sign of incompatibility. And, though perhaps this is a sign of superficiality, I wanted a deck that was different. None of the themes I was seeing really spoke to me. Of course I've heard the 'accepted wisdom' that every tarot reader should have - or begin, even - with one of the traditional decks. Accepted wisdom doesn't interest me much. I kept coming back to the steampunk deck. I felt drawn to it, despite never really being involved in the steampunk scene.

Yesterday, I read a post on the Dusken Path about her plan to blog through 78 days of tarot. I guess that was all the kick I really needed. I bought the deck. It's on its way.

I'm excited.

The Steampunk Tarot deck just arrived! Skimming through the accompanying book, I saw "Tarot reflects our current struggles and concerns as a culture." I was wrong. As I flipped back to the page where I thought I saw that, I discovered the actual text: "Steampunk, and any genre or subculture, reflects our current struggles and concerns as a culture." Hmmmm... thanks for the tip, Freud. That little discovery led to this little epiphany: a deck should reflect a certain outlook on the world of the reader which is useful or relevant to that reader. Steampunk, in my eyes, is a microcosmic representation of the anticipation we all have for better things to come, and the hope that we won't lose the best parts of our histories. This deck, at first feel, captures that energy. It's a very happy deck. In hindsight, I realize I was a bit worried it might be somewhat dark, and thus not be a good companion for me. I'm quite happy with the outcome.

I'll keep this new deck by my side for the first few weeks, as I did (and sometimes continue to do) with my oracle deck. I find that this practice helps with the 'getting to know you' phase of new divination tools.

As I believe is common, the first card I saw - before I even removed the cellophane wrapper - was The Fool. He's a youth with a small white dog, reminiscent of Tin-Tin, but that he's carrying a chimney sweep's tool and standing on a roof. He gives the feel of ease and simplicity in life, and the happiness which can come alongside those qualities. Did I not know how difficult a life with no things can be, I would envy him greatly. Except, that this deck does not evoke so unhappy an emotion. There's a certain delicate wisdom which is lost along with our innocence; this Fool retains that wisdom, evokes it. I don't think that's something to be sad about.