A Truth Universally Acknowledged

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” ~ Pride and Prejudice

Many people are surprised to discover that I’m a HUUUUUGE fan of Jane Austen – apparently the public image I present doesn’t quite fit the stereotype of Who Reads Jane Austen, but trust me, she’s my favorite author in the history of ever, and Persuasion is one of the most brilliantly written pieces of English literature that exists today.

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever." ~ Persuasion

To honor Jane this year, on the 200th anniversary of her death, I thought I’d put together a little something for you over on ThoughtCo: 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen

Jane only finished six full length novels, as well as one epistolary novella, before her death at age 41, and left two partially completed manuscripts. But those nine pieces of work have formed the framework of the Regency canon, and set the gold standard by which many of us judge other novels of the era.

In July, it will have been two centuries since Jane died, and yet we’re still seeing endless reprints of her work (I own six different editions of Persuasion, and four of Pride and Prejudice), as well as movies, television miniseries, and even fan clubs. Her writing appears on high school reading lists – Emma should be required reading for any teenager, because Emma is kind of an asshole when we first meet her – and has spawned hundreds of literary adaptation

s.

"Though the accusation had been eagerly refuted at the time, there were moments of self-examination in which her conscience could not quite acquit her."~ Emma

Never read any Jane? Don’t worry – there’s quite a bit to choose from! If you want to get a better idea of what all that Regency stuff was about, pick up a copy of Jane Austen’s England or What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew to provide a bit of context, and then go forth and dive into Jane’s world!

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Dream Catchers: Totally Not Pagan, You Guys

I love perusing Etsy and Pinterest and getting great ideas and seeing all the clever crafty things that other people are doing to celebrate their spirituality, I really do. But for the love of Zeus’ kidney, y’all. DREAMCATCHERS ARE NOT WICCAN. They’re not even NeoPagan, if we use NeoPagan in the context of “modern Paganism based upon proto-Indo-European religious beliefs.”

Want a dream catcher? Consider the cultural context.

They’re Native American. And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with appreciating Native American spirituality, it’s completely a terrible idea to appropriate it. In other words, if you’re not Native American, you are lacking the cultural and societal context in which something sacred like a dream catcher actually works.

Now, before you send me an angry email, or comment below with OMG UR SO DUMB DON’T TELL ME WUT TO DO, let me clarify this. Can you create a dream catcher of your own if you want to? Go for it, I’m certainly not going to drive to your house and scold you. I learned how to make them myself, and it’s a fascinating and meditative process. But it’s really important to consider the WHY of the creation. It’s also super important not to cheapen it – in other words, if you want to create one to hang in your home because it calls to you spiritually, that’s great. But if you make one out of plastic and neon and hang a bunch of shitty fake crystals on it and sell it in your Etsy shop as a REAL WICCAN DREAM CATCHER NATIVE CRAFT, it’s possible that some of us will judge the shit out of you.

Taté Walker is Mniconjou Lakota and an enrolled citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, and blogs about issues of interest to Native culture. She says, “The savvy among us know appropriation encourages the dominant culture to forget Natives are modern, contemporary people struggling to overcome nearly 600 years of campaigns to wipe us off the map.”

Walker suggests that if you really want to honor Native culture and show your appreciation for it, there are other ways to do so besides buying a bunch of dream catchers. She has an excellent article on how non-Natives can be allies to the indigenous peoples and their beliefs and practices. In short, she recommends:

  • Supporting Native artists
  • Learning about and backing Native-led movements
  • Calling out appropriation when you see it
  • Supporting non-Native businesses that actively honor Native culture and craftsmanship

Fordham University Law professor Susan Scafidi defines cultural appropriation as “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission.” This includes, obviously, spiritual objects, such as dream catchers.

Scafidi, author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law recommends, in an article over at Jezebel, that you “Consider the 3 S’s: source, significance (or sacredness), and similarity. Has the source community either tacitly or directly invited you to share this particular bit of its culture, and does the community as a whole have a history of harmful exploitation? What’s the cultural significance of the item — is it just an everyday object or image, or is it a religious artifact that requires greater respect? And how similar is the appropriated element to the original — a literal knockoff, or just a nod to a color scheme or silhouette?”

The History Behind Dream Catchers

It is believed that dream catchers originated with the Ojibwe, or Chippewa, peoples of North American. Tribal communities existed primarily around the northern part of the United States and the southern regions of Canada, in particular, around the Great Lakes. Today, the Ojibwe people make up the fourth largest First Nations population in America, and the second largest in Canada. Their history is a long and fascinating one, and the dream catcher stems from one of their earliest legends.

In Chippewa mythology, Spider Woman, who was called Asibikaashi, cared for the people of the land, but especially the children. It was Asibikaashi’s job to teach them the stories of their people, and to keep them safe, but as the population grew and spread, it became harder and harder for her to keep a watchful eye upon everyone. In Spider Woman’s honor, the grandmothers began making webs of their own, made of sinew and plant fibers, wrapped around tear-shaped hoops fashioned from the pliable willow branches that were so abundant.

These handmade spider webs were hung over children’s sleeping areas, to filter out bad dreams and only allow good thoughts to pass through. Feathers were hung at the bottom of the web, and the idea was that the good dreams would travel down the feathers to the child, allowing him or her to ignore the bad ones, trapped in the netting.

According to Native Languages, “During the pan-Indian movement in the 60’s and 70’s, Ojibway dream catchers started to get popular in other Native American tribes, even those in disparate places like the Cherokee, Lakota, and Navajo. So dream catchers aren’t traditional in most Indian cultures, per se, but they’re sort of neo-traditional, like fry bread. Today you see them hanging in lots of places other than a child’s cradleboard or nursery, like the living room or your rearview mirror.”

Today, many Native Americans see the commercial wholesaling of dream catchers as cultural appropriation – again, going back to what non-Natives may see as cultural appreciation, many people of tribal backgrounds see as a way of perpetuating and profiting from stereotypes.

So, does this mean you can’t have a dream catcher if you want one? Not at all – the dream catcher police aren’t going to come over and confiscate it. But, like so many other aspects of modern spirituality, if you’re not a Native American, it’s important to think about not only why you want a dream catcher, but how you go about obtaining it.

Dream Catcher image from lininhamonfredini via Flickr, Licensed through Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-2.0)

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Healing Sounds & Singing Bowls

 

Singing bowls sound amazing!

In many metaphysical disciplines and traditions, sound therapy is used as a healing modality. This is because certain tones, frequencies, and vibrations are associated with healing in a number of belief systems – people have been doing this for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. Let’s take a look at a few of the most popular methods, and why they’ve become traditional.

Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list, because there’s no way I can cover everything in a single blog post – entire books have been written on the subject – but these are some of the most popular.

In many traditions, instruments like bowls, bells, rain sticks, rattles, and even didgeridoos are used as part of healing practice. Singing bowls are typically found in Eastern mysticism, including Buddhist practice, and are technically a type of bell. Practitioners create sounds by rubbing or striking the rim with a mallet, which is usually made of wood. In many cases, the sounds are made to signal the beginning or end of a meditative period.

A rain stick is a hollow tube, often made of wood, and sealed on the ends. Before it’s sealed shut, the tube is filled with beans or small pebbles, and pins are arranged on the inside surface. What this does is create a rain-like sound when the closed tube is held vertically – I have a rain stick, and it really does sound like falling rain! In central and south America, rain sticks are made from cacti, and in Asia and Africa, they’re’ usually created from dried bamboo. About.com Healing Expert, Phyl Desy, says, “Rain sticks are a sacred instrument used in prayer ceremonies to bring about rain and thunderstorms. The rain stick is also used as a musical instrument.”

This guy is totally multitasking with didgeridoos, drums, and a guitar!

In Australia, you’ve got the didgeridoo, another tube-shaped sound-maker, but unlike the rain stick, it’s open on the ends, and not filled with anything. With its origins in Aboriginal practice, the didgeridoo emits low-frequency vibrations that are believed to bring about healing in the sick. Many people believe that these low vibrations can actually bring about changes in living tissue. Interestingly, studies have indicated that playing the didgeridoo, and not just listening to it, can help treat sleep apnea. Also, it’s really fun to say the word didgeridoo.

Mantras and Chanting

In many metaphysical practices, mantras and chanting are used as part of meditation and ritual. Particularly among those who do chakra work, it’s believed that different types of mantras can be used to unblock the various chakras, or energy vortices in the body.

The theory is that each of the seven chakras has its own vibrational level. By using mantras that are in harmony with the chakras, you can open up your chakras and re-harmonize your body and spirit. Perhaps the best known chakra mantra is Om or Aum, which is associated both with the crown chakra and opening up the third eye, but there are others which can be used depending on which of your chakras you feel may be blocked.

How Does Sound Healing Work?

Sound therapy is being used by metaphysical practitioners to treat a variety of ailments, from stress and behavioral disorders to neurological and musculoskeletal pain. In addition, Eastern mystics have used sound for hundreds of years to reduce anxiety and aid in meditative work.

Sound healing is essentially the use of frequencies and vibrations to heal physical and emotional ailments. Many people believe that each living organism has its own unique resonant frequency, and that if we’re off-kilter physically or mentally, we can change these frequencies with sound healing.

Kathryn Drury Wagner of Spirituality and Health Magazine says, “sound work inhabits a curious space: It has been used for thousands of years—think of overtone chanting from Central Asia, for example—yet, it’s also on the frontiers of modern neuroscience.” Wagner also says that sound therapy, sometimes called brain-wave entrainment, “isn’t without its skeptics, but some research supports it. In 2008, the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine published a review of 20 studies of brain-wave entrainment and patient outcomes. The conclusion was that brain-wave entrainment is an effective tool to use on cognitive functioning deficits, stress, pain, headaches, and premenstrual syndrome. The studies also suggest that sound work can help with behavioral problems.”

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Ribbon Trees & Rag Bushes

offerings

This is an article that originally appeared on my About site, but with the migration to the super-cool new ThoughtCo vertical, some under-performing articles got done away with. However, I was traveling recently and saw a ribbon tree, and it made me want to share this once again.

The history behind the use of ribbon trees is a long and complex one. It’s a practice found in a number of different cultures, so I thought it would be interesting to do a little digging and see how they compare in various places around the world. Although it’s difficult to tell, at least initially, where this practice may have originated, it looks like it’s safe to say that it’s something that happens pretty much globally.

Sometimes called wishing trees, other times called rag bushes, these plants are often decorated by strips of cloth by visitors who want to see their wishes fulfilled. In some areas, these trees are located near sacred springs or holy wells, although that doesn’t appear to always be the case.

Irish Clotties

At the Hill of Tara, which was the home of the High Kings of Ireland, there is a pair of trees growing side by side. It’s not uncommon to see these trees tied with brightly colored pieces of cloth around the Beltane season. The trees – which are hawthorns – are decorated by visitors in early May, and the strips of cloth are known as clotties.

Interestingly, in recent years people have been tying seemingly random bits of detritus – plastic and metal, in particular – to the trees at Tara and the area around the holy well of Kildare. This is a deviation from traditional practice, in which the cloths from a sickbed were tied and hung along with appropriate prayers. As the sickcloths decomposed and biodegraded in the elements, the illness itself was carried away.

There are some belief systems that refer to Ireland’s clottie trees as “Fairy Trees,” but again, this is not part of traditional Irish legend, and appears to be more of a new age type thing.

Chinese Wishing Trees

In Hong Kong, the Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees are a popular destination for tourists, as well as the locals. These large banyan trees are part of a shrine where visitors can burn joss sticks and ask for their prayers to be answered. In the past, there was a practice of writing one’s wish on a piece of paper, tying it to an orange, and tossing it up in the tree. For years, papers hung in the trees, but apparently this became dangerous, because in 2005 a branch fell and caused injuries to several guests.

After that, authorities set up a series of racks on which people can tie their wish papers, in the hopes of allowing the trees a few years of recovery time.

The Hindu Kalpavriksha

In the Hindu religion, the Kalpavriksha is a divine tree that fulfills wishes. This tree of life, or world tree, appears in the Vedic scriptures, and is said to have originated during the churning of the primal waters of the ocean, and was found by Indra, the king of the gods. Indra took the tree home with him and planted it there so he could have it with him at all times. In some Indian villages, individual trees – often fig, coconut or the baobab – are considered Kalpavriksha trees, and are often decorated by residents as a way of asking the gods to grant wishes.

The Walleechu of Argentina

High in the mountains of South America, some indigenous peoples still honor a tree that has been a source of wish fulfillment for many generations. A British missionary wrote the following account:

“Being winter the tree had no leaves, but in their place, numberless threads, by which the various offerings, such as cigars, bread, meat, pieces of cloth, etc., had been suspended. Poor Indians, not having anything better, pull only a thread from their ponchos, and fasten it to the tree. Richer Indians are accustomed to pour spirits and mato into a certain hole, and likewise to smoke upwards, thinking thus to afford all possible gratification to Walleechu.”

Appropriate Offerings

If you’re lucky enough to see a wishing tree or a rag bush somewhere and want to add to it, make sure that anything you hang on it is in fact biodegradable. Blogger and travel writer Rich Rennicks, over at A Trip To Ireland, points out that many people put in a lot of hours trying to save the rag trees at Tara from the damage done by so many years of inappropriate offerings.

Rich says, “Traditionally, people tied strips of linen or cloth to a rag tree as a symbol of their prayer (long before synthetic substances were invented). Over time, these offerings have been replaced by inappropriate modern items (mass cards, glass jars containing candles, coins embedded into the bark, rosaries, dummies/soothers, etc.) and some complete rubbish added by careless people who either didn’t think about their actions or added the first thing they had to hand (nylon string, plastic ribbons, rings, beads, love locks, loom bands, or — strangest of all — socks and underwear–why?). Things that don’t naturally and quickly biodegrade or rot away harm the trees by killing limbs, preventing buds forming and leaves opening, or breaking branches. Over time, others add more bad stuff under the mistaken impression that the items already on the tree are acceptable, and the trees start to weaken and die.”

He suggest small strips of non-synthetic cloth – draped over branches, and not tied – as an acceptable offering that will eventually biodegrade without causing long term damage. Also, colored paper ribbon like crepe, or origami papers are a great option as well.

Ideally, you’ll want to leave the tree intact and healthy for future generations, so if you have a chance to leave anything, consider something non-tangible, like a simple prayer or song describing your wish, cast upon the wind and into the skies.

Image by Jennifer Pickens, licensed through Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Review: Tarot of the Pirates

I’m a huge fan of pirates — even wrote a kids’ alphabet book about them — so when I saw that there was a pirate Tarot coming out a few years back, I had to have it. Tarot of the Pirates is just plain fun.

Yarr, mateys!

What do I like the most? Frankly, the artwork in this deck is really nifty, and not what you typically see in Tarot artwork. It’s sassy and brash, dark and dangerous, and the imagery is nicely matched to the Tarot card meanings.

The Pirate Tarot deck is one I use a lot when reading for male clients, or for women who are empowered, independent and strong. It’s got a lot of strong masculine energy to it. The artwork takes on a pirate theme that’s a bit campy but still clever and fun — suits are divided into Coins, Oars, Chalices and Swords. The pirates in this deck are not always sanitized or pretty, but down-and-dirty swashbucklers, male and female alike. Images of the moon, sea monsters, sharks, hidden coves and buried treasure abound.

Keep in mind that if you’re looking for historical accuracy, this isn’t the place you’re going to find it. Although most of the pirates are fairly grungy, they’re still representative of a fairly romanticized version of piracy on the high seas. Remember, real pirates were criminals and violent people who did a lot of horrible things to other people.

One thing I’d recommend is just not even bothering with the little white booklet that accompanies the deck. Some of the card meanings seemed sketchy at best, and it almost seemed as though the creators were deliberately trying to take even the more positive, upbeat cards and give them a negative slant, just to keep with the theme of piracy. Honestly, there’s no need for this – the artwork speaks for itself, and a reader will be able to tell from looking at the cards exactly what meaning is before them.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this deck is the level of activity. Characters don’t just sit around waiting for things to happen to them — no, they go out and get what they want, swing from the yardarms, dig up their own treasures, and stage rebellions when needed. It’s a very active rather than a passive sort of deck. In particular, the female characters depicted have a good deal of agency of their own – they’re sexual and sensual, but they’re also in complete control of their own destinies in most of the artwork. It’s a good reliable deck to use for strong, independent people of either gender.

A quick note: if you’re bothered by the sight of bare breasts in your Tarot, you may want to pass on this deck, because there is some mild nudity – not a lot, but some.

Also, keep in mind that with the Tarot of the Pirates, some of the artwork doesn’t translate exactly the way you might expect if you’re used to using Rider-Waite as your default set of meanings. With this deck, you’re probably going to get a better result, and a more accurate reading, if you read intuitively rather than based upon written interpretations.

My main complaint with this deck is that some of the cards are far too similar in appearance to other cards in the deck. You should be able to tell what card you’re looking at simply by looking at the image. If you have to check to make sure it’s This and Not That, that’s definitely a disadvantage to the deck. I won’t spoil it for you by telling you which cards are far too close in appearance, but if you’re a savvy reader, you’ll pick up on a couple of them, particularly in the Major Arcana.

On the whole, though, I do enjoy this deck, particularly because I’m a fan of the comic book style of artwork that’s used. While I definitely wouldn’t suggest it for a novice, if you’ve got some degree of experience in reading Tarot (and, of course, if you enjoy pirate lore), it’s definitely worth picking up and playing around with.

Pagan Festival Tips

It’s nearly spring, which means festival season is looming on the horizon! I’ve finally reached the age where my kids can be left unsupervised for a few days at a time – they’re pretty much feral at this point and can hunt/gather their own food – so I’ve been allowing myself the luxury of going away for a weekend sans familia every now and then. I attended three Pagan festivals in 2016 and they were so amazing that I actually sat down after CalderaFest and wrote an entire article on why you should go to a Pagan festival.

Casa de Patti at CalderaFest 2016

Last year was really my first big festival year, and I’ve set myself a goal of attending three to four a year, whether they’re weekend camping excursions, or single day events. At any rate, though, there are a few things I’ve learned so far this year – just from observation, personal experience, and discussion with other folks – about stuff you might want to bring.

First, there’s the important stuff like your tent, sleeping bag, and food – and all the other things on this list of Stuff To Take To a Pagan Festival.

  • A sturdy tent: for the love of Pete, don’t go to an overnight event without one. I encountered people who arrived to spend the night but who brought nothing to spend it in. Don’t be that guy. If you want a reliable and inexpensive tent, and don’t already own one, you really can’t go wrong with a Coleman tent, or if you’re lucky enough to score one on clearance, Ozark Trail (which is what I use) makes several great varieties that are easy to set up. Make sure you pack a tarp large enough to cover the top and sides of your tent, just in case a monsoon blows in, which is what happened to me at Blue Ridge Beltane. I stayed nice and warm and dry and took a nap in my tarped tent during a massive thunderstorm.
  • Something to sleep on: if you’re young and chipper and healthy, you can probably just lie right on the ground in your sleeping bag, and more power to you. I, however, am 48 years old with arthritis and occasional sciatica, so I have no interest at all in sleeping on dirt. Hell with that. This year, though, I treated myself to a folding camping cot, and it was the best money I’ve spent in a long time. I topped it with a piece of egg crate foam, and it was like sleeping in Nerf. In my tent.
  • Food: it should go without saying, but please don’t be the person who shows up and didn’t bring anything to eat and doesn’t have any money to go buy any food. It’s not that I mind sharing with you – no one will ever sit at my hearth and be hungry – but you knew you were coming to this event, so next time, plan accordingly. Bring a bag of snacks, at the very least.

Now, the stuff you probably never thought about:

  • An altar table: I use a small tv-tray style folding table that I found at a garage sale for $2, and I toss a cloth over it, and add my statuary, a couple of candles, incense, and a few crystals. I set it right outside my tent, so as I start and end each day, I’m reminded of why I’m at the festival in the first place.
  • Tent decor: Normally when I camp, I don’t decorate my tent, but when you’re at a Pagan festival, you’re surrounded by other Pagans, and it really does become a small community. I have a hanging I put up over my tent’s zipper flap, as well as a couple of cool pieces of portable hanging artwork. I saw people with flags, coven banners, and all kinds of other doodads. Customize your tent – after all, it’s going to be your home for a few days!
  • Drums, bells, and other musical thingies: I guarantee you, if you go to a Pagan event, odds are good that a spontaneous drum circle will pop up. If you have a drum, bring it. Another great option is bells, and especially if you have a jingly bellydance scarf to wear, pack those as well. I did, and it gave me plenty of chances to shake my goodies when I wasn’t drumming.
  • A journal and something to write with: If you attend workshops or seminars, you’re going to want to write things down. I also made notes of some of the new chants and songs I heard, because there was a LOT going on at each festival, and even though you THINK you’ll remember it all, you won’t. Plus, a journal is a good place to write down the names and phone numbers of all the cool new people you’ve made friends with!

Are you planning on going to any Pagan festivals in 2017? What are you taking that’s not on this list?

 

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Pagan Craft Projects: Make a Measure Bag

MeasureBagA measure bag is used in some Pagan traditions, including but not limited to a few forms of Wicca, as a way of forming a magical link between an individual and the group to which they belong. The measure bag is often incorporated into a practitioner’s initiation ritual. If you practice as a solitary, you can still use one as part of a self-dedication ritual to the gods of your tradition.

The term “measure bag” comes from the phrase “taking one’s measure.” This phrase means to size someone up, or to see what sort of person they are. Again, this isn’t used in every single Pagan belief system, but if it works for you, go for it!

To take someone’s magical measure, a cord is measured from the bottom of the individual’s feet to the top of the head. The bag is usually decorated with magical symbols – often including the practitioner’s magical name – and stored with bags from other members of the group. In the case of a solitary, the bag may be kept with the rest of the practitioner’s magical tools, in a safe and secure place.

To make a measure bag, you’ll need the following:

  • A drawstring pouch
  • Embroidery floss or fabric paint
  • A length of cord
  • Some sort of taglock or magical link to yourself

Decorate the outside of the bag with either fabric paint or embroidery floss. You can put your magical name on it, or if there is a particular symbol you feel drawn to, you can use that instead.

Use the cord to measure the distance from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head. If someone else is nearby, they can do this for you. If you’re alone, place one end of the cord under your foot and then run it up to the top of your head. Snip off the cord once it’s the appropriate length. Place the cord in the measure bag.

Finally, you’ll add another magical link to yourself into the bag. In some traditions of hoodoo and folk magic, this is called a taglock. It’s something that magically binds you to the contents of the bag – a snippet of hair, a fingernail clipping, even a drop of blood. If you go the blood route, just a drop or two will do just fine – no need to nick an artery.

Consecrate the bag as you would any other ritual tool, and then put it someplace where it won’t be disturbed by others. If you’re part of a group, put all of the members’ bags together in a box, and store it for safekeeping. If anyone leaves the group, their measure bag should be returned to them so they can dispose of it however they like.

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Sybil Leek and the 6 Tenets of Witchcraft

In some forms of traditional witchcraft, there are six basic tenets – and that’s not TENANTS, with an AN, but TENETS. These are simple principles, or guidelines, meant to help practitioners lead positive and spiritually fulfilling lives. Do you have to follow them? Of course not!

Although they vary somewhat from one tradition to the next – just like everything else in modern Paganism – they are nearly always similar in spirit and intent. This particular list was created by the late author Sybil Leek as an outline of the basic guidelines of her spirituality. While not universal to all belief systems, these six principles can be a valuable tool for self-discovery – and that goes for people of just about any religious background.

Balance

Balance is found in all things. We find it in nature all the time. If balance can exist in the natural world, surely we can find it within ourselves. Our physical selves, our emotional state, and our spiritual plane… by finding the right balance of these three parts of our lives, we can live as better human beings. When our balance is thrown off, that’s when we begin to suffer. Too much of anything sends us off-kilter — for example, someone who takes on too much emotional baggage will begin to feel physically unwell. Someone whose spiritual needs aren’t being met can feel emotionally fragile. Without balance, it’s nearly impossible to be a well-rounded person.

Harmony

Harmony is something we must give ourselves. It’s not something others can attain for us, nor is it something that we can gain without effort. Don’t rely on other people to provide for you! Harmony is a gift to our soul, from our soul. How do we interact with others? Do we allow the shortcomings of the people in our life to negatively affect us? Are we forever blaming other people, and making excuses instead of finding reasons? If we are, then we are lacking harmony and must re-evaluate our lives, and our perception of what things are. To truly find harmony, we have to stop looking around us and begin looking inside us. To this effect, harmony really has to work hand in hand with the concept of balance.

Trust

A key part of many NeoWiccan paths today is the concept of perfect love and perfect trust. To someone who is spiritually whole, trust is a many-layered principle. It not only means trust in those around us, but also in our gods and in ourselves. Trust isn’t blind, but it sure does involve faith. For example, we may know that the gods walk with us and guide us; we trust them to do so because of past experience, not because someone has told us to believe this. Trust is being willing to close your eyes and fall, knowing the person waiting to catch you will actually do so.

Humility

When we stand before the gods, we know that we are imperfect, and they know this too — and yet they still manage to tolerate us and guide us. We’re pretty much flawed as a species, and yet we often try to be the best we can. This paradox, then, is an example of humility. It’s the knowledge that while we may be mere lowly mortals, we are also deserving of love and happiness and opportunity — and the chance to make the world a better place, not only for ourselves but for others. As part of this process, we must love ourselves, because if we don’t, who will?

Tolerance

Tolerance may be one of the least acted-upon principles of many modern belief systems. While many people espouse the virtue of tolerance, many refuse to actually be tolerant. They make blanket statements about people whose religion doesn’t coincide with their own. To tolerate someone else’s belief doesn’t mean to put up with it begrudgingly; instead it means to accept their right to choose differently from us. We’re all human beings, and all connected to the Divine; this factor makes us part of the cosmic whole. When in we look at the concept of “do no harm” — and this includes with our words as well as our actions — we refrain from doing harm not because a rule tells us so, but because it’s the right thing to do. After all, what goes around comes around.

Knowledge

Finally, there is the tenet of knowledge. Without knowledge, there’s no growth, no chance to evolve. While we can read books and take classes until the cows come home, true learning also comes from life experience. To advance on a spiritual plane, we must accept the fact that we just don’t know everything there is to know. If we don’t want to stagnate, we have to continue to learn and grow. Once we refuse to learn anything new, it’s pretty tough to develop as a spiritual being.

A final note: It’s important to remember that, much like other guidelines found in modern Pagan religions, this list doesn’t apply to every path. Not all witches adhere to these tenets. If you are an eclectic practitioner, you may want to look at this list and see how it can be applied to your own belief system.

Love Offerings & Donations at Pagan Events

I first got involved in the Pagan community back around 1988 or thereabouts, but it wasn’t until some twenty years later that I heard someone use the term “love offering.” At first, no kidding, I thought it was in reference to some kind of sixties-era sex practice, but as it turns out, it’s just a phrase that means a donation. Who knew? Not me, that’s for sure. However, whether you call it a love offering or just a donation, at some point, you may find yourself at a Pagan event wondering if you should toss a few bucks in the pot. The short answer is, yes, if you can, but not if you can’t afford to.

A reader asked me years ago, ““I recently attended a Pagan event, and it was supposed to be free. When I got there, they had a jar on the table with a note that said “love offering” and people were putting money in it. I went ahead and contributed, because I didn’t want to look stingy, but can they really call it a free event if they’re asking for donations?

Well, ok, no one wants to look stingy. I get that. But on the other hand, events take money to put on, and if making a donation is the cost for me to continue to enjoy stuff, I’m all for it. I’d certainly never shame anyone for not making a contribution if they can’t afford it, but if people say, “I’m not contributing because I shouldn’t have to and stuff should be free,” I’ll have plenty to snipe about then.

Image by Dave Dugdale, Licensed Through Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The phrase “love offering” does appear to be a regional one – I live in the Midwest, and I hear it a lot – but it’s the same as a donation jar. This is something that’s not uncommon in the metaphysical community. It’s designed to encourage those who have some extra money to share it if they can, while not making those who don’t have extra feel bad about it. It’s a donation given out of love and ability and an understanding of community spirit, rather than from obligation. So yes, it’s still a free event, and they’re perfectly within their rights to ask for a donation from those who care to make one. No one is required to do so – if they were, it would be called an admission fee.

That having been said, I think it’s very important to recognize that even “free” events cost someone money – and it’s usually the folks who took the time to host and organize them. If there’s food, tables, chairs, entertainment, ritual supplies or even a venue rental, those charges have come out of someone’s pocket, and it’s not unreasonable for them to make you aware that a donation is appreciated.

Furthermore, even if there was an entry fee charged, that’s generally acceptable too. Again – events don’t just magically happen on their own. Even if the organizers are not making any profit (and I can pretty much guarantee that they’re usually not), it’s still perfectly acceptable for them to charge a fee that helps offset the costs of the event itself. Some of this may include asking vendors for a table fee, or passing the expenses along to the consumer — in this case, guests like yourself. If it’s billed as an entry fee, and it’s outside your range of affordability, then you’re under no obligation to attend the event. Some events offer work equity in exchange for admission – you volunteer to help out for a couple of hours, and you’re in for the rest of the day at no charge. That’s a pretty good trade-off, really.

I know that in some areas, this topic has become a matter of hot debate between groups – one coven will host an event and ask for donations, and then another coven will accuse the first of being greedy and trying to “bilk the newbies.” I can assure you that this is not anyone’s intention when they ask for a love offering, donation, or other type of contribution.

Do you have to donate? Certainly not, and if you can’t afford to do it, no one is going to hold that against you. But chipping a few bucks into a jar, if it’s within your means, is a wonderful way to say thanks to the people who made the effort of putting the event together for you to attend. It’s also a good way to assure they’ll be able to put together another event in the future.

Want to have nice things? Me too. Let’s be willing to pay for the privilege when we can afford to do it.

Animism and the Cosmic Whole

 

Tree Guy
Tree guy is watching you.

Animism is one of the earliest known spiritual structures. From an anthropological standpoint, it is a belief system based upon the concept of all things having a spirit or soul. Humans and animals have souls, as do plants and trees and rocks, thus eliminating any separation between the mundane world and the metaphysical one. Nineteenth-century anthropologist E.B. Tylor defined animism as a belief that all natural objects – in addition to, but not only humans – have souls. This includes living beings — dogs, horses, birds, etc. – as well tangible items like rocks, mountains, the sea, trees and flowers. It also includes natural phenomena such as earthquakes, wind and lightning.

One thing that anthropologists have yet to agree on is whether or not early cultures had one, all-encompassing and universal belief system that would be considered animism, or if instead, the term applies to multiple mythologies and worldviews.

Typically, anthropologists – particularly those influenced by Tylor – agree that for a belief system to be animistic, there are two criteria. The first is, as mentioned above, that all natural things have souls or spirits. The second, and equally significant requirement is the belief that these souls are capable of moving without a physical form. In addition, many early animistic societies practiced some form of ancestor veneration.

In some societies that are animistic, there is some overlap with shamanistic practices as well.

Although we often think of animism as primitive and ancient, there are some groups that still practice it today. In Malaysia, there are tribes who still honor the rice spirits at the time of planting and of the annual harvest. Shinto, which is the predominant spirituality of Japan, has a strong foundation in animistic beliefs. Following the devastating March 2011 earthquake that struck Japan, many Japanese made offerings at Shinto and Buddhist shrines to the spirits of the land, hoping to gain a better spiritual understanding of all that had taken place.

Although it is not universal to all Pagans, many Neopagans incorporate animism into their beliefs today. It’s not uncommon to hear someone talk about the spirits or soul of a tree, or a river, or a piece of wood. In many cases, these individual spirits are seen as parts of a greater cosmic whole.

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