Ritual for celebrating triple Goddess using Three of Cups

The suit of Cups is all about Water, so it has to do with emotions and relationships. The Three of Cups is a card of relating to others, and it has special resonance for goddess worshippers who know that several goddesses take on a three-part form, or can be understood as part of a triad with other goddesses. The ritual below is written arounnd the general theme of Maiden, Mother, Crone, but you can substitute instead any three-part goddess you work with more closely.

The image on the Motherpeace card is a celebration by a river. (See the Motherpeace image by selecting 3 of Cups from the drop-down menu.) I also particularly like the image in the Robin Wood Tarot where three women are dancing holding chalices marked with the moon phase symbols.

In this ritual we’re going to offer libations to the goddess in her three parts. Using this ancient method of celebrating and honoring goddess will strengthen our relationship to her and also represents the way we are participating in the continuing river of her presence poured out for us.

Materials:
Chalice or your favorite drinking vessel
A bowl to pour your libations into, unless you can do ritual outdoors and pour directly on the earth
Liquid that you like to drink – it could be water, wine, milk, tea, or anything that you would share with Goddess

Prepare your altar with any Goddess images or decorations you like, especially symbols of the triple moon, or a trio of white, red, and black candles. Put your Tarot card on your altar along with your chalice and bowl to receive your libations.

Ritual

Ground and center yourself.

Cup your hands in front of you and see the light and energy of the full moon filling them. Cast your circle by walking around the perimeter and pouring this light out to mark the edges of your circle.

Call the Quarters using these words or your own:

Air, powers of the East, inspire me as I share my thoughts and words with Goddess tonight. Hail and welcome!

Fire, powers of the South, light my way and warm my heart in celebration with Goddess tonight. Hail and welcome!

Water, powers of the West, fill my cup so that I may pour it out in libation to Goddess tonight. Hail and welcome!

Earth, powers of the North, receive what I pour out in libation for Goddess tonight. Hail and welcome!

Invoke Goddess using these words or your own:

Clever maiden, merciful crone, loving mother of us all, Goddess, I invoke you in your triple form.
I honor you, I praise you, I love you.
Hear me, guide me, and bless me this night and always.

Chant “We all come from the Goddess and to her we shall return / like a drop of rain rolling to the ocean.” You can use the words alone, or learn the tune here:

As you chant, take your chalice into your hands and direct your love and devotion to the Goddess into your chalice. When you are done, dedicate the cup to her by drawing the triple moon symbol )O( in the air over the cup.

Pour three libations. During each one, name the aspect of the Goddess to which you are offering, and  thank her for her blessings and/or ask her for help with her special gifts. For example, you might say:

Maiden, youthful, beautiful, and free, I offer this drink to you. Help me celebrate my independence with joy.

Mother, loving, gracious, and kind, I offer this drink to you. Help me give birth to my hopes and dreams.

Crone, wise one, merciful, and strong, I offer this drink to you. Help me honor my own wisdom with grace.

When you are done with your libations, drink the rest of the cup to take Goddess’ blessings into you.

Thank and dismiss the Quarters.

Open the circle.

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Review: Kynes – Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Correspondences

Kynes, Sandra. Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Correspondences: A Comprehensive & Cross-Referenced Resource for Pagans & Wiccans. Llewellyn, 2013. Paperback, 528 pages.

Sandra Kynes’ book of correspondences competently addresses the fundamental needs of magical practitioners as well as offering opportunities for contemplation for those who want to expand their knowledge and understanding of correspondences. Kynes has done a skillful job of corralling a sprawling mass of information into a reasonably accessible format, and that alone makes this book a success for its intended audience.

In her introduction, Kynes touches on some important points regarding the nature of correspondences and how they interact with each other: “…we can bring correspondences to life by thinking in terms of a web. Doing so not only allows us to expand the links of attributes, but it also allows us to personalize the way we use magical correspondences.” (4) She illustrates the ways correspondences are interrelated and has used that fact to guide her in the difficult decisions that have to be made in any work such as this one.

In particular, Kynes restricts the scope of her material by only listing as correspondences items that have an independent listing of their own. For example, under correspondences for “love,” she does not list Oshun, because there is no independent listing for Oshun. With commendable transparency, Kynes acknowledges the Celtic influences on her practice and experience and her lack of knowledge about Afro-Caribbean paths. As a result, she chose not to include entries for the orishas or similar spirits. As a result of this consistency, for every item that is listed as a correspondence, the reader can consult a main entry to see its other correspondences.

Regardless of how the title describes it, no work like this can possibly be “complete,” and Kynes’ explanations about the way she shaped the work are part of what makes this book valuable. She explains that she is trying to walk a “middle ground,” and specifically aimed to capture the items, powers, and spirits that are most commonly used by Pagans and Wiccans at the current moment, including the ones most frequently mentioned in the bibliography, which contains largely recent popular works. Combined with the consistent and concise style of her entries – which I quite appreciated – the result does live up to the title of “cross-reference” as a resource.

Kynes also wisely avoids the trap of trying to categorize every item under every possible system of correspondences. If a particular plant does not have a specific connection to one of the runes of the Futhark, for example, Kynes does not try to create one. This restraint is wise, because trying to create correspondences that are not natural quickly becomes an effort at pseudo-categorization and simultaneously drains the magic out of the connections that truly do exist. The author deserves praise for not trying to apply a one-size-fits-all approach, and it speaks well of her understanding of the meanings of correspondences.

Kynes alludes to these deeper issues of correspondence and connection by briefly referencing Bonewits’ theories of correspondences and Eliade’s more scholarly investigations of magical imagination, but she leaves unanswered the question of how she combined and culled the correspondences drawn from her numerous sources. On one hand, such incessant citations would make the work incredibly unwieldy, but on the other hand, at least a small mention of this perennial question would have pointed the reader in the direction of further personal development. Regardless, the work as it stands is still tremendously useful as a starting place for intermediate practitioners to begin their own reflections on correspondences and how to put them into practice.

Since this is a reference work, the structure and layout are vitally important to its functionality. On the whole, the contents are clear and readable; I appreciate the amount of effort that went into making the entries reasonably uniform. The sections are organized in a way that is probably most useful for off-the-shelf needs: correspondences for intentions first, then separate sections on plants, minerals, animals, deities and beings, time reckoning, and general theoretical concepts.

Within these divisions, however, some problems arise. A few entries simply don’t make sense: “Revenge (to seek, protect from)” really should have been split into two separate topics, rather than leaving the user guessing which correspondences are appropriate for the purpose at hand. The plants are subdivided into “Trees,” “Herbs, Garden Plants and Shrubs,” and “Miscellaneous Plants” based on unexplained criteria – why is allspice not an herb, to use just one example? This separation is supplemented by an appendix listing the names of all plants alphabetically, then telling which subheading they can be found under. The author does go to the trouble of listing plants’ scientific names, which is extremely valuable for novice and seasoned botanist alike.

The biggest single problem I have with the work is the decision to place both the Futhark and the Ogham under the section on time reckoning. It is true that these systems can be connected with the flow of time, but they are both independent systems with a strong internal logic, and are used for divination and symbolic representations much more frequently than as time descriptors; perhaps this is different in Kynes’ experience with the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. Worse yet, these systems are listed in alphabetical order. The Futhark, for example, are not listed in their own order (fehu, uruz, thurisaz, etc.), nor are they listed in the order of the half-months assigned to them, but in alphabetical order by the English names. The same was done to the Ogham. The correspondences for the Tarot are placed in the separate miscellaneous section, but there too, the Major Arcana cards are alphabetized by name, which will confuse novice and experienced user alike.

The place where everything should be listed in purely alphabetical order is the index, and this nearly lives up to its purpose. The index to a work like this is what makes it truly a cross-reference and not merely a dictionary. The only problem is that the index is organized under the same subheadings as the individual sections are, so readers need to know roughly where they are looking in order to find something’s multiple references.

Overall, the book does what the author sets out as her intent in the introduction. Once a reader becomes acquainted with the structure, this work can be an invaluable reference for someone just starting to learn how to use correspondences, a Witch who needs to look something up quickly, a Pagan who needs a starting point to research a new item, or an intermediate practitioner reflecting on examples as a way to explore the deeper meanings of correspondences. Readers who are willing to get drawn into the web of cross-references that the author has woven will likely find themselves discovering unexpected relationships among familiar tools and ideas. Its potential for sparking new ideas makes this book both a reference and a good starting place for further exploration.

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Home Warding

This article originally appeared in Circle Magazine, Fall 2013.

I live in a busy urban area, so warding my home is vitally important to me on many levels. Creating a sense of mental and emotional privacy is a necessary part of urban life. More than that, though, my warding designates my home as a space set aside, defined by my intention as the place I and my partner live and love. Casting and maintaining this magical boundary is not just about defining the edges of our home, but about shaping the very meaning of home in our everyday lives.

The basic pattern of my warding is a triple circle casting. Our apartment’s floor plan makes it possible to start at our doorway, which faces north, and move deosil through all the rooms, returning back to the door. The first circle I make is to delineate the boundary of our home area by visualizing a white line of energy at about waist height. When I come back to the place where I started, I visualize this continuous boundary growing into an irregular bubble that extends above and below our apartment to enclose it completely.

Once this boundary is established, the second circle is a cleansing with salt water. In each room I sprinkle the boundary that I’ve just defined, but also the space within the room as well, and visualize the saltwater clearing and dissolving anything unwanted within the space. This was especially important to me when we first moved in as a way of removing any residual energy from previous occupants. We renew this warding every year on the same day, and now the clearing with saltwater serves as a sort of regular cleaning to give us a ‘fresh start’ from anything we’ve struggled with at home over the previous year.

Finally I go around the apartment to bless it with incense. Sage and sweetgrass have both worked well for me, but I think almost any sweet-smelling scent would be a good choice. As I walk, I say out loud the intentions that I want my home as a whole and each room in particular to hold: “May this be a place of peace, of joy, of love…” In the bedroom, I might ask for rest, and also passion; in the living room, for hospitality and companionship; in the kitchen, for nurturing and community.

It’s important to me that this boundary is not an impermeable one. With both the water and the incense, every time I come to an opening in our home – a window, the door to our balcony – I draw a pentacle that fills the entire opening. I envision each of these as a particular kind of filter: for example, our windows should let in air and light, but keep us safe during storms.

The most important opening in this spell is our doorway. There are many different traditions that have to do with protecting the liminal space of the doorway. Since this warding is based on a circle casting, and most people practice not crossing over the boundary of a circle once cast, it would seem counterintuitive to incorporate a permanent doorway in a circle. In my adaptation, instead of seeing crossing the circle as an act that weakens it, I deliberately place the strongest parts of the spell at the doorway and use every time I pass through it as an opportunity to acknowledge and reinforce my warding.

When casting the warding, I start and end each circumambulation by magically anchoring my work in a small carving of a trinity knot that hangs just inside our door at eye level. This symbol represents to me the union of differences that give rise to all things, especially as reflected in the coming together of individuals to create a relationship. Since I see relationships – with deities, with nature, and with each other – as the heart of Wicca, this simple symbol reminds me of the essence of my religion and what I value about my home all at once.

As I leave, I touch the carving and send a small pulse of energy to the spell, saying:

Lady watch my going out and coming in again.
Lady ward my hearth and home, and all who live therein.

When I return home, I touch the carving again, and send energy, saying:

Lady watch my going out and coming in again.
Lady ward my hearth and home, and all my friends and kin.

I use the word “Lady” here to mean both the Goddess in general and my matron Brigid in particular.

We often talk about the power of the liminal in doing magic, and the doorway is one of those liminal spaces, neither inside the house nor out in a public area. Anchoring the spell at the doorway helps me use that liminality as a source of power, not weakness, for my warding. The warding itself is an honoring of liminality, a way of defining and delineating the difference between private and public, home and throughway, in and out. I use that power of creating a boundary to shape both the boundary between my home and the greater world and the inner nature of my home itself.

When I pass through the doorway, I am also acknowledging the existence of liminal times. These moments combine prayer and spell work, stitching a thread of reverence through the fabric of my everyday life. Pausing for a moment to say these words and re-empower my warding reminds me that entering and leaving the home is a holy moment, one worth approaching with intention.

When I leave, I reinforce my warding and ask for blessings on my home and family until I am able to return to them. When I return, I give thanks for my blessings, and send my love outward to all my loved ones’ homes as well.

Both parts of this practice grounds and centers me in the meaning of home and family, which is part of what I believe makes this warding as powerful as it is. We often talk about doing magic by phrasing our intentions in affirmative terms, rather than describing the negative that we do not want. This warding is so much more than just protection because it is centered on all the positive qualities that energize my home and the life we live in it. When I leave my home, I visualize those qualities, and the power that I put into the boundary is automatically protective in the sense that nothing contrary to those intentions can intrude. It’s not just that I am visualizing positive things instead of simply trying to counter negative ideas, it’s that there is so much energy wrapped up in the positive visualization that the boundary is much easier to sustain.

When I return home, connecting with that visualization again is a way to help me make the transition within myself. Whatever I have encountered while I was away, whatever else has been going on, taking a moment to acknowledge that I am now home, inside my own wards, with my family, helps me adjust and reorient myself. My partner and I enjoy living so close to the city, which reduces our commute time significantly. The downside of this choice is that we do not have a long car ride in which to let go of the stresses and troubles of the workday. Taking this moment in the doorway thus becomes an important tool to keep our home life separate from the world of work. Whatever we encountered there does not have to dominate our lives at home; we can choose to leave it outside and return to the intentions we’ve set for our space and time together.

If you would like to adapt this warding for your own home, I suggest that you begin by thinking and meditating deeply on what you want your home to be. Take a walk around your space and imagine all the possible visualizations you could include. This particular approach is best adapted for the physical space of a home rather than the entire boundary of a piece of property, but you could include a deck, garden, or even back yard, if it is a place where you spend time regularly. If you have a large property, I suggest that you use this form for your house itself, and create a separate perimeter for the land, one which is created in concert with the spirits of place, and takes a different form.

Within the home, choose your main point of entry as your anchor. Don’t feel that it has to be the “formal” entrance to the home, either. If you’re going to go in and out through the garage door, then make that your starting and ending point! For every other entryway that you encounter, visualize it outlined with energy, filled with a pentacle, and serving the same purpose as your main doorway. If you use the idea of a physical anchor or touchstone the way I do, try to get similar items to use at each doorway. If you’re working within a freestanding house, you might also want to include the roof and the foundation or basement as part of your visualization as well.

Including your whole family in the setting of the wards can make it a lot of fun. As you walk around the home, there’s plenty of time to express lots of different positive intentions together. If the kids want to bless the living room so that they can finally beat that video game, go for it; if a teenager wants to include a wish for individual privacy in her or his bedroom, incorporate that. The important thing is to cooperate in creating the meaning of your home as a place where you all live together.

My home warding is an integral part of my everyday life which operates on multiple levels. It is so much more than just an outward-facing protection spell; it is also an inward-facing focusing of intentions for our home. Casting it is an annual renewal and celebration of our dwelling in this place. Its presence establishes this as our space, carved out to be private and nurturing even in the midst of a busy urban situation. It contains and focuses the energy of our home to shape it into the kind of place we want to live. My frequent acknowledgment and renewal of this warding gives me opportunities for gratitude and reconnection. My warding serves as a context for all the daily acts of love that are the true magic of hearth and home.

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Lunasa – John Barleycorn

But John Barleycorn proved the stoutest man
Though they did all that they could
So raise up your horn and praise John Barleycorn
And we shall drink his blood
Yes, we shall drink his blood!

- Heather Alexander’s version of old English folk song “John Barleycorn”

I’m continuing to republish a series of essays originally written in 2011.

John Barleycorn is one of my favorite versions of a god archetype that is particularly relevant at this time of year: the god of vegetation who dies and is reborn. There are innumerable versions of the poem and folk song that tell his story, including one by Robert Burns. [1]  The story is a metaphor for the agricultural cycle of barley, and by extension nearly any grain crop, personified in “little Sir John.” [2]

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Sabbat at the start of August is called either Lammas or Lughnasadh, and under either name it is a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest, and especially the beginning of the grain harvest. The consistent theme at these celebrations is thanksgiving that there is a harvest to be gotten in, and that communities come together to do the hard and vitally necessary work of harvesting. In the Southern Hemisphere, this Sabbat is Imbolc, which is also a festival of change, but in a different way, focusing on poetry and inspiration, and the end of winter, rather than preparing for the coming winter as we in the Northern Hemisphere must do at this time.

Lammas comes from the Old English for loaf-mass, the offering and blessing of the first symbolic loaves made from the newly-reaped grain, representing the whole harvest to come. Lughnasadh is the festival of the Celtic god Lugh; he is said to have instituted the celebration in honor of his foster-mother after her death. [3] As far as we can tell from surviving information, in old Celtic cultures this was a time for communities to gather and engage in games and contests of skill, especially martial skill, but it was also a celebration of the harvest.

The Lughnasadh festival was considered a good time for people to come together in more ways than one. Because the harvest assured people that they could plan for the winter to come, this time of year was appropriate for finalizing all kinds of arrangements, including living situations from renting lodgings to setting up marriages and handfastings. A handfasting, according to some sources, may have been a kind of trial marriage that lasted for “a year and a day” and could be dissolved without prejudice at the end of that time. [4] In a largely agricultural society, the gold of the grain was more important than a gold ring to making it possible for a couple to live together.

The song of John Barleycorn – a story of violence and death – may seem like an odd tune for these festivals of fresh bread and new weddings.  The conflict is resolved when we realize the story is not just about death, but death and rebirth. Little Sir John comes back in many forms, none of which are exactly the same as the life he lost. He is reborn, not resurrected.

John Barleycorn is another face worn by the Green Man, the god of living things that are green and growing, things that live and die and live again, year in and year out, around the Wheel. The Green Man or the vegetation god often appears in art, especially carvings, as a face made of leaves, sometimes with vines and grasses growing from his mouth or flowing as his hair. As I have found common in Paganism, he “speaks in leaves,” that is, in complex symbols without a single, simple allegorical meaning, so there is not just one story but many going on simultaneously as we try to read his story in the leaves and in his songs. [5]

In the song, John Barleycorn, the seed, is planted and buried, by men who are vain enough to assure themselves that he is dead. But because Barleycorn knows that the tomb is also the womb of the earth, he sprouts and begins to grow. As the grain begins to ripen, it is described in some versions as the figure growing a beard. This is a literal description of ripening grain, which grows long thin protrusions called the beard or awns, but it could also be a symbol of puberty, with all the attendant metaphors between sexual and agricultural fertility. In Burns’ version, though, he describes this growth as “pointed spears” that are Barleycorn’s defense, until he ages and becomes weak in autumn. In either telling, Barleycorn’s ripening marks the point that he has become useful to others, and by the same token, it is the time that he is beginning to be ready for his next death.

Then in great detail the story and song describe the cruelties inflicted on Barleycorn, all of which refer to the activities of preparing grain for human use: cutting the stalks, binding the sheaves, loading the grain, threshing, and milling. But here the song departs from the Lammas theme of the importance of bread. Burns’ version gives away the difference by including the step of malting the barley over a fire before it is ground, which makes it ready for brewing beer, which will be the ultimate rebirth of the barley. Some versions insist that Sir John was not only made into the everyday beer, but also into stronger stuff such as uisge beatha, the “water of life,” better known today as whisk(e)y.

The song ends with a verse or two about how everyone partakes of Barleycorn’s reborn “spirit,” pun very much intended. This is why I describe Barleycorn’s process as a rebirth, rather than a resurrection; the parts of the grain that are used, whether for bread or for brewing, are completely transformed. Only the small portion reserved as seed will give birth to new grain next year. Even then, it will be cut down in turn, in the repeating cycle that closes the circle of the song and of the Wheel of the Year.

Now, I don’t focus on this song to imply that everyone ought to drink alcohol; although alcoholic drinks may have been healthier than plain water in the past, today that is (thankfully) no longer the case for most people in the developed world. And although beer, sometimes called “liquid bread,” may once have been an important source of calories, grain-based foods are seldom in short supply these days.

The important point is that the song ends with examples of people doing work together and celebrating as they share “little Sir John in the nut brown bowl,” or as Heather Alexander puts it, “raise up their horns.” This beer is more than a health measure, a source of calories, or an intoxicant. Its importance comes from its place in shared celebration. This sharing in the harvest is more than just a source of sustenance. It symbolizes the way we also need hilarity and opportunities to socialize, to join with other people in feast and festival.

From start to finish, the song subtly reminds us that we need each other. It’s not just one man fighting against John Barleycorn; it’s three men who plow him, and then all the different people involved in the processing of the grain. And at the end, when the singer or poet addresses the audience directly, it is an acknowledgment that we are all human together. Just as these festivals weren’t instances of individual and private devotion, none of the harvest tasks could be done by one individual alone. The cooperation of the entire community was necessary to have enough to eat, let alone extra to brew into celebratory beer!

We’ll see these themes of work, life, and rebirth played out over the next few Sabbats, culminating in Samhain and Yule, but this is the start of that process, and a clear sign that the Wheel is turning to such matters as the harvest and the very heart of some of the most human Mysteries of all. As we go into them, it is important to note that what matters is not that John Barleycorn is resurrected in some perfected, idealized, changeless form that will exist forever. What we find is rebirth, like the rebirth of John Barleycorn, the irrepressible spirit of life that continues to renew itself in myriad forms and through myriad generations.

That is what I worship about the vegetation god, and it is the starting point that helps carry us through the darkening part of the year. No matter what happens in those many deaths and rebirths, we remain children of Earth, connected to the cycle, and always alive in the sense that something carries on – although it may be greatly changed in form.

The deepest meaning of the song, to me, is that when John Barleycorn rises again, his spirit rises within each of us. When we eat bread and whether we drink beer, or tea, or juice, we are partaking of that spirit of irrepressible life, which flows into each of us to make our own lives possible. It is the very interconnections in which we live our lives, both in relationships with others and in relationship with the world around us, from which we draw sustenance and to which we will return. On this Sabbat, we come together in celebration to acknowledge that cycle and to reaffirm our role in the shared work and shared rewards of the harvest.

—–

[1] ^ This video has a good performance of the song with reasonable sound quality; you may want to listen while you read.

An Ulster variant speaks from the point of view of the barley itself in some verses, a good reminder that at times we are the harvester, and at times we are the harvest itself.

This Morris dance to the song has additional Pagan symbolism. The character in the center wearing mixed colors is Barleycorn and the four around the edges are the Elements. Yellow, in the East, is Air, red in the South is Fire, blue in the West is Water, and the brown-green in the North is Earth. (The video is taken from the south side of the circle, facing north.) At the beginning, the central character clacks sticks with each Element, invoking its power, and they all interweave in the dance, finishing together, centering on Barleycorn, to show the way all living things (and all things, really) partake of all four Elements.

Versions of the lyrics may be found here and here for the Heather Alexander ones.

Burns’ version and a comparison to a conflated version of the usual song lyrics is at this site.

[2] ^ Note that throughout this article and the tales of John Barleycorn, “corn” means grain in general, not specifically maize as it does in the US.

[3] ^ The god and festival are respectively spelled Lu (with accent) and Lunasa (which means the month of August) in modern Irish, and pronounced “loo” and “LOO-na-sah.” The tales of Lugh are many and complex.

[4] ^ This was also a marriage contracted by agreement between the couple themselves, rather than their families, with or without a specified length attached, and without the need for clergy. This type of marriage has a long and contested history in Europe. Contemporary Pagans have adopted the term for nearly any relationship commitment ceremony.

[5] ^  King, Laurie R. The God of the Hive. New York: Bantam, 2010, p 48.

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Where are my superpowers?

I have been dealing with my food allergies a lot lately, and I want to know: Where are my superpowers?

Food restrictions are difficult to live with at the best of times because food restrictions divide people during a fundamental activity: eating together. Sharing food and drink, and even more so providing food for another person are deeply symbolic acts of bonding. Their widespread role in hospitality laws and rituals shows their importance. In some ways, food restrictions act as the inverse of hospitality practices.

I have long thought that this inversion of hospitality is one of the reasons religious food limitations carry so much significance. They delimit a population very powerfully; if we cannot share a meal, and welcome each other under our own laws of hospitality, then some of our basic ways of building relationships are out-of-bounds, which encourages one to stay with one’s own group. Similarly, in today’s world, it is a powerful thing to make ethical choices about one’s food; that’s why these choices become such a topic of debate.

The difference between allergies and the situation of religious or ethical food restrictions is that in both religious and ethical choices, the person making the choice feels that the choice is meaningful, and this feeling is reinforcement. The choice, and its social consequences, send a message, which is why it can be so contentious. Following through on the restrictions also sends a message to oneself: I am a member of this group, and not that; my choices and actions are in line with my intentions about such-and-such a concern, or whatever is important enough to limit one’s food.

It’s true that those feedback messages can devolve into smug self-righteousness, or looking down on other people, and that’s awful, but whether the self-image is a good thing or not, those feedback messages are part of the reinforcement that helps one make the food choices over and over again, and go through the effort of seeking out certain foods or avoiding others, of navigating the social landscape around eating. However graciously or ineptly one handles the situation, eating differently from those around you takes time, effort, and money, and concentrates social attention on oneself in a not necessarily pleasant way.

With food allergies or other medical restrictions, there’s no payoff,  there’s no deeper message, and there’s no positive reinforcement that helps us keep going. This isn’t like the stories where the protagonist chooses to give up something in order to get other benefits, and it isn’t even like the stories where a protagonist has a hidden flaw that “pays for” the other great skills she has. It’s just a handicap, with no upside.

In other words, where are my superpowers? Don’t I even get superpowers in exchange for all the things I can’t eat, all the times when I am the odd one out, the problem child, the person who everybody else has to accommodate? I’m not even asking for a separate power for every allergy – just one little teeny power, maybe?

Most people have no idea how frustrating these issues can be, and it’s easy for someone inconvenienced by another’s restrictions to resent the restrictions and even the person herself. Believe me, no matter how annoyed you are, you have no idea how much I wish I could relieve you of the burden of dealing with my allergies.

Imagine how you feel when confronted with the most obnoxious type of person whose eating habits are exactly opposite yours. If that person followed you around all the time and interrupted you to criticize everything you think about putting in your mouth, you’d be pretty annoyed by that person, right? You’d get pretty unhappy about her interrupting your routine, disrupting the dinner party, making it difficult to socialize with others, and sometimes even simply to feed yourself.

Now imagine feeling that way about yourself instead of about someone else. I hate my food allergies; I hate that I have to bring them up, that I have to refuse food, and that when I eat practically anything I haven’t personally prepared from scratch I run a calculated risk, over and over and over again, three meals a day. I hate that when that risk goes wrong, I have reactions that impact other people’s lives as well as putting mine at risk. I hate being afraid during such a fundamental activity as eating. I find the allergies as annoying as you find that fictional fanatic. But the allergies are part of me; I can’t get away from them.

And I don’t get anything in return. I don’t get the inner glow of knowing that my choices are contributing to better lives for animals, or that I’m supporting fair trade, or even that my restrictions are connected to anyone or anything besides an accident of biology. I don’t even get cool x-ray vision to tell me when I’m encountering an allergen – I mean, Superman knows when kryptonite is around, right? It has the cool green glow! Allergens don’t glow. They just sit there waiting to ambush me while I’m just trying to have lunch, maybe with a friend, or reward myself for a good day with something delicious.

This harsh reality is why I was so ticked off about the lousy depiction of disabilities in the Percy Jackson novels. In those stories, Jackson and all the other Greek demi-gods have dyslexia because their brains are “wired” to read ancient Greek. Nobody talks about struggling with the day-to-day grind of these issues, because they’re really just a convenient shorthand to make our protagonist the kind of person who overcomes obstacles, which actually turn out to be the root of his superpowers. Another character’s apparent mobility disability is explained away in similar fashion; the wheelchair is just a disguise, you see, and apparently he never gets frustrated with it or anything. It never risks his life, either.

I live in the real world, where things like food allergies, not to mention my other medical issues, don’t come with a convenient side of superpowers that make it all seem worthwhile. They’re not a sacrifice I’ve chosen to make in exchange for something else. They don’t have a deeper meaning or the resonance of generations of cultural practice. They’re not a side detail that the narrator can handwave away by tweaking the plot to accommodate me. They regularly force me to make difficult choices between regular exposure to small but significant risks and limiting my behavior in ways that would completely disrupt my life. They’re just as painful and annoying as any other restrictive food requirements, without any redeeming sense of meaning.

I don’t even get superpowers. Except not dying. Or not spending the night in the hospital. Those are good things – don’t get me wrong – but for most people they’re the baseline, the assumed normal, rather than something that has to be fought for on a recurring basis.

So when you’re dealing with someone with food allergies, please take them seriously, do your very, very best to accommodate the person, and don’t make it more of a social issue than is absolutely necessary to accomplish the goal of keeping the person safe. Because we don’t get superpowers. And sometimes it gets really tiring.

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Ritual for assisting transformation using the Eight of Wands

The 8 of Wands is a card representing energy, movement, and possibly the arrival of news. It is truly a card of Fire, because Fire is at heart about transformation, changing things from one state into another. If you’ve been doing any of the recent rituals, we want to draw on the gathering of energy that we worked on in May and the celebration of success that usually happens around Litha and bring those both together in order to put all of that to work towards a particular purpose that you choose. Of course, if you haven’t done the previous rituals, you can still do this one!

The Motherpeace card for 8 of Wands emphasizes these meanings by showing an archer shooting off arrows. (See the Motherpeace image by selecting 8 of Wands from the drop-down menu.) Take time either before you begin or after you’ve cast the circle to think about what you want to aim those arrows of intention at. What changes are happening in your journey right now? How can you advance them? What news is going to arrive? What messages are you sending out?

Materials: although none are strictly necessary, I suggest you use the 8 of Wands card from the Motherpeace or your favorite Tarot deck. You may also wish to place a candle alongside it to give you a spark of fire to use in your visualizations.

I suggest using the chant “She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes.” You can chant the words alone, or use the tune sung in this video. Don’t worry about the additional words; just stick with that basic chant.

Ritual:

Cast the circle quickly, seeing your intention moving swiftly along the paths you designate for it

Call the Quarters using these words or your own:

Air, blow straight and true to carry my words and thoughts!

Fire, power my intentions swiftly and surely!

Water, wash through me with the power of the tide!

Earth, let my intentions find their target!

Invoke a goddess of change and transformation such as Ceridwen or Hecate:

Goddess, queen of heaven, you remind us that all things change, just as your own appearance in the moon changes, always returning but never the same. On this night of full moon, I raise my energy to you to guide transformation in the direction I desire.

Alternately, invoke a messenger goddess like Iris or an archer goddess like Diana in your own words.

Take up your Tarot card and describe, out loud, the transformation, change, or message that you are sending out this evening. Light your candle, and carefully feel its heat as a tiny example of the energy that you are building up within yourself.

Chant: She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes

Raise energy while chanting, whether by dance, clapping, or other movement, or with your visualization alone. When you are ready, send all your energy flying out towards your target, launched like arrows to speed to your goal.

Pause and ground yourself afterwards.

Thank goddess:

Goddess of change and transformation, thank you for this moment and this energy to shape the difference I want to see in the world. Watch over it and me always, and go now with my thanks and praise.

Thank the Quarters:

Earth, my thanks for holding my goal steady!

Water, my thanks for keeping the tide flowing!

Fire, my thanks for the power of my intentions!

Air, my thanks for the words to describe the changes!

Open the circle, swiftly but surely, and ground yourself again. Either blow out your candle or let it burn out safely.

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Columbia’s Day

Today is the day I celebrate Columbia, goddess of the United States, more than any other. Since we also think of today as the “birthday of the country,” in some sense, my celebrations of her are not purely joyful. They are times of reflection, as other milestones in personal life are, as opportunities to look back on the time that has passed. This reflection leads to celebration, yes, but it also leads to mourning over hurts and losses. As with my personal work, I try to stay hopeful, even through the mourning; I try to find ways and reasons to hope for a better future. I have said before and will say again that Columbia is a goddess who calls on us to live up to our ideals, which is a constant process, hopefully one of improvement.

These thoughts and many others will be in my mind as tonight I connect with Columbia in her form as the Potomac river and watch the fireworks, timing the releases of my magic to their bursts of light and color.

As I live in the DC area, I work with Columbia very directly, in her forms in the mid-Atlantic landbase and ecology. But she takes on many other forms, also; I see her as Libertas, and sometimes as Ceres or other vague mother figures used in our artwork and symbology. I know she takes on other forms in other landbases, with the mountains and rivers, the animals and plants, of other parts of her country.

I’d like to hear about how you work with Columbia, whether under that name or as the spirits of place in your area. The anthology Columbia: A Devotional for the Spirits of America is currently accepting submissions. Please share the inspirations that come to you this day or in the future as part of our joint effort to continue the great project that is this country.

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