Now in central Ohio

Just a quick update: for anyone interested in working with me, I am now teaching and offering services in the central Ohio area. See my pages on services and teaching for more.

I hope to have some classes and workshops to offer soon, so stay tuned or contact me to set something up!

Posted in announcements

Ostara – Element of Air

I’m continuing to republish a series of articles for the Wheel of the Year. This one first appeared in 2012.

We’ve been around the Wheel of the Year once together, so for the next iteration, I’m going to concentrate on the four Elements on the equinoxes and solstices and on four concepts that I see as fundamental to Wicca on the other Sabbats. For Ostara [1] we’ll start with the Element of Air.

I capitalize those words because I’m using them as proper nouns. The four Elements, as conceptualized by classical Greek philosophy, are not the same as the elements on the periodic table, and when I say Air, I’m not just talking about the stuff going in and out of your lungs. I’m referring to the archetype, the whole abstract concept which includes what you’re breathing, but it also includes the whirlwind and the summer breeze, the freezing breath of winter and the surprise of walking past lilacs in bloom.

And symbolically, the Element of Air represents even more than that. The four Elements can also be construed as broad categories with a wealth of symbolic meanings through what we call associations or correspondences. Most Wiccans, for example, cast a circle (or Circle, if you like) as part of their rituals. Each cardinal direction within that circle is associated with an Element. Correspondences differ – sometimes wildly – but I’m going to discuss the system that I use, which also happens to correspond to the one most commonly used. Just keep in mind that none of this is set in stone – or written on the wind. My associations are:

East – Air
South – Fire
West – Water
North – Earth

Now, since East (there’s those caps again) is where the sun rises, it’s associated with dawn, and also with springtime, as the “dawning” of the year. So Air also represents beginnings, a fresh start, and even “a fresh breath.” You’ll find that many of our cliches can be used to summarize these sorts of metaphorical connections; that doesn’t mean the connections are trite. To me, it’s an example of the way a lot of these metaphors are embedded very deeply in our culture and our thinking, as reflected in and mediated by language.

The Wheel of the Year and the circle also correspond. Each of the direction/Element pairings – called Quarters – is associated with one of the solstices or equinoxes, in my understanding. Yule is in the North, Ostara in the East, and so on. Then the other four Sabbats, often called cross-quarter days, take the positions in between. This makes Ostara the perfect time to reflect on the Element of Air.

Air is associated with travel and movement. Thinking back to the days before cars, this makes a great deal of sense; in Renaissance times, ships depended on the wind, and they were the major form of long-distance transportation. Even after that, steam power depended on using air pressure as a driving force.

In several mythologies, birds are the archetypal messengers of the gods, representing both this association with movement and the function of communication. And, after all, speech literally depends on air. Thus the realm of Air became the domain of language, and also of reasoning, deciding, judging, and other intellectual pursuits. Unfortunately, this is where Air can start to get a bad rap.

While this understanding of the Elements does go all the way back to Greek philosophy, the current understanding of it was transmitted to us in the Western world mostly by way of the Golden Dawn. This esoteric organization, most active around the end of the 1800s and beginning of the 1900s, collected and organized much occult knowledge. They are also the origin of the most familiar design of the Tarot deck, which can give a negative impression about Air.

Tarot originated during the Italian Renaissance and is actually the precursor of the modern deck of playing cards. I’m not going to go into too much history here; the upshot is that in the early 1900s, members of the Golden Dawn designed and commissioned a particular Tarot deck, variously called the Rider-Waite or the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS), which has been the basis for most subsequent decks in English-speaking countries.

A Tarot deck consists of 78 cards: four suits, with ten numbered cards and four Court cards in each suit, and twenty-two independent cards with their own sequence, which are now called the Major Arcana. As the deck transformed into modern playing cards, the Major Arcana were dropped, the Court cards reduced to three (jack, queen, king), and the symbols of the four suits became spades, diamonds, hearts, and clubs.

In Tarot, the suits are Swords, Pentacles or Coins, Cups, and Staves, and the suit of Swords is most commonly associated with Air. [2] For various reasons, the Golden Dawn created images for these ten cards that included some of the most negative-seeming depictions in the deck. Now, Tarot images are complex things in and of themselves, and I’m not going to try to explain too much of that right here, so let me just say that some of the cards in the suit of Swords have basic interpretations such as depression and grief.

The Court cards, which are often interpreted as people involved in a particular situation, can also take the judging function of Air to an extreme; the Queen of Swords is frequently depicted or described as harsh, even shrewish. The King of Swords is stern and demanding; he’s a judge who won’t accept an excuse.

With all of this imagery going on, people who work with Tarot a lot, and especially with the RWS deck, can get kind of a negative impression of the Element of Air. There’s good reason to think that some of the seemingly negative imagery in this suit isn’t drawn directly from concepts about Air, but rather from other mythology that the Golden Dawn incorporated. Regardless, it’s important to remember that none of the Elements is exactly warm and cuddly: Fire isn’t meant to be played with, Water includes the tsunami and the flooding rains as well as the refreshing drink, and Earth by itself can be as barren and inhospitable as the depths of the desert.

And part of the complexity of Tarot is putting each image in context. While swords are meant for killing, not all blades are intended solely for destruction. Psychologically, the functions of judging, choosing, and deciding are absolutely necessary – when kept in balance.

This is why it’s hard to talk about each of the Elements alone. Part of what keeps the Elements in moderation is the way they exist in balance with each other. The spring weather includes the storms which help strip away the last of the dead leaves from last year and the gentle breezes that tease open the new buds. We need both, and the interplay of wind, water, and warmth that moves across the world is what allows for the variations and tempers the extremes.

With all of this in mind – the domain of Air – I invite you to enjoy this Ostara by finding a time when the weather is cooperative and maybe even a place where those sweet-smelling buds are opening. As you reflect on what air and Air mean to you, what roles they play in your life, and how you relate to this Element, take a deep, gentle breath. May it be the fresh start you need!

[1] In the Northern Hemisphere, the vernal equinox is approaching, which is Ostara, while in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the autumnal equinox, which is Mabon.

[2] This is a point of disagreement which I will address in greater detail in the Litha piece.

Posted in Pagan, Tarot, theaology | Tagged , , , ,

Personal is political: House edition

This is another entry for the I Hate Patriarchy file:

My partner and I are in the midst of buying a house. As part of this process I have gone to a moderate amount of work to educate myself about the basic mechanics of houses. Learning about why icicles look pretty but are a bad sign, what a stack is, what those things poking out of the roof are, why they’re there, and so on. Identifying soffits and baffles, sump pumps and stacks, grade and drain, and on and on.

Somewhere along the way I realized that I was having to learn this stuff for the first time not just because I have spent my adult life in apartments but because when I did live in a house, my mother didn’t teach me. Because she didn’t know. Because Patriarchy.

I vividly remember her helping me with a class project in middle school that involved some kind of very basic nailing pieces of wood together. I was having trouble with it, and Mom wasn’t very successful either. As she wrestled with it, she grumbled, “I wish I’d taken shop class!”

Back when she was in school, the girls took home economics and the boys took shop. Home economics taught Mom very little, because as the oldest of four (soon to become five) kids, she was already helping run the household. But she remained uninformed about mechanical type matters and that ignorance often made her nervous and even angry.

My grandmother didn’t learn these things either, even in her adult life when she was living in a home alone. So she never taught Mom. I don’t know how much my father knew, but as he was raised without his father, I don’t think he ever had an opportunity to learn, because his mother wouldn’t have known about mechanical matters either.

I’m not talking about advanced handyman stuff here. I’m talking about things like how a septic system works, and how often it has to be maintained, which is necessary knowledge for someone who lives in a home with a septic system. As a result, I wound up dealing with a major septic issue at her house at the same time my mother was in the hospital having surgery. This is the equivalent of not realizing that you have to change the oil in your car, except that with a house there’s about five major systems that you have to think about, and the issues can be more subtle in terms of building up over time.

Mom didn’t maintain her house well, and now I realize that was because she didn’t know how. Admittedly, she could have done more to learn, but the same barriers that prevented her from learning as a child or a young adult still made it difficult as she got older, and it’s hard to realize what you don’t know. As a result, over the last few years and especially the last few months, I’ve had to deal with a series of issues at her house that have been unpleasant.

Her life could have been better if she had known these things. My life could have been much, much easier if she had. But she didn’t, because Patriarchy.

I’m glad it’s easier for me to educate myself about these matters, and that I have the opportunity to overcome the prejudices and blind stupidity that hurt my mother and that have made my life more difficult. But I shouldn’t have had to overcome those barriers.

The longer I live, the more I see the wisdom in the saying that the personal is political. The political certainly is personal: the prejudices have affected me and my family in terms of emotions, health, and finances. Taking back some control, overcoming those barriers in my own personal life, is nothing less than a political act to try to make the future a better place – for myself, for my family, and for everyone.

Posted in feminism | 3 Comments

Review – Divorcing a Real Witch

Rajchel, Diana. Divorcing a Real Witch: For Pagans and the people that used to love them. Moon Books, 2014. 190 pages.

Diana Rajchel takes a very clear stand that divorce is a life passage that some people go through which involves pain and grief that, like other life passages, lead to an opportunity for renewal. Within this approach, her work is intended as a resource for those going through divorce or its after effects. She shares personal reflection, tries to position divorce within a Wiccan worldview, and offers healing methods for coping with divorce and the accompanying changes through spiritual techniques.

She begins with a discussion of divorce, why people might choose to divorce, especially women, and how divorce fits into a Wiccan worldview, system of ethics, and spiritual practice. This discussion broadens into how divorce is seen in the wider culture, including ways that those who choose to divorce may encounter friction with friends, family, and other relationships. This is not a work to help those trying to make a last-ditch attempt to save a marriage; Rajchel takes divorce as a fact of life – and a fact of the reader’s life. Her view of divorce as a life passage rejects the characterization of “broken homes” and the disproportionate blaming of women that often attach to divorce; she asserts early on that “Divorce is not the fault of a massive failure of character.” (xiii) This nonjudgmental approach is refreshingly direct and appropriately sets the stage for helping readers heal.

Rajchel’s writing is part personal reflection, part handbook, part survey report, and part ritual resource, which makes for an interesting mix. Her discussions of what divorcees might go through is clearly informed by her personal experience, which makes them much more valuable. She has clearly done an immense amount of personal work to process her own experience and be able to discuss the wisdom gained. The resources she has created are aimed squarely at those very personal experiences.

The middle chapters contain most of the resources, which include a number of different rituals, meditations, and other techniques. Rajchel suggests reflections that will shape however the reader chooses to personalize the work, then offers several different variations of a handparting ritual, including versions with one or both members of a couple present, an officiant or not, and more.

Possibly even more valuable are a whole series of guided meditations aimed at dealing with different specific emotional experiences that are likely to arise during and after the process of grieving an ended relationship. Rajchel speaks wisely about the emotional issues that can occur, framing them as a type of grief, and explicitly acknowledging that emotions will recur, change at their own pace, and should not be forced to fit anyone else’s framework or expectations. She also recommends that readers seek additional help such as counseling when needed. With that in mind, her wide variety of meditations and associated techniques are a rich field of resources for processing these emotions in a spiritual perspective.

To balance the personal nature of the experience she brings to her writing, Rajchel does try to get outside her own perspective. She acknowledges same-sex couples, and the differences and difficulties they may face in these situations, and briefly touches on some of the issues that arise when couples with children divorce. In trying to expand her perspective, Rajchel apparently conducted a survey of other Pagans from a number of traditions, but she fails to describe how the survey was created and administered, nor does she describe the overall purpose or conclusions of the survey. The lack of information about this survey is one of the weak points of the work. She cites a few summaries, but mostly uses qualitative and anecdotal reports from within the survey, including some vignettes interspersed with the main text. There are many more of her own personal vignettes, and sometimes I found it difficult to determine which were which.

The other major problem with this book is that the organization and structure are haphazard. Chapter titles reveal their repetitive nature, and while there is an attempt to progress from discussion to rituals to further discussion to conclusions, the lack of an overarching structure makes it unclear why some choices of topic were made and where the reader should turn for a particular topic. On the other hand, the episodic nature of the writing is amenable to a reader who is going through a particularly painful life passage and who may want to pick up the book, scan one part, put it down, and take it up again at a later point. Regardless, the rituals and meditations, as well as the overall perspective on divorce as a life passage from a Wiccan perspective make it a valuable work.

Rajchel expresses her purpose by saying “We must become our own heroes because no myths deal with failed interdependence.” (7) While I might quibble that some myths address irreparable breakdowns in trust and intimate relationships, her overall point is quite true – divorce as we know it is a fact of life, for Pagans as for others, and it is not something for which we have a standard narrative template, mythical or otherwise. It is up to us to shape our own personal and spiritual responses to it in the ways that are best for us. Rajchel’s book provides valuable and important resources for doing that work.

Posted in Pagan, reviews | Tagged , , ,

Stones for chakras – clear and dark stones

In my first post about using minerals, crystals, and stones in ways that correspond to the chakras, I specifically left out any discussion of clear/white and dark/black stones. In thinking about the expanded chakra system the role of these stones becomes clearer: dark and black stones will draw energy and awareness down into the ancestral chakra and act as grounding stones, while white or clear stones will draw one up into the transpersonal chakra. This makes sense given the general perception that black or dark stones are grounding and clear stones are good for directing energy. [*]

The real question here is whether one chooses to see the crown chakra as white. That means collapsing light blue and dark blue, or blue and indigo, together into the throat chakra and attributing purple to the third eye chakra. (That system – with only one blue – has a lot to recommend it also!) If you see the crown chakra as white, then it could make sense to attribute white but cloudy stones to the crown and truly transparent stones to the transpersonal chakra. As with all correspondences, your practice will vary depending on multitudinous factors.

Regardless of the exact attributions, I have found that selenite, clear quartz, white or clear calcite or fluorite, and similar stones are definitely good for expanding one’s energy and awareness up towards the transcendent. Selenite in particular is a gentle mineral for this type of work and is very good for directing Reiki energy.

On the dark/black end of things, it makes sense that black tourmaline, jet, obsidian, and similar stones are good for grounding. These dark or black stones are also useful for drawing out or off any excesses or negativity that have been picked up, just as it is useful in grounding to let go of such things and let the earth take them in and “recycle” them. Another way to think of this is that these stones’ connection to the ancestral chakra serves as a way to take that energy back into the void or the collective unconscious. (Honestly, I’m still exploring the exact terminology I want to use around these concepts, so I’m interested in how others see this also!) Of course, a stone from one’s own landbase is also an excellent stone for grounding!

With these things in mind, it’s worth noting that tourmalinated quartz combines these qualities, so it is most useful for seeking balance, especially balance between the immanent and transcendent. Smoky quartz can do something similar, although it has plenty of other specific uses of its own, and snowflake obsidian can also work for balance although with an emphasis on grounding.

* Actually, the idea that “energy” must be white or light is an interesting bias in our metaphysical ideas. It shows that we tend to think of this energy as coming from the above, the transcendent, as those are connected with what is traditionally good in the dichotomy of good vs evil. This bias seems inappropriate to me because I worship the divine in everything, both the transcendent and the immanent, and because I think there’s a lot of power in the shadow, the dark, the silence, which we need to work with. But Shadow work is a whole pursuit of its own, so for here I will only note that I think clear/white and black/dark stones are equally capable of working with energy, they just do so differently.


Posted in materia magica, stones minerals crystals | Tagged

How reversals create more Tarot arrangements

In my first piece on the number of Tarot arrangements I only looked at how many different arrangements are possible considering cards in positions of a given spread, and I didn’t take into account reversals. Now, not everyone reads with reversals, (I typically don’t) but a lot of people do, and there’s an interesting bit of math related to powers of two when we throw in reversals.

For a three card spread, the first card could be reversed, which would double the number of possible spreads, right? Imagine that you were “counting” the number of possible arrangements by writing them all down on a giant (REALLY giant!) piece of paper. You’d have to write down all the possible arrangements, then write them all down again with the first card reversed. Then when you counted how many you had, it would be the number of things you originally wrote down times two.

If we call the original number of arrangements N, then when we think about the possibility of the first card being reversed, the new number is N*2.

When you consider the possibility of the second card being reversed, we have to double the number again: N*2*2.

And the third card could also be reversed, which makes N*2*2*2. Do you see the pattern?

Since N (the number without reversals) is 456,456, the number of possible arrangements for a three card spread including reversals is N*2^3 = N*8 = 3.65 million. Just by considering reversals we’ve gone from 456,456 arrangements – fewer than half a million – to over three and a half million.

A couple of alternative approaches:

Notice that every time we allow a single position to be reversed, we double the number of possible arrangements. The number of positions in the spread affects how many more possibilities are allowed when each individual card can be upright or reversed. One way to approach the original question that’s tempting but incorrect is to say that we should be able to just double the number of arrangements without reversals. But that would only work if all the cards had to be upright or reversed together. Since each individual card can be upright or reversed, the bigger the spread, the more possibilities reversals create.

It’s also tempting but incorrect to imagine that we are drawing from a deck that has twice as many cards. It seems like it should work: if we allow for reversals, we have twice as many possible entries in each position of the spread, right? But this doesn’t work because it is imagining that we are drawing from a deck where the Fool upright and the Fool reversed are two completely separate cards. If we did that, we could draw the Fool upright in one position and the Fool reversed in a different position – and that’s obviously not possible with regular Tarot cards. This highlights the fact that we’re drawing cards without replacement, which will be important for future calculations.

The Celtic Cross, and what exponents are good for:

Once we figure out how many for every position in the reading we have to multiply that times two for every position in the spread. We have to consider each position separately, so for a three card spread, it’s the original number N times 2 three times because there are three positions, each of which can be either upright or reversed.

Exponents are a shorthand for “multiply repeatedly.” So instead of writing 2*2*2 we can just write N*2^3, and it means the same thing.

When we start looking at the Celtic Cross, with ten positions, there are ten individual opportunities for each position to be reversed. So we have to take the original number of arrangements and multiply by 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2. That kind of notation makes me cross-eyed! This is when it is easier to write 2^10, which means “multiply by 2 ten times.” Or we can do the multiplication out and discover that 2^10 = 1024. That means that including reversals in a ten card spread gives you a thousand _times_ as many possible arrangements. Not just a thousand more – not added – but a thousand times!

Since the original number of arrangements (without reversals) for the Celtic Cross spread was 4.56 x 10 ^ 18, when we include reversals there are 4.56 x 10 ^ 18 * 1024, which is about 4.67 x 10 ^ 21, or 4.6 sextillion, with a “sex.”

According to at least one back-of-the-envelope estimate, that would be about as many grains of sand as there are on all of Earth’s beaches; it’s also in the range of estimates of number of stars in the known universe.

That’s a lot of Tarot!

What does this have to do with the probability of getting several Major Arcana cards in a given spread? Stay tuned for part 3…

PS: If you have ever wondered why numbers that have to do with computers tend to come in these unusual sizes – 1024 instead of 1000, 256 instead of 250, and so on, the reason is that computers work in binary, which means that the number of numbers they can deal with is expressed in powers of two, just like the powers of two that we’re working with here.

PPS: This estimate used a slightly different size of grains of sand than my original calculations did. It’s within an order of magnitude, though, and really depends on your definition of sand.

Posted in Tarot | Tagged ,

Stones for chakras

Much of the way I use stones, minerals, and crystals is based on how their colors correspond to the chakras. In my introduction to the chakras, I described how each one represents an area of life. I use stones corresponding to the chakras to support or stimulate certain qualities within those areas. For example, if I need more self-confidence, I want to use stones that correspond to the solar plexus chakra, so I’ll choose yellow stones.

When working with stones, your mileage may vary significantly, of course, but if you’re trying to get to know a stone, mineral, or crystal that you haven’t worked with before, making an assessment based on its color is a good place to start theorizing what its qualities might be. Experience changes these first guesses, of course. And like all systems of correspondences, the classification by color is only one factor that describes the nature of a stone.

Some stones have specific associations that either contradict or have nothing to do with their color – rose quartz, for example, is a very heart-related stone, even though it’s pink, not green. There are also multi-colored stones and stones that don’t really fall under one of the basic spectrum colors, such as pink and brown stones. I may address some of these specific stones in future posts.

Within a specific color family, different appearances lend themselves to different uses. I have found that stones which are more opaque tend to be more calming and regulating, supporting the functions of a chakra without necessarily overstimulating it. For example, I find calcite to be especially gentle and calming, and it is conveniently available in many colors and pretty affordable. I’ve also found that stones which are physically softer (fluorite, calcite, selenite, etc) tend to have gentler energy.

Conversely, the more transparent and harder a stone is, the more it will be useful for opening and energizing, tending to increase the energy of a particular chakra, whether that’s what is best or not.

There are many, many stones that are frequently used in magic, but here is a list of crystals that correlate with each chakra in my experience:

  • Root chakra: garnet, red calcite
  • Generative (second, sacral) chakra: carnelian, some amber, orange calcite
  • Solar plexus chakra: citrine, sulfur, yellow calcite
  • Heart chakra: emerald, malachite, bloodstone, green fluorite
  • Throat chakra: aquamarine, amazonite, turquoise, kyanite, blue calcite
  • Insight (third eye) chakra: lapis, sapphire, dumortierite
  • Crown chakra: amethyst, lepidolite, purple fluorite

Some people associate clear quartz with the crown chakra, but I’ll get into the subject of clear and dark-colored stones in a future post.

Posted in materia magica, stones minerals crystals | Tagged ,