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 ,

Imbolc – Poesis

I was called away from home suddenly a few days before Imbolc, and things have only settled down now. I am continuing to republish a series of essays originally written in 2012. I currently plan on moving in the middle of March, so things will probably continue to be intermittently disrupted for me until at least Ostara.

So far in this series, I haven’t written much about magic, or about specific deities, but for Imbolc, I’d like to delve into both areas, and in particular the way that my matron goddess, Brigid, helps me understand magic.

There are lots of Celtic influences in Wicca, and one of the most obvious is the Sabbat of Imbolc, which is traditionally the feast of the goddess Brigid. [1] No other Sabbat is so closely tied to a particular deity; even the rebirth of the Sun at Yule can be interpreted within a multitude of cultural contexts, historical and modern. And while Imbolc can be celebrated as the recovery from that rebirth and presage of spring, many people come together to honor Brigid at this time of year. She is an enormously popular matron and a figure that nearly anyone can turn to, which is perhaps why she was adopted as a Catholic saint and her worship continues in multiple forms down to the present day. I think her continuing popularity and accessibility are due in part to the way she embodies some of the fundamental ideas of magic as a way of interacting with the world.

Traditionally, Brigid has three specialties: she is the matron of healing, especially midwifery; of smith craft; and of poetry. Her history as a healer would be enough to explain her popularity, since nearly everyone needs healing at some point. But the other two areas seem like a strange combination: blacksmithing is not usually associated with either healing or poetry, and it is even more unexpected for a goddess to take an interest in what is traditionally a male-dominated craft. But the piece that seems not to fit is in fact the key to understanding the relationship between all three areas, as well as her continuing presence in Wicca. Smith craft is just that, a craft, and healing and poetry can be approached as crafts as well. It is this idea of crafting in many different forms that makes Brigid such a good representative of witchcraft as well.

Another way to understand this is to start with the idea of poetry. This English word comes from a Greek root, poiesis, which has to do with the whole concept of crafting and creating, almost in the sense of shaping. [2] To me, the way a skilled poet can go to the heart of a matter with just a single word exemplifies poesis. By the very faculty of naming and describing, poesis can influence the nature of a thing. This is not creation ex nihilo; it’s about emergence and shaping the way something develops in the world.

All three of Brigid’s areas are forms of poesis: healing is a process of transforming a situation, and a midwife in particular has the unique opportunity to help both mother and baby. Blacksmithing is also literally a process of shaping and forging something; it turns lumps of rock into useful tools. As these examples show, poesis is not just about words, but to me, the use of language in shaping reality is one of the most amazing examples. When a skilled writer crafts sounds and squiggles to produce meaning . . . well, that’s why we call it poetry. To me, all of these are magical processes, making Brigid fundamentally a goddess of magic itself.

Now, when I say that smithing is a magical process, I don’t mean that it is purely magic in the “Harry Potter” sense: the smith doesn’t wave a wand and instantaneously transfigure iron ore into horseshoes. The very idea of sorcerous shortcuts eliminating the hard work and necessary effort of the craft is antithetical to my understanding of magic. It doesn’t break the laws of nature, it works within them, just like everything else in the world. [3] This is why I don’t tend to ask whether something is “magic” or not. Instead I ask how magical it is. Think of something as simple as a seed sprouting: I can understand the biology, the chemistry, and the physics of it, but the simple fact that an apparently inert object can, under the right circumstances, transform itself into a living being thriving on simply dirt, water, and light is magical. It fills me with awe and joy. It is the numinous in the mundane which is characteristic of what I call magic.

Looked at this way, healing is also terrifically magical, whether it comes about because of meditation and mind-body work, or because of pharmaceuticals and surgery, or (better yet) some of each. Terry Pratchett observed that stopping someone from choking “doesn’t even sound magical until you understand that a way of turning nearly dead people into fully alive people is worth a dozen spells that just go twing!” [4] If you’ve ever seen someone suffering from low blood sugar have a dose of glucose administered, you’d think it was downright miraculous: in a matter of minutes, a person can go from passed out cold to walking and talking as if nothing ever happened. Understanding how that works so that healers can use it to help people, to make a difference in the world, makes it even more magical to me.

When I practice magic, it is closest to a form of poetry. I may use many different tools – stones, herbs, candles, cords – but what I’m doing, deep down, is describing things, crafting an understanding of the world that transforms from one thing to another, the way that the twist of a good poem suddenly transforms your understanding from one thing to another: snowflakes aren’t just snowflakes, they’re bits of lace. That juxtaposition of different understandings that changes the whole situation is the closest I can come to expressing what practicing magic is like.

These acts then become part of the narrative that I am making of my life, and taking that narrative into my own hands is most magical of all. It empowers me and it challenges me: if I really have these choices, what do I do with them? It helps me be more the storyteller and poet of my own life. I don’t have complete control, of course; this isn’t a work of fiction. But here in reality, it makes a difference, even about the things it can’t change. Magic and poesis do not “magically” fix all of the hard situations in my life. They help me face hard things gracefully, with understanding.

[1] There are myriad ways to spell the name of this goddess, including Brighid, Breed, Brigit, and more.

[2] See poesis. It actually comes by way of Latin, because while the Romans excelled in rhetoric and oratory, they admired Greek civilization for its much older and broader tradition of literature in all forms, and many of the great Roman writers considered themselves students of this Greek heritage. Another form of this root survives in medical terms like hematopoiesis, the process by which blood is created.

[3] This is why I both agree and disagree with Clarke’s Third Law: yes, technology can be magical, but to me, obfuscation is not a necessary part of magic. Understanding how something works increases my appreciation for the wonder of it and is part of why I find things magical.

[4] Pratchett, Terry. A Hat Full of Sky. HarperCollins e-books, 2004. Kindle location 4198 of 4579.

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Brigid and the Apple Trees

I walked in Tir na nOg with Brigid, and I asked her, “Lady, show me the wonders of the apple trees of the Land of Youth.”

She plucked a blossom from an apple tree, and hammered it on her anvil, and the blossom became gold. She said, “Look, I have done the work of a smith – but I have also done the work of a bee, and made gold from flowers. Here there is beauty and strength.”

She plucked a ripe apple, and made a tincture, and gave it to a woman who was sick, and the woman became well. Brigid plucked another apple, one almost ready to fall from the branch, and made a different tincture, and gave it to a woman who was old and in pain, and the woman slept, and died, and, lo, she was young again, reborn into Tir na nOg. Brigid said, “Look, I have done the work of a healer in all its forms – for life and life everlasting.”

She bent and turned aside the grass to show an apple that had fallen and split open, and she pointed at the green shoots growing from the seeds, and she was silent.

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Ritual for understanding inheritance using the Ten of Pentacles

The traditional Ten of Pentacles card shows a family scene with multiple generations. It represents fulfillment and completeness in the realm of Earth, meaning especially inheritance. In this ritual we will work with the idea of inheritance in a sense that includes a lot more than just money and physical possessions. For this ritual we take time to see ourselves as occupying a present moment between past and future, where we understand how the past has shaped the present and also how we have the opportunity to affect the world that we will pass on to those who come after us.

Materials: For this ritual you will need ten pennies and the Ten of Pentacles card from your favorite Tarot deck or an image printed out from online. Ten small stones would also work, but pennies are a better representation of the pentacles in the card.

Ritual:

Ground and center yourself.

Cast the circle:

I cast the circle in this time and place to acknowledge the wisdom of the past.
I cast the circle in this time and place to do my work in the present.
I cast the circle in this time and place to prepare the way for the future.

Call the Quarters:

Powers of the East, Element of Air, let me hear the wisdom of the past, speak my own words, and listen for what is yet to come.
Powers of the South, Element of Fire, help me to consume what has been, to transform it in the moment, and to use it to light my way forward.
Powers of the West, Element of Water, wash through me with the love of those who have been, help me flow with my own emotions, and continue the current into the future.
Powers of the North, Element of Earth, you hold the bones of our ancestors, you give form to our bodies, and out of you will grow the potential of what is yet to come.

Invite the Goddess:

Goddess, ever-present one, you have ever been and ever yet will be. In this moment, help me connect with what has been and what will be. Steady me as I understand my place in the ever-moving flow of time.

Sit in the center of your circle and arrange your materials: put the Tarot card in front of you and pile up five pennies on the left and five pennies on the right. The center space represents the present moment, the left the past, and the right the future.

Reflect on what you have received from the past. What can you consider part of your inheritance? This is not just things you have received, or what you have gotten from your blood ancestors. Think about people who have been mentors, elders, resources, or guides for you: what did they gift to you? Think about what you’ve received even from people you never met; many of us honor our forebears in the Goddess movement, for example. What about the experiences you have had with your family of choice?

As you reflect on these things, choose one thing you have inherited, name it out loud, and move a penny from the pile on the left onto the card. Repeat until all five pennies representing your inheritance from the past are on the card.

Hold your hands over the card and pennies and give thanks for what you have inherited and how it has shaped your life.

Now reflect on what you can pass on to others. Will you give them love, physical care, teaching, something you make, or simply your presence? How will you do things that will be remembered, even by one person, or even by people who do not know your name?

Choose one way you will shape the world for others to inherit, name it out loud, and move a penny from the pile on the right onto the card, stacking it on top of one of the ones already there. Repeat until all five pennies representing what you will give to the future are on the card.

Hold your hands over the card and pennies and give thanks for the opportunity to pass on your gifts, and ask for Goddess’ help in doing so if you wish.

Ground and center yourself again.

Thank and release Goddess:

Goddess of the waxing and waning moon, present in all moments and moving through all our times, thank you for your help and love tonight. Let me always use the present moment to continue the chain of transmission of gifts.

Thank and dismiss the Quarters:

Powers of the East, Element of Air, I honor your wisdom; help me pass it on. Go now with my thanks and praise!

Powers of the South, Element of Fire, I honor your transmutation; help me to do the same. Go now with my thanks and praise!

Powers of the West, Element of Water, I honor your current of love; help me to move it forward. Go now with my thanks and praise!

Powers of the North, Element of Earth, I honor your shaping of our very substance; help me to use it well. Go now with my thanks and praise!

Open the circle, and ground and center yourself again.

You may wish to do something special with your pennies, whether that is keeping them for future use, giving them to charity, or giving them to your landbase. You may also wish to journal about your reflections and commitments in this ritual.

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Expanded Chakra System

I wrote previously about the seven chakra system, but there are several variations possible. I currently work with an expanded system of nine chakras which includes additional chakras above and below the original seven.

The seven-chakra system is the most common one, and as I understand it, also the most common one in the Hindu roots, but there are many, many different expansions and contractions and other variations. This is complicated by the fact that in Hindu views chakras as energy centers existed in other parts of the body, like major joints (think hips, shoulders, knees) and the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Some systems of explaining or understanding the chakras include some or all of these.

Many of the variations on the chakra system want to adjust the number of chakras in order to match some other important or sacred number besides seven, especially nine or ten. At least a couple of different ways to attribute or associate the chakras with the Kabbalistic system of sephiroth exist, for example. (Creating coherence between two fundamentally different symbol systems from two fundamentally different cultures is a common problem of syncretic or multi-source spiritual and religious work – but I’ll save that conversation for another time.)

Unlike additional chakras found within various locations in the body, the addition of a “transpersonal” chakra (described as floating above the head) is, as far as I know, wholly Western.

Over time I have found it more productive to work with a nine chakra system which I was introduced to by Ivo Dominguez Jr in his book Spirit Speak. This system includes an ancestral chakra below the feet and a transpersonal chakra above the head. (Please note that the descriptions below are my own, and not Ivo’s, though I give thanks for his teaching.)

The Ancestral Chakra

The ancestral chakra, below the root chakra, is lower than the body by about 8 to 12 inches, and thus is anchored firmly in the physical world which supports us. In my experience, this chakra is a place of connection to the immanent spirit, or spirit made manifest in the physical world. This is the location of connection to the land base, to the spirits of place, and to our sources of stability and grounding.

As the name implies, this chakra also has a connection with the past as that which anchors and grounds us in time as well as place. This is a connection to the ancestors, meaning both our direct ancestors, known and unknown, but also the deep unconscious which extends beyond ourselves.

This chakra is associated with the color black, and it is important to understand that nearly all of the work that goes on here will be highly symbolic and instinctive; this is a space that responds well to rhythm and imagery, but doesn’t really make sense of language.

The Transpersonal Chakra

The transpersonal chakra is similarly located outside the body, floating about 8 to 12 inches above the head. I would almost rather describe this chakra as the transcendent, because in counterpoint to the ancestral chakra’s connection to immanent spirit, this uppermost chakra is connected to spirit as it transcends and exists outside of space, time, and matter.

The name transpersonal reflects the fact that since all beings are connected to spirit in this transcendent sense, working with spirit in this way strengthens the connection between oneself and other beings. But as I mentioned above, the ancestral or immanent chakra is also “transpersonal,” meaning that it connects us to others. The big difference is whether we are working with our connections to others as immanent, inside the physical, material world, or outside, in the transcendent sense. I think both are equally important but different ways of working with our connections to spirit and to each other.

This transcendent connection is the realm of the Higher Self or Deep Self, if you work with the Three Selves image. (More on that at another time!) This is the area of the superego, the wisdom that takes into account the individual but also seeks to take into account many individuals, and more than one time and place, in finding what is good or right or best. This is where we usually think of gods and goddesses residing, as opposed to the land spirits or cthonic and immanent manifestations of spirit.

This chakra is associated with clear or white light and can be a source of tremendously energizing feelings.

Benefits

Personally, I like the way this nine chakra system extends outside my physical body and includes explicit connections with the immanent and the transcendent world around me. It reminds me to check how my grounding and my connection to the upper Powers are functioning when I’m assessing my internal state, and gives me additional tools in working with my metaphysical understanding of well-being and healing.

One particular benefit is that a nine chakra system divides neatly into three groups of three. This particularly makes sense with the idea of a tripartite self – the lowest three chakras represent the Younger Self, the middle three chakras are the Talking Self, and the upper three chakras are the Higher Self or Deep Self, to use Starhawk’s terminology. Even if you don’t use that image of the self, the three groups do seem to fall together and it can be helpful to examine how each group of three interacts and balances itself.

Ultimately, whether you want to characterize these connections above and below as additional specific chakras or not, they are natural extensions of the seven chakra system which can help us pay attention to our grounding and centering, to our connection with the divine, and other parts of our metaphysical makeup. Spending time trying out these ideas and deciding whether to incorporate them into your own practice can be very rewarding.

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Invocation for spouse’s retirement

This is the invocation that I delivered at my dear husband’s retirement ceremony last week.

As we work through the many Halfway Out of the Dark holidays at this time of year, I hope you and yours have wonderful celebrations and are able to respect the traditions of others.

Throughout his career, my husband has endeavored to uphold and defend the values enshrined in the Constitution to which he swore his oath as an officer. One of the most important of those values is the freedom of religion.

At this time it is traditional to have an invocation to hallow the conclusion of a military career, but we are acutely aware that no invocation can adequately include the diversity of spirituality represented here or in the broader fabric of American society which he has so faithfully served.

Instead we invite you to join in a moment of silent reflection and, if you wish, to invoke the blessings of divinity.

Together we acknowledge his service, we are grateful for all that it has encompassed, and we lift up our hopes for the future.

Posted in civil rights, religious freedom

Yule – Sustaining Rebirth

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

Six months ago, I told a story of Litha being destruction averted, because although it is easy to associate warmth with the very energy of life, it is important that we not be overwhelmed by it. [1] Yule, by contrast, is a celebration of life being created anew, and created again, even in the midst of cold and darkness. It is a time when re-creation leads, appropriately, to recreation.

People in temperate climates have a long, long history of celebrating the days when the sun seems to stand still, halting its northward journey and then turning southward again, promising longer days and an end to winter, even if it is a long way off. [2] Midwinter solstice heralds a fresh start, and the promise of the whole world coming back to life – not miraculously restored after just a few days, but gradually reborn through the more mundane magic of germination and gestation.

Of course, this isn’t the only time of year we talk about new life coming into being, but it is one of the most poignant and symbolic times. I’ve seen so many rituals, both at Yule and other holidays, that speak to people’s desire for rebirth in their everyday lives. It’s easy to want a fresh start, a sudden and dramatic change – just like magic! – which will remove our obstacles and change our bad habits in one fell swoop. It’s easy to create a ritual that panders to the most unexamined form of this yearning for a quick fix, to assure people that if they simply want it hard enough, or light enough candles, it will happen. Worst of all, it’s too easy to let this devolve into the idea that the universe is a vast wish-granting machine, and that if you don’t get what you want, either someone is out to get you or it’s all your fault. A similar idea is at work in the secular custom of New Year’s resolutions, and they are famously ineffective.

The natural world doesn’t work that way. The sun doesn’t suddenly spring back to its position at the height of summer – and it’s a good thing, too, because that kind of transformation without transition would be incredibly traumatic. This is true for humans, too. Sudden changes and fresh starts do occur, but they’re not always something to be yearned for, and they’re seldom as easy as we would like to imagine. More often, rebirth is not an instantaneous process. Usually it arises not just from our wishing but from our working. New life and ways of life usually require that we make choices day after day, again and again, choosing anew and working in support of that choice.

We experience this in our relationships, too; they have to be nurtured on a regular basis. A marriage vow, for example, isn’t something that magically forges a lasting, loving relationship between two people. It’s choosing to live out that vow, again and again, choosing to love, to forgive, to be patient, that keeps the relationship alive, helps it be reborn day by day. It’s not that every single choice, or word, or action has to be perfect, but that enough of them are good enough to tip the balance. It’s not the making of the vow but the keeping of it that provides the warmth of love in the heart of the family, just as it’s not the single moment of Yule but the gradual lengthening of days that warms the world for springtime.

This kind of gradual progress can be frustrating. The day after Yule isn’t noticeably longer, and it’s going to go on being cold for quite a while. In the face of that, it’s important to celebrate the magical moments, like the days when the very sun stands still and then changes course. But often, our culture puts too much weight on the single moments, with unrealistic expectations leading to inevitable disappointments: the big dinner must be a time of jollity and familial love, the long-awaited present must be perfectly surprising and satisfying all at once, and so on.

Instead of trying to force Yule, or New Year’s, or any other single moment, to give me instantaneous transformation, I try to follow the Sun’s pattern. On this shortest day, I take time to pause, to stand still and just be present. Then, when I want to renew or re-create my life in some way, I do it gradually, gently, a little at a time. That kind of sustained rebirth, a daily, incremental newness of life, has a name: growth. Growth, and the precious knowledge that it continues, even in the cold and dark of winter, is what I celebrate in this season.


[1] At this time, the Northern Hemisphere is approaching the winter solstice, while the Southern Hemisphere is approaching Litha, or summer solstice.
[2] Solstice comes from the roots “sol,” meaning sun, and “sistere,” meaning to come to a stop. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=solstice

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