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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Donations in memory of Jean

In keeping with my mother’s wishes that people donate to libraries, I invite anyone who is interested to donate to the New Alexandrian Library in her memory. Please consider this as part of your holiday or end-of-year giving! Donations earmarked in her name will go towards funding a memorial plaque on a sculpture to be created for the library.

Donations can be made through PayPal to the address nal@sacredwheel.org

Or checks can be mailed to:

New Alexandrian Library
P.O. Box 582
Georgetown, DE 19947

Please earmark all donations in memory of Jean Anne “Cameo” Laing.

One of the things that made my mother so amazing was her willingness and desire to keep learning and growing throughout the duration of her lifetime. With these gifts, we will extend that blessing manyfold.

Posted in announcements

Ritual for committing to daily practice using the Eight of Pentacles

The 8 of Pentacles is an image of an apprentice practicing a craft. The message of this card emphasizes that progress and rewards come from repeated, enduring practice. In this ritual you will commit to practicing a single action every day for the next week and a day.

Your commitment to practice does not need to be a big one. In fact, it’s important not to make it too big to start out with. It could be something as simple as “I will take a deep breath.” It could be brushing your teeth. (Since we’re working with the suit of Pentacles, choosing to do something good for your body would be wonderfully appropriate!) It could be deciding to put a dollar in your savings. It could be a commitment to name three things for which you’re grateful. You get the idea.

Make this commitment specific, measurable, and realistic. Specific means that you name exactly what you will do – instead of “I will work out,” say “I will walk a mile.” Measurable means that you will be able to tell for sure whether you’ve achieved it. Instead of “I will be grateful,” say “I will name three things for which I’m grateful.” Realistic means that this needs to be something you can fit into your existing life in the next week. Every day. No exceptions. That’s why I encourage you to pick something small. Tiny. Just one thing!

Oh, and this should be a specific action you will do, not something to refrain from doing. This isn’t giving up X or refusing to do Y. This is a positive action for you to practice.

For materials you will need eight tokens. I suggest pennies, because they neatly reflect the theme of the card, but you could use stones or beads or slips of paper or anything else you like.

You may want to use the Eight of Pentacles from your favorite Tarot deck. If you have an object or tool that you will use in your daily practice (a candle? a mug for your cup of tea?), it would be beneficial to include that as well.

Ritual:

Ground and center yourself.

As you cast the circle, think about the repeating nature of the circle.

Call the Quarters:

Powers of the East, Element of Air, blow through me with a fresh breath as I (re)commit myself to this daily practice. Hail and welcome!

Powers of the South, Element of Fire, burn in me with the dedication to carry this practice through every day. Hail and welcome!

Powers of the West, Element of Water, flow through me with the commitment to this daily practice. Hail and welcome!

Powers of the North, Element of Earth, ground me in the stability of this daily practice. Hail and welcome!

Invoke a goddess if one is appropriate to the practice you have chosen, or simply ground and center and commune with your landbase as you commit to yourself with this work.

Sit in the center of your circle. Arrange your tokens in front of you, but not on your altar. Reflect on why you have chosen this practice, at this time. Meditate on it, and consult your intuition and inner guidance to be sure that this is what you want to pursue for the next eight days.

Formulate your practice into a simple statement. Build a visualization of yourself doing it: what does it look like, feel like, mean to you? Will it be at the same time every day, or will it be something you do when you remember to? How will you make it work on days when it’s hard? Ask all your allies to help you commit to this single, simple daily practice for the next eight days.

When you are ready, bless your tokens to help you. For each one, pick it up and draw an invoking pentagram over it (starting from the top point down to the lower left) as you state your daily practice. Place it in a pile on your altar.

When you have blessed all eight, put your hands over the pile and send any extra energy into them as a whole.

Ground and center yourself again. Thank your landbase and any goddess that you called.

Thank the Quarters:

Powers of the North, Element of Earth, I will do what I have said! Let me gain strength from it. Go now with my thanks and praise. Hail and farewell!

Powers of the West, Element of Water, I will do what I have said! Let me gain equanimity from it. Go now with my thanks and praise. Hail and farewell!

Powers of the South, Element of Fire, I will do what I have said! Let me gain energy from it. Go now with my thanks and praise. Hail and farewell!

Powers of the East, Element of Air, I will do what I have said! Let me gain insight from it. Go now with my thanks and praise. Hail and farewell!

Ground and center yourself again.

After the ritual, put your tokens in a place where you will see them as you do your daily practice, if at all possible. Move one from the pile to a new pile every time you do your practice. At the end of the eight days, take time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t about this practice, and what you’ve learned and gained from the experience.

Posted in rituals, Tarot | Tagged , , ,

Ritual for creating stability using the Four of Pentacles

The 4 of Pentacles is traditionally seen as depicting a miser, someone who clings to possessions and physical objects at the expense of all else. For the purposes of this ritual, I would like to propose an alternate interpretation: someone creating stability.

In Mary K Greer’s wonderful book 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card, she suggests physically taking the position of the person depicted in a card. When I did this with the traditional Four of Pentacles, what I felt was that the person was holding the pentacle in front of herself almost as a shield or protection. The image also looks like a castle, and fours are typically about stability and balance. For myself, this fall has been a time of tremendous upheaval, and the whole Samhain season can feel that way to others as well. In response to that, the intent of this ritual is to help us create a sense of stability even while experiencing change.

I have written this as a largely silent ritual, but you may add words wherever you feel moved to do so.

Materials: Four stones – any stones will work, as long as they feel strong and stable; you can use your most precious crystals, or four stones found in your local landbase. I find that slightly larger stones give me a better sense of grounding, and you may actually prefer darker colored or ordinary stones for their grounding nature.
You may want to use the 4 of Pentacles from your favorite Tarot deck.

Ritual:

Ground and center yourself.

Cast the circle by walking it, imprinting your intention on the earth with your feet as you move.

Sit in the center of your circle.

Take the first stone, face East, and call the Powers of Air with your mind. Blow across the stone, and place it on the ground.

Take the second stone, face South, and call the Powers of Fire with your will. Warm the stone in your hands, and place it on the ground.

Take the third stone, face West, and call the Powers of Water with your heart. Lick your finger and touch it to the stone, then place it on the ground.

Take the fourth stone, face North, and call the Powers of Earth with your whole body. Feel the weight of the stone, and place it on the ground.

Meditate about what makes you feel stable or unstable, safe or unsafe at this time. Think about the ways you seek stability for yourself. What is working well for you and what is not working?

Reach out to the stones surrounding you and feel their stability, their fixed nature. Ground yourself more strongly into your landbase and know that it is always there for you.

Take up the position of the person in the traditional Four of Pentacles card, holding an imaginary disc in front of your body with one arm below it and one arm above it. Now instead of a coin or a shield begin to see this disc as the full moon, shining between your hands, glowing directly in front of you. How does the Goddess guide you to stability, even in the face of change?

When you are done, thank the Goddess and thank your landbase.

Touch each of the four stones in turn and silently thank the Powers of the Elements.

Open your circle by walking in the opposite direction.

Take time to reflect on your meditation over the next few days; you may wish to journal about it.

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Samhain – Learning to Listen

I am continuing to republish a series of articles originally written in 2011. I wrote this piece only a few months before my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and it is especially poignant in light of her recent passing.

May you be blessed with communication with all you love this Samhain.

I see Wicca as a religion of relationship. Samhain is the Sabbat that teaches us about the challenges and ineffable fulfillment of living in relationship.

Samhain has its roots in an ancient Celtic festival marking the beginning of winter. It is also the festival of the dead – not of death, although it does acknowledge that we live our lives in the midst of cycles that include death – but of the dead, especially those close to us who have died.

At this time of transition, as he days and nights transform themselves into the darker, cooler times of winter, folklore tells us that the Veil between our everyday world and the Otherworlds begins to thin. At liminal times like Samhain, as we move from the world of summer to the world of winter, it becomes easier for the Otherworlds, lands of enchantment and imagination, to make themselves felt in our normally real world. The Otherworlds are home to the spirits of our beloved dead as well as potentially many other kinds of beings, depending on the stories and traditions you know follow; they may include the Good Folk, the puca and the bean-sidhe, the kelpie of the well and the hinkypunk of the marsh, and other kinds of creatures as well.

These creatures and their tales inspired many of the traditions of Halloween which play on the possible relationships between humans and spirits. For those of us who have lost loved ones, though, it is the thinning of the Veil between us and our beloved dead that is the most important feature of Samhain. It makes this the time that we pay special attention to our relationships with those who have passed over.

During one conversation someone asked me how I could have a relationship with someone who isn’t alive anymore; how would that work, without the other person responding to me? Relationships with our beloved dead are certainly different from relationships with those who are alive, and more challenging to maintain, but the effort that goes into them teaches me more about what it means to live in relationship with others. Most of all, it helps me learn to listen.

The lack of active communication with my beloved dead does not represent, to me, an insuperable barrier to being in relationship. After all, we maintain what we think of as ongoing relationships with living people with whom we communicate infrequently; just because I haven’t spoken or written to someone in months doesn’t necessarily mean I have stopped relating to her. If my partner and I were separated by circumstances, no matter how infrequent communication was, the intensity of my relationship with him would not be dissolved simply by time and space. The ways we related during that time would be changed but not totally removed. When I think about, remember, hope and wish and pray for those I love, I am in some way relating to them. The challenge is to stay open to who those people actually are, not just who I might wish them to be. This is the importance of listening.

When I interact directly with people who I haven’t seen in some time, I am often struck by how their presence is more vivid than my memories or imagination of them. I may remember the prejudices, the follies, the foibles, as well as the charm, the wit, and the mannerisms, but distance often dulls those recollections, like a reproduction of a vibrant oil painting sketched in misty watercolors. When the impact and essence of the original impose themselves on me, it can be a shock to realize how much I downplayed or disregarded an aspect. This happens for both good traits and bad; seeing a relative in person reminds me that she is both kinder than I think about sometimes and more nauseatingly guilt-inducing than I would like to recall.

This, then, is the challenge of trying to be in relationship with someone without active input from the other side. We run the risk of wearing down the memory to just the parts that are comfortable for us, evening out all the sharp edges and unexpected valleys of the other’s personality into a featureless, indistinguishable lump. But it is worth noting that we can also do this wearing-down process perfectly well with people who we relate to on a regular basis: a relationship between people who see each other every day can eventually break down when one person says “You’re not who I thought you were.” Even for those who are alive, it’s easy for us to choose to relate to our image or caricature of a person rather than the person herself.

This is why learning to listen is at the heart of living in relationship. It’s a challenge to seek out the unexpected, the uncomfortable, the unusual, the unknown. We have to make the effort to acknowledge that someone with whom we’re in relationship is really an other – someone separate, distinct, different from ourselves and our ideas, images, and imaginings. This process of learning to listen, learning to be open and aware beyond ourselves calls us to be more than just ourselves as isolated individuals.

One of the traditional ways to relate to the deceased at this time of year is the dumb feast, where places are set for those who have passed over and the meal is held in silence. It combines a fundamental human kind of connection through shared food and drink with an explicit example of listening, of recognizing that for such a connection to be shared, we have to make space and time – and silence – for others. This form of contemplation is especially appropriate as we begin to move into winter, a time when the world as a whole becomes more quiet, more still. Trading speech, perhaps the most-used form of communication between people, for silence encourages us to engage in other forms of communication, forms which may be more amenable to other kinds of awareness and relationship.

Striving to be in relationship with people who are not immediately present is also a way to learn to be in relationship with others whose voices are hard to hear. In Wicca, I am in relationship with the land and water, with plants and animals, all of whom communicate with me in non-verbal ways. Like with an absent person, it is easy for me to hear only what I want to, to disregard the reality of these parts of my world in favor of the more comfortable constructs inside my own mind. But if I take time to listen, especially in non-verbal ways, they do speak to me, confronting me with the reality of their situation, more vivid and amazing than any imagination of my own.

Opening to this awareness also teaches me about how to be in relationship with those whose voices are too often silenced: people who are not like me, people who are underprivileged, people who are far away. When I challenge myself to remember the complexity of the people I love who have passed over, it makes me better prepared to acknowledge the complexities that someone else’s life may hold. It teaches me to seek out their voices, to be open to hearing from them in ways I might not otherwise expect, and even to be open to hearing things that make me uncomfortable, because I realize that is an essential part of an ongoing relationship.

Learning to listen pushes us to cultivate empathy and to cultivate a kind of joint awareness of ourselves and others that may even begin to blur the boundaries of what is self and what is other. This is where listening is not just the absence of talking. This is how listening becomes an act of awareness, of being present with and in the relationships that surround us.

To work with reality, as a good Witch must strive to do, I must first be aware of that reality. And that reality is a reality of relationships, the reality that our stories are all told together. We may try to shout more loudly, to assert complete control over our own narrative, or we may try to stop our ears entirely so that no one else’s story can interfere with our own. But either way, we deny ourselves the ability to live fully, because our lives are stories of relationship, stories told in dialogue.

An essential part of dialogue is listening. This listening is not an absence, but a fullness, a presence that participates in being together, in relating to the others in the dialogue. Like the not-so-empty space between things that is full of potential and interaction, and the silence between words that makes meaning possible, listening between beings is is what makes relationships possible. And that is the basis of life, for beings, like words, interenanimate each other. This is why I try to listen – to my beloved dead and to all the beings I live with in relationship.

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