American medical SNAFU

NB: I am writing this primarily for people who are not familiar with the American medical and insurance systems, whether because they are generally well (lucky you!) or from elsewhere. I am not looking for advice about how to handle this better, either with my insurance or with complementary and alternative medicine.

I have great insurance. Let’s start there.

My insurance comes through my husband, and we have it for life. Our premiums are quite low, and there is a no-premium version of the plan. We have good pharmaceutical coverage and the insurance company is diligent about trying to offer me additional help to save them money make things easier.

I have depression. It’s probably genetic. Life stress can make it worse. I spent the six weeks between Litha and Lunasa in and out of the ER, hospital, and more doctor’s offices than I can count because of an unrelated non-psychiatric disease. That’s stressful. My depression got somewhat worse. I got some short-term psych help when needed, and waited to have my regularly scheduled meds appointment (since I know the practice is very busy and doesn’t really have urgent appointments available).

At that appointment I was informed that the practice was very sorry, but they are no longer accepting my insurance. I can continue to see the same caregiver and pay $100 out of pocket for each 15-20 minute appointment whether anything is wrong or not. The caregiver was very sorry to hear about my recent stresses, was impressed with the way I was coping, and sent me on my way, signing off on a change that one of the short-term people made to my meds.

I have to get a new psychiatrist. Here’s what that process looks like for me:

  • Step zero: hope that nothing goes seriously wrong during the following.
  • Step one: Canvass my friends, relations, mycelia, and other providers to see if they know of a doctor they like. See if that doctor is on my insurance. Alternatively, take the list of doctors provided by my insurance and throw darts to pick a name at random. Hope that one of these doctors is less than an hour away by car.
  • Step two: Schedule an appointment with my primary care manager (PCM).
  • Step three: Wait 2-3 weeks for non-urgent appointment.
  • Step four: Drive an hour one way to PCM appointment. Ask the PCM to refer me to psych services through the doc of my (possibly random) choice.
  • Step five: Wait until insurance approves the referral, approximately two weeks for non-urgent referral, plus time for the letter to arrive in the mail, unless I want to call the referrals line every day to ask if it’s been processed yet (extra week of waiting vs spending a 15-20 minutes on a phone call every day for a week).
  • Step six: Schedule an appointment with the psych doc. Wait until her or his practice has an open “new patient” appointment, which could be up to six weeks, if they’re still accepting new patients at all. (If not, do not pass go, return to step 1.)
  • Step seven: Hope that I like the doc when I meet with her or him, that she comprehends my current situation, that she agrees with my current treatment plan, and that she will continue to give me the same meds. If not, do not pass go, return to step 1, or take an alternate side trip on the Medication Merry Go Round of Doom.

This is really good insurance. Seriously.

Just to add to the situation, I have figured out that the change to my meds that the short-term treatment people put in place is actually making me worse, so we have failed step zero. I now have to cope with that fact with minimal relevant specialist support. I am capable of doing that, but not everyone is.

Keep in mind that this is happening to me while my psych issues actively need close monitoring and treatment. I’m responsible for completing all the steps above correctly. Nobody else can do these things for me. If I screw up, either I don’t get a doctor, or it costs me a lot of money, at a time when my work schedule is significantly reduced by….you guessed it, the disease that I need treatment for. Adding financial concerns to my load is not going to improve my depression, to put it mildly.

This is only one specialist service. I have to do this for each and every specialist service that I see. Even when one specialist refers me to another specialist, I have to go to my PCM to start this process. If I’m very, very lucky they will decide that some of those things are urgent, which will cut the wait times from 2-3 weeks to 2-3 days at each step. Except that the specialist might not have any free appointments regardless.

This is the American insurance-driven medical system: SNAFU.

NB 2: Before you comment, please note!

None of this has to do with Obamacare. This insurance is exactly the same as it was before the Affordable Care Act went into place, and for what it’s worth I am a big supporter of nearly every facet of the ACA. I also do not want to hear your theories about how Big Pharma is run by reptilian aliens from Vega and that’s why the medical system sucks, and I should just meditate anyway. Comments that I deem irrelevant or annoying will be deleted without apology both here and on Facebook.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

To keep the peace in Cleveland

There has been so much violence lately. I have so many thoughts about the proximate and ultimate causes of those incidents, and I am glad that our society is having some of the heartbreaking and necessary discussions around those issues. I cannot contribute more to those discussions today. What I want to do right now is first aid, attempting to staunch the bleeding, in particular in the overheated environment of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

I believe that one thing that would make everything worse is an outbreak of violence at the Republican convention. Whoever starts it, however it ends, I believe that it would further divide our country and entrench fringe positions in power. If you disagree, then you can do whatever work you think best. If you agree, then here’s what I’m doing to try to keep the peace in Cleveland for this crucial stretch of time.

I am a Witch, and right now I am a Witch in touch with the land of Ohio. This is my job. Anyone who wants to help can help; you don’t need to do it exactly the way I do it, and you don’t need to use the same tools I use. Pray, dance naked in the forest, drum for the rivers, do whatever works for you. But if you want to help with this, I’d be grateful, and if you’re not sure how best to help, maybe my work will give you some ideas.

I used a map of Ohio. Just a plain old highway map. (Yes, I rode dinosaurs back before we invented GPS and we used these paper things called maps to point our brontosauruses in the right direction according to the sun. It’s old tech but it still works.) If you don’t have one, print one out. Or draw it. Just the state of Ohio with the city of Cleveland marked on it. Or the watershed. Whatever works for you.

In my sacred space, I oriented the map so that north on the map was facing north in the physical world. (I think this is one of the few crucial parts of using maps. If you’re holding the map upside down compared to the real world, any kind of magic I’m familiar with would be very, very confused.) I sank my awareness down into the soil of Ohio, this glacier-scraped plain shot through with slow and winding rivers, and laid my hands on the map and asked it to become one with the places it represents. (Think of this as just like when you ask the water in the bowl for the west point in the circle to become one with all the Water of the world and what it means metaphysically.)

Then I made offerings. You should make offerings that work for you; mine are shaped at this moment in time by the relationships I’m working with. I poured out honey for the Good Folk, the more tricksy of the spirits of the land, and whiskey for my deities, who mostly come from the Celtic pantheon, who came over with their people when enough of them settled here to make Dublin, Ohio, a reality. I offered tobacco for the spirits of the First Nations, who I do not forget, even though I do not know them very well. I offered tobacco for the wrongs done under slavery, and as a reminder of Ohio’s role in trying to change that sinful system. I offered olive oil for Columbia Athena, who I believe to be the matron spirit of our government and of our nation as it exists now.

I laid out physical objects to express my intentions. My intention for this working is simple: let violence go to ground. Let every human being in and around Cleveland be influenced, in whatever way is possible, to be physically peaceful. This is an earth spell, so I used stones to express it. I put a lead bullet on top of Cleveland on the map, and on top of it and around it I piled black tourmaline, for grounding, and jet, to absorb evil, and a metallic meteorite, to bring things down from heaven to earth.

Obviously the bullet represents gun violence, but lead is also the metal of Saturn, the planet of restrictions and limitations. I am trying to hold down violence of all kinds, but especially gun violence. The guns are already present in Cleveland, in the hands of police and non-police, in the hands of people of all races and genders and political identities. What I am trying to do is keep them from being used.

This is a binding of sorts, but I am thinking of it mostly in terms of gravity: making the weapons of violence too heavy to lift, too heavy to wield, too heavy to fight.

You could do the same thing with stones from your landbase. Or black stones, or whatever stones represent earth and grounding and heaviness for you. The tools are just tools – you are the one doing the work.

With all this in place, I began to shape my intention, to give it voice and form and power. It became something like this:

May all the weapons be too heavy to lift.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May every hand that is raised be lowered again in peace.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May batons and sticks remain heavy on the ground.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May knives be blunted and fall from the wielder’s hand.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May guns hang heavy in their holsters and remain there.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May bullets find only earth and not flesh.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May grenades fall to the ground as duds.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May only words be exchanged.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May only voices be raised.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May only emotions flow in rivers on the land.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May only hearts be lifted.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May people recognize each other’s humanity.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May people value the land they live in.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

May everyone survive.
Earth, mother of all, keep the peace.

While saying this, I put my hands over the stones on the map, and sent my energy into them. When I was done, I gave thanks, and ended my work.

Please note that this is NOT a time to light candles. The situation in Cleveland – and across the country, truth be told – is already volatile enough. It does not need any more undirected, ravening energy of change. If you want to join in this through visualization, great. Through praying to your land, crying to your rivers, speaking to your air, great. But don’t, for the love of all that’s holy, think you can extinguish gunpowder with a candle.

May it be so, for you, for all of us.

Posted in civil rights, magic, politics | Tagged , ,

Michigan Pagan Festival!

I’m headed out today to the Michigan Pagan Festival, where I’ll be presenting three different workshops. I’ve had some health problems lately, but they seem to be managed right now, so I’m hopeful for a great weekend.

Remember, if you can’t make it to see one of my talks live, I also give several of them as correspondence courses online.

Posted in announcements | 1 Comment

Empress and Fertility

Today I am thinking about the future a lot; that may be a result of my personal circumstances, or the time of year, or a number of things, but I’m going to run with it. You might ask: aren’t all the cards about the future? Well, yes, we can use the cards as a way to reflect on the present in order to shed light on the future, but that doesn’t mean that each and every card is “about the future” in the way I’m reading the Empress today. This is a new reading for me, but something about it is speaking to me very strongly, so I’m going to run with it, and I would be glad to hear your thoughts about it.

The Empress image is supposed to evoke fertility in all its senses, and today I am reading fertility as being an anticipation of the future. Fertility implies a series of changes that will perpetuate themselves into the future, and thus it implies hope for a future that will be different from the present.

The classical image of fertility that the RWS card relies on is a pregnant woman. This is a very loaded image, so I love the way that the Gaian Tarot expands on its possible meanings by renaming this card The Gardener and situating that pregnant woman within a natural environment that is overflowing with all kinds of bounty. (Yes, there is some imagery in the traditional RWS card that can be read to imply the bounty of the natural world as well, but not as much, and I appreciate the gender-neutral name change. More on this in the next card as well.)

I love expanding the scope of this card beyond purely human reproduction to include all kinds of fertility and even creativity. The important symbolism is that something new is being created, and to me it’s just as important to create new ideas and new things as well as new physical life. Each type of newness is an essential part of perpetuating life moving forward.

When we think about that newness and life moving forward, the importance of the number three for this card is that a third thing is produced out of the joining of two different things. What I want to emphasize is that the two things joining don’t have to be polar opposites, and they don’t have to be any kind of exact match – they just have to be different enough that when they come together they are creative, and similar enough that they can find ways to come together to allow that creativity to occur. That third thing emerges because creativity – or fertility if you prefer – happens when something different comes into contact and allows newness to develop.

For us as conscious beings, being willing to be in a relationship where creativity can occur is a statement about the future; it is being willing to be changed, to grow and develop over time. Any participation in a creative or fertile endeavor is an act essentially about the future.

If we think in horticultural terms, planting a garden is an act of hope. It requires a particular kind of seeing through time that takes hope and openness and experience to cultivate. Last year I couldn’t imagine that my tiny tomato plants would get as big as they did, so I planted them too close together; I couldn’t yet see through time to envision their future selves. This year, when I look at tomato plants, I will see them with a kind of multiple vision – as they are now and as they may grow to be, both together, and will plant them with that kind of vision in mind.

This makes me think that any time we are working with living beings there is the possibility of a kind of time travel of the mind. I know my mother always saw into my – our – past, but I think now that towards the end of her life she practiced a kind of seeing into the future through me.

In future, I think I will read the Empress/the Gardener as being about fertility and creativity, but on a deeper level, I believe this card relates to some deep ties between creativity and hope for the future, between the willingness to be in a relationship where change is a possibility and a certain amount of confidence in the future, even anticipation, related to our ability to shape that future and to be changed as it progresses.

Posted in Tarot | Tagged ,

Imbolc – Sacred Inspiration

To continue my series on the sacred within Wicca, I would like to concentrate on learning to cultivate a connection with the divine, or sacred inspiration. Imbolc is a time of celebrating Brigid, and one of her specialties is inspiration, especially the inspiration that gives voice to poetry. I am not a good enough poet to begin to express the beauty of her inspiration, but I would like to try my meager hand at encouraging you to try experiencing divine inspiration yourself.

Many cultures have seen inspiration as something that comes from the divine; in some Hellenistic cultures it would be the Muses who brought artistic or scholarly inspiration, and that role has come down to us today in our language, although usually diminished in sense. Being a muse today is often seen as a passive role, while the original sense, and the kind of inspiration I want to discuss here, is very much a function of active engagement on divinity’s part.

There are different ways to experience different degrees of inspiration. Here I am not talking about full-blown possession, but rather something more gentle (which can shade into possession if you learn that style of work), more about a sensed connection with the divine which leads to new information, ideas, or emotions arising within you.

In Judy Harrow’s essential book Spiritual Mentoring, she names the divine collectively as the Entheoi, meaning the deities who are within us. This is a lovely revisioning that emphasizes the immanent nature of deity rather than the transcendent, and it normalizes the connection with the divine, emphasizing that the divine is present within each of us, something we only have to become aware of rather than create from scratch.

Even with those features in mind, though, it can still be difficult to access this kind of awareness; just because the divine is within us doesn’t mean it’s automatically easy to talk with them, because they are still vastly different from us. Think – and feel if you can – how different our awareness is than that of a wild animal, or a plant, especially a long-lived one like a tree. If we are so different from these living beings with whom we share our form of being, then how much more different must be the metaphysical beings we know as the deities? They are as far away from us as we are from the sun and the Moon, yet as close as our own heartbeat, our own breath.

That difference in being but closeness in spirit is why I refer to the relationship that leads to sacred inspiration as a connection that needs to be cultivated, because it is through practice and repeated attention – which, after all, is what we really mean by devotion – that this connection or mode of awareness becomes stronger and more reliable.

Cultivating a connection which will support inspiration requires a particular kind of devotion, though, because this is not the aggressive devotion of an athlete constantly pushing herself harder; nor is it an empty passivity that negates the self; this is a devotion very much like wooing a beloved, with regular attention and an open curiosity that delights in the presence of another.

I learned to cultivate this through trance work first; for me, that was a safer place to have these beyond-normal experiences; the real wonder for me is when we create the conditions to let that awareness flourish while maintaining connection with the outside world so that our different types of awareness can inspire and augment each other.

I believe that one of the highest goals of ritual and the work we do in general is to put people in touch with the sacred more directly, helping each and every person who wishes to do so to open that connection a little bit wider, helping them learn to use it on a regular basis.

The first place to start building this connection is usually with your primary deities – your matron or patron. And having an existing relationship with your matron or patron makes this whole process much easier, because you have someone to guide you, someone you trust, someone you know has your best interests at heart, which makes it much easier to accept the kind of closeness that is necessary for successful inspiration to be communicated.

The more I study, and the more I practice, the more I come to the conclusion that Wicca is a religion of relationship, and the relationship with the divine is one of the most beautiful parts. So once again, begin with relationship, begin with devotion. Begin with the simple act of being present. Be present for yourself, and then expand your awareness to begin to be present for those others who are so near and yet so different, whose wisdom we crave and whose closeness we cultivate.

May your presence be blessed with the awareness of their presence.

Posted in magic, Pagan, theaology | Tagged , , ,

An herbal example – chamomile

Today I’m teaching my intro to herbs class at the Magical Druid, but for those of you who can’t be there in person, I thought I would demonstrate one small aspect of what I’m teaching today. (By the way, I also offer this as a correspondence course, for which I’m currently developing more material; if you’re interested, email me at literatahurley@gmail.com.)

I encourage students to begin their journey into herbalism by creating their own notes on each herb they study; this journal becomes a place to organize research as well as one’s own thoughts and intuitions, and becomes the foundation for future work. I provide an example from my own notebook, which is very much a work in progress, and discuss why I have arranged the parts of each entry the way I have.

My entry on each herb is broken up into the following sections:

  • Names – here I describe any common names and also list the scientific name(s) for the species of plants they describe. Scientific names are an important way to be able to be sure you’re talking about the same plant, since common names are many and varied, and have changed over time and from region to region.
  • Warnings and contraindications – This is an absolute must. Potential allergies, pregnancy warnings, drug interactions, and more should all be noted here. Even things that are regularly used in food can have medically important interactions. Please note that none of my information is a substitute for consulting a trained medical professional!
  • Parts used – I find this a useful way to describe how different parts of the same plant are used in different contexts. This can actually help me come up with new ideas for magical workings by encouraging me to think more broadly about an herb I’m already familiar with.
  • Uses – Here I describe major purposes that the herb is used for, along with its important correspondences and any other magical information, such as what other materials it works well with. This is really the heart of the entry, so I go into more detail here, although I don’t usually include specific spells or recipes (as described below). I tend to note historical uses only when they influence how I tend to use the herb in a present context.

For example, my notes on chamomile read as follows:

Names:
Chamomile
name of multiple plants in the Asteraceae family

German chamomile – most common species used
(Matricaria recutita)

Roman chamomile, noble chamomile, English chamomile
(Chamaemelum nobile)

Warnings, contraindications:

Do not use Roman chamomile during pregnancy
People with ragweed allergy may be allergic to chamomile
May cause drowsiness

Parts used: flowers, dried and used in sachets, infusions

Uses:

Magically associated with the sun, can be used for prosperity.

Main use is for calming, relieving anxiety, and promoting healing. Can cause drowsiness and be used to induce sleep. Infusion is very good for this.

Try combining with peppermint (especially for digestive upset) or valerian for extra anxiety reduction.

Infusion can also be used topically on irritated skin, has mildly anti-inflammatory effects.

Personally, I organize these notes alphabetically by common name, and keep an index that helps me cross-reference plants that I might know by multiple common names.

In a separate space, I keep “recipe cards” for combinations of herbs, oils, incenses, or other nifty concoctions I’m working on or might want to try in the future.

Finally, in my working magical journal I record spells that I’ve actually performed, and reflect on the results of the spell. Then I will update my other two resources with notes if important.

I find it really helps to keep my notes separated this way so that I know where to find what I’m looking for – if it’s information about an herb, I go to my notebook; if it’s a particular recipe, I to go my recipe cards; and if it’s details of how I implemented a particular spell, I go to my magical journal. When I’m coming up with a new spell or recipe, I might use all three in combination, but usually I just need one of them.

What are your favorite resources for studying herbs? How do you organize your information about a broad topic like this? I’d love to know!

Posted in herbs plants oils, materia magica, tools & techniques | Tagged

High Priestess and duality

Two is where we come to a place of relationship, to the possibility of duality and interchange between different forms of being, and in the Tarot the two is the card titled the High Priestess, also known as the Papesse. This is where things start to get complicated, and that complicatedness is reflected in the way that the High Priestess has to do with wisdom that is not obvious, wisdom that may be obscured or hidden.

“Obscured” is the original meaning of the word “occult,” and the High Priestess is definitely involved with wisdom that is occult in this sense. I like to use the word esoteric to describe her wisdom, in contrast to the exoteric, or obvious on the exterior, kinds of knowledge that most people rely on.

Most images of the High Priestess have some kind of closed symbology about them, whether it is the traditional veil in front of which she sits or an example of making her book or scroll a closed one. It is important to understand that this does not mean the wisdom she is working with is inaccessible; it only means that it is up to us to use nonstandard ways of knowing to access that awareness, to see through the veil or to be able to interpret the hidden words.

The domain of the High Priestess is mystery, the occult or esoteric, and thus it is appropriate that I have questions about this card which are not easily answered. I think it is appropriate to see the High Priestess as part of a duality, but to me it remains an open question who is her appropriate partner in duality.

The High Priestess can be seen as part of a duality with either the Magician or the Hierophant as her partner. She is placed next to the Magician and Robin Wood renames him the High Priest to make the partnership explicit, but I think in part this is due to Wood’s overt antipathy to the Hierophant; if you read her book she makes it quite clear that she simply detests the Hierophant and everything he stands for. I think that is a bit of an overreaction, and I’ll have more to say about it when we get to that card. It is worth noting that Wood also gives the High Priestess an open book, making her less about the traditional esoteric wisdom, but situating her in a natural setting to emphasize that her wisdom is her connection with nature instead.

For those who do not share Wood’s antipathy to the Hierophant, it is also possible to see the High Priestess as a counterpart to him, especially when she is described as the Papesse. I was just re-exposed to this idea, and it has a certain intrigue. I certainly remember now that my first Tarot deck suggested that the Papesse was a counterpart to the Hierophant or Pope card, but then I started working with the Robin Wood deck and it became my go-to deck for several years, so I pretty much forgot that interpretation. (This is a great example of how useful it is to compare different decks!) Robert Place is the most recent author I’ve read who brought this alternative interpretation back to mind. In his Alchemical Tarot he suggests that the Magician is more of a hermaphroditic figure, and as a result the High Priestess is paired with the Hierophant. The more I think about it, the more this approach has to recommend it.

Historically the Tarot trumps may have reflected the medieval practice of having a triumphal parade where each successive stage in the parade was seen as overcoming or “trumping” the previous stage. Place makes several arguments about this view of the trump cards, and it makes a certain amount of sense in this sequence; first comes the fool, who is overcome by the one who seeks magical power, who is overcome by female spiritual insight, who is overcome by female temporal power, who is overcome by male temporal power, who is overcome by male spiritual authority. Each of these successions could have seemed natural in the medieval context, especially since males had authority over females and the Pope held spiritual authority over the Holy Roman Emperor.

Thinking of the High Priestess in duality with the Pope or Hierophant card makes explicit the contrast between her esoteric ways of knowing and worshipping and his exoteric approach. I am sure that for some people this only heightens the distaste for the Hierophant’s structured systems, but for me it somehow softens his image a little, as I can better appreciate his methods by understanding that he is trying to reach a similar goal.

In some ways the essence of this question comes down to how we gender the cards; the High Priestess’ proximity to the Magician makes their duality seem natural if we see the magician as male. Of course, reducing everything to male-female polarities is a vast oversimplification and is part of the problem; that’s why I appreciate the view of the magician as neither strictly male nor female.

At any rate, the High Priestess introduces the idea of duality and mystery, regardless of how you understand her relationships to the other Major Arcana. The ultimate answer may be that the reader has to use her intuition, especially depending on the way the High Priestess and any other cards show up in a reading, and that ability to use intuition is really what the High Priestess symbolizes in the first place.

Posted in Tarot | 2 Comments