belindabird: (Ostara)
This weekend I attended Paganicon 2012. The con is in its second year. I attended on Saturday of last year and only stayed about half a day, but it was interesting enough that I really wanted to come back this year and spend the entire weekend. Throughout the weekend I enjoyed some wonderful programming, took in the vendor room (where there was quite a bit of cool stuff for sale), and was made to confront some things about myself that were uncomfortable but which will turn out better for me in the long run.

Lots of Words )
belindabird: (Imbolc)
I meant to post this closer to Imbolc (Feb 2nd) but didn't get around to it. It's kind of lame when you have to concentrate and plan just to fit in a journal post, but that's life for you I suppose.

A lot of information on Imbolc is concentrated on early signs of life having to do with the oncoming Spring. Originally, in Europe, it had a lot to do with lactating ewe's (which is why one of the traditional foods of Imbolc is milk). In the modern day where most of us don't really have any personal interaction with livestock, and especially in Minnesota where we don't really get a lot of early-blooming plant life in February (since we're usually sitting around closer to freezing, the winds are harsh, and the air is dry) it can be difficult to really get on board with thinking about Spring and how it's "just around the corner." In fact, for particularly jaded people (I'm not one of them, but I know some), it's almost like a cruel joke to have someone talk about the oncoming Spring when the world appears dead and we've just gotten our third foot of snowfall for the month (exaggerated, but sometimes it seems like it).

A few weeks ago I was walking home from the bus stop after work, and happened to notice some buds appearing on the tips of my neighbor's lilac branches, then excitedly ran to my own backyard and noticed them there, too. It made me happy! Over the weekend I was excited and mentioned it to a friend, who quipped that "wow, there's something wrong with those stupid plants, durr hurr." Way to be a buzz kill! But I think that sentiment echoes a lot of what most people who live around here probably think. Why start thinking about Spring when the most obvious signs of it are weeks (and sometimes months) away?

Well, why not?

Step outside and check out some of the dormant plants in your neighborhood. Take a closer look at the trees. I bet you that some of them have started to show buds already. Things are already stirring and heading towards their inevitable blossoming. Don't look at these things as Nature being a dirty tease, but as a taste of what's inevitably to come.

This time is a great time to plan a garden, if you're thinking of having one (and have the room to do so). You may not be breaking ground on a garden plot any time soon, but there are already seeds showing up in garden shops and Target/Lowe's and it's never too early to think ahead, especially if you're planning to start your own seeds indoors (like I am this year). We have such a short growing season that we really need to try and make it count for everything that it's worth.

I also consider Winter to be a season of reflection, of introspection, and of self-work and development, so how lucky are we that we have so much extra time to devote to ourselves and becoming better people? This is a great time not only to work on how we act and react, but to develop personal skills and take the first steps towards learning new things, improving our relationships with others, and developing new and better habits (and don't worry if you've mad new year's resolutions and subsequently fallen off the wagon - nobody is perfect and it's better to keep trying).

And just remember, Spring is inevitable and it's closer than we might think, even though snow still covers the ground.
belindabird: (Imbolc)
I recently completed a guided meditation, wherein I was supposed to meet my totem animal/power animal. I was actually sort of surprised by both the success of the meditation (it was very short and sometimes I have trouble concentrating), and the results. People who know me are probably aware of how much I love cats and just felines in general. I assumed that my mind would naturally drift in that direction because of how often I think of cats and how much I enjoy being with my own cats.

The meditation asked that we begin in our own safe space (a place where we naturally feel comfortable) and relax. Then envision a door to an open meadow surrounded by trees. As we walked the path around the meadow, animals would meet us, and we should ask them if they were our totem animal. Within the first couple of minutes, I encountered a stag with large antlers, and almost without having to ask, it came up to me and we touched foreheads.

I recalled a memory from when I was in middle school. For a time I was a volunteer at a local nature center, doing things like cleaning exhibits and picking up trash along the trails. There was one really large trail that circled the grounds of the nature center, and I was walking along it. Near the end of the path I encountered a white-tailed deer doe and a fawn. It was one of those moments where I just stopped. I looked at them, they looked at me, and the two walked back into the brush. I had a similar feeling while doing the meditation, only this time, it was as if I was directly connecting to something rather than standing there in awe of it.

I spent some time looking up the symbolism of deer and the stag as totem animals. One thing I found interesting is that deer in general are seen to be symbolic of compassion, renewal (the male deer sheds and regrows his antlers during the year), an appreciation of balance, and sacrifice for the greater good (amongst other things). It can also represent problem solving, not through force but through compassion and love. The stag in particular (which is what I saw/interacted with during my meditation) is associated with the sacredness of the forest, pride and protectiveness. The deer's strong senses (sight and hearing) translate to an intuitiveness and ability to find alternate solutions to problems.

What struck me about this is that I don't necessarily see all of these qualities expressed within myself, but one thing I've had on the mind lately is how much I detest the kind of Machiavellian ambition that's almost a requirement to succeed in the average workplace (and in many other organizations), and how gentler, kinder alternatives to problem solving (you know, touchy-feely stuff and taking into account the personal well-being of people involved) are rarely rewarded and how frustrating that can be. I also tend to get really frustrated when I feel like other people are being rude (I just about raged at anime club the other night because some people couldn't keep their comments to themselves during the show); the deer teaches us that it's better to learn to let go, especially since it's unlikely for people to change (they have to realize how they're acting on their own and then want to change).

So yeah, this will certainly be an interesting thing to think about, going forward.

Solstice

Dec. 20th, 2010 09:54 pm
belindabird: (Yule)
Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice, the time of year after which the sun finally begins to rise earlier and set later in the day (thank goodness!). There's also supposed to be a total lunar eclipse really early in the morning (between 1:30am and 5:30am, or thereabouts), but it's clouded-over right now and I doubt it will be cleared by the time it rolls around.

The Samhain ritual in which I participated focused a lot on the "death" of the aspects of ourselves and the situations which we felt were not good influences on our overall well-being. Because, for all practical reasons, the time between Samhain and "whatever time in Spring the weather decides to start clearing up" is spent mostly inside, often under darkness (the path of the Sun again, darn it), it's a very good time to spend in contemplation over personal matters and the path you'd like your life to take in the coming year (get an early start on those New Year's resolutions!). Something that I've noticed this year is that there have been quite a few opportunities for me to come face-to-face with those aspects of myself that I'm not especially happy with. This is stuff that I've known about for a while, but this time around I'm even more conscious of the things I'm doing, like I'm being slapped in the face with them so that there's no way I can ignore it.

I should mention that, after many years of anxiety and depression, this past year has been a very good one for me. I feel comfortable in my skin. I feel comfortable in how I see the world and how I choose to celebrate that. I've gotten to the point where I don't judge myself in comparison to other people constantly. I feel like I've improved my writing somewhat over the past year, and am better at expressing my opinions without thoughtlessly pissing people off (and without caring much about the people who are bound to be pissed off no matter what I say or how I say it). These are big steps for me.

One problem I tend to have is that sometimes I can't get over the fact that not everyone thinks the way that I do. Over the weekend, I was at a party, and someone mentioned that they had watched the first 6 episodes of Mushi-Shi and thought that they were really boring. I tried to explain the show a bit by calling it "meditative," and before I could go further her replied to me that he didn't want to meditate and that the show was putting him to sleep. Cue an almost instant bubbling up of rage inside me (which, to my own credit, I didn't unleash on the room). I tend to respond very poorly to comments like "this is boring" or "this is depressing," because I find them dismissive, punishing art for being artful and not simply cheap entertainment like everything else. This is one of my biggest faults, I'll admit; I can enjoy some things that aren't deep and intricate, but when someone accuses one of my favorites of being uninteresting or, heaven forbid, shallow (yes, this happened during a convo about Mononoke a few years ago and it's been a sore spot since then) I start to seriously question the other person's intelligence, in spite of whatever opinion I may have had about them beforehand.

Anyway, this has happened a few times recently, and despite being relatively confident in myself most of the time, I've found myself time and time again sinking into this anger trap that ends up putting me in a bad mood and at the same time causing me to dwell on things that continue to make me feel bad. Of course, I also believe the first step towards fixing a problem is acknowledging its existence, so in writing this out I'm hoping to be able to focus my attention on, simply put, not being an ass all the time. Or at least not taking it so much to heart when people say things that don't jive with what I think. Perhaps in doing so, I might help to build some reciprocal respect.

Tomorrow I don't have anything huge planned, other than to light some incense in celebration and try to keep in mind the things that I've been thinking on the past few months. Looking forward to the brighter days to come!
belindabird: (Samhain)
I'm so bad, I need to post here more, especially since I have plenty of thoughts all the time. Laziness and seasonal hectic schedules and all that.

Back in September I was able to attend part of the Twin Cities Pagan Pride Day festival, which was held at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community. The building itself was kind of an interesting place, obviously serving as a Christian church (judging by the large and very beautiful stained-glass windows featuring Jesus doing Jesus-y stuff) but featuring art from various other religions. The venue was pretty decent as far as buildings go, but I will admit that I found it to be a bit stifling; the opening ritual was held in the chapel and I found it to be a little disconnected and stuffy.

That sort of set the tone for the day. The opening circle was very well-meaning and I liked the thought behind it (it took place around Mabon, and it being a harvest festival we shared some things about ourselves, what we "harvested" over the previous year, and what we hoped to gain from the year to come), but people were kind of drifting in late and that spoiled the mojo just a bit. It also felt kind of "prepared at the last minute" by the woman leading it. Again, she seemed very kind and probably very overworked with having to help plan the event itself, but overall things felt a little hectic, and not as solemn as I would have liked.

The merchandise area was pretty okay, though not as well-stocked as I remember from the last PPD I attended (that year it was at Coffman). I ended up buying a choker from one vendor, and a skirt from another. I wished that I had brought more cash with me, since I don't believe that anyone was taking credit cards :(

I attended one "panel," which was an overview of Shintoism. I already knew a lot of what the presenter was talking about, but that was okay. Afterwards we were able to spend some time talking to a friend-of-a-friend who belongs to a Celtic Reconstructionist Temple in Minneapolis and got some good information on that. I hope to attend one of their public holiday rituals at some point (it's also convenient because their place is right along the bus route I take to work). After that we didn't stick around for too much longer. I sat in on some musical performances which were enjoyable (Magic Mama is worth seeing if you get the chance).

I kind of felt like there wasn't a whole lot of enthusiasm at the event. I recall a couple of years back when I attended PPD at the U, there were a whole lot of workshops and a lot of rituals to sample (a friend and I participated in a Druidic ritual, which was a lot of fun) and the sense of community was much stronger. I don't know if this was due to the location or what, but I'm sort of looking forward more to next year where they plan to hold things in a public park somewhere. The potential there for some outdoor ritual work in the open air is very appealing to me.

One thing worth mentioning is that I pre-registered for Paganicon, an event being held in the Spring (the week before Anime Detour, lol, we'll see how that goes for me). It sounds like the organization in charge is planning to concentrate more of the heavy programming stuff in that event, leaving the music and ritual stuff for the one-day Pagan Pride event in the Fall, which might work out better. We'll see.
belindabird: (Default)
I'm almost embarrassed to say that one of the things that's always drawn me to Wicca (or just general Neo-Paganism) is the opportunity to utilize so many beautiful ritual tools. During my earlier college years when I first started to become seriously aware of what this group of religious paths had to offer, I recall how easy it was to get swept up in all the available witchy goodies offered both for sale online, and in the local metaphysical shops. Candles of every shape and size, beautiful cast-iron cauldrons, incense, chalices... oh ho ho I'm getting giddy just thinking about them. As I've matured, these items are by no means the only thing keeping me involved with Wicca, but I'm not gonna lie - they're one thing that appeals to me.

I'm lucky enough to have talents in the arts and crafts, and one thing that I've realized is that, while there are just certain things that aren't practical for me to do myself - iron smelting in order to make my own cauldron, or distilling my own essential oils, for example - there really are plenty of things that I have the ability to do or could learn to do easily in order to personalize my ritual items and provide more personal power to the practical aspects of what I do (just as a note: I've never really performed a "proper" ritual. Most of what I've done in the past has involved meditation on certain concepts and simple appreciation of nature, but I'm aiming to formalize things a little more now that I've provided my own answers to some of the questions that have nagged me all along. More on that later).

I've already made it my intention to spend the Winter months working on learning more about collecting, planting, growing and drying my own herbs, because herbs can help form a base for all sorts of different things. Incense, bath items, teas, oils, potpourri... there are numerous uses for herbs (including delicious home-made foods, natch) and I think it would be nice to be able to grow and utilize many of my own. Why? I tend to believe that the potency of one's magic/energy use/meditation (whatever you prefer to call it) can be affected by the degree of involvement one has in the entire process of formulating a ritual and its related tools, and that idea really appeals to me. Within the last year or so I've become much more interested in gardening in general (I think if I were to go back to school, it would be for a degree in botany or something similar) and I consider this an offshoot of that desire.

I also really love incense. Not only does it make my office smell great, it also helps to create a sense of sacred space when I don't have a room to really devote to magic by itself. I bought a book yesterday that gives instruction on the creation of incense (mostly stick and cone incense, which the author really seems to have a hard-on for) and the process sounds like it could be very interesting and fun to experiment with. The advantages to hand-making incense are that you can tune the blends to specific purposes and control the quality of the ingredients (for example, many mass-produced commercial incenses use oils that can actually be harmful to you when burned, ick). I'm looking forward to trying my hand at this in the future (especially since I can make incense as gifts for many people I know as well).

One other thing that I've been considering lately is candle making. Once again this springs from a desire to be involved in more aspects of spellcasting/meditation/ritual, so that I can focus on and visualize my intent beyond just dressing a storebought cadle with oil and calling it good (not that this is bad or anything, I want to be clear that this is just me talking). Candle-making kits are readily available at craft stores, so the basics are most likely not particularly difficult to pick up, but what I'm more curious about is whether I could potentially infuse the candles with actual herbs and personalize them in some way specifically. I'm really interested in researching this further.

That's just a small taste of what I think I could do, and I intend to use the darker half of the year to plant the seeds of inspiration and see what grows.
belindabird: (Default)
So I jumped on the bandwagon and got this shiny new Dreamwidth account. While it would probably make a lot more sense to just crosspost stuff from Livejournal, I feel compelled to make this journal something different (especially since only a few close friends know of this journal's existence anyway).

Those of you who know me also know that I identify as Wiccan/Neopagan. For the past couple of years I've been kind of a lapsed Pagan; letting myself grow too busy/lazy to really pay attention to spiritual matters. Lately, though, I've felt very drawn back in. I feel like my life is more in order than it's been in a long time, that I'm at least mostly mentally and emotionally stable enough to take a look at this part of myself and that I'm suddenly very in-tune with the progression of the seasons. I once again picked up my copy of Scott Cunningham's "Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner" and, having since shed off any baggage I've felt about the need to be a "real," honest-to-goodness initiated Gardnerian-style Wiccan, have found that the ideas in the book have really clicked with me. I've never been one to think that religion is something that is something that can and should solve all the problems in one's life, but once I began to examine and try to tackle my own problems myself, it was the more stable "me" that opened up to what this path has to offer.

Anyway, one of the exercises in the "practices" section of Cunningham's book is to keep a "Mirror Book," a journal of one's spiritual experiences, dreams, personal revelations and thoughts. I have a paper version of such a book, but I thought (perhaps mistakenly, lol) that other people might be interested in reading some excerpts of that should I feel compelled to share them. I know a lot of people who are, for lack of a better description, "anti-religious" (which is a term that sounds sort of hostile but I don't mean it that way) or atheist, sometimes due in part to the attitudes of some organized bodies of the world's major religions. I understand that wholeheartedly, believe me! I'm not trying to convince anyone otherwise or try to dissuade anyone's hostility. This is just my exercise. Feel free to comment/ignore as you see fit.

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belindabird

March 2012

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