Tools of the Trade: My Must-Haves

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I want to preface this post by saying that tools and all of the props and decor are not at all necessary for a fulfilling and powerful magical and spiritual practice. What follows are simply my personal beliefs and the tools that have become essential in my own practice. Below are my “must-haves”: the things that I have come to feel are an integral part of how I follow my spiritual path. I won’t include things like candles, herbs, crystals, etc. because they seem a little obvious and

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Drums: I’d been on a hunt for a proper hand drum for ages before finally finding mine in the autumn of 2016. Yes, trance work can be done with chanting, mantras, rattles, etc. I admit that there were things I could have done in the meantime, but found that old baggage about how my voice sounds and personal preferences were holding me back (things I’ve since released). The drum is primal, ancient, earthy. The ability to disappear into the trees and lose myself in a rhythm has been the most cathartic gift to self ever.

img_3048.jpgAthame/Dagger: I began my path with Wicca, in which the Athame, or ritual dagger, holds a great deal of symbolism. My first was actually nothing more than a letter opener, as the Athame is usually not supposed to be sharp. It was something I maintained in my magical arsenal for a long time simply because a) I liked the aesthetic of it, and b) I was the only one in my group of witchy friends who owned one. It was sort of a group-use tool that got brought out for big rituals, but sat on my altar collecting dust otherwise.

A camping trip in 2013, shortly after my journey with the Wylde Hunt had begun really changed the use of the dagger for me. By then, I’d turned 18 and purchased a blade with a bit of an edge to it. Unfortunately, we’d forgotten to pack any form of scissors or utility blade for cutting rope, opening the packages of the food we’d brought, etc. Faced with this dilemma, I came to the conclusion: If a member of the Wylde Hunt was placed in a similar situation, they’d undoubtedly use the blade they had- ritualistic or not.

Ever since the blade has served both purposes for me. It is both there for the ritual symbolism, and a practical tool. Its edge cuts cords and other spell components, primarily. I don’t really do much actual hunting and, thankfully, have never needed to use it for any manner of defensive measures.

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Vessel: Speaking of tools meant mostly for utility purposes: I always keep some manner of bowl/vessel/etc. on my altar. It acts as a containment for water for ritual purposes, acts as a place to put offerings when performing rites indoors, and a safe place for sage bundles and the like when cleansing.

Divination Tools: My spiritual practice began with an interest in divination and it has remained an invaluable tool in my life. Tarot, runes, and a scrying mirror make up the main of my divination practice, though I focus most on tarot. Divination, for me, is both a means for communicating with the divine / universal energies, and recognizing patterns in mundane matters of my life.

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The Lantern: This is the newest tool on the list in terms of its integration into my spiritual practice. After several months of being bombarded in meditations with images of a moon goddess carrying such a lantern, I finally purchased one to place upon the altar. I light this lantern at the beginning of each working and during my study sessions. For me, it is the light of this mysterious goddess guiding me through the dark and murky parts of life. It is a light of guidance, inspiration, hope- an urge to keep going.  It is lit in devotion of the goddess in hopes that her light might show me the way.

And that pretty much concludes my list of “essentials” for my own practice! What sort of tools do you find most important in your practice? What sort of uses do they have? Leave comments below!

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

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Thinking About: Personal Deities

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This is a topic I’ve been wanting to take on for some time, but have been unable to find the proper words to do so- perhaps there never really are any. Something I’ve been working on over the past year or so is my relationship with deity. For several years, I’d defined myself and my path by them: “I’m a devotee of Herne the Hunter” or “I worship the Goddess Cerridwen” etc. I spent countless hours reading and re-reading myths, researching, learning, reaching out…

And over time had my own experiences that I then would try to rationalize against the mythologies. “I experienced x, is it y trying to contact me? How do I know?” I see these questions posted all over the online pagan communities- as though you were going to a doctor. List the symptoms, and someone will hopefully be able to tell you what it is you have. List your experiences and maybe someone who’s been practicing and studying longer than you will know the god or goddess who matches.

But when is a raven a messenger of Odin rather than a messenger of Bran or The Morrigan- or none of those at all? What if all signs point to Cerridwen, except this handful of experiences that don’t match anything in the established lore and practice of those already worshiping her? Does it matter? Does it make it less valid? How does one justify it?

What if, as it happened to me in the springtime of last year, you are faced with the divine who is such a myriad of things that she seems not to be able to fit in any one goddess’s body of myth?

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The goddess in question appeared to me in several dreams and meditations cloaked in the deep blue of the starry night, half her face in shadow the other luminescent and beautiful like the moon. She carried in one hand a staff of birch that held a silvery sickle-moon crescent, and in the other a lantern that cast a cool blue light. She was a guardian of the cauldron, a washer of the ford, a wanderer in the mists, the cold kiss of death, the hands that wove the stars… And though I saw her face echoed in the stories of Morrigan, Cerridwen, Arianrhod, Hel, Artemis… I could not attribute a single one of these goddesses to her.

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For a time, she worried and confused me. Who was she? I wanted to find an answer in a book or a blog post, or some obscure myth in fragment over the tides of history. The more I looked, the more pointless the search became, but still she called to me more than any deity ever had, and I knew I must answer her call.

I moved away from myth and tradition- though they have their place as things to honor, to draw inspiration from, to find guidance in- and started to simply interact with deity in the way it presented itself to me. What I have found is something more deep, profound, and personal than any relationship I’ve ever had. There is a goddess I worship whose name has, perhaps, only been whispered on my lips. She guides me in the darkness.

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A similar issue had arisen during college with my relationship with the Horned God. There was a darker side to the Hunter that I did not find present in existing myths, and I tried fruitlessly to pinpoint: Is it Herne, or some other being I work with? Now it does not matter. He appears to me dragon scaled or clad in a cloak of feathers, his eyes dark like the soil or the midnight sky, and like the Lady with the Lantern, he has names that only I call him, and my path is all the richer.

I guess what I am saying is that it is perfectly fine to connect with particular gods and goddesses, to reach for them or find inspiration and connection within the stories that exist about them. It’s more than okay to try and follow traditions and old ways and rationalize. But there’s something deep and rich and worth exploring, in not worrying about the who’s and why’s and letting the divine express themselves to you in the ways that they wish.

Blessings of the Forest, Frost, and Moon,
Rachel

 

How To: Create Tarot Spreads

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Creating spreads for use with tarot can be an immensely rewarding practice. It can deepen your relationship with your cards and your knowledge of the tarot as well as providing more clear and specific information than a traditional spread might. Have you ever stared at a beautifully laid out Celtic Cross spread and puzzled over how exactly to interpret the card that came up, the position name, and your question all into one coherent answer? Perhaps it’s time to start building your own spreads! Below I’ve given three methods I use when creating spreads to use in readings for myself and friends.

Method One: Start With a Question

Seems easy enough, right? Sometimes, especially if you’re building spreads on the fly, it’s easiest to start with the question at hand. Let’s use one I’ve created as an example.

Two Paths Tarot Spread

I call this spread my “Two Paths Spread”. It was created when I needed some help deciding between a couple of different paths through the treacherous maze of my college education. I began with a simple “What happens if I choose X? What about Y?”

Then, I broke down what information I needed in order to feel that larger question was satisfactorily answered. I needed to know, for each path, the pros and the cons of choosing each path. I wanted to know what my biggest challenge would be on that path, and also how I’d best be able to overcome that challenge. Finally,  I wanted to know where I would most likely end up if I chose that path and followed the advice I’d been given.

I laid the cards out into two rows, one representing choice one, and the other choice two, and voila! The spread was born. To this day, this particular spread remains my most useful, as it can be applied to any number of choices. Stuck between three choices? Add another row! It’s pretty versatile and is driven by the questions I specifically want answered about a particular situation.

Method Two: Start With and Significator

Many spreads ask you to use an significator, a card chosen to represent yourself, the issue at hand, or the goal you want to achieve. Sometimes, picking an significator can be another great way to get some ideas for a spread. I’ll give a couple of examples:

Ace of Cups Spread

This particular spread was created for a friend, I call it the Ace of Cups Spread (simple, right?). He’d been having the Ace of Cups appear repeatedly and felt called to pursue the vibrant, healing, creative, and intuitive energy of the Ace of Cups, but wasn’t exactly sure how. 

So, I pulled the Ace of Cups from the deck to act as a significator, and placed it in the middle. Then, much like the last spread, I thought about what sort of answers we might want. The Ace of Cups, to me, always represented that which fulfills you spiritually, emotionally, and creatively. It is the Holy Grail. The cauldron of Awen bubbling forth. I wanted to show a comparison of how one is living in the present, and what modes of life would be more fulfilling in the ways the Ace of Cups is. So the questions “What am I doing now?” and “What do I want most to be doing?” were the first two cards to be placed in the spread.

No grail can be found without a quest. So I asked “What is it I lack to find this fulfillment?” and then “Where do I find that missing piece?” The final questions were about “Which blockages or challenges will I find along this path?” and “How do I overcome them to achieve that fulfillment?”

The Hunter's Arrow

Another spread I built around the use of a significator was The Hunter’s Arrow. It was meant to be used for pursuing a goal or a project through to fruition. Here, I also used the shape of a bow and arrow for inspiration. In this spread, the significator is chosen to represent the goal you have, and is placed right at the tip of the arrow. In the image above, it is represented by the Seven of Wands.

I used the shape of the bow as well as the answers I needed to formulate the rest of my questions. The curve of the bow itself represents resources readily at hand for accomplishing the task. The card directly behind the arrow’s point is the action needed to propel ones self in the right direction, and the three cards to the right represent short-term and long-term outcomes and the way in which the project may be transformed in the process.

Method Three: Start With an Image

The third way that I craft my spreads is to begin with an image as inspiration, much like some of the spreads I’ve crafted in the shapes of the constellations.

Orion Spread with Runes

Here is the Orion the Hunter spread I posted just a few days ago (I used runes because they photographed a little bit better in a confined space). Here I began with the image of one of my favorite constellations. I ordered the cards by the brightness of the stars (found in the index of Sandra Kynes book, Star Magic: The Wisdom of the Constellations for Wiccans and Pagans) and used both my personal associations with the constellation and folklore and mythos surrounding it to create the spread.

For me, Orion has always been a point of strength and familiarity when things get rough (cyclically in my life, usually in the fall and winter when he can be found in the southern skies of my home). I always felt that he was watching over me and lending me his strength (Kynes’ book also mentions the constellation’s associations with storms, rough times, and of course a number of warrior/hunter gods and heroes in myth). For this spread, I asked questions about the nature of my struggle, what things I had at my disposal, how I might shield myself, how to keep my wits about me when times were particularly rough.

The Raven's Prophecy Tarot

And that wraps up my process! The essential this really is breaking a question or a situation down into bite sized pieces of information to glean from it. You can start with a big question, a feeling or a goal you want to achieve, or an image you’re inspired by. The possibilities are limited only to you imagination.

Do you create tarot spreads? What is your process? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Yours beneath the falling rain,
Rachel

Thinking About: Initiations / Rites of Dedication

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Yesterday, I was finally able to perform my initiatory rite into the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. I’m not able to speak at great length about the ritual itself in this post, but I can speak about my feelings leading up to it, and my thoughts following its completion.

Despite having the materials for the course for the past six months or so, I had done very little of the actual course work. Life sort of caught up with me, and my job, home life, and mental health just did not lend me the time and proper head space I had needed to perform the rite. Thankfully, the quiet spell has seemed to have broken over the past couple of days, and I’m feeling called home once again to my practice, my art, and my studies with the little warm spell we appear to be having.

Strangely enough, it was the rite of initiation that had given me some of the most trouble in the materials I had received- not because of its content or its format or any objections I had with what it would entail. I couldn’t quite place the source of it for those first months- in fact, I don’t know that I realized some of the… oddness I’d been feeling until I was speaking to a friend about the topic this afternoon.

Every so often, I had found myself called to go over it once again. I’d start making the plans and preparing for it, and something would come up: the weather would get bad, I’d have something I had to do, etc. It would be set aside and left for the next time I’d felt the stirring somewhere within me to get back to work.

Yesterday was different. I had finally accomplished reformatting the rite a bit so that it would work with the amount of private space I had and a few other technicalities; it sat in my journal, just waiting to be performed. Yesterday was another of our random January thaws. The sun was bright and we were nearing forty or fifty degrees Fahrenheit rather than the bitter 10’s and 20’s that are typical of this time of year. I felt it on my way in to work that morning; something was stirring. By the time I was home for the afternoon, the desire to be outdoors and working on something was burning within me.

And something spoke to me then: the initiation ritual. And after months of trying to plan it out, to perhaps contact other local-ish OBOD members to assist me in performing it, to make sure everything was prepared… I decided simply that I was going to go through with it, and quickly gathered some incense and a candle and my journal, and headed out to the small grove of pine and cedars that has been my sacred space for over ten years…

The ritual was nice, pleasant, it brought me back to a sense of being at home- on my land, within my being, in my spirituality… But as I was walking inside after its completion, and as I was talking to my friend this afternoon, I couldn’t help but think that initiation and dedication rites are never quite as profound as we expect them to be.

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I find I’m always, on a certain level, expecting the ritual itself to be the eye-opening, awen-inspired moment of “Ah-ha! I understand completely, and now everything will start to be different!” But as I reflected upon my journey to the rite itself, and upon the lessons included with the ritual in my course materials, I realized that the true initiation had begun long before I had stepped out the door that afternoon.

Initiation and dedication to a specific path happens not in the single moment of a ritual. They begin within us before a circle is drawn or a candle lit. The shift of paradigm has occurred before the rite; the rite is merely a formality, a means of affirming that which we have already long known to be true. The epiphany is not a new paradigm or state of being, but a realization that we have arrived at this new place some time ago, and can now acknowledge and celebrate it.

For me, that shift started back some seven or so years ago, when I first saw the Green Man staring up at me from the pages of a book, and I started upon my discovery of Druidry. It was there in my discovery of the OBOD’s countless open resources, the befriending of other members of the order, the books, podcasts, YouTube videos, music, etc. that I found resonated with me- which were created by members. A shift had occurred the day that I purchased the Bardic Grade course, and again on the day I received the first packet of gwersi in the mail. What happened in the grove yesterday was merely me finding the voice to affirm and speak aloud the truths that had been in my heart for years. And now, the journey deeper into my studies continues.

What are your experiences with initiation rites or dedication rituals (be them to a new path, deity, etc.)? Share, if you’d like, in the comment section below.

Blessings of the Winter Forest,
Rachel

Thinking About: Deities

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The Morrigan by Aly Fell

Perhaps one of the most commonly asked questions I see in scrolling about the online pagan community is “how do [I] know which deity I’m meant to work with or worship?” and it’s the topic of the next YouTube Pagan Challenge video I plan to do. Coming to paganism which celebrates the existence of many different gods and goddesses can be overwhelming, and it can be difficult to decide which of these many personalities you’re going to mesh well with and form long-lasting devotional relationships with. With all of these choices, it can sometimes seem daunting wondering where to begin.

I’m going to open with my biggest bit of advice. Know what your beliefs about the gods are first. There’s a difference between being a pagan who is a hard polytheist and being a pagan who views individual deities as personifactions and facets of a singular divine source, or as archetypes within the collective unconscious, or any other combination of these things. As we know, beliefs held by pagans vary almost as much from individual to individual as they do from tradition to tradition. Knowing exactly what the gods are and how they affect our world in your beliefs is key to knowing how to proceed in entering into relationships within deities and other entities. For example, one might feel wary about approaching multiple deities at random if they believed as a polytheist that all deities are real and independent entities with their own personalities, temperaments, etc. On the opposite side of the spectrum, those who view the deities as archetypal or as part of a greater whole might feel more free to explore different beings tied with a similar archetype (death deities, fertility gods, etc.).

My second bit of advice: There’s no real right or wrong answer. If you feel called to a deity, or interested in them, by all means make a respectful attempt at working with them. Make an offering, try invoking them into your circle for a ritual, meditate on them or their mythos, try praying to them. Do this over a period of time. Make note of the results. You’ll find very quickly which personalities vibe best with your own. This can be affected by your own heritage, interests, etc. For example, though Herne and Cernunnos are both gods of the forest and hunt, I find that working with Herne better suits my work as we have a better connection. Cernunnos feels too ancient and serious, whereas Herne feels more human-like and approachable. For others, working in the opposite way might feel more “correct”. There’s no scientific way of telling which god or goddess your meant to work with. You’ll just know. There will be a sense of comfort, or power, or just knowing that whatever working you’ve called upon them for will work.

Not everyone has a patron deity. It is not a required part of being a witch or being pagan. Sometimes close devotional relationships will evolve, change, or fade. I used to work quite closely with the goddess Brighid when I was younger. Over time, the energy just didn’t flow in quite the same way. This happened naturally and organically. This is totally okay. Herne used to be more apparent in my life in the guise of Green Man. Sometimes, too, there are deities who appear only periodically in your life. They come bearing a message and help you through a particular time in your life, and then they’re gone. For me, both The Morrigan and Mannannan Mac Lir have been such entities in my life. They are often very present in the summer months to help me work through what I need to before fall begins and then are gone. Again, this is completely okay.

The key thing is do your research. Don’t just call upon a deity because x spell told you to. Know what you believe about the gods. Know the mythology and cultural practices associated with the deity you’re communicating with. Be respectful, and remember they do usually have a sense of humor. Mistakes are okay, and sometimes things will work out in very unexpected ways.

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

YT Pagan Challenge: Books of Shadows and Witchy Journaling

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Today, I posted a YouTube video (well, I posted a couple of them, but this post is really only concerned with one) for the YouTube Pagan Challenge. The first four prompts from the challenge were centered around Books of Shadows and journal-keeping for one’s witchy practice:

1. Show and tell – your grimoires, notebooks, journals etc. What type of book do you prefer?
2. How do you protect and consecrate your book?
3. How to organise your book – a table of contents, book marks, etc.
4. How to start your book -getting over perfectionism – creative techniques.

For my own work, I keep two books that I work in at any given time. One is the big book, my Book of Shadows (or as my college witchy friends lovingly refer to it: the “Book o’ Shit”), and the other is a little hardcover sketchbook.

The smaller book is the one I carry with me wherever I’m wandering. I take it to classes, walks in the woods, just while I’m hanging out with people- literally everywhere. This book acts as sort of a scratch book. It’s a place where I’ll scribble out poetry, work on spell and ritual ideas, take tarot notes, draw or write things that inspire me, journal a bit if I’m not feeling it’s something that warrants an entire Book of Shadows entry. It is literally a day-by-day response to what things I’m experiencing and being inspired by.

I find this is a really easy way to take notes and be a little messy and free-form with things. Often work that I start in this book ends up more fully developed and expanded upon in the bigger one. The larger book tends to be a little more formal, whereas this one literally has anything and everything that needs to be jotted down and gotten out of my system.

My Book of Shadows, despite being less scratchy than the smaller notebook is still sort of just a loosely organized thing. Like the smaller book, it’s basically just organized chronologically. Rituals, journal entries, tarot readings, etc. are all sort of just put in as they happen. Because I use large sketchbooks as my books of shadows, it’s a little more difficult to plan out organized sections, so I’ve found that using them as art journals of my practice works best.

As far as blessing and consecrating my book(s) goes, I’ve sort of fallen to just using the intent I have when starting the book, and being selective with what from them I share with others. At the beginning of them, I usually have a little statement of purpose (it’s inside the little green card in the one picture above), that explains where I am on my path as I start the book, and where I’d like to be at its finish. None of this is really formally ritualized. It’s mostly just about how I treat the book as it’s being used.

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However, I do (like many others) really like being able to find spells, recipes, etc. more quickly. After five books of shadows, it can be sort of a pain to remember: a) which frigging book x thing is in, and b) where specifically in the book it might be. In the last couple of years, I’ve found that Microsoft OneNote has been a really valuable tool in helping me organize things.

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It works like a sort of digital binder: it allows me to make separate sections for different topic areas I’m studying, rituals, tarot spreads I find online, etc. For and personal rites I often type out documents to use as notes during the ritual; the OneNote program allows me to put printouts of the files into my pages so everything is easily accessed. It also copies links when you copy and paste things from the internet, so you can follow them through to the webpage you found them on as well; this has been really helpful in keeping track of where I found some of the things I spot on Tumblr.

Once I’ve finished a Book of Shadows, I always bookmark all the important spells, rituals, poems, etc. within it and make digital copies of them in the digital notebook. It works wonders, and can be accessed online through my Microsoft account.

My biggest advice to anyone hesitating to start a book is just do it! Not writing your experiences down can make things really difficult. I was horrible at record-keeping in the earlier years of my practice, and I find myself looking back over things and being confused as to context, wondering how certain things did/didn’t work out etc. There is always time to make prettier, cleaned-up versions of your notes and the like. While elaborately drawn, leather-bound books of shadows are aesthetically pleasing, the real reward will be in having personal references of your work to look back on in the future.

Blessings,
Rachel