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.

Horned God

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

 

A Manifesto (Or the Big, Bad Post of My Beliefs)

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In some attempt at negating a need to continuously link back to my other blog’s posts- and in part to really gather my thoughts and set out a foundation of what it is I believe about a variety of cosmological and general witchy topics- I’ve decided to make this post. It’s a sort of manifesto, a statement of belief, and of what standards I hold myself to in my personal practices as I start to rebuild them. For me, it will help to de-clutter my head space and focus on what my deeply held thoughts/beliefs/ideals are, and what things are no longer of use to me. And for you, it’ll give you a bit of an idea of where I’m coming from, and the belief system which influences my writing.

So. Let’s begin, shall we?

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On Creation / Cosmology / The Nature of the Universe: Until very recently, I hadn’t really connected with a specific creation story in a way that had really resonated with me. About a year ago, I came across Frank Mills’s re-telling and analysis of The Oran Mór. I can’t entirely explain it, but something about this story just struck a chord deep within me, and almost immediately, it felt like a secret truth- a sort of means to have an origin story beyond science, but still allow for the science of evolution and the gradual development of different forces of life, natural movements of the earth, the possibility of alternate dimensions… Basically, it took science and faith and wove them into poetry (my retelling of it from Mills’s writing is found below):

The Oran Mór begins, as Mills describes, with stillness and silence. Then, softly at first, but with growing, spiraling momentum, a melody began to stretch out across the dark waters. In that crescendo, life began. But, the melody did not cease; it continued, cycling as knot-work might in an ever-continuing pattern of life and death, giving and receiving. In his essay, Mills continues to call The Oran Mór “the sea melody” and “the creative melody.” It is the Great Melody that “…flows through the myths and legends of submerged lands, mystical springs, life-giving cauldrons, and holy grails.” It is the Great Melody that inspires wisdom and creation both in the singer of it and those who hear it. It is this song that became the sacred song of life in Celtic tradition, and it is this song that drives us to create, to tell stories, to recount our histories, to go on pilgrimages, and even drives the urge to go “home” wherever that home may be. He even suggests that it is The Oran Mór that gives rise to the song-like Celtic languages.

He then turns to what he feels to be the basic question not only of Celtic Myth, but of life:“Why do you suffer?” Mills goes on to describe that though the song is still playing on, as it always has, we live now in an age where many cannot hear it and many more do not even bother to listen. We live in an age of fragmentation, of in-your-face individualism, and of a number of half-truths all trying to be presented as The Great Melody. In this world of conflicting ‘realities’ our souls are in a state of dis-ease. Because of this dis-ease, we have lost our way and our own connection with the divine powers of creation. We have lost touch with our co-creative role with the divine.

Still, though this seems a bleak analysis of the modern human condition, there is hope. Though we are, as Mills states, fragmented and in that fragmented state quite incapable of becoming one with The Great Melody once more, there is a means. We must find our hero, that “…divine nature with which we have been created that is within.” By finding that piece of our inner selves, we are able to succeed in the struggle between the fragmented state and connection with the song. In finding this state, we become one not only with ourselves and our world, but with all worlds and the places between them. Mills calls this place between the mundane world and the Otherworld the “One World.”

Mills suggests that to live sustainably and wholly, we need to learn to live within / with connection to The One World. When we find ourselves at one with and open to The Great Melody, the melody within us recognizes itself in melody of the Great Song. It is at this point, we find ourselves possessing great intuition. The Oran Mór brings to us, when we are able to recognize it and sing with it, “The Sight” of all things that were, all things that are, and all things that will be. Rather than living, as many traditions would suggest, with one foot in this world and one foot in the Other, Mills suggests that we live simultaneously in both worlds: in the One World. It is then that we rejoin once more with divine creation and find that we are no longer suffering.

Rather than using the scientific, impersonal terms of the Big Bang, the story of The Oran Mór is more visceral. It’s easier to imagine a song stirring in the darkness and gradually building and building and changing as worlds and life are created, than a sudden explosion that came out of (seemingly) nowhere in the vastness of space. And yet, in acknowledging that the song is changing, constantly creating, etc. it gives room for the scientific truths of evolutionary theory to coexist with spirituality. It gives, beyond then, a sense of meaning- we are part of the eternal forces of creation. We are one with all beings and all worlds, and our purpose, as is the purpose of all life, is to create. Being in-tune with that song of creation brings us closer to that connection, and allows us to do incredible things. All worlds exist within the song, and all things are but strands of melody within it.

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On Gods / Spirits: Because The Oran Mór story doesn’t include a creator deity, it stands to reason that Gods, Goddesses, faeries, etc. were created by the Great Song. In Celtic myth, I’ve found especially, figures whom are now worshiped by neo-Pagans as deities are not really explicitly called as such. Some of this could have much to do with the means in which the stories were recorded by Christian monks, but could also, I think, have some to do with the fact that these myths were part of a rich and vibrant oral tradition. The figures linger somewhere in the fuzzy lines between history and legend.

It’s my personal gnosis that the gods are just that: somewhere in the spaces in between. I think they were beings who once lived, and had (hence their great abilities) a deep connection with The One World and the song of creation. Once they passed on, they became one again with that One World and the song. Because they were gifted, and because they were remembered, I think that they can still be reached through their legends, through the right strands of melody plucked from that song of creation. They can still offer us guidance and assistance. They, like the song, are in all things and all beings; you only need to have a properly trained ear.

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On Life/Death/Rebirth & Where the Wylde Hunt Plays Into This at All: I explored this topic in-depth earlier in 2015, and my thoughts haven’t changed too much regarding the matter:

Much of my idea of life, death, and rebirth in this post will come from the Oran Mór myth and from the Three Circles of Manifestation concept in John Michael Greer’s The Druidry Handbook as these are the two that resonate the most with me personally.

In Greer’s chapter on The Three Circles of Manifestation it speaks of a pattern of reincarnation. To me, it felt a bit akin to the idea of finally reaching Nirvana in Eastern traditions.

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In this pattern, all matter and “soul stuff” (for lack of better term) originate from Annwn, simultaneously Underworld-of-sorts and source of all building blocks for life. Once a soul has been born from the depths of Annwn, it begins a journey through many lifetimes. The realm in which this series of lifetimes takes place is Abred. The soul must experience and suffer all things through these different incarnations, moving from very simple single-celled life, into plants, into animals, and in the upper reaches of Abred, into human life. Throughout this process, the soul might move up and down between different life forms, learning all lessons there are for it to learn.

Once the soul has experienced all things, it moves onward into the realm of Gwynfydd. Here, each soul is allowed to rest and reflect, synthesizing all the lessons they have learned in their many lifetimes. The soul is given gifts of power and wisdom here, and soul is able now to reflect its own unique Awen (or as I’ve come to think of it, their strain of the Great Song).

Once a soul has learned to express its unique harmony, it may rise again into the realm of Ceugant. It is here that the gods dwell, and here that soul will dwell forever in peace, power, and knowledge.

I have begun to connect this to the Oran Mór as thus: if the One World is, as I feel that it is, like an ocean, could these not be viewed as sort of levels within that primordial and dark sea? Souls come forth from the depths of the One World. As we live through many lives, and learn all that there is to learn, we come to be aware of our connection to all that was, all that is, and all that will be. When he come to know our connection, and indeed to know on a soul-level, all things and their experiences, it is then that we move beyond to the next step.

With what we have learned, in Gwynfydd we learn to express our unique song and its reflections of all that our soul has learned. We begin to be able to sing, as Taliesin had:

I have been a multitude of shapes,
Before I assumed a consistent form.
I have been a sword, narrow, variegated,
I will believe when it is apparent.
I have been a tear in the air,
I have been in the dullest of stars.
I have been a word among letters…

Once we know our song and know of our ability to sing it in harmony with all the strands of the Great Song, we move beyond to Ceugant. Ceugant is the outer reaches of the One World, where the soul joins in the endless process of co-creation in the Great Melody.

For me, the Wylde Hunt exists as a sort of psychopomp-like entity. It moves within and without the various planes of existence. It is the force that brings the necessary end of one phrase of the song, so that another might take its place. It is the Wylde Hunt which, in my views, ferries a soul through these different realms of existence and onto wherever it is they are headed to next: a new life, a new realm, or even into their ranks.

For me, working with the Hunt entails honoring them as the wild forces of the Universe, working with them through transitional parts of the year (and I’m currently working on casting off the Wheel of the Year and developing my own) as well as those deep, transitional parts of my own life. I also feel called, on a personal level, to assist those I can on those same big transitional points of life to the best of my ability.

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Things I Value Beyond All Else: The first is (of course) the natural world and the deep connection I feel with it: the faces I find in the trunks of trees and the exchanges I have with them, blazes of color in autumn that take my breath away, the absolute joy of identifying stars and planets in the night sky, winds strong enough to nearly blow me over- and gentle breezes that rattle the cottonwood leaves, the list could go on literally forever.

The next thing would be, I think, creativity. My ability to create, to share my thoughts and my expressions of self through poetry, photography, music, drawing, etc. etc. is incredibly valuable to me- and I always want to encourage and embrace that in those around me. We are most connected to all that is when we participate in leaving something of ourselves- our souls’ visions in the world.

And of course, there are the very traditional values of loyalty, hospitality, compassion, courage, honesty, respect, wisdom, peace… I tried, at one point, to make a sort of chivalric / ‘Hunters’ Code’. At best, it feels redundant. My thoughts now are basically this: be compassionate and respectful of all people, yet defend yourself and your energy should you be in danger; always seek truth and wisdom, and live honestly, fully, and in harmony to the best of your ability. 

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On Some Witchy Topics: This is the part where I try to go through some of the main topics of discussion I’ve seen floating about the community and my stance on them.

  • Laws of Return / The Wiccan Rede / Etc.: I don’t follow this exactly. Obviously, I would NEVER hurt anyone or anything intentionally, and I do believe this: if you put out nasty energy constantly, eventually some of that’s going to come back to you. The same is true of putting out positive energy. I don’t think it’s always a neat ‘three/five/ten/whatever times what you put out comes back’. Do accidents happen? Yes. My rule of thumb is to consider the consequences of my actions: How will this affect the whole?
  • The Role of Ritual: I’ve explained a bit briefly elsewhere, but I’ll touch on it here, as well. Ritual here, means something deliberately done, and in a particular order that can be (and often is) repeated. Habits and routines are different in that they sort of become unconscious decisions after a time.
    For me, ritual is very indicative of careful thought and intention. Each step of the process has a specific meaning. It is thought-out and done intentionally because of its meaning, not because “well, we do it every day/year/etc.”The situations that lend themselves most towards being considered “ritual” in my personal life are, of course, spiritual. On the high days, there is a specific sequence of words, gestures, etc. that I perform to honor my gods and to celebrate the seasons. When I am in need of something and decide to do spell work, there is a set of motions that I go through with careful thought and focus on my intention. More mundane rituals, for me, might be graduation ceremonies, birthdays, funerals, celebrations of secular holidays, etc. Each time, there is an intention and a thought process that accompanies the set of actions. 
    These rituals, spiritual and mundane, for me mark passages through life and through time. They are the points where we are called to take stock of where we are, to reflect upon what has past, to celebrate all of those things, and to look forward towards what is yet to come. The word “ritual” for me denotes something sacred, not in the way that religious pilgrimage sites are sacred, but in the way that they remind us of our humanity, and call us out of our auto-piloted careening through everyday life.
  • Circle Casting: I rarely, if ever, cast a circle when I’m doing witchcraft. For some people it is an awesome tool for focusing their energy, projecting their consciousness between realms of existence, and protecting themselves. For me, it is more distraction than anything; my energy is spent before I get to what it is I’m trying to do- and I’m all out of focus because I’ve spent a great deal of attention calling upon energy for the circle, the elemental quarters, and then deities. It is my opinion, that I can connect with energy, protect myself with personal sigils and amulets that are worn, and focus myself far more efficiently without one.
  • Spells- And That Nasty Topic of Hexes/Curses: I do spells very sparingly. If I need some help with a situation, and I have done all that I can on a mundane level, then I may cast a spell. Hexes and Curses, I believe, aren’t necessarily grounds for condemnation. Do I think there are better uses of energy? Absolutely. Do I think that people who do them are totally valid? Absolutely. The closest I’ve come, personally, to doing a ‘curse’ was more akin to holding a mirror up to someone and saying “Look. Look at what it is you’re doing; it’s causing me distress.” It was an “I’m feeling desperate and cannot escape your presence, so look:…” type of spell used in, what I felt were, really extreme cases of self-defense.

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And since, I’ve exhausted my immediate pile of topics that wouldn’t require a longer tangent (and some of these may yet get a longer post)- and I’ve gone on for just about 3,000 words, I think I will wrap this up. Above is, essentially, my personal beliefs about the Universe, the gods, and my thoughts on witchy practice. As I rebuild my spirituality, my focus is on connection: feeling truthfully and deeply connected with all that is around me. My goal is to create a regular practice that sustains me. It should aid me in difficult times, and allow me to soar in the more pleasant ones. It should be a living, breathing practice that has room for all aspects of my personality- all the verses of my song.

Until Next Time,
Rachel