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

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Personal Update and Solstice Reflections

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This past week or so, with the Solstice and my twenty-third birthday mark the conclusion of my twelfth year as a practicing witch, and one year since this blogging journey was begun. I’ve not been as active as I’ve wanted to be on this, my YouTube channel, the rest of my social media presences, or in my own practice. This past year has been incredibly trying, but I’d like to believe that I’ve finally come through the worst of it.

 

I’ve been home now and done with my undergraduate studies for about two months. It’s still feeling a little lack-luster. Where’s that promise of a job in something relevant to my degree? Why do I feel so apathetic about grad school? What the hell does one do with a B.A. in history? There are a lot of unanswered questions, and a lot of things that feel stagnant and frustrating about being in my parents’ house in my hometown and working at something completely unrelated to all of the things I’ve spent years and years of energy into with my studies.

 

We’ve also had a hell of a lot of rain. Both Beltane and Midsummer were sort of de-railed by the heavy rain and flooding that came with them. I’d planned gatherings with friends for each that had to be called off because of the weather and scheduling conflicts. In retrospect, I think I needed those moments to myself.

Beltane was a rainy evening, spent in the pavilion at the local state park. This was where I performed a rite of dedication to the Wylde Hunt and to Herne the Hunter. It was a simple ritual, but a powerful one. After months locked away in my dorm for a good portion of my time, it was something I needed: the power of fire, the sound of rain, the cool night air, and the stirrings of summer life returning to the world.

 

The next month or so between then and Midsummer was spent sort of in hiatus. Spirituality, as much as I didn’t want it to, was sort of placed on the back burner as I got my footing in my new job and used to being back in my parents’ place. But I did a lot of things I am grateful for: spending time in my hammock as the trees started to unfurl their leaves, planting an herb garden, taking up archery again, and doing some reading (a longer review on By Land Sky & Sea by Gede Parma might be coming soon).

 

The June Full Moon really signaled an awakening for me again, though. I was making money, starting to succeed at some of this ‘adulting’ stuff, and doing things, but I was still feeling stuck, unfulfilled, lost on that path. Following a reading from my local witchy-store owner, I did some spell work for direction, self-sovereignty, and inspiration. I wasn’t disappointed by the results.  For the couple of weeks between the Full Moon, and the arrival of Midsummer, I was sort of haunted by this moon goddess figure that appeared holding a lantern of silvery blue light, or a moon-shaped scythe, and seemed to be guiding me through the mists of my dreams and meditations, and kept seeing crows, hawks, and vultures all over the place. I asked for guidance and ‘direction’ in my life, and here was this guide trying to show me the way. It took me a good deal of time to connect what I was seeing to the goddess Morrigan, but it was all there: crows, the triplicity of the moon, the mists of the otherworld, the waters that she as washer at the ford resides by. The goddess of death and transformation had taken a more subtle and gentle approach that I was quite unaccustomed to seeing, but yet, here she was in my life once more.

And yet, Midsummer is only the beginning of this new journey that I’m starting on. I can feel that now as I type these words. This next stretch of my path is important, and life-altering. I’m not yet certain where it is leading me, but it seems to be a much more healing and empowering bit of discovery and work than this past year has been.

In the last few days, I’ve turned to working on tarot and returned to Druidry once more. I was very blessed to be given a close friend of mine’s introductory packet from the Order of Bards Ovates & Druids. He had purchased the intro pack and decided it wasn’t for him some time ago. For me it felt like being handed a Hogwarts letter. Everything about it resonated on such a deep level. It was what I’d been hoping for in a spiritual study course all this time and unable to achieve. Now, I’m just waiting on the first of the monthly packages to come from the order; the wait for snail-mail from the UK is killing me, but I’m confident it will be well worth the wait when it finally arrives.

Between this, and finally getting my desk space situated at my parents’ house, I’ve felt more awake and inspired to work on art, spirituality, writing, and this blog as well. I’m hoping this upswing carries on for quite some time. It feels much better than where I was at for a good portion of the last several months.

So now, I’m working on getting more content out for the blog and the YouTube channel. Mark and I are attempting to build a coven in our hometown, and are working together on revitalizing our practices and our lifestyles together. Here’s to the next trip through the Wheel of the Year being a deeply spiritual and important one.

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

Imbolc: The Light in the Darkness

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As the new solar year gets under way, it is nearing the time of Imbolc. In Druidry, and indeed for many neo-Pagans, this is a festival that marks the returning of spring. The light has started to return to us following the Winter Solstice, or Yule, and the first signs of new life can begin to be seen. It is associated with a return to youth, light in the last dark months of winter, a time for stirring from our post-holiday stupor, as it were.

I do quite honestly believe that this year is the first year in which I feel these things in any sort of real sense. For several years, my practice often completely overlooked the festival altogether. How could I celebrate the coming of spring when I’m up to my rear in snow? Where was the light at the end of the tunnel when we’d hit only about a quarter of the way through the Winter Semester of the academic year? After the solar New Year’s glimmer and excitement had faded, it was altogether much more difficult for me to find that same light still burning by the time we had reached Imbolc. A bit of a seasonal rut and bout of depression seemed to hit every February without fail as I juggled work, school, and social life, as well as trying to even find the motivation for the simplest of continuances of my pagan practice. Celebration and ritual generally wasn’t in the schedule for me.

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This year feels different, and I’m a little disappointed that it a) took me this long to find a connection with that idea of hope and of light returning for this sabbat, and b)is occurring right before I move to a drastically different climate where I’ll have to learn again the patterns of the Wheel of the Year as they unfold in the tropics rather than in my rather temperate home state. Perhaps it’s the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having; I was able to take a walk in the ravines this afternoon without gloves or anything of the sort because it was nearing forty degrees Fahrenheit. I’m almost more willing to believe that spring is nearing this year. It might also be that I’ve something new to look forward to in the coming months: graduation and the start of a new life.

Early January was sort of riddled with a deep depression that I had sunken into, but now that things have started to move forward, I’m gradually feeling a bit better. There’s something stirring, and I’m hoping it’s something better than last year had to offer about this time.

Here’s hoping you all have a blessed sabbat however you do- or don’t!- celebrate it. May the quiet and steadfast light of hope and life reborn be with you as The Wheel continues to turn.

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

YT Pagan Challenge: My Witchy / Psychic Talents

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Hello all! I’ve learned, as of this post, that WordPress will no longer let you imbed YouTube videos on your posts with the free plan (or at the very least, I can’t figure out how to do it now!) At any rate, I’ve posted another video on my YouTube channel that discusses Witchy/Pagan talents. The fifth topic for the YT Pagan Challenge was: Do you have any magical talents, psychic techniques, which you consider your specialty? Like I did with my previous video, I want to keep making blog posts to accompany the new vids.

So! On to the topic of witchy talents. As I discussed in the video above (and more than likely in posts throughout this blog), I’m not someone who does a great deal of magic. Candle magic tends to be my go-to for spell-craft, and I guess I’d consider that my talent / technique as far as that goes. Beyond that, I tend to have a sort of knack for just… guessing or intuiting what something could be used for.

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Picture found via lunaticgarden.pl

An example of this was one summer, while I was roaming around my back yard and the forest behind it with Mark, we came across a white bush growing amongst all of the cedar and pine trees. We’d been gathering some wildflowers and the like for making a Midsummer incense, and came across it. I’d mentioned that it gave me the vibe of being good for magic involving love, light, the sort of spirit of summer, or something that would be useful for weddings. Sure enough, once we’d researched it, we found that it was a magnolia bush- and it was indeed useful for spells involving love, fidelity, friendship, happiness, etc.

Basically, I have a very difficult time remembering things in the encyclopedic sense, and a great deal of luck in just being able to intuitively know things.

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I also learned this summer that I’m good at scrying- though not in a traditional sense. I have (and you can see it in the video above) a dark brown agate mirror that I found at the local Pagan Pride Day festival. This summer, while I was on a camping trip, I cleansed and blessed the mirror in a stream and by the light of the moon at the beach we were near.  I placed the mirror under my pillow, for the entirety of the trip and a number of really vivid dreams. I can’t get mirrors to work in a normal “look into the mirror to see x” sense, but I’ve found that using it in that way works quite well.

Beyond that, my real talents in my practice are mostly in making my own tools and ritual jewelry, and tarot. I sculpt my statues for my altar space and have made a number of the pieces that I actively use in ritual.

I  had a lot of fun making this video and blog post, and look forward to following it up with more in the YouTube Pagan Challenge.

Blessings,
Rachel

A Humble Tribute to David Bowie

Very few moments are as burned into my memory as the night I learned, one year ago today, of David Bowie’s death. I was ill-prepared this evening when, as is my sort of ritual, I clicked over on the “Memories” feed on Facebook. The heartbreak is just as great now as it was then.
But there isn’t just sadness: there’s a remembrance. He touched the life of countless artists, musicians, actors, etc. both famous and not. There are other people, just like me, who still feel the heaviness of losing him as if it were just yesterday… And, most touchingly, my identifying with Bowie and his work had a lasting impact on those around me. I got to re-read the messages, posts, etc. of people saying “I heard the news, and immediately thought of you.” Me. I would never have dreamed that that connection would be so strong for some people- some of whom I’ve only talked to in courses I’ve taken and the like. It fills me with a great amount of love, and pride, and awe still.
The next few days, I’m sure will be solemn as more of those memories show up on social media. I’ve already spent the past few days revisiting Labyrinth and a good deal of his music- including the EP “No Plan” that was released this year on his birthday. 2016 was a year full of losses, and David Bowie was only one of the first in an absolutely devastating list of pop culture icons lost in this past year. It left me, at times, wondering how we would ever recover from that loss… But it is also important to remember that death clears the way for new growth. The endless song of creation cannot continue if nothing dies off. All that’s left to do is pick up the torches they had to set down, and carry on with their memories in our hearts and inspiration, and continue their work: of creating, of holding space for all of the other weirdos and creators out there.

-Much love to you all,
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

A Poem of the Incoming Storm

Ripping across the white-capped waves,
The wind catches my breath-
My hair, my arms outstretched-
The ephemeral feathers ruffl’d there…
A song rises in my gut:
Burbles, churns like a riptide-
Rumbles. Like thunder…
Builds with each crashing of water on shoreline
Until it is humming behind my lips-
Quieted by the buffeting gusts of
Seaweed scented air…
Air that’s flecked with beach sand,
Broiling and tense with the tempest to come.
For a moment, my soul is caught up in it-
It soars in the cool blasts,
And I am giddy with the exhilaration it brings.
But with that first, brilliant flash of light-
The blazing purple hue that cuts the deepened grey-
I am brought back down to my rooted feet.
The storm is coming,
And now, we must go…

This poem was inspired by some adventuring with a good friend of mine tonight near the Saginaw Bay in Bay City, Michigan.