Category Archives: Magic

The Word Made Manifest

The Word Made Manifest

(I may get struck by lightning for that title…)

Something I tend to forget is the power of sympathetic magic.  How like attracts like, and naming something, whether it be something material or something more ephemeral, helps make it manifest.  But I’m starting to see it in my life right now.

I started going to church in a search for community.  What I wanted out of that was kind of vague.  I think at the heart of it was I wanted a place where, if something were to happen to me, there would be people who would help me beyond my two best friends and a handful of people at work.  A place for my kids to have adults to look up to.  And a place where I could contribute to other people’s well-being.

This started paying off in unexpected ways a few weeks ago.  I took the kids to game night, and for the first time they were exposed to kids significantly younger than them.  Young kids see teenagers are basically superheroes, and my kids had never experienced that before, really from either end.  They were both a little overwhelmed by it, but they rose to the challenge.  Hero did so well with one overly exuberant little girl that the mom spoke to the director of religious ed (basically the Sunday school director) about hiring her on as a regular babysitter.  So Hero now has a job, and one that actually pays!  She can pick and choose which opportunities to work fit her schedule (for example, she’s babysitting during the Wednesday class I’m going to), but she doesn’t have to work every Sunday, for example, or every special event.  I’m hoping after a couple more events, we might be able to get Xander on that list, too.  Once he’s not so overwhelmed by the attention!  He did seem to have a good time playing with the younger kids.

And I scored a hat!

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Back in December when I first started, I think it was my second Sunday there, they had a craft fair after service.  So many creative people in that church!  One of the women did hand-decorated felt hats.  I love hats.  I had a real Indiana Jones fedora I wore so much in college until one day I left it under my seat in class and someone swiped it.  She had one that I fell instantly and completely in love with.  It was teal green with a rounded crown and a brim with a lip on it, and she had decorated it with peacock feathers.  It was gorgeous, I loved it, and I was broke.  I put it down sadly and walked away.  I ran into her again at church last week.  She was wearing a dramatic straw hat with purple flowers all over it.  I took a chance and asked her if she still had that hat.  She said she wasn’t sure, but she’d check.  Middle of the week, I got an email that she’d found it!  Hooray!  She brought it to church on Sunday, and it was awesome!  Hero’s jealous of it.  Maybe I’ll get her one next craft fair…

But opening myself up to community is helping in ways I hadn’t expected.

I walk with a former co-worker at lunch most days, and we talk as we walk (obviously).  The other day I got complaining about my basement, and how it’s always flooding and I wish I could  dig out a hole to sink a sump pump, but I can’t break the concrete.  Out of nowhere Friday night she texts me to ask if she could bring her husband over to take a look at it.  Well, he’s a union plumber, so of course I said hell yeah!  They came over last night to have a look at it, and he agreed with my assessment, that the stand pipe there was probably a drain and that the concrete wasn’t so thick that he couldn’t hammer through it easily enough and sink either a bucket or a deep pvc pipe with rock at the bottom.  The benefit of the later is it would allow ground water to seep directly into it instead of having to rise to the surface and then run in.  I already have the pump, so Joe is going to check around his job site to see if he can find something to use for the insert, so yay!  I also mentioned wanting to permanently pipe the outside spigot and that I need to replace the water heater, and he immediately started making suggestions on that, too, so double yay!

I have to think that some of this comes from the service we had last Sunday.  It was an extended joys and sorrows ritual, where instead of being a small part of the service, the majority of the service was encouraging people to name their sorrows, their joys and their hopes.  Since there was more time allotted, I took the opportunity to stand up during the joys part and celebrate the fact that I fixed my own washing machine all by my own self.

Wait.  I don’t think I told you this story!

Three weeks ago, about two weeks after I paid $200 to get my 18 year old washing machine fixed, Morgan woke me up to tell me that the washer was flooding again.  I was barely conscious, he’d dealt with it, and there wasn’t anything more I could do about it at the time, so I went back to sleep.  The next day, I spun the last of the water out of my clothes, threw them in the dryer and promptly went into denial.  I just didn’t have the money to pay for another repair, let alone a new washer.  But eventually people start running out of underwear, so I had to deal with it.  I did some research based on what Morgan had told me happened, and decided that it was probably one of the internal water supply hoses that had given out.  That didn’t seem too hard to fix, if I could figure out how to get the housing off the machine.  But I needed to confirm that was the problem and get the hose off so I could drive around and try to find someone who carried the right part (all the appliance repair supply shops in our area have closed.  No one fixes things any more!)  So I pulled it out as far as I could, climbed over to detach the supply hoses…

And found that the drain hose had come off.

Seriously.  That was it.  Shoved it back on, clamped it back in place, and it was fixed.  No fuss, no cost.  I was stupidly chuffed.

Back to church.  So I stood up in front of the congregation and told this story, ending with something along the lines of, it wasn’t the actual act of fixing that I was so proud of, it was the fact that I was brave enough to look.  That kind of bravery, the “Maybe I can do it myself” feeling, I think gets harder and harder as our world gets more and more complicated.  So yes, I think taking the chance is an act of bravery.  Especially for me, who has no childhood experience of watching a parent fix things, and who hasn’t been educated in any of this stuff as an adult.  I think that bike repair class helped in more ways than I expected!

But more important was the naming of it.  By saying aloud in sacred space, “This I can do and this I am willing to do,” it put it out into the Universe that this is who I am, and has started bringing those things to me.  While I can’t do some of the stuff myself, I think Joe will explain what he’s doing and give me a chance to learn some simple things that I can do.  I’ll learn.  I’ll grow.  I’ll connect.

Hrm.  This post didn’t go where I thought it would.  But I’ll leave you this.  Name your fears aloud.  Name your triumphs aloud.  Speak your hopes, your sadness, your curiosity aloud.

Someone is listening.  Believe me.

Not so Perfect

Not so Perfect

I started with a study group at church last night.  It’s a six session program exploring our personal faith and how it maps onto Unitarian Universalism.  I figured it was a good way to meet other people in the church, learn more about UUism and find my path forward.  It’s a nice group of 9 people plus the minister and membership coordinator.  For the first session, we introduced ourselves, learned about how small group ministry works in UU, and then talked about our own paths to that point.  I wasn’t the only one there with pagan or “alternative” religion leanings, and I got to talk a bit about pagan humanism, which was empowering.  Towards the end, the minister, Dan, asked what we were hoping for from walking the path with Unitarian Universalism.  I was surprised when the first thing that popped into my head was “Healing.  Spiritual healing.”

I didn’t say anything.

But it was a moment that grew in my head all the way home and kept me awake off and on last night, half the time near to tears.  Because it was the first time I acknowledged that I was spiritually wounded and needed healing.  It’s still hard to talk about, because it means saying harsh things about people I still love and respect.  But the first step in healing is naming what hurts.  So I need to take that step.

I came into the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel in 1996.  Morgan was a year and a half old, Eric and I had just gotten married, and I was excited to be in a community where I could learn and develop towards my goal of being a teacher and leader myself one day.  And I did learn so much.  My first degree initiation was recognized, and two years later I received my second degree initiation.  I lead rituals, taught classes, aspected deity.  I got pregnant.

Things changed.

I had completed the coursework, as it were, for my third degree initiation, including exploring the possibility of a pagan-based AA program as part of my pastoral counseling training.  I got support and encouragement from my elder/High Priestess who had mentored me.  I went for my interview.  And I was denied.

The reason given for not granting me the initiation was something along the lines of I wasn’t well-connected to spirit.  Which seemed like a BS reason to me, but I wasn’t privy to their discussions, so I didn’t know what it was code for.  I knew that they had just had a young HP go seriously off the rails, so I chalked it up to them being gunshy about a repeat.  I figured if I gave it a year and re-interviewed, I’d be fine.  Coven leadership promised me all kinds of support and guidance in reaching my goal, so I committed to continuing.  I got pregnant.

I never heard from anyone.

I continued with the coven, but things were different.  I started to notice small things.  Comments I got from leaders that experiences I had in ritual weren’t “true”.  I was passed over for roles in ritual despite my experience.  Then a time came when our coven began addressing some group dynamic issues that had plagued the group for many years.  In talking one on one and in small groups with other members of the coven, I thought we were in unity on some of the decisions the tradition was asking us to make.  When we met with coven leadership, though, when I spoke up firmly against what we were being asked to do, the people I thought had my back didn’t.  I looked like an obstructionist and a troublemaker and was left to hang on my own.  My trust of the people I was supposed to be able to trust the most in the world outside my family was shattered.

A year later, I took a sabbatical from the group.

But it was less a break and more of a shunning.  It was tradition policy that if someone was on sabbatical, they were not allowed to attend any Assembly rituals or really communicate with Assembly members.  We had had someone sabbatical from the group before, and I had felt sick to my stomach that this person who was supposed to be a brother to us we were now not allowed to talk to. I understand that the policy was in place to keep the person from feeling pressured.  But for me, at a time when I most needed pastoral care and counseling, I was isolated and unmoored.

I didn’t go back.

The problem is, even with a second degree initiation, ties are made.  There is a part of me that will always be connected to the Assembly.  I still recommend it to people in the area looking for more organized pagan spirituality.  But I can’t go back myself.  I was made to feel like I wasn’t a good enough pagan, that I wasn’t valued, that what I had to offer wasn’t enough.  And I internalized that, so very hard.  I say I’ve been practicing solitary since then, but really the extent of my “practice” has been my internal communications with the divine.  When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I set up an altar in my room, but more often than not it has been a dust collector.

In November, I broke the literal ties to Oak and Willow and the Assembly when I created my new ritual cords.  In December, I started with Gaia’s Rainbow, the pagan circle at BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.  As I started, there was a voice in my head saying, “This isn’t how it should be done,” comparing it to what I’d done in the Assembly.  But after a couple of rituals and classes, I’m realizing THAT’S THE POINT.  In many ways, Gaia’s Rainbow is the epitome of Pagan Unitarian Universalism.  People following their own paths together.  It’s not a coven.  It’s a circle.  Open but unbroken.  I’m keeping my mouth shut about how things “should” be.  Things are the way they are.  And the combination of that and the broader church are part of my healing.  A time may come when I’ll be able to offer service and experience.  But for now I am content to learn these new ways and walk this gentler path while I heal.

People are going to read this post who may want to argue with me about what happened during my time with the Assembly, or who may be hurt by what I’ve said here.  All I can say is that  whatever may or may not have “really” happened back then, this was how I experienced it, and I have to acknowledge the damage it did to me.  It’s been 10 years now. I love you, I miss you, but I’m putting it behind me and moving on.

The (Magickal) Ties That Bind

The (Magickal) Ties That Bind

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Work begets work.  This is true in anything.  The more you do, the easier it becomes and the more you want to do.  I’ve found this true in so many things in my life.  When I’m writing regularly, I want to do it more and I feel better about what I’m producing.  The running has been obvious.  When I couldn’t run, I ached for missing it, and now I have to struggle to keep myself from running two days in a row.  Heck, last weekend I went on a baking spree, and even when I’d finished 6 different kinds of goodies, I caught myself looking around at the end thinking, “What else can I make?”

Although that may just be because I wanted more cookies to eat.

So it should have come as no surprise that when I started going to church, I would want to do more work on my spirituality.  But even though the desire was there, something was holding me back.  It took a lot of soul searching to realize that I still felt pretty tightly tied to my old Tradition and coven.  If I was going to move forward, I had to let that go.

The biggest symbol of this was my cords.  Most witches, especially those initiated into a coven, have a set of cords they wear in ritual.  This can be a simple rope belt or something more complex.  When I first dedicated and initiated back in Michigan lo these many years ago (I can’t remember if it was 1988 or 1989. LONG time ago!), we made simple white belts.  When I joined Oak and Willow in 1996, I was given a set of cords that were braids of the three colors symbolizing the coven.  These had one knot in them to represent my first degree initiation from my original group.  The cords were way too long for me, so I wore them doubled and hooked with a dragon-headed torc style bracelet one of my covenmates gave me.  I received a second knot with my Second Degree initiation (again, was it 1998 or 1999?  I’m not sure.)  I’ve had these cords for a long time, and wore them to every magical ritual I participated in for the 10 years I was in that group.

But then things happened.  I changed.  The group changed.  I pursued my Third Degree, but for various reasons it didn’t happen.  I had two babies.  And eventual I just didn’t fit anymore.  I left the coven and was on my own for 8 years now.  I practiced in my heart, but I stopped outwardly working magic.  But those cords were still there, a symbol of who I was.  And I missed that.  I missed belonging, of having a spiritual family.  I had tied myself to them, and them to me, and despite the parting ritual, I think those ties lingered.

One of the reasons I started attending the UU church I’m going to is because they have a pagan circle.  Yes, I could start one at a new church, but that’s awkward when you’re new to the community.  I need to follow for a little bit before I can lead.  My first opportunity to interact with that group is coming up on Saturday night when they have their Yule ritual, and I’m looking forward to it, but something felt off.  I couldn’t wear my cords.  Just the thought of it made me feel naked.  So I decided it was time to make some new ones.

I started, as one does, on Amazon.  Which has a bit of irony to it, as I can remember Ivo, our tradition elder, introducing me to Amazon way back.  Thanks to the demand of crafters, paracord is actually now pretty inexpensive, so I picked three colors that were symbolic to me (purple=my identity, brown=farm/future, blue=spiritual growth).  I thought I might want to do a 9 cord braid, so I ordered 50 feet of each.  When they arrived, the colors were PERFECT, both individually and together.  I instantly started setting up to make the braid…and screwed up cutting the purple. Too short!  Grah.  So I got to learn how to join paracord.  Once I could figure out how to keep it stable, I braided the first good or so, just to see how it looked.  It was a wide, flat braid, but I liked the look of it, so I kept going and braided all but the last 3 feet of it.  Then I wrapped it up in my old cords to absorb their juices kind of like a marinade and put them aside until I could dedicate them.

Last night seemed the perfect night.  It’s a waxing moon, so great for growth, and it was my birthday, and since the cords were about my identity, it seemed ideal.  I wrote a rough outline, focusing on the main working, since I had all the framing stuff down cold.  I’d been doing this stuff for almost thirty years, after all!

Well, I don’t have that stuff down cold anymore.  I was able to do the quarter calls, but not with words.  The invocations I had written, memorized and used regularly had been lost through disuse.  I managed something (and started going around the circle in the wrong direction!) and got the circle cast.  Inviting the Divine was easier, as that I’ve always done from the heart.  The working went perfectly (I think).  I finished braiding it on the altar over my pentacle, then put it in my cauldron to “stew” while I transferred the knots, naming them and what they represented.  Then I unknotted one end of the old cords and unbraided it a bit, releasing the last of those ties.  I ran into another problem when it was time for cakes and ale.  I couldn’t remember the blessings!  Something so simple, done so many times over the years, and it was just gone.  So again I winged it with a mental apology to the divine, then gave thanks and closed the circle, ready to start my new path.

When I put the new ones on and named myself, it was a new beginning.  The cords are a little broad and stiff, but I’ll grow into them, and they will soften with time and wear.

But part of that new is new work.  I realized afterward that the default structures I was relying on that failed me were the ones I’d developed and used in O&W.  They aren’t MY habits, they’re the Assembly’s.  So part of the magickal work ahead of me is recreating and revitalizing those pieces of my work.  I need to write new quarter calls that reflect who I am now.  I need to create a new blessing for cakes and ale.  Basically, I need to rebuild my fundamentals from the ground up.  That is part of the work I am assigning myself as part of my year and a day with the church.  If in the end I decided that community isn’t a good fit, then I want to have the tools in place to continue on my own.  I’m not tied anymore.  That means I have to lead myself.

But I’m looking forward to wearing the new cords tomorrow night.

Going to the chapel…

Going to the chapel…

I haven’t been to church more than a handful of times as an adult.  A couple of weddings, a couple of funerals, my father’s 50th anniversary of investiture.  I don’t count ritual as “going to church”.  It’s a completely different dynamic, and a bit less baggage-laden (or I guess at this point differently baggage-laden!)  Church has very specific connotations for me, and not all of them are good.  As a minister’s daughter, I’ve seen how the sausage is made, as it were.  I’ve seen the infighting and pettiness, the moral superiority, the condesention, the apathy, the martyrdom, all the things that make up the dynamic of any church group.  Actually, a lot of it was the same in my coven/tradition, so it’s not strictly a church thing.  But my whole childhood was contingent on the whims of the congregation, so you take that sort of thing a bit more personally.

I’ve been solitary for seven or eight years now, and I’m feeling the lack of community in my life. Especially in the last few weeks and months, with the surge in violence and discrimination and political bile.  There’s only so much I can do as an individual, and I started to feel starved for like-minded community. So I started doing some research.

Denomination was never a question.  I can’t go back to the church of my youth, as even the most liberal UCC churches around here are still more conservative than I’m comfortable with.  Plus the whole God thing.  I’m a Pagan humanist, so I needed a humanistic church.  Which meant Unitarian Universalist.  I’ve often thought about going to a UU church.  I even at one point considered going into the ministry. Hell, they even have a specific Pagan wing of the denomination.  So yeah, if I went back, that would be where I’d go.

Surprisingly (or not, considering the area), there are half a dozen UU churches near me, although it will take some getting used to to actually have to DRIVE to church instead of rolling out of bed, stumbling into my church clothes and crossing the driveway to get to service. Two are within a half hour drive. One of them has a Pagan circle. So that was decided.  I’d explore the BuxMont UU.

I had planned to go the Sunday before Thanksgiving, but confusion about an appointment for Morgan and the demands of Thanksgiving prep kind of put the kaibosh on that.  But I think in the end that worked out for the best.

Honestly, though, I was scared to death to go.  Introversion is not a fun thing, especially when you’re struggling to overcome it.  Add to that the whole haven’t been to church since childhood thing, and I was feeling a lot of regression coming on.  I actually called my mother to ask her how to adult at coffee hour BECAUSE I HAD NO CLUE HOW TO ADULT AT COFFEE HOUR.  I did come close to bailing.  “It’ll keep until January, right?”  But I didn’t.  Instead I got up, dressed in my subtle Mycroft Holmes cosplay (wool trousers, striped shirt, waistcoat, black blazer with 2″ heel boots), screwed my courage to the sticking place, and went.

Walking in the door was like coming home.  That smell of stale coffee pervades every church I have ever been in.

The building was nice.  Modern, which isn’t my favorite, but not soulless, if that makes sense.  Or maybe it was just the smell messing with my perceptions!  I signed in, got my nametag and headed into the sanctuary. The service itself was nice. Not that different from every service I’ve ever been in, really.  And points to me for remembering my wallet for offeratory!  Adulting!  I didn’t recognize any of the hymns, and my throat and face got tired singing.  Just out of practice!  But I never had any moments of discomfort where I had to mentally substitute deity names, so by the time the sermon came around, I had stopped watching for landmines and was able to relax.  And the minister invoked Terry Pratchett in the sermon, so major bonus points!  The congregation was a nice mix of ages and genders, although not a lot of ethnic diversity, unsurprising given the area.

After service I managed to talk to two people at the coffee hour, but then they did a dedication of their new labrynth, which yay!  I went down for that, and the mother of the boy who designed it is the leader of the Pagan circle, so I got to talk to her briefly.  Interestingly enough, she also lives in Lansdale and her son is also spectrum.  So yeah, I think this was the day I was meant to come!  And after that, they had a new members meeting where people could learn some about the UU denomination in general and BuxMont in particular, so I hung around for that as well.  The leader was fun.  He says he’s a Quaker one week a year and a Catholic one day a year, and the rest of the time he’s still looking.  I can get behind that!

By the time that was over, second service was starting, so I headed home.  I wasn’t energized like I am after ritual, but that may have at least partly been because of the stress of strangers.  Otherwise, though, it felt good.  So like a good Pagan girl, I am dedicating myself to a year and a day.  I’ll go to church at least twice a month and to all the high holidays that the Pagan circle sponsors.  Then next December I’ll see where I’m at and if it’s still feeling good, I’ll become a member.

Interestingly, Hero’s started talking about joining me and maybe bringing her friends.  We’ll start with just her at the Yule ritual and a Sunday service or two, see what she thinks.  But her eyes lit up when I told her they accept transgender people.  So maybe it will be a good fit for her, too.

The Nature of Magic

The Nature of Magic

As I’ve been digging into my cleaning binge, I remembered a magic spell I read many moons ago for bringing good things into your home.  The essence of it was to clean your house, shine all the windows and doorknobs to make it easier for the good things to get in, and then cast the spell.  It always seemed like a great spell, and I could have used more good things coming in many times in my life.  But I could never do it.  I could never get my house clean enough.  And I don’t mean that in a false modesty way.  My home has always been just this side of a health hazard.  Being the primary breadwinner during the day and the primary parent at night, I just never had the time to do much beyond the basics.  To get to a place where I could think about shining windows and doorknobs?  Unless I got a bunch of house brownies unexpectedly (and don’t think I didn’t put out the occasional bowl of milk, just in case), that just wasn’t going to happen.  But with this new plan comes new hope.  I need to find that spell again.  I could use a few more good things.

Because basically, that’s the nature of magic.  You aren’t making things happen Harry Potter style.  It’s about changing your own consciousness and patterns of behavior, the way you think about the world.  Can astrology and tarot tell the future?  No, I don’t believe they can.  But they can make you think about your problem or concern in a different way.  You know how people say people make astrology readings mean whatever they want?  Yeah, that’s the point of it.  It’s a way of getting around your higher mind, which thinks it knows everything but is really bossy , so you can come at the problem from a different angle.  Spells work the same way.  Which is why we’re taught never to work magic on other people without their permission.  First off, it won’t work, because you can’t change someone if they don’t want it, and second you have then created a belief/behavior of assault in your own life (“bad karma”).  Not something you want.  So in bad situations, we work magic on ourselves, to help us endure or to give us the strength to get out, get away, make it change, make it stop.

Magic is a system of hope, of optimism, of self-empowerment, the belief that we can make things better, here and now.  When you don’t have that hope, that optimism, magic doesn’t work.  If you don’t believe, you wait for magic from the outside to make something happen.  But magic comes from within, and only you can make it work for yourself.

It’s been a long slog, but I’m starting to get that optimism back.

I think I’ll go mop the front hall.  And maybe shine a window or two.