Mirror, Mirror

Last night, Baltimore Reclaiming’s Winter Solstice ritual opened the door to individual and community mirror work. What we did not do was talk about mirrors as sacred/magical objects or ways to use them. The challenge with community ritual is that there is rarely enough time to delve deeply into every detail, so I wanted to offer some experience with mirror work and possible ways to use the mirrors we crafted.

Mirrors are held as sacred tools in many traditions – think of the Reclaiming creation myth of Star Goddess and Miria, of the wisdom in “As Above, So Below”, and of the use of mirrors to move energy in Feng Shui, to name a few examples.

Our mirrors, created and consecrated in sacred space with a specific purpose in mind, are tools for personal transformation. Every time I look at my mirror it triggers the desire I worked with in ritual space, and slowly, my life orients itself around that energy. Magic is change; whether you see magic as tied to relationship with Deity, or simply as a way to shift things psychologically, or both or none of these, or something else entirely – the heart of our rituals is meaningful, conscious internal and/or external transformation.

Our rituals are also based in part on a set of values defined by our community, one of which is real life sacred space: how can we bring sacred space to our daily lives? The mirror ritual answered this question by giving participants the space to look within, a powerful act in itself. “If that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.” says the Charge of the Goddess. By looking within – which can be done without a mirror, of course! – we honor our own presence and the power of our desires. The mirror as a physical object placed where it can be seen regularly becomes a reminder to look within for what we seek, a reminder of the specific wisdom that arose during the ritual, and a reminder that we are spiritual, magical people who are held in spiritual and magical community.

Just having the mirror hanging or placed prominently is certainly a way of working with the energy it represents, but there are others, as well. In this case, the energy in the mirror is that of our unique sacred longing, the object of desire – the mirror is a tool for revealing our desire and manifesting that object in real life. Combined with the tool of focused intention, there are practically unlimited ways of utilizing it. For instance, it can be used in conjunction with other magical tools, such as affirmations, candles, sacred objects like crystals and jewelry, herbs, etc. Look into the mirror while saying the affirmation; place a candle inside a holder onto the surface of the mirror and burn to release the energy; put jewelry or stones onto the mirror to charge them with the energy of the mirror, and then wear or carry them to keep the energy with you; set herbs onto the mirror and then burn or steep and drink the brew. You could also put the mirror on the windowsill during the full moon or new moon to combine the energy of the mirror with the energy of the moon (this would work with any planet, really).

In ritual space, we applied symbols to the mirrors, but if you feel called, you can (and should!) further embellish the mirror: cords, beads, stones, feathers, ribbons, etc. in colors or materials that match your intention can be added permanently or temporarily.

Also, as time goes on and work with the mirror continues, your desire may transform or be articulated in greater detail. What started out as a desire for “connection” may morph into “family connection” and into “healing relationship with my mother” and further into “communion with Mother Earth”. Don’t be afraid to let your mirror reflect the way your desire transforms. (No pun intended.)

One simple way to use the mirror is to hold it up and imagine that the person in the mirror is the you who has already transformed (attained the desire, met the longing), and to have a conversation with that person: what advice do they offer? What choices did they make? What does it feel like to be that person?

Many leaders and writers in the Reclaiming tradition such as Starhawk and T. Thorn Coyle offer exercises using mirrors for transformation. There are also many wise and experienced members of our own community who likely have their own ideas about mirrors as magical tools. If you need guidance, or have questions, why not start a conversation?

On January 30, at Imbolc, the Reclaiming Community will hold our annual candle magic ritual, during which we will declare our intentions in sacred space together. Our Winter Solstice mirror work may be the beginning of that work, but don’t focus on how that will happen. Work your mirror magic and watch your path unfold before you, using your mirror work to identify signposts along the way.

And, please share any ideas or questions in comments or with the Facebook group!

Advertisements

Witch’s Diary: Post-magic, Post-ritual Drop

cauldron

I want to talk about a thing that happens. I’ve never read about it in any of the books I’ve read on Wicca/Paganism/Witchcraft/WooWoo 101, 102, or 110, nor was it taught during my Wiccan coven training. Yet, having worked with many other witches over the years, it’s come up a few times as a topic of conversation.

It goes, basically, like this. You make a ritual. Sometimes you start planning a few weeks in advance, sometimes months in advance, sometimes there’s no planning and you just do it right on the spot. You build the container, call the Elements, invite the Gods or Spirits or whatever bigger-than-you thing you have to work with. You raise energy and do the Work. You say goodbye to your guests and take down the container. And then… you wait. Something happens: something obvious, or something subtle, or something almost completely undetectable. But after the ritual, in the day or days following, something DOES happen: it feels like the world tilts a little bit. Mood dips. Energy feels low and sloggy. (Is that a word? No? Oh, well, I’ll use it anyway.)

I’ve been calling this the “post-ritual drop” because it sounds an awful lot like the concept of “sub drop” known to my friends in the BDSM community. After intense experience involving a rush of endorphins, there is a feeling of coming back down that can involve mild depression, anxiety, changes in sleeping patterns, eating patterns, and mood. Once, after a particularly heavy weekend of ritual, I developed flu-like symptoms that lasted a couple of days.

Obviously, this experience is not going to be the same after every ritual. A long night of ecstatic trance in a group raising a massive amount of energy will likely produce more of a post-ritual drop than a quiet group meditation or a solitary spellworking. It’s also going to be different for different people – there may be folks out there reading this wondering what the hell I’m talking about – and not experiencing post-ritual drop is not an indication that “you’re doing it wrong.” However, it is something that should be acknowledged so folks can be prepared to be extra generous with self care following intense ritual.

Self care can include:

*Immediately following ritual: focus on grounding and returning to “normal” consciousness. Eat something, drink water, talk with friends, take a shower or a bath. Get plenty of fresh air, especially if you’ve been in a room filled with incense smoke or sage.

*The day after ritual: allow yourself plenty of rest. Spend time in nature if you can. Eat healthy food, get some exercise and sunshine. Do activities you enjoy. Be around people you like or make time to be alone, depending on what you need.

Above all, know that you may need some extra care and be patient with yourself.

I’d love to hear about other folks’ experience with post=ritual drop. Please feel free to post in comments, or email me directly at luckymandrake at gmail.

Life and Death in Tower Times

tomato

It’s dark all the time now, but it seems like I never sleep.

My hands ache for bread dough beneath them, for action, for distraction, for the pressing of soft matter between fingers, the yielding to pressure. But, I used up all the flour today on another batch of bagels, so the memory in my muscles will have to satisfy for now.

What I really want, what we all do I suppose, is a break from the heartstopping pace of violence eating our lives away. The simplicity of a moment to forget the terrifying fragility of our lives, our bodies; the insanely close and easy contact we make each day with machines designed to undo us; the way a tiny piece of metal can slip in where it doesn’t belong and sever the connection of body to soul, and life just floats away like a balloon whose string has been cut.

I’m not afraid, just tired, resigned to this ongoing display of the very ugliest of human possibilities. Like I have a front row seat to the scariest, most confusing movie ever made. It’s like David Lynch meets Quentin Tarantino meets Rocky Horror Picture Show. How can it even be real? Am I losing my mind? How do we all manage to get up in the morning, get dressed, go to work and keep this society machine running?

All this death, this ugliness, this mind-numbing, heart-sickening violence, this anti-life, makes me want to revolt. To be even more alive: to cook until my back aches and all of the dishes are dirty and the fridge is full and my beloveds are clutching their bloated bellies groaning, “oh no, I couldn’t eat one more bite.” I want to work on every creative project – finish that collage, that painting, that song; to write the poetry that lurks half-formed and too timid to announce itself. I want to stay up into the darkest darkness of night counting what few stars I can see above my home in the city. I want to go out into the woods and lay in the leaves and breathe in the blue sky and watch the sun roll through the branches of bare trees. I want to read beautiful words aloud. I want to kiss all of the beautiful mouths, tired faces, and worn hands on all the fragile bodies I love so dearly. I want to listen to all of the songs I’ve forgotten and all of the songs I’ve never heard before and I want to fall in crazy obsessive love with music. I want to move this body in ways it didn’t know it could. I want to have a party and invite everyone I know. I want to read all of the books on the nightstand, at once, right now. Right now. All of it. Now.

That’s all I feel is left these days: right now. Wait too long and the chance could pass by, be gone, stolen by the melting ice caps or the stray bullet or the political fanatic or the religious fundamentalist. There is no wrong place – wrong time. There is only here, only now. No time for nostalgia. No time to mourn the slow-motion collapse of safety and order. And why should we mourn the death of illusion? The Reaper can have it, and all of the deadly lies it’s woven into the sacred fabric of life.

What’s happening now has been happening for as long as there have been people. There has always been death, and war, and oppression and inequality for as long as history can recall. The difference today is the scale, and that we can see it, all of it, all happening at once everywhere to everybody. It’s more apparent than ever that life exists in the shadow of death. We can see it, and it’s tearing us apart.

But there is an amazing thing about life – amazing, beautiful, unbelievable. It wants to be lived. It wants to go on. And even though we are caught in this crazy-making moment in time, and even though we won’t all survive to see what the next moment brings, life will go on.

Embodiment in this incarnation is not for the faint of heart. Besides the vital work of undoing systemic violence and oppression, creating a world of social and economic justice and radical compassion, getting out of the way so the Earth can heal herself, and the seemingly impossible task of loving one another, the dishes are dirty. People need to eat, and to be nourished and healed and loved in other ways. What can we do, together or separately, right here and right now?

I don’t have an answer, by the way. I’m just a weird little soul tucked into my weird little life, staying up all night writing because it’s easier than lying awake in bed counting the endless dripping of rain on the skylight. I refuse to let this environment ruin me. I refuse to become bitter and fearful and dysfunctional. I refuse to lose my ability to love, to be useful, to be alive. There’s too much to do.

Tarot for Dreams

Blog, I’m back! I’ll bet you thought I went out for cigarettes and would never return, eh?

Last night I had a dream that I’ve just moved into an institution and I have to search for my bed. I don’t know why I’m here in this institution but I feel emotionally unsteady and I think – maybe whatever Grandma had, I have it now. I still don’t know exactly what that is or was. The dream did not illuminate that for me.

Anyway, I eventually find my bed – though, calling it a bed is misleading because it is actually a busted up old sofa – and as I’m unpacking my strange collection of things onto my bedside table, I’m listening to my closest neighbors talk. One of them says, “The dance is tonight. They’ve brought in boys for us to choose from.” I interrupt them. “But what if you don’t like…. what if you’re a vegetarian?” They laugh. It doesn’t matter. A guard comes through and announces that all sharp objects and large rocks must be put away out of sight.

Then I wake up.

I dream a lot. Especially during the dark times of year, I dream every night. They’re not prophetic, visionary dreams. Often they are catharsis for emotions I didn’t know I felt until I woke up drenched in them. Sometimes they have clues about the more mundane mysteries of life. Sometimes they have a kernel of wisdom that prolonged consideration reveals. Occasionally, they are so strong, so vivid, that they completely change everything.

There is a dream interpretation method I learned from some wise women Sue and Tchipakkan at a tarot workshop a few years ago. First, distill the dream down into five sections. Then, choose a tarot card that has the same feel as each section. This isn’t based on the “meaning” of the card, but on the way the card “feels”. Then you lay the cards out and tell the story of your dream from a different perspective.

For example, with this dream, I would say:

  1. I am in an institution.
  2. I am looking for my bed.
  3. I find my bed but it isn’t what I thought I was looking for.
  4. There is going to be a dance where each woman will be expected to pair up with a man whether she wants to or not.
  5. The guard announces all sharp objects and large rocks must be put away out of sight.

The cards I would choose are:

  1. 8 of swords
  2. 8 of cups
  3. 4 of cups
  4. 15 the Devil
  5. 5 of swords

I’m realizing as I’m typing that this dream is not the best example, if only because these cards are total bummers.

Now the dream through the eyes of the cards.

I’m stuck in a trap; although I could escape, I don’t realize it. I finally get away and move on to better things, but I’m cut off from the gifts and opportunities that life presents through my own inability or unwillingness to receive them. Caught in a destructive relationship that steals my will and ability to choose, I am stripped of my power and must admit my defeat.

Ugh, what a downer. No wonder I woke up this morning in a weird mood. On the plus side (because I’m an optimist, there is always a plus side) now I know this situation is happening behind the scenes and I can start to uncover it and address it. And this is an excellent time of year for this type of work.

And really, it doesn’t have to be such a big deal – it could just be about the way that the lack of sunlight is making it so I don’t want to do anything. It also calls to mind the way I imagine the Syrian refugees might be feeling. In reality, some dreams are just mysteries that can’t be solved, and I might never know the “meaning” of this dream.

Ode to Change

feathers

Be it welcome or not, change is coming, is always coming, is always here, stealing familiarity from under our noses in a slow pull, so imperceptibly that if we refuse to acknowledge it we may wake up one day and find that the furniture’s been rearranged overnight.

Change is Death’s dog, chewing the bones of our foundations and leaving terrible little surprises on the carpet that we must stop and clean up right away, lest it leave a stain. I don’t recall offering to pet-sit, but I find myself nonetheless being dragged down shaded avenues to mark every tree.

Change is the frightening reflection pressing fingers to tired eyes, asking, “When did I get so old?” and the realization that no amount of magic lotion applied as directed will stop the march of time over the landscape of the body.

Change is fruit that rots before it can be eaten and it is the flies that claim the putrid sweetness and it is the wriggle of tiny white bodies without faces or limbs, only hungry mouths eating away at food too small to see.

Change is thinking, “Maybe I was wrong – no – I was definitely wrong” and choosing a different action, this time.

Change is a carnival ride that may or may not fall apart just as the rusted car begins the terrifying, exhilarating descent.

Change is fever-pitched inspiration within soul-eating madness that leaves in its wake a long string of beautiful creations that are disorienting, challenging you to look away if you dare.

Change is the wheel ever turning, Equinox to Solstice to Equinox to Solstice, still in the center but dizzying on the edges.

Change wants you to subscribe to its channel, to come back again and again, to lose yourself in its stories until there is no you left, only a mercurial dance from moment to unforeseen moment.

On Being Nice

I’m in a moment when life is beautiful, stuffed full to overflowing with goodness. So many simple gifts, I don’t even have time to write the thank you notes. Today’s gifts: that, even when I’ve slept in, I have time and resources to get breakfast and coffee and still make it to work on time; that my job offers an outlet for my creative impulses and even leaves time for me to stop my on-the-clock work to jot down a word here and there as the muse strikes; and that my employer offered me the afternoon off work so I could enjoy the rainy afternoon at home.

Walking home, right around the corner from the job, through the deliciously cool air, a faint drizzle falling, I passed two men sitting outside a rowhome about 10 houses away from my own. One is a neighbor who practically lives in the plastic chair outside his house, the other a jovial man sitting on the neighbor’s steps. I walk past this neighbor at least a dozen times per week, and always say hello and sometimes make small talk as I pass; the jovial man is a stranger to me.  As I approached and passed the men, we had this exchange:

Jovial man: Aw, don’t look like that! You don’t have to put your head down!

Me: I’m allowed to look down. I can hold my head however I want to!

Jovial Man: But smile! You don’t have to look like that!

Me, stopping: I don’t have to hold my head the way you want; I can arrange my face however I want to. I can be smiling on the inside!

Jovial man, pouting now: Aw, you can’t be nice to anyone!

Me: I am being nice!

Neighbor: This is a really nice lady, she’s a neighbor, and she’s really nice!

Jovial man, still wounded: I was just being nice!

During this entire exchange, my voice was pleasant, my tone friendly, my face neutral. My head may have been tilted down to better divert the rain from running down my forehead, where it would have picked up tiny flecks of ground glass and directed them into my eyes (glass worker problem); or it may have been tilted down so I could look at the sidewalk, or it may have been tilted down because I was stretching my neck. It doesn’t matter – I am allowed to hold my body however I want to when I walk down the street and I don’t owe anyone an apology or an explanation, and I don’t have to change just because a “nice” man tells me to.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been told by well-meaning, nice men who are strangers, to smile when I walk past them on the street. Sometimes they say things about how I’m too pretty to not smile, or they say something about how “it can’t be that bad”, inferring that because I’m not smiling, something is wrong. Do they really think they are being nice? Do they want to connect with me but have nothing better to say? Because, as any woman who has had this experience knows, it does not feel nice to be told what to do with your face or body by a stranger.

Last month, the neighbor I mentioned made the mistake of telling me to smile, and holding out his cell phone, saying “Come on, smile, I’m making a directory of all of the neighbors.” It was a mistake because I was really not in the mood to smile, and I turned with a maniacal grin, and gave him the finger, saying “Here you go!” He was so surprised, he laughed, and so did I, pleased that for once I was in the moment enough to not just unconsciously do as I was told, but to respond cleverly.

Listen, guys: I know you just want to be nice, and that somewhere along the way you learned that it is okay to tell women what to do as they walk down the street. You were socialized to do that, and I’m not mad at you for it. But it is not my job to look a certain way; it is no woman’s job to look a certain way. The streets are not always a safe place, and there is a certain physical and energetic armor that we put on to feel comfortable walking alone. And if I am friendly enough to explain to you that I don’t have to arrange my face or my body in a way that makes you feel good about it, please take that as me being nice. The alternative is that I tell you to go fuck yourself for trying to control me, a stranger to you, who owes you nothing, especially not an expression of warmth and happiness as I pass you on the street.

Witch’s Diary: Pisces Full Moon Ocean Magic

ocean view, from the boardwalk
ocean view, from the boardwalk

I’ve just returned from a trip to the beach, bags stuffed with sand and shell and seabird feathers and collected water, hair full of salt, crashing waves playing on my mental soundtrack. It was a short trip, and a full one; I come home with aching muscles and tired bones, wired and restless in the confines of the city, longing for the endless expanse of shining water and the tumult of the waves.

Ritually invoking the spirits of water, embodied in chalice, bowl, and cauldron, I sometimes forget the raw power of the uncultivated waters of the Ocean. In the city, water is mostly tamed, flowing on demand through pipes, in designated waterways sometimes hidden beneath layers of concrete. I find my most powerful encounters with water in a haunting dream, a revelatory divination, an all-consuming relationship, an uncontrollable emotion: awesome experiences, but rarely as threatening as being submerged in the primal elemental force of water.

The Ocean demands respect. More than once she dragged me under, stealing my breath and filling me with salt. With manic exuberance the ebb and flow danced together, sometimes stepping on one another’s toes. It was a dangerous weekend for swimming, one that had the lifeguards extra vigilant: on Saturday alone, 350 people were rescued, and one died in a rip current in thigh-high water.

shells

Ocean magic is a wild, glorious, awesome wonder. The full moon in Pisces, with its white glow reflected on the shifting waters, invited me to dive deep – into dream, into unconscious knowing, into mystery – and the Ocean required flexibility and flow. The cards suggest a need to look away, occasionally, from the swaying tower – to balance awareness of our bleak reality with a focus on the shining light of hope, the comfort of tightly-woven community, and appreciation of the beauty we stand to lose.

The Ocean scrubbed me of grief and of fear, washed away the burden of surety and left me gasping and grinning, with an appreciation for firm ground and the sweet lightness of air. I only wish I had a bit more time to spend splashing in the foam, searching for shells, and exploring the awesome power of the Atlantic.

Now to begin the work of reintegrating…