The King of Wands

Ever have a card that ends up showing up a bunch? Seemingly out of the blue, it starts showing up in every reading you receive or do for yourself.

Right now, I’ve got the Kind of Wands.

Across multiple decks (he’s been a crow, a man, and even a taxidermy fish in a squirrel suit), he keeps showing up. The first time was when I tried a very interesting three-card reading — how you see yourself and how others see you, versus how you really are. Ever since then, any time I have a question about feeling sure about my place in the world, or keeping up my confidence, he’s there. The funny thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever received the King of Wands in a reading before then. Not when I pulled cards for myself, not when I paid for a reading by someone else, not even when my ex’s stepmother was teaching me to read.

kingwandsIn truth, I could do a lot worse than the King of Wands. He’s a leader. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, he’s holding a blossoming branch that symbolizes verdant life and the energy of creativity. He’s surrounded by symbols of strength, nobility, and the element of fire. In the Crow Tarot, he is a sign that focus and energy will ensure a successful outcome. In the Deviant Moon Tarot, he’s a charismatic (if easily annoyed) leader or innovator. In the Regretsy Tarot, he is a fish in a squirrel suit.

The King of Wands is a determinator. If he wants to throw his weight behind something, it will blossom. If he doesn’t, it will wither. As a King, he is less impetuous than a Knight. Unfortunately, that also means that the success or failure of an opportunity rests entirely on the King’s willingness to act on it. No pressure, or anything.

I often feel like I’m spinning my wheels. Even during the times when I know exactly what I need to do to feel happy and successful, health challenges mean that I don’t always have the ability to do them. Here, at least, it seems like the King of Wands is a reassurance that all isn’t lost — I can still achieve what I want with energy and focus.

 

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6 Signs Your Spiritual Advisor Might Be Full of It

Once, I mentioned to someone that I was interested in visiting a Reiki massage therapist. Immediately after I said it, I received a very baffling piece of advice: “Don’t join a cult.”

I say baffling, because:

  1. What do either of those things have to do with each other?
  2. Cults have a very definite set of characteristics that make them destructive to the people they trap. People don’t join a cult because they’re foolish or don’t know any better. They join them because they are desperate, and cults have a highly evolved set of strategies for preying on this desperation. Saying “don’t join a cult” is an extremely reductive treatment of a set of very complex psychological and social problems.
  3. Cults work because people don’t realize they’re about to join one. Saying “don’t join a cult” is a bit like saying “don’t choke to death on a potato” or “don’t get malaria.”

In Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America, Margot Adler points out that Pagan groups don’t share the characteristics of cults. I can’t reasonably say that no Pagan group leader has ever used their influence the way a cult leader does, but the motivations for being Pagan, or even being a secular witch, are not rooted in the desperation and desire to belong that are the hallmarks of someone vulnerable to a cult. (Given the number of solitary Pagans and witches, it would really odd way to go about obtaining a sense of belonging.)

A fangy-toothed cat sleeping upside down.

I have no idea what image would be appropriate for this sort of post, but all of the blogging guides say I need to have one. So, here’s Pye’s enormous, doofy face, because the rest of this post is heavy.

That said, sometimes spiritual advisors and Pagan group leaders take a hard left into toxicity. I mean, there’s a whole range of behavior between garden-variety low functioning manipulators and Shoko Asahara (and none of it is good).

So, how do you tell if your spiritual advisor may not have your best interests at heart?

1. “You’re cursed, but I can save you.”

I can’t tell you how many horror stories I’ve heard from people who went to a psychic or other advisor only to be told that they were suffering from a terrible curse, and only the advisor could help them.

By the way, that help will run you into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Dealing with curse-breaking, like other forms of witchcraft, requires practice, learning, and dedication, but there is nothing so special about it that only one person in the world can help you… and it definitely shouldn’t cost you four easy payments of $10k each. But, while most people know to get a second opinion if their doctor delivers some bad news, they often don’t necessarily feel the same about spiritual advisors.

I hate to be all “not all psychics,” but it’s true. Just like with any other bad news, get a second (or third) opinion, and learn what you can do to help yourself first. Curses also aren’t nearly as common as many people think, so the odds of you actually having a curse that needs removing are not very high.

2. Nudity is not optional.

“Going skyclad” is a thing that I think a lot of people have weird ideas about. It’s a way to remove the trappings of rank from people, to place all of the participants on equal footing. It’s also a way to delineate the ritual setting, since most people don’t go about their daily lives in the nude, and to celebrate the body without shame — if you’re uninhibited enough to be in the buff, you’re uninhibited enough to fully give yourself over to the emotions and feelings of the ritual.

That said, nobody has any place to tell someone that they must be skyclad. Nobody.

There have been instances where gross perverts have maneuvered themselves into leadership positions in part to preside over a space full of naked people. Anyone who insists that you absolutely have to be naked in front of them (and isn’t, like, a literal emergency room trauma surgeon) is not anyone who should be trusted.

3. Something something root chakra.

There’s a lot of crossover between Western new age spirituality and the concept of chakras in Hindu tantrism (something which both Hindu people and members of new age movements often feel several ways about). Part of this is the appropriation of the idea of chakra opening.

The root chakra is part of a complex physical and spiritual energy system. I can’t speak for Hindu tantrism in particular, but, in Westernised practices, this chakra is associated with sexuality, survival, security, and all of the other lower Maslow-type business. A blockage of the root chakra also impacts all of those above it. This makes sense — if you don’t feel safe and have your basic needs met, you probably aren’t going to really open up to much else in life.

The weird part is the number of people who want to personally unblock your chakras. Preferably with their junk.

As with going skyclad, there is no reason to allow someone to do anything to you that you are not comfortable with, even a guru. This isn’t like overcoming fear through skydiving or bungee jumping — this is a predator who wants to take advantage of someone in a vulnerable position. Cloaking it in a veneer of spirituality doesn’t legitimize it.

4. “You’re special!”

Here is where things cross over into cult recruitment tactics. One of the things cults are known for is love bombing. Love bombing is sometimes used toward positive ends. More often, it’s manipulation.

Love bombing takes a vulnerable person and makes them feel wanted and special. It can also take a person who just thrives on praise and make them feel elevated and unique. Once that “loved” status is obtained, most people don’t want to let go of it — so they put up with a lot to keep the love coming.

For a very brief time, I was involved in a small coven led by someone I trusted. All of the people involved in it were friends, and we all knew each other pretty well. I didn’t stay long, because my gut feeling pulled me away — I could tell something in the milk wasn’t clean, even if I didn’t know what. In the short time I was there, though, I could see the leader love bombing one of the members. This member got endless compliments, elevated to a higher rank, and the leader insisted that a kiss was part of the ritual structure.

Long story short, some rumors of sexual misconduct and a broken marriage later, that coven isn’t a thing anymore.

5. “The world doesn’t understand.”

Here’s another crossover into cult territory. One of the signs of a cult is isolation — the cult can only function if its members have a complete reliance on it. So, it shuts down critical thought and fosters the sense that the rest of the world is at fault, and it’s good and right to be at odds with it.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to be against a lot of the things society accepts as normal. Being anti-capitalist, anti-overconsumption, or anti-patriarchal doesn’t make someone weird or wrong — far from it.

It does become toxic when that feeling extends to being unable to associate with anyone outside of a given belief system. When a trusted advisor tells you that you should alienate anyone who questions what you’re doing, that’s bad news.

Weirdly, it’s something that shows up in multi-level marketing schemes, too. Amway even has a name for these outsiders: dream stealers. This name is a way to “other” people who are suspicious of their activities. If a person doesn’t want to join your downline, buy Amway products, or otherwise go whole-hog into the Amway lifestyle? “Why, they’re just a loser who doesn’t want to see you succeed! They want to take away your dream!”

If your advisor tries to control the narrative by shutting down critical thought, that’s bad news.

6. “Your doctor is holding you back.”

It used to be an oft-repeated refrain that you simply couldn’t practice witchcraft if you were under the influence of anything. While this is understandably interpreted as a caution not to drink your weight in sacramental beer or rip a fat rail off of the back of a toilet immediately before entering the circle, you can still find people who take a dangerous, hard line approach.

As in, you shouldn’t be on anything. The medication you need for anxiety? Nope. The mood stabilizers that help you function? Nah. Antipsychotics? No way.

I think this happens when the importance of practicing with a clear head gets crossed with a kind of orthorexia — the idea that you must adhere to a contrived standard of internal “purity” in order to be worthy, and relying on outside help to function somehow makes you lesser. From my observation, this doesn’t seem to arise out of a desire for control (trust me, I’m much less tractable when I’m anxious), but telling someone to stop taking medication that they need is still destructive.

 

I’ve had some great experiences with spiritual advisors and group leaders, and some not-so-great ones. When spiritual advisors are good at what they do, they can help foster tremendous growth and creativity. “Help” and “foster” are the key words, though — they are there to advise, while the actual growth comes from within. If someone tries to make you dependent on them by claiming to be the only one who can save you, forces you into a vulnerable position, love bombs you, urges you to isolate yourself from anyone else who might see them for who they are, or tells you to stop taking your medication, it’s time to drop them.

 

The Hermit

I get a lot of use out of social media. Sure, it’s got its flaws. When you’ve moved around as much as I have, though, it’s a pretty useful way to stay in touch with the people who’re important to you. (Especially when your local postal service can charitably be called “unreliable.”)

Still, there’s something about it that makes me dread using it. Every scroll through my feed is a list of the worst headlines from the last news cycle, friends arguing, and edgelords edgelording, occasionally interspersed with pictures of kittens. It’s a lot to keep up with, and it amazes me how much mental energy it ends up sapping — and I don’t have that much to start with.

Stepping back from it really bothers me, though. Call it FOMO, I guess, or at least the fear of losing touch. But is it even worth it when it leaves me feeling drained and anxious within minutes, and most of the news stories I read are things I’ve read elsewhere? A lot of my social media is private, and I’m not exactly writing to an audience of millions — what does it matter if I like or re-post the stories my friends have most likely already seen? At what point does it become purely performative?

Mental energy is a precious resource for anyone, but I depend really heavily on it to pay my bills. If I can’t stand being online, I can’t write for my clients. If I’m too agitated to focus, I can’t make things. As obvious as that seems now, there was a long while where I didn’t realize it — it felt like that agitation and mental fatigue were normal. They were the cost of participating, or something I had to put up with in order to keep in touch with people and signal boost things I care about.

It seems like such a Millennial problem, doesn’t it? But with six states under my belt and my mobility restricted by my health, social media has become more important to me than it probably otherwise would have. On one hand, this isn’t entirely a good thing (otherwise I wouldn’t be fussing about it now). On the other, I can’t imagine how isolated I’d end up feeling otherwise. I like being somewhat itinerant. I’m an extrovert, and I thrive on meeting new people. The flip side to that is that it’s extra rough when I end up leaving them behind.

On a lark, I pulled a few cards from a tarot deck I recently picked up. I didn’t have any pressing concerns, just wanted to get a feel for the energy of the cards and see what they were like to read from.

“How can I put more into my art and writing,” I asked, “And get to a point where I’m more fulfilled creatively?”

And I got The Hermit.

thehermit

The Hermit is alone, but not lonely. This card expresses a need for introspection, a meditative period away from distraction. It’s dedication to a goal, and a solid understanding of the path that he is on. The Hermit has to turn inward first, before he can find understanding.

In other words, he needs to be the hell off of Facebook so he can learn a thing.

… Okay, so, in retrospect, this seems head-smashingly obvious. Still, on the tail end of about three entire minutes of Twitter, it really clicked for me. Putting myself through the wringer of reading, liking, and re-tweeting post after post about the worst the world has to offer isn’t really doing much good, even in a signal boosting sense. I don’t want to get all gift-shop-driftwood-plaque-with-the-word-“Breathe”-painted-on-it, but I need to stop this. It’s definitely not improving me as a person, and I don’t think it’s even really helping anyone else.

So, I’m experimenting with another social media hiatus. I’m still updating my Instagram and other strictly blog- and shop-related things, but I really need to figure out better ways to internet while maintaining my sanity.

 

 

 

Deepening Resilience: Hoping for the best, expecting the worst.

Learn more about Deepening Resilience here, or read my previous post in this series here

“Climate change” seems like such a soft term, doesn’t it? George Carlin talked about how euphemistic “global warming” and the “greenhouse effect” sounded, and I agree with him — warm sounds cozy, a house is a home, and greenhouses grow things. Climate change doesn’t really seem to encapsulate the full scope of acidifying oceans, dust-choked air, and the creeping horror of feeling your muscles freeze stiff in the deathgrip of a polar vortex, either.

If you can’t tell, I find the whole thing pretty frightening.

Part of it is that I worry for all of the people hurt the worst by it. This is especially true because the people most affected by climate change are women, especially those in developing nations where poor infrastructure creates additional barriers to preparedness. As long as low income women are the ones experiencing the worst of climate change, you will never get the people capable of making a global impact to care.

Part of it is knowing how many animals suffer because of climate change. Unless they’re cute and marketable, though, the people capable of making a global impact still won’t care.

Part of it is a gnawing dread, like watching a slow-motion car wreck. Knowing that there is a tipping point at which we can no longer do anything (how are we going to capture all of the methane currently trapped in melting ice?). Knowing that we’re pretty much there. Knowing that those with the ability to hit the breaks, aren’t.

Part of it is pure self-interest. Extremes in temperature mess me up. The heat makes my brain feel like its being crushed, I can’t breathe, and my heart pounds. The cold makes every limb feel swarmed with fire ants. Knowing that these extremes are only going to be worse, and come more often, isn’t comforting.

Climate change isn’t necessarily the kind of thing you can prepare for. Sure, you can develop a Bartertown-style compound for surviving a Mad Maxesque, worst-case-scenario apocalypse, but that only lasts as long as your ability to defend it does. Investing in gold or other concrete things would make for a great updated retelling of The Cock and the Jewel. Land and supplies are only as good as your ability to keep them, and even the most ardent stockpiler will run out of bullets, eventually.

Personally, I’m not sure how I’d prepare even if I were entirely able-bodied. I know how to grow food and forage, but this is only helpful as long as the right conditions for growing things last. With the weather weirding and disappearing pollinators, I have no misapprehensions about being able to feed myself. I have other useful skills I could barter, but that isn’t really bankable in such an extreme scenario.

I feel the most prepared when I open myself to the possibility of disaster. It might sound fatalistic, but death positivity has done more to help make me an effective person than anything else. When I embrace the fact that everything is probably not going to be okay, when I can look in the face of the absolute certainty that I’m going to die of something at some point, it’s freeing because I don’t have to worry about it anymore. I can hope and work for the best, but expect (and accept) the worst. Death, itself, holds no fear for me.

As trite as it is, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are things that can be done now (not “things we can do” — there is very little, on a day-to-day level, that individuals can do to stop climate change), and the people preventing them are not gods.

Spring is Springing!

Not everyone celebrates the spring equinox. I do, because you can never have too many reasons to eat food and party about stuff.

Spring weather has had a lot of false starts around here — we’d go from days in the 60s, to days in the 30s, from warm sun, to snow. My plants are all confused. But soon, with the sun passing over the equator next week, it will finally, officially be spring.

spring-bird-2295431_640

(Also officially time for me to start up my antihistamines again, but that’s neither here nor there.)

It’s been interesting to see how the color and shape of spring has changed as I’ve moved around the country. In New York, I was young enough that it was basically the year’s equivalent to Wednesday — a hump season on the way to summer vacation (and pow-wow season). In Delaware, I met it with dread, knowing I probably had about three weeks before my doctor put me back on Prednisone. In California, I watched the landscape change as the farmers tilled and planted. Now, I mostly experience the season through trips to the arboretum or aquatic gardens to see the trees with their buds and new, green leaves, still bright and fresh and soft as silk.

I like to perform a ritual on the spring equinox. It generally isn’t a long or complicated one, just a bit of giving thanks that the long, cold winter is at an end, and sowing the metaphorical seeds of all of the things I want to reap in the upcoming months. This year, I have a ton to set up. There are creative projects I want to see come to fruition, we’re planning a move, there’re a lot of professional growth opportunities… All of them need hard work to make happen, but a little magical help never hurt anything.

The rituals I do all follow the ADF structure, but there are a couple of things I do that are specific to the season, like:

  • Put fresh flowers and ferns on my altar.
  • Create a list of all of the “seeds” that need planting, charging it, and releasing it to be fulfilled.
  • Light green and yellow candles, for growth and creativity.
  • Make seed bombs for a neglected spot. (Local wildflowers only!)
  • Open all of the windows and doors, to let the air blow through.

Also, there’s food. Back when I was vegan, I used to make lemon cake pretty often. It was easy — substitute soy milk for dairy milk, and use lemon juice, baking soda, and baking powder to make it rise. Many varieties of lemons are in season now, so these lemon cupcakes are a perfect addition to a spring equinox menu.

I also love mixing up a salad of spring greens, soft goat cheese, strawberries, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. The sweetness of the berries, tartness of the vinegar, and smooth creaminess of the goat cheese are really nice together, and it’s a great, light side dish.

salad-2371064_640

A green salad with a little goat cheese and fruit: good stuff.

Also, since I would eat my weight in goat cheese if science would let me, I like to make lemon, asparagus, and goat cheese pasta. I usually wing it (it’s really simple!), but this recipe from Smitten Kitchen outlines exactly what to do. I prefer to omit the tarragon, use lots of black pepper, and sometimes add some white beans for protein, but this recipe is very easy to remix according to your preferences.

Even if you don’t perform a ritual to mark the equinox, get outside, if weather and circumstances let you. Chow down on the fruits and vegetables coming into season. Bring the outdoors into your space, and let yourself experience the warmth and promise of a new season.🌹

 

 

5-Minute Energy Cleanses

Ever have a day when you just feel off? You’re not getting sick, nothing really caused it, you just have a sort of wrong feeling. Maybe you’ve been around someone who left you feeling drained, overheard something that made you uncomfortable, or even just had to listen to an annoying, insipid muzak soundtrack in line at the grocery store. You’re left feeling bogged down, maybe even annoyed.

You need a five minute pick-me-up.

A landscape emerging from a very large book.

This picture has nothing to do with anything, I just thought it was cool.

These short rituals are designed to be able to be done whenever you have the time for them — there’s not a lot of ceremony involved, just simple, effective rituals to help get you back on an even keel.

1. Use a Sponge

For this, you’ll need:

  • A clean sponge
  • A bowl (preferably glass or china)
  • Water
  • Sliced lemons, or a few drops of your favorite essential oil

Add the lemons or oil to the water, and stir in a clockwise direction with your dominant hand. As you stir, picture the bowl filling with warm, bright, effervescent energy.

Take the bowl somewhere peaceful — maybe in your garden, or your favorite chair. Hold it on your lap, and inhale the uplifting scent of the water.

Hold the dry sponge in your hand, and visualize all of the stress, tension, and negativity in you pouring into it. Dip the sponge in the water, hold it over the bowl, and squeeze it as hard as you can. Let the sponge soak up your negative energy, and let the clean, empowered water wash it away.

Repeat this as many times as necessary — really crush that sponge like a soggy stress ball, and let your tension fall away. When you are through, pour the water on the earth with thanks.

2. Try the Cloud Meditation

Find somewhere where you can sit quietly and comfortably. If you have trouble focusing on your breath or meditating with your eyes closed (me too!), don’t worry. Just imagine a soft, fluffy cloud directly over your head. It glows with a bright light, the color of a sunset, and smells like fresh rain.

Sunset cloud over a calm field.

Tree’s about to get cleansed like whoa.

When you have a solid mental image of the cloud, visualize it beginning to rain down on you. The rain is bright, just like the cloud, tinged with golden light. Everywhere it touches, it washes away the stress, tension, and negativity in your energy field. Imagine the gentle caress of the gleaming water trailing down your skin, carrying away all of the negative energy with it. Keep this up for as long as you need to, then allow the cloud to dissipate.

3. Use a Selenite Wand

I love selenite. Not only is it helpful for pain (for me, anyway), it’s widely used to help cleanse energy fields. If you have access to a selenite wand, no matter how small or unpolished it may be, you can use it to quickly sweep negative energy away from you.

Hold one end in your dominant hand, the way you’d hold a lint roller, or the handle of a portable vacuum. Sweep the wand over yourself, about 3-4″ from your skin, from head to toe. At the end of each stroke, give the wand a shake. If you prefer, you can also point the end of the wand at yourself, and twirl it the way you’d twirl a cotton candy stick. Visualize the negative, stagnant energy catching on the end of the wand, then shake it off, move the wand to a new area, and repeat.

4. Hold a Stone

For this, you’ll need:

  • Stone
  • A body of water

To do this, take a stone in your dominant hand. Hold it tightly, as you visualize all of your stress and negative energy filling it. Let the stone take your tension and worries from you. when you are ready, toss it into a moving body of water with your thanks. The water will rinse away the negativity, and return the stone to a place where it can help someone else.

5. Feel the Sun and Wind

The weather can be a powerful ally when it comes to energy cleansing. If it’s a windy day, stand in the wind and feel it carrying the negative energy away from you. If it’s a warm, sunny day, close your eyes, turn your face up to the sun, and feel the warmth and brightness burning away whatever negativity clings to you. Say your thanks, and continue your day feeling lighter, safer, and more relaxed.

Sun rising over mountains.

Picturesque mountains optional.

It’s hard to avoid negative energy entirely. Depending on what you do, it may not be a good idea to try — it’d be hard to be a trauma counselor or ER doctor if you consciously distance yourself from negativity! If you’re feeling bogged down by the people, places, and things you’ve come in contact with, taking a few minute for an energy cleansing ritual can help you relax and return to normal.