Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Three Worlds, Three Souls, Three Books

Into the CAYA Clergy reading list* I dive! Wheee! I get to select three books to read as part of my Initiate year commitments. Though there are dozens of fascinating books on the list, I was eager to start with Riding Windhorses: A Journey into the Heart of Mongolian Shamanism by Sarangerel. We'd read her other book earlier in the year, which lustily whetted my appetite for learning more about the subject.

Technically, I've read these books in the reverse order in which they were written and published. My teacher explained that Riding Windhorses was the first book on the Mongolian Shamanism published in English and written by a practitioner of this tradition. Following its release, there was some demand for a more introductory book, which is the one on our assigned reading list.

 After a brief yet detailed preface and introduction placing her subject in a historical and cultural context, Sarangerel offers a tour of Mongolian Cosmology— the directions, the placement of ritual objects within the sacred circle, and basic descriptions of the three worlds through which Shamans travel and do their work. As before, much of this resonates with what I've experienced of Witchcraft in the Modern Pagan tradition, and it also brings to mind elements of Northcoast Native traditions which I've learned about through the work of Bill Holm and his family at Camp Nor'wester. In some ways, I feel as cozy as a great-great-great-granddaughter hearing family stories. In other ways, I am clearly entering new realms of discovery.

My favorite section is all about the heavenly bodies as they are understood in the Mongolian tradition. Long before I knew the names and movements of planets and constellations, I had relationships with the beings of the sky, and every variation of their stories add to their glorious splendor. I was fascinated to learn that the Big Dipper is known as Doloon Obgon (The Seven Old Men) and the shape is the origin of their swastika symbol, has temdeg, showing the directions the constellation points in each of the four seasons.

And of course, more divination techniques, with basic interpretations. Sarangerel describes a rather elaborate card spread that one can do with a regular deck of playing cards which I will have to try soon. It involves eliminating cards in certain orders, and reminds me of Solitaire games I made up as a child, which I just now realized was my way of entering a meditative state.

The things one discovers when one writes them down.

A few quotes I marked in the book:

"The safest action for a shaman dealing with a hostile spirit is to master it, adding it to his group of spiritual allies if his other helper spirits agree." p.106

"…[T]he loon above all other birds is believed to communicate with the souls in the water." p.31

"What is the lesson that is too often ignored? It is that nature is in a state of balance already." p.164

"It is good to keep some small change, tobacco, or bud, strips of cloth, handy for offering at shamanistic sacred sites." p. 153

I have not yet tried any of the rituals outlined in this book, however, one is calling to me strongly. We will be planting a tree in front of our home this weekend, and I intend to dedicate it as a Prayer Tree using the instructions at the end of this book. I foresee that this is only the beginning of my journey.

*Yes, wouldn't it be delightful to have a public CAYA Clergy recommended reading list? Perhaps it will happen soon!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Connection to Higher Self

At the tail end of my Aspirant year (a year ago), my fellow students and I co-created a ritual for each of us to perform on our own at every waxing quarter moon. Our teachers gave us the theme "Connecting with Higher Self" and helped us quickly cobble together the full outline, from a palm nut to serve as ward to invocations to a ritual activity and devoking and opening the circle. Most of the outline was sketched out during class and some finishing touches were added on a document later. It seemed to come together relatively quickly, and I wondered if it would stand the test of time. Through practicing it monthly since February 17, I have found it to be quietly and gently illuminating. On January 7, I performed the final ritual of the cycle, and now would like to share some of the details of this practice and see if I can tease out some helpful observations.

One of my personal contributions to the script was the invocation/devokation of the South:

Spirits of the South and of Fire
Please bring your enthusiasm into this sacred space
I ask for the blessings of Fire 
To spark my deepest desire
Into a passionate blaze growing higher
To connect with my Higher Self
Hail and welcome South!

Spirits of the South and of Fire I thank you for your delightful contributions to this sacred space
Go if you must, stay if you will, Hail and farewell!

My original version mutated slightly in the collaborative process, and that was a useful experience for learning to do magick in community. Though I have vast experience in collaborative artistic projects, most of my previous experience with rituals had been doing those that had been created by another/others or those that had been created by myself only. The most notable difference I noticed was that the compromises made in the context of co-creating magick feel more consequential, as I was aware of how they might affect other people, and I sought greater effectiveness through harmony and compatibility. I looked for love to guide what I offered to the ritual and looked for trust to accept what others offered. And this is something I just realized while composing this post!
Altar honoring Skadi (scissors, snowflakes and The Snow Queen)
and Kuan Yin (pigeon feather, garlic, and sandlewood fan)

Within the standard framework, there were several places where we each were to make personal choices—specifically deity, nature ally and an activity to perform within the heart of the ritual.

The class on Deity had led me to work with Skadi, and I wanted to explore that relationship. Skadi's mighty strength and passion for justice felt like qualities that might help connect me to my Higher Self. As I prepared to create the altar, Kuan Yin made it clear she wanted to be included. She wanted to work with Skadi. And Skadi said bring it on. To tell the truth, I felt a little safer working with bold Skadi when Kuan Yin was there to reassure me. Skadi feels confrontational and challenging, and to tell the truth, I've always felt very lonely and trapped on snowy mountains. Kuan Yin feels like the rolling sea to me, an environment that feels like home. And when I realized that the names Skadi and Yin both can be translated as "shadow" I wondered what could that imply in the context if my Higher Self, especially since both Goddesses are usually portrayed as pure white. I've always appreciated a fine paradox, and this combination offered plenty of juicy conundrums and apparent oxymorons, which I recognized and honored by crafting the altar in tones of black and white. Through this practice, I have come to witness sweet Skadi's gentle beauty and have gasped in awe at Kuan Yin's awesome powers. This has certainly supported my explorations of how to be a both/and trans* Public Priestess.


Garden Spider strung between lemon tree and rose bush
I've been working with Spider as my ally since the class on Magickal Allies. I've felt a deep affection for arachnids since childhood, and feel blessed when they make their homes near mine—even in my bedroom. Spiders feel protective and represent awareness and watchfulness to me, as their webs look like very fancy eyes. And if a big one is around, I'm certainly spiked with awareness! They sit so patiently in their meditations and they can be wonderfully agile as they create their web, spinning silken string from their own bodies. What if all I needed to make a home and to gather a meal was already inside of me? Hey! A Spider insight! After accidentally drowning a spider in my bathtub, a song came to me, and I sing it as I prepare for my bath, to alert any hidden spiders to seek safe ground:

See with all of your eyes!
Walk with all of your feet!
Use everything you've got!

 I also sing this to invoke my ally during the ritual. On the altar I placed a photo of a garden spider that had strung its web across my path, but after one of my Fairy Goddess-Children gave me a little plastic spider ring, I put that on my altar. Later, I found a dessicated spider in a crystal bowl, which I've carefully transferred to a tiny glass jar. It's very witchy.
 <insert cackle here>

At the center of the ritual, I performed divinations. To honor Skadi's Norse tradition, I used a set of Runes. Actually, I have used three different sets throughout the year. I adapted a set of Dominoes for the first month, which made me feel quite clever. Then a Hivemate loaned me a wooden set that had been made by someone he knew, since he was using a set he'd made with pennies. A few months ago, we swapped, and it is delightful to reach onto the pouch and feel the little coins jingling. Whichever set I've used, I have found to be true what others have said— one just seems to "stick" to my fingers. Having very limited understanding of this form of divination, I referred to Diana Paxon's Taking up the Runes to gain insight. After twelve sessions with this tool, I can only say I am fascinated enough to continue the explorations, and certainly have much to learn. I would like to find a good Runes reference that isn't quite as advanced as Paxon's. Any suggestions?

To honor Kuan Yin in Her Chinese form, I used three interpretations of the I Ching and a set of 50 yarrow sticks I had gathered on Lopez Island. In the '80s, MIT physicist Kerson Huang and his wife Rosemary, published a version of which I have consulted occasionally. It was the most equanimous version I could find at the time, amongst a slew of annoyingly patriarchal variations. To further explore a feminist counterbalance, I consulted two Goddess-focused interpretations— Barbara G Walker's I Ching of the Goddess and Kuan Yin Book of Changes by Diane Stein. These both had some unusual insights, but I still can't say I've found the book that I would recommend to others. This oracle remains difficult for me to understand. I do find the meditative quality of sorting through the yarrow sticks preferable to tossing three coins. It takes about twenty minutes to complete the process of casting a hexagram (and longer if a cat is sitting in my lap).

This quiet contemplation is probably the most valuable piece of my Connection to Higher Self ritual. It was in this timespace that my thoughts flowed gently, not necessarily seeking a connection to Higher Self, but finding it without fanfare. Divination in general has been my way of connecting to myself for most of my life. There are three components that seem to encourage this:

a break from outgoing activities
a somewhat effortless task to focus my attention (shuffling cards, sorting sticks)
surrendering my will to that of the Divine

Though drawing three Tarot cards has been a part of my daily practice for over a decade, it sometimes becomes a bit rote or rushed in its familiarity. Working with unfamiliar tools helped bring attention to the practice, and what came to my attention is that I love sitting in quiet contemplation. I may resist and distract myself desperately, but when I am able to get to that moment I am tuned into the Eternal Now. And this has become the very center of my practice and my intention, aligning all of my dreams and endeavors in one graceful moment of awareness.

So it seems clear that this ritual practice has been greatly rewarding for me.

I still have the altar to deconstruct, including the candles that have only burned part way. I plan to complete my work with Skadi for the time being and to continue to explore my relationship with Kuan Yin. I think Kuan Yin was the one I was to do this particular work with from the beginning, though Skadi was the one who opened the door. Skadi showed me the way to deeper work with my Ancestors, including my intention to explore a relationship with Freyja. Overall, this ritual cycle showed me how to connect with deity in practice, over time, and my receptivity to the gifts of the gods continues to open. Altars are sprouting up all around my home, every action can be an act of devotion, any moment can be a moment of connection through prayer and meditation.

Blessed be.
Kuan Yin listening to the world.



Wednesday, January 8, 2014

CAYA Daily Practice 2014



Sharing this here, where I can find it easily. This one brings on a lively dance!

 

Composed by Mama Ladybug, Athena Nike, Melissa ra Karit and Yeshe Rabbit.