An Unplanned Visit to the Underworld

Yule seems to have become a time for caves in my family. This year we stopped at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky on our way to my family’s house for the holidays. In a 7 mile radius, there are 400 miles of a intense multi-layer cave system, which has been occupied for over 4000 years. Ancient peoples sheltered there twelve miles inside the caves (imagine exploring those caves without electricity to help guide you!). Mammoth cave is also one of the oldest continued attractions in America, with a varied history that is fascinating in and of itself. It’s a pretty amazing experience and I thought you might enjoy some of the pictures I took. I definitely recommend stopping and enjoying Mammoth Cave. There are tons of trails to hike and unlike Carlsbad, Mammoth has bats all year round! Yay Bats!

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The Historic Entrance to Mammoth Cave

 

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And who knew! But apparently you can also fine the River Styx there! I guess it makes sense, but I certainly didn’t expect to run into the Styx in Kentucky!

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I just can’t seem to help wandering off into the Underworld…

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IMG_0350The River Styx’s exit from the cave system…IMG_0351The River Styx empties out into the Green River.

IMG_0359All along the river, White River Birches grow…

IMG_0356The Kentucky hills and forests are always beautiful.

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IMG_0332And I found a troll home!

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Of course, maybe I was the only one home…

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Enter Freely and of Your Own Will

This is from a column I wrote for The Pagan Household on June 3rd, 2013 and is a follow up to my last post:

 

A few weeks ago I wrote a column about magical etiquette. I thought I would expand on that topic a bit more and talk about what to do when you invite guests to your rituals.

When you invite someone to a ritual, don’t assume that they know or understand anything about what you’re doing, because, well…they probably don’t. Even if this person has been in the Pagan community for years, that does not mean that they will be familiar with the sort of ritual that you’re doing.

Make sure to give them some background about your group or tradition and explain what you’ll be doing in ritual. It can be confusing going to a new ritual; giving a guest some basic background information can help them understand your ritual a little better and allow them to ask appropriate questions. It also lets them know what they should be doing during ritual.

Explain your altar and the tools on it. Tell the guest a bit about why they’re there, what you will be doing with them and how the guest should act around them. Don’t want your guest to touch things? Tell them that, and explain why. You don’t have to give away secrets, you don’t have to go into a three hour lecture, you can just say hey…this is my athame, I’ll be using it to direct energy, please don’t touch it.

Make sure to explain any stances that you might be doing within ritual and let them know whether you expect them to follow along or not. I always explain what we will be doing at different points in ritual, why we do it and let the guest know that they can do the stance or feel free to just stand politely throughout. Not everyone’s comfort level is up to following along. It can also help to explain why you’re using a particular stance. In my rituals, we do a stance when we are calling quarters. It’s not only a stance that’s respectful, it’s also one that helps you ground the energy that we work with.  Clarifying things like this helps people be more comfortable with what they are doing.

And most importantly, explain what will be happening in ritual. Let them know what the point of the ritual is, what you will be doing at certain points and all the things that will be used in ritual. My significant other went to a ritual where they drank wine in the ritual. Sounds pretty standard right? It wasn’t until later that he found out that there was semen and menstrual blood in the wine. If you’re doing something like this, tell your guests, they have a right to know and the right to make a choice about whether or not to partake or to participate. If you’re going to be upset if someone does not want to partake or participate, then this is a ritual where you probably should not invite guests.

In this scenario, warning your guests about the possibility of death would be appropriate.

In this scenario, warning your guests about the possibility of death would be appropriate.

Make sure to take a minute or two here or there to see if your guest has any questions. This doesn’t have to take away from your ritual, there are always moments in ritual when you can pause and check on your guest. If there really isn’t a spot to pause, make sure to check in after ritual is over and make sure your guest understood everything that you did.

Rituals with guests should also not be long, drawn out affairs. People have a short attention span and when you’re a guest you aren’t usually expecting to end up participating in a five hour ritual. Would you want to be involved in a five hour ritual if you weren’t familiar with the people involved or a ritual that you weren’t familiar with? One of the worst rituals I ever went to as a guest ended up being a five hour ritual. Keep it short.

Having feast after ritual? Make sure to inquire into your guests dietary needs. If the person has a dietary need that you can’t meet, let them know that they should bring something that they can eat. Don’t wait until the meal itself to realize that you don’t have anything other than celery stalks for someone who is vegan.

There’s this idea in the Pagan community that you have to have perfect love and perfect trust for everyone in your ritual. (I see this a lot at public Pagan events). This comes from the line in the Wiccan Rede, which most Neo-Pagans misquote. The line is “Bide ye Wiccan laws ye must, in perfect love and perfect trust”. This has nothing to do with loving and trusting everyone perfectly in a Circle; this is about the laws of the Wicca and really doesn’t have anything to do with non-Wiccan circles. This is a fallacy that is dangerous. If you have a guest, treat them like a guest. This is obviously someone you trust to a certain extent, since you’ve invited them to a religious ritual. This might even be a longtime friend that you do love and trust. Most of the time though, this is not the case. This is someone that you just met and they expressed interest in what you’re doing, or it’s a friend of a friend. Don’t hand someone your house keys just because you’re inviting them to your ritual. The gods are not asking us to be stupid.

Having a guest to ritual can be both fun and educational. It can help people understand a very important part of your life, or help them in being able to be a part of something different than what they usually do. But keep in mind that this is a guest and don’t expect them to understand everything. Think about how you would feel if you were going to a strange ritual and treat a guest accordingly. It’s easy enough to have a bad experience just because you don’t understand what’s going on around you. Sometimes the little explanations make the most difference.

Magical Etiquette 101

This was a column I wrote for the Pagan Household back on April 22nd, 2013:

I recently had an experience with a guest at my coven’s ritual, which is held in my home. This guest came in and, without asking, touched our altar and picked up tools. He also made negative comments about the way we do ritual. Needless to say, the evening only went down hill from there and the guest was not invited back.

This brings up magical etiquette, both in your own home and in the homes of others. There are a few basics that most people should be aware of. When you go to another practitioner’s house, never touch anything without permission. Everyone approaches their tools differently, and while it might be fine with permission, you should never just pick things up. This is extremely disrespectful. The same goes for altars and shrines. This isn’t just out of respect for the person who owns the altar or shrine, but for your own protection as well. Do you know what sort of work this person is doing? Do you want to inadvertantly become a part of anything they do in the privacy of their own home? Say they’re doing a love spell for a friend; what might be the results if you end up putting your energy into whatever work is being done?

This also goes for things that you might not take to be magical or religious in nature. You never know what that statue might mean to the person who lives there.

Not all of us, but most, intertwine our magical rituals with our religious ones. These are extremely personal workings that you just don’t get to butt into without permission. And this brings us to our next point; don’t make negative comments about the things you see. Our guest kept telling us that what we were doing was not what another group in the area did, and that therefore we were obviously doing things incorrectly. Why wouldn’t we use lines in our ritual that the other group used? You can see where this was quite offensive. When you go to someone else’s ritual, understand that they may not be working the way that you are used to. What they do is not wrong, it is simply different, and expecting them to change what they do to make you more comfortable is not appropriate. If you have that much of a problem with different rituals, you shouldn’t be the guest of another group in the first place. It is perfectly OK to turn down an invitation to a group’s ritual.

You might see something and disagree with how it was done, or think it should have been done differently. However, you are a guest. Ask about what you’ve seen in a positive manner. “That was a very interesting casting. May I ask why you do it that way?” is much more friendly than “I don’t do MY casting that way!” It’s offensive to force yourself into someone else’s workings and imply that you could have done it better.

When our coven has a first time guest in ritual, we explain what we will be doing, and we make sure to ask if the guest has questions at various intervals (it is actually part of the way we operate to assign certain coven members the task of making sure guests are informed and made to feel welcome). Most groups will do this if you are invited as a guest to ritual. You as the guest should expect a certain level of explanation about the ritual itself. This doesn’t mean that you’re going to learn all the secrets a group has, or be “trained,” but you deserve a basic explanation of the etiquette for the things that will be coming up in ritual. One of the worst rituals I’ve ever attended was so because there was no explanation of what was planned, and I didn’t know how to react to the things that were happening or what words to say at certain points.

If you are holding a public ritual, you also need to remember to do this. Do not assume your guests’ level of knowledge, experience, or tolerance level. A friend of mine told me about a ritual she went to that was for women’s spirituality. Sounds pretty standard right? It wasn’t until the priestess smeared something on her forehead in the middle of ritual that my friend found out that it was someone’s menstrual blood. Needless to say, smearing a stranger’s menstrual blood on someone else without explaining this sort of thing or asking permission is invasive in more ways than one. Think about what you are doing and ask people if they are OK with what is being planned, especially in cases where bodily fluids are being used.

It should also be pretty obvious that you shouldn’t insert any of your own energy into something without discussing it first with your host. Maybe your help will be welcomed and appreciated, but you can’t know without asking. Again, you don’t know exactly what a person is working toward and it’s arrogant and disruptive to assume.

Walking into another practitioner’s home should be like walking into anyone else’s home, the same basic etiquette applies. But unlike everyone else, where poking through someone’s medicine cabinet is probably not going to get you into trouble, poking your nose without permission into a practitioner’s workings might get you into a whole lot of trouble in ways that you won’t even see until six months down the road.

Don’t assume; always ask, and be aware that most things you see are probably not mundane. Look, don’t touch, and remember, you break it, you’re probably going to buy it, in a very metaphysical and unpleasant way.

Choosing and Consecrating Magical Tools

This was a column I wrote for The Pagan Household on May 20th, 2013:

 

The tools that we work with in ritual are important elements of our workings. They are objects that focus us in directing our will and our energy to complete whatever work it is that we are doing. These sorts of tools become more effective the longer we have been using them, and the longer we have been working to invest our energy in that particular tool.

These tools know us and vibrate in harmony with our use of them when they have a relationship with us. While our tools are not sentient, I wouldn’t call them passive either. These are tools that channel magic, and the longer we use them, the more magic we imbue in them.

Some of us are lucky and these sorts of tools are handed down to us with a great deal of magical energy already present. My best friend’s Athame is the straight razor her grandmother used in her sewing projects. This is an Athame with a great deal of family history and ties. These sorts of tools recquire little more than a sort of getting to know you period where you and the tool aclimate to each other and establish a working relationship based on the ties already present.

Most us, unfortunately, aren’t that lucky. While there are many more second and even third generation Craft practitioners these days than there were even ten years ago, most of us are starting out on our own and have to pick up our tools the old fashioned way. And some of us don’t want that combined history and simply want to start fresh with something that is completely and only ours.

I’ve recently acquired two new tools that have a large significance in my rituals: an Athame and a wand. The athame was a tool I helped to choose, and was presented to me at my initiation; the wand was a gift from my partner.

So how do you start creating this sort of working relationship?

Never buy a tool that doesn’t call to you. All of my Craft tools, in whatever form, have pulled me to them specifically. There has been an immediate zing of energy exchanged that was impossible to ignore. In the case of the wand, it called my partner to it. It will be a tool that our coven uses together.

I look for tools that are traditional; not everyone does, but I prefer bone and wood that have been handcrafted over cheap, machine made items. Tools like this handle energy much more naturally.

It’s not always possible to know the maker of your Craft tools, not all of us are lucky enough to live near someone who makes these sorts of items, but I would also recommend not buying these types of tools online. You need to be able to handle a tool and speak to the person who was responsible for its creation. If you can make them yourself, even better. This is true of most magical items. There are very few online vendors that I trust, the ones that I do have been recommended to me by other reliable practitioners of my acquaintance and when I have bought items from them, they have been exactly as advertised.

Most Craft store owners should be able to tell you the provenance of an item and the exact materials used to make that item. They also usually know whether the maker has a good reputation or not.

You don’t have to find a tool immediately. Take your time, go to festivals, go to fairs, talk to people and see where they have found their tools. It may take a few months, don’t be discouraged. Remember, these are items that we will use for years to come. Rushing something like this ensures that you will not find the correct tool.

Once you’ve found the perfect item, don’t haggle for it. Pay exactly what the seller is asking if it’s a fair price. When you haggle a price down, it diminishes the power of the tool and takes away from the effort the creator took in making it. If you can barter for the tool and give something in trade, this is perfectly acceptable. You’re still paying a fair price, you’re offering something of equal value, even if that is simply the gift of your own energy.

Once you’ve acquired your tool, take the time to consecrate it and then invest your energy into it everyday. When I’m at home, I carry my Athame around with me, even when I’m not in ritual. I push my energy through it constantly. If I’m not carrying it or I’ve had a busy day, I take a second to pick it up and just think at it for a minute or two. I also won’t let other people touch my tools until I’ve firmly established my own bond with that tool. I’ve only had my Athame for four months now. It will not be touched by anyone other than my partner for a long time yet and the only reason that he is allowed to touch it is because he and I are magical partners as well as significant others and when I do most magical workings, he plays a significant role. He is not a casual lover and I would not recommend sharing your tools with anyone who is.

To consecrate a tool:

Set an altar with representations of the four elements. It is traditional to set Air in the East (usually incense), Fire in the South (candle), Water in the West (bowl of water) and Earth in the North (bowl of salt), but this is up to you and how you usually work.

Choose your representations with what feels right to you. I start in the East; many like to start in the North, again, this is up to you and if an element calls you specifically, start with it.

Take your tool and kiss it, focus your energy on it and take a few minutes to think about what you’ll be using this tool to do.

Wave the tool through the first element and say: I ask ____ to bless and consecrate this tool in doing (state whatever you will be doing with the tool). I ask that ____ bless this tool with (whatever nature the element represents). Bless and consecrate this tool in my service to the Craft. (You can also name any patron deities you’re using). So mote it be!

For example, I started my consecration of my wand with the East and Air. I waved my wand through my burning incense and said: I ask Air to bless and consecrate this tool in it’s use for casting enchantment for me and for my coven. I ask air to bless this wand with its intellect and its quickness. Please bless and consecrate this tool in my service to the (name of my patrons). So mote it be!

Move to the next element and repeat. Do this for all four of the elements. After you have done this, either offer the tool your own blood (which I did in the case of my Athame so that it never works against me) or offer it your energy (which I did with my wand) by placing it against your heart and feeling the energy move between you and the tool.

At the end of the ceremony, place the tool on your altar, continue with whatever work you normally do, and let it acclimate itself to your altar and energy. Leave it for a night and then start carrying it around with you and using it as you would with any tool you already work with.