"Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers. "
-Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, February 28, 2009

a quick maintenance note

So, this should be the last color change for a bit. Given that we are fairly new, things are still settling with regards to layout and content. But I think that it's good for now.

Thanks for your continued patience, Fire (editor/moderator)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Some rambling thoughts on why bad things happen

by Elizabeth Vongvisith

(This post originally appeared as part of an entry in my private journal, and is here edited and expanded for something approaching clarity. The opinions expressed here are my own and not necessarily shared by other contributors to The Gods' Mouths.)

Since I cannot afford seminary school right now, I've been reading books on theology and spiritual discipline, many of which are not about Paganism at all. In fact, most of them aren't. There is a dearth of serious books on Pagan religious theory, sadly enough. Because I want to learn about how to effectively counsel people who come to me for advice or help, I've particularly been looking at books related to pastoral counseling and how to handle hard questions.

One of the books I read was When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner. It's not a bad book and seems to be very helpful in understanding and accepting why tragedies happen...if you are a Jew or Christian who isn't particularly caught up in the literal truth of the Bible or the absolute infallibility and omnipotence of God. I had to stop reading it halfway through. It wasn't because it's aimed at a Judeo-Christian audience. It's because I can't honestly say I believe that misfortune never happens because the gods will it so, or that we never deserve what we get.

My gods are wise and powerful, but are not necessarily "nice" -- and that goes for the Aesir and Vanir as well as the Jotnar. They can be scary and hard to understand. They can meddle in people's lives without warning. They sometimes cause bad things to happen to Their folk, while at other times They arrange good things. They answer some prayers while other prayers go ignored. But even if one is "god-bothered" to the degree some of my friends are (and I am), still, I do not believe that the gods or spirits are responsible for every single good or ill that befalls us. And since They have free will of Their own, I also don't believe that we mortals can always influence Them in ways we would find preferable. We can try with prayer and worship, offerings and petitions, showing our faith and trust, even the shaking of fists and making demands...but it doesn't always work.

Kushner writes under the assumption that people never deserve their misfortune. It just happens and nobody can do anything to prevent it. That, in my world-view, is simply not always the case. Sometimes people don't deserve trouble and strife...but sometimes they do. Sometimes they've even had it coming for ages. As to why some people get their comeuppance and others don't, I don't know, but I can't accept the answer that it's because bad things are never attributable to the Divine, as the author of When Bad Things believes. The gods I revere are not above smiting people. They're not even above smiting people for what seem to be entirely petty reasons that make no sense to us. My gods, at least, do not pull punches when They are upset with someone, even if the methods may vary.

In my experience, if something unfortunate happens to someone who's very god-bothered, chances are good that their patron(s) or other tutelary spirits had something to do with it, even if it was just allowing the thing to happen without interference. Now, while not everything can be blamed on Their meddling (perhaps you screwed up your last relationship all on your own) and other people's own destinies have to be taken into account (it was your grandmother's time to die the day after you had to cancel that important ritual), the gods do have a way of making Their influence felt when They tinker in our lives, and no one can see this better than another god-bothered person.

However, most people do not have this degree of divine interference in their lives. In fact, many of us who do didn't always have it, and may have spent a good portion of our lives in the same state of questioning as everyone else. It's easy to forget this if you live surrounded, as I do, by those who have the same kind of intense relationship to the Holy Ones, but it is something I feel that a god-bothered priest shouldn't lose sight of. The so-called "ordinary" folks require somewhat different sorts of counsel from their clergypeople or counselors than a heavily spirit-influenced person might. Why do bad things happen to them? Hearing that question means it's time to get out of my dominant paradigm of god-botheredness and try to look elsewhere for answers.

It would be self-satisfied and dismissive for me to say to someone who has a more distant relationship with the gods something like "Well, obviously you didn't do what Deity X wanted, so you deserve to suffer like this." If they have no way of knowing what Deity X wanted of them in the first place, how can they be blamed? While most god-bothered folks are aware when we've crossed a line with the spirits, even if we don't want to accept it, those who do not have that kind of relationship with their Holy Ones don't need to be castigated for not having faith in beings in whom they might truly have to muster a lot of faith just to believe.

Learning to use divination effectively and accurately is one way to help people understand why shit happens. Another is by doing luck-work, or (magically or otherwise) examining the family history and bloodlines for evidence of a curse, bad orlog or bad karma, or other factors. Depending on who the person is, it may very well be that they did something to mess up their luck. Or they might be the victim of someone else's mistakes or bad judgment, as well as their own. There could be a family curse, an ancestor trying to get their attention, an angry spirit they've offended, some other spiritual cause. Maybe they screwed things up all by themselves. Maybe they'll never know the reason behind their misfortune or trouble. It might be entirely up to them to find meaning in the hard things that happened.

Ultimately, when it comes to explaining why bad things happen to good people, god-bothered or not, I think learning how to approach this is wisdom you can't learn from books. There are always exceptions to the rule, no matter how many times it's played itself out before, and it is also wise to acknowledge this and learn from it. I'll just have to do the best I can, I suppose. Life is complicated, and I don't believe there's a one-size-fits-all answer to every crisis experienced by each follower of a faith or devotee of the gods, anyway. And sometimes there is no real answer to the anguished question of "Why me?" except the one offered by the Haegel rune: you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Laying Out the Future

by Elizabeth Vongvisith

(This article previously appeared in somewhat different form in the Spring 2006 issue of newWitch Magazine. It was meant for a beginner-level audience. I wrote it primarily because I felt there ought to be some information out there beyond just interpretations and various spreads, which is all one ever seems to find when researching the topic.)

What Divination Is and Isn't

Divination is the act of consulting an oracular tool whose random patterns and symbolic meanings are "read" for messages, as an answer to a specific question or as a general forecast. Where these messages ultimately come from is largely a matter of opinion. People in cultures past and present have believed that divination conveys messages from the gods, the spirits of the departed or other entities. Many of today's witches share a similar viewpoint, but there are also those who believe that divination is a means of communicating with one's Higher Self and/or is dependent on the workings of the subconscious. Whichever explanation you prefer doesn't matter nearly as much as whether or not you believe that divination actually works.

Using divination is kind of like checking out a road atlas before you drive to a place you've never been. You might be familiar with a few landmarks or consider different routes, but ultimately, you won't know until you've gotten there how your trip and the final destination will end up. Sometimes you can predict these things and sometimes you can't. Divination is an attempt to map one's future based on the factors affecting your life now, which you may or may not be aware of, in much the same way you might not notice that slow leak in the car's left front tire until it leaves you stranded by the road.

However, divination is not necessarily "fortunetelling" as most people usually think of it. Even if you are a believer in fate, destiny, orlog, wyrd or karma, the things you do now may change the future in ways you can't possibly anticipate or prepare for. It's not possible to know in advance all consequences of our present actions. Also, not everything you divine is bound to happen. Sometimes an oracle will give information about a current issue, or maybe it will focus on something in the past that may have a direct bearing on your question, or possibly both, without addressing any future events. It's important to keep in mind that no matter what the results of your divination are, you do have some degree of control over what is yet to come.

Reading for Others

It's best to learn divination by doing readings for other people first. This is mainly because it's far easier to be objective about another person's problems or issues than it is to remain objective about one's own, especially while at the same time you're learning what all those cards mean or trying to remember the difference between Ehwaz and Eihwaz.

So now you have a willing querent (the person for whom you're doing the reading). You've got your interpretations memorized and you know which method you want to use to lay out the cards or tiles. But maybe you've had a few false starts, or some concerns have come up with the first couple of readings. Here are some common ones:

1. What kind of questions can I answer?

There are good questions and bad ones. This doesn't indicate content, but structure. Some methods are ill suited to simple queries like "Does Kevin like me?" Generally, the more complicated the divination method, the less well it's going to answer yes/no type questions. Rephrasing the question will provide a more in-depth answer, i.e. "How does Kevin feel about me?" Suggest that the querent ask what's really on his mind; ­ this is no time for the querent to be coy. For instance, asking "Things seem really weird with Kevin and me lately, what's going on?" may not necessarily be the question the querent wants the answer for. Encouraging him to ask things like, "Is Kevin hiding something from me? Is he cheating on me?" is probably going to get a definite answer right away, even if it's not a particularly welcome one.

2. What the heck does this all mean?

You've got your cards laid out and now it's time to answer the question. But what does the Four of Swords have to do with your friend's concerns about her college tuition? It makes no sense, according to the book! What if you did it wrong? Just relax; this isn't going to be graded and "doing it wrong" is far less likely with doing divination than with baking a soufflé. Your goal is to use your intuition to see how the card applies to the querent's situation.

Using our example above, the Four of Swords stands for inactivity and a time of rest or sleep. You could interpret this as "Things will remain stable and unchanging for the near future as far as money is concerned." Look at the card itself; ­ does it suggest anything further to you? Perhaps it's an indicator that she should take a semester or two off. In the end, the important thing is what you think, not what the book says. Having a good, solid understanding of the traditional meanings of the cards (or whatever) is important as a foundation for your divinatory work, but it's not the beginning and end of interpretation.

As time goes on, you can build on what you already know, which will personalize your readings and allow you to do them more accurately. Nobody, however experienced, can ever be perfect, so don't stress about about "getting it right."

3. Is there a best time to do a reading? How about a worst time?

Whenever you or someone else wants guidance and advice is a good time! Even merely asking, "What do I need to know right now?" can lead you to discover some amazing things. The possibilities are limitless. There are only a few situations for which you probably shouldn't attempt any divination.

Don't do readings if you're really upset, depressed or angry, ill or in pain, or are having a lot of trouble concentrating. Being calm, undistracted and in a reasonably balanced and alert state of mind is pretty important when you're listening for that inner voice. If you're reading for someone else and you aren't feeling so great, you may overlook or misinterpret important things based on your own feeble state of mind. Nothing awful will happen if you go ahead, but more than likely you'll just be wasting your time because you won't really be up to analyzing and interpreting the oracle.

If someone is constantly begging you for readings every day, especially about the same question or concern, you should decline and ask them to back off for a while. Being hassled into doing a reading will not help you solve the person's problem, nor will reading for the same question several times a day. In fact, some oracles seem to take offense at being pestered too much; their answers will become vaguer and vaguer and less helpful the more you push for answers.

Asking frivolous, obviously stupid questions will often get similar results. People who like to sneer at all things witchy and occult will sometimes try to test you by asking dumb things "to see if it really works." Avoid playing that game; your answers will never satisfy them anyway, and it will just make you doubt yourself.

4. What if the querent doesn't like what I say?

Well, he or she can just deal with it.

Unless you were rude or insulting while doing the reading, it's not really your concern what the querent does with the information you give. You should make it plain to those for whom you read that while they don't necessarily have to like or even believe everything you tell them, they shouldn't blame you for being the bearer of bad news.

Be particularly wary of people in unrequited love situations; ­ these folks often tend to get needy and insecure...oh, say, every two hours, and will want you to keep trying until the divination comes out exactly with what they would most like to hear (which never happens). They will drive you crazy, as will those who don't want to hear bad news of any kind, no matter how slight. Some people even become hostile if everything you say isn't all sunshine and butterflies. Just remember, you are not doing readings to pump up egos (including your own). Tell your querents honestly what you think is going on, for better or worse, even if you aren't 100% certain you're close to the truth. You might think carefully before you speak and phrase the unpleasant news as nicely as you can, but whatever you do, don't lie just to make them happy.

What if you get something really difficult, though, like pulling the Ten of Swords for someone in very poor health? Or what if midway through, you get a bad, bad feeling about finishing the reading at all, even if it's innocuous-seeming? Situations like these are a difficult call. If you start to feel that what you're about to say will do far more harm than good, or that maybe you shouldn't be reading for the person at all (perhaps their gods want them to figure things out for themselves, for example), then the best solution may be to wind the reading down as gracefully as possible without seeming too obvious about it. Divining for others isn't just about knowing how to interpret an oracle, but knowing how to be compassionate, diplomatic, and honest, even when it's hard.

5. Should I do some kind of ritual? Invoke a deity?

That's entirely up to you, your Gods, and the tradition you follow (if any). I don't think ritual or prayer is necessary for everybody, every single time, but others might disagree. Do whatever you feel is required of you by tradition, training, circumstance or personal inclination. What works for one person might not work for another. Experiment and see how much or how little ritual you feel comfortable with. Ask your gods for their assistance and blessing if that helps you. It's mostly a matter of personal choice.

Reading for Yourself, Or Being Read For

It seems logical that when you start learning some method of divination, you'd begin by practicing on yourself first. Actually, this might be more of a hindrance than a help. Doing a reading for another person allows you to form more objective opinions about the things you've interpreted, and gives you an opportunity to get feedback when you're forced to make educated guesses or aren't exactly sure what the oracle is saying. Reading for oneself is harder in that objectivity is often compromised,­ and as much as I've talked about intuition being important, remaining a bit impartial when doing a reading is important too.

Most of the time it's easier to do a reading from the perspective of a neutral outsider than someone deeply involved in the issue at hand, at least until you get used to the way an oracle works. Of course, you can still practice on yourself, but I've tried it both ways with different divination tools and have found that reading for other people allows me to get a knack for it far sooner than simply reading for myself. And there are many experienced readers who prefer to have someone else do readings for them. Avail yourself of other people's offers to do readings for you, even if you're sure you already know how to do it yourself. In the end, the goal of divination is to answer questions and provide guidance, and that goes for you as well as everyone else. If you read a lot for others, it's nice to let someone else give you advice for a change.

Notes and Why You Need Them

Taking notes can be tedious, particularly if you're a student and spend all day writing things down, but it's important to your development as a diviner as it allows you to compare real events vs. the oracle's predictions, and track your progress over the weeks and months. By making a simple chart or drawing of the reading, labeling which symbols or pictures came up and where, and making notes of your first impressions, you not only have a record for future reference, but you can go back later and add any further insights or new ideas as they occur to you.

It can be a shock to find notes from a reading you did six months ago in which you pulled the Three of Swords, the Five of Wands and the Tower, and realize that messy break-up with your ex was staring you in the face months before you ever suspected it. On the other hand, if you do readings about your love life every few months and the Five of Wands (which signifies conflict) keeps coming up in all your spreads, having notes can help you identify the pattern. Not only are notes useful for you, but they can be useful for those you read for; keeping notes on readings I've done for friends in the past has allowed me to spot recurring themes in the long run that may have come up in later readings for my friends.

Finally...Why Do It At All?

That's really a personal question you'll have to answer for yourself. Not every Pagan practices divination. Some people don't think it's worth the time, or they prefer to take life as it comes without trying to influence matters ahead of time. I can't tell you why you should or shouldn't try your hand at divination, but I can tell you why I've taken the trouble to acquaint myself with it. Mostly, it gives me perspective on things of importance. Remember what I said about needing to have a good, solid foundation in the basic meanings of your preferred divination method? After studying Tarot for some years, I have that foundation, and using the oracle has been a wonderful means of helping me acquire self-knowledge and spot recurring problems in my life.

Using an oracle as a tool for reflection and meditation can be incredibly helpful; in fact, it's often more helpful than merely trying to figure out what the future might hold. If you approach divination with the attitude that it can help you understand the currents shaping your life, asking what the future will bring may even be beside the point. The more you can understand what's going on right now, the more control you can gain over what happens to you in the future.

Aside from all this lofty-sounding stuff, divination is also a lot of fun, particularly if you're the nosy or impatient type who just can't wait to see what will happen next, or if you enjoy playing the mysterious fortuneteller at parties. Not everything you'll come up with in a reading will necessarily be a lot of fun to you to say or your querent to hear, but you shouldn't let that deter you. There are a wide variety of divination techniques available, from simple and quick to dizzyingly complex. When you've chosen one that works for you, you can use it to help others and yourself work through problems, attain a better understanding of your lives and get some ideas about the way that strange thing called Fate works. And if nothing else, there's always the secret satisfaction of knowing, "I told them so."

(Author's Note: One catch to all of this is that any of the circumstances and advice I described above can change via the intervention of a deity or spirit. They may order you to see that client anyway even though you have the flu. They may insist that you only do readings for certain people and not for others, or that you only read for particular questions or situations. They might block your reading entirely by providing an answer that equates to "Ask again later" (the Gar rune in the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc alphabet does precisely this.) If you work with spirits, the playing field changes significantly, so the god-touched to whom this caveat applies may wish to take everything I said in this article with a large grain of salt.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dark Wings, a Sestina

By Fire Tashlin

This is a poem that I wrote about my Lady, it is also a form called a Sestina. I find that doing poems in very rigid forms are almost more like puzzles than figurative writing.

Dark Wings

I feel the sweeping breath of dark wings
The feathers are soft and shine like stars
Eyes like a field of stars sparkle
Over hard leather and shining steel
White hair wispy with snow and ice
Weaving and cutting a tapestry of fate

Do weathered old hands determine my fate?
Am I to sound in the dark and be called on wings
That sound soft but cut like shards of ice?
Look up to the endless stars
And wonder when I will be one with their shining steel
Polished to a hardened sheen and with their inner light will sparkle?

Or perhaps my thread with drops of dew will sparkle
As young hands weave my fate
Hands not yet calloused and roughened by steel
With wide soft white wings
That hold the light of the moon and stars
Captured and frozen in glass clear ice.

Say that maybe I will flow with the ice
In a sea of cold and fear while the sparkle
Of souls and pin pricks of stars
Are but a note in a symphony of fate
Surrounded by the ocean of soft wings
All edges and curves and spines of steel.

Will work roughened hands hold scissors of steel
Caressing a figure carved of abalone and ice
Carnelian feathers and opal bones and wings
Formed with edges and sweeps that sparkle
With the threads and strands of fate
Woven in with all their own stars?

I see the sea of shining stars
Like holes cut in velvet black by steel
Who holds in her hands my fate
Frozen blue and held in ice
With shining black frozen chips that sparkle
And flutter on her wings

Holding gently the fate amidst the stars
Rushing winds past wings made from steel
And soft tines of ice, all edges and sparkle.

Binging on Normalcy

by Wintersong Tashlin

This happened some time ago, but it seemed to be appropriate for life right now, so here it is.

I have a confession to make. I did something bad this evening. I engaged in behavior which many folk would consider inappropriate for someone in my position. What is worse is that I went down this dark and stormy road with company. Yes, I led another innocent (ha!) soul into sin.

That’s right, on the way home from Cauldron Farm this evening Fire and I stopped at McDonalds. Before you can finish gasping in horror I should add that we also stopped at a gas station and got a package of Twinkies. I hadn’t had McDonalds or any other fast food in over two years and it had been far longer since I had a Twinkie (although in fairness I could only eat one bite of Twinkie, yuck).

I have been eating way too much junk food since my ordeal cycle was almost finished and certainly too much in the weeks since Keeper’s Crossing and the final ordeal in the cycle. I have also been staying up till stupid hours of the morning watching downloaded TV shows on iTunes or reading trashy books I’ve read dozen’s of times before.

It isn’t that I don’t have serious spooky work to be doing. Not to mention that I have work to make up for my company. The issue is that I just need time to come down from the strain of the intense foo from the last year. Fire says that for spirit workers and magicians like us eating junk food is like being bulimic. We binge on this crap which our bodies can’t really handle and most importantly neither can our spirit or astral bodies. We know our systems are going to purge it out and probably in an extremely unpleasant fashion.

Sometimes though, one just wants to feel like everyone else. Do something very mundane and rooted in American society. Sitting here popping mini tootsie pops and Fun Dip while watching Aaron Sorkin’s new show (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, fucking awesome) at 1am it is surprisingly easy to forget the whole shaman thing.

Given the way that the world seems to be going nutty in a real big hurry I don’t suppose that shoving my head in the sand is an OK plan. Still, a week of serious crap food culminating in McDonalds at 11pm is a big part of taking at least a partial vacation from the strange course my life has taken. I appreciate that the Lady has been willing to cut me some slack in this. Still, eight years of knowingly serving Her, I think I have a good idea of how far I can push it. She has made it real clear that now that the first ordeal cycle is over it is time I get down to some real work. I doubt there’ll be much McDonalds in my system for the foreseeable future…

Wouldn’t want to let this unopened pack of Fun Dip go to waste though.

Monday, February 23, 2009

When Stupid Happens

By Galina Krasskova

Being a God-owned spiritworker/shaman, it's often had to imagine that there are beings out there a thousand times more difficult than Deities. Every once in awhile though, that remarkable blind spot jumps up and bites me in the ass, happily infecting me with a temporary case of stupid. Stupid happens, most often in our line of work to people who should and do know better (like me). It doesn't matter how much experience I get under my belt, or how much skill and knowledge I acquire. There are always those times where exhaustion, over-confidence, or simple lack of preparedness brings home the fact -- indisputably...that there is always, oh so much more to learn. For me, this usually happens when I'm dealing with non-Deity and non-ancestral spirits. 

I find human spirits to be a hundred times more difficult to deal with than any God. Gods obey certain rules. They usually respect one another's territory. The same cannot be said for spirits. More over, depending on the type of human spirit you're dealing with, he or she can be hungry, greedy, and desperate to hang onto life at any cost. This is rarely a problem, unless one is dealing with mediums. 

Mediums are those people who possess an innate talent for working with the dead. They can hear them, sometimes see them, and interact with them to a remarkable degree.  They are extraordinarily sensitive to dead people. Unfortunately, in most cases, they are also incredibly loosely connected to their physical bodies and have a terrible time grounding. This means taht they can, under certain circumstances, be easily displaced by spirits. When this happens, possession occurs. Now don't let this conjure images of Linda Blair in "The Exorcist." It's not like that (usually). There are very good reasons for a medium to allow spirit possession; for one thing, it can be an invaluable resource for working with one's ancestors and guiding spirits. Problems often arise however, when one is dealing with spirits outside of those categories. Your ancestors have a vested interest in keeping you hale, healthy, and whole. Other spirits, not so much. Nor do non-related spirits usually have much of an obligation or debt to you. 

I'd like to interject here that mediums are not necessarily Deity "horses." We use the term "Horsing" to imply allowing a God or spirit to come into one's body, pushing aside one's consciousness for a time. The ability to 'horse' Deity is a completely separate gift from mediumship. In fact, the best Deity horses i know cannot horse spirits save under very restrictive and Deity-controlled circumstances. They tend to be very well grounded and don't suffer from the weak body/spirit connection that most mediums experience as a matter of course. 

Spirits can be sneaky as hell, and will often behave in unethical and surprisingly self-destructive ways. For those of you who, like me, offer divination as part of your services, this is an important thing to know. When a person divines, the reader enters into a state of psychic receptivity. Sometimes there are very good and lawful reasons for a spirit to come and give information to a Diviner. There are spirit-workers out there who are owned by or in service to non-Deity spirits and while usually those spirits are ancestral, that is not always the case. Extra care must be taken by the diviner whenever a spirit comes to a reading. Why? Because the spirit can linger well after the reading and if the reader remains receptive, as many of us do for the first hour or so following a reading, he or she can be painfully vulnerable to outside influence. I was reminded of this lesson quite recently at painful cost. It's very easy for a determined spirit to influence a diviner into doing something stupid, unwise, and dangerous if the diviner doesn't realize this is possible. Never underestimate a hungry spirit. They can make themselves appear ever so altruistic and friendly but always, always, always, question their motives. The best house wards in the world won't help if you've invited a spirit in. 

So, what should a diviner do to be extra aware that he or she is clean after a reading? Well, it's painfully simple but there are a few steps to take that should never, EVER be ignored. If you're like me and in the habit of cutting corners in other areas of your Work, take my advice and just don't here. I did once. The results were terrifyingly unpleasant. 

First, cleanse yourself and the room you are going to read in before and immediately after the reading. I recommend spending at least an hour before any reading grounding, centering, and praying. Yes, praying. It is here that one's connection to the Gods is of utmost importance: "May Wyrd reveal what is rightly writ to see. May I have the understanding to interpret it, and the wisdom to know when to speak and when to stay silent. May the Gods guide my tongue and may I be blessed with clarity of vision." You need to be clean before a reading, in every possible sense of the word. 

The real work begins after the reading. Be especially aware of any ideas that come to your mind after a reading in which a non-Deity spirit has been present, particularly when those ideas are ones that will either involve that spirit or benefit that spirit. do not EVER and i mean EVER neglect to do divination should you suddenly find yourself absolutely certain that this spirit must be called again or some ritual done for its benefit, or most especially a medium provided so it can speak directly to someone. The one time i neglected to do this, was the one time it did turn into something out of "The Exorcist."

I recommend not only cleansing oneself and one's workspace after a reading but doing a specific ritual to banish spirits, keying that rite to whatever spirit was present. There are several such simple rites given in my colleague Sophie Reicher's book "Basic Psychic Hygiene." This book is an excellent place to start. Seal the space against spirits, particularly whatever spirit was called. Seal yourself as well and this is best done with shielding and special wardings but also with prayer. The best way to counteract negative spirit manifestation is to prevent the conditions that enable it. This is one area where prevention really is worth a pound and then some, of cure. 

Be aware of over-confidence. This is something that many magicians suffer from. The Art breeds a certain arrogance. In some respects this is necessary to accomplish what we do but it needs to be reigned in, because it can lead to some dangerous situations. In me, it's led more than once to cutting corners and while in nine cases out of ten I can get away with this, that tenth time is usually one hell of a come-uppance! And a caveat, my God-owned friends, just because you're owned by a Deity doesn't mean that Deity is going to haul your ass out of the fire. I've known more than One to allow Their servants to mess up, sometimes painfully, sometimes in ways that cause serious damage in order to teach a lesson, or drive home a point, or provide a necessary experience. Odin is like that: if I get into a mess, He usually expects me to get myself out of it. According to Him, it's the best way to learn. So don't assume you can call on your Matron, Patron, or Owner and suddenly everything will be hunky dory. It's unlikely to work that way. 

Always plan for the worst possible outcome. If you're doing a ritual where a spirit is going to be called (and frankly, I would caution before this happens to do massive divination to see if it SHOULD happen), for Gods sake don't begin until you've set up wards -- even if you're in warded space. Better too many protections than too few. Call your allies to watch over and protect the space and those in it. Call the medium's ancestors. Call your ancestors. Call the Deities that own you or to Whom you're dedicated. Call upon the house Vaettir. Basically, ensure that whatever spirit is coming in is outgunned and outnumbered. 

Pay attention to what kind of spirit this is. Knowing the spirit's earthly profession can be particularly helpful in sussing out what type of character he/she has. If they were gritty, greedy, street-wise survivors in life, they probably haven't changed much in death. Spirits don't usually change all that much from who they were in life. The old saying, "If you give them an inch, they'll take a mile" certainly applies here. 

Most of all, assume nothing. Do not assume that the people coming into your space have protections or wards, even if they are experienced magicians or mediums. I have seen particularly powerful spirits subtly and insidiously influence very skilled occultists to leave all their protective gear at home before a ritual. If one is not expecting it, such influence can be devastating. 

Divination is an invaluable tool here. Before taking any action no matter how simple, involving any time of non-Deity spirit, do divination to see if it should be done. Divine to see if the Gods want it. Divine. Divine. Divine. Do not assume that it's just ok. If you're being influenced, this can be really difficult, even for the very experienced. Make a check-list if you have to and pin it to the back of your workroom door. That check-list should go something like this: 

Before any spirit (not God) oriented ritual: 

1. Do divination to see if the ritual is necessary. 
2. Do divination to see if I should do the ritual. 
3. Do divination to see if the Gods are ok with the ritual. 
4. Do divination to see if there are any possible cons to doing the ritual. 
5. If anything is ambiguous, call a colleague and have him/her divine for you. 
6. Clean my space and take a cleansing bath. 
7. Set up working ward. 
8. Make sure there are tools like water, fire, florida water, and salt to help purify the medium if need be. 
9. Do more divination. 

You see where I'm going with this. If you think this sounds like overkill, consider what is worse: a few minutes spent in divination, or a few hours trying to banish an obnoxious, determined spirit from the body of an exhausted, unprepared medium. Me? I'll take the divination. 

Just because we're used to working with Deities, it's easy to dismiss human spirits. This is a mistake, one I fully admit to making myself. Life can be an addiction, one that some of the dead are unwilling to give up. It's a hell of a thing to find yourself having been manipulated into giving a greedy spirit its "fix" at the cost of some poor medium's health. Take the precautions and drill yourself into following a regimen of checks and counter-checks. The more habitual this becomes, the more deeply ingrained, the harder it is for you to be swayed from it. Even when you think you don't have to, follow a set plan that includes those nine steps above and do it before anyone even steps through your door. 

Because my friends, when you least expect it, as I can well attest: stupid happens. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Money Makes the World Go Round...

By Galina Krasskova

I had not intended to focus on this particular topic in my very first post here, but it’s been coming up quite a bit with clients lately so perhaps it’s time.

I recently attended a Pagan Gathering in CA and once again I was astounded by the aesthetic so prevalent in Pagan and Wiccan circles: doggedly downwardly mobile, and once again, I had to ask myself why this is. Is it any wonder that these religions are not taken seriously by the mainstream when their adherents parade around looking like poverty stricken members of some cracked neo-hippie group with a fetish for Renn Faire clothing? The gathering that I attended was not only Pagan, but academic (i.e. professional) and yet the same aesthetic prevailed.

Lest I seem the total snob, let me be clear about something: I could care less how a person chooses to dress on his or her own time. Be comfortable. However, as I myself have so recently learned: in the professional world appearance is…while not everything, a valuable tool in presentation and marketing. What we choose to wear and how we choose to present ourselves speaks volumes about who we are, our perceived competence, and our professionalism. Clothing, make up, good grooming are all tools that one can use to affect the way people respond: it’s the most basic level of magical glamour-work. It’s a hell of a lot more effective than lighting a candle! Part of the problem is knowing what is appropriate and when: long flowing tie dye may be fine during a ritual but in a professional setting: not so much. I also strongly believe that part of the reasons for this dominant aesthetic is the communities’ attitude toward money: what it is, what is says about a person, what having it implies.

I’ll tell you something: money is sacred. Yes: MONEY. One of the Gods that I serve is Andvari, a God of money, resources, and craftsmanship. He demands, first and foremost, that we deal with our issues around money and learn what belongs to us by right and what belongs to us by accident. In American culture, people will discuss the most intimate details of their sex lives openly but cringe in shame at the mere thought of discussing their finances. The learning curve as the current financial crisis shows, is pretty pathetic. Andvari teaches not only that money is a sacred thing but that it is a living thing worthy of respect. As we honor spirits of the land, of the elements, of our dead, so we should honor the spirits of money. If we respect money, it will respect us in turn. Part of that respect means dealing with any ambivalence, fear, and tangled issues surrounding our own finances. I believe this ties in strongly to what I termed above, the downwardly mobile aesthetic of modern Paganisms. Money, after all, represents “the man” and we all know that Wicca and other Paganisms came of age in the 60s when everyone was revolting against “the man.” What no one seems to consider is that money has the power to transform into things that can better our lives. Money is not the problem. The problem lies with us.

How does this all relate to spirit-work and shamanism? Those that don’t respect money often have trouble setting the appropriate fee for their services. Witness the ongoing debate in Wiccan circles over charging for one’s work at all. To me, this is a ludicrous debate: of course we should charge, unless the Gods tell us otherwise. We are providing services, like divination, that we have worked long and hard to master and gain skill in. We are providing services that our clients cannot provide for themselves. I doubt many would balk at paying their therapist, or dentist, or doctor. Yet time and time again I have not only had clients balk at paying me as a diviner but have seen my colleagues struggle with setting and maintaining appropriate fees. It all comes down to learning to value who we are and, moreover, what we do.

Maybe it’s just that there is still too much hold over from Christian attitudes toward money. Christians serve a God of holy poverty and that is a wise and honorable thing. I belong to Odin, however, meaning I serve a God of kings. For those not owned by Christ, money should not carry any onus or taint. We have a right to be successful. Being spiritual need not mean abandoning earthly success. As my spiritual mother pointed out recently: Jesus may have been a God of holy poverty but when He died, He was given the honor of an appropriate burial in a sepulcher because Joseph of Arimathea had money!

Until we learn to value money and its power to transform a life, until we learn to see it as something as equally spiritual as nature we’ll never be perceived of as anything more than a group of ridiculous fringe cults. Nor will we ever succeed in having what we do, our skills, vocations, and talents afforded the respect that they deserve. We need, across the board, to lose the fear of appearing professional. As my colleague Anya Kless said recently:

"They (Wiccans and Pagans) should do more to recognize that not everyone is a leather worker, farmer, bard, or IT person who works from home. Wiccans (and Pagans) exist in different facets of the work force, and the witch in a suit is just as valuable (if not more so)."

We need to bring our religions into the modern world, a world in desperate need of many things, including financial wisdom, respect, and, dare I say it, spirit workers. After all, part of our job is restoring balance. If we want to be taken seriously, we first have to take ourselves and our skills seriously. Pagans have long understood that there is absolutely no shame in being poor. It’s time we learned there’s no shame in the opposite either.


Monday, February 9, 2009

Cow Poo Filled Teaching Hat of Doom

So recently, I was wandering aimlessly through a Borders the other day, thinking about the shiny new paycheck that I had just gotten and wondering if there were any new books that I wanted to read. When all of the sudden I had the irresistible urge to go and look in the pagan/spirituality section to see if there was anything there that might be of some use. Now if anyone has been into the Pagan/Spirituality section of a Borders or Barnes and Noble, and they aren't interested in "Learning to unlock your ESP" or looking at another Silver Raven Wolf book about how to teach your teen to do bad meditation, then you will know why this should have been immediately suspect. But on I went.

When I got to the aforementioned section, I came upon a group of 30-something women, shuffling down the isle like a group of middle school girls in their first porn shop. One of them pointed to a book on Tarot and said that she had tried calling a telephone Psychic and that the experience had been “Deeply Meaningful” to her.

Now as someone who does Rune readings badly myself, and knows a fair number of people who I would say are excellent readers of both Tarot, Runes, and many other forms of divination, I can say that when I hear the word “Telephone Psychic” something in me just cringes and starts to froth at the mouth a little bit. I was all set to ignore them and laugh on the inside at the newbies, when all of the sudden, splat down comes the wet cow pie of a Teacher Hat. Sigh, no really you do have to tell them otherwise, no you don’t just get to be self satisfied snarky sprirt-worker girl over in the corner. Grr.

But what to say? I don’t really divine enough to tell these women anything else with any kind of genuine authority, nor do they have any reason to listen to me. But the Teaching Hat will not be denied, so in I go.

Let me just say that I hate it when something else’s words start coming out of my mouth. It creeps me out soooooo much more than full possession. With a full horsing I am aware of what I am doing, I am generally consenting or at least I have some warning. But I Hate it (and yes I meant to capitalize that) when the cosmic whatever sticks its slimy little tentacle up my butt and turns me into a glorified sock puppet.

So I say “Um excuse me I couldn’t help over hearing your conversation, but” as if I would ever say that if I had a choice “as someone who does Tarot readings, I think that it is much better to do them in person. A reading is like a conversation, one that you are having between your reader, you, and a third invisible party that is putting in its two cents every now and then in a foreign language that you and your reader need to translate together to understand.”

So there is the jewel of wisdom that the slimy cow poo filled Teaching Hat has to offer about doing divinatory readings. Are they going to remember that conversation in a week? Do I care? Was it more important to say it, or was it just an exercise in futility? Who knows, but then isn’t that the motto of spirit-workers?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Open For Business

So here is a first test of the emergency Spirit Workers blog, etc...