November 2011


We are our most important instrument, the only tool we will ever need. I walked out of my shamanism weekend completely refreshed, full of an energy that I hadn’t felt in a long time. And even though I am quite tired today (crazy at work lately), I feel that core of energy continuing to glow softly. Taking care of our Selves is a crucial part of being a Witch and a spiritual being. There are many ways to do that. Here are a few of the pieces on how to take care of your body and your soul:

Sleep

I had one full night of uninterrupted sleep last week, courtesy of my lovely two-and-a-half-who-needs-to-sleep-anyway? daughter. It brought home the fact that our bodies and minds really need to sleep to recharge. Six hours does not always cut it!

Eat well

Make sure that you keep your body well fueled by eating the things it needs. I believe that we know what our bodies need and we should accommodate those needs. Don’t let your body run on empty.

Find your power

I came back from the weekend with a very tangible feeling of having received a gift of power. I don’t know when or how, but I felt full to the brim, as if a piece of the puzzle had been given back to me. I realized that I had probably given my power away to certain people or circumstances in my life. Take your power back into your hands. Do not let others make decisions for you that you do not agree with. Find that inner strength to take your place in the world, whatever that place may be. Feel like you are making your own choices.

Tune out the noise once in a while

We often don’t realize how much noise we are bombarded with and how many images are begging for our attention every second of the day. This is terribly apparent to me since coming back from the north. My tolerance to noise has gone way down and I realize that a lot of it is just background chatter that prevents me from truly looking in and finding better ways to live my life. So I turn off the radio in the car, I rarely watch anymore television. I take the time to look around instead and to really see what is happening in the world around me.

Look around

I get a great sense of serenity by just taking a good look around and looking at people. I feel like we are trying to avoid looking at each other, smiling, as if someone might ask us for something that we cannot offer or question us or I don’t know. Every now and then, we need to look up and SEE. When we do look around, we know what is coming, we are in a state of preparedness and a state of openness to our neighbor. There is something very calming in knowing where we are and what is happening.

Treat yourself

Every so often it just feels good to do a little extra for you. Buy that book, or sit in the coffee shop with your favorite mocha-sprinkle latte or take a second piece of pie. This is about finding pleasure in life. Usually pleasure lies in the littlest things.

Don’t forget that you are human

I think spiritually inclined people have very high expectations of themselves. We strive for that moral perfection, ideals of compassion and virtue. We have to be able to stop every so often and laugh a little. We don’t have all the answers, we learn from our mistakes and we keep going.

Re-connect

The shamanism weekend was about re-connecting: reconnecting to the Great Source, to my community, to my family, to my practice. Like our bodies need food, our soul needs connection. This can be in the form of prayer, ritual, journeying, studying, meditating, attending services, or even dancing wildly in a club. Whatever brings your soul up to connect to something bigger than yourself.

An activist sentiment has seemed to take hold of me over the last few weeks and I can’t seem to shake it. I do work a block from Occupy Montreal and there is something special in witnessing people get together for a common purpose. (And I must remind you that Occupying Montreal in January is slightly less comfortable than in LA!) It is also triggered by a mounting frustration at the fact that I am witnessing more and more difficulty in accessing services in our diverse institutions and by the relative nonchalance of the people who work there who just shrug as if it is normal that a three-year-old child should wait two years to get the services he needs. I apologize to all of you who do not live in a system where universal access to health care, schools and overall infrastructures are granted by law. This ranting must sound rather petty. Suffice to say that when you expect the services to be there and you have already paid them with your tax dollars, it is frustrating. But I’ll save that discourse for my compatriots.

Mixing religion and politics has always been an explosive mix and I don’t intend to cause trouble by posting this here. But it made me think that traditionally the Pagan movement has been very involved in a number of civil causes: women’s rights, gay rights, the environment

Health care reform supporter 3 at town hall me...

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… I was wondering if Christian Pagans would have the same tendency, or would we tend to lean more towards the status quo, as maybe Christians generally would? And if we do have that fire to fight for a cause, what cause would we espouse? Jesus was an activist in everything he did. He fought for the disenfranchised, the sick, the infirm, women… Would we fight for that, I wonder? Or would we fight for a raising of consciousness, for religious tolerance and for equity in our religious institutions? Would we pick up signs and manifest in the streets or would we try to change things inconspicuously, one person at a time? I wonder…

An Altay shaman beating a gong. Music was one ...

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I just spent a wonderful weekend journeying in the Beyond! Every time I come back from these intense weekend shamanism workshops, I feel so re-connected to my own power. It just feels wonderful.

This particular workshop was on Death, Dying and the Beyond. We explored the worlds souls travel to once they have left this world. We journeyed to meet loved ones who had crossed over and we helped lost souls find their way to a happier place. It was a powerful experience.

I have blogged about shamanism before, but I want to say once more what a great practice it is. It is about regaining power first and foremost. It is also extremely personal, so that it is really the spirit guides and the person who do the work. The Shaman is only an intermediary in the process. I find this refreshing when so many so-called ‘healers’ take all the credit. Since it doesn’t carry a specific spiritual system with it, I find shamanism to be extremely pliable to a multitude of systems including ours. Of all the healing methods, shamanism is the one that attracts me the most because it deals with soul rather than just body. I think that the arts of healing the soul have been lost in recent years. And we desperately need it.

The Foundation for Shamanic Studies offers workshops throughout the world. You can find a list at http://www.shamanism.org

When you start practicing the Craft, you learn a lot and very quickly. Everything is new and every new information leads to something else. With time, your studying slows down, you start focusing more on the philosophy of things and the ‘Great Questions’. Practice itself gets a little lax and it becomes increasingly difficult to test yourself and push yourself a little further. At a certain point, you need to devote yourself body and soul to really progress and that gets complicated in a world where you have other obligations. These advanced shamanism workshops really give me the opportunity to push myself a little bit further every time and to do this in a safe and structured environment. I went into the workshop with the mindset of going in a little deeper, of surrendering to the power. I was not disappointed.

Books

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I’ve been asked numerous times to help new seekers in their learning of Christian Witchcraft. There is nothing that fulfills me more (aside from my home angels, of course) than to share that which I have learned over the years. I have started to post exercises on this blog (under the tag study group) to share what I consider to be the basics of the practice. Here I come again with a renewed offer. I list here what I consider to be my level 1 course. You will find here a list of readings and homework that I consider to be essential for all of those of you who are starting out (and maybe the others who want a little more structure in their learning). I suggest a deadline of Easter for completing all the coursework. All homework should be kept in a notebook. All exercises should have an entry in a book of shadows with comments and descriptions of the experiences. Each reading should also have a summary of the book with comments of what you found interesting or puzzling in the material. This is how I was taught and I hope that you will find it both challenging and inspiring. You may send me your course work once it is all completed. I will not take in partial homework. I also offer no guarantee that I will read all of it. But I figure that it gives an added incentive if you know that you may receive feedback in the process. As I have posted on Facebook, I am still keeping my day job, so I hope you will all understand that I am offering as much time as I can.

 

Coursework for Level 1 – Course in Christian Witchcraft

 

Mandatory Readings:

Crafting: Arin Murphy-Hiscock, Solitary Wicca for Life

Magic: Scott Cunningham, Wicca: A guide for the solitary practitioner

Magic and Mythology: Berg & Harris, Polarity Magic

Pagan history: Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon

Anthropology: Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman

Christian Mysticism: Kyriacos Markides, Riding the Lion

Christian Studies: Pagels, Elaine, The Gnostic Gospels

Energy and healing: Selene Vega and Anodea Judith, The Sevenfold Journey

One work of fiction that relates to Christianity, Paganism or a combination of both. Highlight the elements that stir a new understanding of these spiritual paths.

Some suggestions of works of fiction:

Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Christ the Lord – Out of Egypt by Anne Rice

The Gospel According to Pilate by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt

A Love Divine by Alexandra Ripley

Bless the Child by Cathy Cash Spellman

Any of the Chronicles of Narnia

 

Homework:

– Define Magic and Energy. What do these concepts mean to you? Why do you want to study magic and what events in your life have brought you to want to undertake such studies?

– Define Paganism, Witchcraft and Christianity. What are these practices/religions to you? What are the differences and the similarities? What calls to you in each one?

– Do the Elemental explorations (study guide)

– Practice Centering and Grounding (study guide)

– Practice energy work: energy fields, shrinking and expanding, seeing your energy field and others’ (study guide)

– Practice visualization exercises (study guide)

– Watch the DVD ‘What the Bleep Do We Know’ and comment it

– Build an altar (take a picture)

– Perform a ritual from start to finish (either a Sabbat or an Esbat or a ritual spell)

– Research the concept of deity. What is deity for you and how do you express it?

– Each lunar month, do the exercises for one chakra in The Sevenfold Journey

 

Some of you may finish quickly and others may extend beyond Easter. I wish you an exciting journey with this. God and Goddess bless you on your journey!

I digressed a bit. Let’s get back to our study group and ritual design.

 

Now that you did all your preliminary introduction (quarter calls, circle casting and deity invocation), you are ready to get to what you really set up for: your main rite. There are two main types of events: 1) ritual celebration and 2) magical working.

For a ritual celebration, you are commemorating an event usually associated with the passing of the seasons or a rite of passage. This doesn’t mean that you cannot do magic, but the main goal is not to materialize an intent. It is to bear witness, to sit in sacred space, to celebrate, to worship, give thanks and to receive wisdom. This is usually done on a Sabbat, where we celebrate the passing of the seasons and remember different tales of wisdom from our Traditions. Esbat rituals can also be seen as such, although magical workings are more common because the energy of the moon, either in its full or dark, lends itself to this kind of work. Many public rituals would fall into the category of ritual celebrations. A ritual celebration usually figuratively relates the event that is commemorated. There is a symbolic participation in the re-enactment of this event, either through drama and chanting or through a semi-magical working. One example is to write the things we have harvested over the last year and place it in a cauldron. While we are not necessarily raising energy, we are making a personal offering to the gods as a sign of gratitude. On Samhain, we often draw Tarot cards as a sign of things to come over the year. These are symbolic acts that draw power to ourselves without actively raising and sending out energy.

 

Magical workings are essentially done in solitary or within a familiar group. This implies some form of energy raising and sending to achieve a desired effect. Doing this is difficult in a large group with people of different backgrounds because it requires a common understanding of the energy raising method. That is why it tends to be kept in closed working groups or alone. The important thing is to have a clear intent of what you want to achieve and to symbolically represent it through your personal correspondences. If you are doing a ritual for mental peace, you want to set your altar with items that bring that in. Don’t put all your faith in books of spells. If the color for mental peace is purple for you, don’t go and put a white candle on your altar. This is what makes magic specific. You represent yourself and your intent with your own images. If red roses have a bad connotation for you, don’t include them in a spell for love. Use another herb or flower that triggers that feeling. There are many ways to do this. I recommend starting with a simple ritual and add elements as you go along. And keep records of everything so you can see what works for you and what does not.

 

A simple ritual

Here are a few suggestions of where to start.

1)      After having done your introduction, simply sit and open yourself up to receiving whatever wisdom comes. It may be words, images, feelings.

2)      Pick an intent. Choose a color that matches this intent. Place a candle of this color on your altar. You may choose to anoint it with oil that matches this intent or inscribe symbols or words on the candle. Let it burn down either in one shot or in sections over the next few days.

3)      For a ritual celebration, with Samhain just behind us, divination is a traditional activity. If you have a Tarot deck, pick a card that represents what awaits over the coming year. If you don’t have a Tarot deck, you may let a few drops of ink in a bowl of water or some tea leaves and see what images you pick up.

Enjoy!

Now for something completely different…

In a parallel life (I’m not sure which one is the real one…), I work as director of professional services and quality assurance for the James Bay health board. This means that I work very hard to make sure that we give care that is safe, respectful of the best possible practices and that promotes the human values of compassion, empathy and self-determination.

This week is Patient Safety Week. The concept of patient safety is rather new to me, since I have been in this position only for a few months. Why should we focus on patient safety? Patients are in our care, they should feel safe, no? Well, the truth is that medical care is one of the most complex ‘business’ there is because there are so many variables involved. When you deal with this type of complexity, bad things can happen. And they do. We try not to call these ‘mistakes’ anymore, because blame does not usually result in a permanent solution. We call them harmful incidents and part of our job in quality and risk management is to make sure that the preventable events do not happen or at least do not recur. Sounds simple, but it is a daunting task.

I wanted to bring up the topic because it touches everyone. If you are ever in the care of the medical system or someone you care about is, you have to be aware that harmful things can happen inadvertently. Ask a lot of questions. Demand to know who is walking into your room and what they are doing. Double check that referrals get to the right place and that the right people are involved in your case. If you feel you are not ready for discharge or that the treatment is making you worse, do not hesitate to tell someone and to pester the staff until someone finally listens. This could save your life.

If a harmful event does happen nevertheless, know that you have rights. You have the right to know exactly what went wrong. This is called disclosure on the part of the staff and the institution. You have the right to an apology for the harm that you have been caused. You also have a right to some compensation, whether it is simply having access to psychological support, accommodations during extended therapy or a financial settlement. But above all, you have the right to be heard so that such incidents don’t happen again.

So this is my little contribution to public awareness. Hoping that you never have to use any of this advice.

Blessings everyone! I’ve been away for work over the last couple of weeks. Every time that I take such an extended leave from my writing, it brings home the fact that it has become such a life-giving part of my life and that the interactions I get with all of you are worth a million!

My Samhain was quite different from the past few years. For the first time in a long time, I went to a public ritual with the rest of the Wiccan community. Up to now, my contact with the Pagan community was limited to Crescent Moon and a few offshoots. My spiritual circle extended to a few spirit-minded healers, shamans and psychics. But this was the first time that I attended a public Wiccan ritual that was not organized or run by students of Crescent Moon or its affiliate teachers. I had other plans for that evening, but something within yearned to celebrate in a purely Wiccan way. I was curious of how it would feel.

There were over one hundred people at this ritual, most of whom I did not know. I had met some of the organizing members at Gaia gathering in May. I have to lift my witch hat to these people who pulled an amazing feat. It is difficult enough to lead an open ritual with people who are not familiar with one another. They lived up to the challenge of a huge crowd, with people of different backgrounds, different levels of knowledge of the Craft, from the seasoned practitioners to the merely curious. It flowed seamlessly, they took the time to explain the proceedings at the beginning so that everyone would be on the same page and the ceremony was simply poignant.

I had been removed from the organized Pagan community for more than 5 years, while I lived up north. All this time, I spent writing and forging my own identity and practice. Coming back to Montreal and reconnecting with the Pagan world brought home a few things. First and foremost, I realized how varied the community was and how established. And those who adhere to Wicca as a religion really live it. Some have lived this way for decades, so that they are no longer just dabbler and explorers. They are Wiccan in all its expressions. Their rituals are organized, their wording shared. They share common songs and expressions. As the organizers explained before the ritual, the ritual was conducted in a pure Wiccan style. Having studied in an eclectic setting with a little bit of this and little bit of that, this was not something that I was used to. But it made me understand a little more some of the backlash that I got when the book came out. There is a purely Wiccan tradition and I have a tendency of forgetting that.

This being said, the ritual was beautiful. The symbolism and the songs brought me back to what I had looked for from the beginning: the raw connection to the earth cycles and the Goddess. We chanted about death and passing, we called our ancestors and asked for guidance for the coming year. So, I found there what I came to find. But at the same time, I looked around at the people gathered there (OK it was Samhain and everyone looks a little odd dressed up…), but I did not feel like these were MY people. There were a number of the usual suspects: the dark, the eccentric, the dramatic, the seekers, the curious, and for sure the priests and priestesses of a Craft that needs to be preserved. There were also some of the people that I was also used to in my initial circles. In a crowd of over one hundred, it is obvious that I could not talk to everyone and learn their stories. But I would have liked to do that, just to know how all these people had gotten to be in the same place that night.

As I looked over the crowd, it struck me that I have a Tradition of my own that may differ quite a bit from a purely Wiccan practice. Part of that is the eclectic background that we may share as Christian Pagans or Witches. Another part is that we have a Christian tradition that inspires the kind of liturgy that we may include in our rituals. This includes a certain attitude and way of attending that may differ from Wiccan practice.

Maybe we are our own tribe…

On this Samhain, may the ones you loved be with you and may the new year bless you with the inner fire of Spirit!