Valentine’s Day/Vanadis’ Day

Wednesday was the 14th of February, a day often referred to by my friends (especially the ones in relationships) as ‘Obligatory Romance Day’, and I can kinda see why. Valentine’s is over-commercialised, like Christmas, and, also like Christmas, comes with the message from society that you should do certain things, and must feel a certain way, otherwise you’re doing it wrong and are a terrible, terrible person. And that’s if you’re in some form of relationship – if you’re single then not only the day itself but the two-week long preceding heart-shaped red-and-pink fluffy commercial bombardment is a really good incentive to go live under a rock somewhere.
Now that’s not to say I hate the day, or think it should be banned, far from it. I love the fact that there’s a universally-recognised day in the year where if one is in a relationship, of whatever kind, it is expected or assumed that something should be done to celebrate your partner and the relationship you have. Not that your partner exists (birthdays) or that the relationship that you have exists (anniversaries), but that that particular person and you are in a relationship, if that makes sense. After all, people have busy lives these days, and between work, and sleep, and the basics of life (food, cleaning yourself, cleaning your environment), and possible children, there isn’t always the time to spend a day, or even an evening with one’s partner where you can both relax and do something special that you both enjoy. And Valentine’s does give you that reason/excuse/kick up the backside to make time to spend with your partner/partners, even if you hate the idea of the red-roses-posh-dinner-out-for-two ‘tradition’. A fair few of my friends do, indeed, put that on their list of things they don’t consider fun, and so spend the day (or a weekend near the day itself) playing video games together, for example.

Musings aside, what I’m trying to put forward is my feeling that people should celebrate Valentine’s Day, even if what you’re doing isn’t considered ‘romantic’, even if you’re in a relationship that’s considered unconventional (thinking of my godspouse and polyamorous friends), and even if you’re single. I might even say especially if you’re single. Instead of focussing on how much advertisements, supermarkets, other shops, and society is forever pointing out that you’re still alone and unloved, which is pretty much what it feels like for half the month, use it as an excuse to pamper yourself – buy yourself the chocolate, or the champagne, or the jewellery, or the flowers, or all of those things. Go out for a meal with a friend, or stay at home in your pyjamas, eat takeout and marathon a TV series. Even before Freyja came into my life I knew that self-love was something you had to be capable of as a person if you wanted to have a romantic/physical relationship with someone else, moreso if you wanted said relationship to last. Now by self-love I don’t mean being an egotistical narcissist (or the other thing – get your mind out of the gutter!), but instead having the ability to like yourself as a person, being able to see that you do have some good points, that you’re not a waste of oxygen, and that there are parts of your personality and/or body that other people will find attractive. After all, if you hate yourself, how can you expect other people to like you?

And so, despite having been single for several years I still celebrate Valentine’s Day, even if that just involves buying myself chocolate and/or making time to do something fun and frivolous without needing to worry about work or the laundry or how I could be doing something more productive with my time. However, since Freyja came into my life I’ve also had the chance to add something more, although the first year She’d only just arrived in my life and I was to busy flailing to do anything, and last year I was working ten-hour days and spending eight hours travelling every weekend and the day, from what I remember, passed by in a haze of tiredness. This year, ahh, this year I was going to celebrate properly – not only Valentine’s Day, but also Vanadis’ Day, an idea I got from this post over at Flame in Bloom. I had so many plans, there were so many things I was going to do for myself and for Freyja, and it was going to be awesome and wonderful.

Mm, yeah, not so much. Hardly a surprise is it, considering how much I manage to not get done generally. I would have done more, even considering my procrastination problem, but I got a splitting headache in the early afternoon, and after taking some ibuprofen the one-hour nap I set my alarm for turned into a three-hour sleep punctuated by waking up enough to slap the alarm into silence. Which, to be fair, does come under the heading of self-care, as my body clearly needed the extra sleep, but did mean I had less time awake to do the things I had planned. Which, considering later events, was probably a good thing. So, here is how I spent my Vanadis’ and Valentine’s Day:

The 14th, being a Wednesday, meant I had the day off, as I’m working part-time at the moment due to still recovering from the whole nearly dying thing. So I had an entire day to play with. One of the things that I was definitely going to do was have a bath, and it was wonderful! I don’t often have baths, as a) the en suite in my room is tiny and only has a shower, and b) it’s a helluva lot easier to wash my hair in the shower. So long hot soaks in the tub are a special occasion, for either when I want to indulge myself or when my muscles seriously hate me. It also doesn’t help that the bath is also tiny. It’s not the smallest size of bathtub, but it’s getting there. One of the perils of living in a converted building is the odd layout and awkward size of the rooms, which in my flat translates to ‘tiny bathroom where the door just clears the toilet’ and ‘incredibly irritating dog-leg just inside the front door’. I love my flat, I really do, but when I, a human of 5’4″, can’t lie down in the bath with my head underwater without my feet on the edge of the bath and my knees at right-angles, I do wish I lived somewhere ever so slightly bigger. But, space constraints aside, it was a wonderful bathtime. I’d gone out to our nearest Holland & Barratt a few days earlier to see if I could find some nice bath salts, and came home with this 1.5kg bag of pink Himalayan mineral-rich salt, to which I added a few drops of the gorgeous-smelling Love oil that I bought from the wonderful Beth about a year and a half ago. I also lit one of the salted caramel candles I’d recently acquired, which had a really interesting effect. If I was lying down/reclining in the bath I could only smell the oil, but when I sat up a bit and put my head above the top of the bathtub the scent of the candle took over. I stayed in there for about an hour, as I was able to listen to the whole of 40 Days by The Wailin’ Jennys plus a bit, as I’d set my iPod to repeat.

love oil
Photo of the oil from the Etsy listing. It smells amazing, what with having ‘rose petals and vanilla bean infused into light extra virgin olive oil with pure essential oils of geranium and sandalwood added, and charged with rose quartz and the runes Wunjo and Nauthiz’.

Having pampered myself and done a bit of Freyja-honouring (pink salt, appropriate oils, sweet-smelling candle) I then, having had a shower and washed all the salt and oil out of my hair, moved on to the Vanadis-focussed as opposed to Valentine part of the day. I started by using one of the Christmas presents I’d been given and made Freyja a present – an origami pig. Pigs, or rather boars, are a very Vanic thing with both Freyja and Freyr having boars as part of their legends, and one of Freyja’s names is Sýr, ‘sow’. Now when I first looked at the front cover of the booklet showing what animals you could make, I thought the pig was a rhino. The tail end you could tell was a tail, and you can sort of see how it’s meant to be a pig, but the top of the nose was pointy, and even when I’d made mine it still looked like a rhino. So I folded the pointy bit inside, and voila! A red pig for Freyja on Vanadis’ Day.

I think next time I make one I’m going to cut little slits along the top, to make it look a bit more boar-like.

I then followed the lead of several Pagan bloggy people I know, and headed to the kitchen to make tea. Ritual tea and/or tea-with-deities is something I like the idea of, but not something I’ve ever done, what with me not liking tea – any kinds of tea. But I found this one which has apple and chocolate and hazelnut brittle in it, comes out pink, smells lovely, and is actually reasonably drinkable. I also dug out one of the green glass teacups that I got when I moved out of my parents’ place – they took the opportunity of my setting up home by myself to unload stuff they didn’t want or use any more, so I got the cups and saucers that Dad had had when he was at university. So, pig in one hand, pink tea in a green cup in the other, I headed into my bedroom to pop them on the altar and say hi. And it was nice to just sit there and chat, with wisps of steam rising from the cup. I didn’t get my tarot cards out or anything, what with not wanting the headache to start coming back, so it was a very one-sided conversation, but I get the feeling that She was pleased with the efforts I’d made, or at least I hope She was.

I could have sworn I took a photo of the brewed tea and the pig on my altar, but apparently not, so this one of tea in potentia will have to do.



I have had an Epiphany!


As you can see, my tree and all the decorations are packed up and ready to go back in the hall cupboard for next year. The remainder of my Advent candle is in the box with the rest of my Sabbat gear waiting until the 1st December when it will be used to light my next Advent candle which, as I live in a flat with no fireplace, I use instead of a Yule log. And all my Christmas cards have been taken down and sorted into two piles – those I wish to keep and those that can be recycled.

Christmas and the New Year are definitely over, so why do all this yesterday, and why celebrate by posting about it? Well in the Christian liturgical calendar 6th January is commonly known as Epiphany, which celebrates the visit of the Three Kings or Magi to Jesus and the presentation of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Him. It’s also the last day you’re allowed/supposed to have Christmas decorations up, which is why I’ve taken all mine down, as it causes bad luck otherwise. Epiphany marks the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas (despite the fact that carol is only ever sung before Christmas) and used to be one of the Days of Estate celebrated by the English royal Court where the king and queen would dine wearing their crowns. Nowadays our celebrations for Christmas last from 1st December to 25th December, occasionally to Boxing Day on the 26th, and after that ‘Christmas’ is over and prep for the New Year begins. However, in the past (even up to Victorian times) Christmas decorations only went up on Christmas Eve, and the celebrations for Christmas started on the Day itself and lasted to Epiphany. Advent, after all, is a time of anticipation in the same way that Lent is – it is a solemn and sober time reflected in the colours used in the church and on priests’ vestments (purple, for penitence and preparation). True, there is a lot of joy in the traditional celebrations of Advent (birth is generally seen as more positive than death), but, like Lent, it was also a time of fasting and/or abstaining from eating flesh. Which is why Christmas Day was only the first day for feasting and celebration instead of the last.

Although there are probably as many Epiphany traditions as there are Christian denominations, the only one I ever heard of while growing up was the ‘take your Christmas decorations down by 6th January at the latest’. Which is how I’ve celebrated it the last two years and never thought any more about it. I’d known about the Mediaeval and Early Modern (Tudor and Stuart) royal ceremonial traditions for over seventeen years, what with being a mediaeval historian and all, but particular church ceremonies weren’t really mentioned unless connected to the behaviour of the Court, and I had absolutely no basis for incorporating those into my personal religious practices. However, during the course of last year I discovered a tradition of ‘chalking the doors’ on Epiphany, as a form of house-blessing for the following year. On Epiphany the front door of the house is written on using a piece of (usually blessed) chalk, using the pattern ’20 + C + M + B + 18′. The numbers on either side make up the current year, the crosses between everything are a symbol of Christ, and the three letters have a double meaning. One is the initials of the names of the Magi that visited – Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar (although the Bible never mentions a number aside from the use of the plural, and no names are given either, yay mediaeval theology!) – and the other is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase Christus mansionem benedicat or ‘may Christ bless this house’.

I really liked this idea, and, as I’d protected and blessed my flat the day we finally exchanged contracts and had plans to redo the wards over the Christmas/New Year period when my flatmate was away, I decided to add this tradition to my own religious practices. After all, you take your blessings where you find them, right? And as a Christo-Pagan I like the idea of having my flat protected by both Pagan and Christian rituals. So, having already re-warded my flat, yesterday evening I prepared to chalk the door – apart from I have no chalk. I do, however, have some holy water which I picked up on my last visit to Westminster Cathedral, which I had also used during my house warding a few days previously.

Yes, the area around and under my altar is a mess…

So, out came my chalice again along with my Methodist Worship Book. Now unlike Catholicism for example, where it seems pretty much expected that everyone will own a Missal or Missal-like book, containing the liturgy of the Mass along with other prayers such as the Rosary, the same is not true of Methodism. While there’s nothing stopping a Methodist from buying a copy of the Worship Book, and sections of it are avilable to buy seperately, most of us just don’t bother. There’s always enough copies of it in church for one thing, and for another it doesn’t get used very often. I’m sure there are Methodist churches out there that do use it every Sunday, but all the ones I’ve been to or know of have used it on high days and holidays – baptisms, weddings, funeral services, the Covenant service, and the occasional Communion service (Communion – what Methodists call the Mass or Eucharist – happens once a month for most churches, so an occasional one of those is very rare). As a result of such infrequent use very few households own one, even my parents don’t – they just borrow one from church when they know they’re Stewarding on a special day or a Sunday when a visiting Minister wants to use the book. I own one because I’m not always able to get to church (mostly laziness, partly when I’m away) and I wanted to be able to read through the services even if I couldn’t participate, and also because there are sections on morning and evening prayer which I am trying to incorporate into my daily life more often. And as an added bonus (because I bought the full book rather than chunks of it) I get all the services Methodists ever use, including An Order for the Blessing of a Home. Now it’s entirely possible that I meant to use this as part of the massive renewal of the protections around my flat on New Year’s Eve and utterly forgot to do so, but let’s pretend that I meant to use it on Epiphany as part of my ‘chalking’ the door the whole time shall we? Cheers.

So, out came the book and my chalice, and I sat in front of my altar with the candles lit and read through the service. Now there’s a rubric near the end that begins ‘here some symbolic act may be made’ followed by a list of examples, which would be a brilliant time for me to go and scibble all over my front door with wet fingers if it wasn’t for my altar candles are really close to the wooden footboard of my bed and there’s no way I’m not being in the room when they’re burning. So instead my ‘symbolic act’ was to pour some holy water into my chalice, followed by the rest of the service and snuffing all the candles. Then it was time to go finger-paint the door. Almost all the examples I’d found on the internet have the numbers and letters either at the top of the door or just above the door, but I decided to use the middle part of my door which was slightly easier to reach, roughly the same level as the circle I’d cast round my flat, and where the layout of the panels provided enough space. What I probably should have done was go outside, shut the door, mark the door, then come back inside through the blessed doorway, but instead I opted for the lazy concise version of opening the door all the way and wedging it there while I drew on it. I then said a prayer, drained the chalice, and shut the door, happy with a job well done and a fully protected house. And now that Yule, Christmas, and New Year’s are over, I get a couple of weeks off before I have to start prepping for Imbolc, and the annual Spring Cleaning which follows. Urrgh…

So, I might be joining a coven. Part I

Might be. Might possibly be. Partly for the reasons I’m about to write below, and partly because this was supposed to be written and published in mid-October of last year. Not an ideal amount of time to pass really, considering writing a blog post involves waaay less time, effort, and energy than the duties of joining a coven does, but as my joining of said coven would need certain conditions fulfilled that were out of my hands at the time the urgency of the post just sort of faded away, until it joined the massive backlog of ‘titles of posts I really want to write (but haven’t got round to because I plan and procrastinate far more than is good for me)’. So why publish now? Well, partly because I am trying to work my way through said massive backlog (there were around seventy on the list last time I counted), but also partly because I might possibly be joining another, as in a different, coven. Perhaps.

The story of my on-off search for a coven actually goes back several years, and pre-dates the start of this blog. I’d defined myself as definitely Christo-Pagan for at least a year before I started writing here in late December ’14, and while being a Solitary has its advantages I wanted to see if group ritual would enhance my spiritual life on the Pagan side as much as going to church did the Christian side. And, frankly, I wanted to be part of a group ritual, just to see what it was like. This was before I discovered Treadwell’s Open Circles, and despite lurking on the Pagan bits of the internet for several years, I hadn’t stumbled across things like the Pagan Federation either. I had, however, found Witchvox, so I had a look at their London listings and found one by a woman seeking to start up an all-female eclectic group. Now at the time that suited me perfectly, as having an eclectic set of beliefs myself and a lack of contact or connection with any of the, for want of a better term, ‘Pagan deities’, joining a group based around a tradition or geared towards a specific pantheon would have been somewhat pointless for me. After all, while a fair few bits of my praxis were Wiccan, that’s as far as it went – I was still firmly henotheistic, so joining a Wiccan coven with its seperate male and female deities was out, and there was no point in looking at groups that were Heathen, or Goddess-centric. Ah, hindsight. How you make me laugh at myself…
I sent off an email to the lady, in early December and we traded messages back and forth for a while, along with another woman who’d also expressed interest. Unfortunately for our plans, every time we tried to arrange a meet-up with all three of us something went wrong – there were illnesses, and emergencies, and work shifts, and that was when we had found a date when our free times coincided. You’d think it would be easy for three women living in London to find a time to meet up after work right? Nope. We tried several times from the beginning of December to the end of January, but after two months we realised that something was working against us ever being in the same place at the same time. Whether that was bad luck, the universe, a specific Someone in one of our lives, or just Sod’s Law I have no idea, but whatever it was the project was shelved and we went our seperate ways.

Roll on about a year and I start looking at coven listings again. By this point I’d done another couple of rituals with Kizzy, and also been to a few Open Circles at Treadwell’s, which gave me much more of a feel for group ritual dynamics. The only group event I’d ever done before I went to Open Circle was a Samhain one when I was at uni, sometime during my Masters I think, and while it’s different going from being solitary to having someone else in circle with you, it’s even more different to go from just you and a friend to you and a load of other people. It also made a difference that, unlike at my first group ritual, I’d actually started using Wiccan and Wiccan-influenced practices in my own devotions. I’d also done a lot more reading and research, including other people’s experiences and explanations of rituals they’d led or been part of. I felt a lot more informed, and a lot less apprehensive as well – I was more worried about what would happen if/when people found out I was Christo-Pagan instead of just Pagan rather than worried about doing something wrong – walking the wrong way round the circle, whatever. Sort of the same way I felt when I first went to Mass with my Catholic friend, or to Meeting with my Quaker friend – the knowledge that if I sit or stand at the wrong time, or don’t cross myself, then people will know I’m a visitor/newbie. Which would have been fine if it didn’t lead to the irrational fear of ‘and then they’ll turn on me for being a fraud’, which is ridiculous, but hey, brain weasels.

So, it turns out I quite like being part of group rituals. I like the atmosphere in the room, the chatting over ‘cakes and ale’ afterwards, the feeling of… I’m not sure what, but the general kind of energy in the room maybe. Now I could just keep going to open rituals and events at Treadwell’s – they’re group rituals after all, so why join a coven if I don’t need to? Well, ‘need to’ is a strong way of putting it, but I’d like to. I’ve discovered I get the same sort of feeling at open/public rituals as I do when I go to church services of other denominations – CofE, Quaker, Roman Catholic etc. – the feeling that while I’m welcome, and included, I don’t really feel part of the group. Kinda like I’m just passing through. I’m not sure whether part of this is due to the infrequency of my attendance at such gatherings, or because there’s always a certain amount of turnover among the attendees of open rituals – there are several people I recognise by sight that I’ve seen on several occasions, but there’s always new people and this makes everything feel a lot more fluid and unsettled. Ok, maybe not unsettled, but not as… knowable maybe? For example, I go to my church and I will know pretty much everyone there. There’s usually one or two new/visiting members of the congregation, but the bulk of us have been going there for years and have that sense of community, the shared memories and experiences of things like our past ministers, past events and fundraising etc. But I also get the same feeling when I go to other Methodist services, just to a lesser extent. The church I sporadically attended at university (because getting up early on a Sunday morning after being out with friends till the small hours of the night before does not appeal) was a Methodist one, and while I didn’t have the shared memories of that community, I felt I fitted in easily as I knew the moves so to speak. The rhythm of ther services was familiar, I knew the responses, most of the hymns, the pattern of the prayers, and when the responses weren’t ones we knew off by heart, we were using the same worship book that all Methodist churches use. And while I know how other Christian services go, they still feel ‘other’. Now I grant you that that’s just familiarity – I’ve been going to a Methodist church for pretty much my entire life, and if I went to, say, Quaker meetings either more often or instead of, I’d eventually get the same feeling of belonging. But that’s the thing – I’d get the same feeling of belonging because I would be part of another community with a definitive common core. People who are actual ‘members’ of that community as opposed to visitors or newcomers. And I kinda miss having that sort of feeling on the Pagan side of my religion, hence coven-joining wishes.

So I started browsing the London or UK-wide groups on Witchvox, and find a couple I was interested in. By this point Freyja had shown up and I’d started developing my devotional relationship with Her, which in a way made it easier as I felt I now had more common ground with the people I was asking to join in with. So I send off a message to a London-based Gardnerian coven that was open for new members, pretty much saying ‘hi’ and giving an abbreviated version of my beliefs and the last couple of paragraphs, and wait to see what happens next. The answer is – nothing! So I figure that either my message has got lost/ended up in a spambox, the group is defunct and the listing hasn’t been taken down yet, or the coven’s full. Granted, if it was the last it would have been nice to have an email saying so, but considering how bad I am at replying to emails and how easily an email can get lost among mailing lists, Facebook notifications, and other stuff, I wasn’t annoyed or anything, just a bit wistfully sad. However, four months later I get an email from Ellie saying that the coven I’d applied to was at capacity but that she was hiving from hers and starting to think about taking on trainees as a result.

So we find a time to meet up for tea, cake, and a chat regarding how things would work, what I’m looking for, what she’d expect from me etc., and it went really well. Well, mostly. As in the chat went really well and was productive and so on, but did lead to me sitting there going ‘ummm…’ when Ellie asked me about my beliefs. You remember how I said at the beginning how this post was meant to be published last year? Yeah, this was the conversation that inspired my how on earth does my theology work now post, and this post was supposed to be a companion piece to that. Ellie also had some very valid concerns about how I would fit in to a Gardnerian coven, which I hasten to add she expressed a lot better than I’m about to. A lot of it centered around my Christianity, and while I’m an incredibly liberal member of that faith, Christianity’s track record when encountering Pagans isn’t always the best. Even if you ignore everything pre-Gardner/1950s, the world in general hasn’t reacted to Pagans particularly well, with attitudes ranging from ‘deluded’ to ‘Devil-worshippers’. And then you have a faith whose holy book very clearly states that witches should die, oh, and also no divination and no multiple gods. Now granted, the vast majority of Christians don’t believe that all the people in the world who identify themselves as witches should be killed off, but ignoring the fundamentalists and those with fundamentalist leanings, there are still a lot out there who are evangelical. Hell, one of my good friends (she of the resident church rock band) is a very passionate Christian, and does attempt to convert, or at least encourage to think more about Christianity, the atheist in our group of friends. So I can see why Ellie might be slightly concerned about how the Christian side of my religion would mix with a group of definitely-Pagans.

Quite aside from that, there were other much bigger reasons why I didn’t immediately start training with Ellie’s coven. For one thing it’s based in London, and while it is my home town and I do generally live here, at the time I was on an away job in Cambridgeshire, with no idea when I’d be able to get a job back in London again. Now while it is possible to do coven training at a distance and travel in for big things like Sabbats and initiations, it’s not ideal. Now we could have done it like that, but shortly afterward I ended up working in Lincoln, and considering it took me four hours travel each way and I had a day and a half each weekend at home it just wasn’t practical or desireable. The other reason for postponement was because I hadn’t got as far in my 366 project as I’d have liked. (Granted, I still haven’t but that’s not the point…) So while I did like the idea of joining a coven, and more specifically a Gardnerian one, there was no guarantee that British Traditional Wiccan practice would be something I’d actually enjoy doing. In theory, sure I had no problems, or at least no major deal-breaking ones or ones I can’t work around, but the thinking was that as I work through Roderick’s book I may discover that actually, this isn’t for me. And seeing as I wouldn’t be in London for the foreseeable future it made sense for me to carry on working through my 366, then when I did get a job in London again, see how far I’d got, see if I still felt Gardnerian Wicca was a good fit, then get back in touch about joining with a view to initiation.

The other issue aside from geography? Freyja. Now I’m not saying She was an issue as in problem, because a) She wasn’t, and b) I’d only ever say that if I was being obviously and humorously irreverent. But at the time of this conversation I was still a relatively young/new devotee of Hers – I was chatting to Ellie in September 2016, and I had only realised that Freyja was definitely there in early February that year. Eight months isn’t a very long time to come to terms with a change that big, and I was still very much feeling my way in my relationship with Her. And while that’s still true, it’s now been nearly two years and I feel a lot more settled and comfortable having Her around in my life, as well as having a better idea of how She fits in to my life. But at the time I was taking tiny baby steps, and Ellie made the very good point that I might want to try and see how I fit into a Heathen group as opposed to a Wiccan one, and gave me the names of a couple of groups and resources to have a look at. After all, I’d only ever read about both kinds of ritual rather than participating. And while the Open Circles were Wiccanesque in structure, with the calling and dismissal of the four quarters and the participants starting and ending standing in a circle, and the rituals I did with Kizzy slightly more so, there is still a lot of difference between that and a full BTW or Gardnerian ritual. Kinda like the difference between low- and high-church in Anglican services. So while I knew I liked what I’d read and experienced of Wiccan-style ritual, I’d only ever read about Heathen practices, and nowhere near as much as I had about Wiccan ones. Not really through not wanting to, but because there’s just so much more information out there on Wicca than Heathenry – and when it comes to the internet there is also a lot of questionable or downright wrong information regarding the modern (or should I say current?) worship of the Norse pantheon – hence the need for things like Declaration 127. I hadn’t disliked anything I’d read about the practice of Heathenry (bigots and racists aside), and if I tried it with a group I may have found that it ‘fit’ a lot better than Wicca did.

Now none of this was Ellie turning round to me and saying ‘no’ – far from it. Ok, I didn’t recieve and enthusiastic ‘yes, you must join us!’, but I wasn’t expecting one either. Until I was working in London again everything would be on hold anyway, so while I’m waiting for the job ads to appear I would have an opportunity to think on how my beliefs in two very different kinds of deity fit together, time to work on my exploration of BTW praxis (shutupshutupshutup), and a chance to try out Heathenry. Then once I was ankle-deep in London mud again I could evaluate what I’d learned in the meantime and how I felt about it all, get back in touch, and see where things went from there. Which all went swimmingly aside from the ten-hour work days along with the truncated weekends and long travel time left me with very little spare energy to pour into Day 2, and then as soon as I did get a job back in London (which would have solved that first problem) I got ill, which has pretty much made this year a washout as far as me getting anything hugely constructive done.

Coming up in Part II – how my adventures in Heathen blotting led to a chance conversation that led to my meeting with another Gardnerian group that led to me sitting here asking myself ‘so… now what?’. And let’s hope it doesn’t take me so bloody long to write about it either…

Using my Freyja witches’ ladder

This was supposed to be a write-up of the tarot card I drew yesterday, but seeing as I didn’t manage to even get a deck out of my box-o’-cards I used my Freyja ladder again instead. I’ve been trying (mostly unsuccessfully) for the last couple of years to get my spiritual life, and frankly my life in general, roughly where I want it, so this represents me trying again. I may be an incredibly successful procrastinatrix, and this year may have kicked me in the teeth hard enough to laquer my toenails in tooth enamel, but I’m still going to try dammit, even if I’m only mildly successful. Because I am ridiculously stubborn, often to my detriment; but hey, no one’s perfect.

My latest attempt at baby steps is to do something every Friday and Sunday – Fridays for Freyja, as it’s Her day (or Freyr’s, or Frigg/Frigga’s, or all of theirs, depending on tradition/patron), and Sundays for the Trinity as that’s the traditional/usual day for Christian religious celebrations. Although some churches, like my friend J’s, celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday.
I’ve given myself two options for spiritual activities for each day, one difficult involving more energy and another easier one one involving less energy. So on Sundays I will either go to a religious service (any denomination or church) or if I stay home I use my Methodist Worship Book instead. Fridays are either a tarot card draw to see if there’s anything Freyja would like me to know/would like to tell me (as I’m terrible at godphoning) or using one of the sets of prayer beads I have for Her.

Now I was going to go for the tarot option yesterday, as I spent the entirety of Thursday with the sensation of Her hovering just behind my right shoulder, with the similar feeling you get when you know someone’s staring at you. It wasn’t unpleasant, She wasn’t looming or anything, or at least I, with my terrible energy-sensing skills, didn’t get a feeling of disapproval etc. It was odd and slightly unnerving, but quite nice all the same. It wasn’t that Freyja was hovering there as a person – I didn’t ‘look’ over my shoulder and see Her there as She’s often depicted: human-shaped, long hair, Brisigamen necklace, falcon cloak, cats/boar attending Her etc. – but whenever I pushed whatever senses I’ve got, visualisation/third eye/sixth sense/whatever, and ‘looked’ over my shoulder I could see/sense this thick, swirling column of dark pink and dark green mist. How did I know this was Freyja and not someone else? Well aside from feeling kinda familiar, dark pink and dark green are two of the colours I associate with Her, especially blended. For this I give credit to the spirit talisman that the lovely Beth made a while back, which, despite my having ‘owned’ it for well over a year and a half is still most definitely Freyja’s set of beads that She’s letting me use/borrow. If you think about it, the colours make sense, as pinks and reds are associated with love and sexuality, and green with the earth and fertility – all things that fall under Her sphere of influence. So whenever that combination shows up my mind jumps to Freyja, even if it’s something as mundane as, say, food packaging in a supermarket.

My/Freyja’s ruby, ruby-in-zoisite, glass, silver, and pewter spirit talisman/pendulum. Which I still can’t quite believe I ‘own’. Photo by Beth.

By yesterday that feeling had disappeared, and I have no idea why She came in the first place, or why She left. Hence the tarot plan. However, fairly unsurprisingly, I failed to get my cards out that day, mostly because I spent daylight Friday priming the bare plaster of the bathroom walls, which knackered me out by the evening. Because, as better as I feel from when I came out of ICU, or the respiratory ward, or the rehab unit, I am still reminded on occasion how much I took my old strength and endurance for granted. And tarot readings took a fair bit of energy even before I got ill. Prayer beads it was!

I’ve squee’d over my ladder before, but until last week I’d only ever had it draped around my neck or had been passing the gems through my fingers like a set of worry beads. These last two Fridays have been the first time I’ve actually used it like a set of prayer beads, saying something on each one. Well, nearly each one – I skip the pink glass beads either side of each heart and next to the amber. The prayers I use aren’t fixed yet, but I’m getting a feel for what they’re eventually going to be. They’re based around the metaphysical properties of each stone, so on the garnet beads for example I ask Freyja to give me security and to help me ‘stand in my own strength’ (thank you DruidCraft for that phrase!), after naming one of Her attributes, such as Battle-Woman or similar. So far I’ve started at the clay dragonfly/flower end and worked my way towards the golden wing, and I know that the longer I use the ladder in this way the more settled the prayers will become, until I don’t have to think about what to say and can fully concentrate on what I am saying. Once I’ve got something worked out that isn’t me improvising all the time I’ll post about it, along with all my other prayer-bead sets (as I haven’t forgotten the promise I made Lucy aaages back to write about how I use them). Next week – tarot cards! Maybe.

Sermon review: Different perspectives, and the Kindom of God

So, yesterday I went to church. Kind of an obvious statement to make, what with me being semi-Christian and all, but the truth is I very rarely go these days. There are many reasons for my lapse in religious observances, ranging from not being at home at weekends (visiting friends, attending a LARP event, at a re-enactment, etc.), not having time at weekends (when I was working up in Lincoln I had to be packed and out the house by 4pm at the latest in order to get back to my accommodation with enough time to eat, unpack, and get enough sleep – yay 6am starts…), and yes, I admit it, laziness. Now Methodist services aren’t that long – the standard is about an hour – and my church starts at 11, but when you add in the socialising afterwards (because community is a major part of belonging to a church and I have several friends there) and the walk there and back, that’s nearly three hours. I don’t mind going to church, and when I do I’ve nearly always enjoyed it or at least got something out of it, but when my Sunday ends early or I’ve been out or up late Saturday night, the idea of setting an alarm or taking three hours out of what little time I have to spend in my flat makes going to church a lower priority than it probably should be. So yeah, something of a noteworthy event.

Another difference is that yesterday I had to go. Granted, no one held a gun to my head, but if I didn’t go my mother would have made my life hell. It’s not that I minded going, more the fact that she’d gone on and on and on about how I had to be there ever since this date had been arranged. Back when I nearly died my parents stayed in Lincoln the whole time I was in hospital, and had a terrible time of it, especially when I was under sedation. The local Methodist minister gave them a lot of support (me, not so much, but then the two times I did see him I was incredibly spaced out), and after I got better and was transferred to London they started to arrange for him to come down and do a service at our church. Now when Mum first mentioned this to me it was billed as a service for thanksgiving for my life, which is a lovely idea, and also something I was never ever going to be at because, thankful as I am to still be here, it would have been hideously embarrassing for me to sit there while everyone else sings and prays and listens about how wonderful it is that God saved my life. So I told her I didn’t want to go, which went down really well… Eventually, much to my relief, the service was changed to a normal one from a visiting preacher, which I had no objections attending, but that hasn’t stopped her from somewhat aggressively reminding me that I need to keep the 5th free because I need to be at church around three times a fortnight for the last two months. I love my mother, but…

Annoying as the lead-up was, the service itself was lovely. He started off by explaining that while he was a Methodist minister he’d also been ordained as an Anglican canon in the Cathedral, as a result of which he spent a lot of time driving around Lincolnshire visiting farms and food businesses. Now Linconshire is a large county (North Americans may laugh/scoff/snigger now), taking about two hours to drive north to south, with a very varied landscape. Most people outside of the county think of Lincolnshire as flat, but the Fens only make up maybe a third of it, with rolling hills elsewhere. and I can testify from personal experience that Steep Hill in Lincoln is aptly named, and not an exaggeration – the gradient is about 14%. So as he’s driving around doing canonical duties, he sees a lot of broad and beautiful landscapes. He then went on to talk about how some words have been cut from dictionaries like the OED Junior one, words like ‘willow’ and ‘bluebell’ and ‘wren’, with the reasoning apparently being that the exclusion of these and the inclusion of words like ‘internet’ and ‘iPhone’ are more relevant to children today. So if dictionaries are narrowing the view of natural landscapes to fit in with today’s world, is the view of our spiritual landscape narrowing as well? He then made the point, very eloquently, that we as both individual members of the church and as the church community as a whole have to change with the times. While we may be nostalgic for the way things were run in the 1940s, or 50s, 60s, 70s, or even 80s, those times are gone and are never coming back. The world has changed and the Church has to change with it or get left behind. Which, whether he realised it or not, is a problem my church keeps running into. We have a lot of older members (older as in the same generation as my grandparents) who are very set in their ways, which is fine, apart from when it discourages visitors or new members from coming back, or even arriving in the first place. On fundraising or events committees when someone suggests an idea they’ll say that we tried that and it didn’t work, or when someone new comes for a service and sits down, they are told ‘you can’t sit there, that’s So-and-so’s seat’. Ok, yes, we all tend to sit in the same place in the same pews – just as when I was at uni we ended up sitting in the same seats all term that we sat in for the first lecture. But our church is fairly big, and nowhere near anything like capacity on a normal Sunday – whoever normally sits there can easily sit elsewhere, even one pew up or down if they want. Unless of course they’re as hidebound as the person telling the newcomer to move, which is, of course, a wonderful way to make sure that person never comes back and tells everyone who asks that our church is unfriendly and unwelcoming. Not what we need when we’re trying to attract new members. And as for the ‘we did that once, it didn’t work, no point doing it again’ response to ideas for ways to raise money for things like new boilers, or redoing the disabled toilet so it complies with new legislation? There are several people who, like my parents, have been members of my church for over thirty years and don’t remember this event, and for good reason – when questioned, these hidebound naysayers say that this was back in the Fifties. So yeah, keep a broad view and remember that institutions need to change with the changes in society and the world in general, otherwise they will become obsolete, dwindle, and die off. That’s not to say you can’t keep traditions and customs and heritage going – far from it. But if the British Army had kept wearing red coats, or Oxford and Cambridge universities had refused to accept women, or the Methodist Church insisted all its members had to be teetotallers, they wouldn’t have survived. /minor rant

The second part of the sermon involved the idea of different perspectives. The reading we had was Luke 9:51-62, which is a notoriously difficult Bible passage to wrap your head around. The first part’s easy enough, written under the heading of ‘Samaritan Opposition’ in the NIV version of the Bible (often referred to as the Nearly Inevitable Version, as it’s the one most commonly found in Protestant churches, in the UK at least). It’s the lead-up to the events surrounding the Passion and Crucifixion, and Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem with his disciples. He sends a couple on ahead to get things ready, and they go into a Samaritan village. The Samaritans and the Jews did not get on well, to put it mildly (which is why the story of the Good Samaritan is such a shock to Jesus’ audience), and the villagers told them to sod off. When the news got back the other disciples asked ‘do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’ (actual quote), but Jesus, because He’s not that much of a dick, says no and goes to a different village. Not a hugely significant story, although it does show how fanatical the first disciples can be at times, but it does show that they’re all on the road which is the setting for the next, much tougher bit. As they’re walking along they meet three men – the first one says he will follow Jesus wherever He goes, to which the response is essentially ‘even animals have homes, but I don’t, so if you want to follow me then you’re not going to have a home either’. Bit tough, but then it’s not like Jesus hasn’t said before that following His teachings isn’t easy. What He says to the next two, however, is a lot harsher. He asks the second man they meet to follow Him, to which the man says sure, after I’ve held my father’s funeral. Jesus’ response? Let the dead bury the dead, you need to go proclaim the Kingdom of God. The third man says he’ll follow Jesus but wants to go say goodbye to his family before, y’know, going away for an unknown amount of time. He gets told ‘no one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God’. So just ignore your families and everyone you care about, none of that matters any more. Umm… Really? Considering the amount of time spent on accepting those people that society shuns, loving thy neighbour, and generally not being an arse to your fellow humans, this seems to fly in the face of everything Jesus is generally supposed to stand for. It’s at this point that the minister asks if any of us have seen the film Dead Poets’ Society. Now I have to admit I haven’t, but a few people murmur assent. He goes on to talk about how Robin William’s character invites the students to stand on his, the teacher’s, desk in order to gain a new perspective. And this is what he wants us to do – to stand on the pews (metaphorically, due to H&S and protesting knees) and get a different, wider perspective on not just this passage, but also our spirituality and how we interact with the rest of humanity and each other. And this led on to my favourite part of the sermon – about how we should see the Kingdom of God.

Now the phrase the Kingdom of God shows up an awful lot in the Bible – whether it’s regarding the poor in spirit, the difficulties faced by rich men and camels, the proto-Lord’s Prayer, or many other examples including Luke 9:60 and 62. So the Kingdom of God is important, but, the minister argued, there is an extra letter in the word ‘kingdom’ that should be removed – the G. He argues that it shouldn’t be the Kingdom of God, which invokes ideas of hierarchy, structure, and a physical space of some kind in which to exist. Instead, we should think of it as the Kindom of God, an idea under which we are all related, close to each other and to God. When looked at it this way, that passage makes a lot more sense. So if we look at the response given to the first man, where if he wants to follow Jesus he will have no home to lay his head, we can see a different interpretation from ‘you will be a vagabond who people can and will turn away’. Instead, the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head, no burrow or nest like an animal or bird has, because He doesn’t need one – animals are territorial, always competing against members of their own species for resources and therefore needing a safe refuge. But in the Kindom of God we don’t need to have a bolt-hole handy, we don’t need our own territory, because kin supports kin. Similar to the passage about how God clothes the lilies of the field and feeds the birds of the air, even though they don’t ‘work or spin’. The same goes for letting the dead bury their own and not looking back – if you cling to the past and the way things were, if you refuse to drop the things that no longer have an impact or relevance to your life, you won’t be able to fully accept your place in the kindom, where you will need to make new connections to the people around you, who will help shape your present and your future. It’s another parable, like the woman with ten coins or the vine with bad fruit.

Kindom of God doesn’t just mean ‘family’ either. When talking of one’s kindred, it implies a group of people closer than mere family. A ‘kindred spirit’ is someone who is so incredibly close that you and they are almost interchangeable, similar to the idea of a soulmate. This idea goes back a long way – take the Latin word paterfamilias, the head of the household. The literal translation is ‘father of the family’, but the paterfamilias rules over not just those who are related to him by blood or marriage, but also the slaves. In Early Modern English usage (think Elizabethan and/or Shakespeare) when someone writes about their family, they’re using the word in its Latinate sense – that of one’s household servants. When talking about biological family they used the word kindred, and it is this past usage of kin and kindred that has come down to us as meaning ‘closer than family’, who, much as we may love them, are still randomly assigned to us rather than people we deliberately choose to be with. Compare best friend with sibling, or spouse with in-laws. So in the Kindom of God we have this very close connection with each other, with God, and the world around us. Sounds wonderful, right? One problem – the kindom includes other people, and other people are really difficult to get along with. The school bully, that really annoying co-worker, the guy who cut you up in traffic on the way into work, a lot of politicians, internet trolls… It’s still a tough thing to make happen, this kindom, but then so is always loving your neighbour, or always doing what God, or any deity to be fair (Freyja, I’m looking at you…), wants us to do as opposed to what we want or would prefer to do. But if we work very, very hard at it, we could, as a species, make it happen. Or at the very least make it more of a reality than it currently is. And that was the take-home message the minister wanted us to have – look at things from a different perspective, take a wider view of the landscape, and think of the Kindom of God rather than the Kingdom. Substitute your deity of choice or ‘the gods’ for ‘God’ and the message is not so different from the teachings of many Pagan paths – and still tough to do. Frith in Heathenry, trying to make sure all your choices and activities honestly harm none (or do as little harm as possible) in Wicca, and loving thy neighbour in Christianity. It’s hard, we don’t always want to do it, we won’t get recognition for it most of the time, but we can make it happen. And, if everyone on the planet put in just a little bit more effort into forging a kindom, I believe we’d see a fairly big difference overall. So put your hands to the plough, don’t look back at all the bad things that have happened in the past, let the dead bury the dead, and go out and proclaim the kindom of your god or gods, or of humanity. It won’t be easy, and you might need to stand on your desk to do it, but I believe it’s worth trying.

I’ve got my sewing machine back!

She’s been over at the parents’ since I moved, mostly because Mum’s 70s vintage Husqvarna is still broken so she used mine, and partly because I hadn’t worked out where she was going to live in my flat. I still haven’t figured that out yet, so I’ll be stepping round her in my bedroom for a while, but I don’t really care.

So pretty, and so heavy!

She’s a Singer 128K from 1923, ‘born’ sometime after June 27th, and has been in the family for at least three generations, maybe four. Me, my mother, and my maternal grandmother have all ‘owned’ her, and it’s possible my great-grandmother did as well, although I have no idea when she arrived in my family. It’s even possible we had her from new, but as any reciept has long since disappeared I’ll never know. So why bring her home today, seeing as I’ve nowhere to put her yet? Partly because not having a working sewing machine in the house may actually make Mum get hers fixed (it’s not worked for literally years now), but mostly because I went to visit my friend Charlie this weekend and got to see her newly aquired 28K, the older sister to my 128.

I’ve been meaning to get mine back for a while so I can start quilting, which is one of the things that reading The Last Runaway has inspired me to do. I’m planning on making a purple patchwork one to start with for yoga/meditation – one that I can use in savasana to stop getting chilled and also fold up to use with my zafu instead of a zabuton. I also bought a flannel blanket/quilt kit from Hobbycraft for my goddaughter’s Christmas present, so I’ll be practicing my piecing on the kit (precut squares and simple design for the win), then making up my yoga quilt top, practicing quilting on that, and then quilting Abi’s – hopefully with fewer or no mistakes! I’ve got a few other quilt plans in the pipeline as well, but I’ll start with those two and see how I get on.

I’m also going to be making Kizzy some pattern weights for Christmas, as I found some great multi-coloured owl fabric fat quarters in Hobbycraft a while ago and Kizzy’s patron goddess Athena is all about the owls, along with crafting and weaving. Pattern weights seemed appropriate. And at some point I’m going to be making some skirts out of the fabric I snagged when Kizzy was clearing out her sewing room – cotton single bedsheets in pale blue, green, two slightly different shades of red, and brown. The brown I can use as a toile or test piece, and then use it for larp if it doesn’t got too wrong, the blue I can adapt to use in Little Woodham next year (planning on using elasticated waistbands which won’t work in the 1600s, and the blue has a few holes in it – good for re-enactment, bad for everyday wear), and the rest for wearing and feeling pretty in. I like long skirts as they make me feel feminine, which my workwear certainly doesn’t, but I only have three I can really wear outside of parties and Sidmouth Folk Festival, and two of those are very much summer skirts – thin, floaty, and translucent when the sun’s behind me. And another plus is red and green are two of what I think of as ‘Freyja colours’, along with gold and dark pink.

As for why I’ve been referring to my sewing machine as ‘she’ throughout this post, I’m blaming Charlie for that as well – she names her sewing machines, and they’re all female. I’m considering calling mine Frigg.

Back view

Fighting apathy

I’ve reached the stage of ‘not having to go to work’ where all my ‘free time to do things’ enthusiasm has waned. Granted, I’m still getting fatigued a lot easier than I used to and the breathlessness isn’t helping any, but I had enough energy to tidy my bedroom floor so I should have enough energy to sort out my desk and the cupboard in my bedroom as well as write emails, last posts on AT, and posts for here (I have a stupidly huge backlog of those). So while I may have the energy I just can’t bring myself to do much. I’m trying, and things like the washing up and food shopping are getting done, along with small things like phoning the GP for an appointment, but I find myself putting off the bigger tasks like writing emails and sorting through things.
Not necessarily bigger as in huge/will take a lot of time, but more things that are harder to do or that I don’t want to do – sorting my bedroom cupboard for instance.

Yarn stash, fabric stash, clothes, miscellaneous bags of stuff… There’s a reason I keep the door shut.

Unfortunately, the apathy extends into my spiritual life as well. That’s not to say that I’m completely ignoring it like I am the cupboard, but I’m only really managing the little things – daily prayers, finding something to be grateful for each day – and not managing the bigger things. Grounding for instance. Before I got ill I was getting really good at grounding – I was doing it every day and I had three different visualisations I could use that I was getting pretty good at. But then I got ill, and grounding just wasn’t happening while I was in hospital, even the last couple of weeks I was in rehab when my brain and body were mostly working like they’re supposed to. Since I’ve been discharged I’ve tried to ground every day, but the times when I’ve been able to are far outweighed by the times I either haven’t been able to or haven’t bothered. Part of it is I’m just out of practice and part of it is probably because I’m usually trying to do this just before I go to bed, but even today when I was at the park near my flat I found it hard. I spent a while standing on the riverbank with my hand on a horse chestnut tree trying to ground through the tree (which I’ve had success with in the past), but while I could visualize the green Earth energy inside the trunk I couldn’t connect to it.

I’m not sure how much of my apathy and procrastination is due to the muggy heat and the fatigue that comes from walking a couple of miles in it most days (part of my ongoing recovery), how much is due to the feeling I’ve got a load of time still left as I have no idea when I’ll be signed off as fit to work again, and how much is me not having enough structure in my days. I’ve got some – I’m getting up at eight and (mostly) in bed by 11, lunch and dinner happen at the same times as when I’m at work, and I’m usually out walking between 2 and 5pm, but that’s about it. So one thing on my to-do list, which I haven’t done yet because ugh, effort, is to write up a daily schedule with a mini to-do list for each hour I’m awake. I’m not going to follow it slavishly as that way not only madness lies but also the inability to have flexibility when friends come round; but I think knowing that for example 10-11am is when I do housework or 9-10pm is when I write emails and having timers set on my phone will help me get things done. And hopefully getting things done and ticking them off my daily and general to-do lists will get me out of the doldrums I appear to be in.

I’d love to be able to go back to work as I really miss being on site, and it would also mean that I’m healthy again with working lungs and a normal heartbeat, and my old strength back. But I have to admit there’s a part of me that wants to be signed off for longer, which I try to justify as ‘well that way I’d definitely have enough time to do all the things I’ve been meaning to do for ages’, but which I have a feeling is just my brain going ‘be lazy longer’. Because brains hate you being proactive.

Here’s hoping a new week will help me make a newish start, beginning with more grounding practice! Because right now I feel the way these rabbits I saw in the park today look:

Apathy bunnies.