Broken pots

Freyja does turn up in unexpected places sometimes. Or rather, more accurately, Freyja turns up when I’m not expecting Her. So far She’s shown up in an unknown-to-me tarot deck I was perusing, and on my Facebook feed, and most recently in a post by one of the bloggers I follow. The tarot deck I’m planning on talking about another time, but the Facebook and blog posts are linked. I’m posting this on Freyja’s day, but the trigger for the writing happened way back in January after I’d got back from work, cancelled my plans to meet up with a friend because I was utterly knackered, and had sat down with a Kitkat Chunky to catch up on recent posts on the blogs I follow. It’s just taken quite a while for me to get the words to work properly. The post in question is one of Varian’s, where he talks about his old beliefs about devotion – that it meant being broken by the gods one was working with, and that one’s love of them should be ‘a savage, dark thing’ – and about how his Beloveds are helping him reassess these toxic views. The bit that really resonated with me, and provided the whole raison d’être for this post, was the beginning, where Varian posted an excerpt from his journal:

He [the Madman) showed me a vision involving pottery, in order to explain this [his hatred of gods breaking people, especially for the “greater good] better.

“There’s a difference,” he said to me, “between taking a pot and adding more clay, to fill in the cracks, and a bit of glaze, so it blends in and is smoothed out….” He gently set the first pot aside.

He suddenly grabbed the second pot and hurled it down on the floor, and the sound of the clay shattering made me jump.

“And taking something so you can break it,“ he said, “fill the cracks in with gold, and claim that you made it better, because look there, those golden scars are yours.”

So how did my reading this turn into a Church and Circle blog post? Well, back in early November of last year I spent a few minutes scrolling through my Facebook feed (which happens maybe three-four times a week) when I saw this, which one of my friends had shared from the ‘Word Porn’ page:

kintsukuroi

And it felt like my world just stopped. Like someone had pressed ‘pause’ or something. I looked at the gold-mended bowl, and read the words over several times, and felt… I think ‘comforted’ is the closest word, or possibly ‘reassured’ – the feeling that I’m going to be ok. See, in certain respects I am oh so incredibly broken, which is why Freyja came into my life in the first place. Between things like being followed home from school several times when I was thirteen by a guy in his mid-twenties, and an abusive boyfriend when I was in my mid-twenties (among many other things that I’m not going to go into here) I’ve taken a lot of damage over the years, which has led to a lot of issues and problems with not only relationships but the sexual side of relationships as well.

So when I discovered that Freyja was actually trying to get my attention I pretty much knew why. Partly through the pings I got when I first read the description of my Freyja cord on Wytch of the North, partly through having followed the blogs of other Freyja devotees which gave me an insight as to how She most often shows Herself to people these days, and partly through some of the things that started to click in my mind in the weeks following the ‘so She was trying to get my attention then’ realisation. Since that moment in early February ’16 I’ve often said that Freyja came into my life to help fix me, because I am all of the broken. But it was only when I saw that kintsukuroi image that I knew how, if that makes sense.

The stuff I’ve been through I’m never going to fully heal from – nothing is going to make it as if it all never happened, not Freyja, not therapy, not time, not finding The Perfect Someone to have a relationship with. No matter what kind of adhesive, no matter how carefully you reattach the pieces, that pot will never be as it was before it shattered. There will be hairline cracks, tiny chips missing, the glaze won’t be perfectly smooth. It will look mended, and be more fragile because of it – those mended cracks will act like the fault-lines in the Earth’s crust should the pot be dropped again – they will always be weak points.

A mended pot will never look as good as one that hasn’t been broken, and it will never be as valuable either – any antiques show on TV will demonstrate that. But most pottery is mended with glue or occasionally metal staples, not gold. If mended with gold, any value lost from breakage is redeemed, if not exceeded. If mended with gold, all the fault-lines and chips are highlighted, true, but they shine with a warmth and brightness that the pot didn’t possess before. If mended with gold, the piece is more beautiful for having been broken. It doesn’t matter why the pot shattered, what matters is that someone cared enough to put it back together. The damage isn’t being hidden, but it’s not being celebrated either – with kintsukuroi the whole point is the act of mending: this pot is beautiful because it is now whole when once it was broken, and the cracks will shine out to show that it has been mended. Kintsukuroi doesn’t try and make pottery look good-as-new like glue and added clay and fresh glaze do, it makes broken pots celebrate their wholeness after being broken. It’s a small, but, I feel, important difference.

Going back to the first part of Varian’s post, the breaks and cracks in me are there because of what other people have done, but while those people may own the damage, they don’t own the mending. Just because the scars they made will eventually be golden, doesn’t mean those same people caused me to become beautiful by breaking me. As a piece of pottery, I was beautiful before I was broken. As a kintsukuroi pot, I am beautiful in spite of being broken. With kintsukuroi, the use of a pot or bowl doesn’t end when it is damaged – it becomes merely an event in that item’s history. Similarly, my value as a woman, as a human being, while decreased by the damage I’ve sustained (in eyes other than just mine – see ‘stuff I’m not going to go into’ above), does not mean I will never be worth something to someone ever again. A kintsukuroi pot is defined by its damage and repair – it would not be kintsukuroi otherwise. But it is worlds apart from the shattered pieces I dig up on a regular basis at work from rubbish pits and occupation layers. Likewise, my damage may define me but I won’t let it control or ruin me. And one day I will rise above it all like a glittering fucking phoenix.

Freyja is the gold lacquer in my life – She is helping me put myself back together, and showing me that I am, after all, beautiful. I may always be damaged, but I won’t always be broken.

Advertisements

Rosary achievement unlocked!

Last Sunday I finally finished praying the 54-day Rosary Novena I was working through, and therefore I am feeling quite pleased with myself.

When I got my iPhone in 2011 one of the apps I installed was called uRosary, which gave you a choice of virtual rosary beads along with allowing you to track how many times you used it and how often. Now I am not nor have I ever been Catholic, but while I don’t use the same prayers or meditate on the same Mysteries as Catholic users of the (standard) Rosary, I do use the same prayer structure and set of beads – hence the app. One of the features included in uRosary is the 54-day Rosary Novena, where you say one Rosary a day for 27 days in petition for something, immediately followed by 27 days in thanksgiving, even if the thing hasn’t happened yet. However, this is me, and what should have taken around two months has taken three years. To slightly paraphrase Melissa – I have never professed to being a good Christian. Stop judging.

At the end of January 2015 I put in the offer for my flat, and, due to some seriously impressive screw-ups by the previous owner, what should have been a fairly quick and easy transaction, as we had no chain to deal with, dragged on for months and it was only at the beginning of June that we finally exchanged and completed. I’d fallen in love with this flat as soon as I saw it, and those five months were very unfun, as I’d been looking for my own place for about two years by that point, and had had three other places I’d found and really liked fall through. I decided to enlist some spiritual help in making sure that this time I wouldn’t get the rug yanked out from under me again, and one of the things I did was have a go at the novena on my phone. Having typed in ‘please let the purchase of [address] go through smoothly and be successful’, I began on 5th February 2015. After praying Rosaries sporadically that month and in March, according to my phone I then didn’t touch it again until December of that year, by which point I was still only on the fourth day of petition and had already moved in. Oops. It was only in August of last year that I started again, and only in the last four months that I made any real progress.

Now it seems a bit redundant to carry on doing prayers for something that has already happened, which is probably why I stopped around day 4 in the first place. However, I was thankful that the seemingly never-ending process had finished with the end result of me being able to live here, and if you’re supposed to start on prayers of thanks for something that hasn’t happened, I should probably continue petitioning prayers for something that has, so I can get to saying the thank-you half of it, as I was still very thankful. Now yes, I could have just tapped the screen repeatedly until the app had counted up to 27 and then started on the second 27 days, but that felt like cheating so I did it the long way. Which considering my impressive powers of procrastination turned out to be very long indeed. But I did it.

Review: Crash Course World Mythology

WARNING! Enjoyment of these videos will cause you to lose hours/days of your life – the mantra of ‘I’ll just watch one more, it’s only twelve minutes long after all’ will become very familiar.

The ‘World Mythology’ series from Crash Course is, as far as I’m concerned, a must-see for everyone (along with everything else they’ve made that I’ve watched), but I’m frothing about it on Church and Circle because I also think that it’s a great watch for Pagans, especially those who work with (for want of a better term) historical deities. Here’s the episode on the Norse pantheon (because Freyja, and I’m biased) to give you a flavour:

The idea behind Crash Course is to ‘create educational content in the hopes it will be useful to people’, and the main brains behind it, John and Hank Green, encourage teachers to use the videos in lessons or at least point their students in the direction of the videos. All of them are at the PG level of censorship, and while they are aimed at the high-school level I’m sitting here with my Masters degree and learning new things, enjoying myself, and also not feeling talked-down to. Granted, the videos aren’t perfect (Extra History has episodes called ‘Lies’ where one of the creators, James, talks about the bits they got wrong and the bits they missed out/simplified) and the presenters of the various Crash Course series will freely admit this – the videos are only ten-twelve minutes long, and even with series reaching to over 40 episodes it’s not possible to fit everything in. Some things are telescoped, some things are omitted, other parts are simplified or skimmed over, and mistakes are occasionally made (and often corrected with the later addition of text boxes). Each of the episodes is presented in the style of a lecture, with the presenter/narrator standing or sitting behind a desk in a studio setting with various artifacts and backgrounds – chalk boards, posters, bookshelves, statues, models of molecules, globes, etc. – as well as full-screen use of photographs and short sections of video, plus an animated section called the Thought Bubble which is usually used to illustrate certain points, such as the myth of Persephone or the Fourth Crusade (referred to as ‘the crazy one’). Thought Cafe’s adorable little animated figures also tend to show up throughout the other parts of the episodes, especially in the World Mythology series where the Egyptian god Thoth shows up as the series’ mascot figure.

I discovered Crash Course through visiting my friend Charlie (of Seams and Stresses) and her boyfriend E, when I told them about Extra History (these are often less than ten minutes long!). In return for me introducing them to this particular educational, amusing, and time-eating video series I was introduced to Crash Course World History. Now at this time I was still signed off work, so I did, in fact, spend several days binge-watching Crash Course’s World History, Literature, World Mythology, and US History series, along with many other episodes. I’ve always loved watching documentaries, which Crash Course definitely counts as, but I love these and Extra History in particular because a) they cover an awful lot of subjects and b) because I will be sitting on my sofa giggling to myself at least once an episode. I am very much a fan of leaning things via the medium of laughter, or at the very least smiles. A case in point, one of my environmental archaeology lectures as an undergraduate – when discussing the fact that the floral and faunal remains in a sample may wildly disagree about what the local environmental conditions were like, the lecturer told us that the reason behind it may well be because ‘insects move, trees don’t. Unless they’re Triffids’.

So yes, go watch. Here’s the World Mythology preview video and the first episode of the World History series. While the chalk illustrations behind John Green are often referred to during the episode, keep an eye on the statues behind Mike Rugnetta – it’s fun seeing who shows up.

 

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.

IMG_4332
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.

IMG_4333
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!

IMG_4199

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.

IMG_4203
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.

il_570xN.893083065_nurx
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.