Honoring my Ancestors through the Living

My ancestor work hasn’t exactly been going how I thought it would. In my head I had this idea of sitting in front of an altar everyday or every week, offering food, drink, incense, and speaking with my ancestors. Well, despite trying to work with a couple of different schedules, that has worked out about as well as a New Year’s Resolution. But that isn’t to say that I have just left my ancestors by the wayside. No, they, specifically my recently passed grandfather, have become a part of my daily routine.

Now before I go any further, I want to make a quick distinction. Right now my ancestor work is divided into two camps. I use the word ancestor when I am referring to the dead that are relatively recently passed, so grandparents, great-grandparents, and generally people whose names are still remembered. These also include the people who I’m not blood related to but would still consider recent ancestors. These are people from communities I am a part of, mentors, people in my fields of work, and the like. In the other camp are my disir, who I understand as my female ancestors that are connected to the Norse tradition. I work with these groups separately both because of the difference in deities, and because they have very different vibes to them.

So for this post I will be talking about how I have been honoring my ancestors, specifically my grandfather, in ways I didn’t quite expect. My grandfather’s passing has been a roller coaster of emotions. I won’t get into details, but his death was very painful for me and his affairs have been handled less than fairly. I will make another post talking about the few possessions I was able to get in a different post, but right now I want to focus on the most important way I have been honoring my grandfather.

You see, probably the most important and emotional thing my mother and I brought with us from my grandfather is his dog. My mom started taking care of him when my grandpa went back to the hospital and once he passed, he became a permanent part of our family. He’s a loving lab/golden mix named Buddy, who was never really taught to play, but loves to sit it front of you asking for pets or stand just far away from you while you are sitting down so you can give him a belly rub with your foot.

My grandpa loved his dogs. I think as soon as he could have a dog, he adopted one from a local shelter and would save another after the inevitable happened until the day he died. Adopting shelter dogs has become an important family tradition because of him. Buddy gets along with our other dogs well enough, but he also suffers from some bad separation anxiety and a terrible fear of storms and other loud noises. Buddy also, as we found out several months after my grandfather died, has cancer. It can’t be cured but we are making him as comfortable as possible for when that time comes.

This is what I mean when I say I am honoring my ancestors through the living. My grandpa’s dog was the most important part of his life. Even when my grandpa became somewhat of a hermit after he retired, he always had Buddy keeping him company. So giving this dog the best rest of his life is what I owe my grandfather and how I am honoring him. It means staying up with Buddy at 2:30 in the morning and keeping him company while a bad thunderstorm roles through and only going to bed once I can barely hear the thunder.

Honestly, it’s still too painful to have more direct contact with my grandfather. I’m not sure when I will be able to sit down in front of the little ancestor altar in our house. But I am not forgetting my ancestors. I am choosing to honor them by focusing on the living they would want me to take care of. I’m honoring my ancestors by trying to keep the peace as best as I can. Plus, when my beloved dead need to tell me something, they aren’t shy about making the message loud and clear.

 

Pop Culture Work and Powerful Women

It’s been around a year since I’ve last written about pop culture work. I don’t spend nearly as much time reading fiction books these days, so actively thinking about pop culture work like I did when I was reading the Wheel of Time series has kind of fallen to the wayside. But a little while ago, one of the Pagan podcasters I listen to came out with an episode called Inciting a Wonderful Riot. In the later half of the episode he talks about incorporating pop culture figures as sources of strength in one’s practice, specifically Wonder Woman, which he goes into more detail about in a recent post called Wonder Woman on my Altar: Modern Faces of Ancient Deities.

Now, I’m a hard polytheist. So pop culture deities aren’t something that really gels with my practice. But I do adore storytelling and have a soft spot in my heart for a lot of characters. The new Wonder Woman movie especially struck me. I could gush about that movie all day. And as I started to think about the characters in fiction that I could see myself drawing on, a lot of powerful women came to mind. Wonder Woman is the most recent and at the top of that list, actually I could see myself drawing on the entire island of Themyscyra. There were also a lot of witches and sorceresses coming to mind as well.

While many of these women are cast as villains, I have really been drawn to figures like Morgan le Fay, Maleficent, Regina from Once Upon a Time, and more. I think part of it is aesthetic but why not draw on the power of a damn good aesthetic to boost whatever it is I’m doing? All of these women have also had their stories retold or developed to show their perspective and make them sympathetic characters. Those are the stories that really grab me.

Long story short, I am rethinking my understanding of pop culture work. Before I was looking for things I could more or less lift out of the source material, slightly modify, and fold into my own practice. Now I still adore and frequently use the flame & the void meditation I took from Wheel of Time. But at the moment I am interested in experimenting with characters as a source of inspiration. These women do have some pretty clear correspondences too, so to speak. Why not try it? I already incorporate shapeshifting and other pictorial representations in my craft. This doesn’t seem like too more of a departure from that.

 

Learning to Spin

After a lot of foreshadowing by the universe, I have started to teach myself how to hand spin. Eventually I want to incorporate spinning into my practice as a method of trance, attraction, and as a part of seiðr alongside using the spun yarn itself. Right now though, I am just trying to get to the point where I can spin consistently and comfortably enough that I can do it without paying much attention.

I didn’t think I would take to spinning so quickly. There’s a certain rhythm to it, and once you find it, everything else fades away. Watching the fibers come apart, getting just enough for the thread you want, and then releasing and watching it all come together again. It’s fascinating. Mesmerizing. Spinning also happens to be a great way to distract me when I am angry, which is an amazing plus for me considering all the toxicity I’ve had to deal with lately.

Spinning isn’t my first venture into fiber work. I knit and sew fairly well, even if I can’t do anything too fancy. But neither of those feel like spinning does. With sewing I am ever aware of the needle, trying to keep even and not poke myself. With knitting I am always aware of my stitches and often stop check my progress and to recount just in case. Spinning doesn’t have that tenseness to it. It is also incredibly easy to fix a mistake when you spin. Going back and drafting the fibers thinner, twisting splits into one piece, working around the stray knot in the fiber… All of these are incredibly manageable.

I can see why spinning is used for trance. I haven’t even spun that much and I can already feel myself inching closer to that state. There is also a connection I have noticed when I spin. The spindle is one of the humanity’s oldest tools and the drop spindle, which I use, was commonly used in the parts of Europe where my ancestors are from. There’s a weight to that, using a tool that is pretty much unchanged since your ancestors were using it.

In some of the reading I have done on how spinning relates to seiðr, I wasn’t expecting to find such a strong connection between spinning and witchcraft. Art of witches with a distaff were pretty frequently brought up and I plan on digging into more resources once I am back at school. I never put much thought into things like Sleeping Beauty pricking her finger and actual folklore, I guess. But now that I know more about that connection, I feel even more drawn to spinning. There’s more mystery, more to learn, and more to experience. I feel drawn to my disir even stronger. I feel drawn to seiðr even stronger.

I’m looking forward to learning more about spinning and from spinning. But for now, I am enjoying spinning a few grams of yarn at a time. I’ve also gained a lot more appreciation for the clothes I wear and the cloth I buy. Knowing what it takes, and how long it takes to spin just a dozen feet of yarn, uneven as bulky as mine sometimes ends up, really puts the growth of textiles in perspective. It also gives me a much greater appreciation for the many cultures that do still spin and the distinctness of all of their spindles.

If you are at all interested in learning to spin, I say go for it. There are plenty of great starter kits on Etsy and plenty of YouTube videos to help you along. Spinning, along with other fiber crafts, have really made a comeback with the surging interest in DIY projects. I’ve also found spinning with a small spindle more accessible for on the go crafting than knitting can be. It is also beyond satisfying when you make something with yarn you’ve spun. It’s the most satisfied I have been in a long time with a project. Happy spinning!

My Love of Liminal Spaces

I’ve always been attracted to liminal spaces. I love archways, courtyards, graveyards, and crossroads. I love stories about places that are in a time out of time or gateways to other worlds. So it is no wonder that as I continue to actively practice witchcraft, that I keep noticing just how much liminality plays into my craft.

Witchcraft and folk practices are filled with references to liminal spaces. How often do we see spells or superstitions telling us to put something in a doorway, window, or fireplace? How often do we see references to doing something at dusk, dawn, or midnight? How often do we read about crossroads, railways, graveyards, or even paths in the woods?

But I do not think it is enough to just blindly incorporate liminal spaces into one’s practice. Just like with every aspect of the craft it is important not to just blindly follow or copy, but to learn and understand the hows and whys of what we do. By researching and learning about liminal spaces, both in the folkloric and practical sense, we develop a greater appreciation and understanding of these spaces and, in turn, we can better work with them.

Right now, a lot of my work with Hekate has involved learning about crossroads. I knew a bit about crossroads before I started working with Her. I knew that crossroads were places you left not so nice spells, and that they were places people met to make deals with figures like the Man in Black or the Devil. But in working with Hekate, there is more to crossroads than I could have ever thought. The crossroads is a way to travel, it is a piece of an infinitely larger web connecting paths and places. To look back when leaving something at a crossroads is not only disrespectful because you might offend the being you are working with, but it is also a great sign of doubt. This is only the tip of the iceberg and I know I still have a lot more to learn. But I now have so much more respect for crossroads and what they represent.

The liminal space has become a sacred space for me. My circle is more than just a protective barrier. It is creating a place betwixt & between. I am between the mundane and spirit world, able to interact with both. My trance work is making my body into a liminal space, giving me that gateway to ride the hedge. The andalusite I wear around my neck is carrying the crossroads with me.

I firmly believe that to be a witch is to accept liminality as a permanent part of your life. It is always having one foot in the mundane and the other foot in the spirit world. I think that is why I love liminal spaces so much. Not only are they practical places to perform my magic, but there is also that sense of kinship, of home, when I am there. They are certainly not places to dwell, but they are not meant to be dwelled at. They are meant for travel, for moving forward. They are places that are beautifully betwixt & between. The liminal is sacred, belonging to no one, yet innately a part of all of us.

 

Tumbling into the Earth

Tumbling into the Earth

The sun has set behind the hedge
The gnats rise from the hay
I reach my hands into the grass
And fall into that ancient space

Like tumbling in water I tumble into the earth
Slowly drifting deeper into her embrace
Until I find myself suspended
For I have reached that ancient space

I cannot see but indeed I know
Aho! I say and you return
We greet each other
In this vast unknown

For a moment we know each other
Our greetings mix and turn
But then the moment is over
And I tumble out of the earth

Unlearning the New Age

Summer is a time when I end up doing a lot of reflecting about my practice. Six years in has given me a lot to reflect on. One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is how much I’ve had to unlearn the New Age movement.

Back in high school when I was reading Cunningham and was learning tarot at lunch with my friends, the New Age movement was where I was doing a lot of my learning. I had quite a few occult and holistic shops near me to get crystals and other things that I thought I needed. The older generation Pagans and witches I was interacting with were very much of the love and light variety and just kept pointing me towards Neo-Wicca. Everything I was reading was filling my head with how everything I was meeting was a sign on my path. Books were telling me that every animal could mean something, that angels or guides were trying to contact me, mediumship books told me the dead were always crossed over and peaceful.

Yeah. There were a lot of hard lessons coming down the pipeline that the New Age movement did next to nothing to help me with. I do a lot of head shaking too when I look back at it all. But lately I have been thinking about just how anthropocentric the New Age movement is and how much it conflicts with my current animist understanding of the world.

Anthropocentrism refers to a human-centered worldview, which places human beings as the most important entities in the universe and thus the universe is interpreted only in terms of the human experience and human values. It’s also something I’ve been working to overcome the past year or so and will probably always be checking myself on.

How I interpret the New Age movement is that it teaches people that everything exists to benefit them on their path. Everything is a personal sign, every person has a lesson to teach, every spirit willing to help you and share their wisdom with you, every culture open for you to unlock its mysteries. It teaches that every person is a part of the great big universe and has the power to demand of the universe whatever they want. Needless to say I find the New Age movement pretty damn toxic these days.

As I have really started to work as an animist (and a witch really) at a higher level than just a general belief, what I am experiencing really kicks the New Age worldview in the teeth. If I am going to say that everything has a spirit, then there is a level of autonomy I need to recognize.

With spirits this realization came pretty quickly. It doesn’t take long to figure out that a lot of spirits want nothing to do with people or want something in return for working with you. And that is just fine by me. If a spirit and I can strike a deal, then we work together that way. Sometimes a relationship just doesn’t work out and a spirit ends up being a real piece of work. I would rather be realistic when working with spirits and respect their boundaries and independence than think that every spirit I meet is a guide or wanting to teach me something. This goes for me as well. I do not owe any random spirit the time of day just because they are a spirit either.

Animals were the next thing I needed to unlearn. The New Age really loves its animal dictionaries and animal totems. As an animist, I also want an educated understanding of nature. Anthropocentrism and the New Age told me that every animal was a sign and meant something. As an animist I now understand that unless it is a very rare and obvious sign, that animals are just being animals and not existing just for my benefit. I have a greater appreciation for the animals around me now that I understand why they are doing what they are doing and what that means in the larger scheme of things. Animals do have a lot I can and have learned from, but it takes patience and putting my own needs and interests pretty low on the ladder.

Plants and crystals are where I am currently working on things. As I am tending to my witch garden (even though I have grown things before) I am paying much more attention to just how complicated plants are and how much their spirits deserve my respect. There is so much more to my relationship to them than just asking briefly if I can cut off some leaves and leave a few coins as payment. I’m actually not harvesting as much because I want to work to build that relationship more before I do. Crystals are something that I am more so working on understanding when they come up. I don’t really buy into the New Age advertisements that these crystals can heal my organs or just putting one in my pocket will activate all their stored powers. But I am working to ask more when I do bring them into my practice.

Like I said, there’s been a lot of unlearning of the New Age over the years. I am a lot more critical of what I am learning and I would like to think I walk with a lighter step now too. I no longer understand myself as the center of my spirituality, but rather as a piece of a much larger world and it is in interacting with this world, taking a step back and really listening and watching that I learn and grow. I am not entitled to spiritual knowledge or experiences, I need to earn it and actually pay attention to what is going on around me, to see and feel empathy for more than just myself. That is what unlearning the New Age has taught me.

The Wheel

The Wheel

Past the vast forest filled with beasts and plagued by fog
Past the great desert being washed away by storms
Through the obsidian gate that goes past the sky
Into the bone hordes

Dive deep, deep through the ribs and past the skulls
Fall into the chamber where the bone pickers lie
They tend to their cauldrons and wait for their kin
To pick apart and reform again

But it is not them you are here for, it is for her
She asks if you are ready, and takes you through the bones
Your back is cut on rips and spines, skin shredded and left behind
But it is all worth it for what you find

A spinning wheel in a cavern its own, standing atop a pile of bones
She takes you to it and asks you to spin, to find out just what is within
Fate in hand you take your seat, turning the wheel you cease to think
Spinning for her and your seiðr