Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I work with two notable trickster gods, Loki and Hermes. These two are a part of a pretty decent majority of my spiritual work, so it's important for me to talk about them here. Looking around at the seemingly chaotic events of your life and of the world at large, you might wonder why anyone would want to work with deities known specifically for their disorderly conduct. After all, one of the tools our Pagan spirituality gives us is a natural system for organizing and ordering our understanding of the world. But if you haven't dipped your toes into the water of trickster work, you're really missing out.

To me, these divinely “amoral” beings represent two very important and empowering concepts. First of all, their ethics are totally self-generated. Loki and Hermes both engage in acts of theft that almost none of the more traditional pantheonic gods would stoop to do and yet these very same non-traditional acts benefit their holy brothers and sisters in very real ways. Loki delivers Thor his hammer, Odin his arm-brace and his steed. Hermes seems to be forever stealing herds of cattle for his father, Zeus. The message here is: if it works, do it. Our ethics as witches and Pagans should come out of experimentation, keeping the principles which are useful, which help you and your community to move forward, and discarding those that are useless.

The second concept they can offer us is that of liminal existence. Frequently we describe ourselves as being “between the worlds”, a position that these deities occupy exclusively. Their myths allow us to see that by blurring lines of gender, sexuality and personality, we evolve as beings. By accepting that the boundary between yourself and whatever you consider to be “other” is truly arbitrary, you gain that much more self-understanding. So next time you take a shamanic journey or meditate, seek out a trickster, a thief or a fool. Let yourself be led down the rabbit hole for a while. I guarantee you'll discover something worthwhile in the process.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Reaching Out

I walked out into a stretch of woods near my house. The temperature was a balmy 104 degrees and while the rangy mesquite trees could survive in the drought, the groups of elm and fan ash were dying of in greater numbers every day. As I hiked in far enough to escape the sounds of cars nearby, I picked up some trash most likely left by neighborhood residents. In my bag was a yellow rose and an unshelled pecan, both sacred to the goddess Tejas, who I had come here to meet. Once I'd found a shady stump to sit on, I laid my meager offerings out and started to commune the the Burning Lady, Tejas, divine spirit of the land that sustains me.

We all very much need to develop a relationship with our local land gods and goddesses. When you and your community blaze both a magickal and mundane path into geographically based practice, you're working with a spirit ally whose incarnation you already live within. So, start doing some research. What herbs, flowers, trees and fungi are native to your area? What are their uses? When you learn these things not only are you opening your eyes to a vast wealth of resources which exist totally independent from factory culture, but you explore the personalities and values of your local goddesses and gods. Get outside, start to work with native plant spirits. I've found this method personally far more effective than any listing of traditional plant in a generalized book. Texans who might read this: please, let me know how you work with the spirit of our land!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Listen Up!

How do you communicate with a tree? How do you talk to a stone, or an herb, or a spirit, or, for that matter, another person? The art of listening seems to have been lost. If it isn't lost, at least significantly narrowed in definition. We equate it with hearing, with passively experiencing information. I've been noticing just how much more active engagement real listening requires. In fact, truly communicating with someone requires a great shift in viewpoint on our part.

To talk to a tree, you need to become like a tree. Stand (or sit) still, breathe deeply, sink your roots into the earth, feel your branches sway and dance. Think you don't have roots or branches? Try to move away from those strict dictates of ordinary consciousness. Once you get comfortable and in contact with the ground, given a little effort, you'll find you have all the parts of a tree. Perhaps you just haven't been paying attention to them recently. Hinduism teaches us that we are all microcosms of the universe. That tree you want to ask for a branch, that spirit you've been trying to channel: you've got all the essential gear already within your own being. Moving through day to day life without spiritual focus, we've trained ourselves to identify things based on their disparities, but that's only a small portion of the perspective we can acquire by analyzing their similarities. Start by trying to talk to the tree inside you, and you'll find your way to the tree in front of you.

It's usually convenient to imagine that we are all discrete entities, solitaries who interact with other solitary beings. This, however, is a singularly narrow-minded worldview. Think about your own body. Are you your skin? Though this is our largest organ and perhaps the most apparent, I think we would all agree it is not what makes us who we are. Contemplate the long process of cell death and regeneration that governs your skin. At what point does a skin cell cease to be part of you? The lines that divide and define us are much fuzzier than we think. This same blurring of boundaries extends throughout our world. Think about those wonderful vegetables you eat. Eventually, that carrot you're munching on ceases to be a carrot and becomes part of your body. Where is that place of transformation, of everyday alchemy? It's liberating to realize that we don't necessarily have to function as lone islands, but instead can thrive as richly diverse and powerful network: an archipelago.

How badly we need to embrace this process today. How would our political theater look differently if the people running the show tried to step into each others' shoes and the shoes of their constituency? Would we even have the vast, inefficient, top-heavy government that's in place now? I doubt it. Because in the past we've been all too willing to put on blinders and ignore our sense of connectedness, we've manifested an inherently divisive and unfair society. But that doesn't have to be the case. Let's go outside, talk to our tree and our neighbors. To do so, we're all going to have to grow a lot closer.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


  Well as I write this I'm in the midst of trip to Vermont. If you've never seen the forest land of the American Northeast, you owe it to yourself to do so. The landscape is radically different from the scorching summers I've gotten used to in Texas. Hemlocks, shag-bark Hickories and elegant birch trees coat the area like a fabric of green lace. Clear, cool brooks run through nearly every gulch and under every bridge.
  What has happened to our species, that we are callous enough to abuse such an enduring peace of natural beauty? I've often thought that the most important part of my Pagan practice is constantly increasing the scope of my awareness. Some days, that means trying to talk to rocks. Others, it means researching local ecological action groups. Most of the time it involves a practice of connecting to myself. Wherever I am, I stop what I'm thinking, take in a cleansing breath, and take a deep look at my surrounding. Just that simple ritual has transformed my experience of life. The change wasn't instant, it wasn't easy, but now I look back on how I used to approach life and feel such surprise that I had such staggering tunnel vision.
  Surely, this practice of breath won't solve all of our problems. Corporations still manipulate most of our food supply, pollute our environment and we are still occasionally their willing accomplices. But possibly, if we all made becoming aware of the all the life surrounding and supporting us, we could slow and reverse this onslaught of universal cruelty. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

When Books Aren't Enough

  What happens when books aren't enough? Don't get me wrong, I love books. I've had a frantic desire to read every printed word in sight since I can remember. But at some point on our various Pagan paths, we come to a point where reading just doesn't cut it anymore. When we read a book about prosperity magic, shamanic journeying, or community building, we're briefly entering the mind of the author and seeing things from their point of view. Depending on their level of experience and their skill at communicating through the written word, what we get out of their books might be similar or entirely different than what they themselves have actually felt and seen in reality.
  Because of this it is likely that one day you, like me, will walk into your local bookstore and squat down in the metaphysical section. You'll peruse the shelves, examining cover after cover, scanning bios and reading front flaps hoping for a summary that speaks to you. Usually, when I do this, I eventually find a book that calls out my name. You know that feeling. It's as clear as a bell, telling you to read it, to plumb the depths of the knowledge within. But someday, maybe someday soon, you'll look, and there won't be a book like that. You've filled up on written knowledge for now. And then what?
  Then it's time to walk outside. Do an hour of ecstatic dancing in the blazing sun, drum till you can trance journey across the cosmos, cast a circle every day, build your own community up! When books aren't enough, look up, and start doing, start experiencing what the books have been trying to teach you all along. The only way to move past 101 is experiential learning. Take risks, be daring, and make magic.