The Foundation of Magical Nesting

I recently started to notice that my bedroom is a complete drain on my energy. I had a gorgeous bedspread when my partner and I first got married, but it was destroyed in our previous apartment because of a mold infestation.

The living room in our new apartment immediately became my sacred space for meditation, yoga, and magical fun because it was spacious and had a large picture window that brought the sun in. Since it was also our socialization space, I concentrated on that room and didn’t bother replacing the “pretty” stuff in the bedroom. I just didn’t seem like it would be important.

But the space where we sleep has become this abhorrent blank space to me, neither welcoming for sleep nor for sanctuary.

I finally reached my limit and started looking up ideas to make the bedroom feel more welcoming. I fell in love with tapestries while I was at the herbal conference, and I serendipitously found a gorgeous Indian tapestry at a local store.

tapestry

It was a great start. I had my “centerpiece” around which to decorate and my color scheme . . . but what comes next?

I’ve been frustrated searching the Internet for tips and suggestions. Everything seems so boxy, expensive, and impractical for a temporary home. I don’t have room to put a sitting area or a bed bench like Houzz recommended. I don’t have the luxury of painting the walls, and I still don’t know what to hang on them. It seemed like all the suggestions were about acquiring things just for the sake of having them.

It leaves the sample rooms looking unlivable and stark.

So I decided to sit down and figure out what makes my living room space feel so good to me. It’s not “well-decorated.” It won’t win any magazine awards or anything, but it is my favorite space in the apartment. Something has to be working for it.

I’m posting the list here partially because I can’t think of anything better to write and partially because maybe there’s someone else out there who is looking for these types of suggestions. I’m on a budget, so I’m forced to keep it practical. 😉

Color: Obvioulsy, right? It’s more than the appearance though. Colors can feel different to me, even in the dark. So what I put in a room has a huge impact on the way that it makes me feel. In my living room, I’ve chosen red as the dominant color because its vibrations are lively and passionate, but in the bedroom, I’ve chosen to go with more calming colors like blues and greens. They still feel verdant. Water and nature can both be quite passionate when they want to be, but they don’t have that constant burning energy. They feel deep, cocooning, and protective too.

Fabrics: Curtains come to mind the quickest. They definitely add character to a room when done well. However, curtains are not the only form of fabric important to a room. Blankets, pillows, lampshades—they all have a role in coziness and comfort. And they’re all significantly invisible in my bedroom (either non-existent or bland). They’re next on my list of investments.

I’ve also been considering a canopy. Bed is the place I go when I want to hide from the world, and what better way to feel secluded than by having a giant blanket tent hanging over your mattress? A giant plus is that canopies are things I can make myself, which lends its own kind of magic to a space.

Altars: This I give in place of decorations. I’ve learned that meaningless trinkets get cluttered, dusty, forgotten, and shoved out of the way for more clutter. However, I keep my altars clean, refreshing them often enough that they never lose their character.

In her book Mrs. B’s Guide to Household Witchery, Kris Bradley recommends an altar in every room of the house. I agree. I don’t think an altar has to be a space of worship. It can just be a place to hold focus. Pretty much every table surface in my living room is an altar of some kind, not just my actual altar. Each space holds a different concentration and energy. Each one feels special.

My bedroom lacks that entirely. The nightstands and dressers are there to hold things I don’t feel like putting away. When they’re clean, they’re blank—which is like an invitation to put more junk there. I am thinking about what kind of altars I would want in my bedroom. Perhaps space dedicated to dreams or love even love. Most people put family pictures in the public spaces of the house, but wouldn’t it make more sense to have a shrine dedicated to your love in your bedroom?

Versatility: I’m not the type of person who wants to move the furniture every two weeks. Generally, I find a layout I like and keep it that way until I lose or gain another piece of furniture.

But I fiddle.

If I go longer than a month without changing up my altar, I stop seeing the items on it. If I don’t rearrange the books on my shelves, I forget that they are there.

I love changing my living room with the changing of the seasons. Even though nothing big happens, the little shifts in table runners or altar centerpieces makes the room feel new while still being familiar. I think I need to bring a little of that fiddle magic into the bedroom to prevent the room from getting stale.

Cleanliness: The reason that my living room gets dusted, vacuumed, and fluffed more often than any other room isn’t because I need to “keep up appearances” for visitors. It’s because that space gives me a sense of happiness and calm. When it’s dirty, my inner peace is disturbed.

The key to a sanctuary isn’t keeping it picked up; it’s creating a space that reflects my inner self so that I naturally take care of it. Cleanliness comes from having a space that I want to see clean. It’s as simple as that.

Smell: An absence of smell can be as pronounced as the presence of one. My living room is infused with the spices I burn for relaxation and spiritual working, and it is the smell I most strongly associate with home. Incense in the bedroom certainly isn’t enough by itself to recreate the room, but it will influence it significantly.

PlantsThey’re just necessary. They purify the air and sing their little plant songs. They add life and love to a room.

So there you have it. In case you’re looking for a more practical approach to room decorating, these are the basic guidelines I feel coming from my favorite space. I’ll see how it goes in trying to apply it to my bedroom. If any of you have any ideas that you think would add to this list, I would love to hear them.

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When Freedom of Speech Doesn’t Exist: In Memory of the Dante Papers

Before I left the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult, I went through a phase of trying to “fix” fundamentalism. It was a time when I could recognize the discrepancies, cognitive dissonance, and abuse, but I wasn’t quite ready to recognize the cult as a whole. I was a student at Bob Jones University, three years into my degree, when I got involved with a small group of students who were writing newsletters under the name of Dante and distributing them anonymously throughout the campus. We weren’t ashamed of what we were doing, and we believed we had every right to write those papers. But we also knew that if the administration found out, we’d be in pretty severe trouble.

“The Voice of Truth” had three good runs. Then one of the group members got caught and kicked out. He refused to turn in the rest of us, so we were able to return to the university if we chose to. I was torn. A year away from graduation—practically speaking, I could have just kept my head down, gotten my degree, and gotten out. It seemed like the smarter move at the time . . . before I found out that the degree was bogus and worth about as much as a non-degree anyway.

But I couldn’t overlook the complete disregard for freedom of speech. How could a school that practically worshipped the Constitution as inspired by God violate other people’s Constitutional rights so blatantly? I wrestled up until a couple weeks before I was supposed to return. As I began trying to pack, I realized that I wasn’t going to finish packing. I simply couldn’t go back and be silent about what had happened. I withdrew from the school, explaining my protest to the admissions office.

I don’t think any of the group actually returned that semester, and the school had a quiet fall. When spring came around, two of us collaborated one last paper to send out to let the students know what had happened.

I’ve been out of the IFB for several years now, and I still value freedom of speech as the cornerstone of freedom. Wherever there is power, I suppose people will always have to fight to protect their freedoms, but lately with Obama’s expansion on the Patriot Act (as if it weren’t bad enough initially) and the recent revelations we’ve seen regarding privacy right violations, the punishment of whistle blowers, and the silencing of protesters, it seems an especially timely year to remember what freedom of speech means to me—what I sacrificed for it, what it was like without it.

With Banned Book Week starting Sunday, I wanted to post the last of the Dante papers that ever went out. It’s a bit cheesy in some places and still carries cultic influences in others, but for the most part, the core of the message is one that I think is vitally important even outside of the IFB. Don’t ever take freedom for granted. Guard and protect it. Treasure it. Use it.

Voice Of Truth Issue 4

Last year, a student [editor’s note: we let the university think it was a single student to protect the others involved] began writing anonymous papers in an effort to spur the students and administration to think critically. He was not attacking the school, although some of the people who read the papers felt the need to defend themselves. He was not, as some have asserted, complaining or trying to gather a following and incite rebellion like Absolom, or he wouldn’t have written anonymously. He wanted to help and improve the school, not tear it down. For that, he was “denied re-enrollment,” which is the same treatment BJU gives those who engage in extra-marital sex during the summer.

First of all, there was nothing wrong in what he did. The administration, when pressed for an answer, admitted that he broke no rule in the handbook. To be quite honest, we all get stuck in our ways, and from time to time, we need someone to challenge our beliefs. Why? If our beliefs cannot stand up on their own merit, we must re-evaluate what we believe. Questioning a belief is not wrong, even if the belief itself is correct. Unfortunately, in fundamental circles, the very idea of questioning what you’ve been taught is not permitted and asking “why?” often brings both rejection and accusations of heresy. Have we forgotten who our God is? God can handle our questions. He is not afraid to let His people question Him. Many in the Bible have done so, including Job, David, Elijah, Noah, and Moses. In fact, questioning what you believe can be very good because it makes you stronger. Each of us will have to defend himself at some point. We should be sure of what we believe so that we can be ready to give an answer to any man who asks.

Secondly, the school was very wrong in expelling the writer. Such an act was cowardly and tyrannical. By kicking him out, the school blatantly infringed upon his constitutional rights. He broke no rule; he broke no law; he told no lie. He merely expressed his opinion in writing, protected by the First Amendment rights of the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. In the words of Harry S. Truman, “We punish men for crimes they commit, but never for the opinions [that] they have.” The previous writer committed no crime. What made the administration so angry and so defensive? Was it that he expressed his opinion, because he expressed it in writing, or because he expressed a differing opinion from the one held by the school? The freedom to express what we believe without punishment or suppression is one of the fundamental freedoms our founding fathers fought so hard to win for us.

Along with that freedom comes the freedom to read and either accept or reject what we read, which the school effectively took away from the students in expelling Dante. No one forced those who disagreed with him to read his paper. Those who read and agreed did so of their own volition. Another President, John F. Kennedy, said, “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” What is the school so afraid of? Again, if their beliefs are true, their beliefs should be able to stand the test of one lone voice crying out. And whether or not the school’s beliefs are true, the students have a right to hear both sides and choose for themselves what they believe. BJU stole those rights away by suppressing free speech.

The original writer of The Voice of Truth was not trying to war against BJU. The administration turned it into a war. Obviously, the school, its administration, and its students are not perfect. However, many choose to accept BJU’s rules and regulations without question or thought. So have generations before us. But looking at the history of the school reminds us that BJU has been very wrong before. Most students know that BJU lost its tax-exempt status at some point. Few, however, know why. The school used to prohibit inter-racial dating and inter-racial marriage. In fact, any student who openly disagreed with the school’s stance could be kicked out. Sound somewhat familiar? Of course, such a racist policy could not survive. Dr. Bob III rescinded and apologized for that policy in 2000 on national television. However, I wonder how many who were kicked out for that reason got even so much as an apology letter?

Could it be that just as BJU was wrong with its unconstitutionally racist rules, BJU is just as wrong with its unconstitutionally suppressive rules? Although it’s obvious that, biblically and constitutionally, it was wrong for the school to kick the writer out and to try to suppress the paper, few would say anything. All of you, students and faculty, have a choice. Will we allow this suppression? I still strongly believe that BobJonesUniversity is a good school with many merits and the potential to be a great and shining light for Christ. However, the school’s attitude of stubbornness and tyranny often covers this light in the bushes.

 

The Different Shades of Rebellion

Who is more rebellious? The girl wearing makeup, a skirt, and high heels? Or the girl with baggy pants, a shaved head, and a dozen piercings?

Stereotype would say the latter is far more rebellious, and not too long ago, I would have agreed.

Not anymore.

I’ve been reading Shiri Eisner’s Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, and it’s completely shaken my assumptions of what makes up a rebel. (Yes, it’s the same book that I was reading when I wrote this post, and yes, it’s my first reading still. I’m slow with nonfiction books. Don’t judge me!)

I never considered my sexual orientation as an asset to rebellion. As a bisexual female married to a guy, I often feel like I’m the most benign version of “queer” out there. There’s no way to avoid passing as straight unless I stand up and wave a flag in people’s faces (which I’ve enjoyed doing at Pride parades). However, Eisner has helped me see that it’s that very facet of my identity that makes it so much more subversive because it challenges what people think about relationships, sexuality, and identity in general.

Whether I fit into or challenge the stereotypes about bisexuality, either way I challenge stereotypes about what it means to be straight or queer. My very existence undermines the invisible certainty of monosexuality.

In other words, me being a bisexual woman can be seen as an act of rebellion. Yay me!

It was a subtle shift in perspective that had enormous consequences on the way I viewed the rest of the world and my place in the world. Suddenly even mundane activities seemed potentially radical. With the example given at the beginning of the post, both girls could potentially be making a radical feminist statement . . . or a statement about gender . . . or a statement about freedom . . . or a statement about sexual orientation.

I guess it really comes down to two basic ways of rebelling. The first is by abstaining from certain looks, behaviors, or associations. The second is by embracing them.

I’d been taught to view the abstemious method as rebellion, but only because I saw embracing such behavior or associations the same as embracing the norms that society attached to them. How could that be rebellious?

I was faced with that question when I found out about Abercrombie and Fitch’s ridiculous status obsession, from not wanting the homeless to wear their brand to refusing to supply clothes to women larger than they deemed attractive.

I never actually purchased anything from Abercrombie, but I did have a shirt with their brand on it that my partner had found in a thrift store. Normally I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about brands, but I did get a small thrill whenever I wore Abercrombie. It was the only brand that was outright forbidden in the IFB because, as the Bob Jones University student handbook from 2011 states, “Abercrombie & Fitch and its subsidiary Hollister have shown an unusual degree of antagonism to biblical morality (page 32).”

I was more than a little miffed when the CEO turned into the king of snobs. Most of the people I knew wanted to boycott the company (abstinence rebellion). For a while, I felt pressured to stop wearing my thrift-store purchased shirt in solidarity.

Then this guy starts a movement of giving Abercrombie shirts to the homeless to “taint” the brand’s “pristine” reputation. An exploitative move on the part of privilege by using the homeless in status wars? Perhaps. Charitable activist choosing to make a political statement while helping those in need? Perhaps.

Regardless of whether his move was particularly wise or not, the larger idea—claiming something “forbidden”—is a valid though often overlooked form of rebellion. He wasn’t the only one doing the whole “you can’t stop me” act with Abercrombie, but he was the only one I saw that actually got attention. Such a form of rebellion raises a valid question. Would a rebellion be more successful by people boycotting Abercrombie (fiscal punishment) or by “unacceptable” people wearing their brand (reclamation of the forbidden)?

Several years ago, I saw rebellion as an action against an authority or a system of rule. It was a choice akin to standing up when you’ve already been sitting down. It was the radical, in-your-face moments of movies and books. And I’ve had my fair share of those and am proud of them.

But that’s not where rebellion has to end.

Now I’m starting to see that rebellion can be more “passive” than that. It can be as simple as refusing to submit to a false dilemma—refusing to box in your identity.

In this way, my agnostic spiritual life becomes a form of rebellion against fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist atheists alike who want the world to be a choice between each other. My nudity-affirming feminism becomes a form of rebellion against both modesty culture and objectification culture that wants women’s bodies to be all about male arousal.

There is a time and place for marches, protests, petitions, and attention-grabbing speech. By all means we should be making use of those to effect change in society. But in the times when those are not appropriate or simply not feasible, it’s the quiet rebellion, the passive rebellion, that erodes the lines of societal norms. It’s the every-day, mundane kind of rebellion that shifts paradigms.

So, join me this week by going out there and living a rebellious life—a life that says that you can challenge or embrace stereotypes and still be kicking ass and taking names.

 

Authentic Movement Continued: Holding Safe Space

Last week, I talked about my first experience with Authentic Movement at an herbal conference that I attended recently. Today, I want to follow up with a discussion of safe space and spirituality.

As a cult survivor, I am naturally skittish around spiritual gatherings. As I said last week, my motto tends to be, “Never let anyone get you into a state of anything less than guarded.”

As a psychology graduate and someone who has dedicated my life to researching and understanding cult trauma, I can give you an academic breakdown of the methods cults use to tear a person’s identity down. I have written about my insider’s experience with recruitment here before too.

I know that cult experiences, though often appearing similar, are not the same as spiritual experiences. I can feel the difference between a positive spiritual exchange and an invasive, creepy ambush. But I’m always hung up on the visual similarities.

Some cult psychologists have chosen to take the easy way out. Since cults use trances, meditation, singing, drumming, dancing, and a myriad of other “spiritual” practices to manipulate people, some just view those methods as always dangerous. It makes sense. Why take the chance?

Others, like Margaret Thaler Singer, tentatively leave room for such spiritual practices to be used constructively by non-cult groups as long as participants give informed consent. In her book Cults in our Midst, it is very clearly it’s the lack of full disclosure that marks a cult in her mind.

I think informed consent is so important that it could almost become the sole criteria for differentiating cultic groups from safe groups . . . almost.

It still doesn’t explain how meditation in one space can be perfectly safe but in another space can potentially destroy one’s life. It doesn’t explain how two religious ceremonies can contain similar elements but one is destructive and abusive at its core while another is empowering and positive.

I didn’t go to the Authentic Movement class to learn about the difference between cults and safe groups, but I did stay for that. I was intrigued when the teacher said, “I’m not here tell you what to do. I’m not here to judge, interpret, or project any thoughts onto your movements. I’m only here to hold safe space for you.”

I wanted to find out what that meant. I think part of me might have even stayed because I wanted to see if she could even follow through on that promise.

True to her word, the teacher never said anything, either during or after, about anyone’s movements. The interpretation of what came up was entirely left up to the individual.

In fact, the entire weekend was like that, not just her class.

There were services that were very reminiscent of church from my childhood where we sang “hymns,” had a short meet and greet, were led in prayer, and listened to a speaker. However, unlike in my childhood, I never felt violated, manipulated, or threatened in any way at the herbal conference ceremonies. I was never pressured to make a confession or dedicate my life to a god, goddess, or cause. I wasn’t even expected to attend or participate.

It was so different from my previous experiences of camp at The Wilds that I spent the first day somewhat reeling from the unneeded defensiveness–something akin to the psychological version of when you think you’re picking up something heavy, but it’s actually so light that your arm flies over your head from the unnecessary force applied.

The herbal conference also had rhythmic drums, chants, meditation, yoga, and dancing around bonfires—all things that I know cults can and do use to numb the critical thinking of members, yet the atmosphere was one of openness and freedom. I did not lose myself in the those moments, but I know that I could have and that I would have been honored in my vulnerability, not preyed upon.

What made the difference?

Safe space.

It’s not just the lack of informed consent that makes cults dangerous. It’s the lack of respect for autonomy.

It’s not the tools (meditation, singing, preaching, prayer, etc.) that are the problem; it’s the environment.

Cults don’t care about creating safe space. They create experiences by manipulating your feelings and your perceptions, then they tell you how to interpret those experiences based on their projections of who you are and their judgment of your non-conformity.

But healthy spiritual groups don’t do that. They merely offer a place in which you can have your own experiences and interpret them for yourself. The spiritual leader’s job, whether it be a pastor, priestess, or guru, isn’t to guide you to where they are. It’s to hold you without judgment, interpretation, or projection as you guide yourself.