Ritual of Release

I don’t typically practice releasing rituals/spells because I often find that they are meant to release the emotions surrounding a situation, which is counter-productive in my opinion. The only way to release difficult emotions is to go through them.

However, there are times when releasing rituals are appropriate because the emotions of grief or anger are blocked by a tenacious hold on a dead wish or desire.

If you created a womb wish box or make use of another kind of wish box, then it is occasionally good to go through and check to see which wishes have come true, which still need gestation time, and which ones should be released. Leaving a dead wish in the wish box not only takes up energetic space that could be devoted to other intentions but can also serve to distract from processing the emotions surrounding a lost wish.

The following ritual is designed to help with the releasing process and to create the space that allows you to acknowledge your loss and start to move through those difficult emotions.

You will need:

A candle
A fire-safe dish such as a small cauldron
The wish/desire removed from the wish box (alternatively, write down a description of what you intend to release)
A bit of dried sage
The tools or things associated with your work towards that wish.

Light the candle and place the tools of your project on or around your altar or working space.

Using a fire-safe dish, burn the written wish with a bit of sage. As it burns, say out loud, “I release _____” (e.g. “I release this project/job/relationship/person”). Envision the energy that has been holding you and any others to this path that isn’t working for either of you disappearing in the smoke. I like to think of an invisible cord of light that gets severed.

Sit and meditate on what had made that wish so important. Acknowledge the work put in and the loss of letting go. It’s okay to feel the grief.

Towards the end of the meditation, begin going through the tools associated with the project, recycling or discarding what seems appropriate, repurposing what you can cleanse and redirect to another project.

Later, either bury or cast the ashes into the wind.

 

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A New Moon Tarot Spread

I developed the spread below in order to tap into the power of the new moon this weekend. I invite you to pull out your deck and see what this underappreciated stage of the lunar cycle has for you this month.

                1

                 2                              4

                3

 It’s supposed to look like the moon! Not shown is the optional fifth card.

  1. What is gestating: This card represents things that are in the works and that need the darkness of the new moon to continue to ripen. Basically, leave well-enough alone. Don’t focus too much on them. Just let them incubate.
  2. What is hidden: This card reveals an aspect of your life that you are blind to—something perhaps that it may be good to begin shining a light on as the moon waxes again. It’s likely an area that is spreading difficulties in multiple parts of your life.
  3. What needs to be shed: This card represents the things in your life that need to come to an end and be released. Take some time to symbolically shed and mourn their passing this weekend. Don’t carry them into the new month with you.
  4. What needs to begin: This represents the new seeds in your life that you are sewing right now. Have you already started to bring them into the works? Or are the seeds still waiting to be planted in the rich soil of your life? Got on that. It’s planting season.
  5. Optional guide card: If you feel the need for more information or guidance on how to begin using the knowledge gleaned from the four cards above, you can draw an optional guide card. It may apply specifically to a single card in your spread, or it could tie them all together somehow.

Winter Solstice New Moon

Do you feel the energy of the new moon on top of the winter solstice? Darkest, longest night of the year, just before the sun comes back. The earth calls to me to shed anything that is no longer serving me.

To dance it off.

Cry it off.

Bleed it off.

This isn’t a call to leave behind so much as it is a call to go deeper.

It’s as if the universe is saying, “You are done with this layer; release it into me. Now, let’s look at the next.”

May your solstice be blessed and beautiful.

 

 

Doing Yoga with Artemis

I don’t typically work with a particular Goddess in my spiritual practice. Whether I’m meditating, doing a spell, or creating a ceremony to commemorate something, I’m the type of practitioner that always skips over the invocation of the goddess/god. Since I believe that my spirituality comes from within, not without, I don’t feel like a deity needs to be present for me to work.

I also don’t even believe in them in the literal sense that they are separate persons. I approach divine individuals as archetypes from which to draw inspiration, not as real personalities. I’m closer to an agnostic than a theist, with my definition of the Divine falling somewhere along the lines of the Doctor’s definition of time (the “big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey stuff”).

I was surprised, then, when I suddenly found my practice invaded by Artemis. I say invaded because I didn’t seek her out or decide to study her. She wasn’t even on my radar. As much as I love moon Goddesses, I’ve never paid an ounce of attention to Artemis because I like Diana more (shh, don’t tell Artemis I just said that!).

She invited herself in while I was reading an essay “Artemis: The Goddess Who Comes From Afar” by Christine Downing. It was one of several essays in Weaving Visions on the topic of naming the sacred, and I almost skipped over it.

Almost.

I read it because I wanted to keep reading the chapters in succession rather than jumping around, a strange impulse considering I’d already jumped around in the book quite a bit. Through the tiniest glimpse into her love of chaos and her work as a midwife, she decided to take up residence in my life.

I felt her arrive and didn’t feel her leave when I finished the essay. When I finally realized she wouldn’t be leaving for a while, I began searching for more resources to help me understand what this Goddess may have to teach me. I figured I would learn from her the way I had learned from Inanna, by reading her mythology and some of the commentary on it . . . but Artemis had other plans.

As soon as I started to research her more, I felt as if she were laughing at me, mocking me for thinking that anything that had been written about her would be able to define or contain her.

Her energy felt like the energy of the Page of Wands, the energy that just said “Dive in and see what happens”. . . but I wanted the energy of the Knight of Pentacles, methodical and slow and entrenched in books. Such a fiercely independent energy was terrifying to me. It felt as though I would be shredded trying to keep up.

Still Artemis called, taunting my fear, enticing me to feel the intoxication of chaos.

So I put my books down, shut my computer, and pulled out my yoga mat.

Suddenly, Artemis wasn’t wild and intimidating anymore.

She was beside me, inside me—her strength flowing through me. The wild wasn’t wild like it seemed to be. It was almost peaceful in its activity.

Movement, action, feeling—these were her mediums of teaching. Her physical energy was surprisingly gentle in its unbridled way. Even though it felt like she could easily take off and drag me on a run through the wild, she stayed with my pace once I was willing to go along for the ride.

I’ve realized she’s not the type of Goddess that likes to come around for a chat and a cup of tea. Downing describes how Artemis assisted her in a symbolic birth. It’s strange that I would feel a connection to that aspect of Artemis since I neither have nor want children, yet Artemis’ arrival has been like the arrival of a midwife right as my soul goes into labor.

She’s also not one to coddle. She teaches where she lives, in the wild. As a guide, she’s willing to get lost with me, but she’s not going to read my compass for me. She doesn’t try to prevent me from scraping my knees. Falling is part of the process.

She asks, “Where does your strength lie?”

If I know, she tells me to use it. If I don’t, she tells me to find it.

Yet, she’s not unkind either. Her kindness lies in knowing that the process ends faster when the discomfort is embraced fully; fighting her lessons isn’t really fighting her but fighting my own spiritual birth pangs.

Artemis has already taught me much. She challenges me to reassess how I view independence and connection, and reminds me of the beauty of embracing chaos.

She has facilitated my return to physical exercise better than anything else since my injury. Whereas before, I practiced yoga limitedly as I struggled to regain my strength, now she guides me through full-length practices, teaching me to find the balance of pushing, but not pushing so far that I reinjure myself. The physical activity has brought back an aspect to meditation that I had forgotten was missing.

She’s not the type of Goddess I would have associated with a yogic practice, but I can feel that she’s the companion I need for the time being. I don’t know how long she plans to stay or what the main thrust of her teaching will be, so I will be doing yoga with Artemis until I birth this new aspect of my soul.

I may not have invoked the Goddess, but I’m sure as hell not going to snub her either. Agnostic though I may be, I’m honored and excited to have her in my life.

Even the Darkest Night Still Has Light

In the summer, I take the sun for granted. I trust that its light and warmth will be there to drive away the shadows. I bask in the energy and vibrancy of the natural life I see around me.

But in winter, the darkness dominates.

I don’t usually mind the dark. My Goddesses are associated with the moon, and I have often found a deep sense of connection to myself and to their energy at night. Meditation and yoga under the stars is nothing short of transcendental for me.

However, there’s a different side to darkness. It’s the darkness of descending into the underworld. The darkness of shadows slinking forward, of monsters coming to visit, and of the judgment of a psychopathic god. It’s the darkness of my childhood, when the boogeyman existed and went by the name of my god.

It’s been five years since I left the cult, and approximately three since I left Christianity altogether. Yet I’ve developed a new (or probably more accurately, an old) fear of the dark. It crept into my heart as the days grew shorter this year. The connection and peace that I had come to associate with the night disappeared as my fears returned—the fears that “like a thief in the night” and “in the blink of an eye” life and love would be taken.

In the past, my underworld journeys have been somewhat deliberate . . . or at least identified, but this time, I only became aware that I was in the bowels of my psyche when I was standing, stripped and naked, before my Ereshkigal.

She was me. I was a child again, anxiously watching the clock grow later, praying that I would be reunited with my loved ones—that they hadn’t disappeared. I was a four year old afraid to close my eyes because I might die in my sleep and wake up in hell. I was a preteen, seeking out the company of others, not because I longed for company, but because I needed to know that humanity still existed. I was a teen listening for the sound of breathing still coming from my parents’ room so that I knew I hadn’t been left behind in the Rapture.

How appropriate that just before the longest night of the year, I find myself face to face with a fear so deep that it goes beyond my earliest memories and survives even my unbelief. I might as well be looking under my bed for Krampus for all the sense it makes to believe that the world is going to end with a trumpet blast and dead people will float up to heaven.

Yet here I am, afraid of being left behind.

But this is what I love about goddess spirituality—the underworld is not where I go after I’ve been damned by a vindictive deity; it’s where I go to find myself again. . . and this time, to rescue myself from that vindictive deity. Jehovah may throw me into the fiery pit where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, but that’s okay. Inanna is there to remind me, as Rilke said, “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

And when I look at my Underworld with that perspective, I find that there are no demons down there, just a frightened little girl who is tired of being forgotten in the darkness–scary only because I’ve been taught to fear her pain.

How equally appropriate then that as the physical light gets ready to grow again, I awake to find that it’s time to begin my upward journey back into myself, this time not leaving the shadow goddess behind but carrying her with me up into the world above, a world of sunlight . . . a world of a different kind of night—one where the light doesn’t completely leave but lingers in the stars and moon.

Behold the Sacrificial . . . Minnow?

A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I headed out to the river to go fishing for the first time this summer. It’s an activity that I both love and hate. Usually, to help alleviate my desire to turn all of the fish and bait into personal pets, I make my partner bait the hooks and handle any of the catches.

This trip started no differently.

The fish were hungry, and I lost my first minnow almost instantly. Ever patient, my partner put down his pole and rebaited my hook while I kept my head turned away.

I dropped my line back into the water and settled in for the wait. As usual, my thoughts turned to the uncomfortable reality that such a peaceful activity would culminate in the death of the bait and fish alike.

I’ve struggled for years with my feelings about meat. Animals are sacred to me. I see them as intelligent, emotional, and cognizant. I believe they have far more similarities to us humans than most people give them credit for and perhaps just a tad bit more connection to whatever I would call the “spiritual” energy of the world.

One would assume that I would be a strict vegetarian as a result.

Except that I also view plants as sacred, intelligent, emotional, and cognizant. Certainly not in the same way . . . but kind of in the same way. Plants play. They react to “pain” stimuli. They can move, albeit limitedly. Some are even carnivorous.

I had reached the point where I realized that fishing didn’t make me uncomfortable because I thought it was wrong to eat the fish but because it reminded me of the reality of everything I eat. The sad truth is that in order to live, I have to take life of one form or another.

Becoming a vegetarian would be an easy way to distance myself from the discomfort of taking life for food. The death of the plant may not be as visibly disturbing as the death of an animal since I am more attuned to the pain cries of the former, but deep down, I know that I’m still killing a living thing when I eat, whether it’s a carrot or a trout.

My explorations in herbalism introduced me to the concept of leaving a gift when I harvest a plant to thank the earth for her provision, and the practice had helped me find consecration and reciprocity in my eating habits—at least with plants.

Animals were harder to reconcile. I did what I could to buy products from ethically treated animals, but I still struggled with ways to give back to the animal world. Bringing the river water didn’t seem as much of a gift as bringing my tomato plant water, and fertilizer didn’t seem like a good way to give back to the fish.

In perfect irony, it was while I was in the mire of my confusion that my line went taut. I began reeling in and could tell immediately that I had something fairly large on the other side. Adrenaline kicked in; excitement drove out my ambivalence.

Suddenly, the fish jumped out of the water, twisting its body magnificently. I squealed and kept reeling, only noticing a moment later that there was no longer any weight on the line. My squeal turned to a disappointed cry as I brought the line all the way up with the empty hook dangling at the end.

The fish was gone.

My bait was gone.

I wavered between tears and laughter as my partner explained how bass sometimes throw themselves free, but it was the laughter that won out. Only a moment after I lost my biggest catch, I was inexplicably happy that the fish had gotten a free meal.

It suddenly seemed so clear. Whether I liked it or not, fish were not vegetarians. I had to meet them where they were with a gift they could appreciate. Minnows, worms, frogs—these were their foods. By bringing them what they could eat, I gave as I took.

This time, I baited my own hook, acknowledging my discomfort as well as honoring the harsh reality that life is a deadly affair. I felt a flicker of understanding of the purpose behind animal sacrifices, the sacred symbolization of this cycle of life that was so apparent to ancient peoples but so obscured in our current society.

We left that day with enough fish to make a chowder that fed us for several days. In return, we had fed both big and little fish and given a handful of minnows their freedom.

I still mourned the deaths of what we caught, but it was with the humility of realizing how unsuperior I was to the rest of nature. Out in my yard, along the riverbank, down in the middle of the forest—everywhere I go I will find animals and plants taking and giving life.  I finally realized that could not remove myself from that cycle, but I could accept my place within it and handle it responsibly.

Irreverence is Good for the Soul

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how I was learning to put playfulness back into playing my violin. It got me thinking about how important playfulness is in my life. Whether it’s wearing fairy wings to work, dressing up in a prom dress just to dance around my apartment, hanging crayon drawings on my walls, or building fairy houses, play finds its way into almost every major area of my life to some extent or another.

But nowhere is it more important than in my spiritual practice.

When I work a spell, celebrate a holiday, perform a ritual, read tarot cards, scry, or peruse religious texts, I deliberately approach the process with a sense of play. I try to never take any of it too seriously because I have found that somberness kills.

Christianity is filled with a fear of light-heartedness. It’s so taboo that “church laughter” has come to mean “uncontrollable laughter at an inappropriate time.”

[Edit: Some have pointed out that my above statement is vague. I do not mean to imply that all of Christianity is afraid of all light-heartedness. Rather it holds a phobia of irreverence and a fear of laughing at itself. In my experience, Christians of all denominations hold certain things to be outside the realm of laughter, whether it be the Virgin birth, Cross, Resurrection, or any other doctrine. That’s not to say that there are no open-minded Christians capable of laughing at themselves and their beliefs, merely that the lack of brevity is much more common in the interactions I have had.]

The sect that I grew up in was even more burdened by a phobia of playful spirituality. Communion was an affair wrought with terror because taking it with a flippant attitude could potentially result in my death, or so I was taught. Making fun of the sacred was a sin—a sin potentially unforgiveable if it was bad enough to insult the Holy Spirit. Even laughing at the foibles of a pastor was discouraged with terrifying stories about children who were eaten by bears after disrespecting a prophet.

Therefore, my first acts of freedom and exploration were tentatively making fun of my religion. It was terrifying and liberating to a degree that would seem absurd to anyone who hadn’t grown up with such taboos.

irreverence good for soul

Today, the things you’ll hear out of my mouth make even atheists gasp in shock. It feels great to ridicule what I was taught was too sacred to question. But here’s my secret, I don’t hate Christianity as much as my ridicule would suggest.

What I hate is the mindset that you have to be scared of irreverence.

I definitely didn’t want to carry that fear over to my new spiritual practices, so I turned it into play time—a time to let my imagination make believe whatever it wants. Staring into a scrying mirror, I’ve met beautiful elves. I’ve eaten cakes with fairies and played hide-and-seek with brownies. One of my favorite meditations is actually wrestling with one of my totems.

Even the “serious” stuff gets lightened up with dramatic displays that make me feel just a little bit silly—just enough to take the edge off.

That’s not to say there is never any darkness. I’ve written about embracing the shadows before. A lot of my spiritual work is healing my own trauma. It can get grim and scary. A simple meditation can leave me crumpled on the floor in tears because my subconscious decided to bring up a memory and say, “listen to me.”

But the presence of solemnity is all the more reason to keep play integral. Play gives me the freedom to explore without the need to get the answers right away. It relieves stress, allowing me to approach the shadows with anticipation rather than anxiety. It shuts down the overly critical, cynical, “adult” voice in my head so that I can contact the parts of me that aren’t so vocal.

In other words, play is what makes spirituality work for me because it frees it from the limitations of expectation.

Developmental classes will teach that play is vitally important to growing up because it’s the means through which children learn about their world and themselves—it’s what makes them so adaptable.

I don’t necessarily think that is only true for children. I think adults need play too. I think the more difficult life gets, the more desperately we need a playful approach. If spirituality is meant to help us deal with the aspects of life that feel out of control, then it is only natural that play should be part of that.

"Fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." -Chesterton

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” -Chesterton

People assume that playfulness is immaturity, shallowness, or naivete. They couldn’t be farther from the truth. Playfulness, imagination, and brevity are essential to any truly serious project.

Without them, solemnity drowns the soul.