Self, Mind, Brain, and Drugs

2018/04/07

As some of my readers may know my health has been…questionable for most of my life.  I was born dead and out for about fifteen minutes before resuscitation.  I spent the first month of my life, save Christmas day, in an incubator.  The only reason I’m alive is thanks to the fact I was born in a country with universal healthcare.  My parents would not have been able to afford me and all my complications and I wouldn’t have made it past the first week if I had been born in the States.  I drowned when I was four, resuscitated.  I spent much of adolescence in pain and discomfort in and out of hospitals, I spent a lot of my preteen and teen years as a frequent guest of the Hospital for Sick Children, the best pediatric hospital in the world.

 

It is not surprising considering these issues, and several other issues, that I don’t exactly identify with my body.  I always think of myself as a consciousness driving a meat suit, like a kid in a robot in an anime.  It’s not me, I’m the consciousness.  The body is broken, it’s decaying and falling apart the moment it’s born, that is not me.  My mind, my consciousness that is pure, that is disconnected from my body and its corruption.  That’s how I viewed myself for a long time.  Something above and beyond my body.

 

Then more recently I was diagnosed with depression.  Now I shouldn’t have to say this, but depression is a physiological problem in the brain.  It is not about “feeling sad” and can’t be fixed with happy thinking, any more than anemia is fixed with thoughts about iron.  The brain has problems processing and creating specific neurochemicals.  When I was diagnosed with depression it really hit me that I am not above and beyond my body, because depression is a problem in the brain, but it affected me, even though I thought of myself as beyond it.  My consciousness, at very least, gets translated through the physical brain.  As “pure” as my consciousness might be it gets distorted by the interface with my brain.

 

It was actually hard for me to admit that a problem with my body was affecting my mind, and that my mind wasn’t separate.  It seems like nothing major, but to someone who was more in their head than their body it is upsetting to see how it can be distorted and influenced.  Then when I started taking anti-depressants I again had to admit how the brain affects me, as my moods and clarity improved again.

 

I got to “trigger” more of this discomfort to force me to deal with it.  I began to experiment a year ago with cannabis.  Yes at 33 I’ve probably been high less than the average 18 year old.  The first experience knocked me out of the meat suit, it was a very potent edible.  I got what some call body heaviness, but it was to the point where I didn’t feel like I was interfacing with my body, and actually had mild spasms as I couldn’t completely control my  body. I was still piloting a meatsuit, but all the controls were sluggish or crosswired. I was just my conscious sitting in my head.  My ability to focus goes out the window, and that’s again what made me have to deal with this brain interface.  It wasn’t just moods, my brain could actually interrupt my ability to think.

 

When you think of yourself as a non-physical consciousness, it’s actually a troubling thought to see how chemicals can affect you, that your consciousness isn’t as inviolate as you think.

 

My purpose in writing and sharing this is twofold. Firstly it is allowing me to process some of my humility around this, coming to terms with the fact that however “pure” my consciousness might be beyond the body, as long as I’m in the body the physical brain can and will influence me. In fact we’re learning more and more about how much of our personality is physically rooted in the brain, which then makes me wonder about who “I” am? How much of the personality I identify with is “me” in the sense of my consciousness beyond flesh, and how much is based upon my genes, my neurochemicals, and events that shape the way the brain function. My one lama used to refer to this is our biology and biography, but I feel there is one more piece, that Beyond the flesh consciousness. Secondly I write this because sadly I see a trend in the various magick communities to ignore or look down on mental health issues. Pretending, thinking as I did, that the brain/body couldn’t influence the consciousness. Sadly this plays out with people not seeking professional help for mental health issues, or assume that medications aren’t the route to follow.

My Rinpoche fled Tibet during the Chinese invasion. As a child he fled through the mountains of Tibet, being chased occasionally by Chinese military, losing people on the way, living a horrible story. That was over sixty years ago, but he still has PTSD and can’t watch military movies. That was a reassuring conversation for me, here is a Rinpoche, a great teacher who has spent his life meditating, but he admits there is a wall where he cannot control the damage that was done. If a reincarnate lama in his 70s can still deal with mental health issues, it’s not a failing when you can’t magick it away. As a subculture we don’t imply someone is a failure because they can’t magick away anemia or allergies or whatever, but we treat mental health problems as personal and magickal failures, and that’s bullshit. As competent sorcerers we have to be willing to engage reality as it is, not how we want it to be, and use any resource we can to make our journey better, more productive, and more functional, and for some of us, part of that is realizing we are more of the body and brain than we think, and that’s okay.

Advertisements

Tantric Retreats: Tips and Rambles

2018/04/01

For the fourth time today I pull aside the curtain and enter my retreat cell. Since it is the fourth, and final session of the day it is the longest and the most intense, more deities are called into my space, more offerings are left out, and many more mantras are chanted. I light my incenses. I wrap my ngakpa shawl (ངག་པ་གཟན ngag’pa gzan) around my chest and shoulder. I place rice, barley, sesame seeds, dried meat, and mini M&Ms on the plates with my tormas (གཏོར་མ gtor’ma), my offering cakes. Finally I settle down and begin the ritual.

 

I’m currently in week ten of what will be a fourteen week long Yamantaka retreat. It’s a foolish thing, but I do it anyways. Tantric retreats are one of the elements of Vajrayana Buddhism that haven’t seemed to translate into the West properly, and yet they’re of the highest importance in the tradition. To really work with a deity, to truly enter their mandala, there are (simplified) four main steps: the wang (དབང་ dbang) or empowerment, the lung (ལུང་ lung – distinct word from རླུང་ rlung) or transmission often called reading, aural, oral, or textual transmission, the tri (I’ve never seen this written in Tibetan or Wylie so not sure on the spelling) or teaching, and finally a retreat which can take many forms. Mostly people only receive the wang, the empowerment, and think that’s it. There are a lot of reasons for it, but a lot of Lamas don’t follow up with the transmission or proper teaching.

 

If I were to make a poor analogy I would say the empowerment is merely an introduction at a party. “Mae, I would like you to meet Sabesh, Sabesh this is Mae.” The transmission is more like having a conversation, small talk, you’re connecting with them, but it’s still kind of surface level. The teaching is the conversations you have after a few hours, when you really start to learn about each other. The retreat is establishing a relationship with them.

 

Depending on what class of tantra (as there are four classes of increasing complexity/difficulty) and how strict your teacher is, there are a lot of rituals, even basic ones, that you’re not able to perform without completing a retreat. Even if you’re more relaxed in that regard there are many reasons still to do retreats: establishing a deep connection that is often said to transcend incarnations, to embody the deity, exploring reality, to massively purify your karma (it’s said for instance that once you have completed a tantric retreat your astrological chart is useless for predictions because you’ve changed your karma so much), and many more.

 

The protocols and rituals for a retreat are very complicated, and wildly different between classes of tantra and what deity the retreat is with. There is no way I could tell you how to do a specific retreat, nor would it be my place. That said, having done several retreats I do have some advice, hints and tricks I’ve picked up over the years that will be helpful to people. (Including myself, as I often forget some of them until I hit the wall) As said, the protocols are complicated and varied, so if you are doing a retreat, check with your lama if my advice is allowed, depending on retreat and strictness it might not be permissible. A lot of this advice may seem basic or obvious, but I assure you a lot of the basic solutions don’t cross people’s minds. Some advice is more about the woo, some advice is more mundane. It might seem common sense, but I know from conversations that a lot of people honestly just don’t think of some of these things, myself included for a few retreats.

 

 

I would say first and foremost the best piece of advice I can give is to start a retreat on a Friday evening, or before you have a few days off from work and obligations. This is both for practical   reasons, and magickal reasons. Practically you’re adding in a few hours of activity into your schedule that isn’t usually there, so trying to do a session before work, then going to work, coming home to do another session, it’s a lot to adapt to, and can be very hard and might even cause you to have to stop the retreat realizing you bite off more than you could chew. You also don’t know how much time your retreat sessions will take, so it will be hard to know what you can fit in before work, how much earlier you’ll have to wake up, etc. Think of it like any lifestyle change, Monday is not the best day to start going to the gym for a morning swim, after work for weightlifting, and then jogging when you get home, that’s a lot at once. Starting when you have a day or two off gives you some time to ease into it.

 

On an energetic level retreats are intense, and while most of that intensity builds over the weeks, one thing that’s fairly common is what’s jokingly called “Retreat Illness” or less dignified “Retreat Runs.” Retreats are hugely purifying rituals, and a lot of people, sadly myself included, get very sick the first day or few. Essentially your physical body decides to purify itself, and that means getting rid of everything. To be blunt, a lot of people get diarrhea the first day, it’s just a thing. If you start before a few days off, you can get that out of your system (literally) before you’re back to work.

 

Some retreats need to be started during specific astrological conditions, so this might not be feasible. It is possible in some cases to do what is essentially a dedication to the retreat on the proper day, to essentially tell whatever Buddha or Bodhisattva that you’re going to work with them soon, and then to perform that deities rituals as normal daily until you can start the retreat. That’s what I did this time, my retreat was technically supposed to start Monday night, so I went to temple and did the first session with my teacher as a dedication, and then “kept the engine running” by performing Yamantaka rituals until Friday.

 

Have support if needed. Retreats can bring up a lot of unexpected things, strong emotions, forgotten memories, and other things that aren’t always pleasant. Try to have someone in your life you can talk to about this if you need to, and let them know before you start the retreat so you don’t just end up dumping childhood grief at their feet suddenly. Preferably someone with magick experience or very non-judgmental, because there is a level of weird and intense that might not be appropriate to discuss with people.

 

This piece of advice, probably more than any other I’ll give, is one that you definitely need to talk to your teacher about first. There are two common mental-energetic reactions in retreats, usually more near the beginning. One is a disoriented confused sensation with light drifting sensations, everything is relaxed. (It’s not too different from being slightly drunk or high) The other is a strong stabbing headache. They’re caused by having your energy too “thin” in the case of the disoriented sensation, or by having your energy too “thick” with the headache. When the energy is thin it flows through your system quicker, like your energetic pulse is racing. This can make it hard to focus, but a very simple cure is to have a piece of meat or cheese. Meat in particular is said to slow or thicken up your energy. When your energy is too thick it presses against your system, slowly moving and blocking your flow. This pressure causes stabbing headaches, but a simple fix is a shot of strong alcohol. Alcohol thins out your energy (which is supposedly why they feel similar) allowing your energy to flow properly again without obstruction.

 

Now this isn’t appropriate with all deities, general guideline would be it’s not acceptable for Peaceful deities or Kriya Tantra retreats, but it is acceptable for Wrathful deities or Annuttarayoga Tantra retreats. Ask your teacher. If it’s acceptable find out if it’s acceptable /during/ a session. Not all teachers allow food or drink in the retreat session, but if they do it makes dealing with these two disruptions easier. If not you can always partake when you’re done to help level out from the session, or before if you know it happens frequently.

 

Along the same line of “ask your teacher if this is allowed in the session with you” there are a few other staples that can be useful, but often overlooked. Have lip balm with you, if you’re not used to muttering for two hours straight your lips might dry out, it’s uncomfortable and slows you down. Take some in with you and apply as needed. Water, similar reason, muttering for two hours can wear on your voice, have water with you in case you need to refresh your through. Tissue paper, you wouldn’t think of it before hand, but the first time you’re looking around the meditation cell to find the “safest” direction to sneeze you’ll realize having tissue on hand is a good idea. Also take in a thick towel. If you’re not used to sitting on a mediation cushion for two hours your body will not be happy with the retreat. Having a thick towel gives you something you fold and layout as needed as a pillow for under your joints or wherever hurts. Lastly have some form of counter, you can keep track in your head, but for longer sessions it gets harder to remember where you are. Counters aren’t prone to confusion. I prefer barley seeds. If I’m doing a certain amount I take out that many seeds, when I’m done one round of mantras I toss a seed onto the torma plate until I run out. If I’m just reciting until I feel done I just have a pile and I put one aside each time and use that to keep track.

 

My final piece of advice is pace yourself by syllable, not by mantras (I see people make this mistake often). During a retreat you have to collect certain amounts of different mantras. In my current retreat for instance I have to do 10,000 Manjushri mantras, 10,000 Yamantaka Root mantras, 100,000 Yamantaka Action mantras, 10,000 Yamantaka Essence mantra, and 10,000 Yamantaka Wisdom Shower mantras. That’s 140,000 mantras, and I know several people who pace themselves by mantra. So say they want to finish in four weeks, that’s 140,000 mantras over twenty eight days, that’s five thousand mantras a day. The problem is the mantras are different lengths, one only has seven syllables while another has forty. If you go by mantra count that varies between 35,000 syllables to 200,000 that’s a huge jump in time. You’d notice quickly enough when you’re suddenly taking a lot longer, and you can change it, but the problem is if you paced out your retreat for a specific end date you have already spent a lot of your time doing very little work and will have to really push to catch up. Starting off with a good schedule helps. You don’t have to make it as precise as me, but you’ll see how I figure it out.

 

Of the mantras I have to recite ten thousand times they have seven syllables, forty syllables, seven syllables, and sixteen syllables. Then the mantra I have to say one hundred thousand times has ten syllables.

 

7+40+7+16=70

70 x 10,000=70,000

 

10 x 100,000=1,000,000

 

70,000+1,000,000=1,700,000

 

So I’m saying 1,700,000 syllables. Now let’s assume that’s over 60 days.

 

1,700,000 / 60 = 28,333

 

That’s 28,333 syllables a day. Now you just apply that backwards with your mantras. The Manjushri mantra has seven syllables and I have to say it ten thousand times. You count 100 mantras per round on the mala, so that’s 700 syllables. 28,333 syllables divided by 700 (one mala) would be 40.48. Round up, and that becomes 41, on the first day you say 41 Manjushri mantras. 41 the second day. On the third day you only need 18 malas to reach ten thousand, but 18 malas is only 12,600 mantras, you still have 15,733 to make your daily goal. The second mantra has forty syllables, so that’s 4000 syllables per mala. 15,733 divided by 4000 is 3.9, round up to 4. On day three you say 18 malas of Manjushri’s mantra and then 4 malas of the Root mantra. Then the next day all 28,333 go to the Root mantra, so 28,333 / 4000 = 7.1 rounded to eight. So day four is eight malas, and that continues for almost two weeks before shifting into the next mantra.

 

Yes, that might seem like a lot of needless work. But I have seen people have to stop retreats because by the time they hit the long mantras and realized how much longer it would take to do, they didn’t have the time to actually complete the retreat. A job well begun is half done.

 

There are dozens of tips and tricks that you’ll learn, this is no way meant as a complete tip guide, just some advice passed on the most common or problematic issues I’ve experienced or discussed with sangha members. As stated several times though, check with your teacher if you’re unsure. I am not your teacher, I don’t set the protocols for your retreat.


Magick Routines: Rituals in the Lulls

2017/09/26

Routines can be hard, especially when we don’t see results. A lot of people stop exercise routines because their gains are too slow, or they don’t track their progress and thus don’t see what results that they are actually getting. Magick routines very much fall into this trap. I don’t know of any daily ritual that produces overwhelming fast and major results, so a lot of people let routines fall aside. I mean if these daily rituals did produce overwhelmingly fast and major results, every sorcerer would achieve apotheosis in a matter of weeks. Much like exercise though, results tend to be slow, steady, and subtle. Also much like exercise, in the long run you probably benefit more from small consistent routines than you do from sporadic intense bursts, though both definitely help and have benefits.

 

Another trouble with routines like these is that since the results aren’t necessarily obvious, when life gets tough they’re often the first thing to be dropped. If you’re low on time and energy, why would you commit it to meditation and magick that doesn’t seem make things different, when you could use that energy to try to keep the rest of your life afloat? Unfortunately the time when a regular routine would be the most helpful is exactly the times we’re likely to push them aside.

 

I’ve long advocated for daily routines, and I freely admit, I sometimes drop mine, and right now my daily practice isn’t what I’d like it to be. I know a lot of talented magick folk, I’m blessed with great friends who are sorcerers whose abilities I can respect and appreciate. Yet often when we get together (for we’re scattered across the North American landmass) or catch up in online discussions at least one of us will says “I feel a bit rusty, I haven’t really kept up with my stuff the last few months or the last year.”

 

Again, I’ve been there, I totally sympathize.  I have a physical form which doesn’t always want to cooperate with…well living. I have depression which when untreated or flaring up can really drain me of my ability to function. I have a rich and busy life between family, friends, lovers, and temple. I know it can be hard, but it really does sadden me when people feel that they’re rusty or falling behind because they do not keep up with a daily practice.

 

Over the last fourteen years, I would say I have probably kept up some form of daily practice for a good 95% of that time, even if it wasn’t as much as I wanted. So I would like to share some of the routine activities I’ve found helpful, especially for the times when you feel it is hard to keep up a practice. I would also love to hear from you my dear readers what routines you’ve found have helped these tough/rusty periods and what you’ve found easy to carry through these times.

 

It will surprise no one I’m sure that the first thing I will advocate is meditation, it’s almost like I’m a Buddhist monk. Specifically though meditations that are either centred on mindfulness, which I consider the best choice, or meditations that are connected to purification. Yet I admit meditation is one of the hardest things to keep up of my following suggestions. The results are slow and subtle, and it can be hard to convince yourself to prioritize even fifteen minutes a day to sit and “do nothing.” Yet I think more than anything else, this will help you through these periods because regular meditation helps you identify, and control your thought processes more than any other practice. Also I really do recommend 15 minutes. Various research has shown that meditation tends to hit “peak benefit” with a plateau around 10-12 minutes. Unless you’re going for a marathon session of over an hour, 15 minutes will get you what you need from the session. It’s really hard to deny we have 15 minutes to spare a day, especially when it’s so important to our wellbeing.

 

My second suggestion is simple “prayer.” Prayer can be vague, and some of us, myself included, might have baggage with the concept. Prayers don’t have to be long, they can even be a bit routine if that’s all you can manage, but they’re great for these times when it’s hard to do anything else. You can pray to a god if you like, to your HGA if you’ve made contact, to angels, spirits, ancestors, whatever. Prayer doesn’t necessarily have to be the begging image we often have of it, it can be prayers of thanks, or prayers of embodiment. For the last six years, I’m made daily prayers to the planetary angel of the day. It’s nothing major, just a request that I be able to embody their traits, be blessed with their nature. Pray to the angel of Mars for strength, vigor and vitality, the use of the sword of Mars. It doesn’t have to be much, but prayers are easy to do, can be done quickly, and help keep us connected with our spirits, and our spiritual side.

 

Another practice that I’ve found useful in times when it’s been hard to maintain a ritual is Resh, known as Liber Resh, or the Four Adorations. I prefer the Thelemite version because it has a long evocation/hymn at the end, but the version from Regardie is good too. The ritual is a fairly simple evocation and praise of the Sun in four different forms as four different gods at four times throughout the day. Ra as it rises, Ahathoor at noon, Tum at sunset, and Khepra at midnight. At first the idea of having to do a ritual four times a day seems counterintuitive to ritual work when it’s hard to maintain a practice, but it’s actually rather easy. The ritual requires no implements other than you, can be done anywhere (preferably outside or able to see the sun, but it’s really not required), and it’s rather short. The advantage to Resh is that it is time bound. The two most common excuses for not doing a practice is that you don’t have time, and you’ll do it later. But when you have to do the ritual at certain times during the day, you can’t say you’ll do it later. When it’s noon, it’s time to call on Ahathoor (Hathor), you can’t keep putting that off. So by having set times it’s actually easier to do in many ways. (Also while it ideally should be done at these times, I’ve found there is practical wiggle room. If the sun rises well before you wake up in the morning, then salute Ra when you wake up, if you go to bed before midnight, then salute Khepra before laying down, if you’re in a meeting or working at noon, do it as soon as you can. In university one year I had a three hour lecture from 1100-1400. Sometimes the prof would give a break around 1230, but if she was in the zone and barrelled through I’d just get up to go “to the washroom” and step outside, do the ritual, and come back.) The structure of Resh also really helps develop the habit of a magick routine. You get used to being able to stop your day for magick, making it easier to follow up Resh with another ritual.

 

My last suggestion, which is less than ideal, is hypnagogic rituals. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my hypnagogic rituals, I have three that are part of my nightly routine. I don’t think they’re ideal on their own, but if you have trouble making the time for anything else, at least doing something as you drift off the sleep is better than nothing. You can do lots of things while falling asleep, basic mindfulness meditation is great at that point, prayers can be good but make sure it’s to an entity who won’t be offended if you drift off midprayer. Other good recommendations are the elemental purification meditation, or any of the preliminaries of Dream Yoga. Again, these things work a lot better if you have more of a routine, but last ditch effort, if it’s all you’re willing to make time for, it’s a start.

 

What about you? When you are in those hard to practice periods when your magick routine just sucks what do you find helps you get through it, or get out of it, what practices survive that?


Sorcerer’s Garden: Plants and Planning

2017/04/25

pots-716579_960_720[1]Last time I talked a bit about the sorcerer’s garden and why to have one and what it might be like.  Now I want to take some time to talk about how to set up the garden.  This will help other people set up their own gardens, but I freely admit it is also to help me think through my garden plan.  A large chunk of this is gardening 101, so feel free to skim until it gets more interesting.

 

Let’s start with the absolute basics: What space do you have to plant your garden?  It seems obvious, but I got carried away thinking about it before, and I’ve seen others do the same in conversation.  Obviously if you live in an apartment or such your space will be very limited to what you can put in some pots and planters, which is fine, it just means you have to be smarter and more selective.  What space do you have to plant your garden?  Then do you want it there?  I have a front and back yard.  My house is near two high schools and a junior public school, so kids walk by or on my lawn frequently (get off of my lawn!), and my postal carrier does too, so I might not want to put my magick garden in the front yard.  Normal veggies and flowers I’m less concerned about, but if your sorcerer’s garden is a green temple you don’t want people traipsing through unaware.  If I fenced it in with some hedges (long term plan) I could reconsider it, but right now there is no physical or visual privacy.  What about you?  Do you want your garden in all of the available space?  What areas might be better or worse for that?  If you have the space don’t sacrifice the functionality of the garden just to make it bigger.

 

Now that you know what space you’ll use for your garden it’s time to look at the environment factors of the place.  What direction is it from your house? (Or what direction is the window if you’re doing it indoors)  This will inform how much light the garden gets.  In general the side closest to the equator gets the most sun.  (So if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, the south side gets the most sun)  But this is in general, in my case my neighour’s house, which is rather tall, is against the south side of my property, so it blocks a lot of the sun there for about a third of my property.  East and West both get good sun exposure, but again this is dependent on what casts shade over it, my back yard faces east, and my neighbour’s house on that side is sufficiently far away to not interfere with my sunlight, but I have a huge 50 year old maple tree in that yard which blocks the sun for much of the yard.  The direction farthest from the equator gets the least sun.  (The north side of the house in the Northern Hemisphere).  This is critical because plants evolved enjoy different amounts of sun, so you’ll be able to find something to grow no matter how much or how little sun you get, but not all plants will grow well with lots of sun or shade.  It’s important to know what sun is available before you start picking your plants.

 

The last major environmental factor to consider is your zone.  Sometimes called climate zones, growing zones, or hardiness zones, different countries and groups use different designations.  They’re broad areas that tell you what types of plants you can grow there.  They’re figured out based upon things like year round temperatures, sun light, and water.  It makes it very easy to see if a plant it likely to grow in your area.  (You can sometimes grow plants outside their regions, but it’s harder, you’ll need to take care watering them more/less, sheltering them from the sun, or thoroughly insulating them or their roots for winter)

 

We know where we can plant, and we know the sun and zone for that spot so now we need to figure out what to plant.  This is all up to you.  There are various things to consider: your spiritual tradition(s), your local plants, your family, and your preference.

 

As a Buddhist I’d love to grow lotuses, but can’t with my lack of a lake on my property.  I can grow nettles, juniper, sandalwood, and possibly figs though, so those are on my list.  From a more western practice of ceremonial magick and sorcery there are things like datura, wormwood, and rue I can grow.  I think it’s important to also grow local plants of some sort, it seems odd to set up a garden in part for the land spirits and only grow foreign plants.  For me that might be things like maple, or chokecherry.  Your family can influence what you grow too.  My garden plans to have several of my Beloved Dead’s favourite flowers to be offerings for them, but also as my family is Mi’kmaq I’ll be growing tobacco, sage, cedar, and sweet grass for my Relations.  And of course personal preference is a huge factor too.  What flowers and plants do you like, what colours, what are you called to?  I like blue and black, so most of my flowers are blue or black.  I’ve never felt called to a plant in general so nothing there for me, but I know other people probably have connections they could try to nurture.

 

Once you know what you want to plant, research it.  Can it grow in your hardiness zone?  Can it grow with the amount of sun and shade you could provide it, or the amount of rain?  As much as I’d love to grow a Dracaena cinnabari tree (Dragon’s Blood) not surprisingly something that evolved to live in the Arabian Sea can’t handle Canadian winters.

 

Finally if you can grow it, the ultimate question for the magick garden comes up…if you have the freedom how do you want to arrange the garden?  In the end the main priorities will be the plants and environment themselves, but what can you do in that?  Do you want to divide your garden for magickal purposes too?  Plants are associated with planets and elements…do you want a garden divided along those lines, so you know if you need a spark of fire for the ritual, that all your fire plants are together?  What about divisions based upon tradition, if that’s important to you it could be worth keeping them separate.  You could think about it in terms of chthonic, terrestrial, and celestial plants.  Plants for the dead and the living, and other spirits.  Really if you have the freedom to go wild with the arrangement it could be satisfying to think about that in the planning your garden, though that might be the ceremonialist in me.

 

Next time we’ll think more about the actual raising of magick plants.


Sorcerer’s Garden: Thoughts and Seeds

2017/04/17

pexels-photo-296230[1].jpegAlternate title: Don’t just keep green thumbs in jars.

It’s been two years since I talked about Local Spirits, and longer since I’ve talked about my Sorcerer’s Plant (and more on it here)and now I want to move farther.

For a few years I’ve wanted to make a magickal garden, so I’m hoping if I blog about it that will help keep me on track, and I’ve already bought a lot of supplies and been reading and rereading relevant books.  While I don’t think I ever frame myself as an expert, let me be clear: I’m a good gardener, but other than my Sorcerer’s Plant and eir “cousins” I haven’t done magick gardening before.  So what I’m going to discuss in my Magick Garden blog posts will be hypothetical, book based, and/or limited experience.  I hope no one ever takes what I say as gospel, but especially not this.

I like gardening, in the spring and summer I enjoy fresh herbs, spinach, lettuce, and a variety of tomatoes. While the roses and tigerlilies on my property (they when I moved in) get used magickally that’s just because they are there, that wasn’t their intent.  But I’ve wanted for a while to make a garden that is for magick and in a lot of ways is magick.

If I grow my own magick plants, I can craft my own incense, potions/tinctures, oils, fetishes, tools, satchels or whatever.  By growing it myself I can be sure of its identity and quality, something admitted harder to be sure of with a processed/dried plant, but I also get to know the plant and the spirit of the plant more intimately which will allow me to do more.  An ally is more beneficial than a tool.

A consciously planned and quickened garden can be a thing of magick too.  I’ve cultivated a few wild places to be places of magick, or enhanced it in some cases, but something that I can work with more closely will be that much more I believe.  It’s not just about having fresh ingredients, it’s about having a collection of plant spirit allies, but plant spirits aren’t the only ones that benefit from a garden like this.

My local spirit will benefit from this, it’s a cultivation of their life energy, and will be enriched giving me another way to work with them.  Think back to all the other spirits I mentioned that aren’t really local spirits, but get grouped as them: spirits that inhabit a place, shades of the dead, nature spirits, fae-type things, they will all get more of a space on my property when a magickal garden is made and they’re given space.  Other spirits that I work with can be given space.  When you have a place with ensouled tools, items of magickal power, it develops its own energy and presence, a sense of that place with a unique warping that aids your magick.  I suspect a garden of plant spirit allies will work in much the same way, not just a magickal grove but something a bit deeper.   In essence a quickened and maintained magick garden becomes a living temple for me to work in.  This is some of the what and why, next time I’ll talk about the how some more.

So far the two books I’m working with are Viridarium Umbris (my favourite book on plant magick) and The Witching Herbs (only half way through reading).  If you have any recommendations on gardening books from a magickal perspective, please let me know.


SAD, Depression, and Woogity Support

2017/01/03

Clinical depression is one of the most common mental health conditions. Close in numbers would be Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and of course there is some overlap. (If you’re unfamiliar SAD is essentially a temporary form of depression brought on by reduced sunlight in winter months)

Before I go farther I’d like to make two things clear. Depression is a mental health condition, it is an umbrella for a variety of neurological conditions where the brain cannot produce or process certain neurotransmitters most commonly associated with happy moods and motivation. Depression isn’t feeling bad or sad, it’s not just an emotional funk to snap out of, it’s a literal physical condition in the brain. You can no more cure depression with thinking happy thoughts than you can cure anemia by thinking iron-laden thoughts. Secondly what I will be discussing is not, in any way, meant to supplant medical treatment. What I discuss can help manage depression in some cases, deal with the edge of it, but it will not cure it, and shouldn’t be assumed to be a replacement for proper medical treatment. Like any medical condition you can do magickal workings to help support it and the medical treatment, but a serious condition will not be cured by magick alone.

I’m part of this statistical group. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and have for almost 20 years. I deal with it better now than I did even a decade ago due to three things: light therapy, medication, and woogity. I want to share what techniques I’ve found work the best for me, and while these are more specifically how I manage SAD, I believe they may be of some relevance to people with depression.

First and foremost the best technique for managing depression I have is my meditation practice. Specifically anapana/vipassana meditation. While part of a bigger rant, let me say that all meditations are not equal, and not useful, and in this situation anapana has what we’re looking for. Anapana has a variety of benefits not found in more generic meditations but this is overlooked by pop-science articles that claim colouring books are just as good, as they they measure things like heartrate and brain waves, ignoring the point of the meditation. Relevant to SAD/Depression anapana helps you identify thoughts, chains of thoughts, and where they come from. This is very important because sometimes when in a depressive episode it’s hard to know where a thought comes from, do you really not want to go to that party cause you won’t have fun, or are you thinking that cause you’re depressed? Anapana can help you see where that thought comes from. Anapana also teaches you to catch distractions and thoughts as they form and redirect your focus. Again this is useful for a depressive episode because it is common to get caught in depressive loops, and not necessarily realize it or be able to break it. This helps you learn to catch the mind, and redirect, if only for a little bit. There are a lot of great resources to learn about anapana, I’ve written about it before and there are of course youtube tutorials.

The second technique I use is Pore Breathing and Compacting. This goes to the cause of SAD, a lack of sunlight. Sit comfortably somewhere you can see sunlight, if you can sit in the sun that’s best, and in a pinch you can do this with artificial lights and connect to the Sun energetically, but doesn’t seem to be nearly as potent. Perceive your body as empty and hollow, it’s like a clear crystal vase, no muscles, skeletons, or organs inside, no channels or energy centres, just a clear crystal surface in the shape of your body. Now as you breathe in, draw the light into your body, it travels in with the breath but also through the surface, it remains inside on the outbreath held in by the crystal and your will. Repeat this, increasing the intensity of the light until after several minutes you are as radiant as the sun yourself. For you first few times, I recommend stopping here, just breathe normally for a bit, and open your eyes and go about your day.

For a more advanced version once you’re radiant it is time to compact that light. On each in breath the light contracts, pulling into the centre of your chest a little, staying there, slightly smaller, as you breathe out. Each breath pulls it a little bit more into the heart centre, and a few minutes you should have a radiant brilliant pearl in your heart centre. Leave it there, and over the day it will dissipate slowly letting solar energy into your body.

A small warning with this technique though, Solar Energy can make it a bit hard to sleep, at least until you get used to it. So you’re better off doing this in the morning or early afternoon.

As said, these are in no way replacements for proper medical treatments, but I’ve found these very useful to supplement my medical work around my health, and perhaps they can be beneficial to some of you.

If you have any recommended supplementary techniques that have worked for you, I would love to hear them, and I’m sure they might benefit other readers.


Ritual: Breaking The Cycle

2016/05/23

Last weekend I was at “Gather” which is the unofficial name many folks use for the House Kheperu Open House. It is by far my favourite magickal convention; I literally start planning for the next year on my way home. It’s run by some friends of mine and I help out in some minor ways, and I’ve been attending and teaching there for over a decade. Like any convention there are some awesome folks, and some folks we wish weren’t around, but overall it’s probably my favourite crowd too. Magickal conventions often a niche, which is excellent, but creates a bit of an echo chamber in some ways, Gather though…Gather pulls people from everything. Vajrayana Buddhists, Zen Buddhists, Greek Polytheists, Norse Heathens, Satanists, Kemetic Pagans, Santeros, witches from pre-Gardnerian trads, atheists, neo-Pagans, Jewish Qabalists, O.T.O. and Golden Dawn folks, Christians, even a Catholic priest, and so much more. You have skill ranges from “I read a book on magick, and I’m curious” to “I literally wrote the book on this.” In terms of intelligence there more people with psychology and science degrees than I can shake a wand at. (Not that I believe degrees are the end all be all of intelligence, but these serve as good markers that I find lacking at a lot of other conventions. It’s also the only magickal convention that when people see me compulsively solving Rubik’s Cubes people ask if I have more, so they can do them too) Yet at Gather, everyone meshes, and we hold conversations across these huge divides to a degree I haven’t really seen at other events.

This Gather I ran two rituals, one solo and one with two friends, and I wanted to talk about the latter.

We called the ritual “Breaking the Cycle” and to be honest that title was (if I remember the conversation right) more or less a place holder until we thought of something better, and we never got back to that. Though we do have a new potential title I’ll discuss at the end. The idea was to allow people to release something from their past, embrace or work on something in their present, or move toward something in their future. Yes, that’s a bit vague, but when you’re doing large rituals broader goals that can be personalized are more likely to be useful.

The basic schema is the ritualists embody Past, Present, and Future, and open up a sacred space of wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey allowing us to work with the participants on things at any point in their timeline. In this ritual I was the Past. The sacred space is cast in a triangle, representing Past-Present-Future, rather than more traditional circles using elements/directions. The space casting idea is based upon one that appears in Casting Sacred Space, an excellent book on different methods of opening ritual space.

The style of ritual my friends and I work with in this case is a fairly spontaneous one in terms of speech. There is a lot of embodiment, and letting the force and the spirit or whatever talk through us, so the script I provide is only the loosest of indications of the type of things we might have said.

To perform this ritual you need three ritualists, three cauldrons, three sterno cans (or another source of fire that fits in the cauldrons), flash paper (enough small pieces for everyone, the size of a business card works), and pens.

Everyone has their piece of paper before the ritual begins, and pens are provided in the centre of the space.

Arrange the three cauldrons with the sterno cans lit at the edge of what will be the space, the ritual will be performed inside the triangle formed by the cans, so make sure they’re spaced far enough that all the participants can fit inside the triangle. To start with though all the participants are outside of the triangle, only the ritualists are inside it. Before starting the ritualists are to think of what it is they want to work with, and a single word to represent it, and then write this on their piece of flash paper. The person representing the Future selects something in the present they want to work on, the person who is the Present selects something in the past they want to let go of, and the person who is the Past selects something in the future they want to work toward.

The ritualists meet in the centre of the triangle of cauldrons and sync up their energy. In our shared tradition this is simply just holding hands and running energy in a circle between us, bringing us to a more harmonious state. The ritualists then go and stand at their cauldron, facing out from the triangle. The ritualists take a moment to connect to their Temportal Aspect, to root it in the cauldron, and invoke it into themselves. For me this involved me taking a moment to feel myself moving forward in time, and then throwing my mind down the stream the other way, I mentally linked myself to a past life, not because of any inherent trait of that life, but just to anchor myself into going backwards, to root myself in the Past and going that way.

Past: “Ancient of Days, Forger of Time. I call upon the Past, the Bedrock upon which everything stands. Let the Past move into the Present.” The embodiment of the Past turns to face the centre of the triangle.”

Present: “Life ever-birthing the World, Master of the Dancing Moment. I call upon the Present, the river which flows through all things. Let the Present open into the Future.” The embodiment of the Present turns to face the centre of the triangle.”

Future: “Dreaming Ones, Weaving Ones, Bright Child Unborn. I call upon the Future, the open sky in which all potential rests. Let the Future become the Past.” The embodiment of the Future turns to face the centre of the triangle.”

The three Times pass their traits in the triangle, connecting to the other Times, and creating a triangular flow and space.

Future then approaches Present.

Present: “What do you bring me?”
Future responds. Present takes the flash paper from Future and burns it. Future returns to their corner, and Present approaches Past.

Past: “What do you bring me?”
Present responds. Past takes the flash paper from Present and burns it. Present returns to their corner, and Past approaches Future.

Future: “What do you bring me?”
Past responds. Future takes the flash paper from Past and burns it. Past returns to their corner.

((That part of the ritual is designed to further reinforce the variant flow of time within the space. Up until this point everything has gone from Past to Present to Future, but here it goes from Future to Present to Past to introduce a counter-current into the space.))

Past: “The participants are now to enter the Triangle, through the space between Past and Present.”

The participants walk into the triangle, in single file, and spiral toward the centre of the triangle until everyone is in the space. We assigned someone beforehand to lead everyone in and out of the space, just to make it flow better.

Past leaving the cauldron circles the participants in the centre of the triangle: “I am the Past. Everything you have ever done resides in me. Every action that has made you who you are, I contain. I am the foundation upon which the present and future are built. Come to me to release your pain, your regrets, your patterns of thought. Give to me that which holds you back, that which keeps you in the past, not in your future or present. Through me find freedom from what has been.”

Past returns to their cauldron. Present then circles the participants: “I am the Present. Every moment you experience in me. I am the moment that is eternal. Your past is always behind you, your future is always ahead of you, but I am always here with you, in every moment. Come to me to build who you are, to shape your life and your self. In this moment of eternity I am here, give to me that which you want to embrace and nourish, or that which weighs you down. Through me find power in what is.”

Present returns to their cauldron. Future then circles the participants: “I am the Future. Everything that ever happened to you leads into me. I am what you will become, I can be beautiful and terrifying. Come to me to grow, to change, to become. Give to me your hopes and your dreams and I will bring them to you, let me know what you want and I’ll make it so. Through me find glory in potentials.

Future returns to their cauldron.

Present: “You’ve heard our Voices, now decide. Are you here to let something go, to embrace something, or strive toward something? Distill this idea into a single word and write it on your paper, pour your heart and energy into the paper, and then take it to the Time who rules it.

The participants write down their focus and take it to the Temporal Avatar. Each of us did this in a different way, I’ll describe mine.

The participant approaches the Past which is me. I held out one hand and took their paper from them, and with my other hand I held their hand, and clasped both with my hand holding the paper. Each person got a unique message from me at this point, what follows is made up, but vaguely like the things I said. “I am the Mother, and I am the Grave. As the Past I hold everything that occurred to you. As the Mother I love you, and as the Grave I can take this issue of yours and -“ I light their paper in the cauldron “and I can let this die so you are free.”

Everyone goes up to the appropriate Time and has their focus thrown into the cauldron.

Past: “You have touched your Past”
Present: “Your Present”
Future: “And your Future.”
Past: “Now you can be Free”
Present: “Now you can Grow”
Future: “Now you can Become. *Pause* We now ask that you leave the triangle through the space between Present and Future.”

People are led out of the space through that boundary. The Times uproot their Time from their cauldrons and walk to the centre of the triangle. Joining hands they release the Time from the space and themselves. ((This is fairly easy, the closer these Time traits are to each other the more likely they are to fall apart))

That was the ritual, in some ways very simple, very short, but it was also very potent. We had a few folks in tears, a few that took a bit to come down, but it was really beautiful. It also seems to be very effective. That ritual was performed on Saturday, I came home Monday night and had a job interview on Tuesday, and by Thursday I had started my job. My focus for the future was getting a job. My friend who was the Future is finishing up a highly specialized medical degree, and she loves her placement, unfortunately there are no jobs open at that place…well, there weren’t, as soon as she went back she was told someone just gave their two weeks, and everyone there wanted her to apply for the job. My friend who was the Present has been doing an externship at a place they enjoyed, similar story though, no room for them, but they found out the week they returned that a space would be opening up. Though those two weren’t focusing on jobs directly the opening of the career paths are connected to their focus. Two of the ritual participants also have gotten jobs in the week after the ritual. Of course, not all the results or focuses were job related, people have reported things moving forward in their various arenas.

Due to the amount of people getting jobs right after the ritual though we’re thinking of renaming it from “Breaking the Cycle” to “Do you want a job?”

I wanted to share that for two reasons. First I love Gather and the friends at it, so thought it would be interesting to give people some insight to the type of things that might happen there if you ever decide to check it out. Secondly I want to talk more about what I’m doing on this blog. I share techniques, I talk theory, but I want to post every once and a while with more of an example of “If you followed me around magickally, this is what you would have seen me do this week.” I find I learn just as much knowing what other people are doing, as I do from listening to more theorizing on magickal practices.


%d bloggers like this: