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.

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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.


Magickal Failures and Deadzones

2016/04/01

Failure is a part of magick. It’s a good part of magick, a healthy part of magick. It’s also a #$^#@$^#$ing frustrating part of magick some times. I’ve talked about how Failure is the Sign of the Magickian before. (Five years ago O.o) I stand by that to this day. If you never fail at magick, you’re either deceiving yourself, or not trying.

That said there are times when failure isn’t a good thing. Specifically when it’s chronic and general. As much as I say failure is the sign of a sorcerer, success has to be a big part of that formula too, and I can sadly think of some folks who tend to swim in the failure side of the pool. There can be lots of reasons for this: maybe they don’t know how to tactically root their magickal goals in reality? Maybe their techniques are flawed? Maybe they’re shooting too high or abstract? Maybe they’re just idiots who don’t know what is going on? Maybe they’re crossed? I doubt the last one, it seems more often than not an excuse to avoid working on the self. “No no, my magick is perfect, someone’s cursed me.”

I’ve talked about this on my facebook a bit recently, and some forums, but I want to discuss one of my major failures. I want to reframe it first though, because I don’t think it’s the chronic and general failure from above, and I would like to think I’m not deceiving myself in that regard.

When it comes down to it, I can’t do employment magick for myself. I have a pretty good success rate with clients. It’s not a specialty, but I can get things working for folks generally. Myself…not so much, to the point where I wonder almost superstitiously if my magick is interfering with mundane functions.

I just finished the 31 Days of Magick, and I admit, I didn’t stick through all the way again, but did most of it. I decided though, to focus everything on the same goal. (Note: Generally you can make a case about doing too much different magick on a single goal being a bad choice. Possibly true in this case, but not being able to influence jobs is a trend in my life, so I’m assuming this is another piece of data on that line)

I did all the tactical and strategic planning. I made sure my goals were SMART Goals like I’ve discussed before, I broke it down into micro and macro enchantments. Micro: Find an appropriate job post. Enchanting the cover letter, working on the HR personnel, etc. Macro: Get the job. I even tried to different routes. Enchanting very specifically for a specific job I wanted, and more general “This is the type of job experience I want.”

I gave both a timeline of a month, which is a bit short I know, but I also don’t think it’s unreasonable. Also in this time I was searching on my own, as well as having an employment agent trying on my behalf. Nothing.

I’ve tried different approaches, tactically, magickally, mundanely. And it never quite pans out, I am certain it’s not an issue of technique because even if one or two methods were flawed, something should have stuck by now. (So thank you, but I probably don’t need your “Surefire get a job spell”) I have friends with similar issues, but other blocks. A friend of mine is like this with relationship magick. He can do pretty good work for others (but results tend to favour fast and furious relationships, not more emotional and stable ones) but not for himself. I’ve seen it (and experienced it) with a friend and healing, can’t stop a sniffle for herself, but actually really proficient in working on other people’s health.

My ponderance is if you have eliminated things like poor planning, techniques, goals, and skills, and if the failure tends to be in the same area, what causes this, what can be done?

The easy/obvious answer falls somewhere along the line of astrology/fate/karma. And I can’t necessarily say it’s wrong, maybe there is some factor in our existence that says “You can be good at these things, alright at that, but magickally you can’t touch this” but that shuts down inquiry, investigation, and experimenting. If there is one thing I dislike, it’s being told that I literally cannot have the capacity to do something, just ask my son that resulted from such a claim. (Long story, don’t ask)

Are these some sort of block to work through? I can totally see where my childhood condition growing up below the poverty with parents working at least three jobs between them to put food on the table could interfere with the way I perceive and interact with employment. But I’ve always had good jobs, and almost every job I get is a step above the last, so I’d like to think I’ve come to some terms with it, and this relies on giving my subconscious a lot more power in my magick than I like. (It’s a huge factor, but some forms of magick shouldn’t really be swayed by it). Maybe if I come to terms with it, I’ll be able to work employment magick?

Maybe it is something that can’t be helped, I don’t like that answer, but it’s always a possibility. Maybe this magickal deadzones can teach us how to work around things. Like when I am employed, I’m great at manipulating things for more money. When I was in sales I could easily outsell my team, in office work I could always magick my way into overtime if I needed more money. Raises were usually granted. I could work to better my job, just not to get one. Maybe we just need to skip the deadzone and focus on what we can do.

I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve seen enough people I considering competent, if not actually down right good, sorcerers who have these spots that they can’t influence. So if you have one of these places. Don’t feel bad, you’re in good company, and it might not be your fault. The task is to work with what we can, strive to understand it, and always push forwards.


31 Days of Magick: Redux

2016/02/29

Back in December I posted about the 31 Days of Magick

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Basically it’s the idea to do something magickal, and different each of the 31 days of the month. I got about a week in during the January run before my health severely bottomed out on me, and I just couldn’t continue. Thankfully March has 31 days too, and I’m feeling better. (Okay, today I’m not, but in general I am) So I figured I’d start this again, and I recommend it to people.

Some of the days might seem super simple, and that’s fine, to me the value is to do things different. We often get into routines with the type of magick we do, and that’s fine, it’s hopefully what we’re good at, but it’s also good to flex our other magickal muscles every once and a while. So take the time, do a little something each day, and stretch yourself. You might never go back to the one form, but at least you gave it a try.


Buddhism 101: Emptiness

2016/02/25

Believe it or not folks, this entry was one of the main reasons I started this series, and it will probably be the last post of it for a while. I still might intersperse some Buddhism 101 stuff as I go, but I’m wanting to start posting about other stuff again.

This was a weird post to write, I actually discussed with my teacher if I could write it, and got permission. Technically it’s against a vow I’ve taken, I’m not to discuss Emptiness with people who don’t understand. Seriously. The reason of this vow is a historic one, back when the tantric side of Buddhism was far more secretive than it is now, most people who weren’t Buddhist didn’t know the concept of Emptiness, and even many Buddhists didn’t focus on it (which boggles me). The trouble is, as you’ll see later in this post, if I say “All things are Empty” unless you know what that means in a Buddhist sense, you might misunderstand. In fact, it kind of sounds bleak doesn’t it. It’s all empty, nothing is real…what’s the point? This is why the vow says don’t talk about it, because people will misunderstand it, and it will discourage them. Who wants to practice a religion that says you’re empty and not real?

That said, the secretive nature of tantra is changing, for better or worse, and part of that is the fact that a lot of people are familiar, at least in passing with the idea that Buddhism says all things are empty. This post is actually a response to that.

First things first: Emptiness, also known as Sunnata in Pali, Shunyata in Sanskrit, and Stongpa nyid in Tibetan. It literally translates as Emptiness, it’s not a translation problem like “Suffering.”

While the doctrine of Emptiness is important in my understanding of Buddhism, it seems like it’s something that grew in important. It gets very little treatment in the Pali canon, mostly just interpreted into stuff. By the time of Mahayana it became more important, the understanding being that all things are Empty. Then into Vajrayana not only are all things Empty, but Emptiness is the true nature of reality, and in the quick (dangerous) path to Enlightenment you need to learn to experience it.

It’s most popular expression is from the Prajnaparamita Sutra (The Book of Perfected Wisdom) which states “Form does not differ from emptiness, and emptiness does not differ from the form. Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form.”

Simple enough.

I’m going to discuss it mainly from a tantric position, also, because Tibetan Buddhists are really good at classifying and nitpicking I’ll point out there are literally dozens of types of Emptiness we recognize. I’ll be discussing generalized Emptiness, but there are more specialized forms of it.

It is translated in English alternatively as Emptiness, Nothingness, and more recently Openness. None of these translations do the concept justice. When using the term Emptiness in Buddhism it isn’t a reference to a hollowness or a lack in the way one might say that the bottle is empty. Nothingness is not the same in Buddhism as it is in Western thought, it doesn’t refer to a void or non-existence. Openness has a bit more of a poetic truth to it, but still does not hit the mark.

Unfortunately due to the centrality of Emptiness in Buddhism, and its long history, several classifications and types have been categorized and written about. It is not a concept easily explained, but it can be pointed to and overtime a practitioner can truly experience it and understand what was being acknowledged.

On the simplest level Emptiness refers to being empty of an inherent and distinct individual nature, it is essentially in this form the flipside of Buddhist Interdependence. To borrow and abuse Plato’s classic example of Form take a table. We might all know that a table is a table, but what makes it so? What is the inherent nature of a table? What makes it distinct? Why is it a table and not a footstool? What makes it separate from everything else? Now add in a dash of an abstraction of the sorites paradox. If we have a table and cut it down the centre it is no longer a table, but what happened to its “table-ness?” If the table-ness was real how could a cut undo it? If we cut the table in half through the legs we still have a table, but one half as tall as before, how is this still a table when it is missing half its height? How short could we make the legs before it stopped being a table? Even without human agency if we watch a table over time it will rot, fall apart, and become a pile of rubbish, and that pile of rubbish is not a table, yet we cannot say where the table-ness went nor identify the moment it was a table, and the moment it was not.

From a Buddhist perspective the table is Empty, it is Empty of inherent characteristics, it is made up of a combination of elements; material, a surface, supports, purpose, and understanding, and as those elements change we realize the table is not a table, it is just a unit of temporarily coherent elements we think of and use as a table.

Now take yourself as a person. What is your inherent distinct individual nature? You know you are you, but what makes you you? If you were to suffer a brain injury and lose your memories or mental faculties, would you still be you? Some would say yes, and some would say no, but if you had a true inherent existence, then there could be no disagreement. If there was a “real” you, there would be no question. Look back at the person you were a year ago, five years, ten years, are they still you? But how many things have changed? How can that person and you be the same? On a physical level in the last decade every cell and particle in your body has been recycled, destroyed, and built a new, there is not a particle in your body that was there ten years ago, yet you say you are the same person despite having not a single particle in common with 2006 you. When you were a child you a fraction of your height and weight, but if that child was you what were they missing, or what do you have now since you’re twice their size? If you lost a finger in an accident, would there be less you? If you forgot a vacation you went on, or got over a temper problem, would you still be you? It is hard, or arguably impossible to point to what you really are.

Going back to the table, it’s not just a matter of the form of the table, but its composition that make it empty. The wood from the table used to be a living tree, but now it isn’t, when did it cease being a tree and begin being a table? Both tree and a table are empty, but you can see how they are connected. The tree did not become a table by a miracle, a person cut down the tree (either by hand or through a mechanical device), so that person is as much a part of the table as the tree is. The sun’s light nurtured that tree, so the table is composed of sunlight as well.

When you look at the particles in the tree it might contain carbon that was once in the lungs of Caesar Augustus, or part of the body of a forest animal, those are all part of the tree, and the table, and those all show how the table and the tree are empty. The table could not exist without all of those things, and an infinite chain more. The table is empty of its own nature but instead is an aggregate of everything. Your table is not a table, but your table is also the saw blade that cut it, the mountain that metal was mined from, and the person who dug it out. Your table is the person who crafted it into a table, it’s the carbon distilled from the air as it grew, the water used to transport material inside the tree, the sunlight, the star that exploded over four million years ago to produce the particles that would be recycled into the earth, and thus the tree, and thus the table. All of this, and many many more things make up your table. Your table is empty of an inherent being, but through that it is connected to everything.

All things are Empty. They are always Empty, it is merely a matter of being aware of it, and accessing it.
Emptiness could be described both as Empty, but also Full, filled with everything. It is an undifferentiated potentia.

It is common in many Buddhist practices to “dissolve into emptiness” or to “rest in emptiness.” This does not mean Nothingness, but that state of infinite potential and connection. When you see yourself as empty it does not mean to be hollow like a tube, or to cease to exist. Instead it means to recognize that you do not exist independent of anything, but infinitely connected to, and not separate from anything else. You are connected to everything and anything. When you dissolve into Emptiness you still exist, but you enter a state of understanding that you do not exist in any inherent or independent way, you exist in relationship to every element of everything else.

By accessing Emptiness, that infinitely connected and undifferentiated reality as the basis of all things, you can also create anything. When you dissolve into Emptiness, you can then reform yourself in any way, looking the same, but being composed of the stuff of the gods or divine archetypes. You dissolve into Emptiness, so that you can arise and reform yourself into anything.

Emptiness is also very important to the understanding of Compassion in Buddhism. After all, how can you not express and experience Compassion for other people when you realize that both you and them are Empty, and thus connected, even the same. You are them, they are you. Put poetically: The heart of Compassion is Emptiness.

If you’re curious for a bit more detailed of a look, I recommend The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra by Thich Nhat Hanh

This is just a very basic explanation of Emptiness. Considering it’s broken down into over twenty categories, and is still a huge part of Vajrayana debates you can tell it’s a complicated topic. Hopefully though my middling explanation of it though will help you understand that when Buddhists say something is Empty/Void it isn’t a nihilistic thing, but an infinitely connected perspective, one meant not to instill a sense of nihilism or depression, but connection and compassion.


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