Friday, March 27, 2020

May Day / Beltane: May 4th, 2020

May Day is a spring/summer holiday celebrated at the midpoint between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice.  The earliest known yearly May-time celebration was the Roman Floralia, a festival to the goddess of flowers Flora, held between April 17th and May 3rd.  Floralia festivities including the release of hares and goats, the pelting of crowds with beans and flowering legumes, and a ritual involving an offering of wheat ears.  Every three years, Romans would also celebrate Maiouma, a festival to Dionysis and Aphrodite.  Maiouma was a 30-day festival involving lit torches all night, lavish banquets, and sexual themes.

The Wheel of the Year, however, focuses on the Gaelic fire festival Beltane, held on roughly the 1st of May throughout Ireland, Scotland, and the Isles of Man marking the start of summer. Special bonfires were lit from which hearth fires were then relit, livestock would be protected by special rituals, and everything from doors to people to cattle would be decorated in yellow flowers.  During this time, the Aos si, Gaelic for spirits or faeries depending on beliefs, would also visit again. Offerings of food would be left for them.

Modern May Day and Beltane, based off the Wheel of the Year, celebrates the height of life. It's a time to enjoy the company of loved ones, dance and, if you're of the variety that enjoys doing so, make love.  A holiday that notably focuses on fertility, May Day often utilizes red to represent menstrual blood and white to represent semen.  Fertility, however, could also mean the fertility of the ground and of livestock, the growth of a career, the budding of friendship, and the creation of happiness within your life.  

This year's spring equinox occurs on Monday, May 4th, 2020 at 7:49 PM CST.  Every year it shifts slightly, so I would suggest checking if you're coming to this article after 2020.

Activities and Spells


Friday, March 20, 2020

[Shadow Work Series] The Purpose of Shadow Work: 10 Benefits for the Witch

So far, we've talked about Carl Jung and the creation of shadow work as a form of analytical psychology.  During that same article, we discussed problems with his work, why shadow work got picked up by some witchcraft practices, and how the shadow work of witchcraft differs from that of psychology.  In the last article, we defined the shadow as an archetype of the psyche and outlined traits of an unprocessed shadow, including the most blatant tell-tail sign: Projection.  In this article, we're going to talk about why someone might brave the difficulties of shadow work, especially as it might relate to witchcraft.  Just what do we get out of facing the uncomfortable?

Five Practical Benefits

An Improved Relationship with Oneself
We learn to love ourselves, be gentle with our self-talk, and generally enjoy our own company.  In turn, we can truly relax with ourselves the same way we might with a good friend or family member.  This allows our lives to be more peaceful and happy. As a bonus, as we get more comfortable with ourselves, we learn more about our true wants and needs, our passions, and ultimately, what we feel is our life's purpose.  This gives us a sense of direction, new goals to achieve, and an improved outlook on the future!

Improved Relationships with Others
As we build more compassionate self-talk, we also become more accepting and gentle with others as a result.  We treat others with more respect because we respect ourselves.  We become less reactionary to others because we have greater control over your own emotions.  Because we're more rooted in our own inner peace and happiness, we radiate that to those around us.  Additionally, we find it easier to recognize the shadow in others when we can recognize our own shadow within.  We drop the blame and stop judging others because we know this is simply their shadow talking.  So when someone reacts rudely, we recognize it as a projection of their own concerns and fears, of their own shadow, and we treat it as such.  But this isn't to say those who regularly engage in shadow work become a walking doormat.  In fact, quite the opposite.  Because we are now more confident in our own self-worth, we find it easier to walk away from those who question it.  We're also able to speak our truth, regardless of the results, because we can now better accept when we need to part ways.

True Authenticity, Self-Awareness, and Maturity
Have you ever felt like you didn't know who you really are?  Carl Jung believed that the self strives to be whole.  Shadow work encourages us to own the parts of our personality that are maybe a bit less desirable.  As we integrate those parts, we learn how to deal with our not-so-great selves and get a better grip on our reactions and emotions.  We become our real selves, in all of its gritty glory, rather than a perceived self we've built as a sort of armor against the outside world. By integrating our shadow and becoming whole, we improve our self-awareness and maturity, which leads to truer authenticity.  

An Improvement of Personal Energy and Mental Clarity
In the previous article, we talked about the shadow self as a sort of invisible, weighted bag of personality traits we've refused to look at.  Dragging all of that weight around is exhausting, and keeping up the facade of the persona is tiring work.  While shadow work may take a lot of effort, it's even more draining to leave the shadow unexamined.  We devote so much energy and thought to upkeeping our perception of ourselves we find most comfortable and ignore all the nasty little bits of us that we don't like that we often can't devote as much thought and energy to, well, just about anything else.  As we integrate the shadow, we stop having to put on a mask and act our way through life.  The proverbial bag we're dragging around becomes a little less heavy.  This allows us to tap into a hidden reservoir of energy, which means we can do a little more and think a little better without all the extra effort!

A Discovery of Hidden Skills and Increased Creativity
Our shadow is formed by negative social cues we receive throughout the first 20 years of our lives.  If our family, friends, teachers, and other authority figures give us negative signals regarding certain skills we have or want to develop, we may file these skills under the shadow.  For example, if everyone makes fun of your singing as a child, you may file singing in your shadow.  As you integrate your shadow, you may find that you really enjoy, and perhaps are even good at, singing.  Tada!  A new skill has come to light.  Those who dive into shadow work often find a plethora of hidden skills at varying levels of development sitting in the shadow, simply waiting to be processed.  Add confidence, a solid support network, and some extra energy, and a new skill you want to pursue and poof!  We have increased creativity all because of a little shadow work.

Five Witchcraft Benefits

A Reclamation of Power
When we become our most authentic selves and at peace with that authenticity, we're able to reclaim our own power.  This often involves practical benefits, like being able to say no when we previously could only say yes or being more aware of our self-worth.  But it also affects our Craft.  The more we stand firm in our own inner power, the more we can project that outward through divination, spell work, ritual, and the like.  We become stronger and more confident in our own practice.  we become our own energy source - and feeding off of your own energy can be an enthralling experience!

Refined Meditation, Energy Work, and Astral Work
It may be difficult to ground and center or to clear our mind during meditation if we're preoccupied with our own persona or personal flaws.  If we struggle to ground and center or meditate, we also likely find it difficult to engage in astral work.  How can we get outside your own body if we feel trapped?  All of these practices that may be a part of our personal Craft require the ability to clear our minds and focus on the here-and-now.  The integration of the shadow creates a wholeness that exudes confidence and peace.  It also frees up our personal energy and allows us to redirect our efforts elsewhere.  By engaging in shadow work, we're able to refine certain parts of our practice that may have otherwise been difficult in the past.

A Better Connection for Divination and Dreamwork
Shadow work requires the use of archetypes and images.  Divination and dreamwork do the exact same.  In fact, as we continue forward, we'll even talk about how the archetypes of the shadow can align with the Major Arcana of the tarot, and how the symbolism in our dreams can be used to dig deeper into our own shadow.  By practicing shadow work, we refine the skills that make us better diviners, giving us the ability to better recognize important symbols and interpret them in a way we might not have been able to before!

An Improved Relationship with Deities and Spirits
If shadow work improves our relationships with physical beings, why wouldn't it do the same with the noncorporeal?  Some ancestors, though certainly not all, who have passed on to the Other may have done their own bit of shadow work while not on this mortal coil.  If we do the same, we gain a better connection with those family members, both blood and non-blood.  Deities and spirits may even require us to engage in shadow work as a means of initiation or as offerings or dedications to them.  And even if none of this applies to those you work with, shadow work still gives you an increase in confidence, respect, compassion, and peace when interacting with entities in your personal Craft.

A New Source for Spells and Rituals
The shadow, in and of itself, is a pool of energy.  When properly integrated, the witch confident in their own shadow can then manipulate and control it at will. It can be utilized as its own entity, as an energy source, and as endless inspiration.   We can build spells and even whole rituals around the shadow and shadow work.  Even if that's not your thing, shadow work can improve the spells and rituals we already do.  Diving into shadow work increases that creativity and energy that's so essential to building a great experience in the Craft!

Shadow work is no easy task.  It requires us to process our deepest traumas and most uncomfortable personality traits.  However, as we recognize these expressions of the shadow, we begin to grow, both as a person and a witch.  When we learn to own the shadow rather than ignore it, integrate it within ourselves, and properly balance our shadow with our persona, we clear multi-generational blockages that have impeded our day-to-day lives and our Craft.  When we're able to integrate the shadow, we make more room for magic.

Exercise Four
Matching Traits

In this exercise, you’re going to look at the opposites list and the list of traits for each person you dislike.   What traits on the right-side column of your opposites list line up with the traits you've listed out for people that bug you? Circle or highlight these traits.  Consider picking a few specific traits that bother you in particular and write them at the top of their own individual blank pages for later use. 

Preparing to Meet Your Shadow Self: A Word of Warning
Self-Care in Shadow Work: Managing the Difficulties of Discomfort
Standard Approaches to Shadow Work: How the Rest of the World Does It
Shadow Work and Witchcraft: Incorporating Shadow Work into Ritual and Practice
Shadow Work: A Ritual of Self-Awareness and Transformation
Individuation and Utilizing the Shadow: How to Move Forward

Friday, March 13, 2020

Thrifty Spring Equinox Altar 2020

The spring equinox, sometimes also referred to as Ostara, is a scientifically observable event marking relatively equal day and night and is often considered the first day of spring on the calendar. The ground is now warm and life is teaming as we see the trees green and flowers bloom.  We frequently celebrate the equinox by gardening and planting, be it literal seeds or metaphorical goals we hope to eventually achieve.

Last year before my hiatus, I began a thrifty altar series for witches looking to make altars on a budget.  Today, I'm continuing that series to completion by the end of the year!  The rules are simple:
  • Altar items must be obtained at either a dollar store or a thrift store.
  • Items must be purchased in a single trip to one location.
  • Items can cost no more than a $20 bill - preferably less.
  • Only items purchased in the trip can be displayed on the altar - nothing owned prior, nothing from the herb cabinet, nothing found outside, etc.
  • Must provide proof of purchase (and thus cost).
Spring Equinox Altar Store:
Red Racks/DAV Thrift Store

Because I shopped for my last altar at a dollar store, I decided to choose a thrift store for easy comparison.  Red Racks is a chain of thrift stores here in Kansas City, but they're owned and operated by the Disabled American Veterans, meaning you likely have something comparable near you.  The best part about shopping at a DAV owned thrift store is that part of my purchase will help disabled Veterans in a variety of ways, from transportation to and from appointments to claims and socialization, according to their website.  Not only does it help me create an inexpensive sabbat altar but it does something for the greater good in the process!

Like most thrift stores, the DAV Red Racks has a variety of options depending on what has been donated to your location.  These items frequently include decorative bottles, floral items, seasonal items, and more.  As you can see above, my local Red Racks had a two aisle display for Easter, which has a variety of crossover imagery with Ostara and the spring equinox.  This made it easy to hunt for a good spring equinox altar!

Thrift stores like the DAV Red Racks will also combine like-items in bags for incredibly cheap.  You can find everything from crafting supplies like paint and ribbon to unused votive candles and more if you peruse the aisles.  I also like to look for potpourri bags because they frequently contain real dried natural items that can be used in a multitude of ways.

Sometimes, you'll even find some incredible surprises at thrift stores - like these planters with actual seeds inside!  Who knows how old they are or if the seeds would sprout but for $2.99 (plus whatever discounts are running that day), it might even be worth a shot.

While I didn't purchase any of the above items, I wanted to show off the wide variety of things that can be found at a thrift store.  Every thrift shop will be different, including every DAV-ran store, because it depends on what's donated to your location and how discerning they are about what they shelve.  After a few trips though, it's easy to sort out what thrift stores you like and which ones don't suit your tastes.  I definitely have a select number of "favorites" that I frequent.  For this series, I'll be visiting a few of them, along with ones I don't particularly prefer, to show off the variety of items you might find - and how to work with what you've got.

In dollar stores, I frequently struggle with planning an altar out in my head, which forces me to circle the store multiple times before I come up with an idea.  Thrift stores, I frequently find, are much easier for two reasons.  One, you'll likely find a unique item that gives you the inspiration you need to create a full altar.  And two, you can often find a relatively empty aisle with a small shelf you can use to "test run" your altar a few times.  I definitely did that a couple of times before officially making my purchase:

And I only spent $11.19 USD!

It did help that I was able to land a few discounted tags, of course, but I doubt this altar would have been more than $17 or $18 full price.

So what was I able to do with everything you saw above?

For this altar, the initial inspiration piece was this faux tulip and egg:

I found this piece in the Easter area and it reminded me of a Turkish myth behind the formation of tulips involving two young star-crossed lovers named Shirin and Farhad.  I've heard a number of variations on this myth but the bottom line is that one of the lovers dies and the other, upon discovery, kills themselves.  Their blood mixed and from it sprouted the tulip.  Notice how the tulip above spouts from a shattered egg, which could be symbolic of the young couple's death. Even more so, eggshells are a great way to start seeds - an activity those of us with green thumbs tend to partake in around this time.  

This was the first item I added to the basket, which set the tone for the entire altar.  I knew based on this item that I wanted to look for pink, green, white, and glass items.  These colors work incredibly well for the spring equinox with green symbolizing growth and plants, white symbolizing the melting snow, glass representing ice melting into water, and pink representative of compassion and young love.  Knowing my color scheme helped me narrow my focus so I could find the items I needed.

The next items I ran across were these green votives in votive holders.  Though there were multiple offered, I knew I only wanted two.  

Two represents balance, like the balance of night and day during the equinox.  It also represents the two lovers who died.  

I placed them on either side of the tulip.  This placement made the most sense to me given the representation of the tulip and egg itself.

Because the Spring Equinox is the holiday of growth and plants, of the fertility of the earth, I knew I wanted some faux fauna to represent that.  In the floral section, I discovered a cheap little floral arrangement in burlap that had large, realistic fern pieces.  This fern is specifically called a swordfern and, as you can imagine by the name, has protective properties.  In one of the stories I've heard about Shirin and Farhad, Farhad was killed by Shirin's father because he was a commoner and she a princess.  Shirin's father saw this as an act of protection.  

Beyond the story, the swordfern provides us protection during the fertile growing months and we frequently sew the seeds of goals we wish to achieve.  These goals are new and still fragile - still in need of protection - until they grow.

The next item I discovered in my trip to the thrift store was a package of decorate-your-own faux eggs.  I was honestly really excited about these because they were perfect for egg representation on the altar.  For both the fern pieces and these eggs, I wanted to place eight on the altar to represent the eight sabbats.  While I wanted to leave most of them plain to match the cracked egg of the tulip piece and because I prefer a more natural look, I also knew I'd want to decorate one as a centerpiece.  So I started hunting for something to use in decorating.

That's where I found these party leis.  I figured that I could deconstruct them and use the flowers that matched the colors of the altar as bases for the eggs.  What I didn't know at the time is that the faux eggs I purchased were literally egg-shaped - as in they didn't have a flattened base.  I used one of the flowers of one of the leis under the base of the tulip's egg just to include them in the altar, but I really ended up not needing the package of leis after all.

Fortunately, I wasn't out of luck.  The package of eggs themselves came with their own markers for decoration!  The markers included a pink and green, perfect for the altar I was creating.  Even more so, I discovered in the process that the eggs were washable and reusable!  All I had to do was wipe them down with a wet napkin and I could start over.

A piece of me wants to use these for the caricature classes I teach because I think they'd help kids get the idea of a face in 3D space, but I digress.

While I played with a variety of options, from creating a bindrune to writing an incantation around the entirety of the egg, I ultimately decided in the end to replicate the tulip that inspired the altar.  I even added a little greenery. Because I knew I wanted to display one of the eggs front and center, I went back to the candle holders and found this floral glass votive holder that was perfect for just that!

Though I will admit, I can't stop seeing the greenery as little excited arms.

The last part of this altar I stumbled upon in the dishes section.  I wasn't really looking for much else at this point - and certainly not a teacup regarding an altar.  However, I randomly spotted the perfect floral pink and green teacup set that I simply couldn't leave.

Specifically for the rose-shaped dish!

Red roses remind me of May Day because I feel like they represent the more vivid and intense nature of the holiday.  But pink roses?  Pink roses are perfect for Ostara!  They represent a more childlike view of love - unconditional and forever.  Plus they matched the rest of the altar perfectly and gave my gleeful little egg a platform to fling its arms on.

For just a little more than $11 and a single trip to the thrift store, I was able to create an altar to the Spring Equinox that I felt captured the sabbat.  I hope this altar gives you some inspiration to rummage through your local thrift store.

Let Artie know what you've found in the comments below.  He's curious!

I'll leave you with a visual diagram of this altar.  Enjoy!