Monday, October 28, 2013

Plant Spirit Work

Mandragora Spirit by Johnathan Blackthorn
This post by me originally appeared on the Samhain's Siren's group blog on October 10th, 2013.

Before pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies, before doctors and people in lab coats, people sought extra help with their healing from herbalists. They may not have called them “herbalists” back then- some were called “granny”, “bruja”, “curandera”, “strega”, or “cunning man”- but these healers were wise and knowledgeable about plants and their actions in the human body. Often they practiced what we now call magic(k) in addition to herbalism.

Many of these healers lived somewhat apart from the hustle and bustle of the village- allowing them time and energy to commune with plants and learn their secrets- though cultivation, wildcrafting, listening to plants, and experimenting with them to make medicines. And these generations of healers from across the globe, now called herbalists, have left us a legacy of amazing information. Indeed, to really master herbalism, one must study for years to get a basic grasp and then continue your education for a lifetime. There are tens of thousands of plants, just as there are myriad maladies to help cure.

I started out as most do- a dabbler called to heal myself and my friends. I made simples and teas, created poultices, and cured yeast infections. The more I learned, especially as I got into plant spirit work, the more I was fascinated and wanted to know. I personally believe that plants taught us what they could do- and those that knew how to listen became the first healers.

To listen to plants is not easy to relearn (I say relearn, because children do not seem to have a problem doing it- I distinctly remember my son, Rowan, even before he could speak to me in words, telling me to water a neglected plant by tugging on my shirt and pointing at the houseplant and making the sign for water (he was taught ASL as a baby).

When I was in herb school in California, we went out into the mountains to listen to plants. As I lie under a manzanita bush, I distinctly got the message “I was first” and saw strange strobe-like flashes of pictures of manzanita and madrone traveling across hard desert and clay before any other plant life. As they traveled, other plants befitted from them taking root in the hard terrain and breaking up the soil- so they followed and sprung up in manzanita's wake. After my “vision”, I did research and sure enough- this is what botanists believe happened. I was tickled and astonished the clarity of communication.

Recently on a hike with my apprentice, the wind rustled through the trees and I got a feeling of euphoria and joy- coming to me from a very specific tree. “This is how we move” said the tree. “You move from within, we move from without. ” The tree was delighted to be moved in this way.

We can remember how to talk to plants, though a series of conscious decisions. Taking a cue from the generations of herbalists before me, I try and live part of my life apart from the hub bub. Apart from other people, machines, and electronic communication. This is not easy to do when you live in a city, run a business, have a part time job, are a parent, and go to grad school! Not easy at all. It requires deliberate effort and choices.

I have told my apprentice as we begin this work: to listen to animals, one must lower their energy several notches. To listen to plants, you must go even lower (and by lower, I am not referring to hierarchy, I am speaking to vibrational frequency. Plants vibrate at a lower frequency than non-human animals and even lower than human animals. So to “hear” them, you need to “shift down”, too. I am still crafting language around this skill and truth, so this may not be the clearest explanation to you reader. Sorry for any confusion the language may cause.)

Cultivating this skill requires no distractions, stillness (in mind and environment) and the skill of knowing how (which comes from years of practice). I can do it at will when I have time, space, and no distractions, but it took years to be able to do this on command. Now I can make small spaces for this skill frequently, rather than needing hours at a time as I needed when I first started (although hours at a time is a luxury I would take!).

Rowan, helping mama wildcraft.
How do I work it into my busy life? I sought a part-time job that was within walking distance of my home. (Driving requires a brain wave state that is the antithesis of what you are cultivating. And it takes hours to “come down” out of that state.) I walk to work every day, taking back alleys alone. I drop my son off at the babysitter's and give myself 20-30 extra minutes to get to and from work. The alleys of Clintonville (my neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio) are lovely- overgrown and lush with “weeds”, crows and goldfinches, squirrels and murals. I have flipped over a flailing cicada, done augury, and wildcrafted red clover, melissa, dandelion, and plantain to and from work.

I do media fasts. In order to keep people up to date with my blog and business on social media, I queue up blog posts to self-publish, so I do not have to manually post frequently. Being on the internet is not being present with what IS- right in front of your nose. 

I send my three year old son, Rowan on playdates when I make Boline recipes or process ingredients each week. This a time for me to be hands-on and commune with my ingredients, so I can make the best possible product. I can infuse my remedies with intent and add my intent to the will of the plant to make the medicine stronger.

I have a sitting practice that reminds me of stillness and being present. And I grow and wildcraft many of my ingredients. My family does a red meal rite weekly and feeds a tree/the ancestors. We thank the animals and plants that doe for us to survive. And so much more that connects me in a real, daily, tangible way to the gods, the earth, its cycles, and all of creation.

Boline Apothecary is my small artisinal project that helps heal people through seasonally available remedies and body care. I hope you and yours enjoy what I make, with the knowledge that it is a labor of love.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Flow, Fate, and Will (for me, personally)

Fate, by Alphonse Mucha
So now that I have tackled the fictions of Will, and defined it as Fate or Flow- what is this Witch doing to follow it? After all, that is what a Witch does- we make manifesting things look easy because we are following Flow and letting it do most of the work. That is not to say that this work is easy. Surrender of ego is never easy. Which is why Witches often have a sitting practice and perform alchemy on themselves all the time.

And its easy to mistake Will/Fate for ego/desire. People do it all the time. A Witch listens very closely, internally and externally, to discern which is which. It takes practice (and messing up a lot) to be able to tell the difference.

Columbus, Ohio was never on my radar. I am still surprised and appalled that I am here on some days. It was never a first choice. Don't get me wrong, Columbus-ians! It is a lovely city with lots of great things to offer. I am delighted when I discover a new one. But my body thrums with delight when on the coasts. I miss the ocean, the mountains, and the forests. I know that I shall return to the coast eventually. Flow will lead me there, I know it. I have seen it. I keep asking to see if this is my desire/ego or if this is something that we should actually do. I will keep asking as I plan toward that goal.

by Jessica Hagy.
I know now, especially in retrospect, that I was meant to be here for a while, even though ego is still pouting about being in Columbus (or the Midwest at all). Fate drew me here for several reasons. And because I have followed Fate, certain opportunities continue to open for me and life is much easier than it was in California. I have been rewarded with opportunities and more ease in my efforts.

Why am I here?

1. Space and ease while accomplishing my Will.
Columbus is simply easier to make things happen- finances, networking, opportunities- I can afford a spacious place for half what we paid in California in a better neighborhood. Childcare is cheaper. I have made friends that help me when I need it. I have a support network for my family. All this makes it possible to go to grad school, have my partner finish school, and still spend time with Rowan and be a tight-knit family.

2. Opportunities.
We found our (below market rent) home through connections.
Our child care situation was just as easy to establish.
Boline is growing and thriving here. (I went from simply making things for me and my family and friends, to having on online store, being in retail locations, doing two different farmer's markets each month, and leading workshops- all in one year.)
I found the PERFECT school for me to attend. It just so happens to be the most reputable TCM school in the entire midwest- and it's 10 minutes from my house.
My partner is finally going back to school, because we could afford to get him out of student loan default here. He starts in January.

3. Connections.
I randomly meet someone here, only to have them become an important connection. A random attendee at one of our movie nights now runs a community garden, for example. She contacted me to ask if they could grow medicinal herbs for Boline. I in turn asked if they had a hoop house so I could overwinter my container plants. Super win-win for both entities.
I found an apprentice (even though I was in no way looking for one). He moved here because Flow brought him here, too. Pretty neat.
The woman I met online before we came to Columbus (who ran a neat art group), became the neighbor who got us a great housing deal. When we lost power last summer, we spent our days on the porch, grilling what was next thawing in our freezers. We watched the kids play outside and our burdens were made so much easier having each other. She is also an awesome child care giver and Rowan goes over there several times a week. I have never had a better neighbor situation.

All of this ease and energetic spaciousness tells me I am following the River. I can let go and let it carry me for a while.

So what is my Will/Fate, as best as I can see for now?
To heal people. To raise an amazing child (who asked to be here) to be an amazing Witch. Allow the called to find me so that I can teach them to be Witches in service of Fate, too. These are the things that I have been called to do. So how do I make these things happen?

My goals for Columbus:
1. Do excellently in school and learn as much as possible to become an excellent healer. Pass my national boards and get licensed for OH and OR before I move.

2. Teach Rowan to read, count to 1000, add, subtract, and multiply before we leave. Continue his Witchy education every week as well. Spend lots of loving, quality time with him.

3. Build and streamline Boline Apothecary so that when I move it, it is easy to start up in OR. Continue my herbal education and connections, making things better for people in C'bus. Keep learning and help people while I am here.

4. Teach my apprentice to the best of my ability and get him to a point where we can assess whether he should continue training (and move to OR with us) or move on.

Everything else is gravy! So in manifesting my Will, I need to keep these 4 things in mind. I need to ensure I have enough life space to make these things happen, make sure that I am feeding these goals with words and deeds in my daily life. Making every day choices that reinforce what my goals are.

I often do this kind of assessment several times a year, doing divination to ensure it's not just ego talking. How do you follow your Fate?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Fiction of "Will", Part Two

Last blog post, I started talking about how one of Victor Anderson's quotes has been misused. "Submit your life force to no one and no thing." I stated that "life force" was being falsely conflated with the concept of Will. As a Witch, I know that will (with a little w) is ego and individual desire and Will (with a big W) is just a synonym for Fate.

So let's break it down further, shall we?

 What is Will?
Will to me, which the ceremonialists call "True Will", is not about individuals at all. Finding "your True Will" has so very little to do with what you like and don't like as a person. It has precious little to do with following desire. Desire is will (with a little W) dressed up in ego's trappings. You can choose to follow desire if you wish- but that is not actually Will. That is Ego. And it makes you a Sleeper*, not someone Awakened.

So what is Will, in my tradition? This may squick some of you, but Will is Fate. Fate is God Herself. She is living through all of us and has a consciousness. She occupies Time, Space, and Matter simultaneously. Will has precious little to do with you as an individual as you know yourself. That is merely ego. You? You are a nose hair of Old Fate. Perhaps a toenail cell. You are small and a piece of something larger. You are important in your lifetime to the whole- but make no mistake, you are tiny and will die and the whole will live beyond you just fine, thank-you-very-much. Cells die and are reborn in our bodies daily. Do you hold wakes and funerals for your dying cells? No, of course not.

We are all connected, because we are ALL Her- Fate. When you occupy time, space, and matter simultaneously, you don't have any illusions that time is linear. Fate can make anything happen, in myriad ways across many timelines and places. And when she does that, it is like a body carrying out autonomic or conscious functions- certain nerve cells will transmit messages, muscles will move, actions will be taken. All for the greater whole. And you- you are a muscle cell in a larger muscle, flexing to do work you cannot even see, most of the time.

Will is not an individual discernment ("I am following my True Will!" "I am learning my True Will!"- statements like this make me groan). Forcing stuff to happen that you "want" is akin to Mickey Mouse in Fantasia (and often yields the same results). Often your Will has nothing to do with YOU at all (or what you know as "you". "You" are merely an instrument of Fate and because you have been chosen to be that instrument- it involved "you". People who say the above statements are mistaking small w will for big W Will. "Small w" will is all about you and your ego. Big W Will is about something larger than you and you are moving and doing things- being swept up in the Flow of things. It may appear we are "doing" to manifest Will. Will is more about recognition than about decision.

This is why I am wary (and weary!) of messages from spiritual teachers talking about Will and Desire. Desire comes from an individual- it is a product of Ego. Rugged individualism is not really a Crafty outlook. It is one that is very comfortable for human beings, and I can understand why a teacher crafts a message for a larger audience that involves desire. Humans love to believe that they are special and have free will. But that idea, while comforting, is not true. Yes, most Witches are quirky, odd, and appear as "individuals" that cannot make it in Sheeple* society. But one should not mistake square pegs not fitting into round holes as "individualism". It isn't.

Ego can be involved (although you should always check yourself before you wreck yourself...) in day-to-day decisions (because they matter so very little in the larger scheme of things), but the big decisions? They were never really up to you in the first place. Sounds scary, huh? It is. It's terrifying having that knowledge on a daily basis. It's perpetually uncomfortable skating between my desire and Fate. It has been crazy at times and led to some serious loss. I watch people comfort themselves with cute notions of "free will" and "choice" and smile, but smile sadly.

So then, what does the Victor Anderson quote actually mean? What IS "life force" if not Will/Fate? Life force is the stuff that connects you with all of creation. It makes you no more and no less important than others. When you submit your life force, you make someone else more important than you. Going back to the analogy of a cell in the body- if you submit your life force, you do not function as the cell you need to be- you give up that purpose for the sake of another cell. We all have done this, in myriad ways- here's a small mundane example of one of mine:

When I was married, my wife was what I liked to call "a militant sharer". Everything had to be fair, even food types and portions. If we were splitting something, we adopted her "one person cuts, the other person chooses method". When we ate at restaurants, she would fret unless we both got something we would both like and then we shared meals, halfsies. This worked out OK most of the time, but there are things that I liked that she did not, such as cruciferous vegetables. I went for 10 years without eating broccoli because my wife was a militant sharer. If I tried to assert my preference and order something that we would not share, I would get pouts and sulks. Now, this is not a huge issue. I ignored it and went along with it for a decade. Then we broke up. And I could order anything I damn well wanted. I came to realize that in this small way, I was submitting my life force to my wife- and I chose to do so. We all chose it when we do it (never play the "I had no choice game, in this realm. It is hardly ever true.).

So- to rap up: You are important, but no more important than any other living thing. That's right- you are as important as a dandelion or a crow or the President of the United States or any of the gods you traffic with. You do not have free will. You have some leeway in your day-to-day decisions, but mostly Fate decides what is happening. If you fight it, chances are you will hurt yourself and not get your way anyway. (Think of the muscle cell working with all its might against the flexing of the others. It will likely not work, strain the muscle and harm that cell most of all.) When Victor was talking about not submitting your life force- he was trying to get most folks to realize that we are peers with the gods, that we are gods ourselves, because we are a part of the divine. Most people give themselves away in a series of small actions each day. This is an important habit for a Witch to give up as quickly as possible. It interferes with understanding of Fate and how She works. It reinforces the idea of free will, even as you surrender yours.

*"Sleeper" or "Sheeple" refers to someone who goes through their life in the mundane world without knowing about or understanding the other worlds. It is someone who denies that we are all connected. It is someone who thinks of themselves and not the impact of their words and deeds on others. It is mindset devoid of the divine. An awakened person is the opposite. They understand that we are all connected- that everyone makes an impact with what they do and say. They understand that there is a larger picture that they, as an individual, are a small (but important) piece of. Interpretations vary on this theme- an awakened person can call themselves a Witch, a Buddhist, a Christian, a Sufi, or anything else. It is HOW they interpret the external trappings of their religion that matters.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Fiction Of "Will", Part One

"Submit your life force to no one and no thing." -Victor Anderson
When I was first passed this bit of wisdom, it was couched in a neo-Thelemite, Will-is-paramount, rugged individualist, kind of wrapping. "Don't take shit- even from the Gods." was how it was passed to me by that teacher. I have come to understand a different way of looking at this phrase, one that is not swayed by ceremonial magick and is more Crafty in its outlook.

As I advanced in my studies, gnosis, and understandings, I have had many teachers in many traditions. I have listened to the spirits. I was initiated and the floodgates opened to Mysteries I am still unraveling (and will be for a lifetime). I have done more work on myself- and as I did all of these things, I came to understand this phrase a bit differently than it was taught to me.

My Witchcraft comes from (for lack of better, less appropriative, less commonly-understood words) a more indigenous, shamanic practice than some. It is often at odds with neo-Wiccans and ceremonialists (or at least novices who seem to think ego puffery is a hallmark of their tradition- not the "higher ups" who have a bit more wisdom and experience) who think the individual, and its "will" is ALL. You know the type: standing in their "protective circle" and bullying entities. "I command you forth!" or "We invoke you!"

I have been there, doing those things and saying those words before- but it always felt weird. Not because I felt that I was less important than these other entities (many in certain religions feel that we are puny and must grovel- this is not what I mean)- but because I felt I was a peer to these non-corporeals.

Frankly, I have always hated bullies. And to me, some of this magical posturing smacks of bullying. Who wants to come to a party when you know that when you arrive, some jerk in a robe holding a knife or wand is gonna tell you what you can and cannot do- like they are the boss? How does this build peers, friends, and allies from other realms?

When I was a baby Witch (1989!) I lived with a boyfriend who was in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. He was a good guy, a talented artist, and a gifted magician. He taught me many things and helped me memorize all the lists of correspondences (holy crap, those folks like to compare everything!). We always fought when we did ritual together. I did not have the words back then to make my argument clear, but I do now. It started when he wanted the altar in our rituals to be in the East, and I wanted it in the North. (Back then, I had a neo-Wicca orientation that North was earth, and his orientation was East was air.) He would say, "East is air- it's the human mind, the seat of intellect." This was less than compelling for me. My argument was, "We humans are not the center of the universe. Intellect only goes so far. We must start outside of ourselves. Magic/k is not *just* in our heads."

That was the beginning of me becoming disenchanted with many traditions I once sought and communed with- ones that favored human beings over the rest of creation. Ones that feel we are more special or chosen over the rest of the worlds. Ones that believed that all we needed was will (which assumes individual will and possible force. Many ceremonialists try and bully spirits into doing their bidding. I don't like this behavior in the human realm and I'll be damned if I promote it elsewhere.).

It comes back to Victor Anderson's quote in the first paragraph, above. My teachers simply used that phrase to mean "Don't take any shit." One even said it to me when a particular god was asking me to do things for him. "You can say no." she said. To her, the requests coming to me from this god were possibly irritating and/or overwhelming. She was completely ignoring the thrill that I had that this magnificent creature was communicating with ME, consistently and clearly, and I desperately *wanted* to take on his requests. To me, after years of seeking, it was a miracle that I was getting such information from a non-corporeal being and that it was verifiable as coming from him, and not my imagination or wishful thinking. I was a little disenchanted with her "sage advice". I went home and started the work requested anyway.

I believe Victor's quote has been abused in Witchcraft circles. I think people, including many teachers who should know better, have used the phrase in a rugged individualist way and it DOES NOT MEAN THAT. They are conflating "life force"  with Will (what the ceremonialists call True Will). And life force is not the same thing as Will (with a capital W).

I am much more in line with Robert Cochrane's "Law" of the Witches, rather than ceremonial magick's take on Will:

  • Do not do what you desire -- do what is necessary.
  • Take all you are given -- give all of yourself.
  • What I have -- I hold!" (this has multiple meanings, but one is akin to "Submit your life-force to no one or no thing.")
  • When all is lost, and not until then, prepare with die with dignity.
Stay tuned for Part Two, later this week!

*"Sleeper" or "Sheeple" refers to someone who goes through their life in the mundane world without knowing about or understanding the other worlds. It is someone who denies that we are all connected. It is someone who thinks of themselves and not the impact of their words and deeds on others. It is mindset devoid of the divine. An awakened person is the opposite. They understand that we are all connected- that everyone makes an impact with what they do and say. They understand that there is a larger picture that they, as an individual, are a small (but important) piece of. Interpretations vary on this theme- an awakened person can call themselves a Witch, a Buddhist, a Christian, a Sufi, or anything else. It is HOW they interpret the external trappings of their religion that matters.