Yuletide Update

Happy Yule!

Yes, its that time of year.  In a way, this Yule was the first time I got to celebrate with someone for Yule.  I’m going to my parents’ house for Christmas, and leaving the boyfriend here, so we celebrated by opening (the rest of) our gifts early today.

I then spent the afternoon making cookies and fighting off a migraine.  Done with the cookies, not with the migraine.  I’ve had an exciting, busy, and fun week, but its been full of that murky “real life” and “adult” stuff, too.

As a scientist, I am sometimes confronted with situations that are less than ideal.  This week, for example, I had to kill some caterpillars.  A little bit last week too, but the bulk of it was this week.  These were lab-raised caterpillars that wouldn’t have even existed in nature at this point in time (look outside… do you see snow?  I do).  But it’s always hard to be the one to do stuff like that.  Just like it’s hard to put a dog down.  And I know they’re “just” caterpillars but they’re still pretty damned cute.

Yes, it was for the good of science.  What we’re doing will hopefully inform us about the relationship between these caterpillars and their host plants.  But it always makes me realize, when I have to do the killing, just how much killing goes on in the name of science.  Some of it — anything on vertebrates — is regulated, but invertebrates like insects and arthropods have no protection.

I don’t mind giving crickets to my bearded dragon — he kills them quickly, he needs them to survive, and they do have chances to get away.  But these caterpillars didn’t.  I put them in tubes and put them in the freezer.

But I’m not a vegetarian, either.  I eat meat.  Hell, I eat plants, and fruits of plants, and some of them die during my eating them, too.  It’s just that I’m not used to doing the killing.  I would probably eat a lot less meat if I had to kill what I wanted to eat.  At least, until I got used to it.

So I was struggling with that science guilt, a little, this week.  I was also struggling with the Connecticut tragedy.  Suddenly, a lot of what I do for fun seemed… wrong.  For example, the day before the shooting, I wrote a song which turned a children’s rhyme into a song about kinky sex.  It felt so wrong to sing it after the shooting.

But when I try to think about it, I find that there aren’t any words, really, that can describe how the world should feel about the shooting.  I can’t sing that song.  I can’t write that song.  Others can.  For example, this woman, Jami Lunde, wrote one that I haven’t been able to get through yet without crying:

 

Hold your family close, friends.  We all meet the Lord and Lady someday, and it comes to some of us sooner than others.

Immortality is the overarching theme of Yule.  Yule is the longest night, the trials and tribulations.  It’s about rebirth.  What will you do throughout this year to reinvent yourself?  What difference will you make?

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The Meaning of Bears

Bears are kinda cool, in my book.  They’re relatively inoffensive, as long as you don’t get between them and their cubs, or them and some really, really good food.  There are a variety of species, and they eat a variety of things.  They’re not always bloodthirsty and angry and roaring.  They’re playful and inquisitive and intelligent.

If a bear is your totem, it could represent a good balance in your life – the ability to be curious and figure problems out, but also the ability to live a balanced and healthy life through your diet.  In addition, some bears hibernate.  A bear coming into your life (hopefully not in the, “I’m going to kill you!” sort of way) could indicate that you are in hibernation, about to emerge.

Bears also care very deeply for their young.  We say that someone is a mother bear, or that mother bears are the most dangerous creatures in the world.  With a bear as your totem, you know – or will know – how to hold onto and defend what is yours.

Protector of the family, intelligent, adorable AND omnivorous, what’s not to love?

From an AP News Article on Bears

Saying Goodbye

One of the hardest things I do while coming and going from home – to college, to vacation, to cycling, to housesitting, etc – is saying goodbye to my animals.

The animals don’t think in terms “tomorrow,” they think in terms of “right now” and can’t fathom why you, their love, would ever want to leave their side.  So, when the bags come out, anxiety rises and I find myself smiling overly with my dog just to keep those sad brown eyes from piercing my soul.

Just to make it worse, he yowls if he knows I’m leaving.  I can hear him from a half mile away.

At least I can promise him that I’ll come back, right?

The Book of Shadows

Well guys, this is more of a Wiccan related post, but I think its important nonetheless.  If anyone else is an organization freak like me, your Book of Shadows has to piss you off.  If you have it in a binder, you still don’t have super cool formatting abilities – unless you do it yourself.  If you have it in a spiral notebook, you miss the opportunity to organize by subject – and chronologically is not always the best way to accomplish things.

There are no programs for the Book of Shadows either.  No programmer has taken it upon themselves to code a Book of Shadows program that you can use completely.  When I say completely, just think of all the categories you need –

  • Reflections
  • Meditations
  • Rituals
  • Spells
  • Stone lore
  • Herb lore
  • Animal lore
  • Plant lore
  • Divination – with sections for Tarot, Runes, Astrology

Is there a need for it?  I keep thinking to myself that maybe, someday, I’ll be able to build a site where people can register, store their book of shadows (I’d code it on entry to the database to be unreadable except by that user), update, use it.  But that doesn’t take care of the offline aspect.  Does someone (me, perhaps?) need to write a program (I’m thinking, VB .NET) for those computer savvy people so that they can have a place to store pictures with their information on herbs, or audio with their chants, with no fear of dying suddenly and losing the information, or losing their book to rain, tornado, ice storm, hurricane, etc?

I bring this up only because I have created a relatively dynamic, MASSIVE word document over the last few days with archives of my BoS.  As in, just using the stuff on my computer (I have about 8 journals and binders with relative, untyped, information in them, not to mention scraps here and there) I’ve managed to accumulate 173 pages and 45,000 words.  And I’ve only been doing this for 10 years.

Is there interest?

Extinction, Conservation, and Individual Accountability

I keep being presented with the concept of societal and earthly death.  Finding myself in a class that is intending to work out the problem of invasive species in Florida, it seems the entirety of my reading this week has been focused on the beginning of the end of the world.

Apocalyptic thoughts are not uncommon across societies, in changing times and in changing places.  We often – and it can be documented, open any history book – think that we are the pinnacle, the end to civilization and life, itself.  We believe that we are so very important, that we – the race – can extinguish all semblances of life on earth.  Look at 1800s Jehovah’s Witnesses, convinced that the world was ending.  Even the Mayans predicted the end of the world for December 21, 2012.

We are not that important. At least, to extinguish all life.  We may wipe out a good portion of it.  But when we’re gone, the microscopic organisms, certain macroscopic organisms – plants, fungi, some animals – they’ll be happy we’re gone, and they won’t give a shit.

That is not to say conservation is unimportant.  Indeed, conservation may be, in the end, what keeps a little bit of our sanity on hand.  But, I somehow don’t think I’ll be alive for the worst, if things are going to continue to happen as they are.  Nor will you.

What can we do?  What should we do, as Pagans?  In my tradition, we consider ourselves those individuals which will be the last to ‘go home’ – those who will lead the way for every other being before finding the way, ourselves.  Yet, we are also watchers – not to interfere too deeply with the social karma or the karma of others unless directly asked.  We are the priests – the mothers and the fathers – those who watch their children fall, then clean up their scrapes and cuts and send them on their way.

I think I’ve found my answer.  Individual accountability.

It’s simple.

Stop giving your yearly donations to the salvation army.  Go feed the homeless.

Stop going to protests for abused women.  Volunteer at their shelters.

Plant a tree.

Make a difference.  A real, live difference, not a monetary or “internet petition” difference.  Don’t donate money to “clean the streets” campaigns – do it yourself!

Maybe, that way, at least, when we ‘go home’…you can stand before the gods, and be proud of the life you have lived, the steps you have taken, even where you’ve stumbled.

Blessed Be!

Simple Gifts

Tomorrow I shall post about that special holiday, but for now, let us speak once more of gifts and sacrifices and our relationship to the gods.  This idea has been sitting in my “unwritten” folder for a few days, and its just dying to come out.

Let’s say you leave a bundle of flowers somewhere for the Gods, and walk away, offering it as a gift.  How soon – if you visit that spot frequently – should you go back?

For me, at least, I feel that my gift has been accepted if the present that I leave – be it a carving, food, flowers, or some other gift – is gone.  I realize that in a practical sense, as magic creates opportunities, it is easiest to believe and understand that some other physical entity takes the gift from the spot – be it an animal or a human.

It’s kind of like leaving cookies for Santa, in my psyche – whether or not it should be is up for discussion.  A sacrifice is something you are giving away.  A true sacrifice then, would be something which you offer completely.  If you go back to ‘check on it’ – are you not claiming ownership, especially if its still there?  A true sacrifice should be something that occurs just like a spell – it happens, and you leave it be.

Yet, things happen in due time, and someday, perhaps you or others will find something inline with my current experience –  that the sacrifice that you leave that is even non-edible, is gone in an hour.  Maybe 2.  Definitely by the next morning.  And I begin to ask myself:  Are the gods that close to us?  And I realize, its not my place to question, in this instance and this instance alone.

Sometimes, trust and faith are the gifts left to us, and we must take what we will from them.

The Black Cat Conundrum: Familiars in Witchcraft

As sort of a precursor to this post, I would like to point out that yes, I do own a Black Cat.  He’s maybe 20 lbs (really big…but not necessarily overweight…), and entirely black except for random hairs of white scattered throughout.  Because of those white hairs, his name is Bubbles.  It made sense to me when I was ten.  I *also* have a gray tiger-kitty, he’s striped gray-white-black, his name is Bongo.  I have a dog, who is probably the closest thing to a familiar, who is a doberman/german shepherd mutt of some sort, named Elvis.  I have another dog, Winnie, who is as dumb as a pile of bricks, but lovable – she’s a lhasapu-beagle mix. We also have, caged, a leopard gecko named Caleb, and a cockatiel named Charlie.

As witches, or as pagans, or as any sane minded individual, we grow very easily attached to animals which sit with us at night, beg us for food, shit in our shoes, and are generally pains-in-the-butt whenever you don’t want them to be.  My first ever online username, still used today in a lot of my endeavors, was petlover.  I love and respect my animals, and what I have with them is a special connection.  But what makes an animal more a familiar than a pet?  I think it can be summed up in the level of “involved” that the animals get into your spiritual life.

Do they attend ritual with you?  Or sit quietly outside the door, waiting for you to finish?  Do they always stare at you knowingly?  Or nudge you at just the right time during a meditation?  Wake up in the middle of the night to patrol for things that you know only they can see?  When you talk to them – do they answer back?  Are they intelligent?

The funny thing about animals is that they don’t exist as we do.  When we draw the magical circle and recite our words, and put our walls of energy up – our cats, and sometimes our dogs, can pass right through without disrupting the energy.  This has been commented on by at least a few people I know, and I have seen it myself.  Cats are known in Egypt as sacred – and they are meant to pass between the worlds with ease.  Some Egyptians, as I’m sure you all know from history class, would even embalm their cats.

It is no wonder then, that you would choose an animal to help guide you between the worlds on your journeys as a witch.  It is no wonder, also, then, that throughout common history up until recently, the monotheistic world decided it appropriate to change that which was most sacred – cat – into something most feared and, at times, despised.

Yet, you can’t just go out and buy a cat, or a dog, and expect them to be your companion in your endeavors.  Some of my animals don’t fit the criteria to really be familiars.  I think, in terms of finding a familiar, a kitten, or a puppy is probably most easy.  You train them from early on to be your friend, and what to do around candles.  Because, let’s be practical, no one wants to go to the vet with a singed animal and shrug, “They shouldn’t have touched the candles!”  The rest – however far you take it – is up to your relationship with the animal.  Out of my animals, only two of the four free-range are really in that sort of relationship with me to be considered familiars, or craft working partners.

It is much like working with a coven, or a partner in the craft: a fellow high priest or priestess.  The bond that develops is one that cannot necessarily be described.  Be warned, however: the deeper you love, the deeper you feel the loss – whether you are going on vacation, traveling away from home, or one of you is passing from this world into the next. Be warned, also, that many times, after a familiar has passed on, you will have recurring dreams of them.  I still dream of my first close companions.

A familiar is not a demon rose up out of the ashes – at least in my experience.  There is no bloody summoning ritual in Wicca to get an animal which you will control and bend to your whims.  Perhaps you’ll find a cat, or a dog, someday, in the middle of nowhere, with no explanation or tags, and that animal will become your familiar.  But I’m sure much of what we need by familiars can be fulfilled with a pet store, constant love, and affection, and careful meditation regarding the issues at hand.