An Initial Review of Timothy Roderick’s Wicca: Another Year and a Day

Well look at what the Amazon fairies left in my mailbox...

Well look at what the Amazon fairies left in my mailbox…

As of October 8th, Timothy Roderick’s second year-and-a-day course has been on the shelves of fine booksellers around the nation…or at least in Amazon warehouses readily awaiting shipment.

When I first learned about “Roderick Round 2”, I didn’t think I’d be all that interested in working through a second year and a day.  As much as I enjoyed going through the first book, it did take an awful lot of time to thoroughly journal, and time is thin on the ground for me at the moment.  In addition to the new job, I’m working with a new coven, and they take their training super seriously.  While little I am seeing in Round 2 would conflict with what I know about this new coven’s tradition, I think its best that I focus exclusively on the coven teachings for awhile.

That being said, I think I am going to put Round 2 on my horizon.  Flipping through the pages, I realized how much I’d missed the direct, concrete practices.  Most of the exercises are a page or so and incredibly approachable.  As the queen of the procrastinators, I appreciate anything that makes me think, “I can do this.  Let’s do it now!” and Roderick’s presentation definitely delivers on that.  I truthfully think it is his greatest strength.

There’s  more to love in this version.  In Round 1, the book was organized by topic.  You moved through several days on a particular topic, then did not really ever return to that topic.  I completely understand why that organization is useful in an introductory text–the neophyte needs time to taste and savor the major concepts before they can internalize them and use them in context.  After all, I don’t teach my writing students to do everything all at once–that would confuse them beyond measure!  Round 2 begins this complication.  The book is organized in a series of thirteen lunations, which are further divided into waxing and waning stages.  Here’s my description of the various stages:

  • First Lunation Waxing:  Preparation and execution of the first degree initiation.
  • First Lunation Waning:  Developing relationship with patron deities.
  • Second Lunation Waxing:  Air elemental work in knowing and wondering.
  • Second Lunation Waning:  Solomonic magic with Saturn.
  • Third Lunation Waxing:  Fire elemental work in willing and surrendering.
  • Third Lunation Waning:  Solomonic magic with Jupiter.
  • Fourth Lunation Waxing:  Water elemental work with daring and accepting.
  • Fourth Lunation Waning:  Solomonic magic with Mars.
  • Fifth Lunation Waxing:  Earth elemental work with silence and resonance.
  • Fifth Lunation Waning:  Solomonic magic with the Sun.
  • Sixth Lunation Waxing:  Affirmation.
  • Sixth Lunation Waning:  Reactive karmic clean-up.
  • Seventh Lunation Waxing:  Responsibility and vows.
  • Seventh Lunation Waning:  Exorcism.
  • Eighth Lunation Waxing: Unity and tree magic.
  • Eighth Lunation Waning:  Drawing Down the God
  • Ninth Lunation Waxing:  Bounty and generosity.
  • Ninth Lunation Waning:  Samhain and Yule
  • Tenth Lunation Waxing:  Imbolc, Spring, and Beltane
  • Tenth Lunation Waning:  Summer, Lammas, Autumn
  • Eleventh Lunation Waxing:  Impermanence and Ancestors
  • Eleventh Lunation Waning:  Unpleasantry and planetary Condensers
  • Twelfth Lunation Waxing:  Planetary condensers and the five points of fellowship.
  • Twelfth Lunation Waning:  Five points of fellowship.
  • Thirteenth Lunation Waxing:  Magic squares.
  • Thirteenth Lunation Waning:  Magic squares and preparing for elevation.

As you can see, there is some necessary “topic grouping,” but when looking at any unique exercise, you will see skill bleedover, so the whole year feels more cohesive and purposed.

I was also pleased to see that almost every exercise is to be lingered on over two days, which makes everything far more manageable.  For example, there’s an exercise that teaches how to image transfer a printed image onto a candle.  Having done this before, I know the whole process can take 2-3 hours, depending on the fiddliness of one’s printer, how many times the tissue paper rips, etc.  Life is much more manageable when you divide up the project; for example, printing the image on day 1 and transferring it to the candle on day 2.  On other exercises, you can take care of all the mundane preparation on one day and practice a dry run on day 1 in order to really sink into the exercise on day 2.  It’s  very simple and subtle change from Round 1, but it makes the whole year far more manageable.

My largest criticism at this point is that Roderick persisted in his exotic oils list.  Now, I love essential oils.  I have a whole drawer full of them, and use them frequently in my magic.  Roderick does ask for several oils that you can readily find, though some will be very expensive–jasmine, lemongrass, rose, cinnamon, clove, pine, myrrh, sage, sandalwood, frankincense, geranium, patchouli, cassia, cinnamon, and lemon dominate this list.  But he also asks for some oils that are difficult to find (if not impossible) or beyond expensive–musk, amber, dragon’s blood, gardenia, iris, lily of the valley, meadowsweet, violet, heather, apple, pear, ambergris, water lily, balm of gilead, storax.  Musk and ambergris I’m frankly shocked to see maintained–the proper version of these come from animals that ought not to be killed.  Amber and copal come from fossilized resins, which to my thought, are better used as resins than forced to yield tiny amounts of tarry oil.  Apple and pear literally cannot be found at all; 100% of oils under these names are synthetic.  And some of these oils are not essential oils at all.  Dragon’s blood, for example, is dragon’s blood resin chunks whizzed through industrial blenders with a carrier oil.

There is something undeniably witchy about mixing oils, and an amazing blend is pure magic.  But unless you’re going through a perfumery course, there is no compelling magical reason to knock yourself out trying to find heather oil when other correspondences will have the same effect.  (And if it’s a Scotch connection you’re seeking, just invest in a nice bottle of Glenmorangie.  You’ll enjoy it more, I promise.)

I’m also a little disappointed in how much Roderick glosses over in the Solomonic magic sections.  I was not expecting a doctoral dissertation’s worth of breakdown, but The Key of Solomon is an incredibly dense text that is utterly inaccessible to most.  Some attempt at a stronger explanation of what exactly has been cherry picked for this instructional year would not have gone amiss.

That being said, I continue to think that Roderick compiles a great training course, and one that honors traditional witchcraft well.  I look forward to working through the book myself.

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Does Paganism need a Roderick round 2?

I learned something rather intriguing today:  Llewellyn is publishing a follow up to Timothy Roderick’s book Wicca: A Year and A Day this October.  Unsurprisingly, it will be titled Wicca:  Another Year and A Day.

Coming soon to a Barnes and Noble near you, October 8, 2015.

Coming soon to a Barnes and Noble near you, October 8, 2015.

For all the times I’ve given Roderick a hard time on this site, I have tremendous respect for him.  The first book was very thoughtful, and it pushed me to be a better witch.  It also taught me some incredibly needed lessons about failure, adaptation, and perseverance.  I mourned completing the project, and I rather wished that there was a similar book out there I could work my way through–at the very least, a project like Roderick’s makes for great journaling exercises.  But even though I have a favorable outlook for the first Year and A Day, I wonder if there is a call for Another.

For years, I’ve enjoyed the flurry of Google activity I see surrounding this book around December and January, and I love seeing the creations of new YouTube channels and blogs of people who are excited to tackle their Year and a Day.  But by March, there’s hardly any that continue updating.  And once abandoned, they largely stay abandoned.  And so, Roderick’s first book has developed an ambivalent reputation in the Pagan community.  Some are skeptical, some are respectful, and almost all know someone who has given it an attempt at one point in time or another.  Few know any who complete it.  And so it has become this weird little fetish of failure.  Thorn Mooney even called it her “Book of Quitting” recently.  If so few can finish, is it tempting fate to issue a whole second round of futility?

A side-by-side with the original...because why not?.

A side-by-side with the first, because why not?.

And yet, perhaps it does have a place.  New people discover Wicca every day, and we’re experiencing an interesting reactionary moment against the broad scale eclecticism of the 1990s and early 2000s.  Many seekers actively desire a traditional practice.  But it is hard to find a coven to work with, let alone a good coven.  Seekers need to find a group that is 1. within their acceptable travel range, 2. open to taking new students, 3. comprised of people you can respect and be familial with, and 4. led by people who have an active interest in teaching and the ability to facilitate cohesion in a group of disparate mindsets.  Leading a coven is not dissimilar to wrangling kittens, and not everyone who wants to lead a group is capable leading a group.  But they give it a try anyway, and dysfunction and dismay go on to rule the day.  A nearby healthy training coven is a tall order for most, even today.  While no book can replace working with a coven, Roderick’s books do a great job of getting across the language and techniques of traditional Wicca.  With diligent study, a seeker will be well on the path to initiation with the first book.  I am excited to see what the second will do.

When the book comes out, I will probably check it out.  And maybe I’ll work through it as I did the first.  I certainly know it won’t hurt and will, in fact, probably help.  We’ll see how the wind blows in October.

Book Review: Timothy Roderick’s Wicca: A Year and a Day

My very own, much abused copy of Roderick's book.

My very own, much abused copy of Roderick’s book.

When I first found a copy of Timothy Roderick’s Wicca: A Year and a Day back in an Indianapolis Half Price Books in 2006, I was starting a very low, depressing period of my life.  In fact, I didn’t realize then how bad it would get.  It was midway through my senior year of college.  My dad had just lost his job, my family had just had to move out of our foreclosed home, and I had no way to pay for my last undergraduate year (the school wouldn’t release my diploma or transcripts until I paid them off a year after after commencement).  I didn’t even try to find work for maybe 6 months after graduation, I was so desperately depressed.  Somewhere in there, things got even worse.  My mom fell down the stairs and was bedridden for months with excruciating back pain, then Mom nearly bled to death in a second medical disaster (we had to beg charity from the hospital for them to do a life-saving operation), I had to take a part-time job at a car dealership to stay near my family and hold them together through my middle brother struggling with continual arrests and re-arrests and my youngest brother failing out of school and attempting suicide…honestly, I have no idea how we all survived that period of time.

I’m recounting all of this at the start of this review because it is highly relevant to how I responded to Roderick’s book once I picked it up in earnest.  I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but my life was in a tailspin.  Even though I was a practicing solitary, life got to be too much for me to handle alone.  When I needed my spirituality the most, I was the least capable of developing a working structure for myself.  I was just in survival mode.

One-day-at-a-timeThis book is excellent for survival mode.  It operates just like Alcoholics Anonymous in that you tackle it one day at a time.  When you’re working through it chronologically, all you have to do is focus on what you can accomplish in one day.  You can experience magic and spirituality one tree at a time and not find yourself overwhelmed by the entire dark and confusing forest.  You can do something that feeds your soul a little every day.  I can definitely attest that while it seems like trying to fill a bucket using teaspoons, it’s enough.  After a couple months of steady work on “the Roderick project”, I’d look back upon that time and realize that I’d somehow pulled myself out of the doldrums.  It gave me a great sense of accomplishment and self-worth that I could actually use that to psychically boost myself up enough to tackle larger life problems.

I’m not saying I learned this lesson right away.  Between 2008 and 2010, I’d pick up the Roderick project for a few months, then put it away when graduate school became all-consuming, when the misery of helping my parents through the early stages of their divorce (and my father’s subsequent abandonment of all of us) hit in full force, and when I found myself responsible for All. The. Things.  But my life always got better after I picked up Roderick again and started putting one foot in front of the other.  Those trickles of spirituality always gave me enough help to see life through another day.  Now I’m at a point where I can try to make a structure for myself.  This has been Roderick’s greatest lesson and gift to me.

On a smaller scale, one of the things I appreciated most about how Roderick envisioned his project is the macrostructure of his year.  This is actually a point of contention for many readers, if the Amazon reviews are an accurate indication.  Roderick’s structure has been critiqued for essentially having the student perform work pertaining to the different sabbats during points in the calendar year where, frankly, it takes a lot of work to dredge up those energies.  For instance, I did most of my work on Lammas and the Fall Equinox between March and May.  It was exceptionally difficult to study harvesting energies when all the world around me was blooming.  It was not, however, impossible.

Two primary things are gained by following Roderick’s chronology instead of re-arranging the different days to match a specific calendar year.  In the first place, you gain flexibility–and with flexibility comes forgiveness.  Had I wiggled the days around to be studying Lammas in August, I would have probably fallen off the posting bandwagon for a week and then become hyper-critical of myself.  I would then have put the project on hold until the following August…and I would have forgotten to return to it, and the cycle would have begun anew.  I would never have finished the project if this was the case.

Secondly, placing all the sabbats together for basic instruction rather than celebrating them as they fall in the calendar actually sets up a great pattern for all the topics Roderick presents.  If you look through his year, you see the following topics (the subheadings are my own):

Day 1-14:  Fundamentals

  • Building Blocks: basic definitions, initial psychological blocks, introductory meditation techniques

Day 15-52:  Who We Worship

  • Divine polarity: moon and sun, common God and Goddess archetypes

Day 53-161: How We Worship

  • Seasons and Sabbats

Day 162-206: Supporting Energies

  • Elements and Elementals

Day 207-228:  Symbolic Energies

  • Witch’s tools

Days 229-251: Creating Space for Worship

  • Casting the Circle, Tool Consecrations

Day 252-282:  How We Pray and Work in Worship

  • Magic, Correspondences, Raising Power, Basic Spells, Herbs, Spellcraft

Days 283-359:  How We Help Ourselves Decide if a Working is Appropriate

  • Divination: Tarot, Scrying, Runes, Numerology

Days 360-366:  Odds and Ends

  • Animal Power, Final Contemplation

I think this is an excellent structure for getting instruction on the most fundamental aspects of Wicca as a religion right out there at the start.  In order to get in touch with the Gods, we’ve got to know a little bit about meditation and we’ve got to work through any psychological hurdles holding us back.  If the first word we associate with “Witch” is “Wicked,” we’re not going to learn anything constructive about the Gods that Witches worship.  Once we’ve got a handle on what some of the major Divinity energies are, we need to know how we celebrate them.  Of course, the answer to that is in the Sabbats and Esbats.  Once we know what those are, we can start deciding, “Yes, we want to be witches” and get into more of the nitty gritty on what ritual is and how we perform it.  Balancing the energies of the elements is part of that, and reflecting those macro energies in the micros of our ritual tools is part of that.  Once we have the tools to begin construction, we can then build a sacred space.  When that sacred space is up, we can learn what to do inside of it other than celebrate the High Holy Days.  That’s where the specific instruction in magic comes in, followed by a primer in some of the major types of divination to give us the tools to help us decide if any one working is appropriate or not.

In other words, Roderick’s structure sets up a natural, linear narrative for the year of study to follow.

Of course, we know that magic tends to be more cyclical than linear, and Roderick allows for that, too.  Every 30 days or so, he includes a trio of days for his students to contemplate a new meditative question, devote worship to a specific deity, and reflect on what has been learned thus far.  Since he already accounts for cycle within his otherwise linear structure, there’s no reason why any student couldn’t choose to suspend days of Roderick’s study to incorporate some of his or her own.  Doing so for the Sabbats as they fall in a calendar year would be excellent, as would suspending Roderick’s study to celebrate your own Esbats or to perform magic to help out your own life or to focus on another short-term project.  As I’ve said, Roderick’s structure is flexible above all else, and you can happily suspend and pick up the project as your life and your own studies dictate.

the-gifts-of-imperfection

As worthwhile as I found this book to kickstarting my own practice, I’ll be the first to admit it is an imperfect work.  One of the major struggles I personally had with it was timing.  It is really hard to do every day!  When I was doing it 7 days a week, I’d be okay for maybe 6 weeks, but then I’d burn out.  After a while, I settled on a pattern of doing five days straight, then taking the weekend off to do my own things or to simply relax.  If I was to make a suggestion for a new edition of this plan, it would be to include one or two “off days” in each 7-day period.  Going through the whole 366, I’m sure we could find 52 “fluff days” to cut, easy.

Timing also contributes to an uneven work pace.  Some days, I could perform and journal the activity in five minutes.  Others might actually take me five days (I’m primarily thinking of researching some tarot cards, which is my own fault as I expanded Roderick’s scope there).  Some activities practically required that I do two or three days in one, while for others I split up the day into two parts.  It also became evident early on that I needed to read a week to 10 days in advance in order to schedule the activities around my other obligations.  There was no way I could simply wake up a half an hour earlier everyday in order to accommodate the exercise:  the time commitment was just too variable.  In order to journal the activities, I had to resort to lots of “blogger tips” like pre-writing the head notes for each exercise in advance on one of my off days.  I also did things such as record any necessary guided meditations well in advance of actually performing them in order to give my brain ample time to forget the preconceptions it formed during the recording process.

Then there’s the expense.  In essential oils alone, Roderick lists 34 different oils.  Of these 34, eleven do not exist as a natural essential oil (Apple, Carnation, Cucumber, Gardenia, Honeysuckle, Lilac, Lily, Lotus, Musk, Tulip, and Water Lily). [UPDATE 4/29/15:  I’ve just learned that Gardenia and Honeysuckle do, actually, exist as an essential oil.  They’re just flipping expensive.  Some of the others on this list can be obtained through enfleurage processes, but that’s a bit different than an essential oil.]  If you purchased .5 fluid ounces each of the remaining 23 from, say Aura Cacia, you’d end up paying a whopping $733.  That includes the three most expensive ‘common’ oils: Chamomile ($77.96), Jasmine ($181.16), and Rose Absolute ($237.56).  Even if you subtracted these three out, you’d still pay about $238 for the remaining 20 oils.  In my opinion, if oils were so necessary to Roderick, he should have stated so in the introduction, explained which ones he found essential and why, and then come up alternate budget-friendly substitutions and formularies.   It’s a fact that many magical practitioners have to work their mojo on a tiny budget.  Some guidance in how to stretch that budget would not have gone amiss.

The best suggestion I have for anyone looking to take on the Roderick project is to take a couple of weeks at the outset to pull together all his “shopping lists” into one giant list, then look to see how each of the items is being used and determine if there are any substitutions you can make more cheaply or where you can get the items themselves reasonably (hey, I made great use of Dollar Stores with no shame).  For example, you can make a working chamomile oil by gently heating or sun-steeping a few pinches of dried chamomile in a few tablespoons of a carrier oil such as jojoba for pennies on what you’d pay for chamomile essential oil.  While I wouldn’t use that for any medicine, it’s got a great magical punch.  There’s also lots of places that sell bulk herbs that allow you to buy just as much as you need to use at one time.  I’ve purchased herbs by the teaspoon in some places, which has certainly helped my pocketbook (not to mention my storage capacity).  Even suggestions on how to handle candle purchases on a budget would have been helpful (making use of unscented ‘chime candles’, for example, which are often sold at 4 for $1).  Splurge on the items that are most important for you to splurge on, and pinch your pennies on the rest.  Just know that if you do everything “by the book”, you’ll likely spend some money.

Finally, I think it is safe to caution anyone interested in this book to make sure it’s not your only resource.  As we know, I pretty much abandoned Roderick’s book when it came to tarot card and rune descriptions.  It seems to me that a lot of that information came from his own Unverified Personal Gnosis and not what the top students of these tools have verified through research and study.  Similarly, I would council everyone to not do anything they didn’t completely understand or feel comfortable with.  I, for example, wasn’t about to slap magical inscriptions and sigils on my tools that I didn’t understand.  Other things I did try, such as the Solomon Square, had very little resonance for me and–in some cases–no effect at all.  It’s definitely a good thing to do your own research to augment what you learn in Roderick’s pages.  After all, there’s no way he could have given enough description for all the activities while still having room for the activities themselves in his pages!

Overall, I think the time I spent performing these activities did a serviceable job in teaching non-oathbound British Traditional Wiccan orthopraxy, and it made it accessible to everyone.  You certainly don’t have to be a dedicated religious scholar in order to become a competent practitioner by following Roderick’s book, and that alone is worth its weight in gold when connecting with good teachers is becoming harder and harder.  Overall, I think the community is better served by having a work like this available to seekers, and I thank Mr. Roderick for his valuable contribution.

Day 366: Day of Silence

Congratulations on completing your year and a day of study, magic, ritual, and contemplation!  Your final day is symbolic of life’s journey, and it relates to this month’s contemplative question.  Your final magical act is a day of silence.  Be mindful of your actions, your breath, and your thoughts throughout the day.  When the day is complete, answer these questions:

  • How do I feel now that my year and a day is complete?
  • Am I considering taking the next step and becoming initiated as a Witch?  Why?
  • What stands out as the most important aspect of my training this year?
  • How have I changed or grown during the year?
  • What areas of magical study do I intend to study in depth?
  • How do I plan to maintain a spiritual practice beyond this 366th day?

How do I feel now that the Roderick project is *finally* complete?  Well, I’m not going to lie…I’m damn proud of myself for seeing something through to its finish.  It took a helluva lot longer than a calendar year–I’ve had this book since January 2007!–but I’ve thoroughly journaled my way through each entry in Roderick’s book from start to finish.  Despite how proud I am of finally putting this project away, I’m also a little sad.  I’ve really enjoyed blogging here at 366, and I think I’d like to continue.  It’s way easier to blog on a schedule, though, when I’ve got a larger project I’m working on instead of just the odds and ends that are interesting me at any given time.  Maybe I should find another text to work through?  After all, the cycle just continues anew.

I have considered and taken that step of becoming initiated as a Witch.  Although becoming a Gardnerian was something I’ve been drawn to ever since I learned about Wicca and its traditions, I don’t know if I would have had the gumption to find a group and become part of the community had it not been for what I experienced working methodically through Roderick’s book.  Gards, you know you’re a tough bunch to break into.  Even in Gard-only groups, the thirds are so cliqué-y that it’s hard to build any productive dialogue without somehow becoming a third yourself.  I had the perception that you really had to have some strong magical chops behind you to even look into working with a Gardnerian group, and working through this book made me feel like I’d gotten that background better than having read some Cunningham and Starhawk.

What stands out as some of the most valuable training from this year?  I think maybe all the work put into the Sabbats, and perhaps all the orthopraxy in general.  The dedication “year” I think is best spent learning the lingo of our religion and really getting into what each of our seasonal holidays is.  I know that in my own coven practice, it’s easy to make the holiday just a quick ritual to mark the passing of time.  Building the Sabbats up like this, however, gave me some great personal practice with the season.  Another great strength I found with this project was working with the elements and Elementals.  Again, something very appropriate for the dedication year in BTW.

How have I changed?  Well, over these past years, I’ve grown from a person consumed with ambition for ambition’s sake to being someone who is truly interested in making the world a better place.  I want to make connections with people in a way I definitely had little interest in before, and I want to make my life a happy, healthy, and whole place to be.  That’s a pretty profound shift.

What areas of magical study do I intent to focus on now?  Well, as a first-degree, part of my work is supposed to be spent strengthening my connection to the Goddess.  At the very least, I need to study and memorize the Charge, but I also want to build a relationship to Her…kind of like what my very Christian friends report to have with Christ.  This is something I struggle with, but something I also want very dearly.  I also want to be a better ceremonialist.  I’m not going to lie…my grasp on ceremonial magic is sloppy at best.  I understand that my focus on ritual here is something that some readers really enjoy, so I think I’m going to try to study up on that more, too.

How do I plan to maintain a spiritual practice from here on out?  Well, I really need to work on integrating my spirituality into my daily practice.  It’s almost scary how easy it is for me to forget to pray or to postpone the things that feed my spiritual soul, such as going on walks and meditating.  I think I need to develop a sort of ‘routine’ for myself, perhaps something like what nuns in the cloister do, what with having daily hours for prayer and silence and such.  It will be difficult to work that into my job, overtime, and my house obligations, but I can try at least.

In the immediate, though, I’m definitely taking a break from 366 as I put the capstone on this project by writing a review (finally!) about my thoughts on Roderick’s book.  Stay tuned!

Day 365: Devotional Day, Honoring Yourself

As we’ve learned, we ourselves are parts of the divine.  The divine in us is who we our in our core essence.  The divine is therefore as flawed as we are.  Our lives, just as they are, are the lives of the Gods.  So we take time to honor ourselves and take our places among the pantheons.

It’s a good idea to take some time and build a list of our own correspondences, perhaps starting by reviewing our numerological correspondences.  We can design our own magical symbol (perhaps based on runes or astrological signs or other meditative work), choose which of the magical tools is most “us”, what herbs we have penchants with, and what oils feel representative of us, the directions we have the most affinity with, and what our greatest skills, gifts, and spiritual assets are.  We can also list our newly-found animal symbols, the foods we find sacred and delicious, and the stones that hum closest to our own energies.  Once we’ve got all this figured out, we can construct an altar that best embodies who we are as magical, divine beings.

Huh.  Building an altar to myself seems so…decadent.    But I guess it makes sense, given how we see the divine in ourselves as well as in the world and myths around us.  I guess I might as well give it a go.

If I had to come up with a table of correspondences for myself, I think it would look something like this:

Table of Correspondences:  Melissa

  • Symbols:  Bee
  • Tools:  The Pen of Writ, Book of Shadows, pentacle
  • Magical Essences/Herbs:  Grapefruit, vanilla, frankincense, jasmine
  • Direction:  Interior
  • Color:  Orange, sky blue
  • She Rules:  Pragmatism, pedagogy, practice
  • Animal Symbols:  Badger, bee
  • Sacred Foods:  Cheeses, blueberries, citruses, tea
  • Magical Stones:  Larimar, butterscotch amber, carnelian
photo-1.jpg

My altar to myself.  Sorry it’s so blurry.  I did this late at night.

I think it’s important for me at this point to acknowledge that this altar could not, would not, have existed in this form back in 2008 when I started this project in earnest.  Nor would this altar have looked like this back when I first set foot on the pagan path waaaay back in the late ’90s.  It won’t look the same a year from now.  My inner divine self is always changing, always learning new things about itself, about others, and about my relationship to them.

This time this year, I only owned two of the items on this altar, my chalice and my pen.  Everything else has been something that’s caught my eye or been gifted to me this year.  It’s been a huge year.  I’ve been initiated.  I’ve got my life back on track.  I’m dreaming again.  I feel like a divine self rather than someone who is just existing.

I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunities that have brought me this far, and I look forward to seeing how my divine self grows in the future.

Day 364: Contemplative Day, Nothingness

Meditative Question:  What lies at the center of nothing?
Symbolic Color:  None
Symbolic Direction:  Nowhere

This is the final meditative question of the year-and-a-day study.  Freud once stated that life is a circular journey; it emerges from nothingness and then submerges once again into the void.  It is a brief reverberation between two silences.  Similarly, Joseph Campbell says that the chant word “Aum” is a four-syllable word.  The first three syllables are the sounds of the word (ah-uu-mm).  The fourth syllable is the silence from which the sound came and to which it returns.  This sound represents the complete round of our human life.

Since we’ve come full circle today, our question is apropos.  However, the question poses a paradox: How can there be a center of nothing?  The ultimate realization of the divine, of life, and of our own selves resides within the answer to this contemplative question.

It is advisable to work with these inner-mystery contemplations while sitting within your magic circle.  Find a comfortable meditative sitting position.  Use no candle, incense, or oil.  Simply rely on your own abilities to go within and search for the truth.  Cast your gaze downward and blur your vision so that you do not focus on any one point on the floor.  Look through the ground in front of you instead of at the ground.  Hold today’s question firmly for 20-30 minutes.  If you notice extraneous thoughts intruding as you concentrate on your contemplative question, simply take note of the thoughts and shift your focus back to the question.

Now that a year has gone by, what lies at the center of nothing?  You tell me.

I’m not trying to be all deep or anything, but the answer that eventually came to me is that the center of nothing is all and that the center of all is nothing.  It’s one of those situations such as happiness and sadness:  they cannot be fully defined and realized unless you know its opposite.  How can you enjoy the peaks of pleasure if you don’t also know the contrast of despair’s valleys?

In some of our creation stories, in the beginning there was nothing.  From the nothing came the Dryghtyn, the all-god, male and female.  To better know itself, it split into the God and the Goddess, and through that self-knowledge came the knowledge of love.  From nothing, all was born, and eventually it will all collapse into nothing once more.

Day 363: The Animal Spirit’s Magic

Now that we’ve found our way to the shamanic lowerworld, we can return there anytime by following the roots of the oak tree.  We don’t need to cast a circle for future trips there, though we can if we life.  At minimum, we should anoint ourselves at the backs of our knees and insides of the elbows with the animal power oil and burn the animal power incense.

Today, we’re going to return to the lowerworld to learn about our familiar-self’s magic.  Have a magical partner read the following guided imagery or record it and play it back.  Or simply click on the recording below!

Close your eyes and imagine that you stand before a great oak tree.  Take several deep breaths and, with each breath, imagine that your body becomes increasingly transparent.  Now, move close to the tree and walk into the trunk.  You are now one with the tree.

Follow the heavy roots of the tree as they descend through layers of sediment, rock, and soil.  You follow the roots even more deeply into the dark, cold earth.  Follow the roots until you come to their end, which sets you inside a large cave.  You cannot see anything before you, but you can sense the enormity of the cavern.

Eventually, as you stand in the darkness of the cave, you spot the glowing mark or symbol of the animal spirit.  Walk toward it, reach down, and touch the glowing symbol, and watch the cave as it crumbles around you to reveal the animal spirit’s landscape.  Your animal power is waiting there for you.

Ask the animal spirit what magical power it lends to you.

(Reader:  pause for a moment.)

Now ask the animal spirit what drawbacks it brings to your life.

(Reader:  pause for a moment.)

Finally, ask the familiar spirit for a chant or a word of power that you might use to summon your animal’s power.

(Reader:  pause for a moment.)

Once you are ready to leave the lower world, bid the animal power farewell.  When you do this, the cave will surround you once more.  Reach up and you will find the root of the oak tree.  follow it back to the upper realm.  Step out of the tree trunk.  Open your eyes and write down what you were told.

Whenever you need the animal spirit’s power, use your chant or word of power.  Do not share this word or chant with anyone else.

In addition to this journey, Roderick also includes another method to use whenever we want to seek our familiar spirit’s advice on any matter.

First, we take time to formulate our questions, and we try to ask open-ended questions so that our familiar self’s wisdom won’t end with a simple yes or no.  This will prevent the familiar spirit from becoming frustrated if it can’t fully express itself.  Similarly, the spirit may become frustrated if we don’t follow the advice it gives, so before we ask any questions we have to be sure we’re prepared to follow whatever the spirit tells us.  Even if we don’t think the answer coincides with the question, we must follow the advice we receive.  It may be that only after events have concluded that we can see how the familiar has guided us toward a good resolution.

Practice:  Animal Instinct

  • Animal Power Incense
  • Animal Power Oil
  • Blank Paper and Pen or Pencil

Light the animal power incense and anoint yourself with the animal power oil.  Close your eyes and return to the lower realm, as you have done before, by following the roots of the oak tree that you visualize.  Follow the roots until you come to their end, which sets you inside a large cave.

As you stand inside the darkness of the cave, you spot the glowing mark or symbol of the animal spirit.  Walk toward it, reach down and touch the glowing symbol, and watch the cave as it crumbles around you to reveal the animal spirit’s landscape.  Your animal power is waiting there for you.

Ask the animal spirit for its guidance in your situation.  Wait for your answer.  Once you receive it, bid the animal power farewell.  When you do this, the cave will surround you once more.  Reach up and you will find the root of the oak tree.  Follow it back to the upper realm.  Step out of the tree trunk.  Open your eyes and write down what you were told.

Follow the advice of the familiar self.

I performed the first visualization here, and Badger told me that the strengths he brings me are surety in purpose and a profound, practical groundedness.  When I take a step, I know that I am going to find solid ground beneath my feet.  Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that I need to cultivate adventure, for it does not come readily to me anymore.  This isn’t just going somewhere and doing new things–which I actually quite enjoy doing, so long as I minimize risk.  It’s being afraid to fall, both physically and emotionally.  It is difficult to open up and let others in, which is an adventure of its own.

I know I am to keep the chant Badger gave me secret, but it was basically any chant which makes me fully embodied and thoroughly grounded.  In my case, it’s the opening chant I learned in Kundalini meditation, which we use to “tune in”:  Ong namo guru dev namo.  It means “I bow to the divine spark in all things.  I bow to these divine teachings.”  A pretty good instruction of how to perform this chant can be found in this simple YouTube video:

Day 362: Discovering the Animal Power

Today we’re going to cast a circle and do some magical journeying  to help find our animal and learn its name and symbol.  For this, we’ll need our usual circle casting tools, the incense and oil we’ve prepared, and blank paper and a pen.  Follow the instructions below.  For the guided journey, you can use the recording below:

Cast your circle as usual.  Sprinkle the animal power incense on a hot coal and allow it to smolder.  Offer the incense at each of the four compass points of your circle:  east, south, west, and north.  As you offer the incense around the circle, say the following:

Bull-beggars, spirits, Witches,
Hags, Satyrs, Pans, Sylvens,
Changelings, Dragons, Men of the Oak,
Open the way to the sacred hunt,
From thy thunder, echo the voices of
Feather and fur, claw and talon.

Return the incense to the altar and then use your left hand to fan the smoke across your body.  Carry your animal spirit oil blend to the east of your circle.  Once there, face the perimeter of the circle.  Anoint yourself with the oil at the base of the throat, saying

I open to the voices of the animal world.

Repeat the oil anointing in the south of your circle.  This time, dab the oil to your solar-plexus area, saying:

I open to the power of the animal world.

Repeat the oil anointing in the west of your circle.  This time, dab the oil between your eyes at the center of the brow, saying:

I open to the wisdom of the animal world.

Repeat the oil anointing in the north of your circle.  Dab the oil to your root chakra, saying:

I find my root in the animal world.

Now lie down on your back in the south of your circle with your feet pointed north and your head south.  Anoint yourself with the essential oil on the insides of your elbows and the backs of your knees.  Have a magical partner read the guided imagery below, or record it before your ritual and play it back now:

Reader:
Close your eyes and imagine that you stand before a great oak tree.  Take several deep breaths, and, with each breath, imagine that your body becomes increasingly transparent.  Now move close to the tree and walk into the trunk.  You are now one with the tree.

Imagine that you travel down through the heavy roots of the tree as they descend through layers of sediment, rock, and soil.  You follow the roots even more deeply into the dark, cold earth.  Follow the roots until you come to their end, which places you inside a large cave.  You cannot see anything before you, but you can sense the enormity of the cavern.  Listen in silence and soon you will hear the noise of your animal spirit.  What is this noise?

(Reader:  pause for a moment.)

Follow the sound of the animal in the cave and know that you will not be harmed.  The floor of the cave is smooth and soft.  There are no obstructions in your way.  Simply follow the sound in the dark.  Soon you will feel something brush up against you.  This is the feel of your animal spirit.  How did it feel?

(Reader:  pause for a moment.)

The animal spirit continues to summon you with its sound.  Follow the sound and eventually you will catch the scent of your animal spirit.  What is that scent?

(Reader:  pause for a moment.)

Finally, you notice a speck of glowing light on the floor of the cave.  As you approach the soft glow, you can see it is not a speck at all, but a large luminous symbol.  This is the mark of the animal spirit.  What is this symbol?  Remember it for future reference.  Reach down and touch the glowing symbol and the cave crumbles around you to reveal a landscape.  Where are you?  Is this the beach?  Is this the desert?  A forest?  A mountain top?

Wherever you are, begin to explore the terrain.  Soon you will encounter a single animal.  This is your animal power, your familiar self.  Greet the animal power and ask its name.

(Reader:  pause for a moment.)

It is now time to return to the upper world.  Thank the animal spirit for revealing itself and bid it farewell.  Soon the vision of the landscape and the animal fades and you find yourself back inside the cave holding on to the oak tree root.  The root seems to quickly draw you back to the upper trunk.  Step out of the trunk and then watch your body as it becomes visible and solid again.

Once you are ready, open your eyes and write down what it was you saw.  Write down the animal power you found, write its name, and draw its symbol.

Close your circle as usual.

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present the European badger, Meles meles.

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present the European badger, Meles meles.

Seriously, I was fully kidding about the Honey Badger the other day.  It just seemed like too good a joke to pass up when discussing animal traits.  After all, Randall’s flamboyant narration has become the stuff of Internet legend.  I swear, badgers were not floating around in my subconscious when I cast circle and laid down to perform this meditation.  In fact, if I had had to guess beforehand what I would encounter in trance, I would have guessed something like a bacteria (most populous animal on the planet!) or maybe a fish or something.  After all, the charismatic mammalian macrofauna are far too represented as spirit animals in the Pagan population, and it would just figure that mine would be totally bizarre.

So imagine my surprise when I got to the cave and heard this sort of snuffling, grunting, clucking sound.  That’s certainly no fish!  Next, I felt a rough, wiry pelt brush around my ankles and paws, claws, and a snuffling nose reach up towards my knees.  I’ve spent enough time around different friends pet ferrets and hedgehogs to know that this animal was no dog or cat!  Then that musky odor hit my nose and I knew I was dealing with some sort of creature like that.  The speck of light that revealed the sign of my creature showed a squatter, wider paw print than I’m used to seeing with dogs and racoons, and what I now know to be very close to the print of a badger’s front paw.

Prints of a badger's front paw and back paw in some good English mud.

Prints of a badger’s front paw and back paw in some good English mud.

When the cave disintegrated around me as I touched the paw print, I found myself standing in a warm pasture land with rolling hills, a bright blue sky, and ringed all around with woods.  It was like the southern hills of England and Ireland, if I had to guess.  I know now that this is ideal European badger habitat, and the animal I encountered there was indeed Badger.

Yes, that’s right.  The universe has soundly sorted me into House Hufflepuff.

Now that I’ve read up on the European badger–the type of badger that appeared to me (thank the Gods–American badgers are mean!)–I can definitely see why.  It’s definitely something of a homebody.  It likes its territory and it stays well within it.  It also actively maintains several burrows or “setts” within its range, which it shares peacefully with other badgers (and even rabbits, etc.!).  And when I say maintain, I mean maintain.  It hauls out soiled bedding and brings in fresh, and they defecate outside the sett in designated latrines.  They care about maintaining a good home–and they pass that home down to others!  Apparently these extensive setts can be in use for decades.

Like me, the badger is pretty peaceful and genial until something dear to it is threatened…and then it becomes a formidable force!  It’s very social among its burrow-mates, but fights with outsiders, and badgers foster their young very happily and with lots of play.  They’re also hibernating animals, so–like me–they understand the value of a good long “vegetate and do nothing” session, even though they’re otherwise quite industrious.  And even though they build a great little badger society, they do sort of pair bond!  Males typically mate with one female for life, though females themselves may have more than one partner throughout their own lives.  They’re very loyal, these badgers.

In fact, I found out that when it comes to fiction and folklore, it’s not just J.K. Rowling who finds badgers “just and loyal” and “true and unafraid of toil”.  Though Irish mythology laregly figures them as shape-shifters, Germans largely hold them to be cautious and peace-loving, though generally distrustful of art and intellect.  They love nothing more than home and comfort.  Kenneth Graham’s Mr. Badger from The Wind in the Willows is similar.  He loves his home and shuns society, but he’s a good friend to Mole and Ratty, and is the epitome of common sense.  This holds up in T.H. White’s Once and Future King when Merlin turns Arthur into a badger.  When Arthur seeks to learn a lesson from a true badger, he is told “I can only teach you two things – to dig, and love your home.”

Isn't he cute?

Isn’t he cute?

All in all, I’m glad the universe knew better than me on this one, and I’m glad that Badger is my spirit animal.  And, as a delicious coincidence, I’m pleased that its scientific name, Meles meles, is very close to Melissa.  Perhaps there’s a shared etymology there?

Day 361: Animal Spirit Oil and Incense

Aw, boo.  Just when I thought I was done with all this moderately successful incense stuff.  I don’t think I’ll make up the incense.  When it comes time to using it, I think I’ll just burn a stick of sandalwood and a stick of patchouli at the same time.

Animal Spirit Oil
Blend the following oils and herbs into 1 ounce of safflower oil, grape seed oil, or vegetable glycerin:

  • 3 drops patchouli essential oil
  • 1 drop cinnamon essential oil
  • 1 drop eucalyptus essential oil
  • 5 drops vetiver or iris essential oil
  • A pinch of dried patchouli

Animal Spirit Incense

  • Handful of dried, powdered sandalwood
  • 2 tablespoons dried patchouli leaf
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon powder

To these dry ingredients, mix in 5 drops of vetiver or iris essential oil and 2 drops of eucalyptus essential oil.

My animal spirit oil, sitting on my ritual hearth.

My animal spirit oil, sitting on my ritual hearth.

Since I have oodles and oodles of elemental oil and sabbat oil where I used a whole ounce of oil, I decided we’d just stick with drams here, so my oil is much more concentrated.  I used about 3 drops of patchouli, 2 cinnamon, 3 eucalyptus, and 3 of Scotch pine.  For whatever reason, the pine was calling me as being more ‘animal’ in this application.  Also, I didn’t have any vetiver or orris root.  It has a very nice, mellow scent over all.

Day 360: Animal Powers

Bring on the clichés!

Bring on the clichés!

Witches and animals go together like peanut butter and jelly.  Throughout the Western World, at least, witches have often been associated with an animal familiar spirit.  Dogs, cats, hares, owls, ravens, yellow birds, and all manner of toads, snakes, and salamanders have been said to be familiars in one text or another.

These accounts might be a cultural vestige of ancient shamanic practices–after all, people of cultures gone by read the movements of animals as a divinatory practice and found different qualities in the wildlife surrounding them that they would metaphorically use to increase that quality in themselves or another.  One might serve rabbit to a warrior before battle so that its speed would help him dodge arrows and sword blows.

Different cultures have had different associations with animals.  The Germanic people painted bison, elk, deer, owls, wolves and such upon caves.  The ancient Egyptians held hawks, cats, jackals, leopards, dogs, and so forth to be sacred creatures.  Native Americans perhaps honored the buffalo, coyote, crows, and jaguars.  Today, contemporary magical practice links a lot of this global honoring of “charismatic macrofauna” (hey, not too many people have honored bacteria!) to a shamanistic belief that each of us has an animal spirit dwelling within us.

Over the next few days, Roderick has us examining different aspects of animal work; particularly the two main types of familiars that are part of Wiccan practice:  the “domestic” familiar and the “divining” familiar.  The domestic familiar is the physical animal magic workers kept as a tool of powerful magic.  The divining familiar was a spirit helper that could change over time.  Today, we might view this familiar as the energies of our own animal selves.

Practice:  Personal Animal Traits
Before you understand more about the familiar self, try this practice.  Make a list of your personal traits, characteristics, and habits.  Try not to edit the list.  Once you are finished, try to look at the traits objectively to determine what kind of animal might closely resemble your traits.  Make a short list of animals you think might fit your profile.  If you don’t know much about the traits of animals in the wild, take a trip to the library and do some old-fashioned research, go to the zoo, or find an online resource that will help you to compare your personal traits to those of animals.

One mistake to avoid in this exercise is altering your traits so that you fit the profile of an animal you admire.  Not everyone is a wolf, tiger, lion or bear.  Some of us might closely resemble pigs, skunks, porcupines, or black widow spiders!  Allow your reality to shine through fully, unedited. Through this comparison process you can develop a list of potential animal candidates that might represent your familiar self.  Try not to consider the list as definitive.  You make ultimately find a surprising animal spirit residing within.

I care a lot about maintaining a good, clean, functional home, and I really enjoy a lot of homesteading activities like canning, gardening, and so forth.  I avidly seek knowledge on all levels, but I can be a little lazy about doing something constructive with what I’ve found out.  I love hanging out with friends, but I’m withdrawn around strangers.  They’ve got to get into my good graces before I relax.  I also value time alone.  I really enjoy babies and playing with young children.  I’d rather be busy than idle, but I do love a good “vegetate and do nothing” session.  I’m really good with handicrafts of all types, but especially love embroidery, knitting, and pysanky.  I’m very interested in interpersonal relationships and understanding how various groups of people are connected.  I kind of like things to be a little dangerous and understand that pain is not always a bad thing.  I’m not particularly aggressive until something near and dear to me is threatened…if someone was poking fun at my baby brother, I can’t say I wouldn’t throw punches (well, the baby is now 20, so he can get into his own fights, I guess).  Once you’re my friend, you’re a friend for life.  But I do tend to ignore friendly acquaintances and don’t cultivate them into a deeper relationship.  As much of a homebody as I am, I also love travel.

As far as animals go…I can sort of see communal insects in my emphasis for creating a functional home, industry, and interpersonal relationships.  I see bees especially in their wariness around strangers.  Oddly enough, I can see bears in how I relate with babies and how I’m not particularly aggressive until provoked (although the latter is a bee quality, too).  I also can see lots of pair-bonding animals in how I latch onto certain people for life.  Wolves, albatrosses, swans, turtle doves, beavers.  Actually, beavers mesh well with other traits of mine, like the home-building.  I suppose the owl and salmon might correspond with my pursuit of knowledge.  Pigs and dolphins are also wickedly smart.  And dolphins do enjoy a good session of chilling out and playing.

And then, of course, there’s the fact that I just don’t give a shit.  Exactly like the honey badger.  I just take what I want.