Flames of the Firebird

I love the story of the Phoenix. A being, when tired of its outmoded life, surrenders itself to flame to be utterly consumed, and later rises from the ashes to be born anew.

The winter that I started working with Cerridwyn, I also started to work with the energy of the Phoenix, the Firebird. I had some pretty extraordinary things happen once I started working with the Firebird, and they are some of the stories of how I know my Paganism is real.

The first strange occurrence was an accidental invocation. (Be careful what you dance and sing for, my friends!) It was December or January: I had found a song I really liked, and joyously sang and danced around my living room, feeling the resplendent glory of the Firebird well up inside of me and plume out – like wingbeats fanning a fire. I was hotter than usual when I finished dancing, and I ended up burning like a furnace inside for days. This was incredible! I am normally extremely cold-natured – I wear layers and layers in the winter and I’m still freezing and unhappy. I wore shorts outside when I went to meet my friends that night (instead of my usual four layers of jackets.) Everyone else noticed the odd spectacle, and I shared my story. It was so visceral and out of the ordinary that I knew it had to be real. There’s no way I could make up that experience, and even if I tried, I wouldn’t believe myself.

After that, I knew there had to be a more intentional way to channel that energy. It felt simultaneously like tapping into my own personal power as well as channeling energy from a source outside myself. I felt the flames whirling around me and consuming me from the inside out. It was unlike any other energy I had experienced. It was wild and untamed, while simultaneously purposeful. It didn’t speak in words or have the presence of a God or Goddess. Not quite. It felt Otherworldly, but also inside of me. It was like a dance between this world and another.

A few weeks later, when I was having an awful day at my old job, I sang and danced to the Firebird again, with the intention of burning up all the negative energy I had accumulated from the day. It did so in spades. I was so fed up with all of the bullshit from my job and my awful supervisor. The fury overtook me. I screamed and sang and went up in flames as I spun around my apartment. It was a raging wildfire through my body and my aura, clearing the path and burning away all the bullshit. Afterward, I was still smoldering, and I felt cleansed and empowered.

The Firebird became a regular fixture in my spiritual life. I’m still not entirely sure if it is another being, something inside of me, or a combination of both. Right now, I believe it is both. I will call on the Firebird as a Divine entity in ritual, and I will also call it as a part of myself. The Firebird symbolizes courage and power, and the strength to use both wisely.

I’ve seen the Firebird in visions – I’ve even become the Firebird in meditation/trance. I feel the Firebird when I call to the South and the element of Fire in ritual, but it is definitely not an elemental spirit. I feel its energy when I energetically shield. I’ll feel it when I create through art, song, or dance.

At a fire pit gathering last fall, a friend told me she could see the Firebird behind me as I danced. I feel the energy flowing through me as I move – the wings unfurling behind me with a flourish and flames following my footsteps. I love that other people can see it, too. It’s a part of the shared spiritual experience that helps me to know it’s not just all in my head.

It seems fitting that the Firebird first came into my life when I was in an intense period of change. I had recently left grad school. I was tackling my OCD directly, looking for a better job, and trying to repair my romantic relationship when it made its spectacular entrance into my life. My spirituality was also evolving into a much more experiential and deity-centered practice.

Pretty much everything in my life was uncertain at that time. I was constantly struggling to pay my bills. I didn’t know if my romantic relationship would survive. My brain was being restructured through therapy and psychiatric medication. I was dealing with the grief of losing what I thought was my life’s dream in academia, and discovering that the dream that had replaced it might not be sustainable, either. I was facing so many of my fears head-on, trying not to completely break down in the process.

The Firebird reminded me that even when life feels like it’s going up in flames, beautiful things can be born from the ashes. Even though it completely sucked, I’m so glad I went through that transformative experience. In a sense, I was reborn. My closely-held dreams and fears had to die so that I could continue on – so that I could grow. My life is so different now than it was before the Firebird. Though I endured a few burns in the process, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My Experience of Aphrodite

Spiritual experiences are, by nature, very difficult to put into words. You’ve just experienced something transcendent – It’s no surprise that it also transcends language. Given that, I’m going to do my best to describe to you how I experience the Goddess Aphrodite.

My primary, everyday experience of Aphrodite is presence. Soon after I started working with Her, it became a regular, comfortable feeling. I interacted with Her so often that She was only ever a prayer away, some whispered words, a spray of rosewater, a moment of silence. I felt Her, not as an experience of the other, but as something both within and outside of me. I knew She could look through my eyes, and feel what I was feeling.

It was for this reason that I never had to go through big, elaborate rituals to commune with Her. She was just there. This was in stark contrast to Cerridwyn, the other goddess with whom I have a deep relationship. For Cerridwyn, I have to go through an elaborate ritual, reach a state of trance, and meditate on my kitchen floor to even just speak with Her. It was never so difficult with Aphrodite. Cerridwyn never pops up unannounced in my life. Aphrodite does so all of the time.

Impulses to Action

My first experiences with direct communication with Her, that went beyond the feeling of a presence, were impulses to action that were not my own. I spoke in my story of my Journey to Aphrodite about Her asking for my blood (but completely without words). The best word I can find to describe it is a propulsion. Since I have OCD, I have very intimate knowledge about what compulsions feel like. This is categorically different. It still feels like a very strong drive to do something, but it isn’t rooted in fear. It springs from somewhere deep inside of me, bubbling up to the surface of my conscious thought as some variation of “I need to do this thing.”

Another distinction is that these actions aren’t compulsory. I know I can say no if I want. (But I haven’t wanted to yet.) I also know that these impulses do not come from me, which sounds contradictory since I just described them as springing “from somewhere deep inside of me.” I know that these thoughts and feelings are not my own, yet somehow they still come from within me, instead of being dropped on my head from the Divine. I know that they are not my own because some of them have been things that I would never choose for myself (like jumping in the ocean in January during my initiation), or were things I would never have known about (like composing a song in the Greek/Eastern style with no prior knowledge of music theory or microtones). Some of these impulses to action have been to do things that pushed me very far out of my comfort zone. Some have been to serve Her in one way or another. Some have been to create.

Divinely-Inspired Creation

My divinely-inspired creation has ranged from composing songs, writing rituals, and ecstatic dancing, to giving advice, having sex, and even writing this blog. During my dedication to Aphrodite in January of 2018, I wrote a song for Her that I sing every morning and night. It riffed off of a familiar tune, but eventually took on a life of its own. I didn’t enter that ritual with the intention to write a song, but that’s what happened, and it was a beautiful experience. A lot of my ecstatic experiences with deity could be described as “I didn’t intend to do this, but this is what happened, and it’s beautiful.”

Another instance of divinely-inspired creation was the Full Moon ritual I led in June 2018. I put a disclaimer on the ritual (as I had for the Full Moon I led the previous year) that it was appropriate for ages 18 and up because I intended to talk about love and sex. I went into planning for the Full Moon thinking that it was going to be a fun, raunchy ritual. It was not that AT ALL. I started getting pings of ideas here and there, all around the theme of “it needs to be about love and fear.” I didn’t exactly know what that meant, until I sat down to write the ritual the week before.

Everything just flowed. People talk about flow states in psychology – about not being aware of the passage of time, about feeling equal parts competent and challenged, about that amazing feeling of creation. I felt all of those things. Time, however, passed differently for me than it does for those in flow. Typically, when someone is in flow, hours can pass and it feels like minutes. For me, what felt like hours and hours (very enjoyable hours, but still a long time) was only a single hour. My fingers moved across my keyboard as if they were not my own. And I’m convinced, at the time, they were not. Words I never meant to say to anyone appeared on the screen in front of me. I typed out my worst fears as if I were going to announce them to an audience. And I did. What I intended to be a fun, sexy ritual turned out to be a ritual about using the power of love to conquer your deepest, most closely-held fears.

I spoke openly about my OCD. I admitted that I am afraid to die alone. I almost cried in ritual. I was open and vulnerable, in a way that invited others in the ritual to do the same. I felt so raw, but it felt so right. It was what needed to happen. It was what others needed to hear. It was what I needed to say. And it just happened.

I also composed a song specifically for that ritual, though I have used it in other contexts since. The words flowed onto the page. The melody echoed through my brain. It was not a tune I, nor any of my friends, recognized. I invited my friend who plays music over to help me write it down, and she told me that I was using lots of microtones – notes that aren’t on the Western musical scale. That made transcribing it very difficult, and we ended up not finishing the transcription of the song because none of what we wrote sounded like how it was supposed to in my head. My friend told me that the use of microtones was common in Eastern music, including Greek music. I was dumbfounded. There was no way for me to know that, and the three years I spent playing the flute were all in the Western style on a traditional musical staff. I knew in the process of writing it that it did not feel like it came from me, but this confirmed it in a way that was unimaginably real.

The song was ethereal – haunting and beautiful. I felt it in my whole body as I sang. It evoked just the right feeling for the ritual. After the ritual was over, I had several people come up and tell me that it was what they needed. I was very happy to be able to serve my community in this way.

Meditation and Communion

I do see Aphrodite in a physical form when I meditate, and occasionally in everyday life. She usually appears to me as a woman in her late twenties. Her hair is usually blonde, though sometimes it is brown or a shade in between. Her hair is long, wavy, and always down. She is on the taller side (or taller than me, anyway), slender, but with some curves. (Though, She never appears blatantly sexual to me.) She is typically wearing a flowing robe or tunic, sometimes white, sometimes brightly colored, sometimes embellished with gold or silver. She is always barefoot. There is a light radiating from within Her, that cast sparkles in Her eyes and in Her smile. Her eyes are all different colors – blue, brown, grey, hazel, and all shades in between, depending on the day. She typically does not wear any jewelry, though occasionally She will have a bracelet or a pin in Her hair. She moves with indescribable grace and tenderness. Her form will often change in the little details while I am with her, showing that Her physical representation is mutable, though Her essence remains the same.

Aphrodite’s voice is melodic and comforting. It seems to come from all directions at once, though not in an overwhelming way. Sometimes I hear specific words, but it is usually more of a general feeling, or sometimes a few different phrases all at once. Her tone is typically gentle and kind, though She has been stern and even fierce with me, but never unnecessarily. Any time She has been less than gentle, it has always been in a “this is for your own good” kind of way.

Frequently, my interactions with Aphrodite in meditation take the form of some physical activity. We dance together often, one time very memorably leaving trails of blossoming flowers by our feet (Hers were red in color.) She has walked with me hand in hand, combed my hair, and led me through the woods. We sit next to each other and talk. She appears to me as a close friend.

Aphrodite will frequently pop in out of the blue. This takes various forms. Sometimes it is in the form of an impulse to action or a thought that I know comes from Her. Rarely, I will hear Her speak to me outside of meditation. Occasionally She will appear when I am not meditating specifically for Her. One time in yoga, when I was in shavasana at the end of class, She playfully tackled me, and completely threw me out of meditation! I had to try so hard to keep from laughing and disturbing the rest of the class.

In-Body Experiences

I’ve experienced Aphrodite in my body a few times. This is the experience for which I have the fewest words, because nothing seems quite adequate. It wasn’t full on divine possession, because I still felt that I had control and remember (mostly) what happened in those instances. The feeling isn’t as entirely overwhelming as you would think, but it still transcends most description. It is usually accompanied by a tingling sensation all over my body, and some lightheadedness that borders on a headache (but in the best possible way). I’ve felt Her do this during ritual. My voice quality will change a bit, my focus will sharpen or blur, and I appear taller (according to witnesses). I’ve also experienced it during sex, especially when I’ve extended my pleasure to Her as an offering. I feel a different energy coursing through my body (and the orgasms are pretty awesome, too). This sharing of my body feels sacred, holy, light, and powerful. That’s about all of the adjectives I’ve got.

Whether you’re ecstatically experiencing deity for the first time or the fiftieth, or if you’re hoping to soon, I hope that you’ve found something helpful here. The more we talk about our religious experiences, the more it normalizes them. The more we can find common ground. The more we know that others are going through the same thing. There aren’t very many resources about the modern day experience and worship of Aphrodite. Please share your stories. The world will be better for it.

When Books Aren’t Enough

Y’all, I love books. I have a long history with books. When I was growing up, I would voraciously read pretty much anything that was available to me. As a kid, it wasn’t uncommon for me to leave the library with a stack of books almost as tall as I was!

This love of reading wasn’t limited to a particular genre, either. I loved fiction – mostly fantasy, sci-fi, and coming-of-age stories (because even I could be a moody pre-teen/teenager sometimes). I also loved non-fiction. I had books on nature (naturally), a manual on quantum physics, a German grammar book, and a (hidden) stash of books on Wicca/Witchcraft.

I was a bit of an overachiever when it came to school and learning (I still am, to be honest). In high school, I took all the AP classes I could – Calculus, Biology, English Literature, Environmental Science, Physics, European History, and Psychology. I read A LOT. I studied A LOT. Books, and the information contained therein, were, in a sense, sacred to me. I learned mostly because I wanted to, not because I felt like I had to (with the exception of Mechanics in Physics, maybe). If I wanted an answer, it was in a book. Or on the internet, which had its coming of age in my later teen years.

I went to college, where I discovered research and the idea of discovering your own knowledge. This was amazing to me. I majored in Environmental Science, which more or less meant I had to be knowledgeable in all the science disciplines, and more. I took classes in biology, chemistry, physics, geology, ecology, mathematics, geography, and computer programming. I minored in Marine Science, so I took classes in hydrology, estuaries, and oceanography, too. And I doubled majored in Italian, so I learned a whole other language and culture, studied abroad, and even took science classes in Italian while abroad.

I. Love. Learning.

I even went to graduate school for a PhD, because I loved learning so much. It turns out that, as fascinated as I was with the idea of creating your own knowledge, I actually despised research. Or at least the research I did. But you need research when you get to the phase in your learning where books aren’t enough. We don’t know all the answers. So we have to find them ourselves.

I left grad school (with a Master’s Degree instead of a PhD, if you’re curious), and that’s when my spiritual journey really started to pick up. While I was in grad school, I started buying all the witchy books I would have loved to have had years ago when I was a fledgeling Pagan. I devoured them, as well as pagan blogs and any other media I could find. Once I left grad school, I started having experiences that they didn’t talk about in the books. And I didn’t know what to do.

I was lucky to have a very supportive community and a close group of friends that I could share my experiences with. A goddess started talking to me (well, two actually), that there isn’t much (if any) reputable modern scholarship on. And I freaked out. None of my science training had prepared me for this. I was in completely new territory – having actual ecstatic experiences of deity. No amount of reading in the world will prepare you for that.

Sure, there are things that you can do to be more prepared. Having a good knowledge base of your deity is an excellent place to start, as is having practice with grounding, shielding, centering, meditation, and trance. Knowing basic energy dynamics and how to move between different levels of consciousness is also extremely helpful. However, none of this adequately prepares you to truly encounter the Divine.

I think ecstatic experiences of deity are supposed to be overwhelming and slightly terrifying – Awesome, in the antiquated sense of the word. If you were able to prepare for it, the experience wouldn’t be as meaningful and profound. You are encountering something Otherworldly – it being alien and ineffable goes along with the territory.

One important thing to remember as you blaze the trail beyond books is to believe in yourself. Believe in what you are experiencing. Our perceived experience of the world is all we have to go on, anyway. It’s how we get to know the world, scientifically or spiritually. When we are children, we throw things off of high places to see how gravity works. There’s a learning curve, we experiment in different environments, our aim gets better, and maybe in a few weeks we can play trashcan basketball with a decent degree of accuracy.

Spirituality is no different. We have to experiment, to do our own research, to figure out what works for us and what does not. How can we have ecstatic experiences with deity more consistently? We can change the time of day, the chant we say, the phase of the moon, how recently we ate, how we construct sacred space, and a million other things, but we won’t know what works until we try.

Believe in your experiences, but be cautious in your interpretations. When something Big happens, we often want to jump to spiritual conclusions, especially if we’ve been putting in the work to help facilitate these experiences. Questioning is essential. A good dose of skepticism is what keeps us on the healthy side of delusion. Can the Divine speak to us through synchronicities? Absolutely. But is every coincidence that happens actually a sign from a Goddess? Probably not. Believe in your experiences, but use wisdom, intuition, and common sense when you interpret these events. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. (And Freud probably didn’t even actually say that.)

I am so grateful to my group of Pagan friends who helped me navigate my first visceral experiences with deity. They were my sounding board for all of the crazy things that had started to happen. I got to share my experiences, as well as my interpretations and concerns. Explaining my experiences to others helped me to sort out what was probable and improbable. I was able to draw on the spiritual knowledge of several other people, not just my own.

If you are starting down the path where books aren’t enough, I highly encourage you to find a group of like-minded spiritual seekers, ideally with varying backgrounds and experience levels, to help you navigate your new experiences. No one should have to do this work in isolation. You can do research and experiment together, and sharing in adventures such as this helps to create community.

What do you do when your experiences don’t match the lore? Or others’ experiences of that deity? Questioning comes in handy in these instances as well. Could it be another deity that you are communicating with? Do some old-school book and internet research and find out if your experience is more in-line with a different divinity. What would this deity look like in a modern context? Most of our original source material as Neo-Pagans is several thousand years old, and was written by humans and subject to their own (potentially erroneous) interpretations. Isn’t it possible (or even probable) that the Gods would present themselves differently to different people? I encourage you to think deeply and talk with others about these questions.

Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) gets a lot of airtime in Pagan circles these days, and I am heartily in support of it. I am not a Hellenic reconstructionist – I do not believe that we need to do things exactly the way they were done before. A thriving religion evolves over time, and I believe that our deities (and our relationships with them) do, too. I don’t experience the same Aphrodite that Homer wrote about – and that’s okay! I know people in my community who have experienced Aphrodite in a similar (though not exactly the same) way that I perceive Her. This gives me some confirmation of my own UPG. However, when I went looking for modern-day reference material for Her, I found very little. Part of the goal of this blog is to help build a resource for the contemporary worship of Aphrodite.

Eventually, you have to put down the books, stop reading, and start doing. You never stop learning, but you do start discovering. You do your own experiments. You have your own experiences. You make your own knowledge. It is a deeply personal and courageous journey, and it is so worth it.

Chakra Clearing Meditation

I shared this particular meditation with a friend the other day, and I thought it might be nice to post it here as well! This is the visualization that I typically use for clearing my chakras. It can be great if you’re feeling off-balance, or if you just want to recenter and recharge. It is also helpful before doing any spellwork to open up the channel of energy flow, and can add another layer of energetic depth if done before sex.

I often do this meditation lying down, as I frequently practice it before going to sleep and when I wake up in the morning. I’ve read several reasons not to do this, from the energy alignment not being proper unless you are sitting or standing, to “you’ll just fall asleep.” Lying down works for me, but you do what works best for you! If that’s sitting on the floor or in a chair, great! If that’s standing, also great! Do what feels best and what will also allow you to make it a more regular practice.

Some notes before you get started: I view the chakras as spinning wheels of light. The first (root) and the seventh (crown) are parallel to the ground if you are sitting or standing, kind of like two endcaps on your energy channel. I see all the chakras as spinning clockwise, as viewed from behind and above. I know other energy methodologies have differences in these details. Explore a few, and do what works best for you. I also generally view the crown chakra as white instead of violet. Again, choose what feels powerful for you!

I also have a specific breathing pattern that I use when I do this meditation, borrowed from some tantric breathing I’ve learned. I breathe in from the earth through my root chakra and up my spine (or into the particular chakra I am working on), and then breathe out starting from the crown of my head, going down the front of my body and into the earth, in a circular breathing pattern. I envision releasing anything that was blocking my chakra to the earth on that out breath.

Once I reach the crown chakra and have cleared it using the method above, I will breathe in from the Divine to the crown chakra, down the front of my body, and exhale up my spine back to the crown. This is more of an infusion process, bringing the Divine in, as opposed to the releasing to the earth from before.

Draw your awareness into your body. Feel the ground beneath your feet/seat/back. Become aware of your consciousness’ connection to your body and the earth. Begin to reach downward into the earth, as if you were a tree extending its roots to grow. Feel your roots go down, down, down, until you reach a brilliant white source of energy at the earth’s center. This is the energy you will use – the radiant, pure energy of the earth – to cleanse your chakras.

Bring the energy of the earth up through your roots, into your body, starting with your feet, then your ankles, your legs, and finally into your root chakra. Your root chakra is a horizontal (parallel to the floor if sitting or standing) spinning wheel of ruby red light. See it spinning clockwise (as viewed from above). As the white light of the earth enters your root chakra, it begins to spin faster, throwing off any blockages, any fears or insecurities, and any harmful energy that has taken up residence there. See your root chakra begin to glow brighter, radiating this brilliant ruby light, nourished from the energy of the earth. Do this for several breaths. Once you feel you have cleared all that needs clearing from your root chakra, do one final exhale down the front of your body into the earth, grounding all that you have released.

On your next inhale, breathe the white light of the earth up through your brilliant red root chakra and into your sacral chakra. The second, sacral chakra is a vertical spinning wheel of tangerine orange light in the center of your pelvic bowl. See it spinning clockwise (as viewed from behind). As the white light of the earth enters your sacral chakra, it begins to spin faster, throwing off any blockages, any fears or insecurities, and any harmful energy that has taken up residence there. See your sacral chakra begin to glow brighter, radiating this brilliant tangerine light, nourished from the energy of the earth. Once you feel you have cleared all that needs clearing from your sacral chakra, do one final exhale down the front of your body into the earth, grounding all that you have released.

Inhale again, and breathe the white light of the earth up your spine, through your first, second, and now into your third chakra. The third, solar plexus chakra is a vertical spinning wheel of golden yellow light right beneath your sternum. See it spinning clockwise (as viewed from behind). As the white light of the earth enters your solar plexus chakra, it begins to spin faster, throwing off any blockages, any fears or insecurities, and any harmful energy that has taken up residence there. See your third chakra begin to glow brighter, radiating this brilliant golden yellow light, nourished from the energy of the earth. Once you feel you have cleared all that needs clearing from your solar plexus chakra, do one final exhale down the front of your body into the earth, grounding all that you have released.

On your next inhale, breathe the white light of the earth up your spine, through your first, second, third, and now into your fourth chakra, visualizing the rainbow of colors as you breathe up the spine. The fourth, heart chakra is a vertical spinning wheel of radiant emerald green light in the center of your chest. See it spinning clockwise (as viewed from behind). As the white light of the earth enters your heart chakra, it begins to spin faster, throwing off any blockages, any fears or insecurities, and any harmful energy that has taken up residence there. See your fourth chakra begin to glow brighter, radiating this brilliant emerald light, nourished from the energy of the earth. Once you feel you have cleared all that needs clearing from your heart chakra, do one final exhale down the front of your body into the earth, grounding all that you have released.

Inhale again, and breathe the white light of the earth up your spine, through your first, second, third, fourth, and now into your fifth chakra. The fifth, throat chakra is a vertical spinning wheel of sky blue light in the center of your throat. See it spinning clockwise (as viewed from behind). As the white light of the earth enters your throat chakra, it begins to spin faster, throwing off any blockages, any fears or insecurities, and any harmful energy that has taken up residence there. See your fifth chakra begin to glow brighter, radiating this brilliant sky blue light, nourished from the energy of the earth. Once you feel you have cleared all that needs clearing from your throat chakra, do one final exhale down the front of your body into the earth, grounding all that you have released.

On your next inhale, breathe the white light of the earth up your spine, through your first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and now into your sixth chakra. The sixth, third eye chakra is a vertical spinning wheel of indigo light slightly above the midpoint between your two eyes. See it spinning clockwise (as viewed from behind). As the white light of the earth enters your third eye chakra, it begins to spin faster, throwing off any blockages, any fears or insecurities, and any harmful energy that has taken up residence there. See your sixth chakra begin to glow brighter, radiating this brilliant indigo light, nourished from the energy of the earth. Once you feel you have cleared all that needs clearing from your third eye chakra, do one final exhale down the front of your body into the earth, grounding all that you have released.

Inhale again, and breathe the white light of the earth up your spine, through your first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and now into your seventh chakra, seeing and feeling the rainbow of colors radiate up your body. The seventh, crown chakra is a horizontal spinning wheel of violet or white light at the top of your head. See it spinning clockwise (as viewed from above). As the white light of the earth enters your crown chakra, it begins to spin faster, throwing off any blockages, any fears or insecurities, and any harmful energy that has taken up residence there. See your seventh chakra begin to glow brighter, radiating this brilliant violet or white light, nourished from the energy of the earth. Once you feel you have cleared all that needs clearing from your crown chakra, do one final exhale down the front of your body into the earth, grounding all that you have released.

Breathe up your spine, sensing each of the glowing rainbow of chakras as your breath passes through them, culminating at your crown chakra. Breathe out, and send your energy up into the cosmos, spreading like branches in the etheric pool of Divine Energy. Inhale this Divine energy down the front of your body, allowing it to nourish every cell. Breathe out, moving the energy in a circular pattern back up your spine, and breathe down the Divine energy once more. Do this for several breaths. Once you feel completely nourished and at peace with this Divine energy, slowly bring your branches back into your body. Ground any unneeded energy back into the earth, and bring your roots back into your body. Take a few more deep breaths, feeling empowered and rejuvenated, cleansed and cleared.

Heart Healing Meditation Stones

A lot of the New-Age world is abuzz with talk of the power of crystals and their vibrations. Until a few years ago, I was extremely skeptical. My formal science training screamed “There aren’t any research studies!” but somewhere, deep down, it made sense that rocks, crystals, or anything made of the Earth could have its own energies. I’ve never doubted the sacredness or spiritual energy of trees. Why would stones be any different? But they weren’t alive like trees were, and I’d read so many uses for some types of stones that it all started to sound like hippie nonsense. That was, until I found a stone that worked.

I had accumulated a few stones over the years (I am a Pagan, how could I not?), but none of them really “spoke” to me. I was convinced I needed to expand my repertoire, so I attended a crystal workshop at my local Pagan Pride Day Festival a couple of years ago. Again, I didn’t really connect with any of the stones, but I was inspired by the workshop to pick up a selenite wand to use to cleanse my altar items. I sort of felt something from it, but the effect was not big enough to make me into a crystal convert. I was still skeptical.

One of my favorite Pagan bloggers, Tess Whitehurst, mentioned something in one of her articles about holding a black tourmaline in one hand to help get rid of anxiety for better sleep. At the time of reading the article, I was in the throes of full-on dealing with my obsessive compulsive disorder and general anxiety, and at that point, I was open to anything that could help. So, dubious though I was, I went and bought a black tourmaline from my local New Age shop. I properly cleansed it (which meant the OCD “actually wash it with dish soap” as well as energetically cleansing it), and that night, I tried it. I held it in my right hand, fully expecting nothing to happen and for me to now be the owner of a just another shiny black rock. While I was in the middle of thinking these doubting thoughts, the ever-present knot in my chest loosened. I felt my anxiety drain away. I shook my head, incredulous, but I felt much better. My worries were quieter (and when you have OCD, you have a lot of worries) and physically, I felt renewed. I was in awe.

I tried it again the next night, and the same thing happened, and it’s happened every time since then. My journey with Aphrodite started soon after, so rose quartz was a natural second stone to add. I could feel the energy of these, especially from the bigger stones. I added rose quartz with the black tourmaline to my meditation stone collection. But I needed something else.

I have experienced a lot of pain, betrayal, and heartbreak over the years (not just with my boyfriend moving out, but in relationships before that as well), and my heart chakra felt very closed off and sluggish. I did some research and decided to acquire some malachite, a bright green stone associated with healing and the heart chakra. With that, I discovered my perfect trio.

I use all three of these stones to meditate. I typically meditate lying down (I know some people don’t consider it a best practice, but it works for me better than sitting, so I go for it). I will place the black tourmaline in my right hand (my dominant, projecting hand), so that it can absorb all of the anxiety or negative energy that I may be generating. I place the malachite in my left (receptive) hand, so that I can take in all of its healing energies. Finally, I place a large rose quartz palmstone right on my sternum/heart chakra, so its gentle, soothing energies can radiate through my whole body. It feels wonderful for any meditation, as well as for trying to drift off to sleep.

Give it a try! I hope it works for you. If not, I’m sure there is an arrangement of crystals out there that will make you feel fantastic. Do a little research, and don’t give up if you don’t find it on your first try. It may also take a while for you to get used to the energies of the crystals. At first, selenite didn’t have a big effect on me, but now I consider it essential and carry one around with me everywhere. On my last Pagan Shopping Trip, I was drawn to a fluorite crystal. It’s got some great energy, and though I don’t know exactly what I’m going to use it for yet, I’m excited to find out.

Going Deeper – Connecting with Divinity

This is Part Two in a series on Going Deeper with your Pagan Practice. Read Part One here.

You’ve done some great personal introspection, feel pretty confident about your spiritual skills, and you’ve taken a look at the personal considerations in the previous blog post (Going Deeper – Are You Ready to Dive In?). You’ve done your research, and are pretty sure of the deity (or deities) you want to work with. You know about their lore, their traditions, and their holidays. Maybe you’ve even already started to reach out to them. These are all wonderful things! Here are some next steps on how to pursue a deeper relationship with a deity.

1. Pray

I have found that an easy access point to begin a Divine relationship is through prayer. Those of us who were raised in other faiths may be more or less familiar with the idea, and it’s something that most people have at least some experience with. If there is a typical prayer structure in your tradition, try that! If there’s not, invent your own, or find some inspiration on the internet. I’ve always found that spontaneous prayers spoken from the heart are the most connective, but don’t feel like that is your only option.

Written prayers are good for daily devotionals and rituals, and having specific prayers for specific occasions (like before a meal) also have special meaning. You may want to include some of your deity’s epithets in your prayers. This can help further connect you to their various aspects, and can give you a touchstone for when you don’t feel you have much to say.

2. Do a daily devotion

A daily devotional practice to your deity is essential to building a deep relationship. Start small! There are many different ways to do a daily devotion and many practices that you can incorporate into yours. I suggest that you start small, with one action a day, and keep doing that until it becomes a regular habit. Then you can build on that solid foundation with more elaborate practices.

A great way to start a daily devotional practice is with prayer. This can be scripted or spontaneous – something you say right when you wake up, before you go to bed, before a meal, or another time that feels right for your deity. You are more likely to be successful if you connect it to something you already do on a daily basis (which is why I’m a fan of the waking up/going to bed option). This could be something as simple as being mindful while you drink your morning tea and dedicating that time to your deity. Make sure gratitude, joy, and celebration are a part of whatever devotion you do.

3. Make offerings

Making offerings can be a part of your daily devotional practice, but it doesn’t have to be, especially not in the beginning. I do suggest you start making offerings of some variety to your deity, even if it is just once a week, or at the very least, once a moon cycle.

I think of offerings in two categories: physical offerings, and offerings of action. Your deity may have a particular preference (and even preferences within those categories), and it is important that you honor that. The gods and goddesses also know and respect your financial status and ability level. They won’t ask for offerings of gold if you can’t afford it. That being said, sometimes requests that seem like a stretch will be made. This may be a sign of something you need to work towards, and it’s good to open up communication with your deity about these requests to clarify what is really being asked of you.

Physical offerings are just that, physical objects that are given to the deity. This can be food or a libation, incense burned in their honor, flowers or other decorations, or something you have made. This is offered with love and respect for the deity, usually placed on an altar or in another special location, and accompanied by a prayer or expression of gratitude. If your offering is something that will spoil (like food or drink), the offering will generally be placed outside and returned to the Earth after the ritual is finished or after a day or so, if left on an altar. I live in a third-story apartment, so I don’t have access to an outdoor offering space. I also have a cat that will eat pretty much anything (including aluminum foil and staples), so I can’t leave anything out in my apartment. I also risk running into my neighbors and getting looks from dog-walkers if I go downstairs and out to the edge of the woods. There’s a modification for every living situation. My balcony is pretty private and faces the woods, so my solution for perishable offerings is to ceremoniously (though, some might argue unceremoniously, depending on my throwing skills that day) toss them off my balcony into the woods. Luckily, I work with a laughter-loving goddess who doesn’t mind me being a little silly when I make my offerings. You’ll have to come up with a method that works for you and your deity.

Offerings of action are things that you do in your daily life to honor your deity. They could be things you do that are within your deity’s purview, like attending a pole dancing class in honor of Aphrodite, or performing an activity that you enjoy and mindfully doing it for them. For example, I frequently dedicate my yoga practice to Aphrodite. For offerings of action, I refer to the line in the Charge of the Goddess (version by Doreen Valiente) “Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth, for behold: All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.

“All acts of love and pleasure” – that phrase just makes my heart sing. Because the gods want us to be happy. Yes, sometimes we will need to go through hard times in order to further our personal growth, but all with the purpose of developing our joyful, beautiful souls. Almost anything can be an offering, if it is done mindfully and with intention. Some of my favorite offerings of action are: spending time with friends, going for a hike, exercise of pretty much any form, making art, writing, cooking, cleaning (with intention!), singing in the shower, learning another language, studying a new subject, and reading magickal books.

4. Listen deeply

If you want to form a meaningful relationship with a deity, you want it to be two ways, which means you need to listen deeply to what they have to say. When I say listening, I don’t mean in the literal auditory sense (though that can also apply). Communications from the Divine can take many forms, including visions and “just knowing” things. Be mindful to listen as you are praying, making offerings, or doing devotions. Meditation can be a wonderful opportunity to listen, as your mind is quieter than normal, and you are open to different experiences. More on that in the next section.

Communications can also happen anytime the Divinity chooses. I remember having one particularly memorable Divine transmission from Aphrodite while sitting at a stoplight in my car. I’ve also had a quieter goddess go through one of my friends to get me to pay attention when I wasn’t listening to her. While setting up a spiritual context for listening greatly increases the likelihood of meaningful communication, it doesn’t always have to be “spiritual.”

5. Meditate

I’m sure there is no shortage of books or internet articles telling you how important meditation is for spiritual practice (or even just life in general), so I’m not going to bore you with another proselytizing speech here. You can find good research about the other benefits of meditation pretty easily as well. My reasons for including meditation here are mostly rooted in deep listening, but it’s also a pretty essential magickal skill for spellwork and raising energy.

Setting aside at least 10 minutes a day (or every other day – again, start small and work your way up!) to meditate in whatever way feels best to you will open you up to receiving Divine messages. I mentioned a few of my favorite types of meditation in Part One of this post, but choose something that works for you, and do it consistently. You may not hear anything right away. That’s okay. Keep up the practice. You may not hear anything at all. That’s okay, too. Your deity may communicate with you in other ways. If you consistently don’t hear/see/feel anything from a deity you have been trying to work with, you might consider exploring other options and seeing if another deity “clicks” with you better. Your relationship should be a two-way street. You can choose the deity, but the deity also has to choose you.

6. Perform acts of service

Acts of service are similar to offerings of action, but are more themed around doing the deity’s work in the world. This can be a lot of different things, but it is generally related to the deity’s sphere of influence. For me, an act of service for Aphrodite would be helping my friends out when they come to me for advice about romance or sex. For one of my friends who is devoted to Frigg, it can take the form of being an amazing mother.

Acts of service are extremely personal between the deity and their devotee, and it depends on your abilities and resources. Once you begin a relationship with a deity, they may ask you do certain things for them, give you tasks or a mission. Sometimes they do not. Sometimes you will need to seek those things out on your own. Sometimes the opportunities will just appear in front of you. You always have the option of saying no, but if you are trying to build a relationship with this deity and what they are asking for doesn’t conflict with your morals or go beyond your capabilities, I recommend you give it a try. Be honest and upfront about it with your deity, too. That’s what I did with Aphrodite. I told her I would “try out this being-a-priestess” thing, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

What is asked of you may not be easy. It’s okay to struggle, but you need to be honest with yourself and with your deity about why you are struggling (refer back to the “Have you dealt with your personal shit?” section of Part One of this post). Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance. If a deity wants you to do their work in the world, they will help you do it, but you also need to put in the effort.

7. Make the Divine a part of your daily life

This is my favorite part of all about “Going Deeper” into a relationship with a deity. My life, from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep (and sometimes even in my dreams), is filled with magick, love, and spiritual experiences. No joke. I’ve tried my best to merge my magickal and mundane lives as much as possible, and it has resulted in some pretty great synergy.

I do devotions when I awake and before I go to sleep. I’ve recently started a regular practice of blessing my food, particularly the rose tea I drink for Aphrodite. My purse at any point in time contains a myriad of crystals, charms, quarter calls, a candle, notes for rituals, and an emergency rosewater vial (yes, you read that correctly). My phone has pagan blogs bookmarked, inspirational goddess art, and an app to track the moon phases and astrological signs. My bookshelf is filled with books on witchcraft, paganism, personal development, relationship help, tantra, sex, and love. I have several spaces in my apartment dedicated to different spiritual purposes. Even at work, I have some covert spiritual things. I pray I don’t know how many times a day. I do a cleansing ritual every time I shower. The Divine has permeated my life, and I am so much better for it.

I hope these two posts have served as a good jumping off point for your own spiritual deep dives. I wish you the best of luck in your spiritual endeavors. May the Gods and Goddesses go with you.

Self-Compassion Ritual

The weekend after Valentine’s Day this year, one of the members of my pagan group fell ill, and could not lead the regularly scheduled Sunday Circle. Though I did not have a “back-pocket” ritual to fill in for a Sunday Circle, I got a huge Divine Shove to volunteer to lead. The resulting ritual was written in about three hours the day before! It was very clear to me that I wasn’t doing most of the writing (which has happened for the last few rituals I’ve lead) and that Aphrodite was writing through me. My fingers flew across the keyboard, and though I drew inspiration from other rituals I had led as well as from other sources, the spirit was entirely and completely Hers. This ritual was designed for a group of about 20 people, but it is easily adapted to a different size group or for solitary practice. For materials, you will need a small sheet of paper and a writing utensil for every participant, as well as whatever calls to you for an altar set-up to honor the elements and Aphrodite.

Quarter Calls

North

We call to the North, to the element of Earth to be with us today. Please help us to embody our own inner strength, so that we may remain grounded and confident in ourselves. Element of Earth, hail and welcome!

East

We call to the East, to the element of Air to be with us today. Please help us to acknowledge our own intelligence and creativity, so that we may inspire and be inspired by others. Element of Air, hail and welcome!

South

We call to the South, to the element of Fire to be with us today. Please help us to kindle our own passions and playfulness, so that our hearts may always lead the way. Element of Fire, hail and welcome!

West

We call to the West, to the element of Water, to be with us today. Please help us to recognize our own capacity for healing and forgiveness, so that we may heal and forgive ourselves, as well as others. Element of Water, hail and welcome!

Aphrodite Invocation

I invoke the goddess Aphrodite, the great goddess of love, in all its many forms. O Radiant Goddess, shine your light on us, so that we may realize our true brilliance. Help us to foster love and compassion for ourselves and others. Glorious Goddess, inspire us to walk with confidence in our everyday lives. May your fierce and protective love surround our circle. Hail and welcome!

Circle Casting

(Cast a Circle in a way that feels powerful for you.)

Introduction

As I’m sure you know, Valentine’s Day was this past Thursday. If you went out shopping at all, it was hard to miss. Shiny metallic hearts everywhere, a profusion of flowers and chocolates, and orante, sentimental cards. Some of you, like me, might be a sap when it comes to Valentine’s Day. While I don’t appreciate the commercialization, I am enamored with the idea of a day dedicated to love. I’m not particularly thrilled with it being named after a martyred Christian saint, and after a friend sent me an article by Beth Owl’s Daughter, I am now firmly on team “Let’s call it Aphrodite’s Day instead!”

For others, Valentine’s Day is little more than a hassle, or even downright depressing. There’s social pressure to make big romantic gestures, and for those who are not coupled, Single’s Awareness Day is all-too-real. There are a lot of judgements around Valentine’s Day, both of ourselves and from or about others.

Today, I want us to focus on the kind of love that doesn’t need a partner. It doesn’t have a special day, though it is something that we can practice for ourselves every day. That love is self-compassion.

Self-compassion can be a lot of things. For me, it’s about forgiving myself whenever I make a mistake. It’s about letting go of unrealistic expectations. It’s about self-acceptance. It’s about being kind, and knowing that I am doing the best that I can. It’s about choosing to love myself, regardless of the actions of others.

This can be a challenge – particularly in a world where we are flooded with media constantly telling us that we aren’t enough. We aren’t beautiful or handsome enough. We aren’t skilled enough. We aren’t fit enough. We aren’t rich enough. We aren’t good enough to have a partner. Or we aren’t a good enough partner for someone else.

Let me tell you something. It’s not a secret, though in our culture it’s guarded like one – only spoken in hushed tones between the closest of friends.

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

You are beautiful. You are handsome. You are skilled. You are abundant. You are kind. You are compassionate. And you are worthy of love. All kinds of love. Simply by being you.

I want you to keep this in mind throughout our ritual today. First, I am going to lead us in a heart-opening meditation, and then we will have an activity before we celebrate our wonderful selves with cakes and ale.

Heart Opening Meditation

Close your eyes. You are in a safe space here. Let’s make it even more secure by cleansing and shielding. Envision roots sprouting from your feet and burrowing into the ground, anchoring you in the nourishing and ever-loving earth. You see the light at the core of the earth flow upward toward you, bathing your roots in pure energy. Your roots form a conduit for this energy to move up the rest of your body, bit by bit. First toes, then feet, then ankles, until this brilliant glowing golden light has bathed every cell in your body.

Now, if you like, and if it feels right to you, you may see the light cascading upward out of the crown of your head, as if you were growing branches of light. Continue growing up, up, up into the atmosphere, until you have reached the cosmos. Once your branches have found that pool of ethereal energy, you may bring some back down your branches, down into your head, your chest, your arms, and the entire rest of your body. Feel these two harmonizing energies balance within you – earth and sky – and know that you are divine.

You may release these energies if you like, now that you are protected by the earth and the sky. Now, envision yourself surrounded by a globe of golden white light. In this sphere, only love remains and in this sphere only love may enter. You are totally safe.

If you haven’t started to pay attention to your breath, just place your awareness on it now. Feel the steady rise and fall of your chest. Now, sense your heart, or your heart chakra if that makes more sense to you. See your heart start to glow with that same brilliant golden white light. Imagine that you are breathing in and out of your heart. With each breath, your heart gets even brighter, filling your chest with light and spilling out to the rest of your body. You start to feel a warmth fill your heart. With a few more breaths, your heart is glowing like the sun, illuminating everything around it. You feel your insides soften, your heart growing stronger and brighter than ever before. You take one final breath, and you open a door to your heart – a door to the light within. You feel the abundance of light overflowing from you, out into the world, while feeling totally and completely nourished inside. You feel the light you send out return to you, filling you with joy. You breathe here for a moment, finding the equilibrium of your light with the world. If you wish, you may vow to keep this conduit open, so that you can receive and give love freely, always surrounded by your glowing sphere in which only love remains and through which only love may enter. Or, while still keeping your heart door open, you may slowly dim the energy and ground, if that feels best for you right now.

Self-Compassion Activity

I am passing around sheets of paper and some writing utensils. I want each of you to write out the numbers one through five, and I want you to write down five things you love about yourself. It can be anything, but try to focus your list on the human “being” that you are, not a human “doing.” Instead of saying “I volunteer for charity,” say “I am compassionate for others.” Don’t be shy! If you think you have a great butt, write it down! We often shortchange ourselves for fear of appearing arrogant. There’s no room for that here.

After you have finished writing down your five things you love about yourself, I want you to write in big letters at the bottom or on the other side of the card “I AM ENOUGH.”

And now, because truths are even more powerful when spoken aloud, I would like to invite everyone to share what you have written on your card. You don’t have to share all of them, or even any if you don’t want to, but I do invite you to share what you feel comfortable doing so in this supportive group. Please stand up and make your statements, and when you have finished with your list, I want you each to state “I AM ENOUGH.”

Since I asked each of you to be vulnerable, it’s only fair that I be vulnerable with you as well. Here is my list:

1. I am passionate about life, love, and caring for others.

2. I am adventurous.

3. I am beautiful, not despite my scar, but because of it.

4. I am a good friend.

5. I am worthy of love, regardless of others’ words or actions.

And I AM ENOUGH.

(Go around the circle and invite participants to share their lists if they feel called to do so.)

Cakes and Ale

Blessed be the hands that grew the grain, that harvested the fruit, and that baked the bread. Blessed be all hands, seen and unseen, that brought us this nourishment today. Blessed be.

(Share food and drink with all participants.)

Release the Circle

(Release the Circle in a way that feels powerful for you).

Gratitude to Aphrodite

Thank you, Aphrodite, for being with us today. Thank you for your blessings of love, particularly those of self-love. Thank you for shining your light on our beautiful beings. We honor you. Blessed be.

Release the Quarters

West

Thank you West, and the element of water, for your healing energies today. Hail and farewell!

South

Thank you South, and the element of fire, for your passionate energies today. Hail and farewell!

East

Thank you East, and the element of air, for your inspirational energies today. Hail and farewell!

North

Thank you North, and the element of earth, for your grounding energies today. Hail and farewell!


Some sources of inspiration:

Let’s Say Goodbye to That Sad, Martyred Saint! – Happy Aphrodite’s Day! by Beth Owl’s Daughter

Meditation to Open and Heal the Heart by Tess Whitehurst