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.

Why I Quit Caring About Formal Ritual and How That Made Me Better At It

I’ve always loved the idea of formal ritual. There’s something so entrancing about saying sacred words and processing deosil in a circle, about setting up a beautiful altar, about inviting in the elements with their representations, and about blessing the sacred space. These things are wonderful for getting into a magickal headspace, and doing them repeatedly over weeks and months and years are what make ritual, well, a ritual!

The formal elements of ritual were essential to me when I was starting out as a solitary new Pagan. Having a tradition that others followed (in my case, Wicca, when I was starting out) with shared sacred words was an extremely powerful experience. It gave me a script to follow and served as a template to learn what was important in ritual. However, I got so caught up in the trappings of ritual that I almost never actually did one.

I felt like I needed to cast a perfect circle every time. I needed at least two hours that I could devote to communing with the Divine, after cleansing and consecrating the space and assembling my altar with my elemental tokens. I needed to say these particular words and do these particular things. With all of these requirements, ritual became a daunting task, instead of a happy celebration. So, years passed where I didn’t do a formal ritual because of various excuses: I didn’t have the tools, or the space, or the time.

When first I joined my Pagan community, my rituals had been few and far between for many years. Finally, I got to see how others did ritual – and everyone’s rituals were so different! There wasn’t a set script to follow, like I had been holding myself to all of those years. There were some common elements, yes, but no one did them in the exact same way. If the members of my community were presenting rituals with such variation, why couldn’t I mix things up in my own personal practice?

So, I tried to make my solitary rituals more regular, experimenting with the different components, trying out new things, and keeping what I liked. This worked well, for a time. I had a consistent personal practice, even if my rituals were just on Sabbats and Full Moons. I love the active participation (ritual is, after all, one of the things that drew me to Paganism in the first place), but something was missing. I almost never did spontaneous ritual, and when I did, it required a bunch of preparation, and didn’t end up being quite so spontaneous after all. I was still stuck in thinking that I had to do things a certain way or they wouldn’t be “complete.” That left very little room for Divine inspiration. My rituals sounded and looked pretty, but I didn’t feel very much of anything.

When I started to more seriously pursue a relationship with Aphrodite, I knew that something had to change. I needed to commune with Her, but I couldn’t take two (or more) hours out of my day multiple times a week to do so. It just wasn’t feasible. I was still in grad school. I was teaching. I had classes to go to, research to do, papers to grade, laundry to wash, dishes to clean, and I still had to eat and sleep. Formal ritual, as I knew it, just wasn’t going to happen.

Fortunately, Aphrodite helped me out with this one. She started interacting with me spontaneously – no ritual needed! I was ecstatic, if somewhat baffled. After all, wasn’t the whole point of ritual to facilitate the experiences that I was now spontaneously having?

This sparked some serious soul-searching about the purpose of ritual and how I was using it in my life and spiritual practice. For me, the purpose of ritual is to get closer to the Divine. I realized that all the fancy words and formulas I had been using were actually getting in the way of my connection with Divinity. I was having much more visceral experiences without those things than I had ever had with them. It was time for a change.

Perhaps the biggest realization I had about ritual involved time. For me to have a strong connection with the Divine, I needed to commune almost daily, if not more often. I simply couldn’t do that with the structured ritual I had been using, so I started to make new ones. Most of them arose capriciously. If I found a moment in my day where I was thinking about or communicating with Aphrodite, I thought about little things I could do to make the moment more sacred. Sometimes what I was already doing was enough (like happily dancing around my living room), and sometimes I discovered things that could be added (like lighting a candle in Aphrodite’s honor before sharing a meal with a friend at my table).

These spontaneous mini-rituals began to permeate my days, and soon started taking up more total time that what I would have previously spent in formal ritual. However, unlike the formal ritual, these moments were so much more meaningful. I felt connected to the Divine in a way I never had before. A few minutes here and there throughout my day meant so much more than a two hour chunk of obligatory fancy-words.

And I wanted to do it. Those mini-rituals brought me such joy – in a way that casting a circle from rote memory never had. It was a positive feedback loop. I connected with the Divine in seemingly small ways, had a profound ecstatic experience, and I wanted to do it again. My daily practice grew – not from reciting passages from books I had read, but from listening and leading with my heart.

When I quit caring about formal ritual, it allowed me to see more clearly the purpose of ritual: to connect deeply with the Divine. This completely transformed my personal practice. I rarely go through a full “ritual” with formal invocations for the elements and the Divine when I practice alone. My private devotions are much more conversational – and thus more strongly integrated into my day-to-day life. I believe this helps me to maintain a more powerful connection with Deity.

In a community, ritual holds an additional purpose. Not only do we want to connect deeply with the Divine – we also want to bond as a group. Having a somewhat-standardized ritual format does help bring a community together. Everyone knows what to expect and how to participate. Even with a general guideline, there are more and less effective ways to do this.

Going through a ritual revolution in my private practice made me rethink how to lead a group ritual. I cut through all the flowery words and expectations to get the the core – connection with the Divine and with other people. Approaching a group ritual with those things in mind was a totally different experience than following a ritual script. Sure, I have a general outline I follow based on the common practices in my group, but I approach these elements differently. If I can think of a way for a guideline to uniquely enhance the experience of the group, it stays. If not, anything is fair game.

While I would argue that the past few group rituals I’ve led haven’t been entirely written by me (Thanks, Aphrodite!), for the conscious parts of the creation process, I focus on the feeling I want to evoke with the ritual. For the Beltane Sabbat I led this year, it was joy and anticipation. For my post-Valentine’s Day circle, it was self-compassion. For the June Full Moon last year, it was courage and bravery through love.

Focusing on the feeling allows me to examine each aspect of the ritual and tailor it to the experience I want to facilitate. There are no words spoken just for ritual’s sake. Every sentence and every action in ritual drives toward the feeling and experience we create as a group. This approach to ritual has profoundly changed the way I lead and participate in group rituals. Throwing away the ritual formulas and expectations allowed me to get to the heart of the experience of ritual and to cultivate that deeper connection, both in my personal practice and with my community.

Making Soup for Cerridwyn

While my closest relationship with a divinity is with Aphrodite, I also have a close working relationship with Cerridwyn. Cerridwyn is the Welsh goddess of transformation and change. She is the keeper of the cauldron of knowledge, and she is frequently viewed as a “dark” goddess.

My initial introduction to Cerridwyn, and what sparked my relationship with her several years later, was my first shamanic journey/trance with my former coven. We had gone on a guided journey to find our magickal names, and Cerridwyn’s name appeared to me, spelling and all. I had not heard of her, so when I did research later, I was shocked to find that the name of a goddess appeared to me! I did not believe that was actually supposed to be my magickal name, and I was absolutely terrified of working with a “dark” goddess. So I pushed it aside, and didn’t think too much about it.

A couple of years later, signs started popping up a little before Yule 2017. Some of my friends and Pagan community members began to talk about how they were starting to hear from dark goddesses. I was reminded of my brief interaction with her in my journey several years before. I started seeing references to her again, and I blatantly ignored them. Eventually, it took the intercession of one of my friends saying “Hey, Cerridwyn stopped by with a message for you. She wants to talk.”

Mild panic ensued. I had never had a deity speak to me through someone else, and clearly she had been trying to get my attention. I spoke with a few different friends about it, trying to get over my fear of working with a “dark” goddess. I was very heavily in the realm of “love and light” at this point in time, and I would steer clear of anything I deemed “dark and scary.” I had avoided doing the personal shadow work that was necessary to see that both light and dark are essential to life, and dark doesn’t necessarily mean bad. I would figure this out in time.

I also didn’t know how to communicate with her. Clearly my own channels weren’t open enough if she had to go through one of my friends to talk to me! I asked the friend who gave me the message if she had any ideas for contacting Cerridwyn, and my friend (who is a kitchen witch) suggested that I make a big pot of soup, which paralleled one of her stories from the lore. What I thought my friend had said was “Make a big pot of soup after dark completely by candlelight,” when all she actually said was “Make a big pot of soup.” I discovered this discrepancy after the fact, and I had clearly gotten some divine guidance in a way that I was able to hear it.

So, I prepared to make some soup. I found a nice recipe, gathered the ingredients, and laid out everything in my kitchen. I had been studying trance, and I wanted to make the experience as fruitful as possible. I compiled a chant to sing while making soup from a song that my Pagan group sings at Yule. The original version contains sections on the Maiden, Sun Child, Mother, Father, Crone, and Sage (I usually sing the Maiden section at our gatherings). I edited the song to the Maiden, Mother, and Crone sections, since some research revealed that Cerridwyn is sometimes depicted as a triple goddess.

I turned out the lights and lit my candles. I didn’t have many – maybe five or six, so it was still rather dark. I could barely see the recipe, which I had printed out and was propped up underneath a cabinet. I could barely see the vegetables I would be chopping. It would definitely be a test for my OCD. I couldn’t tell what was dirty or not by sight. I had to just go with it.

I began to sing, slow and soft at first, but gaining in energy and momentum. I chopped vegetables and lost myself in the song, sometimes forgetting words, sometimes skipping a section, but I just kept going. I added the ingredients to the pot and stirred, feeling very much like the witch I knew I was. I had to learn to not be afraid of the dark.

After I had added all of the ingredients, the soup needed to simmer for 30 minutes. I gave it a final stir, finished that round of the song, and sank (a little lightheaded) to my kitchen floor in silent meditation.

The vision came almost immediately. I was in a forest glade at night. There was a single fire burning in the middle of the glade, with a cauldron hanging over the fire from a tripod. Cerridwyn was there. She had dark brown, almost black hair that fell around her face in messy waves. She looked to be in her mid-30s. The contrast between her pale face and her bright red flowing dress was made even starker by the firelight. She looked at me with deep brown eyes as I cautiously approached.

“Why did you call to me?” I asked her.

Giggles. “You’ll see.”

“But you’ve been so gentle with me. Not everyone has had gentle experiences.”

A combination of three phrases bombard my brain at the same time. “I have to do it this way. / You need it this way. / We do what we need to in order to reach out to each person.”

“What do I need to do?”

“Enjoy your soup.”

I looked at her, confused. I had expected some profound message. She stirred her own cauldron, and motioned for me to go, telling me once again, “Enjoy your soup.” The vision started to fade, and I was once again sitting on my kitchen floor, listening to the pot of soup bubble above me.

I turned the burner off, and ladeled myself a bowl of soup. I sat on the kitchen floor again to eat the soup by candlelight, somehow knowing that it was what I had to do. The soup was delicious, and helped ground me after the powerful experience.

As I rose again to clean my bowl and tidy the kitchen, I realized I didn’t want to turn the lights back on. It was beautiful – everything lit by candlelight. It felt peaceful. I also had a realization that I would not have been able to do what I just did a year ago. My OCD was so bad then that the idea of doing anything in the dark and not washing my hands a million times would have been impossible. But I had done it, and that was a victory in and of itself.

Cerridwyn is a goddess of transformation and change, and I got to see so clearly in that moment how much I, myself, had changed in the last year.

I continued to make soup for Cerridwyn, albeit somewhat sporadically. I discovered that she has to be called – She doesn’t just show up for me like Aphrodite does. She continued to be vague while giving me information and instructions for how to spiritually prepare for the upheaval that was coming, and she always told me to enjoy my soup.

She has appeared to me as the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. While I am not dedicated to her, she is still very present in my life, and has influenced so much of my spiritual growth. I tend to contact her during the dark half of the year, and our connection is stronger during this time.

Once I was initiated as a priestess of Aphrodite, I wasn’t quite sure how to navigate my relationship with Cerridwyn. I was pledged to another goddess. Connecting to her was more difficult than it had been at some points in the past, but she reminded me that “Even though you’re not my priestess, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t doing my work in the world.”

I was humbled. I was also reminded that my relationship with one goddess is not diminished by having a relationship with another goddess. Some of the lore portrays Aphrodite as being a jealous deity, but this is not my personal experience of Her.

I even reached out to Cerridwyn about my transition into priestesshood by talking over some of my fears with her. I was (and still am, to a certain extent) afraid of not being good enough. I’m afraid of letting myself, Aphrodite, or my community down. I’m afraid that I’m too young to have this role. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to do what needs to be done. I’m afraid that sometimes being a friend and being a priestess will conflict, and I won’t make the right decision.

Cerridwyn told me that these fears are normal, and that it’s good to be concerned about these things. It means I care deeply about my service to Aphrodite and to my community. She also told me that I can’t let those fears get in the way, and that I’ll know what the right thing to do is when the time comes. I hope so. And I trust in Her, and I have faith.

Why Beltane is My Favorite Holiday

I know I’m a few days late (I was very busy right around Beltane this year, both mundanely and magickally!), but I knew I had to do a post about Beltane. Beltane is the midpoint between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice, and is traditionally celebrated on May 1st.  However, the astronomical midpoint is usually a few days later, and in 2019, falls on May 5th. While Beltane Day is very sacred to me, I also celebrate a whole Beltane season, which for my personal practice, involves around a fortnight of festivities centered around May 1st and astronomical Beltane. I wish you a Joyous Beltane Season!

As you may have guessed (since I am a priestess of the Goddess of Love), Beltane is my favorite holiday. It has been ever since I first learned about it as a preteen. In the beginning, I was enamored with the idea of a holiday about the spiritual side of love – a literal holy day, untouched by candy and greeting card companies. As I got older, I embraced Beltane as a celebration of physical love in a society where shame debases physical expressions of love as somehow “lower” and “less than.” It baffled me how any expression of love could be “wrong.” In college, Beltane was the beginning of summer – when the natural world came alive, the forest was lush and green, and flowers were in full bloom. When I started celebrating Beltane with my Pagan group, I rediscovered the sense of wonder and playfulness of childhood, and I donned the sparkly pink fairy wings I never had as a kid. The meaning of Beltane for me has evolved over time, as I am sure it has for you as well.

Beltane is about ecstatic union. The traditional story of Beltane is about the union of the Goddess and the God. The concept of union can be applied much more broadly. It is a time of our personal union with the Divine, of union with nature, of the union of thoughts and ideas, and of the union of people into a community.

Beltane is about laughter and joy. My favorite part of the Charge of the Goddess has always been this verse:

Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth, for behold: All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.

– Doreen Valiente

I just think there is something so beautiful about that. Whether you love to dance, cook, or paint, go for a run, hang out with friends, write stories, sing in the shower, blog, cheer on your favorite team, cuddle with your cat, or play music – These are all acts of love and pleasure to be divinely enjoyed. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be something you “do.” It could be appreciating the beauty of a sunset, enjoying a good book, or literally stopping to smell the roses. ALL acts of love and pleasure, even the tiniest ones, even the superficially mundane ones, can be divine.

Beltane is about glitter and fun. It’s about embracing play and making sure we don’t work too hard. It’s appreciating beauty of all kinds. It’s about being silly and ridiculous, and laughing until you pee a little. It’s about dreaming with reckless abandon and being true to yourself.

Beltane is about magick. It’s about bringing the magickal into the mundane. It’s about the magick in all things. Beltane is opposite of Samhain in the wheel of the year. This is a time when the veil between the worlds thins, and we can make contact with the Otherworld. Instead of communing with the past and our ancestors, we can commune with ideas and things yet to come.

But most of all, Beltane is about love. All kinds of love, for everything and everyone. In a world rife with oppression, shame, and hatred, we need Beltane now more than ever. There are so many kinds of love: romantic love, familial love, love of friends, love of things, love of ideas, love of activities, spiritual love, and love for the Earth. Love that is all encompassing and never ending. Love that touches you at the core of your being.

Love and joy will be our focus for this Beltane Sabbat. We want the energy that we raise in these delightful days to radiate out to the world – to nourish ourselves and our global community. We want to send out love that heals and transforms. We want our infectious laughter to spread to everyone we meet. We want our hearts to sing with the unity of all things.

With the energy we raise and as we celebrate Beltane, let us honor the love and joy in all things. Let us see the magickal in the mundane. Let us embrace play and remember to have fun. Let our laughter fill the air as we dance and make merry! Let us rejoice in our deep connection with the Earth. Let us celebrate the Divine within ourselves.

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.