The Lightning Struck Tower and the Star of Hope

It has been a sad and worrying week. Some of my loved ones are going through a terrible time; it is hard to see those you care about in crisis.  It’s got me thinking about grace under pressure and how we deal with those times when our world crumbles.

Being a tarot nut, I so often turn to its wisdom, in good times and bad. This week has drawn my attention to two Major Arcana cards whose energies feel very present at the moment. The first is the Tower and the second the Star. At first glance, they look the complete antithesis of each other but I always think of them as a pair who work together to bring movement and healing.

The Tower’s imagery is pretty dramatic and alarming. Traditional images often portray a tower struck by lightning, the structure crumbling and its inhabitants falling to the ground. It doesn’t take years of studying tarot to know that this card speaks of those sudden, shocking happenings in our life that rock our foundations and bring us to our knees. When things happen that change everything; when we find ourselves standing amongst the rubble that had once been the dependable structure of our life, we meet the Tower in all it awesome power. It can feel like the most unwelcome visitor.

Despite its troubling reputation, the Tower can also bring liberation. Sometimes its energies are just what we need when some area of our life has become stagnant or when we are ignoring things that desperately need to change. I think quite often the Tower turns up when we have been resisting these much-needed changes; when we repeatedly ignore life’s subtle hints that all is not well, it is as if the pressure builds and something has to give. If we really need to engage with that place of transformation and we don’t go willingly, then often life will take us there regardless. If we look a little deeper and are honest with ourselves, what feels like a nasty surprise or a sudden shock can reveal that a push to transform had actually been simmering away beneath the surface for some time.

The Tower comes to bring life-altering momentum; it comes with powerful revelation; it comes to smash apart our illusions; it gives us the opportunity to dismantle the psychological walls we build around us that are no longer a shelter but a prison. It introduces us to new ways to see and experience the world, ourselves and others. It might feel horrendously tough to be flattened by its unstoppable force but it does present us with the opportunity to make sure our foundations are good and true, that we might rebuild on a stronger footing. Of course, the Tower is not always a full- on wreaking ball; it can come as a sudden revelation that blows you away; major paradigm shifts are Tower moments. Whatever form it takes, you can be sure the old structures will fall away and suddenly you are left looking at a new landscape once obscured.

After the Tower, the Star is a soothing balm. The Star is a card of healing renewal, of hope; it is the calm after the storm. Tower moments can be so painful that our trust in life is shaken; the Star is the return of that trust. The Tower can be utterly disorientating, what we thought we knew about ourselves and life can shatter – all signposts gone, all recognisable landmarks obliterated – but the Star reminds us that we all have an inner compass, a guiding presence that will bring us through the darkest times. There is a beautiful quote from Virginia Woolf’s book Orlando which I have long-loved and which for me speaks so beautifully of the way the Tower and Star interact to bring growth and healing to our lives:

 

Change was incessant, and change perhaps would never cease. High battlements of thought, habits that had seemed as durable as stone, went down like shadows at the touch of another mind and left a naked sky and fresh stars twinkling in it.

If you meet the Tower, hold on to this quote; know that something new is being born; trust the process; nurture yourself as best you can and as the rubble falls about you, keep looking for that naked sky full of stars.

Tarot images from the Druidcraft Tarot by Philip & Stephanie Carr-Gomm – artwork by Will Worthington

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Your Spiritual Team

I love working with different aspects of deity. I am fascinated by how others work with the Divine. I have been a soft polytheist for years now. In my own experience, I have found that there are Gods and Goddesses that seem to be with us for life; I have some that seem to be very long -term, their presence felt in my life even before I became a Pagan, only later realising who there were, once I had a framework to understand them better. Then there are those that come to us at certain points in our life, helping us to explore specific issues we might be facing and then when the work is done, quietly move on. There are also deities that we might choose to work with for a single ritual or when honouring the seasonal changes. Sometimes we might feel a certain energy lurking in our periphery for years and then suddenly, when the time is right, they reveal themselves fully.

We can certainly choose deities to approach but I have come to believe that the ones most important to our development choose us. They can make their presence known through synchronicities, signs and symbols that jump out at us and nip at our heels until we pay attention. The contact will feel alive and vibrant. I have done rituals with a specific deity, choosing them for the purpose of the ritual and quite often when I have done that, the sense of connection to that deity feels intellectual; it can feel like going through the motions but not really feeling it. When we make a true and meaningful connection, there is a strong sense that there is someone on the other end of the line; it has a charge to it.

Because I feel comfortable viewing deity as having many different aspects and expressions, I like to think of the ones that I work with as my spiritual team. They are rooting for me; have my best interests at heart, even if their lessons are challenging. Sometimes, when I feel alone with my troubles, I like to close my eyes and visualise them standing in a circle around me – it is comforting, strengthening and grounding.

In the last few weeks a newish member of my spiritual team has come to light. At various points in the past, I have worked with the Goddess Bast but in a much more intellectual sense of wishing to explore her qualities and express them. Just over a year ago, I began working more in earnest when I began working with the moon cycles again (see Reaching for the Balance) but when that practice drifted, I hadn’t really thought of her for months.  Lately, there has been a sudden shift in gear and without prompting from me, she has stepped into the foreground.

A few weeks ago I came down with a horrible tummy bug; I felt awful and exhausted for days after and not at all right for most of the month. A couple of days in, I had fallen asleep on the sofa in the afternoon and I had a vivid dream, so vivid I actually thought that I had woken up. I dreamed I was on the sofa and my beautiful little  black cat – who died 12 years ago – was curled into my body. It was the most comforting feeling. I suddenly heard a voice say, ‘you haven’t been feeding the cat’ and I felt a sudden panic that I had to go and get food, berating myself that I had forgotten, and wondering why and how I had failed to remember. The urgency woke me and the first thought that came into my head as I came to consciousness was Bast!

From that point I felt the strongest urge to set up an altar for her and spend some time there exploring and meditating on her qualities, opening to her energies, reaching out. It has been an interesting experience that has revealed aspects that I hadn’t necessarily associated with her before, particularly with regard to her more motherly, protective sides. I think she is very much a goddess of joyful, sensual expression, a goddess of music, dance and pleasure (I certain haven’t been ‘feeding’ those in my life nearly enough!) but she was originally depicted with a lion’s head – very much like Sekhmet, and in her role as Eye of Ra, she goes into the darkness of the underworld with her father Ra and fiercely protects him on that dangerous journey. And so for all her ‘lightness’, she sees in the dark and can help us confront our fears too, all those things that can drain our joy if we don’t bring them to light and deal with them.

My partner Steve found the most beautiful statue of Bast for me. He actually found me two, one the classic cat shape which now sits on my hearth and home shrine (Bast is a protectress of the home after all!) and one which is a copy of a Bast head housed in the British Museum. It’s such a gorgeous face – I love it! But moreover, on her ears and forehead is carved a vulture, its wings spread, it claws holding two symbols that look like rings. I knew that the vulture headdress was worn by Goddesses such as Isis and Mut but had never associated it with Bast. In Ancient Egypt, the Vulture Goddess was Nekhbet. Vultures were believed to be all female and self-generating; they were also seen to be devoted and protective mothers to their young. And so, Nekhbet birthed herself and all life and took these back inside her (vultures are brilliant at devouring carrion!), linking her to the birth/death / rebirth energies of nature – she was called the ‘mother of mothers’. In time her qualities were syncretised with Mut and Isis and other goddesses and to find her connected to Bast deepens my understanding of Bast’s nature; she may well rule pleasure but she is not just a fluffy sex kitten; she has depth and complexity as all aspects of deity do.

Hearth and Hone Altar with Bast and wall hanging by Wendy Andrew

I discovered that the vulture’s claws are gripping the Shen symbol, a ring that represents encircling divine protection. This combination of fierce, motherly protectress, joy bringer, fertile creator and healer, has been so what I have needed. Her call for me to ‘feed’ her is also a call to feed myself; to give myself the love, joy and healthy boundaries that I need to heal from the challenges that have faced me these last few years. Whether she will stay with me forever, or slip away when her work is done, doesn’t really matter; I am grateful for her presence.

Incidentally, I have now taken the plunge on Instagram, so if you feel you would like to, you can find me there @luckyloom369. xxx

Do take a look at Wendy Andrew’s beautiful wall hangings here.

The Flowing River and the Book of Life

Druidry encourage a positive engagement with the Bardic Arts. it recognises that our urge to express ourselves through our creativity is, at heart, a spiritual act: when we create we share, in some small way, in the vast and mysterious act of creation. Not only that, our creativity can illustrate just what it means to be human. How often have we read a poem or piece of prose and got that ‘me too’ feeling, or when listening to music felt something beyond words open up inside us? When we create, we share something fundamental and vital about ourselves and our experience of living; when we are exposed to the creativity of others, we are given the potential to gain a deeper understand of life and self. The path of the Bard is a transformative one – it can change us, dissolving the boundaries of our small and limited selves to reveal something bigger, richer.

In Druidry, the concept of Awen is intimately linked to our creativity. We seek to open ourselves to this vibrant energy, allowing it to move through us and animate our creations. We feel its touch when our awareness is heightened, when a grey world is cracked open and flooded by colour. An encounter with Awen is essentially a sudden change of perception that – although transitory in our experience of it – can have a lasting impact through our creative efforts. A little Awen takes up residence in the things we create and through the sharing of these, touches others – at least, this is the always the potential when we offer our art to the world.

The word Awen is often translated as ‘flowing spirit’ and it is no surprise how many deities traditionally associated with inspiration and the creative arts are connected not only to flowing water but to knowledge. If we think of the Goddess Brighid, there is always a sense that her inspiration brings with it the gift of a deeper knowing – the fires of her forge melt us down, change our shape, toughen us on the anvil of experience in order to deepen our wisdom. Her waters nourish and sustain; her springs suggest to us that deep within there is a place we can draw from that will feed us; that this quiet place – when we follow its course – can expand and swell, spilling over the brim of our inertia into movement, and that if we step into this current, we will be carried by its powerful momentum back to the Source.

I am drawn to the Hindu Goddess Sarasvati, who in many ways shares a good deal with Brighid and the gifts of Awen. She is the Lady of all creative arts and sciences – musicians, artists, writers, students, teachers and philosophers call upon her for her blessings and guidance. She was originally a river Goddess and is strongly associated with flowing water in her role as goddess of knowledge and creativity. What I find particularly interesting is that her name translates as ‘Sara’: essence/essential knowledge of ‘Sva’: the self. Her name suggests this link between creativity and a deeper knowledge and understanding of ourselves and life.

In her iconography, she is often portrayed with four arms, one carrying a book or scroll, another a crystal mala, the remaining two playing a Veena (a lute-like instrument). She possesses a pot of sacred water, so reminiscent of the grail and is often seated upon a white swan (note that Brighid is also associated with swans) or a lotus. Here we see references to her connections to Divine knowledge, truth and wisdom; of how the spiritual life is intimately connected to the powerfully expressive and purifying nature of our creativity and that these are made manifest through music, words, the arts and sciences – through our actual creations: Awen made manifest. In this act of shaping spirit into form, a little more of life is revealed to us and shared with others.

A couple or so years back, I went to the OBOD 50th Gathering in Glastonbury. After an evening of celebration, music and poetry, 400 Druids stood in the dark watching a glorious firework display. In the magical silence that followed, a spontaneous chanting of the Awen began. It rippled out, swelling and cascading over and through ever soul there. It was an extraordinary moment. The evening had been a celebration of sharing not only creativity but our community and the sense of spiritual connection that these inspire when the sacred relationship between them is honoured.  The power of chanting the Awen is that it symbolises the magical shift that occurs when our individual creative voices join in with and enrich the whole. The Bardic arts have the potential to change things for the better; to add to the collective wisdom for the good of all, which is why Druidry’s focus on them is such an important part of our spiritual path.

Through our creativity, we are each a drop of inspiration in Sarasvati’s river, flowing out into the world and sustaining life; adding knowledge to the sacred book she holds in her hands, for the future benefit of all who come after us.

(First posted on Philip Carr-Gomm’s Blog June 25th 2014)

Companions on the Path

With regard to my previous post about creating new neural pathways, I thought I would share some practical tips on how to help with this. It can be tough to shift our thoughts away from old ingrained patterns of thinking and it can be useful to find tools that can help us to stay focused and strengthen our resolve.

I have several techniques that I like to use and they work for me but you might come up with ones of your own. However, in the spirit of sharing, I offer the following – each has become a trusty companion on my path.

As previously mentioned, I am a great fan of the mineral kingdom and I love working with crystals and stones. Many believe that crystals and minerals possess energies that can have a transformative impact upon our bodies and emotional states. Having worked with them for years, I would say that this is true but I don’t think it is necessary to believe this in order to draw benefit.

Many crystals are said to contain particular properties and there are countless books listing these but I think that although these properties can be valid, it is useful to create our own associations with each stone as we work with them. It is always good to meditate with individual stones to see what we feel about them; to really get to know them; personal associations have a power all their own because they have meaning for us.

Regardless of whether we believe that stones contain a healing energy, we can set up intensions when we work with them, using associations to give strength to our intensions. For instance, lately I have been working with a very beautiful stone called Labradorite – it is one of my favourites. I meditate with it, carry it in my pocket and even sleep with it under my pillow.

labradorite

Labradorite flashes

Labradorite hiding its magic

As a stone, on first glance it looks to be a dull grey-greenish colour but when you shift it about, the light catches it and draws from it stunning flashes of colour: golds, greens, blues, indigoes, reds and oranges, on some stones even pinks and violets. Because of this ‘hidden’ beauty that is only glimpsed if your shift the angle,  I have come to associate this as a stone that helps me to remember that when life feels dull and I feel disconnected, I need only shift my own perspective to see the magic that lies beneath. It is a stone that reminds me about the power of my own mind to change my reality, and that perception is the key. This association has become so strong for me that every time I hold or look at Labradorite, my brain shifts a gear, it makes me feel physically and psychologically strong, well and happy – it has helped me to stay on track when I have felt myself slipping back into spiritual apathy. It literally works as a touchstone for a way of thinking and being that I am practising.

I also use this technique with Animals, Trees and Plants. Many people work with animal guides, tree and plant energies to help them focus on and develop certain qualities. If we stay open, we often find certain animals, plants or trees synchronistically popping up in our lives. So often, when this has happened to me and I research them, I find that they offer some help in understanding a problem I am struggling with. But we don’t need to wait for them to appear in the world outside of us; we can simply quiet ourselves and ask which animals, plants or trees might help us (you can do this with stones too) and see what comes.

I have been drawn to work with Fox for some time now; I kept seeing them outside, hearing them bark at night and they would suddenly pop into my mind when meditating or just randomly during the day. I have come to understand that Fox has been helping me to adapt to my situation and accept where I find myself – I had been feeling exiled from my sense of home and Foxes are masters at making any environment work for them.

Equally, I have worked a lot with the energies of White Willow, a tree that has a traditional association with the healing of grief; watery giants who remind me to let my emotions flow and clear out the stagnant blockages within me. And Birch too, the tree of new beginnings, the first to take seed on any area that has been cleared – after feeling that my old life had been totally dismantled, these gentle, beautiful trees have helped me to feel hopeful that I can seed a new life amongst the rubble.

And so, you can see how these beings of the stone, animal and plant kingdom can become guides when we are seeking to break free from old thought forms and create new ones. We can turn to them to strengthen our resolve and deepen our understanding as to how we can best achieve our goals. Such an approach also reminds us that all beings have value, that all creation can gift us with powerful insights that enrich our lives. I always remember to thank my companions and recognise that there is a gift of exchange in the relationship. I like to honour them as powerful teachers and give thanks for their presence in my life.

One more tool that I have found to be invaluable – which at first might not seem to be a spiritual practice at all – is exercise; when we have become stuck and want to shift our perspective, there is nothing like exercise to shake up stagnancy and lift our mood. I have practiced Yoga for years and it has been so useful in not only keeping me physically flexible but also reminding me that emotional and mental flexibility is so important too. When we are struggle with change, we can hold tension in our bodies; tension is resistance and yoga can help us to release and open and allow a greater flow in our lives, as well as helping us to relax. But I also recommend doing a little cardio vascular exercise each day, something that really gets your blood pumping. This will release happy hormones into your system, brighten your mood, lift your energy, and when this happens it is so much easier to focus positively on the changes you want to make. Not only that, exercise grounds us in our bodies, brings us right into our present moment; when we are changing our thought patterns, we also need to act on these, make them a reality in our physical world, and being present in our bodies –  in the here and now – is key to this.

I hope you will find these suggestions useful and use them to support you along the way. Explore and find ones of your own that resonate with you.  It can be hard to make changes but help is always at hand and it can come from the most unlikely places.

running girl

The Magic of Consistency

What is consistent in your life; is your life.
~ Abdul Rauf

Consistency and perseverance have their own quiet power. Wanting change to happen over-night can undermine our efforts and find us giving up before we start. Real change requires some patience and a recognition that the journey from one state of being to another takes a steady determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other – as much as we might like to teleport ourselves instantly into a new skill or way of being, transformation is rarely instant.

When we practice learning a new skill, our brains create a neural pathway. The more we practice, the stronger the neural pathway becomes until we find that the skill has become established and what once felt unnatural, has with time become a part of us. Think of learning to ride a bike and you will get the picture.

And it is not just about physical skills; what is so fascinating is that we also create neural pathways in our modes of thinking. So, for instance, if we constantly tell ourselves we are worthless, this becomes physically engrained in our brain. Our negative self-image becomes strengthened and this in turn impacts on our perception of life; those neural pathways determine our reality.

Once we grasp this, we start to appreciate the power of our thinking in shaping our experience of the world; we can begin to understand that building new, positive neural pathways is actually what magic is all about. When magical intention fails, it is helpful to look at which negative neural pathways block our new intentions and then make steps to replace these with more productive ones.

This process takes practice and the willingness to be consistent. Old negative patterns have been given an immense stamina by our continually focusing on them and because of this, it takes an equal amount of focus and willpower to break their spell. We can often feel overwhelmed by their control over us – we have practiced them so much that they feel a ‘natural’ part of us. In truth, they are learned behaviours, many of which we have spent years developing and nurturing.

The first step is self-awareness; to take an honest but compassionate inventory of our most destructive habits and thoughts. Once we do this, we can start to get a feel for how we would truly like our lives to be, and then make a list of what thoughts or skills we would need to develop to bring this into being. From this point on, it is all about those baby steps, committing ourselves to a consistent daily practice of those skills and thoughts. It won’t feel easy or natural at first but that is OK. You will definitely fall back into the old familiar negative patterns too, but that is also OK. When this happens, be kind, remember you are human; reassure yourself that these things take time and patience.

Think of yourself as a pioneer in the unchartered territory of your own brain. You are blazing a new trail. You have already walked all those familiar well-worn paths but now you are taking a new route. To begin with, it will feel like stumbling through the undergrowth but the more you walk it, the clearer your passage will be. You are also expanding your inner map in the process, enabling you to see more clearly the best routes to take and the ones to avoid. Do not berate yourself for all those unhelpful thoughts that have taken over your perception but choose to see them as experiences that have taught you much but no longer serve you.

Patience, consistency and perseverance don’t sound like the sexiest of words but these approaches will be your greatest allies and in the long-term will bring a joy and ease that will be worth the hard work. Not only that, once you have created new positive neural pathways by nurturing them daily, they will start to take on their own momentum and you will begin to witness magical changes in your life.

Don’t Lose Heart

I started a series of posts some time ago about the individual chakras which can be found here: Back Down to Earth ; Life is a Dance and Are You Your Biggest Fan?. I continue now with a few thoughts about the Heart Chakra.

The heart chakra governs our ability to give and receive love; it is the place where we feel compassion, empathy and joy. When this centre is healthy and balanced, we experience a deep connection to life and feel ourselves as a vital part in a greater whole. A healthy expression of all the chakras is important for our well-being and development but there is something particularly devastating when we have blockages in the heart. We will all know what it feels like to have our heart centre contract because none of us is immune to heartbreak.

In the chakra system, the Heart is a bridge between the three lower centres of Base, Sacral and Solar Plexus, and the three higher centres of Throat, Third Eye and Crown. Blockages in any of these can present challenges but when the heart has closed, it can have a profound knock-on effect on all the chakras. We can truly shut down. When our hearts are broken, we stop feeling safe and lose our sense of belonging in the world; we feel unable to relate to others or experience pleasure; we lose our confidence and feel powerless and victimized by life – all states of being associated with imbalances in the first, second and third chakras respectively. We can also find it impossible to talk about our pain; we experience the absence of our inner compass and can feel deeply cynical about Divine support – again, fifth, sixth and seventh chakra issues. As the physical heart pumps life-giving blood around our bodies; the energetic heart keeps the life-force circulating through our centres. When this process is interrupted in any way, our entire system – physically, psychologically and spiritually- will struggle to function.

When I first started studying the chakras, I was confused by the element association of this centre. In the chakra system the heart is traditionally associated with the element of air. Having worked with the elements in Wicca, where air is connected to thought, the mind and intellect, I found it difficult to resonate at first with this elements connection to the heart. Surely it should be water? And yet as I have worked more consciously with the system, it has come to make perfect sense.

Water is actually the element connected to the Sacral Chakra; this chakra is the realm of relationships, feelings and emotions, the flow between self and other; and although love is very much felt as an emotion, the love that is an expression of the heart centre goes beyond merely the desire for connection found in the Sacral. The love of the heart is profound and reaches out beyond the boundaries of our domestic lives to include the love of all things. Like air, it is seemingly intangible, unconfined, is present everywhere, and although we might not be able to see it, it is utterly vital for the existence of life. Without it, we die. The love of the heart is not dependent on reciprocation; it loves without condition.

The heart will experience great joy and pain whilst we live, and sometimes, when a pain has been so immense, our poor hearts tighten and constrict. I think that this is a natural response; sometimes we need to retreat and protect this tender place but we cannot do this for extended periods of time without the colour and meaning draining from our world. A closed and overly protected heart can harden; such hardening can make us feel very lonely and cut off from the support of others, from life and the Divine. When we hang on to hurt for too long, anger and bitterness can undermine our trust in life; we can become judgemental and unkind with ourselves and others; all sense of true connection disintegrates. When the heart is profoundly wounded, although our instinct might be to do all we can to prevent further hurt, constructing an impenetrable bunker in that tender place means that the air of this centre cannot flow; closed off from world outside, it grows stale and ultimately deadly for our emotional and spiritual selves (in time, it can also do great damage to our physical health too!).

Love is our teacher and its palette is infinite in colour and complexity. It takes us on a journey whose spectrum is life; all the agony and ecstasy – and everything in between – is its training ground. And every time the heart experiences something deeply – be it pain or joy – it gives us the opportunity to strengthen our compassion and understanding of what it means to be human, what it means to be a part of creation. The gift of these experiences is empathy; we bear witness to each other and in doing so, we can all feel truly seen and held. When we express empathy, we validate each other and our stories, and this is a powerful gift of healing that we can share. This healing gift of the heart is why it is so important to not to close down for too long after emotional trauma; if we do, we deny ourselves and others the gift of the heart’s wisdom.

Love, like air, flows freely; it cannot be possessed by anyone; it cannot be contained. It requires from us that we forgive, let go and move on – that might take us a while, we might need help to do so, but when we let the heart truly breath, its embrace is all encompassing. If we can just hold on to enough trust and faith amongst life’s blows, we will find our meaning, joy, peace and deep soul connection once again. Remember…don’t lose heart; we are all in this together.

Flux is your Friend

The spiritual journey is not a straightforward linear path from ignorance to enlightenment. Enlightenment is a loaded term; for many of us it feels unattainable, mainly because most of us are not sure what it really means. We can feel unworthy of it, our human vulnerabilities and struggles leaving us feeling that reaching for such a lofty and ultimately undefinable state of being is a hopeless task. The very word implies a sudden state of perfect grace and knowing, that once achieved is unchanging; we reach the destination and the journey is done.

It is a term I find unhelpful. It seems to me that our spiritual journey is not about reaching some vague place of heightened awareness as an end goal; it is instead rather a meandering path, one of constant flux and change where we can move back and forth between states of enlightenment and ignorance. The spectrum between these two states is complex and rich and it is what gives our journey depth and movement.

We can get a bit polarised in our language. The assumption that enlightenment is good and ignorance is bad, is a little simplistic. There are states of ‘ignorance’ that bring their own important lessons. It makes me think of The Fool card in the Major Arcana of Tarot. The energy of the Fool archetype can indeed be reckless, naive and unthinking but it is also the energy of new beginnings, of that joyful launching out into the unknown. The image of the Fool is traditionally a young character, travelling light, just a small bundle on his shoulder. He is about to step off a cliff but his gaze is joyful and skyward. He can be viewed as both the trusting child, full of innocent wonder or the fool who cannot see the consequence of his actions. Either way, life would never move forward without the energy of this archetype; it is the child in us eager to experience the world; naïve yes, but without which, there would only be stasis and death.

In Tarot, The Fool journeys through each card of the Major Arcana, experiencing the Archetypal energy of that card and learning its lessons. It is a journey of discovery, transformation and integration but interestingly, when the journey ends in the fulfilment and completion of The World card, the cycle starts over and we find ourselves back with the Fool, foot poised over the void.

The implication is that we are in a constant cycle from ignorance to enlightenment, and each time we find ourselves back at the beginning, the experience deepens and widens but never truly finds an end point. I find this deeply comforting because it suggests that we never stop learning and that enlightenment is an ongoing, unending process, not a destination.

I have come to see the spiritual journey as building a healthy relationship between balance and flux. When we have a spiritual practice, we are in many ways seeking balance amongst constant change. However, balance is not a static state; it is a constant readjustment that moves off centre, back to centre; it responds and adjusts accordingly (anyone who does Yoga balances will know exactly what I mean!) and this ongoing adjustment and adaptation is a useful spiritual tool to consciously develop.

To give an example of how this relationship between flux and balance works, think about how in Wicca and Druidry, we build a strong relationship with the elements of earth, air, fire and water. We honour them when we draw circle and perform ritual; we work with them in Nature and also see them as being present within our own beings as our bodies (earth), our thoughts (air), our energy (fire) and our emotions (water). We work to bring balance between these elements within us, aiming for a healthy expression and interaction between them. What we find is that we are never in perfect balance – well not for long! We move in and out of ever-changing states in our emotions and thoughts, and in our relationships with our bodies and our levels of energy, and this impacts on the way that they work together. It is the same with Chakra energy; our Chakras – and the relationship between them – are in a constant state of flux. The trick is to embrace this and work with it; to acknowledge that our most useful lessons come from this fascinating balancing act.

I guess the ultimate lesson in all this is about enjoying the process; we are both fool and wise sage and everything in between.

When Nature Speaks

Nature communicates with us in so many ways. I believe that we can hear her wise counsel through moments of synchronicity. These can come through surprise encounters with animals, trees, weather, landscapes, and even with other people who we cross paths with during our day, for we are all a part of Nature’s being and her wisdom resides in us all. The trick is to always stay open and alert to the possibility of these messages; to make sure that we remain present in the moment. When we choose to approach life with an expectation that we will always be guided and supported, we become more finely attuned to the times when her voice breaks through; it comes like a sun beam through the clouds, a moment of inspiration that acts like an answer to a problem or prayer; a signpost or comforting hand upon our shoulder.

I had one of those moments yesterday. Late afternoon, I went out onto the balcony for some fresh air. The storm clouds were building in the south-west across the ocean and the winds were intensifying with powerful gusts. The sea was churning; nothing was still. Suddenly, right in front of me, hovering above the brow of the small grassy cliff that drops down to the beach, appeared a kestrel. A pair of them hunt along the cliff but I haven’t seen either of them for weeks. I watched, mesmerised by the skill of this beautiful hawk; the winds were roaring but the kestrel held herself perfectly in place, her wings vibrating rapidly that she might stay still, her eyes focused on her prey somewhere unseen to me amongst the grasses below.

I had been pondering earlier in the day about the role of spiritual practice in one’s healing journey; I had been feeling fired up but was also feeling a little anxious about how I might sustain this renewed sense of inspiration and energy. I have had so many ‘false starts’ along the way these last three years, thinking that I had turned a corner, only to be overcome by apathy or a sense of disconnection. I think this ‘one step forward, two steps back’ is a common pattern when we our healing; recovery comes in stages and I not sure we ever truly experience these as purely linear. I believe that this happens because our pain surfaces in spiraling layers, allowing us to deal with manageable amounts, so that we have the opportunity to really focus on one particular area but also so that we do not become overwhelmed by the process. Despite knowing this, I have been aware of how easy it is to grasp something but then to slip back into old habits and outmoded behaviours and ways of thinking. I have felt so keen not to do this, at this stage.

It seemed to me that the kestrel was telling me something about the power of concentration; about being aware of the bigger picture but staying focused on the job in hand, about keeping one’s balance in the midst of unsettling and buffeting forces. I watched as she held herself steady. It must have taken great energy and skill do this with the full force of the gale against her and yet she seemed to exude a kind of Zen calm, like the eye of the storm, her vision keen and undistracted. She then pulled her wings in against her body and fell like a dart to earth, zoning in on her unsuspecting target.

The kestrel had no control over the weather but she was supremely connected to her power to ride those fierce currents and to not let them break her focus on obtaining what she needed to survive and be nourished. Not only could she see the wider landscape, she knew what she must direct her attention to, where to place her focus and then, when the time felt right, to act, her timing driven by the keen edge of her instinct.

I knew that witnessing this, out of the blue,  I was being shown something that I needed to develop in myself in order to move forward, heal and grow. When we have gone through difficult times, it does feel like we are tossed and torn by powerful forces outside our control. We lose confidence in our ability to dance with those forces. But I know in my heart that now is the time to ‘get back on the horse’, as it were, to take the reins and all those other clichés that became such because they were true.

Focus, concentration, vision, having confidence in our abilities and skills, defining goals, directing energy towards them and then acting, are very much the domain of the Solar Plexus Chakra. How apt – after setting up my mini-shrine to this Chakra (see Open the Temple Door) – to be graced with witnessing the Kestrel’s ease in these areas.

When we are blessed by these synchronous moments, we get that buzz of recognition, that sudden feeling of ‘rightness’ about the message. That feeling lets us know that the message is true for us, and that if we embrace it, it will benefit us in some way.

Stay open to the voice of nature and when she blessings you with those magical and unexpected revelations, say a prayer of gratitude and thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

A Moment to Reflect

September is one of my favourite months. Here in the UK, the frenetic growth of spring and summer has eased and a mellow fullness has taken its place; the sunlight has both a clarity and golden softness to it and never fails to elicit joy and hope. It draws from me a certain type of reflective mood; there is something about September light that taps me into that timeless joy that hums just beneath the surface of everything; we can so often be blind to it, yet it only needs a shift in perspective for us to grasp it. It is deeply nostalgic but in a way that suggests that a happy memory can plug us into that place, but the place itself does not reside in the past, it dwells in an ever-present now.

I have been thinking a good deal about reflection as opposed to reaction, particularly with regard to my own emotional responses. There is a fantastic quote by Pema Chödrön:

You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.’

Pema captures beautifully the notion that we can hold our centre if we connect to that wise observer within, the part of us that witnesses our emotions as they move through us. She reminds us that our emotions are transitory, constantly flowing and changing as they respond to, and reflect, the events of our lives. The emotions are ours but they are not our essence; our essence is wider, deeper; more knowing and in touch with the bigger picture (call it the soul, spirit, or higher self, if you like).

Expressing our emotions is vital; what we feel in any moment communicates so much useful information to us. When we allow ourselves a healthy connection with our emotions, they can tell us what feels right for us, what feels wrong; they can let us know when our boundaries have been violated; what gives us pleasure or pain. They can also show us what needs work, or tender love and care. If we block or suppress them, stagnant, unexpressed emotions can be poisonous for our bodies and our relationships with self, others and the world. But emotions are powerful things and sometimes we can be swept off balance by their intensity; sometimes – just like the extreme weather around the world of late – our emotions can be frightening and destructive. When we lose our emotional footing, it is easy to forget that wise-self and confuse the weather with the sky.

It is a balancing act between the constant flow of emotion and the still reflection required not to lose oneself in a torrent of reactions. I have had moments when I have caught myself experiencing an uncomfortably emotion, gripping on to it and stirring it with obsessional thoughts. Ultimately, I end up dumping on those around me because the building of pent-up emotion has become too much to hold inside. Not good – no fun for anyone.

I have learned the hard and painful way that we must all take responsibility for our feelings. Even if we have received bad treatment from someone, we are presented with our own choices as to what we do with the feelings that such treatment inspires. Do we react blindly, or do we feel the emotion, let it flow through and out of us, at the same time reaching for that still place within where we can take a moment before we act or speak? It has been helpful for me to remind myself that the emotion is merely a moment in time, if we can feel it and then release it. The pain and discomfort come when we hold on to the emotion, when we resist its movement through us; when we make it an obsessional focus that causes a far greater pain to ourselves and those around us than the original emotion. I have been learning to feel my emotions and be mindful of where I am focusing my thoughts.

Reflection is a valuable technique. It gives us the space to see the beauty around us; to uncover the wisdom in the lesson and to connect to both our intuitive selves and our powers of discernment.  When we take a breath and reflect; when we see through the eyes of the calm observer within, we are given the opportunity to both honour and bear witness to our feelings, whilst still being able to make mindful decisions based on kindness and care. Not always an easy task but one that illustrates that we are not helpless reactionary victims but conscious beings gifted with the power of a choice.

 

 

 

Open the Temple Door

I love creating shrines! I have a large main altar in our spare bedroom which I keep decorated to reflect the themes of the seasonal festivals. It is also the place where I honour my own personal deities. As my main shrine, I spend time there every morning meditating, praying and working with tarot or oracle cards; my ‘shrine time’ as I call up, sets up my day. I celebrate the festivals here and perform any major ritual work.

I also have a hearth and home altar in our lounge; it helps me to focus on keeping the energy of my home nurturing and joyful; I light a candle and incense there every evening to show gratitude for our little flat and the comfort and security it gives.

Altar and shrines are a great way of focusing one’s intentions. We can decorate them with items that have deep symbolic value and each time we tend these spaces with our attention, love and prayers these intentions are strengthened and take on life and energy.

As well have having my two main altar spaces, I occasionally set up temporary mini- shrines. These will often be arranged around something I am working on, or hoping to achieve. As with my larger shrines, I place items there that help me to focus on the issue at hand.

I have two mini-shrines at the moment and they are both Chakra related. Working with the Chakra system has enriched my spiritual practice and has come to my rescue on so many occasions when I have been struggling with issues and seeking a way through. My current mini-shrines have been set up to work more closely and intensely with the energies of the Solar Plexus Chakra: Manipura and the Throat Chakra: Vishuddha.

Manipura is the centre of our personal power; it is linked to our self-esteem and confidence; our sense of our self and our ability to act. The colour of this Chakra is a golden, sunshine yellow; it is our own personal internal sun that fuels and enlivens – it is where we shine.

Having gone through a long period of depression, I have been painfully aware at how low my confidence has become, and so I have decorated my shrine with a golden cloth, covered it with crystals associated with this chakra, such as citrine,  tigers’ eye and pyrite and I light a golden candle there every day and say affirmations that focus on developing a stronger sense of self and building my self-esteem.

Vishuddha is the throat centre , and as one might suspect, it deals with our ability to speak our truth, to be authentic  and confidence in the way we communicate and express ourselves. It is also the place where we listen and  truly hear what others have to say. Its colour is blue and so I have a beautiful blue cloth, covered with butterflies, with blue stones such as Celestite, Blue Calcite, Sodalite and Turquoise . I daily light a blue candle and say affirmations to heal and balance my self-expression.

Our confidence and creative expression are intimately linked. I have always had the urge to create and express myself in writing, music and singing (very throat chakra activities) but my confidence has historically been a little shaky. I muddled through though and still managed to maintain a connection to my ‘voice’, both literally and psychologically speaking.

During the struggles after my father’s death, I developed writer’s block; I couldn’t think straight or seem to organise the words to make sense of it all. When I did write, it didn’t feel authentic and true, I felt like I was going through the motions, all signs that depression had taken hold.

Now that I am coming out the other side of that extraordinary time, I have felt the need to give those parts of myself – my battered confidence and my neglected self-expression – a bit of tender loving care and my shrines are, for me, a wonderful way to reconnect and heal.

If you have anything in your life that needs healing, I highly recommend building a shrine to it. Firstly, it engages you inner child because it is fun to decorate but it also holds a space for you to examine any issue; to see it with a greater clarity and get a deeper sense of how to positively move forward. Altars ground things in the material world and are great tools to help you manifest change. But it doesn’t just have to be about solving problems, we can also set up shrines to celebrate, be grateful and gives thanks on a daily basis – this has a powerful magic all its own.

What shrines and altars ultimately do is make sacred what is being honoured there; they hold a space for it; they help us to acknowledge a thing as important and worthy of mindful attention.  They are places of transformation and when we give to them of ourselves, they open us to a greater healing. These beautifully little sacred spaces that we create with love, open the temple door within us.

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