Wednesday, August 31, 2011

interview with lisa, of the celtic tradition

This week I spoke with Lisa, a mother of two from Southern California who works in the restaurant industry. Lisa, 50, practices in the Celtic tradition and blogs at Saoirse's Mind.
BlackPagan: For those who don’t know, can you explain a bit about the Celtic path? 
Lisa: I am still learning about the Celtic path but my understanding right now is that this is where it all begins (for me). When I was just starting out, I found that the Celtic path is the purest idea of what the Craft should be. Natural, no “Hollywood” mindset as many now believe it to be. 

If I were living in say, the 14th century in Ireland or wherever in that area, I would not be in a coven, wearing fancy doodads, etc., [and] acquiring my tools and herbs from outside sources; I would be using what was available and making it work for me. 
I may have known about deities relating to the natural cycle of things, but my main concern would be survival. Living through the elements, keeping my crops alive, eating on a regular basis. I would be working with nature not against her, not trying to manipulate her to suit my needs as is done today.

What got you into this path? 
As far as following a specific path, I never really gave it much thought ‘till just a few years ago. I have always been intuitive and pretty much flew by the seat of my broom throughout my life. When I actually started on my current path, it was quite by accident. Not having any faith to hold on to at the time, for some inexplicable reason, I was opened up to the Pagan way of living. 
I was not seeking a path on a conscious level, it just happened. I do not live on a farm or have expansive lands around me so being a “country dweller,” as the word "pagan" intimates, is not me but I do revere and respect nature and feel a connection to her. 
I cannot explain it, but one day Hecate presented herself to me and she has been my matron ever since. [Note: Hecate is from the Greek tradition.] Although she is my matron, I follow the Celtic path probably because it has a very rich history and I prefer it to the other paths. Hecate came to me, I did not seek her out. 
One may ask, how do I know it was Hecate? To be completely honest, all I can say is I had a feeling. I had not done any reading on her or heard others speak of her, she just came to me. Maybe she thought it was time. Who knows? It just fit right for me so now I nurture it and live each day to the best of my ability and knowledge with her as my guide.
I find it interesting to learn about the old ways, and I am not talking 20th century old ways. I am talking about as close to the beginning as information will allow. With a lot of the reading that I have done, I see that although the basic information is there, a lot of the things that are written are made-up ideas from 20th century thinkers. Case in point, some writers will state that a particular deity likes a specific flower or herb to be used when invoking them. My first question is, how do you know this? 
To the best of my knowledge, I have not found anything that has been written by Hecate that says, “Ooh, I really like the way this flower smells so it will always be used when invoking me.” If I have an allergy to, say, roses, and I read that roses are Hecate’s favorite flower and must be when invoking her, am I to risk my health for this reason? Is that what she would like to have happen to one of her children? I think not. As with all the books written by the so-called scholars of the ancients, I take it all with a pretty big grain of salt.
How long have you been on this path?
I have been on my path full-time for about six years now. I have always had a feeling of being on a different path than the norm but was not allowed to nurture it until recently. By not being allowed, I [mean I] was still heavily burdened by social conventions that could not accept me as a “them” when the “us” was the majority.
What religious tradition did you grow up in (if any)?
When I was young, I was “sprinkled” Methodist. This only happened because my mother was a soloist singer at the Methodist church at the time. She was raised Pentecostal and then baptized Baptist, goes to Methodist church now and wonders, by her own admission, why she can’t find a path that brings her inner peace.
I was never into the church thing. Looking back, there was no explanation as to what we were doing or what the core values on that faith was about. I was just told, here it is and here you are so have at it. Needless to say, I stopped going to church when I was about ten years old. Too much confusion.

Can you describe some of your practices, which deities do you work with/worship?
I am not one who can really be placed under the Pagan umbrella as it is known by today’s standards. If I were a “country dweller” maybe my practices would be a bit more in that line. I am aware of the wheel of the year but do not really do much with it because by today’s standards, I only see the wheel used as a marker for having a party by Wiccans. 
It is arbitrarily manipulated to suit people’s needs, meaning, if a sabbat or esbat falls on, say, a Monday, the rituals or celebrations will be moved to a day more convenient for the partiers instead of on the day it was intended to be. There is not a lot of consistency when it comes to the wheel, making it more of a hexagon than a circle. 
Tell me about your spell work.
I do spell work when it is needed. Spell work is not an every day thing so I can go for long stretches without doing any spells. Being a mother of two, I am a natural healer and for the most part do not use non-natural methods for healings. I have gotten in a lot of trouble with this line of thinking, but I figure at the end of the day I am not going to change the way I do things -- as long as it is not harming anyone -- just to keep others happy and comfortable. 
Yes, there are instances when Western medical practices are needed but for the most part, I strongly believe in letting my body heal itself. I have passed this way of thinking to my girls and for the most part, they stay away from medications when they are sick. Maybe a Tylenol or Advil, but pretty much, that is it. 
When something is perplexing my thoughts, I do call on Hecate to guide me in the right direction. The relationship she and I have is one of mutual respect. I respect her for being a Mother figure when I need a bit of nurturing or even scolding and she has yet to let me down. 
Can you talk a bit about how you work with Hecate?

When a lesson is needed to be learned by me, she presents it and then it is up to me to clean up the mess. I feel that no deity should be in one’s life to give the answers. The burden of responsibility lies with me. I do not use Hecate as my scapegoat when something does not go the way I would like. But by the same token, when something does go right, I say thank you, from my heart. 
Deities should be in your life to guide you toward the right answer, not give you the answer. If I do something wrong, Hecate is there to scold me, but she leaves me to clean it up and make it right. If I need to understand a certain situation, she presents options to me but it is me who makes the decision on which way to go. Being the guardian of the crossroads, she will place me at a crossroads and then say, “Now choose your path. Choose wisely, but choose. And if you choose a path that does not work out for you, there will always be another path to choose until you get it right.” As you can see, Hecate is not my leader, but my guide.
Could you describe that moment when Hecate called you? Where were you, what were you doing? Did you hear a voice or was it more of a feeling?
I do not know exactly when or where I was what Hecate came to me. I have thought of this time and time again and cannot come up with a specific answer. I do not remember hearing a voice but I do remember seeing what I believe was her. This was about eight or so years ago and she has not left me since. 
I had not done any research or specific reading on Hecate at that time so I did not know it was really her until a short time after. I am glad she has taken me under her “wing” and has helped me when needed. As stated previously, we walk together, not one behind or in front of the other. 
How do you work with the moon phases?
Being a woman, I understand how the phases of the moon are paralleled to the phases of womanhood. I can calculate my cycles by the moon. That saves a lot of worry each month.
Because the moon is a force of energy, I understand now that I can be pulled or pushed, depending on the current phase. I do use moon phases for my spell work at times. Waxing= positive work, waning= negative work. When I say negative, I am not speaking of hexes and bad doings, but releasing negativity around me or any negativity that I may have allowed to enter my life. 
I use the waxing moon to release what I don’t want in my life anymore, but, remembering to balance the release with something positive, i.e. release negativity from me while allowing good to come in. That sort of thing. The moon is round for a reason, ya know? 
What specific rituals do you do with the moon phases?
I keep up with the moon phases each month, but do not really do any rituals per se. When it is a clear night, I do look for her, to say "hello" and "thank you" for her strength and guidance. But as far as any rituals, I don’t do that unless there is something really specific I need to work on. At that time, I will turn on some music, usually Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and do what I need to do. It is more of a focus thing for me than all the bells and whistles many feel need to be done for a ritual.
Since you’re not Wiccan, you probably don’t cast circles and call quarters or any of that stuff. So how exactly do you do your spellwork? What tools do you use, if any? What setting, etc.?
True, I am not Wiccan but I have used certain incantations similar to a “ritual”. For instance, I have created a circle of protection using salt, but did not call the quarters, etc. I have called on a deity or two in my day also. Incense, candles, all the extraneous things, were used for focus on my part. I raised my energy to a higher level and achieved good results. But that is not to say that when casting a spell and not doing all the extras my work was less effective. 
As far as “tools” go, I do not have a metal bladed-athame. I use a wooden chopstick. I know that sounds odd, but my thinking is, my energy can come through a porous object better than a metal one ( wood is porous, metal is solid). 

Plus, I am a firm believer of using what is on hand, for the most part, and not spending money on things cause they are “pretty” or “cool” and “all the cool kids are using it.” If it is something that I already own, my power and energy is in it a lot more than if I were to buy something, bring it home and cleanse it, charge it, and then use it for my purpose. 
This is not to say that I have not spent money on some things. I own two cauldrons, one for waxing moon spells and one for waning moon spells. I make my own incense so I have a marble mortar and pestle that was gifted to me years ago for grinding and blending herbs. 
I do my spell work in my apartment, in the room where all my tools and herbs are. I do not do anything outside in my yard for the plain fact that I have neighbors and out of respect for them, I do not impose my incense smells (burning) on them. 

Plus, if any negative energy were to impose on my space, like nosy neighbors wanting to look in on what I was doing, that would break the energy I am creating. I can play music, turn off the lights and just use candles, or whatever I want in the privacy of my own home. 
But, even if I am outside, say walking through a nearby park, I can do spell casting while there, and no one would be the wiser. Spells are fueled by intent and feeling. If I walk up to a tree, place my hands on it and silently speak my words to nature and the universe, that is just as effective as me being at home. Remember, all spell work comes from within the caster, projecting thought into the universe. The rest is extra.
In what way do you find Wicca to be a rehash of Christianity?
This is a question that could fill volumes of text ! To sum it up, Christianity is a man-made invention that was used to control the masses back in the day of high levels of superstition and illiteracy. The Bible is filled with fantasy, rhetorical statements, and too many contradictions to count. 
At the time of the initial writing of the Bible, the Old Testament tells of God and his shenanigans, presenting him as a vengeful, egotistical, psychopathic god. It still boggles my mind that people still follow him, but to each his own, I say. The Bible has been written, re-written, and then re-written again, by mortals, so the initial idea of it is so muddled that it does not really have any bearing on life today. 
Don’t misunderstand, there are a few good things in there that are universal, like don’t murder, don’t covet, etc. but then again, God did not come up with these thoughts; the writers, and those who sought control of the masses, did. It was all a control method to keep the under-educated, overly-superstitious masses in line. 
The same can also be said about Wicca. When Gerald Gardner and all the others of that ilk, went public with their first books, they were plagiarized from other writers or flat out stolen, and then they filled in the blanks with their own drug-induced, twisted ideas. Sadly, many have fallen for them as the be-all, end-all, and still continue to. 
Both Christianity and Wicca have rules and regulations, hierarchies, rituals. They both use pretty much the same tools of the trade, such as, altars, incense, chalices, candles, etc. A lot of the movements are the same too. Go to any Catholic mass and there is a priest swinging a censer full of incense. Go to a Wiccan ritual and the same thing is being done. 
Christians have a priest but Wiccans have evolved enough to incorporate a priestess too, all in the supposed name of duality When having this, it creates leaders and followers but at the end of the day, a leader is a leader, despite the genitalia. Covens have the high priestess/priest and followers. In Wicca, to join a coven, the initiate must learn the “secrets” of said coven in order to be allowed to join. Same goes for Christians. You must learn the text and follow the belief of the church to be considered a part of that church. 
There is actually a coven who demands the prospective initiate take the high priestess to lunch and if the high priestess likes them they will be placed on a list. The initiate will then have to “prove” themselves worthy to the high priestess and after thirty days, if they fail, for whatever reason, they will not be allowed into the coven and cannot reapply for like a year. Those who get in consider it an “honor” to have been accepted. 
Christians go to a church for their worshipping. Wiccans go to an indoor venue to gather and worship. Yes, there are times when Wiccans will hold outdoor rituals, but a lot will meet at their high priestess/priest’s house or some other building. Doesn’t sound very much like worshipping nature if everyone is inside a building, does it? 
Wiccans manipulate the dates of the sabbats and esbats to fit into their mundane life schedules. Christians move their holidays around to please bankers and school schedules and create three-day weekends. 
Covens and Christians wear costumes. Reverend Don and his buddies have robes and sashes and adornments that are very similar to boy scout badges. Different colors of robe or sash indicates the level of the wearer within the coven. Churches have choir robes, pastor robes, sashes, varying colors to distinguish their position. Uh huh. And Wiccans are not Christians? 
Christians are still pushing their beliefs on the masses, wanting to save souls from a man-made fictitious character called the Devil who lives in Hades. The reality is, Hades is the name of Zeus’ brother, not a place. 

Wiccans say they have separated themselves from the Christian way of thinking and being but I really do not see much difference other than the label used. Wiccans feel they need to educate others in what their beliefs are. Why? Christians do that and they are looked upon unfavorably. Wiccans want to do it and it’s ok? What’s the difference? 
The way I see it is, if you have chosen your path, no matter what it is, there is no reason for others to know what your choice is. Not everyone will have their choices accepted by others and if one feels it necessary to shout from the roof tops what they believe, I think they are still convincing themselves rather than educating others. Real understanding comes from those seeking knowledge, not having it pushed down their throats without asking. 
No one knows what my beliefs are unless they ask me. I have a Facebook page and it is pretty clear which way my thoughts go, but until I am blatantly asked a question about my path, it will always remain complete conjecture on the readers’ part. I am secure in what I believe in and I do not feel it necessary to explain myself to, or convince, anyone else. 
Unless they ask.
Do you have a spiritual community? 
I have a only a couple of people who know my path and follow the same train of thought. I have yet to find others who are open-minded and secure enough to listen to what someone else has to say without trying to prove themselves more right. I stay away from “groups.” Inevitably, someone is going to wiggle their way into a position of leadership and I refuse to be a follower to anyone. 
Do you have any recommendations for newbies (resources, books to read, advice, etc.)?
The best recommendation I can offer is to read whatever you can get your hands on. Try to look further back than 1950. Read about many faith systems, not just your own. By understanding others, you have a better chance of understanding yourself and those around you. 
There is a lot of repetition and contradiction out there so take what you need, tweak it for your own personal needs, toss out the rest, and go from there. Faith is not etched in stone, it is written on the wind.

Friday, August 26, 2011

black pagan links love 8/26/11

From the blogosphere:

Nouvelle Noir Goddess over at the Daughters of Eve blog has a couple of great Q&A’s  this week with Black Witch and high priest R.A. Waldron, author of The God Genes Decoded, Volumes I and II. 

Nouvelle Noir has also put out the call for people of color (pagans, Wiccan and African traditionalist, etc.) to contact her if they’re interested in being profiled on the blog. I’m so happy about this new feature at Daughters of Eve because it helps us all share information and get to know each other. 
Over at the African American Wiccan blog, Mrs. Ebonee talks about the acceptance of paganism (or lack of it) in the black community. This is a discussion that will only continue as the number of black folks practicing non-Abrahamic spiritualities increases over time.

Nkyinkyin blogs about simplicity in ritual, and how she got there. 

From Hoodoo Crossroads, rootworker Chiron Armand offers A Basic Guide to Learning Magick. It’s an old article (from January) but it’s new to me and I like it so I’m posting it here. Based in New York City, Chiron is a hoodoo pracitioner and urban shaman who does housecleanings/blessings, journey work, readings and other services. Here’s a link to his website, Conjure in the City.

Finally, the African American Wiccan Society has a great new online store featuring books, jewelry, tools, edibles, handbags, wallets and some nice ritual garb.

That’s it for now. A new interview -- with Lisa, a Celtic practitioner in southern California -- will be posted on Monday. Have a great weekend and if you're on the east coast, don't let Hurricane Irene sweep you up in the wind like the Wicked Witch of the West.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

marvelous mullein

Came back from out of town about two weeks ago to find a new plant out back: a long stalk of yellow flowers with a basal rosette of long, velvety leaves on the bottom.

Actually, it isn’t a new plant. It’s been there for a few weeks now -- ever since we decided not to mow that particular patch of land anymore -- but this was the first time I'd taken a good look at it.
So I grabbed my go-to book on wild edible plants and to my delight discovered that this new plant is mullein. Marvelous mullein. We have exactly seven of them growing just a few feet from our doorstep.
Why is mullein so great? It is very good for the lungs. I’m a life-long asthmatic, and have spent the better part of two decades trying to free myself from the pharmaceutical industry in an effort to manage this condition. Can’t say I’ve been completely successful -- I still suck on an albuterol inhaler every few days or so depending on the season -- but my lungs are a LOT healthier than they used to be.
No daily use of nasty bone-depleting steroids, no more trips to the ER (unless I'm exposed to something particularly toxic, like pesticides). Yoga breathing exercises, a largely anti-inflammatory diet and the use of herbs have all been a part of my regimen. And for the last two winters, I've included mullein.
As an anti-inflammatory and expectorant, mullein is used for coughs, colds, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and hay fever. It can be made into tea, an infusion -- which is just a more potent type of tea -- a tincture, or smoked. I have no experience with that last method.
Here is how I make an infusion out of mullein during cold and allergy seasons:
-Place about two cups of dried mullein leaves in a mason jar (mullein is available online or in the bulk section of the health food store)
-Fill jar completely with boiling water and cover with the metal lid that comes with the mason jar
-In the morning strain through cheesecloth or a cloth sprouting bag
Then I put it in the fridge and ingest it over the course of a couple of days. I drink mullein infusion every day for two weeks, then take a week or two off. It really clears the lungs and has helped me stay away from the doctors. I have also experienced no side effects from mullein, and it’s very inexpensive compared to some asthma meds (for example, one month supply of Advair at my local big-box pharmacy goes for $300).
And now that I have it growing in the yard I'll be sure to spread some more seeds out so that I can grow myself an even nicer-sized patch next year. :-)
I am a HUGE advocate of self-liberation from corporate dependency. Every little bit helps, and if we can exercise some independent control over our health naturally, we can not only enjoy these mother nature/gods-given glorious bodies of ours more fully, but also free ourselves from the expensive and often inhumane (especially if you are uninsured) medical-pharmaceutical complex, which has a sorry track record when it comes to treating many chronic conditions.
In a later post, I’ll share some of the resources I’ve used to learn about herbs and other wild edibles.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

harvest time

Monday, August 1, was Lammas, otherwise called Lughnasadh. Falling midway between the summer solstice and the fall equinox in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, it’s the time of year when much of the food planted earlier in the season is ready for picking (and for preserving via drying, salting, fermentation, canning).

In these modern times of fast global transport, refrigeration and supermarkets, the notion of a harvest festival sounds quaint, but until recently, harvest time was a really big deal. A bountiful harvest meant everyone would be fed. A meager harvest meant tough times ahead.

Any number of factors could negatively impact the harvest, from drought to pestilence, so the gods were petitioned throughout the year for help with the crop. And when the harvest was brought in, they were thanked and given offerings.

NOTE: No one in my family is crazy about the names ‘Lammas’ and ‘Lughnasadh’. . . just can’t relate to some of those more obscure Celtic or Gaelic words, you know? Especially ones I don’t know how to pronounce like ‘Lughnasadh.’ So we just renamed August 1st “Harvest Day” which feels more natural rolling off our tongues.

Growing up in New York City, the only harvest festival I really heard about was Kwanzaa, or First Fruits, parts of which are based on African harvest festivals. I always liked the idea of Kwanzaa --artificial as it sometimes seemed -- but the harvest aspect of it had no meaning for me because 1) I was a city kid who got her food from the supermarket and 2) where I lived there was no kind of harvest happening smack in the middle of winter.

Later on of course I learned that harvest festivals are held in most cultures of the world and have been for thousands of years, and that harvest time varies according to geographic region and climate. In parts of Ghana and Nigeria, for instance, there are yam festivals held at the end of the rainy season in August. 

When I first became pagan, I decided that I would only celebrate the sabbats that made sense to me. This never included Lammas because I didn’t see the point, probably in part because what little I’d read about it billed it as a ‘grain celebration’ (which I hardly ever eat) or a time to “sow the seeds of projects planted earlier in the year,” which was a bit too abstract.

But re-thinking it, I decided this sabbat is quite relevant to our lives, since my family gardens, we have belonged to CSA’s (local farms) on and off over the years and we always shop at the farmer’s market. We do these things because the produce is better, we like to support the local economy, and we derive some small bit of independence from corporate agribusiness. Anything to stick it to the man. And we are very thankful for all this good food, realizing there are many who simply don't have

So this was our first year formally celebrating this sabbat. In addition to renaming the holiday more to our liking, we:

-made an altar on the living room mantle of garlic, peppers and some of the other non-perishable produce from our garden;

-had a mini-feast: I baked a loaf of artisan bread, J did the rest. He made roasted squash, peppers, garlic and mushrooms and some corn pudding. Plus we had a bottle of something called “Harvest Moon” from a local winery

Then we gave thanks for the food, for the turning of the wheel, and dug into our meal.

It was immensely enjoyable, kind of like Thanksgiving but without the commercialization, hype and buildup. Will definitely be making this a regular thing.