January Charity The Berkeley Colony

From my wonderful friend Laken Steeljaw, child of Hyena Mother.

UC Berkeley is home to a unique research facility that houses a colony of captive Spotted Hyenas (Crocuta crocuta). Scientists at the facility have made many discoveries during their work, and revealed the species’ intelligence, complex social structure and verbal communication.Unfortunately, the Colony has lost its funding, and will be shutting down in only a few weeks. While many of the animals have been place in zoos and sanctuaries, many still don’t have a place to go. Those animals that are not placed by the time the facility closes will be put to sleep.

A group of dedicated folks have taken up a collection for the Colony, to attempt to keep it open long enough to place all the hyenas in homes that can properly care for them. Donations of any size, suggestions of zoos and sanctuaries that can take the animals and spreading the word can help save these animals. If you can, please consider lending a hand to save a life!

For more information, as well as links to charity auctions to benefit the Hyenas, follow @HyenaSanctuary on Twitter and visit http://hyenasanctuary.tumblr.com/.

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Spiritual Connection as Part of Energy Work

There are some days that despite my physical practice, mental practice and emotional awareness, the weight of anxiety and stress  is too heavy.  All my long learned, hard won coping skills just won’t lift it. Those are the days that every movement is agony, every thought strained, every emotion negative. Those are days that the idea of doing energy work makes me nauseous.

It is on those days that my connection to what is beyond me is crucial.

Sometimes it is my grandmother, who was a ranch cook and raised four children alone. Despite her life of heavy physical labor and deeply abusive relationships, she was cheerful and optimistic. She died smiling.

Sometimes it is my childhood animal ally,  Otter, who tends to sing the “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life” song from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Usually dancing with fish.

Sometimes it is Freyja, who reminds me that no matter how dark those clouds seem, there is always gold there. And I am deeply deserving of it. Because she said so.

Sometimes it is Hel, who silently lifts me up, sets me on my feet and points me in the right direction with care and great gentleness.

And there are many more, joyful and profound, profane and mundane reminders that I am not alone.

Be it ancestor, animal ally, wight or deity; it is my connection to the larger universe that lifts me up when I’ve reached the limit of my strength. It is my connection to those beings that provides me with answers I don’t have,  certainty I don’t feel, compassion that I can’t reach.

There are also days when I am so joyous, so light, every thing is going well and smoothly and synchronicity is working in every thing that happens; those are the days I thank and honor those connections. I leave offerings for Hel,  sing love songs for Freyja, dance with Otter, cook with my grandmother.

And there are the days in between, when the universe doesn’t manifest in a specific way, but the connections I have to it compel me to notice the beauty around me, to rejoice in my health and happiness, to be mindful of the impression I leave as I move through.

Those connections are important, not as faith or as belief, but as a living, engaged, loved and loving relationship with the universe. It has to be a relationship, a give and take of energy, love, care, hope.  Doing the rights things to live up to the examples left to me by my ancestors, my allies and  my deities of choice. Because while belief is nice, it is actions that are truly important. We are our deeds.

It’s not important whether you call it gods or ancestors or totems or animal guides or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Or perhaps just the universe.

What is important is that in that still place in your soul, you hear the song of the universe and choose to sing along with it.

You mileage will most certainly vary.

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Emotional Awareness as Part of Energy Work

When I chose therapy at 26, I had little knowledge of what my emotions were. I didn’t know how to cope with my strong emotions or manage my anger. I didn’t know how to increase positive emotions or use distraction, deep breathing and self soothing to  work through my emotions.

As an empath,  I couldn’t differentiate between what I was feeling and what other people were feeling.  I attributed my emotions to other people, using sentence constructions that gave other people power over me, such as “So and so made me feel this way” rather than taking responsibility for my own emotional state. It gave other people all the power and made me powerless.

Energy work can not be done from a place of powerlessness.

The first step to emotional awareness is the realization that as an adult, your feelings are yours. No one gave, made or taught you to feel the way you do. You choose.

The second step is to be aware that you are feeling something. Not thinking or judging, but feeling. That feeling may manifest in body sensations or behavior that you are doing and don’t understand in that moment why. Those feelings may be contradictory. Recognize that you are feeling is important. You don’t have to have a name for it yet, just recognize that you are doing it.

The third step is to increase your knowledge of emotions. What is the difference between anger, sadness, grief, fear, happiness, joy, contentment? How do these emotions manifest for other people? How do these emotions manifest for you?

The fourth step is to be aware of your emotional state. Pay attention to situations where you feel strong emotions. What was happening? What emotion did you feel? How intense what that emotion? How did you react?

The fifth step is to work out ways of reacting that are more empowering and positive. Practice if-then thinking; if I get angry because someone cuts me off in traffic, then I can take a deep breath and let that anger go.

I recommend therapy for everyone that wants do energy work. Most therapists, especially cognitive-developmental therapists, dialectical behavior therapists or talk therapists have valuable tools at their disposal to help you learn about and cope with your emotions.

Your mileage will most certainly vary.


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2012 US Election Year

We are now into the 2012 election season. This means that we are going to see a barrage of information and misinformation from all corners, most of it expressed with the intent to influence your vote. Possibly with true and factual information, possibly with false or distorted information, but there will be many attempts over the upcoming months to change both how and whether you vote.

I have written previously about the necessity of making your voice heard and about the various tools for understanding the political process. I have also talked previously about using POPVOX as a tool for making sure that your voice is heard, and it continues to become one of the better ways to get in touch with your congressional representatives over specific bills.

Right now I am going to issue a plea. Even if you feel disenfranchised by the current political process, even if all you do is vote a straight third-party ticket, to get out and make your voice heard this year. That can be in the form of voting directly. It can be in the form of contacting your representatives with tools such as POPVOX and Open Congress. It can be in terms of time spent volunteering for or donating to campaigns. Or it can be in the form of simply keeping informed on current issues and talking about it, even if you don’t vote and never write your representatives.

Elections in general–and presidential elections in specific–are very influential for the course of our country over the upcoming years. If nothing else, it implies the appointment of Supreme Court justices, who then can influence our policy on issues such as freedom of religion and the right to privacy for generations to come. There have also been bills proposed this year to either hamstring or at least substantially weaken the EPA’s regulatory powers. I will not tell people how to vote on these specific issues, but they are things that matter to me.

Yet the primary issue that concerns me is not simply the matter of the government’s direction, but rather that people be informed in their views. Or, for that matter, in their disgust if they feel fed up with everyone. I believe that we–as a country–need to move past the false equivalency. That we need to avoid demagoguery and encourage rational discourse.

The best inoculation against the rampant misinformation and propaganda is to stay informed. The more people who do that, I believe that the better things will turn out in the long run.

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SOPA Strike

As a method of protesting SOPA and PIPA a number of websites have decided to go on strike today. Some of these sites are blacking out text, putting up banners, or tweeting others are going dark entirely for a period of time. Sites participating in some capacity include Wikipedia, Reddit, Minecraft, WordPress, and Google. You can see more about why so many oppose it in this technical examination of SOPA and PROTECT IP.

Thanks in part to advocacy taken so far SOPA has been delayed, but the fight isn’t over yet, and despite some of the modifications being proposed other onerous provisions are still on the table. Hearings are scheduled to resume in February.

The repercussions that these bills will have if passed are extremely serious. The White House has also put up their opinion on these matters, stressing the need to balance between combatting online piracy and the risk of online censorship of lawful activity. The EFF has also released a commentary that takes what the White House has said into account. I’d suggest everyone in the US take a minute to read about these bills (the above links summarize the issues far better than I ever could), and then contact your Congressional Representatives to let them know what you think:

In related news, for those interested in effective activism, InformationDiet is holding a Better Activism Day to help try to bridge the gap between people’s understanding of Congress and how Congress actually works. The more people understand about Congress and how a bill becomes law, the easier it will be for people to get their input in early and stop bills like SOPA and PIPA from even getting as much traction as they have.

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Mental Practice As Part of Energy Work

I meditate at least once a day.

Meditation is very hard for me. My mind is like a white water river, with thoughts flowing in and out without seeming rhyme or reason.  Taming it to something singular is very difficult.

Yet, that daily exercise builds will. Will is defined as the mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course of action, diligent purposefulness or determination, self-control, or self-discipline. Will is the backbone of most magical practice.

Will is one of the most important things to cultivate when you are doing energy work. Will sharpens your focus; will carries you through intense physical pain, emotional distress, spiritual awkwardness and mental fogginess. Will enables you to make healthy, positive choices when you are getting to know which  deities, animal spirits or ancestors will help you in your work.  Will is the primary tool for removing energy that doesn’t belong. Will is the primary tool for finding energy that does belong.

Meditation builds will. So I meditate.

Your mileage will most certainly vary.

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Physical Practice as Part of Energy Work

I practice yoga.

I realize it’s not a very Nordic thing to do, but yoga has the advantages of being low impact, meditative and something that I can do alone. Yoga makes me aware of my energetic body. And as the teacher says on my favorite tape, “If you can learn to relax at will, you can learn to be in control of your energy, and you can put it wherever you want to, whenever you want to.”

Energetic body awareness is critical for competent energy work. If you don’t understand how your energy works, you are going to have a even harder time understanding the energy issues of a client.

But you don’t have to do yoga to increase energetic body awareness. Martial arts, stav (which looks like a combination of yoga with rune postures in some videos, I’m still looking in to this one), jogging, walking, swimming, literally any practice where you are following the flow of energy through your body with your mind’s eye will increase your energetic body awareness, and therefore strengthen your energy work practice.

Your mileage will most certainly vary.

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December Link Roundup

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The Reason for the Season

I hear  a lot about the War on Christmas. For those of you that haven’t, it’s a Fox News/Christian Broadcasting assertion that the liberal secular humanist agenda is trying to take away the reason for the season and making you all into little politically correct, Christianity hating drones.

There’s even been a book written about it, The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought by John Gibson, a Fox News anchor.

There are essays and blog posts written every year by people who are devastated by the fact their holiday has been tarnished by consumerism, trees and Santa.

At my mundane work space, we were told that we weren’t having a holiday party, we were having a Christmas party. Despite the fact that there are several different kinds of non-Christians at the company, including a surprising number of pagan people, we were told that this company celebrated Christmas, not the other holidays.

And there are many other midwinter holidays. Just a few that come to mind, Bodhi, Dongzhi Festival, Pancha Ganapati, Winter Solstice, Yule, Hanukkah, Yalda, Saturnalia, Kwanzaa, Flying Spaghetti Monster Holiday and Festivus.

It is my experience that AYPs (Angry Young Pagans) bristle at the assumption/consumption of our sacred days  and traditions such as the tree, the gifts, the food,  the lights, Santa (no matter what they tell you about St. Nicholas), to celebrate  the birth of a demi-god that wasn’t even probably born on December 25th. I understand. Even after 20+ years of practice, I find the wrangling and whining annoying.

But no matter what your religious persuasion, your kind of pagan, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, or other faith I may be leaving out; the reason for the season is hope.

Hope that as the sun rises after the longest night of the year, this day, this week, this month, this year, will be happier, healthier, more prosperous, more joyous, more spiritual, more breathtaking.

Hope is what sustains us when things seem darkest. Hope is what challenges us to have new experiences, make new friends, make different choices.


Happy Holidays.

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Review: Low Magick: It’s all in your head… You just have no idea how big your head is

Low Magick: It’s all in your head… You just have no idea how big your head is by Lon Milo DuQuette (✭✭✭✭✭, 5/5). (Amazon, Google)

First, it needs to be understood what this book is and what it is not.

It is not an instructional book in the sense of a workbook or instructional guide on how to do magic. There are no exercises, there’s a bibliography but it isn’t annotated and not heavily referenced from the text, most rituals are described in only fairly loose terms, and the style is conversational as opposed to, say, Modern Magick‘s more instructional tone.

On the other hand, it would be a mistake to think that there is nothing to learn from reading this book. This is a book of stories, and the author starts out by saying that:

Next to silence, stories are the most divine form of communication. Stories are alive. Stories are holy. Stories are gods that create universes and the creatures and characters that populate them. Stories bring to life all the triumphs and tragedies imagination and experience can summon to the mind. Stories speak directly to our souls.

Stories are magick.

The wisdom and power of this book isn’t in the chapter headings. It isn’t in the bare detail of the experiences that Lon Milo DuQuette chooses to relate here. It is in the essence of the stories as he tells them. It is in the offhand comments that he makes about his experiences, delivered so casually. It is in DuQuette’s ability as a storyteller and his skill in conveying these experiences in a way that carries meaning. It is in his ability to weave this meaning into stories about quiche and singing the name “Ganesha” to the tune of “pop goes the weasel!”

So this isn’t a book of theory (per se), nor is it an instructional book (except when it is), but rather something more. It is a collection of reflections of a modern magician, looking back on fifty years of magical practice. It manages to combine wit and humor with very serious and profound insights. It does this all through stories.

When I picked up this book, I thought it was a followup to My Life With the Spirits–another book I recommend every occultist of any stripe read–but it isn’t, really.

It is something much greater.

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