31 March, 2013

Reaffirmation & Relativism

Hey, Readers,

Let me take you on a short journey before I begin my own (LONG) analysis. I would ask you to close your eyes, but you have to read! I guess these are the limits of a blog versus a video. =) Still, please, relax and prepare for a quick trip. Read and reflect on this portion before you either 1) click the Read More break link if you're reading this on my main blog page, or 2) scroll down if you're reading this on the page of this post alone. I will leave some room and warn you where this section ends. Thanks!


The area around you is as dark as though your eyes were closed, no light shining beyond their lids. A comfortable blackness. You hear murmurs--of water, and of breath--all around. You are in a place full of people, all of whom are waiting, like you. In comfortable blackness. You cannot see, but you know that everyone is looking toward the same end of the space you're in. Soon, there will be something to see. You wait. The ceiling above you begins to glow with a dim light, reflecting from somewhere else. Ah, so there is a ceiling. A room, then. You are at the back of the crowd and cannot see where the light comes from. Suddenly, a burst of light. Someone has lit a large fire at the edge of the crowd. Flames dance along the walls, creating many silhouettes of the people in front of you. The smell and anticipated warmth of flame thrills you. Someone lights something--a torch, or a large candle?--from the main fire, and begins to walk throughout the crowd. A low chant hums in several throats, but you choose to listen. Soon, the flame grows and spreads throughout the crowd. Each person has a white candle. The fire comes to you and you get your own small flame. You warm the candle in your palms, breathing around the flame, focusing on your own personal intent. Somehow, you know your wish is not the same as everyone else's, and yet your goals are more similar than anyone else will admit.

Smoke fills the room, not from the fire, but from incense. First, a thick, heady scent. Rich. Dark. Like the earth, or the comfortable blackness now left behind for the flickering glow. Frankincense, perhaps. You aren't sure. Chanting continues. You wish there were drums. A faster-paced song begins--a celebration with bells! Oh, if only the people would dance! You see scarves, belly-dancers, gold and fringe in your mind's eye. The music calls you to dance! But everyone else remains still, shockingly so... How can they stay so still? Your feet tap to the beat, stopping short of stomping along. There is a large space next to you. It would be so simple to move, to dance, but no one else so much as nods along as they pour out the beautiful sounds of the music. So you stay, though only physically. Soon a fresher aroma meets your nose, a new incense being used to cleanse the space. Eucalyptus, you're almost certain. People have been speaking and singing, but you remain focused on your own flame. At once, the others blow out their candles. "Blow it out?" you ask the woman next to you. "That seems counterproductive." This light is your own, and you love it because it is you. Why should you extinguish it just because everyone else did? And why should you not have danced? Realizing your position, you elect to snuff your flame with the smooth edge of your neighbor's candle. As the folks around you start, you explain. "I don't believe in blowing out candles." They have earned no further explanation from you.

They wouldn't understand.

This tiny flame. A light in the comfortable darkness... Why did we leave the darkness, again? Wasn't it warm? Safe? The light is fine, too. Either one is a fine choice. We lit the tiny flame. We gave it life. We are celebrating LIFE. The flame, it breathes, as we do.

Who am I to take away your breath, little candle... With my own?


Take a moment to re-read anything you need to, or just to reflect a bit more, before moving on.


28 March, 2013

Yay, Yoga!

Hey, Readers!

As usual, there seem to be several topics I'd like to blog about now... Maybe I really should start trying this "scheduled posts" thing. I haven't covered all the subjects I told you back in February I wanted to get to (measuring progress, sex magick, magick and mental state, prejudice reduction, and more), and as I go on living, more and more important topics come up. But this time, I'm going to talk about a very recent topic.

Sneak peek! Still from a video I'll be uploading on
cutewitch772 in a couple days!

Last night, I went to my very first Yoga class. My experience with Yoga the past several years has been learning poses completely on my own (I recently learned that something I used to do in elementary school is actually Eagle Pose!), or being taught certain stretches in theatre or dance classes, but not being taught them AS Yoga, in a Yoga setting. So while I have done Yoga in theatre and dance, I'd never taken a class specifically in Yoga.

The studio is literally a minute from my Grams' house, where I live now. The sign by the road says "Opening April 7" so I didn't worry about it, but I finally checked out their website on Tuesday night and found out the sign is from a previous year, and they've been having classes all this time! So I looked at the descriptions, decided that I'm at an appropriate level for the "Beyond Basics" class (I already have knowledge of basic poses and sun salutations but probably am not ready for full Vinyasa), and went to the class last night. The first class is free, and new students get a discount on the next three classes, so I paid nothing last night and learned a lot.

There were only three of us in the class, plus the teacher, who is probably not much older than me herself. She was very helpful, and the small class size is perfect for one-on-one attention. I told the teacher when I arrived that I've mostly been teaching myself Yoga for years, so I think I'm at what they consider an intermediate level, but I really want to find out where I am since this is my first formal practice. She was so helpful! When doing certain poses, I was able to ask her if I was doing the pose correctly, since I usually either have to feel it myself or check my reflection. So it was great to get instant feedback--"Great form!" "Lift up a little more here," "Good adjustment," "Can you straighten that knee? Good!" There is a LOT to remember within one pose, and if you concentrate on fixing one thing, you may forget something else you had gotten right before.

The biggest difference for me in this class was that in theatre and dance, we're taught to do certain stretches and if you can't do them, you reach toward it and hopefully your body will work up to it through continued practice. So for certain things, I would do a stretch or pose as I best could but hold back certain things because I knew I couldn't stretch that far yet (I'm very out of practice...). However, in Yoga, the emphasis appears to be more on having the right body position right now, whatever way you have to get there, rather than just stretching gradually and building up to it. I had never used any props before, because I'm used to just working my own body and that's all. But in class, the teacher was quick to place blankets, bolsters, blocks, or anything we needed in order to help us reach the right pose.

Seated on floor.
Seated on rolled up towel for support.
In the above pictures, my straddle width is only improved a small amount by sitting up on a prop, but my back alignment is changed a lot. It's hard to see in two pictures, but if you could toggle back and forth between the two photos, as I can in my Pictures file, you would be able to see that sitting up on the towel does help my back remain straighter. I never even knew I had a problem with that, because the back is not the focus of this stretch in theatre or dance, so no one pointed it out.
It was unusual for me to use props to help a pose, instead of just making myself DO it. But I can see why it's more beneficial to have the correct body alignment while practicing and still work up to maybe doing it on your own, as opposed to practicing with the wrong alignment and possibly not getting the same benefit. Even the teacher sat on a bolster for many poses. The students are all at different levels of practice, have individual strengths and weaknesses, injuries and health problems that prevent certain things, and yet they can all share the same, very small classroom. Yoga doesn't require you to be flexible immediately, nor to be strong or perfectly balanced or spiritually developed. Yoga is a practice just like so many of the things we do. Anyone can start, everyone can benefit, and things develop over time. I made a few personal improvements in just one 1.5 hour practice. All it takes is determination, willingness to learn, positive attitude, and a suitable environment to support your own progress. The extra set of eyes from a trained teacher helps, too. I learned poses on my own and will always practice at home, but there are little things a teacher can really help with. Someday I'd like to teach one or all of the practices I personally do, because I want to help other people the way that great teachers have helped me.

Om. Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. (Brings back memories of being in HAIR.)


26 March, 2013

Activism Empowerment!

Hey, Readers,

Before I start the post, a quick thank you to the people who commented on my last post! I really appreciate the occasional comment, because while view counts do let me know people are reading, it's even more concrete to me to get feedback. I don't know why, it's just how my brain works--Comments mean people are reading, haha.


Last week left me feeling very scattered, stressed, and generally confused about what to do with myself. On the one hand, I care a lot about certain topics, enough that I get really riled up about them, whether it be in response to negativity or just being excited about educating people on the topic. And on the other hand, sometimes the negativity part of it gets me so upset that I question whether I should be caring about these things at all. My boyfriend, other friends, and family members worry about me, sometimes, because I get so upset over people not caring about the things I find extremely important. My last post was about one such topic. So on Friday, I began a little video project about Calm, and how I can de-stress in a stressful environment (the house in which I currently reside). But I left that video for finishing later because I had a lot to do this weekend.

And let me tell you, a LOT happened this weekend!

Saturday morning I went to a meeting for faith groups against fracking. This time it was held at a Christian church in the town where I went to college, so I made sure to attend since it was close enough for me to drive myself. (They have meetings at other places, too, whether it be synagogue, UU churches, or next time it may be a Baptist church.) The organization (the name I will not share for personal reasons, I hope you understand) is made up of over 40 different faith communities, mostly in Ohio but also some in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. It includes Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant faith groups. I got involved because members of my Unitarian Universalist church are heavily involved in running the group and organizing the meetings and action groups. The idea is that if religious groups, especially the congregation leaders, are informed about the dangers of fracking in our communities, they can then inform their congregation back home, and their congregation can take the information out into their personal world. And for many who believe that Earth is part of God's creation, the push is that we should be protecting that, as part of God's gift to us, etc. etc. Obviously as a pagan, I view it a little differently, but details are beside the point!

The meeting was GREAT. Like I said, it was in a Christian church this time, so several reverends said prayers for the Earth (which I could totally get behind as long as the word "God" was replaced with my own personal concept of Deity), and the speakers stood on the floor, between many rows of pews and the dais. We heard from a member of my church who updated the group on some events that had taken place, a woman who gave us specifics on the Keystone XL pipeline and why we need to make sure it isn't built, another woman in charge of a non-religious citizen group who talked for a very long time about various environmental issues, and a young man (around my age) who spoke eloquently about direct action.

The pipes!
When I first took my place in a pew off to the right, I quickly began feeling jittery and almost sick to my stomach. Taking a minute to take stock of myself, I realized this was due to the room itself. The energy in the sanctuary was pulsating, and I wasn't sure if it was from the other activists in the room and their personal energy, or if it was the energy of the sanctuary itself, from all the adherents and their usual services. Yesterday at church I mentioned this to Ron and Judy, two of my fellow Green Sanctuary committee members and members of this anti-fracking group, and Ron asked whether I had been at the meeting early enough to hear them playing the organ. There is a giant organ, the pipes of which make up the entire wall behind the dais and altar area of the church. I told him no, I wasn't there early enough to hear that, but I bet that had something to do with the reverberating energy I felt. Once I settled in and adjusted to the energy, however, the rest of the meeting was smooth sailing.

The young man who spoke about direct action had us all get up and move, talk about our opinions of the importance of direct action, name social movements throughout history, and ultimately discuss what kinds of direct action would be possible and appropriate for this cause. I didn't get to speak to him at the lunch afterwards, but I wanted to hug this kid, because through his talk and information, I realized and affirmed my love and need for activism. On Friday I had worried that I should really forget about certain things and just let people go on about their hateful, regressive lives. But on Saturday I was reminded just how important my causes are to me, and why they have to be so important to some of us in order to create any change.

At the lunch, I spoke to several people from different faith groups in nearby areas, and made some connections. I spoke to a nun from the Catholic school where my grandmother used to work, and when I mentioned Grams' name, the Sister said she was speaking to the granddaughter of a legend! I also spoke to another older UU couple who are also involved in theatre, so I may go to an event they're having at their church (the first UU church I visited, a couple years ago or so) in April. After the lunch, I showed a few people from the meeting around campus, thereby getting a chance to speak to even more people that I hadn't connected with at the lunch, and then just hung around for a few hours until I could see the theatre department's show that evening. It was a musical revue following the development of musical theatre throughout the years, and it was very cute, if absolutely crazy!

I ended up sleeping on the couch in the lounge of my old dorm floor, so I could stay up late visiting with people and not have to head home early. I woke up early and drove the farther distance to my church (since my college campus is in the opposite direction of the church from my home, so it took twice as long).

The service itself wasn't anything too special--it was a poetry service to beckon spring, but nothing struck me as particularly notable, except that the woman who read an Emily Dickinson poem just decided to change several of the words for no reason. I carry a book of Dickinson poetry in my bag, so I was able to check. But after service, I stayed and caught up with a woman named Sage, who had a few more job ideas for me, and we decided we might get a group together to see some films at the Cleveland International Film Festival next month. My Wiccan friend's daughter couldn't find her mother and instead asked me for a dollar to buy a candy bar for Sage's son's fund raiser, so I obliged and got a piece of the candy bar in return. Then I was informed by the DRE that I simply had to stay to watch the documentary about which I had forgotten. So I stayed.

The documentary is called Miss Representation, and was made for/originally shown on the Own network. I hear you can watch it all on YouTube, so you can check it out. It's about portrayal of women by the media, and how we need to make sure our daughters AND our sons know what's real and what is being pushed at us by the media who really just want people to think they have to be a certain way. It's a great documentary, about an hour and ninety minutes long, full of facts and quotes and personal stories. I was upset that the group of viewers decided to go home instead of having a discussion immediately. The discussion will be scheduled for another time, but I think people will forget what needed to be said by then, or not come back for the discussion at all. In any case, this was another topic that really showed why activism is important. Certain people need to be the ones to care, to stand up, to speak up, and to create the change. As the young man at the church meeting said, supporters are very important. Just like in the LGBT community, we need allies, too. The people who don't do the standing and speaking, but silently support, are extremely important to any movement. Though, too, are the activists. And either way, direct or indirect action, people simply need to care. People need to get riled up. People need to worry and be bothered. We just need to make sure we maintain our own peace of mind within that, in order to be able to expend our energy in such realms.

Dalai Lama Words of Wisdom card that started my
"Study in Calm" on Friday, 22 March 2013.
So today (and I know this is being posted after midnight, so it's going to show up as a Tuesday post), I completed my video project about Calm. I only altered one line to account for my renewed sense of importance in my own propensity for activism. I didn't want to discount it. It is very important, to me and to the world at large. I will be making a quick video just about this general empowerment topic and what I did this weekend, and then later this week I will post two versions of my Study in Calm. The first is the "study," if you will, which includes several quotes and my personal thought process about the topic. The second version is the same exact video, but without the voiceover, so it only includes the calming sounds I put in the background. I'm very excited to show them both later on this week, and to remember that this weekend, the Universe once again pulled my experiences together to send me a message. And for that, I am grateful.


21 March, 2013

Rights to Terms (Wiccan)

Hey, Readers,

Even as I typed the title for this post, I realized just how big a topic it really is. This goes into so many areas that I've come across in the past year, such as whether neopagans can use certain practices from some faiths, whether you have to be a certain gender or race or nationality to use some practice, and so on. Due to all the ways this could go, I'm going to stick to my original intention when I opened up this page to post a blog, which is to discuss a little more my choice to call myself a Wiccan.

I wrote a long post on my tumblr about this a while ago, where I describe the conversation I had with an initiated Gardnerian crone to whom I really look for guidance. When we first got acquainted, I actually didn't know that she was Gardnerian, just that she was Wiccan and believed and practiced very similar to myself, but with the added benefit of the wisdom of her years. It wasn't until I knew her for a couple years already that I heard her say she was an initiated Gardnerian, and I was like, "What?!" Because, in my experience, Gardnerians online are the ones who say you can't be a Wiccan if this, and you're not a real Wiccan if that. And actually, there are a lot of non-Wiccans, or non-initiates who say that, as well. But the books I read, and the experiences I've had with Deity, have told me that it isn't necessary to be initiated by another human being in order to follow Deity in a certain way.

I know myself. I know what my beliefs and practices are, and I know that they are not akin to traditional Wicca. Yet, there are beliefs that are Wiccan which I do hold. I was lucky enough to be able to speak to one Gardnerian initiate, and she asked me things like, "How do you do this? What do you do when you do this part of ritual? What goes through your mind? What does this thing mean to you?" And I was honest because after all these years of being told I'm wrong, dangit, I just wanted to know once and for all! And I was not told "Sorry, child, that's not Wiccan." Instead I heard surprise and pride, "That's exactly what we did in my covens, and it says a lot to me that you came upon this on your own." (These are all paraphrases, not the exact quotes.) And we discussed things that we think are characteristic of Wicca, whether it be traditional or eclectic, solitary or group. To me, a person who believes these Wiccan beliefs can call themselves a Wiccan. But people who do not have the same beliefs at all, probably should not. As I've said several times before in videos and maybe on here, I did message with a man online who told me that he is Wiccan but purposely does not follow the Wiccan Rede. Well, I personally feel that there is probably a better label out there for him than "Wiccan." I've also had a young kid message me talking about a very specific practice format he was using, involving a certain number of deities, the practitioner being a sacrifice, and so on, and claiming it was Wiccan. In fact, I assume he was asking me about this because I identify as Wiccan and he thought what he was doing was Wiccan. It didn't sound like any kind of Wicca I had ever heard of, even after doing some more research, so I asked what his sources were, and as it turns out, it wasn't a Wiccan source. He just wanted to use the label. I don't think people should use the label willy-nilly for no reason at all. But I think if your belief and practice falls within the realm, you should not be told that you cannot use a term for yourself.

Gerald Gardner may not agree with me. But I'm not Gardnerian. I don't claim to be.
(I've even had people say I can't be Wiccan if I don't follow Gardner because he started it. There are a good many examples of things evolving and moving past their initiators--pardon the word choice.)
I bring this up again because I was checking old comments on one of my videos, and I found a reply from a year ago that I never saw or replied to. It's old news now, so I won't reply to it and cause more issue, but I do think it's good to talk about. Someone told me that they are a traditionalist of the sense that they believe you must be initiated and things like that, in order to properly claim the title "Wiccan." I said that I agreed with their right to believe this, which is why I never claim to be a Traditional Wiccan. That would be incorrect as I have not been initiated into a tradition. But I don't believe you have to be initiated into your own belief, and I think Deity is actually the only one(s) that needs to accept us on a certain path. I told them that I do think some people use the term for no reason (such as the examples I gave above), but that through my research and speaking with initiates, I have determined that I may call myself Wiccan based on my actual belief and practice. Their reply which I did not see until now, says that while they respect the thought I have put into this, they still don't think I have a right to use the term, and since they strongly believe this and I strongly believe what I believe, we should agree to disagree. And as most people will when they know they're being rude but don't want to be, they ended the comment with a smiley face.

I do think it's everyone's right to choose what works best for them. If you personally believe that you shouldn't use a term until you are initiated into a group, that's fine. But I don't think it's okay to tell other people they cannot do something, based on your personal belief for yourself. Sounds a lot like non-pagans telling us what we need to do, doesn't it? Why the ingroup prejudice? I have a pretty good friend/acquaintance on YouTube who has made it clear to me multiple times that he personally will not ever call himself a Wiccan until he is initiated, AND that he will not accept any branch of Wicca other than Gardnerian--even those that developed directly from Gardnerian (Alexandrian, Algard, etc.)--because he personally believes Traditional Gardnerian Wicca is the only valid one. But never once has he claimed that I am not a real Wiccan or that I am doing it wrong. The fact that he personally needs a certain thing, doesn't make him think of me in a lesser way. I appreciate that so much.

And no, I don't think every traditional Wiccan is going to think I'm okay just because several of them have. Just because some initiates accept me and my right to use a term that describes my belief, does not mean they all will. That just means I would probably work better with those who care about my beliefs, and not whether a human male initiate initiated me. (No one usually mentions the fact that technically each person must be initiated by the opposite sex, but yet in many covens throughout the years there were not enough men, so women were initiated by women. So what's the important thing, being initiated? Or being initiated exactly the way Gardner said we should be?)

The fact of the matter is that practices evolve. People change things, the times change things, resources change things... Yes, some people use terms to describe something that has no tie at all to the original thing, in which case it seems like maybe you could choose a better term. But a lot of people fit Wicca who don't do it the way it was done in the 40s and 50s. Even initiates don't do things the exact same way as their predecessors. Each coven that breaks off can change the way it does things if it chooses to. Let's say hypothetically that each coven hiving off changes one thing about how they believe or practice. Then covens hiving off from there each change one more thing, so on and so on. If the branching off eventually gets so far away from the original beliefs and practices that none of it looks like Wicca anymore, are they still Wiccan based on lineage of initiation? Or are the beliefs and practices really what matters, regardless?

When you get right down to it, I honestly don't care what label I use. I have a preferred one, but it's still just words used to help describe my views. I don't care what label best helps people describe me in their own mind. However, I do care when people think they know what someone else is. So yes, we should agree to disagree. I may be bothered by the fact that deep down, you don't think I have a right to my own belief's terminology because I don't have the same resources you do. Just like it still seemed weird when a Christian friend told me, "Yeah, I respect your beliefs. I think you're going to Hell, but I respect your beliefs." "I don't think you deserve the same term I do, but I respect your beliefs." But no, we're not hurting each other by disagreeing. My path doesn't affect yours, and your path doesn't affect mine.
And yeah, okay, I frequently deal with people of completely other faiths by saying something like "I respect that belief, but I don't personally believe it." Somehow I think this is different than "I respect that you have that belief but don't think you have the right to it," or "I respect that belief but I still think you're wrong." I don't necessarily think people are wrong just because it doesn't work for me. (Some beliefs I do think are "wrong," morally, but that's another story.)
And I have known people in my personal life whose choice to use certain terms offended me, because since I know them in real life I know the supreme lack of actual knowledge or experience they put into it. So to me it's an insult to use a term having put no work into it, which I have worked for years to feel able to use. So I do understand that some traditionalists may find my use of the term the same exact kind of insult. They got initiated and I didn't so I don't deserve it. I do sympathize there, since these people do not know me personally and cannot know exactly the work I've put in. The lack of access to a coven is one thing. To me, the effort, belief, practice, knowledge, and experience are another.
One day, I will approach a level of wisdom such that it will not even bother me that people really don't respect me. One day, I will not mind at all what people say, and I will not feel any need to defend myself, educate others about their misinformation and hatred, or even to give it a thought. Perhaps one day I will drop my activist standpoint and just let people judge and hate and dictate, because it really doesn't affect me. That day, it will not matter to me that people are incorrect when they think they know it all.

But, oh, readers and friends... Today is not that day. It is an ongoing process. I can feel much improvement from my stance a decade ago, and even a few years ago. But I still have far to go.


17 March, 2013

13 Goals of a Witch, Interpreted

Hey, Readers,

I got a message on YouTube from someone wanting to know exactly what these 13 Goals of Cunningham's mean, in layman's terms. If you Google the subject, you'll find many pages where other people have given their personal interpretations of the goals. So I thought, why not post my answer to my blog, for future reference? My interpretations are not drastically different than anything I already read, which is good. It means we're all on the same track about what we should be doing! But I did find some things in other people's pages that I wouldn't have thought to say, and I also have some quotes and things I like that I haven't seen elsewhere yet. Without further adieu, the 13 Goals of a Witch, interpreted by yours truly.

The 13 Goals of a Witch

1) Know Yourself -- This one comes first for a reason. Have you ever heard the saying, in these or similar words, "For anyone else to love you, you have to love yourself first"? It's the same concept. In order to learn about the rest of the world, in order to make magick happen effectively, in order to create positive change in your life, even in order to have healthy relationships in general, you have to know yourself first. It all starts with YOU. So what does it mean, to know yourself? It means to know who you are, what you believe, what you stand for, what you like and dislike, what you feel deep in your heart about different situations, and most of all it means being HONEST with yourself about who you are. It means knowing your strengths and being proud of them, and also knowing your weaknesses so that you can work on them. In the story of Rumpelstiltskin, he is bested by the character who learns his name, because names hold power. Think of Rumpelstiltskin as one of your negative traits, something you know is part of you that you want to work on. It is much easier to defeat something if you can name it. (Back when exorcisms were still something Christian clergymen did, part of the process was learning the entity's name in order to banish it correctly. I read that recently and I would direct you to the source if I could but remember it, I read so much...) When you recognize your own short-comings and negative attributes, you can better see them coming and work on improving. But don't forget to recognize your positives, too. Give yourself what credit you deserve! This one is all about YOU, knowing who you really are, and being the best you that you can be.

2) Know your Craft -- This one may seem pretty obvious, but it's important to remember. This is about knowing your stuff! Strive to know as much as you can about the Craft in general, but also about your personal favorite ways to do things. Find out different ways to do the same thing, try them all out, and see what works best for you--YOUR craft. If you don't know yet what works best for you, that's a sign to test different ways. Observe or chat with other people to find out how they do things, and try it out. Read about new ideas, even when you have a pretty set way of doing things, just to freshen it up and stay sharp. Your tastes may change, or you may just add it to your growing knowledge of the craft and how people practice it. I think it's very significant that the word "your" is used here. Know the Craft, but also know your Craft.

3) Learn and Grow (sometimes written as just Learn) -- You've heard me say it before, and I will never mind saying it again. We are ALL, ALWAYS learning! Life in general is about learning. This path is one of learning and practice, trial and error, trial and success. It's called a "practice" for a reason. Learn from books, websites, and other people, but also remember that a lot of your learning comes from your own experiences, nature, and if you believe in a deity concept, from Deity, as well. By learning as much as you can, and accepting that there WILL always be more to learn, you ensure that you are constantly growing. Be ever a student, of this and all subjects. Even when we "master" certain things, there are always yet more things to learn along the way.

4) Apply Knowledge with Wisdom -- Okay, you did all that learning and growing and studying and practicing, and now you know a lot of stuff! Good for you! Now comes what may be the harder part: Using that knowledge wisely. Sometimes this can mean applying common sense. Other times, it might mean thinking creatively or outside the box. (You can almost hear your older family member, handing you a few dollars and saying, "Use it wisely...") Essentially, this goal is about remembering that knowledge alone is not always enough to work out there in the real world, whether it be in magick or mundane aspects. The knowledge is necessary, a separate goal in itself, but it's not much good if you don't know how to apply it.

One quote that I love, from the Tao Te Ching: "In the pursuit of knowledge, every day something is acquired. In the pursuit of wisdom, every day something is dropped."

5) Achieve Balance -- This is what it's all about, man! Haha. Wicca especially, is a religion about balance. But even for non-Wiccans, balance is an important goal. On the spiritual side of things, we might be talking about the balance between Yin and Yang energies, masculine and feminine, light and dark, positive and negative, fire and earth or air and water, or between earth, air, fire, and water, or between elements of other cultures and belief systems, like earth, metal, water, wood, and fire. In Yoga, you might try to achieve physical balance, mastering a pose you couldn't do before. Gymnasts, dancers, and other athletes certainly strive for this kind of balance, as well. But it goes beyond even these things. You should strive for a balanced diet, a balanced meal, one of the other links I read mentioned a balanced checkbook! A balance between school and social life, or between work and play. A balance between caring for your family and caring for yourself. There are many, many aspects of our lives where we need balance, and this is why it's a goal. Not only for witches, but for everyone.

6) Keep Your Words in Good Order -- It may be a cliche, but it's for good reason: "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." That's just one part of this goal, in my mind. Keeping your words in good order means thinking before you speak, absolutely. And when you think about it, the best decision may be not to say anything at all. Cutting over into the Wiccan Rede, "Speak ye little, listen much." Maybe it's better to save your words for now. But another part of this goal is just finding the right words. It's not always appropriate or even helpful to remain silent, so keep your words in good order by thinking about what you're going to say and saying it in the best way possible. Many people speak before they've thought it through and may end up regretting their words, either immediately or later on. Save that trouble by being aware of the words you're using. Know why you use certain words. Use the best words for the purpose. This applies to speaking, writing, spellcraft, any time you use words to communicate.

7) Keep Your Thoughts in Good Order -- One of the other links I read switches this goal with #6, making the point that before we can keep our words in good order, we must first keep our thoughts in good order. Thus, think before you speak. I like to think of it that way, though I maintained this order for the list. Very similar to the previous, this goal is about keeping track of what we're thinking. I do a lot of spellcraft using positive affirmation. I believe that thinking positively affects our lives for the better. And I know for a fact that negative thinking breeds negative results. Without even getting into the psychology of it all, I think many people, witches and non-practitioners, can agree on the fact that the way we think influences our actions, our relationships, the way we interpret things that happen to us, and so on. Keeping your thoughts in check is extremely important, and also extremely difficult for some people, or even for all people at certain times in life. We think things before we even notice it consciously. I will not pretend for a second that I have this goal mastered. Remember, that's why these are goals. Know yourself, and be honest with yourself, enough to keep working on the goals that elude you. It's all a process.
Helpful Hint: You know how people knock on wood after saying or thinking something that might "jinx" a situation? I definitely do that. Always three times! This comes from knocking on trees to ask the spirits of the trees, or creatures living inside, for help. You can knock on wood as a reminder to yourself not to think a certain way. Or, you can do what my mother, Rev. Rose does! When she thinks or says something that she realizes is not the best order for her thoughts or words to be in, she looks up to the sky, sometimes points or gestures, and emphatically says, "Cancel that!"
A theatrical trick: Just then, I said "not to think a certain way." This is not the best order for my words! In the theatre, actors are given motivation for their character. As a director, one of the least helpful things is to tell an actor what NOT to do. Think about it, when someone tells you "Whatever you do, do not look at that lamp," it's going to be really hard not to look there! "Don't think about polar bears." Same! It's much easier to give an actor a positive motivation, such as "Look at the door," or "Think about water buffalo." So take a stage hint, and give yourself a POSITIVE motivation. That is, give yourself something TO DO, instead of trying hard not to do something. One of my old roommates had the personal mantra, "DON'T PANIC." I used to replace her notes to herself which said that, with the positive mantra, "BE CALM."
8) Celebrate Life -- Yay, Life! Spiritually speaking, we revere life. We revere the cycle of nature, which is the circle of life (cue The Lion King). Birth, life, death, rebirth. There are many different cycles, not all of which I can name in a short paragraph. This goal is just about that. Celebrate Life in all its forms. Celebrate your life, the life of others, the life of non-human animate beings, and even the life and existence of inanimate beings. Celebrate life rather than mourning death. Honor the Life of all things, all peoples, all places. Sometimes, when a baby cries and screams in a public place and other people are getting annoyed with the child and its parents, I tend to smile to myself remembering this goal. I have to smile, because yes that baby is crying right now and that may be distracting and sad, but that baby is ALIVE and doing what babies DO! And that's awesome! People in general can get really annoying and make you sad or angry or any number of negative emotions. Some people just really are not worth our time to worry about. But hey, that's just another part of life, too. Adversity. Experience. Life. Life is worth celebrating.

9) Attune with the Cycles of the Earth -- Okay, I just talked about cycles. But this goal is specifically about tuning into that cycle of nature I just mentioned, being on the same frequency, riding the same waves. Maybe even literally! Many pagan paths are nature-based. And even if not, our own lives follow the basic cycles we can observe in nature. So however you have to view it in your own mind, in order to make it fit your path and your way of seeing the world, attuning to nature is a great goal to have. You learn so much more about things when you focus on them, and really find them interesting. The Earth continues in its revolutions and orbit no matter what we're focusing on, but when you tap into that energy yourself, and become an active part in the cycle, that is so much more. Don't let the world just go by without you, under the radar, doing its own thing. Make it part of your thing, happening with you, not to you or despite you. You are a part of Nature, and you live on the Earth (presumably?). You're a part of this. Be an active participant.

10) Breathe and Eat Correctly -- If you follow the Wiccan Rede (I say if because I do hope that non-Wiccans read this, and I truly believe most of these goals apply to many more types of pagans/witches, and even to completely non-magickal people, and all the goals apply if you think of them in your own context), then you may see this goal as being an essential part of following that advice to Harm None. Harming None starts with the Self. This goal is so simply stated, but so hard to do for a lot of people. It is just about taking care of yourself, for you are your greatest asset, your most prized possession. Staying healthy and working toward that actively is a necessary goal for anyone, but on a pagan path it extends to our non-physical body, and affects our practice. It may also mirror our belief. If you believe in taking care of Nature, you are part of Nature and should therefore take good care of yourself, too. If you like meditation (more on that soon), then breathing correctly is important for your health but also for your focus, intention, and relaxation. Whatever your reason is, this goal is about caring for yourself, and is a very important goal.

11) Exercise the Body -- Remember all that stuff earlier about reading, learning, studying...? That's a lot of exercising for your brain! But unless you run back and forth to the library, that stuff doesn't necessarily take care of the rest of you, namely, your physical body. For some people this is very difficult, and personal conditions always vary. But quite simply, that's the point of this goal: Remember that working out your brain is great, but you cannot neglect your body. Your physical being is still YOU. A part of you. Your vessel in this realm, if you like to think of it that way. Your physical body is just as important as your mind and spirit, which is why we frequently talk about the three together.

12) Meditate -- There are so many ways to meditate, and so many purposes for meditation. You might meditate to relax or to clear your mind, or you can also meditate to focus and work out a problem. Meditation involves practice in correct breathing, posture, focus and concentration, maybe also visualization, practice in receiving messages auditorily or in other ways... Basically, since there are so many ways and reasons to meditate, everyone can do it. You just have to find the way that's right for you. Some people meditate while walking or driving, often subconsciously. We get focused on a single task and part of our mind wanders and goes through different streams even while our conscious mind remains completely alert to the task at hand. This is why I have often found myself snapping back from a meditative state while driving, even knowing full well that I was at no point ever unaware of the road or unfocused on driving safely. When I was in high school concert band, we played the same songs so many times that during class and even in concerts, I would find myself ending a piece, not remembering having played ANY of it because my mind was in a meditative state, yet knowing that I had played the entire piece accurately and with complete attention from a different part of my brain. My point being, anyone can meditate, and most people probably DO meditate without even knowing it. Meditation doesn't always have to be sitting in the lotus position with zither music playing in the background, or with incense burning and someone gently intoning the instructions for what you should be seeing right now. I think many people shy away from meditation thinking it's not something they would like, or would want to do. But I posit that there is a way for everyone, and the benefits of meditation are multiple and varied, so it's a good goal to strive toward.

13) Honor the Goddess and God -- Obviously, the way this goal is written makes it the most belief-specific. In a Wiccan context, it's pretty self-explanatory. Honor the Goddess and God in your own way, respect them, and respect them by respecting yourself, for you are their child, their sibling, their lover, their friend. Give them a place in your rites, in your heart, in your mind, and in your life. Thank them for what they have given you, what they've done for you. Thank them and know that they are (t)here. If you're not Wiccan, but are some other sort of Theist, this goal can easily be thought of as honoring whatever Force or Form you do honor and revere. For my mother, this goal might be simply "Honor God." For other polytheists, maybe "Honor the Gods." For even me, beyond God and Goddess I usually refer to what I feel is the ultimate connective power, that which the Goddess and God represent to me, which the energy of the Universe itself, Universal Energy. I may choose to instead think, "Honor the Universe," or even "Honor Your Connection with the Universe" which would mean my relations with other people and things on this earth as well as the over-arching concepts of the Universe at large. The final principle of Unitarian Universalism is "respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part." That could easily be thought of as this last goal. And if you're a non-theist, atheist, agnostic, or some other such term, think of this goal as being about whatever it is that you do believe in and hold dear. Maybe you believe, above all, in Truth. Honesty. Friendship. Loyalty. Maybe you want to Honor Honor. Maybe it's Family. Love. Humanity. Not everyone has religious faith, or even a spirituality, but people still generally hold something very close to their hearts. Something personal, a code they choose to follow. That's what this goal is about.

Thank you all for reading, and I do hope it helps not only this questioner, but those who have wondered about these goals in the past, and also those who will find it in the future. Do read other people's interpretations of the same goals to get a different feel, and try writing out what the goals mean to you. I will put some links at the bottom, to the two other pages I read (which I mentioned here), and there are many more online for you to find.

I wish you luck and light on your journey.

Here are some other people's interpretations:

13 March, 2013

Religious Quiz

Hey, Readers,

I was reading an article about the new Pope, Francis (after informing my Roman Catholic (really, she's from Italy!) grandmother that Benedict did not pass away but instead resigned, and there was a new pope chosen) when I clicked on one of the suggested links. It was to a quiz entitled,

"Are you smarter than an Atheist? A religious quiz."

The description of the quiz outlines how many questions different groups usually get correct:
Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups in a 32-question survey of religious knowledge by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. On average, Americans got 16 of the 32 questions correct. Atheists and agnostics got an average of 20.9 correct answers. Jews (20.5) and Mormons (20.3). Protestants got 16 correct answers on average, while Catholics got 14.7 questions right.
Naturally, I was curious as to how I would do! I ended up getting 25 questions correct, for a 78%. That's lower than what they said the average reader gets (average being 81%), but I'm pretty proud of that score. Only one of the questions I missed was really an "Oh! I should have known that!" moment. The others, I had really no expectation that I would know. In other words, I knew what I knew and what I didn't, which I think is a good sign.

Of the seven questions I missed, two were about Judaism, one about Islam (an implicit associations quiz I took last year showed that I have the least familiarity with Islam out of Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism, so I sort of already knew that my education is lacking where Muslims are concerned), three about Christianity, and one that I think might have to do with Christianity but I honestly had no idea what it was about! I won't say what it was, in case you want to take the quiz and see how you do!

My boyfriend took the quiz, and he scored a little lower than I did. He is an atheist, but an old-school one, meaning he's the type that doesn't believe but doesn't care that other people do. This is in contrast to what some people refer to as "new atheists," who are the more aggressive atheists you may have met online, who make it their place to disprove beliefs. I think his score was because he wasn't raised with any religion and isn't the kind of atheist who goes out of their way to learn everything about religions. I use these terms because last year in my psych class, the one in which I researched prejudice against pagans, an atheist girl in my class did her research on prejudice against atheists. She learned and reported to us that there are these two groups of atheists, referred to as old and new. Based on their usual way of going about things, I think "new" atheists are more the type to score highly on a religious knowledge quiz, because they really like to learn about many beliefs, either to see if they agree with any or to disprove them. On the other hand, all the atheists I know in person are very "old" atheist, laid-back, just non-religious. I don't really expect them to know everything about world religions just because they are atheists and atheists usually know a lot about religion. If they don't have a personal interest in religion, why should they know a lot about it outside things they've picked up from other people? Perhaps I will ask my other close atheist friend to take the quiz and see how she does. Unlike my boyfriend, she was raised Catholic, so she might score higher just because of that exposure. I find it very interesting how people are exposed to certain ideas. In fact, one of the questions I missed, I think is actually because I was raised Catholic and didn't know whether other, Protestant Christians believed the same or not.

Hey, wow, my other friend got an 84%. Get it!

Oh, and honestly, I only got the Mormon questions right because I've listened to the soundtrack of the broadway musical, The Book of Mormon. =)


11 March, 2013

Wicked Spring

Hey, Readers,

No, the title of this post is not a commentary on the season, nor am I revisiting my trip to Boston. Instead, it merely brings together some of the many things I have been thinking about recently. As you know, because I've mentioned it before, I often think of things I want to blog about and then don't get around to it, and by the time I end up blogging I either have to post a bunch at once or leave some until later! Now, I know I can schedule posts, but I'm not so big on that just yet. So this time, I'll just keep it brief and discuss two main things: Wicked and the general Oz world of literature and other media, and spring-time.

Thumbnail from vlog where I showed the new books I got.
Pictured: Wicked and Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire.
Last spring, I was in London and saw a production of the musical, Wicked. Then a few months ago I picked up some new books from the half price store, including Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, and its first sequel, Son of a Witch, by Gregory Maguire. I began reading the first book about a week or so ago, and I read casually, a little by little, until halfway through this week when I decided I wanted to finish it before my boyfriend and I went to see the new film, Oz: The Great and Powerful, which premiered on Friday, 8 March. I finished all but a few sections (I guess they're chapters, within books, but the way the novel is laid out, some sections are separated into numbered "chapters" and some are not, so I kept referring to them just as "sections") by Friday night at midnight, so I just left the last few for Saturday morning since obviously we weren't going to make it on Friday.

I am planning a series of videos for my channel where I will talk in depth about various witch-related media, so I don't want to say very much here. But there are a lot of things I have to say about not only Wicked the novel, but also the musical, and then in relation to the new film since I watched it immediately after finishing an alternate view on the story. Trust me, the following is not even a quarter of all I would like to say on these topics, so there will be plenty more in the distant future.

Firstly, the musical is EXTREMELY different from the novel! I expected variation, of course. A compression, at least, and some creative leeway beyond that. But wow, are they ever two different beings. They share a title and a basic plot, following the life of Elphaba, a green girl who grows up to be referred to as the Wicked Witch of the West. But beyond that, they are hardly the same creature. The musical incorporates more of the timeline from Baum's original book, overlapping bits so that you kind of know what's happening in Dorothy's side of the story as Elphaba's life goes on. I liked that when I saw the musical, so it surprised me that the novel ignores certain appearances the Witch makes in Dorothy's timeline in the original book, and instead has her living a whole separate life, sort of on the sidelines, away from Dorothy. Which does make sense in the context of the novel, and I like it very much for that. I just expected a little more of that awareness of the original, having been fooled into thinking the musical was like the book. Sort of like if you've ever watched the movie (or read the play) Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, and every once in a while you see Hamlet and the other characters from the original story run through R&G's scenes, haha. Or like watching Lion King 1 1/2, and getting little looks at what Simba's up to in the original at the time you're watching Timon & Pumbaa get into their own trouble. Wicked the novel is not like that, but the musical is.

And then, seeing Oz! Wow, is it ever different. Parts of the film actually had me wondering if they were combining it with Through the Looking Glass (sources do say Baum was influenced by Carroll), or if I had missed some key points of the canon, having not read all 14 original books by Baum myself. I did pretty extensive research on The Wizard of Oz my freshman year at college, and through it I did read a few synopses of the other books, though I was focusing on comparing the original book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (which I do own and have read) to the then SciFi channel original series, Tin Man. It was a great project, but like I said, even so I was left wondering if I had missed things that they decided to use in the movie. I did some basic research upon returning from the cinema, and I learned that throughout the many books, plays, movies, and spin-offs of Oz, the character's names are almost NEVER the same. So we can't really compare one to the other directly, since Elphaba is certainly not anything like the film's Theodora (who becomes wicked out of good, as opposed to Elphaba who was born green at the start), and neither of them are much like Tin Man's Azkadellia or the original western witchy gal. The film's Evanora is no Nessarose (Wicked Witches of the East in Oz: The Great and Powerful and Wicked, respectively), and the Wizard himself lives different timelines in each! Don't even get me started on Glinda, whose very homeland has been confused from the moment the 1939 MGM film hit the screens. The new film does place her in the South, as she was originally, though many people know her as being from the North. Even in the book/musical Wicked, Glinda is from Gillikin to the north, resulting in my forgetting that she was ever from the South. Which reminds me, also don't get me started on the map discrepancies! Each one has things in different places, whole areas looking different, etc. I am rather partial to Maguire's world of Oz, though, having just read it. But I digress.

Captioning is mine, photo from online.
Azkadellia from SciFi's Tin Man series.
I suppose the overall lesson here, as far as comparisons go, is that different people really do have very different views of the same exact things. But at least in this case, it's nice that they DO have all those varying names. Because as I said, Elphaba is not Theodora is not Azkadellia. Oz is not quite The O.Z. It would not be fair to expect them to be alike. It is a little harder to discuss with things such as Glinda, for example, portrayed many ways under the same name, implying that they are the same throughout. Think about your own lives. How many things do people pass off under the same name, claiming them to be alike when they clearly--or unclearly--aren't? And how many times to we encounter situations where people have used different names when they're really talking about the same exact thing? Oh yes, I find lessons everywhere, connections within connections. I love to look at different takes on the same thing, whether it be children's stories, classic plays, or even religions.

After all that, I suppose the spring-time seems a footnote. But I did see Wicked in London in the spring, and it is almost now spring again. Also, both subjects involve a vibrant, verdant green. =) With all these thoughts of witches and green skin and who's good or evil or what evil even is (great discussions about that in the novel Wicked, by the bye)... Today I managed to feel like a witch my way, what being witch means to me. Not to L. Frank Baum or his many successors who wrote so many sequels. Not to the creators of Tin Man, Zardoz (sci fi thing I just learned about, never seen it), or The Wiz. Not to the writers, actors, or production crew of Oz: The Great and Powerful, and also not to Gregory Maguire. I am a witch without much pomp, unlike Az or Glinda or any in the new film. But I am also not a witch who goes out of her way to blend in, like Elphie, covered head to toe to avoid the painful rain water.

I am a witch who runs excitedly outside into the mud, slipping in green and brown argyle shoes bought on discount but loved for their style and comfort; Who stands out on the mossy hill in her bright pink t-shirt, but doesn't mind getting her hands muddy digging to test the soil for a good garden spot. A witch who selectively inspects old flower pots, and while she did light a candle that morning in church in the spirit of the approaching season, really still feels most like a witch when picking the dead leaves off an old mum, reveling in the tiny greenness that is revealed to still be present. As some Wicked merchandised t-shirts proclaim, "Green is Good." That goes for storybook witches as well as for me, as well as for you, as well as for the planet. Green means growth, promise, potential, newness, and freshness. Green means fertility, prosperity, and life. Whether you have green skin, a green thumb, or just like the color, it's good. It's important. It's time.