Sunday, 31 July 2011

ThriftWitch: Double Time

When I originally started my 'Thriftwitch' posts, I was thinking of ways of being thrifty with money. What I have been finding of late is that for me - and many others I suspect - time is also in short supply.

Here then, are a few ThriftWitch tips on saving time (and perhaps also money) in your witchery.

For me, one thing that always seems difficult is to maintain a regular spiritual practice when time is in short supply. I have found that one answer to this is to build your spiritual practice into your daily routine. For some this may mean getting up an hour earlier to meditate, but for those of us who prefer to spend that extra hour under the duvet, I have some other suggestions.

For example, one of the underpinnings of my spiritual practice is being in touch with the tides and seasons of the natural world. In an ideal world I would love to spend much of my time walking in woods communing with trees, sitting in my garden watching birds, insects and plants, or wandering the fields and hedgerows gathering wildflowers and herbs. Unfortunately the demands of earning a living and looking after animals, home and garden leave little spare time for such activities. So I try to go about the daily chores mindfully, using that time to check in with the constant seasonal changes around me.

The daily routine with the chickens is an excellent opportunity to notice what's happening in the garden as I have to go down there at least three times a day. In that time I can notice new plants emerging, coming into bloom or going to seed, tune into the songs of the birds, notice the phase of the moon or the slant of the sun and the onset of twilight. I can feel the rain or sun or wind on my skin, and take heed of weather omens for the coming days. All of this, while I am doing what I would have to be doing anyway.

You may not have chickens, but you could do the same whilst walking the children to school, waiting at the bus stop, cutting through the park during your lunch hour, taking the dog for a walk, watering the tomatoes, pegging the laundry on the line or going for a run.

Another great way to stay in tune with the seasons with the smallest of tweaks to your normal routine is to eat local, seasonal food whenever possible. There are many ways to do this, from growing it yourself to shopping for at least part of your weekly groceries at the local farmer's market/WI market/local organic or health food store. When doing your shopping, read the labels of the food. If it's been flown in from Thailand or Kenya it's not really local and hence probably not seasonal! Get to know what's in season when, from asparagus to raspberries to mackerel and mushrooms. It really does taste so much better when it's freshly picked and hasn't been transported hundreds of miles to get to you. This year I positively gorged myself on local asparagus during May/June, but I probably won't be eating it again until the same time next year. Far from feeling deprived by this, it makes the asparagus I do eat so much more appreciated. It's the same with new potatoes or summer strawberries. And when we grow some of the best apples in the world here in the UK, why on earth do we buy flavourless imported ones at the very time that other mouthwatering fruits like cherries, plums and berries are being produced on our home turf in abundance?

Here are a few more suggestions for adding a spiritual dimension to your daily routine and getting more out of your time:

  • If you take public transport to work or school, use the time to meditate, practise skills like balancing your chakras, read a spiritual book or listen to meditative music.
  • If you drive in to work you could listen to spiritual music or practise exercising witchy skills such as focusing on there being a parking space where you need one (it's amazing how often this one works with a little practice). Probably best though not to listen to anything too trance-inducing whilst driving!
  • Whilst walking the kids to school make a game with them of noticing seasonal changes around you - the first swallow of spring, the first ripe fruits on the trees, the first falling autumn leaves.
  • Cook with intent - stir in love, peace, nurturing. Cut runes or symbols into your pie crusts or loaves or biscuits or even your roast potatoes! Add a pinch of herbs or spices chosen for their magical meaning. Stir in positivity in a deosil direction. Cook with love!
  • Eat with intent, be aware of each mouthful and concentrate on how the food is nourishing you.
  • Make your housework chores a meditation. Meditate on cleaning away that which no longer serves you as you sweep, dust, polish. Even washing up can be a profound experience when viewed this way - honestly!
  • Slumping in front of the TV is so very tempting after a long hard day - I'm as guilty of this as anyone! But it's also a terrible waste of time. Choose your viewing carefully - only switch on if there's something you really want to see. If the alternative is an evening of restless channel hopping because there's nothing that really grabs you, turn it off! Read a book, write in your journal, knit a scarf, phone a friend, play with your kids, potter in the garden, bake a cake, play the piano, take a leisurely soak in the bath... all of these things will nourish your soul far more than vegging out in front of the TV.
  • Make a little altar on your desk at work or a window sill or shelf at home - it doesn't have to be an 'in-your-face-witchy' altar, but a little grouping of meaningful objects (a shell, crystal, family photo, votive candle, potted plant, fresh flowers, an acorn, a piece of jewellery...) will catch your eye during the working day and give your spirit a little lift. It will also be a reminder to see the sacred in the every day.
  • If you can do it without getting weird looks from co-workers, sing or chant as you work. Literally 'enchant' your work.

Finally, if you need more time in your life, invoke Time as an ally. Ask that time stretch and be flexible so that all that needs to be done can be done. This truly works. And when you're done, don't forget to thank Time. As in all things, a little gratitude goes a long way!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Birthday Blessings

Today I am grateful for... a day of beautiful sunshine.

Today I am grateful for... a wonderful boyfriend and brother-in-law who have slogged all day in said sunshine to build a me new chicken run.

Today I am grateful for... all the birthday greetings, cards and gifts from friends and family far and wide.

Today I am grateful for... my sister who has cooked a special birthday feast for me!

Today I am grateful for... the failure of the BSkyB bid (is that mean of me? But what a birthday present!)

Today I am grateful for... a special cupcake from my friend Pinky.

Today I am grateful for... the bottle of Oaked Forest Honey Mead that I will open to celebrate my birthday this evening.

Today I am grateful for... a greenhouse full of thriving tomatoes.

Today I am grateful for... another wonderful year on the most beautiful blue and green planet I have ever seen.

And you?

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Of Babies and Bathwater

When I first discovered there was such a thing as modern Paganism and Witchcraft, I was so excited to find there were other people out there who shared my beliefs. I now had a word for what I believed, and I was not alone! This is an experience that is shared by many people within the neo-Pagan community.

I quickly read everything I could get my hands on - actually not that much was available back in the 1980's, but I soon gobbled up what there was - and began trying my hand at creating spells and rituals. I was also determined to do it right, and that meant following every witchy cliché in the book. I dressed in black. A lot. I bought cheesy 'occult' jewellery. I listened to godawful faux-Celtic New Age music. I did bazillions of spells (and couldn't understand why they either failed to work or spectacularly mis-fired), and I longed, longed, to be in a coven (fellow witches not being that thick on the ground back then either). I just knew that all those other Pagans were wise, wonderful, perfect human beings and I wanted to be with them. I wanted to be them.

Well, I grew up. I got tired of wearing so much black. All colours are the colours of the Goddess, right? I stopped wearing lots of occult jewellery and found a few pieces that actually had some meaning for me. I kicked the New Age music right out in favour of stuff that didn't make me wince. I stopped doing spells and instead worked on my understanding of how magic works - and now I use it both rarely and judiciously. And I met up with my fellow Pagans. And guess what? They're human beings, just like everyone else. They're wonderful and infuriating in equal measure; they're imperfect but mostly trying to do the right thing. Just like the rest of the world. Just like me.

Somehow, we manage to make the most simple things complicated. We think to fit in, we have to change who we are and adopt the opinions, fashions and tastes of those we seek to join. Yes, of course, we need some common ground, but should we really have to give up our own unique selves? I am a Pagan, a witch. I have been all my life, and for the last 25 years I have also had the correct title to label myself with. But I am still me. To be honest, I think people would be hard-pressed to pick me out of a crowd as a Pagan, but that doesn't mean I am not serious about my Paganism. It just means I don't feel the need to point it out to the world with every nuance of my being.

Don't get me wrong. Paganism has definitely been a huge influence on my life. I have learned so much on this path, both about myself and the rest of the worlds. Paganism has definitely changed my perception about many things. Yet isn't that what life does anyway? I'm sure not many of us die the exact same person we started out. Or if we do, what a waste of an amazing learning experience!

There is a Zen saying, "Before I studied Zen, mountains were mountains, and water was water. After studying Zen for some time, mountains were no longer mountains, and water was no longer water. But now, after studying Zen longer, mountains are just mountains, and water is just water".

Eventually I saw there is magic in everything. Everything - the washing up, the car, gossiping with the neighbours, making myself a cup of tea. It's all in the perception. Magic really is the art of changing consciousness at will. And I have learned how important it is to be true to myself. I have learned to hang onto the baby (what is important), and throw out the bathwater (what doesn't work or doesn't have meaning for me). All those things I mentioned like wearing black etc? They're all fine if that's who you are. But being a Pagan runs right through me and how I lead my life. It's not just a costume I put on to tell the world who I am.

Here's one thing I've learned: above all, make sure you know who you are. Find your place in the world and plant your feet there firmly, whether it be a solid foundation or merely the first step on the right path. Then you can flourish (pointy hat optional).

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Scent of Blackcurrant Leaves

Warm sun on my back, I brush aside the leaves to find the hidden treasure. Hanging in shining black clusters, the big juicy sweet/tart berries soon fill my basket.

As the distinctive, tangy scent of blackcurrant leaves fills my nostrils, I have my own Proustian moment. I am transported back to my childhood, picking blackcurrants in my grandparent's orchard. For me it is the quintessential summer memory. In amongst the currant bushes, gobbling down most of what I pick as the sun shines and Nanna, Mum, my siblings and I chat companionably, picking, picking, picking. The currants will be turned into pies, puddings, jams and some will be frozen so we can enjoy the taste of summer even during the darkest of winter days.

This summer, my own neglected blackcurrant bushes are sprawling in all directions, overgrown with brambles, bracken, nettles and bindweed. Yet still they give abundantly, and we shall have jam and wine and currants in the freezer to enjoy for the rest of the year. My hands are scratched by brambles and my legs are stung by nettles, my shoulders turn red from the sun. Yet still I keep picking, just a few more, just a few more... and still there are enough for me, and the birds to enjoy.

Eventually the basket is full and I extricate myself from the thicket, thanking and blessing the bushes for their bounty. I make a mental note to give them a good pruning in the autumn, and tidy up all the brambles and other weeds that have grown up around them.

Wonderful, luxuriant blackcurrants that give so generously despite my neglect. Wonderful memories of childhood summers. Wonderful sunny afternoon of harvesting.