Saturday, 12 November 2011

Avalon Spring 2012

Avalon Spring 2012 will be held 5th-9th June at a gorgeous venue near Glastonbury, Somerset. This year we will be working with the Diana/Aradia/Lucifer myth - I can't wait! Full details may be found on the website. I'll be going - see you there?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Changing Tide

At the beginning of 2011, I watched as the events of the Arab Spring unfolded with a sense of hope and excitement. Wonderful how people could come together in solidarity and support of each other, and with amazing courage and tenacity face down and finally overcome what had initially seemed invincibly oppressive regimes.

In early summer I heard news of plans to turn Starhawk's book 'The Fifth Sacred Thing' into a film. This is a book that dares to imagine a future where two different societies have evolved from pretty much where we are now. One is dystopian - repressive, authoritarian, militarized, a deeply unequal society. The other is utopian - a flourishing, diverse, peaceful, egalitarian society of abundance and tolerance for all. The book imagines what would happen should these two societies confront each other. I have always thought it would make a great movie and it is a great springboard for discussion on the direction we want our world to take.

And finally, I have been watching with hope, joy (and sometimes anxiety), the birth and development of the 'Occupy!' movement. Watching people come together in the belief that another, better world is possible; watching them behave so peacefully and self-responsibly in the face of sometimes terrible provocation by the authorities; seeing consensus and true democracy in action - well, it has made me feel truly hopeful again.

Something is afoot. Change is in the air. Yet the energy though strong and determined, is also mindful and considered. This is no flash in the pan, firey but ultimately directionless revolt. Despite the protests being criticised for articulating what they are against whilst having - as yet - few solutions, I believe this is actually a strength. Rather than rushing headlong into poorly thought out answers to the inequalities in our society, the protestors are taking time to debate, consider, and generally sift through many many diverse ideas and strategies. Rather than asking the authorities to make it all better, the protestors are acknowledging their own power-with. This is sensible. This is mature. This could lead to real, and lasting change for the better.

If nothing else the protestors are learning invaluable lessons about living together in community, organising, mutual support, working by consensus. And in the meantime the continuing occupations in New York, London and dozens of other places show that they are not going away, not going to just give up and accept the status quo. The Occupy! movement is people finally taking their own lives into their own hands and realising their collective power.

There are many other hopeful developments too. The increase in interest in permaculture, the Transition Towns movement, the move away from mass-produced tat to home-made with love, from fast food to slow...

I haven't been able to get down and Occupy myself (yet!), but inspired by the protestors I am making changes I have talked about for a long time but until now not implemented. I have changed from my old bank (Lloyds, heavily invested in arms companies and with grossly overpaid directors for example) to a more ethical bank (The Co-op). I have made myself, or sourced from other craftspeople almost all my Christmas presents this year, and asked my family to make or buy my presents similarly. I am signing up to an organic veg box scheme. And putting my money where my mouth is feels good!

The tide is changing. Where it will take us, I don't know. But I feel real hope that we are heading to a brighter future. Perhaps we have a real chance to develop into Starhawk's utopian society from The Fifth Sacred Thing. Or something like it. I for one, hope so.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

ThriftWitch: The Magic of Scent

Scent is one of our five senses, yet for many of us it takes a bit of a back seat to seeing, hearing or touch. Nevertheless, despite - or perhaps because of this, it is a powerful link with our subconscious. Just as the taste of a madeleine brought up many involuntary memories for the narrator of Proust's "À la Recherche du Temps Perdu", I'm sure many of us have experiences of aromas bringing forgotten memories and (perhaps more importantly) emotions flooding back. For example as an adult, just walking into a school and smelling that distinctive, familiar, yet long-unencountered complicated mixture that is 'school' brings back one's own schooldays with an almost shocking immediacy. The smell of an old-fashioned kitchen - gas stove, vanilla essence, cinnamon and just a dash of vinegar - instantly has me sitting at my Nanna's kitchen table watching her bake her famous fruitcake.

Sometimes, the link between scent and memory becomes so explicit and well known to us that we no longer need to smell something, just see or conjure up its image to recall all that the scent holds for us. There was a huge lavender bush just outside the kitchen door of my cousins' house in Dorset where we spent so many happy summer days in my childhood. The sent of lavender has always brought those days back to me, but now I only have to see a lavender bush, or the image of one, for the memories to come back just as clearly as they would from the aroma of lavender.

We use this connection between scent, memory and emotion in many ways. For example we choose different scents for the way they make us feel - a zesty citrus shower gel to wake us up in the morning and make us feel alert and energised, a floral scent such as jasmine or rose when we want to feel feminine or seductive, or a comforting smell like vanilla to turn our homes into a relaxing sanctuary. Of course, because smell is a very personal thing, if you hate vanilla it's not going to make you feel relaxed. So never mind what moods people tell you certain scents are supposed to evoke, go with what they mean to you.

Scent of course, can be used in so many magical ways. It is usual to light incense for example, when creating sacred space. This is partly to cleanse the area and create the right atmosphere for the intended working, and thus there are many commercial blends of incense available that are supposed to evoke the energy of a particular deity or Sabbat. But again, I would advise that if you want to invoke Gaia yet think the Gaia incense you bought for the occasion stinks, don't use it! Think instead about what Gaia means to you (abundance? nurturing? the green Earth?) and try to come up with scents that conjure up these ideas - you could try a berry, apple or peach fragranced oil for abundance for example; perhaps vanilla, cinnamon or your mother's favourite perfume from your childhood for nurturing; a patchouli or pine or grass scented joss stick for the green Earth. You get the picture. As always, use the books (or websites or blogs!) for inspiration, then toss them aside and use what works for you.

I would suggest another function of incense is to put us in the right mind for ritual and/or magic. Some incenses do actually have a measurable effect on our physiology. Frankincense for example is known to slow and deepen the breathing, putting one into a meditative state of mind which explains its popularity as an incense over the millennia. With other incenses, I would suggest that if you habitually burn, say, sandalwood incense for your rituals, the involuntary memory thing will eventually kick in so that whenever and wherever you smell sandalwood incense your mind will go into 'ritual mode'.

So why not use this scent-involuntary memory connection to help you 'change consciousness at will' (Dion Fortune's definition of what magic is)? The first summer I went to Witchcamp, I took a new perfume with me and wore it every day. When I got home, without thinking I reverted to my normal 'everyday' perfume. One day I picked up the bottle of Witchcamp perfume - as soon as I took a sniff I was transported back to Witchcamp! From then on I wore the perfume only for Witchcamp-related things: at subsequent Witchcamps, when meeting up with friends from Witchcamp, or (when I started to get involved with organising Avalon Witchcamp) at Witchcamp organising meetings. Later on, after a vision of community as a giant, sacred beehive, I found a honey scented shower gel from Lush that I used whenever I was doing anything community orientated or when I was trying to make connections or draw new friends into my life. I still use both scents when appropriate, and find they continue to stir my unconscious and help me achieve the state of mind I wish to be in.

I suggest you find a 'basic' scent that you use for your generic rituals and magical workings that will help you instantly get into 'ritual mind'. You can always vary things for specific purposes, but having a reliable standby scent can be a great shortcut! My two standby favourites are patchouli joss sticks or Starchild's 'Hecate' loose incense. If you don't like incense you could try fragrance oils or essential oils in a diffuser or rubbed onto the candles you are using. Or apply perfume to your pulse points, use scented candles, pot pourri, fresh flowers, herbs and spices, floral waters in spritzers, floorwashes... the possibilities are endless.

I was thinking that it would also be helpful to choose a series of emotion-linked scents that you could carry with you in small vials to give you a heping hand when you need it. You could choose your favourite soothing scent for stressful situations, a scent that speaks to you of confidence and self-esteem for challenging situations, perhaps something that makes you feel healthy and full of vitality for when you are lacking energy or feeling under the weather. You must be careful not to only sniff them in 'negative' situations though - remember to wear them on your skin when you know you are going to be feeling relaxed and happy, or full of self-assurance, or full of well-being. That way you will make the connection in your subconscious and can then bring them out in times of need. One of my favourite perfumes is Chanel's 'Cristalle', a light summery scent that I usually reserve for special occasions. A little sniff of it instantly brings so many happy memories flooding back and always lifts my mood.

I am also a great fan of essential oils which I use for first aid (tea tree for cuts, grazes etc, lavender for burns, a quick sniff of ginger as an instant cure for queasiness...), around the house for cleaning purposes and just because they smell nice. My next ThriftWitch post will cover the subject of making your own household cleaning products - they're cheap, safe, smell great and are really effective. In the meantime, have fun experimenting with the magical/emotional possibilities of scent...