Before my kid was born, I was the kind of person more interested in mysticism than the mundane, and my practice reflected that – lots of meditation and direct interactions with spirits, lots of hands-on magic and astral travel and hours and hours in the library and the whole life-eating nine yards.
But there was a point when I realized that that way led disordered thinking and unhealthy relationships, and I had to move away from a lot of those things. (Also, I’m too old to go without sleep for days anymore.) Then I spent years stripping layer after layer like paint from a Craigslist dresser. I’m still not sure there is hardwood underneath. I may be all paint and the memory of drawers. But I have gone far enough down and it’s time to build up again.
Once I stripped all of the things that no longer worked for me away, I found that I had a pile of good stuff left over, raw materials and things to upcycle with no rhyme or rhythm to them. I had a few practices, and a few spirits I loved, whose presence in my life brings me joy. I had trinkets that make my heart sing to touch them, and some habits and gestures that keep me grounded and happy.
I worked on simple, daily practices, trying different things. I learned a lot, chief of which was that I don’t want the kind of daily practice I started with. I began with the assumption that anything worth doing had to wait until after Bug was tucked into bed and I was alone, not going to be disturbed. What I realized when I was actually doing it is that doing that takes the fun out of evenings spent with Bug, because I’m distracted waiting for her to fall asleep.
Even if I wanted to go full force back into mysticism again, I couldn’t. Parenthood has taught me more about living in the moment than my flailing attempts at meditation ever did.
I realized I need a faith for a household. Something I can offer my child, and something that brings me that joy even when I don’t have time for complicated daily practice. I need something with a solid foundation, with practical benefits, and one project at a time, I think I’ll get there.
Most of the deities I work with have a hearth or home aspect to them. Mara has many faces, but she's largely been a goddess of the home and the family for me. Hekate's monthly attention involves housecleaning. Even Loki can be a hearthfire when she wants to.
I've struggled pretty much all my life with organization in particular, and habits in general. I managed, using what I realize now was the obviously-ADHD cycle of distraction, panic and hyperfocus, until I couldn't manage that way anymore. I thought I was just lazy, and couldn't figure out what was wrong with me.
I am pretty sure I come by my neuroatypicalities honestly and at least partially genetically. My dad was finally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder a few years ago. When I was in high school, he was laid off, so he kept busy around the house. I used to come home from school to find the kitchen smelled so strongly of bleach than I couldn’t eat in it. He would rake the leaves in the wooded areas of our property. And there was never any making him happy. I could spend an hour or two or four cleaning my room, but it wasn’t ever clean enough and I never had enough space to put everything away to his satisfaction. I did all my chores and never heard about it unless I messed something up or did it wrong, which was often.
But I learned I can’t honor anything with my housework if I don’t see and appreciate it for the work it is. I need to be more cognizant of the fact that I do it. I need to make sure I’m doing it well if I’m worried I’m not, or be satisfied that I'm doing my best if I can't. I'd rather enjoy the feeling of a clean house, rather than seeing housework as something I do merely to avoid the nagging feeling that I should go straighten up the living room in the middle of the night.
Sweeping the Sun In
Like many other things that are good for me, I’m much, much happier when I’m keeping up with the housecleaning, but it’s very hard to do when I’m in anxious or depressed. On the other hand, cleaning is one of the very few things I can use as a redirection when my OCD is getting the best of me, so it’s often the easiest outlet even if it’s a little... earth scortchy.
(When I’m cleaning in OCD mode, whatever I can’t deal with tends to just go in the trash. It’s not the greatest for the environment or whatever but it lets me get on with things so it’s a compromise I live with.)
Creatively, when I'm knotted up like that I feel as if I don’t even know how to write or paint or do anything. My last grandparent, my paternal grandfather, passed away recently, some six years after his wife, my Yaya, died. I’m still not sure how I’m allowed to feel about their deaths. It’s as if I’m not entitled to my feelings, because I’m so cut off from my family. I know that’s not how feelings work, and yet I circle around it.
My grandmother prepared cards for upcoming birthdays ahead of her death. I didn’t know this until I opened the mailbox shortly after she'd died and there was an envelope for my kid’s birthday, addressed in her small, neat handwriting. (Maybe that’s where I get my tendency to write so small.) I won’t lie, I sobbed there in front of the mailbox. That’s the kind of woman my grandmother was – she was dying, and she was making sure her grandkids and great grandkids would have birthday cards. Considering nobody else in my family sent my child a birthday card except my parents, knowing that was the last one is hard, but it was also an incredible gift. It wasn't just a card, but a change in perspective, and one I've carried forward.
It's hard to do things for myself, but it's easier to do them for other people. I am learning to do things for myself, but it's a long, long process. In the meantime, I turn them into things for other people. Maintaining the household, the hearth: this benefits me, and it also benefits my spouse, and my kid, and the household as an entity.
Chop Fish, Carry Butter Sauce
Going into the earth is hard to explain because it’s such a simple experience. There’s not a lot of flowery words you can put to it. I put down my hands, I lay down roots, I go down. That’s it. The bedrock holds me, takes me in. I become it, it becomes me, and there’s nothing to do but rest inside it.
What I like about earth is how grounding the work feels. I feel more present and more in the moment, even though earth itself is… well, it’s not timeless, but geologic time is not the time scale we’re used to. Aside from the vague sense of the history of different types of rock, there’s not a lot of sense of time there. There’s just now, and everything is now, and worrying about the future isn’t very helpful.
Instead I’m battening down the hatches around the house. We’ve mostly skipped over the nice parts of autumn and gone straight into cold rain, so I’m less inclined to go out. I’m trying to finish up some of the organizing I didn’t get to during the summer, I’m just about to sew up some medical stuff, and I’m teaching myself to cook. Last night I made pasta with leftover roast, tonight I made salmon with leftover pasta, and I’m learning to do more than just throw things in the slow cooker.
I appreciate the slow cooker. It’s a marvelous invention, and there’s definite appreciation of the forethought that has to go into slow cooker cooking. But the shorter-term cooking is more grounding, more earthy for me. When I have something in the oven and a pot and a saucepan on the stove, as I did last night, and I’m keeping an eye on all three, there’s nothing else I can do except maybe spare some attention to clean up as I go. If I’m not in the moment, I find out right quick because something gets away from me.
It’s a delicious form of chop wood, carry water, as well as a lesson in trusting myself and not being afraid of failure. For years I let myself believe I was ‘not good’ at cooking – I had some bad experiences in home ec (did you know it’s possible to set a crepe on fire?), never particularly learned at home, and my ex very much thought of herself as a Gourmet Chef so I had nothing reasonable to compare myself to. Now, I’m probably never going to be a gourmet chef or appear on a Food Network competition, but I’ve finally made the connection in my head that I don’t have to. I can put the salmon in the oven with a butter and lemon dill vinegar sauce I made on the back burner, and it’s not the end of the world if the sauce is a little heavy. Cooking doesn’t require perfection; if I wanted to be perfect, I’d learn to bake.
Earth isn’t really concerned with perfection. Plants grow where there’s dirt, whether it’s a good idea or not. Rocks don’t usually polish themselves.
Maybe I could use a little polish, but I’ll worry about that another time.
It’s easy to forget to enjoy things.
I get distracted. I’m trying to finish reading something, or I’m still annoyed about something that happened earlier, or I’m wondering how something is going somewhere else. I do it all the time. I think it’s pretty normal for people to be thinking about other things. Even when you’re supposed to be living in the moment and reaching for enlightenment, it’s awful easy to miss out on the moment because you’re thinking about the next enlightening thing, or the chores you have to do later when you’re done meditating.
I’ve been watching No Reservations on Netflix, watching Anthony Bourdain go effortlessly and appreciatively from street food and dive bars to Michelin-starred restaurants and appreciate everything about all of them. Now, I am definitely a food truck kind of guy, and when I’m looking for a place to eat I think the divier, the better, but I was fascinated by watching him eat a tasting menu at one of them fancy, experimental restaurants.
You might get nine courses, but you only get two or three bites, and each of those might be an entirely different flavor or kind of food. I started out wondering how you can even appreciate something like that, when it’s gone by the time you experience it, but I watched how he experienced it. He would take a bite and stop and reflect on the flavors in that bite. Each one was distinct and worthy of his full attention, of having his memories and all of his awareness tuned into it. How perfect an example of living in the moment! You get only one bite, so you fully experience the bite as you’re taking it. You enjoy the texture, the flavor, the interplay with the sauce or whatever else is going on there.
I’m surely not going to be running out and spending a couple hundred dollars on a fancy three-star tasting menu any time soon, but Mara values… well, she values valuing what you have. Even if I don’t have a fancy tasting menu, I am lucky enough to have food and to be able to cook, and I am doing my best to enjoy the food I have, to savor every bite, and to really be in the moment with it while I’m eating.
The food that I have is a gift. It’s not the most extravagant gift, but every time I find a good-looking cut of meat in the clearance section, I thank Mara. Everything from salmon to steak and bacon to lamb necks can be a gift, and I try to appreciate it as such. Using things before they go bad, mindfully cutting coupons to stock a pantry, any of these things can be a devotional act when you see the food you eat as the gift of the earth.
For other folks, this is probably obvious, but it’s something I try to think about every day because it gets away from me if I don’t. I used to let myself get caught up in trying to keep my mind focused on “good” thoughts, higher and more spiritual things, to the exclusion of appreciation a good meal or a warm bed on a cold morning. Mara is also the name for illusion in Buddhist stories, after all. The Buddha ignored Mara, seeking something higher and beyond what the world could offer.
I’m no Buddha, though. I’m finding myself much more suited to a down-to-earth spirituality lately. It’s easy for me to lose myself when I’m stuck in those higher realms, so when I have other, everyday concerns distracting me, keeping myself down to earth, appreciating what I’ve got and being right here.
The Konmari Method can totally be applied to your astral life. Does it bring you joy? No? Then stop that shit and do something that does. […] That’s called adjusting your approach to your spirit life and people do that shit all the time.
Right about the time Marie Kondo published her second book, I found the above post on Tumblr. It was clearly intended as both a joke and a serious question, and I found myself circling around the thought multiple times. I often find myself in a mindset that’s dangerously close to scrupulosity, where the way I think about religion becomes unhealthy and I worry everything I do is wrong and will bring down wrath upon me.
There’s a place in her second book where Marie Kondo talks about working with people who don’t know what it means to ask if something “sparks joy.” I know that feeling myself, but for me it’s a facet of depression or anxiety. I sometimes declutter compulsively when I’m in a bad state, sometimes only physical things and sometimes more abstract things like internet accounts.
Decluttering my spiritual life is a lot harder. A few years ago I did an exercise called Project Protagonist, a whole year spent revisiting the ideas that were important to me and to my ideas about magic, metaphysics and spirituality as a child and teenager, before I got involved with others. I have a tendency to fold myself into interesting shapes to try to please other people, and I wanted to see what I looked like unfolded, if you will.
This was an excellent exercise and I rediscovered a lot of things that were very useful to me, including getting back into fictional reconstruction. Both Project Protagonist and fictional recon as a system, however, lead to a certain amount of... overcrowding. One can only discover what works by trying things, and some of those things don’t work. I have a hard time putting things aside.
Keeping going when it's hard doesn’t mean continuing to do everything I start forever. It means actively evaluating what works and what doesn’t, as opposed to getting mired down and overwhelmed. It means being willing to move on to the next thing. One of the things I've had to learn to do is to evaluate and be willing to change or even end spirit relationships and practices that aren’t working, and to take risks and try new things.
Nothing is permanent. That’s what gets me through panic attacks. This too shall pass. I worry about changing things because I’m afraid everything will fall apart, as if I’m atop a delicate framework with no real support to it. I suspect there’s more support than I think, but ultimately the best I can do is build more support. Part of that is doing the construction, putting the work in.
Part of that is the lesson of the Hanged Man: learning to let go.
The KonMari system divides everything one owns up into categories, and then instructs that you gather all of the things in that category together and go through it in one big session, deciding what brings joy and what doesn’t. Marie Kondo recommends starting with clothing, then books, then paper, then "komono", or miscellaneous household items, and then sentimental objects. The idea is to progress from the easiest decisions to the most complicated.
So the question is, what 'categories' would one use for a spiritual KonMari process? I ended up with four categories:
- I started with PHYSICAL items because that is a process I’m already familiar with using the KonMari method on. Gathering up all of my altar pieces and tools is a bit of a logistics challenge, but I try to dredge everything out of hiding every so often just to remember what I have. I am definitely a Magic Packrat, and my ADHD means that things that are not in front of my face tend to stop existing. The question here is the simple “Does $THING bring me joy?” and so this category is the most straightforward.
- After the easiest stuff is done, I look at INFLUENCES. This includes things like the blogs I read, the pagan/magical Facebook groups I read and post in, social media follows, Discord servers, and even my to-read pile. “Does $GROUP bring joy into my life?” Yes or no, and move on.
- Once that’s complete, I move on to the more complex PRACTICES. It may seem too early, but my goal is to divorce practices from all the other categories. If I take joy in a practice, I can adapt it. If I do not, I can find other practices to satisfy the other categories. This question is “Do I find joy in doing $ACTION, or in having done it?”
- Much like sentimental items, I recommend saving what I expect to be the most fraught category for last: SPIRITS AND POWERS. Yes, I “decluttering the gods.” It may seem strange to do this separately from altars, but I can always repurposes items I like for other uses, or find new altar pieces to replace ones I don’t really like. This category is more about evaluating my relationships with the powers in my life. I don’t expect every interaction with an entity to bring me ecstatic joy. This is “On the whole, am I happier better off having $ENTITY in my life?” The answer might be no because the relationship is unpleasant, or because it is no longer going anywhere or because I get only crickets and emptiness. It doesn’t matter whether the disconnect is on my part or the spirit’s.
This last category will often involve divination in various areas to determine what the opinions of the spirits are, as well as to see if there is anyone trying to get a message in that's not being heard. Then there are offerings of thanks and well-wishes to any spirits I am ending a relationship with, regardless of whether it’s my choice or theirs.
This is the easy part, I said.
Just gather up all your random magical crap and sort it, I said.
Easiest, however, doesn't actually mean easy.
The first time I attempted to do the physical component of the konmari was at night, gathering up everything I could find before the baby went to bed. I knew I was missing a number of things that got boxed up when we were making space for the baby, but I decided to go ahead with what I had, because what I had was still a pretty big pile.
One entire altar didn’t even make it on the pile, I just looked at it and knew I wasn’t attached to anything on it anymore. I quickly had a box of things that are definitely no longer mine. But this was so much harder than I expected.
There was a surprising amount of anxiety in dismantling an altar or taking down a figure I no longer have any connection with. It’s not as if it’s necessarily long term, and it’s explicitly not a reflection of my relationship with the god but somehow I having no active Kuan Yin altar bothered me.
I discovered I had five sets of runes, somehow. I couldn’t even find one of them at the time. Two sets are handmade by me. Two other sets are handmade ones I bought. I read with runes approximately three times a year, so I asked myself, do I really need this many runes, Allfather or no Allfather? Then I remembered I was supposed to do this without thinking of the practice of reading runes or the spirits I associate with it. How the hell, I wondered, do I separate the tool from the thing the tool does? For some reason I thought this would be a lot easier than it is to separate.
I got overwhelmed and that first session took much longer than I’d envisioned. I ended up putting a bunch of things aside to try again later, once I'd had a chance to really think through the assumptions I'd come in with.
A few days later, I was ready to start again, this time with my shrines specifically. To be honest, I have a bit of a shrine problem. Left to my natural instincts, I tend to have a lot of them, and they tend to creep into other, unoccupied spaces when I’m not looking. Separating out my feelings about the physical “stuff” of shrines and altars from the deities represented was quickly becoming one of the hallmark challenges of my KonMari attempt, but I was able to find two solid wins by focusing on altars.
The first was my ancestors shrine, which gave me my first real sense of improvement. I redid this shrine almost immediately after that first attempt at the physical step, removing some things that no longer made sense, and adding a few things I’d rounded up from elsewhere, like my grandfather’s pocket knives. I did a lot of waffling over what went on there, and a lot of fiddling with placement. Finding the balance between different categories of ancestors and the symbolism of each is a challenge, but I ended up happier with the layout now than the previous one. Since then, my ancestor altar has remained the one I change up most often.
As for the second shrine…
I used to work much more closely with spirits of the waters than I do now. For a time, this meant a strong relationship with the Norse goddess Rán. For several years I hung a net indoors and hung various shinies and offerings to her on the net. When we moved into the place we were living at the time, I wanted to try maintaining it as an outdoor shrine. Over time, however, it became clear that this just wasn’t working, but I the idea of disassembling the shrine was overwhelming. I found a beaded shawl that was made like a net and created a new indoor shrine, but left the old one outside, too anxious to do anything about it but feel guilty.
On that Friday, I took the whole thing down. There was very little to save from it, given how much it had weathered outside. It was barely even a decommissioning, given that I’d already replaced it. It was just a thing that needed to be done, that I finally did.
Having that shrine taken care of, finally, instead if sitting there making me feel guilty was such a huge relief for me. Even if I had stopped there, it would have been worth it.
The problem I kept running into with trying to gather up everything of a particular category in one place is that one has to remember where all of the things from that category are. If I’ve forgotten where something is, or even that I owned it, you’d think it’d be easy to cast aside but my memory is terrible and I’ve had things disappear during terrible moves before, so when something seems to be nowhere to be found, well, either it’ll turn up or it won’t, so I move on and put the thought aside.
I found myself thinking about this again when I found, entirely by accident, an array of pieces from Odin’s altar, from the last time Odin had had a proper altar. Spearhead, knife, other knife, small sword-shaped letter opener, a necklace I used to wear for Loki and a few other bits and bobs. I come by my obsession with sharp things honestly.
I didn’t quite have room in my Magical Knives Drawer for more knives, but I already knew I was going to find space for them.
I have your normal assortment of metal ritual blades and bowie knives and daggers and pocket knives I’ve pressed into service when I somehow managed not to have a fancy knife to hand. I also have knives made of wood, bone, and glass. You know, because you never know exactly how you might want to tweak your elemental associations. (I have enough knives of different material associations that I could set up an altar where every element was represented by a knife. That generates some interesting energy of its own, as you can probably imagine.)
The thing is? I really do love them all. They each have different energies, associations and uses. As ridiculous as it might be to have a Magical Knife Drawer full of magical knives, hey, I’ve done much more ridiculous things. I’m embracing what brings me joy and has worked for me for a long time, well, stabby things are definitely on that list.
Part of the reason for doing a KonMari was because of the amount of physical things I had, but much of my collection is small and sentimental as well as useful. I don’t often think about talismans, charms and the like as a part of my practice, but they have been since I was small.
There’s an ongoing debate over the value of things in magical practice, whether equipment is a tool or a trap. Since I'm talking about decluttering and minimalism, you might expect me to lean towards “trap” and in some respects you’d be right. It’s too easy in modern practice to collect things: wands, blades and staves, chalices and offering dishes, tarot decks and runes, incense and candles to last for years, books in the hundreds or thousands, statues and offerings and… well, you get the idea.
But there’s so much value in something that can be set and forgotten, that maybe has the energy of multiple practitioners in it. For example, I have a rune pendant that I bought in a gift shop on a school field trip more than twenty years ago. I knew jack shit about runes except that they were magical and this one reminded me of one of my favorite comic book character’s logo. Since then, I wore it until the bail snapped off, kept it in a bag on my altar, then had a good friend offer to make it wearable again while I told him about my first “real” encounter with Odin. It has all that energy in it: childhood wonder and wanderlust, my first forays into paganism, learning the runes, that strong friendship and all the care and protection he felt for me…
All of that. In one little piece of pewter. So physical things are simple, and they are also complex.
I used to I have a folder in my feed reader that was specifically for the feeds that annoyed me, so I didn’t have to look at them unless I had the energy to be angry.
Why did I have this folder? Why was I even following blogs that I know will annoy the crap out of me? I could justify it, that I needed to keep an eye on what was happening in the community, that I wanted to stay informed, but that wasn't really necessary. I was just hatereading.
As soon as I started clearing out influences, I realized I probably should have done it first. I'd done digital purges several times before, and this was much less fraught than sorting through tools or altar pieces. There’s still some angst there, as I let go of blogs that haven’t been updated in over a year or that I feel like I would keep up with if I was a better magician.
There is the idea of the lifestyle blog, all about being a better $X. There is a tendency to read these blogs aspirationally – instead of doing the things on those blogs, it’s so much easier to just read them and dream about doing them. I know this kind of blog well; I know six different recipes for making your own detergent and gave up after trying one of them. I collect recipes and DIYs and almost never get around to using them.
The point is that I tend to get into a new kind of blog, or a new “wing” of an old kind of blog, and subscribe to ten different blogs (or worse, Facebook groups) in the same genre and then they all sit there until I get overwhelmed and delete them all. I plan to do ALL THE THINGS and then I get overwhelmed and fail to do any of the things. I've improved in this somewhat over the years, but the impulse is still there. I have learned not to get as frustrated with myself in the end, though.
There is great pleasure in unsubscribing from that minimalism blog that always annoys me, from that spiritwork blog that always seems to be talking down, from that magic blog that’s not a system I’m never likely to put any time into. There’s nothing wrong with being interested in a wide variety of topics, that’s a good thing to a point. Unfortunately, I can only focus on so much at once, so I need to improve the signal to noise ratio. It's giving myself permission to not do everything.
I still need to hone my ability to judge whether something is bringing me joy in the moment – not necessarily whether this particular post makes me happy, but whether the last two or three have made me happy, whether I sigh inwardly when a certain blog shows up in my feed, what I look forward to and what I delete unread. Rather than let everything pile up, I need to be more aware of my own happiness in the moment and more responsive to my own state of mind.
Ideally that is a process I can always keep moving forward – I can clear out my FB groups, but there’s always a stream of newsletters, liked pages and other influences that spill in front of me. There's always new links, suggested content, new ideas. The ongoing work is to keep that mindfulness about what brings me joy and what I need to get out of my life, one status update at a time.
I started out trying to make a list of practices and then I got to ‘reading runes’ and I stopped.
(Why is it always the fucking runes that trip me up? Can I blame Odin? I blame Odin.)
You see, I only read with runes about twice a year, when I’m doing specific kinds of card readings that need additional context. I happened to think about runes because I have been thinking about my missing ones for days on end now, but there are probably plenty of other things I only do every couple of months and I’m not thinking of.
I was talking to a friend about this and she suggested that I treat it similarly to the decluttering technique where you turn your hangers backwards for six months or a year and only keep the clothes’ whose hangers have been turned, indicating that they were worn.
This is a reasonable suggestion, but it doesn’t make for much of a blog post, nor does it make me feel like I’m accomplishing much, so I started making a list and I’ve been slowly adding to it and I realized today that I’ve been overlooking a whole category of things. Things I have very much wanted to declutter from my spiritual life before.
I am, of course, referring to the scrupulous practices that were part of why I started thinking about metaphysical decluttering in the first place. These overlap heavily with luck and omen-spotting, and are therefore metaphysical and/or spiritual practices. They go on the list, and even the act of putting names to them makes it easier to stare them down.
Because the stunning thing I realized, when I started making my practices list, was how many things were on it that I didn’t enjoy doing. Not just things I did because I felt like I should, like runes, but things I actively did because of religious scrupulosity rather than because of any kind of faith or experience. I have a tendency to track omens in really unhealthy ways, for example, telling myself that since X didn’t happen, it must be because I’d upset a deity. I know this is disordered thinking, but I spend too much time and energy addressing it in the moment instead of working on the pattern in the same way I do with other aspects of my OCD.
I’m not going to go into my full list of practices here, but once I felt like I had a good, solid representation of my practices, I made a companion list of what I would like my practice to look like. It had things like:
- add incense and water more regularly to candle offerings
- regular offerings, esp to ancestors and spirits I have a personal relationship with do more regular magical work
- start seriously working with my coin system
- develop a regular divination habit
- more magical journaling
- regular meditation and spiritwork practices
The same key words kept coming up: habit, and especially regular. I struggle with doing things regularly (hell, I still can’t shake the feeling that it’s profoundly unfair that the laundry won’t just stay done) and with creating good habits. I finally realized, when I got my diagnosis years later, that this is not just a personal failure, this is how ADHD works.
It’s frustrating, but it is what it is. We each need to learn to work around ourselves, because stomping on the parts that don’t work well in the name of being a better person doesn't work.
At night, I like doing my candles; I like taking that moment of silence and reflection. I always want to do more of that. I need to figure out new ways to make the regular parts easier, because what works for me shift over time, and that's okay too. That's not failure, that's just change.
04: Spirits and Powers
When I started this process, I was actually eager to leap ahead to “decluttering the gods,” even before I finished the earlier steps I outlined for myself. I was convinced that giving myself some kind of clean (or almost-clean, anyway) slate was the way to solve my anxiety.
As I worked through it, though, I came around to the idea that what I really need to tidy up my expectations for myself. Rather than getting hung up on whether I have enough or do enough for any individual god, maybe I should focus my effort on creating a sustainable spriritwork practice that’s not dependant on adding more and more work or complexity to my system.
There’s always going to be another spirit. I regularly recommit myself to active magical work, when I have th energy and feel called to it, and that requires working with a variety of spirits depending on the project and my goals. More than that, I have been working on paying attention as much as I can and asking those interested in me to make themselves known. Being open to a project like this is basically the opposite of reducing the number of spirits and powers in my life.
Rather than fight it, though, I’m looking to switch from individual offerings to more generalized offerings aside from when I’m actively working on things that would result in specific offerings. Taking a bit of inspiration from Traif Banquet, I’ve experimented with different offerings for “those who watch over or take interest in me or my family”. I’ve been asking them to let me know who they are when they want to step up; I’ve had some dreams pushing individuals to the forefront and I’m trying to encourage them to let me know what I should be doing. (I can’t do a practice exactly like the wet egg in the link, if for no other reason than my area has a truly amazing ant problem if I so much as leave a few crumbs out too long.) One dream pushed me to reach out to the spirit I tag 1934 Indian, after the motorcycle I see him on. Another dream reminded me of a spirit who shows as much interest in my attempts at cooking as at sorcery. => http://traifbanquet.blogspot.com/2015/02/keeping-egg-wet.html Keeping the Egg Wet (Traif Banquet)
There’s still Mara, as ever, and in fact I’ve gotten suggestions to shake up the way I worship her again. There’s Hekate, and Odin and Loki, Persephone and Hades, Ganesha, Kuan Yin and Guan Yu, my ancestor work and local land and city spirits and others who simply don’t have names. But the difference is that for once I don’t feel overwhelmed.
To put it in KonMari terminology: they all bring me joy. What didn’t bring joy was my expectations of how “offerings” are supposed to happen, so my attitude is what needs to be fixed up.
Maybe I just read too many stories as a child with ragingly angry gods in them (the Book of Job probably had a bigger effect on my fear of what’s outside of my control than I like to admit; at least in the Greek myths, people tended to deserve it) but I have a very hard time with the idea of stopping work with a deity. Not for any rational reason, but because I’ve read stories of people whose attention the gods want, or who call on their HGA, and their lives get ruined. It was just recently that I pegged this as related to religious scrupulously and, therefore, to OCD.
There are plenty of deities I have, in fact, stepped back from over the years... or maybe I should say they stepped back from me. But it’s as if I can’t remember how that happened, how it escaped their notice that I hadn’t yet been smote from on high. (Or down below, in Ereshkigal’s case.)
Then I started on the opposite obsessive thought, that they wanted me gone and I was annoying them by not having figured it out yet. Because thank you, Lizard Brain, I needed that.
I don’t mind having an eclectic practice, but it's a matter of having an intentional one, not one where altars and statues just hang around because I’m afraid of offending someone I no longer really have a relationship with.
When I get caught up in these kinds of thoughts, I like to spend some time sitting with each of the deities and spirits I have altar space set aside for and ask them what they want, and do divination because I don’t trust myself to interpret their answers. Even for deities I want to continue working with, it’s probably not a bad idea to check in and see how things are going, if I’m overlooking things that are important, and so on.
05: And Again
A short while after considering this project done, I finally found that last set of runes that I knew were missing. Also my two missing tarot decks, and all of the hematite and copper jewelry I used to wear for private, formal ritual, and a few other things besides.
I found them in a storage box that I thought held something else entirely. In other words, it was pure chance I found them then and not three months before or three years later. And yet I found them at the perfect time, immediately after I’d designated a storage container for divination tools and other special pieces.
It’s hard to know, sometimes, whether you’re on the right track or the wrong one. Everything can look like it was meant to happen if you trace the path far enough. Everything is fated, if fate is the sum total of everything we’ve already done and the choices we’ve made.
So, I found the damn bone runes. I finally had all my divination and close practice stuff together in one bag, for the first time since before the baby was born. And I was reminded that this is a practice too.
When I first started on Deb Castellano's book Glamour Magic, I created a pinterest board called #aesthetic, where I started filing away things that appeal to me on a "yes I want to be the person that wears/owns/does that" level. It’s been an interesting challenge, since when I started Konmari-ing, there was a strong emphasis on facing down the aspirational things you own. Konmari says there’s no point in owning things for the person you feel like you should be or want to be rather than the person you are.
There’s a lot of truth in that, especially the "should be" part. Don’t feel obliged to own tools you aren’t comfortable using, books everyone says you should read, or things like that. Evaluating whether the things in your life are there because they’re serving you is important.
At the same time, though, aspirational things can go two ways. Yes, there’s the unhealthy one where you’re buying things you never use because you’re not the kind of housekeeper who’s going to keep up a Pinterest-worthy dry erase family calendar, or the crafter who has time for elaborate stained glass projects in your tiny apartment, or even the person who remembers to put the matching decorative pillows on the bed every day when you make it. This is the equivalent of having clothes in your closet for after you lose weight, but without any concrete plans for weight loss. They are made of spun sugar and guilt. They only sit there and make you feel bad. Why am I not a better housekeeper, crafter, parent, spouse? Fuck that. Trash the fucking decorative pillows. Trash the ritual that makes you feel silly instead of sacred. Burn all of that guilt and expectation to the ground.
The other thing you can do with an aspirational thing, though- and I suppose this would be the point where the aspirational thing gives you joy- is bring yourself to it’s level. I want to be the kind of person who cooks, who crafts, who makes his own tools. I joke that my aesthetic is solarpunk maker, but there’s no reason I can’t be that weirdo in real life. I still need to go to work and take care of the kid and all that but even when my neurochemistry is kicking my butt, I feel better when I do stuff. Even if doing the barest minimum of stuff feels insurmountable, I feel better having done it. There’s satisfaction in a clean house, in mending clothes, in making things. In doing some tiny part to make better choices.
So I have two options. Wrestle the joy from something, or admit it doesn’t fit my life and let the expectation go. I've built the complicated and "weird" wards out of chains and charms. I've painted, and written, and mixed magpie decks and sewn and mended. I cook, and I use good cookware when I do it. I don't use everything all the time, but I try not to feel bad when I don't have the spoons for it right now, if I know I'll have the spoons for it in the future and I know I WANT to find those spoons, to make the space for them in my life.
Marie Kondo says once you Konmari, you won't need to declutter again because you learn how to let things enter and leave your life. Maybe it's the ADHD or maybe I'm just conceiving of it differently, but I see it as an ongoing process. A practice. A willingness to be intentional about what is in my life, and why it's there, and whether it serves me.
And for me, that's a practice worth keeping.
A Home Made of Bells
Some time ago I embarked on what I half-jokingly called a “spiritual KonMari”. In the same way that the tidying program promises to put your house in order, I wanted to bring clarity to my spiritual house as well as my physical household. The process ended up going in directions I had not at all expected, as I was quickly reminded that hearth and mind and faith are all related in complex ways.
I tend to be the kind of person more interested in mysticism than the mundane, and my practice reflected that – lots of meditation and direct interactions with spirits, lots of hands-on magic and astral travel and hours and hours in the library and the whole life-eating nine yards.
But there was a point when I realized that that way led disordered thinking and unhealthy relationships, and I had to move away from a lot of those things. (Also, I’m too old to go without sleep for days anymore and Bug doesn’t like it when I meditate while she wants to play. C’est la vie.)
I spent years stripping layer after layer like paint from a Craigslist dresser. I’m still not sure there is hardwood underneath. It may be all paint and the memory of drawers. But I have gone far enough down and it’s time to build up again.
Once I stripped all of the things that no longer worked for me away, I found that I had a pile of good stuff left over, raw materials and things to upcycle with no rhyme or rhythm to them. I had a few practices, and a few spirits I loved, whose presence in my life brings me joy. I had trinkets that make my heart sing to touch them, and some habits and gestures that keep me grounded and happy.
I spent a month working on a daily practice. I learned a lot, chief of which was that I don’t want the kind of daily practice I started with. I began with the assumption that anything worth doing had to wait until after Bug was tucked into bed and I was alone, not going to be disturbed. What I realized when I was actually doing it is that doing that takes the fun out of evenings spent with Bug, because I’m distracted waiting for her to fall asleep.
As the month went on, I found I was continually being pushed to other things and I was prompted to think about why Brhenti wanted me to darn socks or why the best place to honor Pechak and Velos was at the confluence of two rivers. I started to understand why honoring differently put me in such a different mindset. It helped ensure I was able to see Brhenti in the small things. It helped me to understand some of the nature of Pechak and Velos’s relationship to each other and to Mara.
I finished the month with a few very concrete things that lay a solid foundation. Some of them are more practical than others but they all help with the building process. And it’s very much a building process.
I like learning about unusual styles of house construction – straw bale, earthbag, cob, I love them all. I keep circling back to the idea of building my own house, if I had land and time enough. I grew up watching This Old House on PBS, enjoying the slow transformation of a project over an entire season; HGTV is fun but it’s not the same.
I’m fascinated by the process of building something one step at a time, from almost nothing to a fully-functional modern home. Sometimes I dream of building a home with my own hands for my family, something we can settle in.
I don’t have land and I’m running low on straw bales, but I see this as the same kind of opportunity. You could say I have a barn full of reclaimed materials, old windows, flea market furniture and empty wooden pallets. Some of them are in great shape and some need more work, but overall I just need to start slowly, lay a solid foundation, and then build up from there. It’s all about thinking about why I’m doing something.
For example, I was thinking about bells, mostly because I ran out of places to hang wind chimes. I’ve long used wind chimes as a part of my wards, but bells were one of those things I liked but didn’t end up using as much as I wanted. I’ve experimented with them in lots of different ways, but nothing quite clicked. I had a tube of bells in red and green and gold that I picked up after Christmas for 90% off somewhere, thinking I’d string them for some purpose.
Now, Bug’s been having a rough time sleeping, and I was trying to think of something that might help. We’ve got night lights and white noise and the like, but too often she wakes up scared and doesn’t calm for anything. It’s hard for her, because she ends up fighting sleep a lot, and it’s hard for me and her mama because if she’s not sleeping, at least one of us is probably not sleeping either.
Bug isn’t able yet to articulate what’s scaring her, so we’re coming at the problem in the metaphorical dark as well as the literal one. We’ve talked some about powers watching over her in a broad sense, and about how the visible wards on her room are there to protect her, but I wanted to see if something a little more direct would help.
I got out some ribbon and the bells and called Bug over to look.
“Which of these colors do you like?”
“All of them.”
I tied the first bell on one end of the ribbon, and then showed her how I was stringing them like her beads. They were fiddly enough that I had to start them on the ribbon, but I had her do as much of the stringing as she could. I let her pick how many bells she wanted, and we ended up with three clumps. While we worked on it, I talked to her about how the river sprites would hear it and come protect her if she rang it at night.
I made one for the back door as well while I was at it – mine’s fewer bells, and equally spaced, with more knot magic thrown in. It’s still pretty simple, though.
Even if I wanted to go into mysticism again, I couldn’t. Parenthood has taught me more about living in the moment than my flailing attempts at meditation ever did.
I need a faith for a household. Something I can offer my daughter, and something that brings me that joy even when I don’t have time for complicated daily practice. I need something with a solid foundation, with practical benefits, and one project at a time, I think I’ll get there.