Rule 8: Sing every day

When I was little, one of my favourite movies was Dinotopia. A movie about a Utopian society where dinosaurs are not extinct and co-exist with humans. Amazing! I loved dinos at the time, but what I came to enjoy even more about the movie was precisely the way their Utopia was shaped, the foundation of their society. The code of Dinotopia consists of 11 rules, that all make perfect sense to me and that are followed by every inhabitant of the island. Amazingly (well, not really, the writer has done this intentionally), the first letters spell out SOW GOOD SEED. Perhaps the essence of the code, and not unlike the rule of three.

  1. Survival of all or none.
  2. One raindrop raises the sea.
  3. Weapons are enemies, even to their owners.
  4. Give more, take less.
  5. Others first, self last.
  6. Observe, listen and learn.
  7. Do one thing at a time.
  8. Sing every day.
  9. Exercise imagination.
  10. Eat to live, don’t live to eat.
  11. Don’t p… (thought to mean ‘Don’t put out the light’)

Now, I said that all rules make perfect sense to me, the way I interpret them. But I had never truly realized the strength of rule 8 (sing every day) till a week ago. Let me share my experience with you.

I was visiting an open evening at the university of applied sciences to gather information about studying to become a waldorf teacher, and there was a workshop about music. Curious, I entered. What we did? Well, sing, obviously, an African song with magical words, simply because we couldn’t understand them. We also accompanied the singing with clapping, stamping our feet, pretending to cradle a baby (because I thought the song might be a nursing rhyme) and various other movements. Describing what we actually did together is kind of easy, but accurately describing what I felt? Near impossible. It was a long time ago since I sang a capella together with others. At first I felt anxious, because I wanted to get it right, especially with other people listening. But I realized that wasn’t necessary: nobody was going to judge me or keep score of how well or bad I did. We were all there to experience how it might be as a waldorf teacher in training, we weren’t there to audition for a choir or whatever. Even though it was a music workshop, it wasn’t the music itself that was important. That realization hit me so hard that it shattered my restraints. I was able to sing freely, move with the others and let go of my fear of being judged. And as I did, I felt a warm joy spread through my body, a warmth I now know to have missed for quite some time. There are other things that warm me up, such as reading a good book or having an evening off with my husband, but as these are different experiences, the warmth is also different.

I cherish this memory, and the memory of my first Red Tent, where we also sang together, around a fire. And I will find opportunities to experience this amazing warmth again, basically coming down to this one simple rule: sing every day!

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Red Tent Movement

If you are a woman and you move around in pagan circles, chances are you will have heard of the Red Tent Movement. The first time I heard of it was about half a year ago, on Pagyptian’s vlog, and I instantly set out to research it (because that’s what I do with everything).

The Red Tent Movement is a movement empowering women by bringing them together at full or new moon, often in a candlelit place draped with red curtains and clothes. It is a place where no judgement is passed, and every woman is welcome to ask for what she needs at that moment. The movement is based on a book called the Red Tent, where the literal red tent was a place for women to stay during menstruation.

Often it was interpreted that women were pushed away during this time, that they were filthy in some way, but it is turned around here: women are very powerful because they menstruate and can bring forth life. I believe there are tribes where the women were taught this during their time in a red tent of sorts. That is also the power of the modern Red Tent Movement, that started in America, but has reached the Netherlands and my hometown as well.

Last week, I went to my first Red Tent and it was amazing. Yes, I was somewhat scared at the beginning, because I didn’t know any of the women, but that faded away quickly as we sang to the fire, invoking the fire spirits to help us burn away things we would prefer to be gone. And then inside the Red Tent, we each lit a candle and passed on the matches, honouring the fire inside each and every woman there. So much happened that evening, all concentrating on one purpose: to let us feel both our strengths and our needs as women and to let us experience the power of sisterhood in addressing those needs. In addition, it made me feel the power of performing rituals together, even though that might not have been the purpose.

All in all, it’s an amazing experience and I can’t wait for the Red Tent in February. If you are curious, as was I, just google ‘red tent’ and your place of residence (or a larger city nearby) and you will probably find one close to you as well. I hope you will go there and feel empowered, as do I.

Presenting myself… to the gods

Let me start by saying that I have no problem with standing in front of a group and hold a presentation. I have no stage fright whatsoever regarding presenting. Preparation really is the key, so when I’ve designed my presentation (I use Prezi, an online presentation tool) and looked it through a few times, I know what I want to say and am confident it will go just fine.

Presenting without a visual audience, able to respond directly, is an entirely different thing. I am shooting videos for a new YouTube channel I want to host about sustainability, and I am nervous every time the camera is on. Yet I’ve prepared this better than my average presentation! Rediculous actually, but I haven’t been able to shut my nervousness down. Perhaps that will come.

One of the pros of shooting these videos and practicing to present without an audience yet without feeling awkward, is that perhaps it will help me address the Gods in ritual. I find this incredibly difficult, because I want to do it out loud, but feel very uncomfortable doing so. What a paradox… So there I am at my altar with a beautifully prepared speech to call upon the God and Goddess. I utter my first words… And then grow silent as I realize I am talking and I can’t see anyone listening. That’s not to say they aren’t there, but I just don’t perceive them. Resuming the speech in my head, I still finish it, but it doesn’t feel like enough. Next time, I will try a diary-ritual, writing down what I intend to say during the ritual. Since I am taking up journaling as a somewhat spiritual practice, that fits right in. Perhaps in time I can do what I would want most: speech out loud.

So I’ll just keep practicing with the YouTube videos and hopefully I will be able to present myself to the Gods before long!

My digital Book of Shadows

A BoS is different for everyone. Some people prefer to split it up in several books, such as a notebook specifically for sabbats, a dream journal etc. Others keep it all together and add all bits and pieces. I’ve seen Pixie Flora’s one on YouTube, and it’s this massive binder with printed rituals, notes on lined paper and what not. It’s very impressive, but nothing like what I would want.

I’ve tried several formats now, including a notebook where I would just document whatever new information I had learned, describe my rituals and spells and plan my sabbat celebrations. More recently I have used a binder, because that is more organized. I really like my binder, because I can jot down whatever I want and also because I’m used to taking notes whilst listening to colleges or reading articles. That’s still just easier on paper. In addition, it’s nice to be able to add notes to something already in there and not having to move back and forth through a notebook continuously.

Insert Evernote. Like I already explained, I started using Evernote for going paperless. Nice thing about Evernote: it’s extremely organized! It works with notes in notebooks, and you can tag the notes with topics, making it super-simple to find stuff. Just as good as a binder! Or perhaps even better, because you can easily add content from the web. Since that currently is my primary source of information, it saves me from either printing the stuff or copying it. Or putting it in a folder on my computer that I will then never use again (do you have that as well?). You simply use a Web Clipper, and once you see an interesting article, you can copy it to your notebook!

So what does my digital Book of Shadows consist of? Well, I have a notebook called ‘Book of Shadows’ that holds all of my pagan-related notes. I use very simple tags, namely ‘deities’ and ‘sabbats’ (remember: I’ve only just started, so these are the only topics I currently have in my BoS). I will probably add stuff about divination, correspondences and more, but since I’m almost over my upload limit, that will have to wait. I still have the basic stuff in my binder, and the pretty stuff will just be scanned to Evernote 🙂 Evernote can also hold video and audio files, so I might start taping rituals or spells! As you see, I’m getting pretty organized, removing clutter from my home and head and documenting my spiritual practice 😀

The value of possessions

One of the things I have pondered over recently, is the actual value of possessions. I am aware that some people live very minimalistic, almost foresaking ownership of everything. Even though this is way too extreme for me, I did notice two very important things:

  1. Products require material and energy to make – both of which are NOT endlessly supplied on Earth
  2. Products require energy to keep and use them

The Earth is in danger, and we all know it. We are using more and more resources and pollute the environment whilst transporting and using these resources. Even though we, as consumers, are only the final users of such products, we need to be aware of what these products do to the environment. And to ourselves! We currently have more toxins in our bodies than ever before, coming from plastic products we use, car emissions and the food we eat. Yes, I am painting this very black and white, but that just makes clear what this is all about 😉 I could tell you much more about this, but I know people who can do that so much better than I.

Annie Leonard is the spokesperson for the Story of Stuff. This is a community and a movement that sees what is wrong with current consumerism and tries to make people aware. And of course take action, because that is the only way to change things.

In June, one of our local TV stations aired the documentary Bag It. In this documentary, Jef Barrier tries to discover what plastic does to us and eventually (yes, spoiler, but I think it’s predictable) decides to cut down on plastic use in his house. It’s just a bit over an hour long, so no excuse to skipping it!

My second point is also something I am discovering now that I am trying to go paperless (one baby step at the time). I already threw away some paper manuals because I downloaded the pdf version. And with throwing them out… came relief. Then I realized that when you own stuff, you get attached to it, you make room for it. Physically, in your house, taking up space. But also mentally, because you have to keep track of everything you own. I read about Green Evelien, a Dutch blogger living in Belgium who has experienced exactly the same. She tries to live a happy life, as ecologically as possible. After tackling both evergy and water consumption (they already eat vegan and biological), she is now tackling the stuff she has. Throwing away stuff that you barely use is actually a liberation, because it clears up space!

This is very hard for me, though. Yes, I do try to purge my clothes twice a year (though that might be getting less now that I know how to dress myself :)). But I keep amassing books… I love books 😀 Just the feeling of paper in your hands and the worlds to explore. I do own an e-reader that I am using increasingly, but I still have quite some books and keep buying more. But: that stops now. I will use my e-reader for classics and start buying and borrowing e-books more (as soon as it’s back from repair). And no, I will not throw out all my books. My favourites can remain 🙂 That means I will only have books I am certain I will want to read again and again. The other books I currently own will go on my to-read shelf and once I’ve read them, I will decide whether I want to keep it or purge it. So I’ll probably end up donating many of my books and selling some of the prettier ones.

My basic rule about posessions: keep only those items that you regularly use and try to replace these with eco-friendly alternatives when you can. But hey, you might have a completely different take on this! I’m interested to hear 🙂

Re-inventing yourself and your craft

Every now and again, it’s important to stand still and take a look at how you are doing. Yes, really. Not only health-wise, but much, much broader and deeper. Starting with ‘do you still like the way you look’ and ending… I don’t know where yet, but I’ve arrived at ‘what would you like your spiritual practice to look like’. Along the way, I am effectively re-inventing myself and the way I work. Because I take my time for it, I’m convinced it will work better, making me happier as a result! Who wouldn’t want that? In the meantime, though, you might have noticed the blog being somewhat silent. With taking a look at yourself, you also uncover things you are not happy about at all (like my current job-status…). In my case, I didn’t feel like writing during this period. However, most of it is now over and back on track, so I’ll start posting again!

I’d like to give you three examples of what I did and how it helped me. You might also want to try out some these options 🙂

Shopping for clothes can take me forever, because I don’t know what suits me, and I have often bought clothes that either didn’t really fit or that eventually didn’t really suit me. Since that is quite important, both for my feelings of self-esteem and for my job interviews, I decided to change this! I took an online colour-analysis to discover what colour clothes I would probably look best in. Turns out that with my blond hair, light blue eyes and skin that easily gets sunburned, I am a light summer type, so I look best in soft pastels (yes, I tried it and it’s actually true). Anything but hard, clear colours, actually. I also looked at my body type, which is athletic with quite broad shoulders. I might be able to tone this down by wearing drapey clothes or soft-shouldered clothes. Since my wardrobe needed some new additions for autumn and winter, I went shopping and put this new knowledge into practice. I got a bordeaux tunic that I love, and a blue-ish sweater that hugs my body and shows of my waist. I also decided to get a few good, fitting bras. Turns out I’ve been wearing the wrong size for ages (though this is what the tests used to say). So I am perfectly happy now with how I clothe myself and I love seeing myself in the mirror in these new outfits!

My days were jumbled, with email overflowing, no clear structure to my days, notes in notebooks all around the house. I am now working on a routine so I can get this all in check. Recently, I rediscovered Evernote, a note-taking app that stores your notes in the cloud and lets you access them from all kinds of devices. I am using it now to try and go paperless, clearing the mess from notes all over the house. The papers I do still need are filed in organizers that I can easily find, so I don’t have to go searching for one particular note anymore. I either pick up the right organizer or use Evernote’s search functions. I am trying to create a daily planning in Evernote as well, not exactly like Getting Things Done, but something similar that I think will work for me. Each day, I want to produce several notes: one dealing with how I slept, for how long, whether I had any dreams and how I feel when I wake up, another with all my meetings, to do’s and planned time for self-improvement, and a third with stuff I want to remember or track over time (number of steps I walked each day, what I ate, what fitness things I did, what I really enjoyed today etc.). I will keep a paper diary as well, but Evernote will provide me with prompts, so I know something to fill my diary with. And I can always take a picture of the diary pages and put that into Evernote. This will also include some blogging prompts 🙂

Spirituality is somewhat important to me. As a witch, I want to celebrate nature, honour the Gods and Goddesses and get to know (and improve) myself to enhance my spiritual practice. But in reality, I barely have a spiritual practice. I very much like my altar, but I have it in a room that we barely use, surrounded by clutter and it is not directly visible from the hallway because there is a desk chair in front of it, which actually annoys me most. This again makes that I do not go and sit at my altar and meditate, do spells or rituals or that I am reminded of my path. And I dislike that feeling. With Evernote, I am challenging myself to enhance my spiritual practice and make it how I would like it. This means I want to meditate every week, speak out gratitude daily, craft something (and cook something special) every sabbat and esbat and observe nature daily. And, most importantly, I want to learn more and create my own knowledge base. 

By doing these three things and more, I am getting back on track. It takes some hard work, but it’s good to re-invent yourself every now and again. And as you meditate and get to ‘know thyself’, you might realize you are at the crossroads again, with the possibility to stray from the path and change yourself.

Happy solstice!

Yay, the longest day of the year! I love Litha, and that it’s in the weekend is very fortunate (though I usually celebrate sabbats in the weekend). I’ve got some wonderful things planned, cause now I actually have time on the solstice itself!

For me, most important is being outdoors as long as possible during midsummer. It won’t be nice weather, but I hope it at least stays dry. Or that it only starts raining when I’m back and can enjoy the rainfall from inside or from our balcony rather than from my bike. I would have planned to go walking during Litha, but coincidentally we (colleagues and I) are celebrating the end of the school year. And we’re going rowing! I think the last time I was in a canoe was when I was 11 or something like that, during a very rainy vacation near the Loire (France). My mother and brother went to the middle of the river, decided it was too scary and went back, but my dad and I had the best time! So I’m really looking forward to canoeing again with friends. It’s bound to be hilarious… and difficult, probably.

Going on the water tomorrow and remembering the rainy vacation in France really made me wonder about Litha symbolism. I mainly celebrate the warmth of the sun, using yellows, reds and oranges on my altar. But earlier this week I saw a video by Pagyptian, one of the people I follow on YouTube, about Litha and water, as opposed to fire. It really made me think, so I’d like to share it with you.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? We need the balance of water to keep the fire from burning us. And thinking of summer activities, going to the beach is probably one of the most prominent ones. I was inspired, so my altar now has reds and yellows, but also some sea shells 🙂 I’m also making a sun out of red and yellow paper and skewers. It’s currently drying, but when it’s finished and turned out well, I’ll make a post on how to make it. I really like the effect the skewers give as sunrays.

As always, food is a rather large part of my celebration. I had planned to try and make small pineapple upside down cakes, but my pineapple isn’t ripe yet. So I’ll make banana bread and a mango-nectarine salad (love soft summer fruits!). I’ve got cherries as well 🙂 Bottom line is that I’ll be eating wonderfully sweet fruits all day an that I’ll be enjoying the longest day! What do you have planned for midsummer?

 

Purging and cleansing

Every now and then it’s time to get rid of the old and make place for the new. I always feel this very strongly in the beginning of spring, around February, when I want my windows to shine and when I want bright colours around to let the returning sun in and enjoy the awakening earth. But with my brithday in the beginning of May, I always feel I have to shed parts of my life I don’t want anymore, cleanse, and make room for new stuff. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past month or so (and am still doing). Here’s how I work:

  1. Dig out all the clothes. What haven’t I worn in over a year? That’s definitely good to go or to be refashioned into something else (as soon as I’ve learned how to sow). Are there any summer clothes that don’t fit anymore or that are just too old? Gone too. I have lots more space now for nice, new clothes 🙂
  2. Look at your collection of books. Of those I have read, which ones do I really want to keep because I will reread them (quite a lot, to be honest). Those I haven’t read, I have now ordered in one bookcase (on colour, it looks awesome!) and want to read them this year. The ones I do not plan on reading again, I can donate, the other ones I will keep. I’m not very fast with reading these assorted books, however, because I keep adding more, and because I keep reading older books.
  3. Check out the plants in the house and on the balcony. I don’t have green fingers whatsoever, so some will have died and others are in dire need of regular watering. I take out the plants that unfortunately have perished and make a schedule for watering the other plants. So far, no plant has died, yay!
  4. I don’t clean my windows very often, because it’s a job that takes quite a while and is very challenging (appartment on the third floor). I should do it more, but every time I clean it, birds seem to find it a very attractive place to poop… and then I can start all over again. I want to keep the windows clean, though, to let the necessary light filter in.
  5. My cleansing ritual is quite simple. Music has power, so I start clapping and going round the rooms, especially the doorways. I have some nice smelling sachets for in the cupboards and smelling candles in the living room and study. The kitchen I try to fill with the scent of the most amazing cookies or cakes (well, not that amazing, but nice-smelling anyway). If I’d have room, I’d dance around the house. This ritual might change, depending on the kind of house and the mood I’m in. Or on whether other people want to join in the cleansing (having a party really is a great way of filling the appartment with positive energies).

These are five simple steps to clear your living space of stagnant energy and stuff you don’t use anymore and to fill it with vibrant, positive energy. It can take quite some time, but it’s totally worth it!

Transition phases

Transitions are a natural part of life. Physically, emotionally and socially, you go through very big changes. I’ve gone through some of these, and though it has sometimes been frightening, so far it has turned out fine!

I can remember my onset of menarche. I was absolutely terrified, I can’t remember I was prepared for it to happen, but it was scary. I was 10 or 11, and that afternoon I was going on a date with my boyfriend… swimming… My mom was very sweet, explaining what was happening, and then bluntly put it this way: you either have to use a tampon or you can’t go swimming. It was an extremely uncomfortable situation, even more when my mom took out an almost life-sized doll and began to demonstrate how that would work. Talking about awkward! In retrospect, I don’t think my mother was expecting me to start menstruating at such an early age and hadn’t prepared anything for that. For my own children, should the Goddess bless me with daughters, I hope to have a small ritual of sorts and be able to explain the bodily changes to them in a slightly more comfortable situation! After all, it’s where you go from girl to woman.

By now, it has been almost a year since I got married. I tied myself to my husband, hoping not to part with him, ever. Comparing the limited symbolism and rituals surrounding menarche in the Western world, tying the knot is connected to many rituals. My father gave me away, for example, which is a most beautiful ritual that really signified him letting me go, placing me under the protection of my husband rather than his. It was a very emotional moment. Even more emotional, however, was the wedding vow. Standing opposite, holding hands and looking at each other, we pledged our commitment. “Yes, I do”. Then there was kissing and cheering and crying. Out of happiness 🙂 Cutting the cake together, throwing my wedding bouquet at the assembled unmarried women. It was a day I will never forget, symbolizing the transition from unattached to married woman.

At this moment, I am in the middle of a social transition. In March, I graduated from the university with honours. It was the end of my formal learning career (unfortunately, cause I enjoyed learning very much), and I am looking for a fulltime job. So far without succes, but then perhaps I am picky in which jobs to apply for. It is by far the longest transition phase and I hope it is almost over! In 3 days I will be doing a ritual for succes in job hunting as part of this process. I’m looking forward to this new part of my life!

These are the 3 transitions I have experienced most strongly, but obviously, everyone experiences different changes. The rituals surrounding them may also vary, depending on where you live and your customs. No matter what, change happens. Don’t try to oppose it, but move with it!

Ideals of womanhood

Some of us do not feel happy in their body. We’re too fat, too thin, too big or too small, we have some or other body part that we don’t like… the list is endless. These ideas that we deviate from some ‘beauty standard’ is something that has been going on for a very long time. All cultures have some ideal of a woman, both in the shape of her body and in the qualities she should possess. And while that is perfectly alright (we all have a certain idea in our head when someone says ‘horse’ as well, so why not when someone says ‘woman’), it is also perfectly alright to deviate from this ideal. Everybody is different, and exactly that is what makes women (and men, for that matter) beautiful in their own way. We don’t have to live up to these ideals, that are most often unattainable. We just have to accept who we are as personalities and accept the way our body looks. Nobody can prescribe how we should look or act, we are the ones to decide that for ourselves.

Okay, my rant is over 😉 I actually wanted to write about how these ideals of a female body have changed over the course of time, but then something else flew out of my hands.

Venus_von_Willendorf_01You all know the prehistoric female figurines that have been found all over Europe. They seem to focus on the breasts and the belly, with a faceless head and barely any legs or arms. Female body parts, enlarged to make the distinction between men and women. To me, this is still the embodiment of womanhood: the ability to bear children (ie give life) and to nurture them. It’s also one of the ways I see the Goddess, and from what I have seen online, I’m not the only one. Whether these images were made by men, as ideal women, or, as I read in this amazing article, by women looking down on their own body, that doesn’t matter. It most likely depicts the prehistoric ‘norm’ for the female body.

That has changed, however. If you look at paintings from the Renaissance, women have much more Birth of Venusshape. Artists still focused on the breasts and somewhat on the belly, but the broad hips and in general curved figure of women became more apparent. This was what men searched for in a woman. And this figure has also prevailed. If you think about drawing a woman (and I’m not that good of an artist), you draw the curvature of the breasts on the chest and broaden the hips, creating this timeglass figure. It is a way to show off the real, anatomical differences between men and woman, similar to the prehistoric figures, but somewhat more nuanced.

And then we come more to the present day. Clothes models with beautiful, curved bodies distracted the audience from the clothes, so tall, skinny girls were sought out to present the clothes. And this has turned into the norm for female beauty. Only look at Barbie and you know how rediculous this is (though she is an extreme example), as Nickolay Lamm has shown. Some women have a slender body, yes, but others do not and it makes no sense whatsoever to try and look different. It’s just the build we have.

Ideals of womanhood have changed very much over the centuries, but I hope we’re at a breakthrough now: all female bodies are perfect. And all female bodies are in essence beautiful, so long as you display you are happy with yourself. Because real beauty comes from within and has nothing to do with the way you look. Even though you might have your own idea about what a women is or perhaps should be (we all do), don’t worry about appearances. They are just that and can hide people who are gorgeous inside!