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.

Celebrating Lammas with fruit and veggies!

Happy Lammas! Or Lughnasadh if you prefer (though I find the second to ‘look’ more beautiful, my heart tells me to use Lammas). This harvest celebration is the first of three (Mabon and Samhain following later), and therefore also the first opportunity to look back at the year and our accomplishments. My greatest one this year was graduating 😀 I started almost 5 years ago and as of March 31st I am officially Master of Science. All the time and energy I put in paid off. Now all I need is a job, but I’m working hard on that and have already found an awesome place to get some job experience starting September 1st.

Another thing that I’m grateful for, is that the change in my diet has really made my migraines go away. Before the change, I had a migraine attack every month. Now, I think I had 2 or 3 in an entire year, and they were milder. So yes, I’m very happy with the past year!

The way I celebrate mimics how I celebrate the other sabbats: mostly with food. I went to the farmer’s market and got some great cherries and prunes. I went berry picking (the blackberries are growing like crazy this year). And I walked outside a lot. We ate dishes with bell peppers, used fresh basil from our plant and are basically enjoying the harvest fruits and veggies.

Perhaps you heard of the French Intermarché starting to sell ‘inglorious fruits and vegetables’ as they call it, shaped in such a way that it isn’t mainstream and is often wasted. We have a company in the Netherlands called Kromkommer (=wonky cucumber) that also sells this type of fruit and veg in soups and other products. I can’t but love the concept. In all those wonky shaped produce, energy put in is similar to that of perfectly shaped produce. Nutritional content is the same and they don’t taste anything less than the products found beautiful enough to end up in the fruit and veg isle. My point? Enjoy the harvest. Of all fruit and vegetables, not only those that are deemed aesthetically pleasing. All fruit and veg is beautiful for the Earth’s energy they contain and the positive effect they have on your body. So enjoy the season!

Solar energy

The Sun is omnipresent is this period of the year. Temperatures have risen well above 25 degrees and I really have to make sure to put on sunscreen if I don’t want to end up as a lobster at the end of a sunny day. But it’s good! We need the Sun’s energy to provide us with food for the winter (although refrigerators and globalisation have made this less of a necessity). I’ve already noticed beautiful big blackberries and gathered some (they taste GREAT). There are gardening plots quite near me, and I want to take a walk there and see the tomatoes grow. I planted a cherry tomato earlier in spring, but even though it’s growing well, there isn’t any red to see yet.

The fact that we cannot possibly live without the warmth of the Sun has made it an icon and an object of worship in many cultures. Mithras or Sol Invictus, the Sun god that was worshipped in Asia and later in Rome (before the rise of christianity) is a great example, but we are all probably familiar with the solar disc that was the sign of the Egyptian god Ra as well. Personally, I do not personify the Sun per se, though at times I may call upon him. And yes, I still use the Sun as a symbol, which is also why I made my own solar disc for Litha (it has bent a little due to gravity). I also bought a book that discusses the Sun, both as physical object and as icon in various cultures. I still have to read it, but am excited to start!
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More recently, the interest in the Sun has increased again as renewable energy sources are sought. A wonderful development, since the Sun is expected to stay for a very long time (with my human experience of time) and other sources of energy are quickly being depleted. I only hope that people will give the Sun some credit or thank you, rather than only using his energy!

National grief

298 people

193 Dutch citizens

80 children

These are the numbers resounding in our heads today as they have in our hearts the past week. The past few days, more and more stories have come out in the media regarding these unfortunate people. A young couple, going on holiday. A son, going away for a few months and telling his mother before leaving: “don’t cry, it’s not like I’m dead, I’m just going to Malaysia”. Two befriended families taking their holiday together. Renounced scientists on their way to an AIDS conference… So many different people with only one thing in common: they were unlucky enough to be on flight MH17, that was shot down while flying over Ukraine on Thursday July 17th.

It is a horror beyond imagination. The plane was not only shot down, but looted as well, and initially, the black boxes were withheld from Malaysia Airlines and its investigators. Pictures of passports were circulating the web. And many, many tears were shed.

Major disasters happen every now and again, but I’ve never felt it this close. Yes, I remember coming home from school and seeing my mother in tears in front of the tv on 9/11. I remember the tsunami that wreaked part of Asia and cost so many people their lives. But these were events that happened half a world away. This is incredibly close. My old physiotherapist was on that plane. People I might have encountered on the street were on that plane. And no less than 80 children under 18 were on that plane. My heart goes out to all the relatives left behind.

298 people, 193 Dutch citizens were on that plane. We are grieving as a nation today, as the first bodies are returned from the crash site.

 

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?

 

My job: making tough decisions

Sometimes you have to make decisions that you’d rather not have to make. Unfortunately, that is part of my job (which I otherwise love). My volunteer job, that is, and it sucks to have people hate you (yes, I’m exaggerating) for something you volunteer to do.

I don’t know how the youth sport system is in your countries. I know that many countries have a school sport system where, if I can believe Ned’s Survival Guide on Nickelodeon, children either make the team or they don’t. We have a different system in the Netherlands. Similar to how you can be a member of a gym, you can become member of a sports club. It’s a volunteer organisation, so people contribute not only money, but also time to, for example, stand behind the counter, drive children to away games or to train other people. My job? I’m in the technical committee, so I’m in charge of the trainers, educating and coaching them and when the season is about to end, make decisions about which children are the best and which ones are mediochre.

That in itself is not so tough, though sometimes you doubt who is best because you haven’t seen children play together. Much tougher is handling the responses of both parents and children concerning their placement in certain teams. People feel they are better than others and should be placed in higher teams. Children would like to play with their friends. There are too many children in the team, there are too few children in the team… The list goes on.

The paradox in having to make such decisions is this: you can never please everyone. There is no way to satisfy all people and to uphold the goal of going for the highest overall level possible at the same time. So we don’t. Of course we try to accomodate somewhat, and people have the opportunity to tell us their preferences (playing with specific people, for example) up front, but the reality is that there’ll always be disappointed children and parents. As long as we support what we have chosen as a collective and have made these choices as fairly as possible, we have done the best we can.

It’s a tough job. Think you can do better? You’re welcome to try 🙂

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!

Gods and Goddesses in modern fiction

And then I mean other than in stories about wicca or stories that take place in Roman times for example. I really mean modern stories. The past week I’ve spent reading Rick Riordan’s series Heroes of Olympos and the Kane Chronicles. If you are interested in mythology, I really recommend the books! Let me explain a bit more, just to tempt you…
In the Percy Jackson series and the Heroes of Olympos, we meet the children of the Greek gods. Yes, indeed, demigods, similar to Hercules, Jason and Perseus, the great heroes of the past. But didn’t I say modern stories? Well, yes. You see, the gods are powers of the earth, guiding what happens, and they are still here today. They reside where human society is strongest. Accordingly, they have moved from Olympos to America. And, seeing they never change, they continue to get children with mortals. Greek mythology really comes to life, with gods and monsters and supernatural beings still present in today’s world.
Of course, we know this. Gods are omnipresent, not only the Greek ones, interacting, helping and guiding us. This is not always how it happens in Heroes of Olympos. Gods are not all helpful and have agendas of their own. They often, however, need humans to help them.
This is where the Kane Chronicles are similar. Gods need humans, but this time mainly those descended from pharaohs. They are capable of magic, channelling the powers of nature and of the gods. I loved this, undoubtedly, as it comes so close to how I feel about magic! It is different in the book, of course, but it gave me so much inspiration for my own practice, even though I’m not Egypt oriented.
Conclusion: if you like Egyptian and Greek mythology, these volks by Riordan are must reads! I’m looking for more books, however, so if you have any suggestions on fiction where gods and goddesses play a (big) role, I’d like some recommendations!