Musings on Shadow Work

DISCLAIMER: I am not a therapist or mental health practitioner of any kind. I can only speak to my own experience and results with any practice I discuss, and nothing I say should be taken as professional advice.  If you are experiencing a crisis please seek qualified professional help.

Recently I had a tarot reading from the lovely Jessi Huntenberg, specifically her “Witch Path” reading that is meant to help you progress in your magicospiritual unfolding.  I wanted to know why I didn’t seem able to actually establish a practice, and what was holding me back from actual connection to a higher power or my own mojo.

From card 1 I knew two things: 

  • 1 – Jessi Huntenberg is a steely-eyed missile woman (ten points if you get the reference) and
  • 2 – She was absolutely right that there were things from the past I needed to face and understand if I wanted to move forward. She suggested a round of shadow work, and I heartily agreed.

What is shadow work, you may ask? It sounds more arcane than it necessarily is. The whole concept arises from Jungian psychology – Jung believed that all the parts of ourselves we deny, behavior we are ashamed of, and events we can’t deal with make up our shadow, almost a hidden second self which influences every move we make, dogging our steps and making it impossible to be integrated, whole beings until we’ve faced it down.  The idea is not to destroy the shadow – quite the contrary, it’s to understand its origins and embrace it so that we can control its impulses rather than those impulses controlling us.  

As Kelly-Ann Maddox (another steely-eyed missile woman) says, shadow work does not give you an excuse to be a dick because “Hey man, it’s just my shadow, it’s part of me and I can’t change that.”  Much like learning about your natal chart, understanding your shadow gives you a place to work from – it is a catalyst, not an excuse.  You shine a light on parts of yourself long neglected and bring awareness to them, then use that knowledge to progress on your path as a human being.

There are many ways to go about shadow work.  My process thus far has consisted of a lot of journaling and meditation, and in only a few sessions it’s uncovered some pretty nasty shit that, if I’d tried to address it a few years ago, I would have gone into a self-hating tailspin or at least shoved it back in the box.  Now, however, the primary emotion to arise is relief.

Shadow work isn’t just saying “Damn, girl, you’ve done some shady shit.”  The point is to figure out WHY you have, and WHY you continue to make decisions that compromise your relationships and integrity.  This may require revisiting childhood events (even the tiniest thing can feed your shadow, though of course trauma is a key player), or at least looking back along your path and taking note of what was going on when you started making iffy decisions. For a lot of people obviously this is a process best undertaken with professional help.  I’m a Scorpio, however, and one thing we love is relentless self-analysis – finally a chance to use it for good instead of evil!

(Seriously, find a therapist or at least a trusted peer to speak to if you’re interested in shadow work but feel afraid or overwhelmed at the prospect.  Here there be dragons, and while you can probably tame them yourself, if you’re not used to cave-diving in your own psyche it can be hazardous.)

What I’ve found is that while I haven’t been able to trace a single origin point for the issue I wanted to examine, I’ve definitely found a current of belief that, while unhealthy, made sense as a coping mechanism in the context in which it arose.  I suddenly sat back and thought holy hell – I’m not a terrible person!  I’ve been doing a shitty thing for a long time because of some other shitty things, and that doesn’t make it less shitty but it DOES mean I am not doomed to keep doing it forever because I’m some sort of high-functioning sociopath (which isn’t really a thing anyway).   That means that I can act from a place of awareness and do better.  

Shadow work is, above all, meant to be liberating.  It helps you reclaim your authenticity and your psychological sovereignty – you don’t have to be held hostage by your own bullshit if you’re willing to drag your bullshit out into view and air it out.  It’s not easy, but then again, living chained to a fuck-ton of baggage you’re pretending doesn’t exist isn’t easy either.  As with much of adulthood it comes down to choosing which kind of pain you prefer.

If you’re interested in learning more about this sort of thing, here are a couple of introductions; each of these ladies has a YouTube playlist on the subject you can delve into as well.  I’ll undoubtedly have more to say about it as well.   

Do you do shadow work?  Have some resources to share?  Do so in comments here or on Facebook.

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Ten Things I Love: Oracular Wish List Edition

I already know that I’m going to be one of those people with 50 tarot decks or worse.  There are just SO MANY that are SO GORGEOUS and how on Earth are you supposed to just pick one?  Why should I, when there is such an astonishing variety of beautiful, meaningful, adorable, or just plain hilarious decks out there?  

Here are a bunch of decks that I would love to get my hands on for various reasons, as well as a couple of oracular accessories I’m in love with right now.

1 – The Monstarot 

This deck by Joanna Nelson is so utterly adorable I can’t even stand it.  It’s pretty much Rider-Waite-Smith, but with a playful, childlike twist.  Not every reading has to be Deathly Serious, and if you’re turned off by a lot of the heavy-handed JudeoChristian symbolism in the RWS you might have a lot more fun with a deck like this.  

2 – The Impressionist Tarot

This deck is one of the classical-artist-copycat type decks, and I mostly just love it for the art.  Each suit is inspired by the work of an Impressionist:  Wands are Manet, Cups are Monet, Swords are Van Gogh, and Pentacles are Degas.  (The Majors are a mix of all four.)

3 – The Last Unicorn Tarot

OMG I MUST HAVE THIS.  An officially licensed deck using the artwork and style of the animated adaptation of Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, one of my favorite childhood books and movies.  At the moment I can’t quite justify spending nearly 80 dollars on a deck, but I’m hoping it will do well and be in print long enough that I can get my hands on one.

4 – The Ophidia Rosa Tarot

Every time I see someone post about getting this deck I feel a surge of painful envy that I suspect means I would love working with it myself.  It’s a botanical deck, which I wouldn’t have expected to swoon over, but something about the near-monochromatic illustrations and the beautiful snake backing draw me in over and over.

Here’s a video review of both the Ophidia Rosa and its sister oracle deck.  

5 – The Next World Tarot

There are many modernized Tarot decks, but few that manage to convey diversity, gritty reality, and the sense of hope underlying the Next World cards.  They are grounded in the human body and represent it in its full splendor, including all shapes, sizes, genders, abilities, races, ages, you name it.  As I understand it the cards are huge, which would probably prevent me from reading with them (I have wee little hands) but I want to touch them and gaze into them, meditate on their layers of meaning.

To quote the Little Red Tarot description of the deck, “The Fool’s Journey is about smashing systematic oppression, owning their truths, being accountable to the people and places that support them, and taking back a connection to their body that may have been lost through trauma or societal brainwashing. The NEXT WORLD TAROT is a visual spectacle of both the battle cry and the reconnection between outcasts and their criminalized identities.”

6 – Raven Tarot Bag

I am blessed with a roommate who sews beautifully, so in theory all I’d have to do is find fabric and ply her with cookies to get all the tarot bags I want, but still, I like supporting independent artists out there in the world who create beautiful things as well (or have access to materials it would be way more trouble to acquire or work with than I’d want to inflict on my Roombeest).  And one can never have too many pretty bags for Witchy and Mystical Goodness, right?

Isn’t this fabric amazing? The same shop has several other patterns I love.

7 – Tree of Life Zipper Bag

You know, it had never really occurred to me to try a zippy bag for my cards.  I guess my inner woo-woo-maven thinks that drawstring is more…magical?  I have no idea. But I’d never have to worry about the deck falling out of a zipped up bag.  Again, this shop has several alchemical and mystical patterns that would be perfect for cards, runes, or whatever items you need to have on the go.  

8 – Tarot Wraparound Pouch

These colors!  I do love a batik.  I like wraparound bags and cloths like this one – they feel secure but have more visual and textural interest than a regular old drawstring bag.

The shop also carries other patterns and additional magical goodies you might enjoy browsing through.  Just FYI.  

9 – Tree of Life Altar/Tarot Cloth

So pretty, nice soft rayon, 18×18″…I might have to snag this one given how affordable it is.

10 – Gothic Storage Box

This box is flat out gorgeous, and I’m sitting here doing a Homer!Gurgle just looking at it.  I’m also guessing that the Roombeest would be willing to fight me for it given her love of blue things.

 

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Flirting With an Old Flame…and Wind and Sea and Earth.

This turned out to be a bit of a ramble, sorry.  When I started writing this I intended to tell the story of why I left Wicca, but instead I wrote this much more cheerful thing.  That other post is coming – I think I’m resisting writing it because I think I already seem crazy enough to people without adding to the fire, and it’s a very personal and painful story that requires me to be way more honest than I have been on this blog lately.  I’m sure you’ve noticed the distinct lack of meaningful content here in the last year – a big reason for that is thanks to my mental illness I spend most of the time mining the stinky depths of my psyche and I just get tired of self-analysis.  So, that post is coming, but for now, I just thought I’d share some observations:

wee6
I used my own pic because I got tired of chasing sources down rabbit holes. You are absolutely welcome to steal this image. If you do, do me a favor and Photoshop out the cat hair.

The other day I got sucked into a Pin-nado and found myself wandering from one board to another on Pinterest, starting with one subject and ending up all over the place.  Rather unexpectedly I found myself browsing a lot of Pagan/Wiccan pinboards.

It’s funny.  When I started my career as a Witch I was 16, and our town didn’t have the internet yet.  By the time I got to college UT was requiring every student to have an email address, but it was still kind of a strange thing for a lot of people, myself included.

I’ll never forget when I first discovered the Pagan internet – not only were there other people who shared my beliefs on campus, they were all over the World Wide Web!  And most of them had really ugly websites!

Spinning pentacles.  Blinking titles.  Embedded midi Enya.  Those were the days.

Most everyone was on Geocities back then, and the word “blog” didn’t exist yet.  Neither did 90% of the sites we take for granted now:  YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Etsy.  Hell, MySpace wasn’t even a thing yet. There was no such thing as Grumpy Cat or even I Can Has Cheeseburger.  It wasn’t the dark ages, but the lightbulb was certainly dimmer.  Nowadays it’s neon lights as far as the eye can see.

Looking through these pinboards and Etsy shops now I see some amazing stuff – not only has the state of amateur photography improved by leaps and bounds, but so has the quality of graphics in general, and anyone can have a decent looking blog with little to no coding knowledge or design experience – maybe not a gorgeous blog, but one that’s very readable and doesn’t make people’s eyes bleed.  Not so, 15 years ago.

Oh, sure, there’s still plenty of eye-bleedingly bad art out there, but thanks to Photoshop the baseline level of “good” has risen.  And while the face-bashingly awful rhyming couplet invocations are still legion, as well as the really lame puns and anti-Christian jokes that sound more desperate for approval than funny, it does seem like the overall standard for art and writing has definitely climbed, particularly compared to the Wiccan Craze of the 90s where books were flying from the presses no matter how ghastly they were because the Craft was trendy.

I saw all sorts of altar photography – I’ve always had such a love for altar building, and I love seeing other people express their spiritual creativity that way too.  There are dozens of pinboards devoted to images of altars and shrines, both made at home and in sacred places all over the world.  We can see the worship habits of cultures on the other side of the planet just with a click.

There are tutorials for all sorts of things I had to figure out myself – lighting charcoal tablets, for one thing, which took me forever to get.  There are YouTube channels that show you how to blend incenses and oils; all sorts of pretty quotes and graphics you could hang over your altar; and the sheer number of Book of Shadows pages is staggering.  There are plenty of downloadable books, courses, infographics, and templates for all manner of topics.

The first Pagan book I ever read I bought secretly at the Renaissance Festival because there was simply no way to get them in my hometown – the only access I had to Pagandom was through fandom newsletters and zines, and if I’d ordered anything through the mail it would have been intercepted.  Now, anyone can find what they need to know online, and unless their parents watch their browser histories, there’s no risk (except the risk of finding bad information, which I am sorry to say is as prevalent now as ever – some of the Pins I found were so insanely inaccurate I had to physically pull my hands from the keyboard to keep from, well, essentially trolling with my Vast Mystical Knowledge).  It’s a whole new world.

Not only that, the quality of Pagan crafting has exploded.  We have access to so many amazing materials – thanks to the altered art communities, paper crafting, new art supplies like paints and high quality markers – and so many ever-evolving techniques (also easily found on YouTube) that it almost seems a shame to buy anything premade, which I imagine is hard on those artisans and spellcrafters who sell their work.

I’ve been away from the Pagan world for several years now – people keep asking me to attend events or make appearances based on my first two books, and I just can’t do it.  It would feel incredibly dishonest, and I’d also have to reread my own work because it’s been so long.  Aside from general spiritual malaise, I had experiences with other people and with particular spiritual entities that scarred me, and I had to get away.

But the internet provideth, I suppose.  I find myself wondering who the big authors are now, what the good blogs are, what the new and trendy ideas are – are there still people touting the “9 million Witches died in the Burning Times” nonsense or did that finally die?  Do people still do everything via Witchvox?  I’m completely out of touch with what used to be the most important aspect of my life, and it’s unsettling – it’s like finding your ex on Facebook and seeing he’s married with five kids.

I don’t miss the community, to be honest.  In my old age (snort) I’ve finally let go of the need to prove to myself that I like big groups of people, and I’ve accepted the fact that I’m an introvert, I’m not a joiner, and that’s just fine.  I prefer most of my social interactions to be online.  My experiences in Pagandom were…mixed, let’s say, an interesting balance of pretty good and dreadful, punctuated with moments of both agony and ecstasy.  I absolutely hated festivals and great big rituals – in fact, I could have done without the Sabbats altogether, or at least chucked the ones I didn’t like (Beltaine, Yule) and stuck with the ones I loved (Ostara, Mabon).

Being a Pagan with a public presence exposed me to a lot of bullshit drama and sectors of the community ranging from silly to terrifying.  Again, I felt like I had to get out there and be known – but I finally figured out that I don’t write books so I can be a public speaker.  I’m a writer to write.   My personality ensures that there are only so many people I can deal with at one time – a day or two here and there is fine, but whole 4-day-long weekends surrounded by 1000 of my horniest friends is basically hell to me.

But there are things I miss. 

I miss casting Circle, especially dancing the way our coven used to do it.  I miss opening up half a dozen jars from my apothecary cabinet and creating something to help a friend find love or protect her home.  I miss sitting in front of my altar doing the same thing for myself.

I miss hearing trees talk – I haven’t heard that in a long time, because I stopped listening.  Once I could lay my hand on a trunk and feel that drowsy, good-natured energy that moved soooooooo slooooooowly.

I miss the time when I snatched up every new Pagan book I could find.  I’ve checked out quite a few from the library in the past year, but I haven’t pored over new releases and loaded up my wish lists like I used to.  Now I do that with cookbooks, craft books (lowercase c) and memoirs.

I miss ending my email signature with a Triple Moon:  )O(

I miss the sense of import that ritual gives to both big and small things – cleaning house, starting a new job, moving to a new place, beginning or ending a relationship, baking, making homemade bath/body products.  I still make my own perfume oil, but without charging it.  I still burn incense all the time, but I don’t ever smudge the house.

I miss the sight of my black-bladed, ebony hilted athame resting on my altar.  She was my favorite ritual tool – when she was in my hand she felt alive, and I felt like a badass (especially if you add my fabulous full length, bell-sleeved ritual robe, which is the Witchy equivalent of a long black coat).  I think that athame is the fifth one I went through – I started with the cheap brass-handled number you can get for ten bucks in any catalog, and went through something with faeries on it, a wood model, and at least one more I can’t remember before going on a long and arduous hunt for just the right blade to represent my magical will.  I found her…in fact I may unearth the box where I’ve stored my ritual implements and bring her out again, even if I never use her for anything, just for that old feeling.

So along those lines, a challenge for you:  tell me your favorite Pagan blogs, Tumblrs, et cetera – and tell me which ones are the Big Popular Thing right now.  I can’t afford to buy books, but if there’s a newer one (last year or two) that rocked your socks, tell me that too.  And don’t forget e-books.

Also, if there’s a spiritual-type blog that isn’t specifically Pagan but is compatible, tell me that too.  I’m a Nomad, after all; I take on all comers.

Comments are open.  Link me up, baby!

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Introducing a New E-Book!

I’m quite pleased to unveil a little project I’ve been working on:

A Holy Instrument of Joy: 14 Days of Ecstatic Dance

If you’ve ever wanted to try meditative movement but didn’t know where to start, this e-book is for you.  A two-week program using daily prompts, each with music suggestions and inspirational notes – click on the link or the book cover above to find out more and download the book!

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Up to Here With Teeny Tiny Gods

I have a thing for miniatures.  Not once in 34 years has my body been considered unusually small, but in my mind, tiny things inhabited tiny lands just out of sight of the Big Folk.  If I were to let myself, and was willing to devote the time and money to it, I’d absolutely get into making faery houses and doll houses and scenes for all my goddess figures to inhabit, just for fun.

Thus, since I am absolutely utterly uninspired to work on what I’m supposed to be working on tonight, I thought I’d give a brief tour of my (admittedly small) collection of Weeities.

A quick definition:  A Weeity is a miniature or otherwise very small statue (not a pendant, but something that stands up on its own) depicting a deity, regardless of culture or mythos of origin, who measures no more than 4 inches in height.  I have a 5″ Shiva figure that I don’t really consider a Weeity – he may only be about 5″ tall, but his presence takes up a lot of space, so I leave him be.

Earlier today I mentioned having acquired a Wee Green Tara, which I’ve been casually looking for for years; I knew that the right one would find her way to me if it was time to work with her, and there she was, in the locked case at Book People!  I posted her pic on Facebook (unforunately a very blurry pic) and a few people asked about my collection, so here we are.

Most of these figures are on my altar, but they do tend to migrate from time to time.

From left to right:

1.  A ceramic Goddess I found at the Texas Renaissance Festival.  She feels amazing in my hand.

2.  Devotion, one of the Windstone Editions’ JourneyStones by Maya Hill.

3.  Fertility, same source.

4.  A hand-carved wood goddess I bought from a young woman at a festival who was selling her art to pay for cancer treatment; she told me the story of how she was rafting some huge river in Colorado and found this perfect stick, an aspen branch, which she whittled down into a goddess the rest of the trip.  I love to just sit and hold this one while I meditate.

 

Here, we have two of my favorite pieces from Bell Pine Art Farm:

On the right, we have Radiant Health, one of BPAF’s newer pieces.

On the left is Open Heart.

Bell Pine makes a lot of lovely sculptures, but one of my favorite things they do is that their “family” series can be ordered with same-sex parents.

 

Next up we have the Ganesha Funtime Band – a brass Elephant God in the background, plus a set of three smaller Ganeshettes which I place in various nooks and crannies of my altar.

Now for the Boods!

Four of these Buddhas are placed throughout the house, tucked in cabinets where you can barely see them unless you’re looking just right.  I love the thought of all these iddy Buddhas poking out from behind a pile of towels and saying “Pssssst!  Psssst!  Breathe, you are alive!” and then vanishing again.

The other two stay on my altar; one is for travel, the other for laughter.

Then, of course, we have our Venus of Willendorf, this one made of pure clear quartz, a gift from a dear friend.

Last of all we have the Weeity that inspired me to do this, the beautiful Green Tara I’ve been looking for for years.  Not only was she the perfect size and color, with all the detail I wanted, she was insanely reasonably priced, so if you’re looking for a Green Tara about 4″ tall go to Book People (they still had one yesterday).

It’s especially poignant that I found her this weekend, for reasons I’ll be going into this week – that’s right, my posts might include actual substance now that I’m through writing book 4 and am trying to decide what goes to the top of my to-do list.  I’m actually considering another non-fiction book, I just don’t know on what.  I’ll keep you posted.

But here she is:

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