Category Archives: pagan blog project

P is for Place (and for Promises)


This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project (PBP). It’s the one for the letter P.

In theory, I really like the idea of being spiritually connected to the place where I live. To know its History and histories, to know what animals and plants live there and how everything interconnects, to feel its spirit and recognize it as home. I often dream of being a gardener, of taking care of plants (and, indirectly, animals), of knowing their nutritional, medical, and spiritual properties, what they need to thrive and when to cut them back, of eating food that I have grown myself, of experiencing the seasonal changes through it, of spending conscious time outdoors on a regular basis, of having an “outside” that is part of the space I live in, of being spiritually/ethically/ecologically responsible for a piece of land and all that lives on it.

In practice, however, I barely manage to keep my potted indoors plants alive. I forget planting seeds at the right time, several years in a row, and I don’t want to just go and buy plants, watch them bloom for a season and throw them out in the fall, only to repeat the process the next year. I actually don’t even have much of an idea what plants would thrive in the conditions of our tiny little garden. Sometimes, I remember to pull out some weeds that would take over otherwise (Japanese knotgrass, I’m looking at you). But most of the time, I almost forget we even have a garden, not to mention that this garden might have a spiritual component to it. I have never even tried to communicate with the spirit of our garden, let alone with the spirit of the larger area around the house I live in. And that’s not for lack of knowing how to go about that (although I sometimes tell myself that this is the reason). And not even for a lack of patience to sit down, be quiet, and listen (although I often find it hard to do just that).

No, it’s because I have this idea that connecting to the land is like marrying someone. It means something. It’s a serious commitment. You don’t just go and do it on a whim without thinking long and hard about the consequences. You don’t do it while thinking “oh, I can always get a divorce if things don’t work out as I imagined them” in the back of your head. You don’t do it and expect that it won’t change you. You don’t do it unless you wholeheartedly believe it’s the right step.

And, frankly, I’m not so sure that I actually want that kind of a connection to the place I’m currently living at (and have been living at for more than five years). You see, this place has always felt temporary and inbetween-ish. We moved here because it was what we could afford when we were looking for an apartment together. We liked the area because it didn’t seem to be claimed by any one district of the city (the organizational belonging is different than the geographical belonging, none of the districts seem to particularly care about this area, and it’s never featured in those “what life is like in district XYZ” articles the local press sometimes runs), which meant that there were no expectations of a specific lifestyle attached to it. No one was judging my “coolness” when I left the house (as they did where I lived before). And we liked it for the green around the house, the wild animals who come visit, and the proximity to the park. All in all, it seemed like a good place to stay while we took care of other things in our lives.

Of course, the area has a history nonetheless. And it’s not one where people like me feature in any of the main roles. And maybe that’s precisely why I like it here: the near-complete lack of demands that is placed on me here. No one cares who we are and what we do as long as we respect our neighbors’ loudness tolerances (which is easy since we’re usually rather quiet at home) and take care of our part in cleaning the staircase and circulating the key to the shared laundry room. Which is, of course, also one of the reasons that I still feel so temporary here: no one cares. There’s no sense of neighborhood as something active (with few remarkable exceptions), no sense of community or togetherness or anything.

So, while I have all these dreams of a place to stay, truly stay, all these dreams of belonging to a neighborhood collective of people I care about and who care about me, of sharing my household with a cat, of having a garden, and, ultimately, of having a material and emotional home in one and the same place, my reality looks very different. And I have only very vague ideas about how to get from here to there, if I should happen to decide one day that I do indeed want to get there. That I’m ready to commit to this dream and make it happen as best as I can.

Because this is really what it’s all about: commitment. And my seeming inability to commit to anything long-term. Because I have no idea how to do that. Because all I’ve ever done is decide over and over again to not quit, to stay, to take yet another step. That’s how I managed to stay with the same organizational collective for over ten years, creating wonderful events without ever being paid for anything we did. That’s how I managed to be in a relationship with the same person for over seven years now. Not by marrying them once and vowing to love and honor and stay with them until death do us part, end of story, but by asking myself over and over again whether I still want to stay with this person and answering with “yes” every time, in varying degrees of wholeheartedness. Because there have been days when I wasn’t entirely sure where we would go and whether I would find it enjoyable or even bearable there, but when I still wanted to find out, so I stuck around.

Sometimes that makes me think I am incapable of commitment, with all the cultural baggage of that assessment that tells me I’m a quitter, I’m dysfunctional when it comes to serious relationships, and I need to change. Sometimes I wonder if I’m still playing it safe, because the last time I didn’t play it safe I ended up in a psychologically and verbally abusive relationship that seriously damaged my trust in my own instincts due to all the lies I was told, and I have no desire to repeat any of this, ever. Even if it seemed the most romantic thing in my entire life for much of the time it happened, and I have to admit I sometimes miss the incredible intensity of all the emotions back then.

Then again, I remember that the only constants in my life seem to be change, and ultimately being different from whatever community I thought I had found. Somehow, I always end up on the edge, in the margins, off to the side, half-in and half-out, in liminal spaces. Which is a strange place to call home, and yet it probably is precisely where I am at home. Which is why I still believe the place where I geographically live makes sense. Because, like me, it doesn’t really belong anywhere. It’s in-between things, touching on many of them but not actually being a part of any of them. But it’s hard to grow roots in such a place. It’s hard to commit to something that I know I will leave again, eventually.

Which seems strange because I have no problems at all with temporary jobs and take them very seriously while I have them (to a degree that seems unusual, if I am to believe the feedback I’ve gotten), with adjusting to changes even if I didn’t choose them, or with sticking to something/someone important while things are tough. This is not a case of generally taking the easy road or not making/keeping promises. But I have learned again and again that even fundamental things about me can and do change, that I have no way of knowing whether today’s passion won’t be next month’s indifference, so I assume that nothing is forever. So how can I honestly and wholeheartedly commit to anything that is of indefinite duration?

Furthermore, when it comes to places, and spirits and plants and animals, there’s another factor for me that keeps me from entering the kind of temporary commitment that is fine for many jobs and groups. After all, you can always explain things to humans (even if they end up hating you for your decision). But I never again want to give away a cat because I couldn’t find a new place to live for both of us when I needed to. I feel bad about planting stuff and then neglecting it because it’s not like plants can easily go elsewhere if they don’t like it where I put them. So I end up not having a cat and not having the kind of garden I could have, even temporarily. I end up not connecting to the land spirits right here. Because I really don’t think this is a place to stay, so I don’t want to make leaving it any more difficult than it already is (because, let’s be honest, there are many things about it that have grown on me).

As I’m writing this, however, I wonder if this sense of temporariness, of un-belonging, of inbetween-ness, of liminality is the spirit of this place, or at least a huge part of it. So maybe I am already connected and just don’t recognize it? Or maybe I just need a better idea of how to interact with a spirit of place that doesn’t mean I’m bonding myself to the land “forever.”

And there’s another factor that adds to my sense of disconnect here. Most of my spirituality-related thinking and reading and writing is done in English, which generally is my second language. Most of what I read refers to an American (and sometimes British or Australian or Canadian) context and has little or no relation to what happens here in Germany. That puts me into the strange situation that English is my first language when it comes to spirituality (because it’s the language in which I learned most of the concepts and names), so expressing these things in German always feels awkward and provisionary and often downright wrong to me. Even the few things I have picked up about Northern Tradition Paganism, Heathenry, and Asatru have been predominantly in English, and I still get a strong sense of disconnect when they are expressed in German (I’m actually often mentally translating things into English to see if people are talking about the same things as I do). Yet I am in Germany and have lived here all my life. I might even want to address Germanic deities or other local spirits. But I would do so in English – and that seems weird enough for me to wonder if I’ll even be able to make a connection to them if I don’t speak German. Almost every time I meet someone with whom I could potentially talk about spiritual things, I am put off by their German and their inability to understand me when I speak English and the resulting need for me to translate things into a language that feels ill-suited to express what I mean). None of this helps with finding a connection with where I am, and all of it lands me even firmer in yet another neither-here-nor-there territory. Even if it’s all in my head and the spirits couldn’t care less in what language they’re addressed as long as I address them at all…

At any rate, my mind is currently an interesting mess of thoughts about commitment, the lack of home, the desire to belong, and it all spills over into all sorts of areas.


O is for Other


This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project (PBP). It’s the first one for the letter O. Or rather, it’s the only one for the letter O because I’ve just decided to officially go with one post per letter for a while because there are so many other things that occupy me right now that spirituality has taken a definite backseat.

At some point last year I realized that a huge part of my identity was tied to the concept of being “other.” In fact, the one thread that runs through my entire conscious life is feeling different from (nearly) everyone else.

I’ve been the only kid in my class who could read before she started school (I somehow taught myself but have no memory of doing that – one day I just could read). I was the only kid who didn’t belong to any religion during my childhood. I felt like the only girl who never understood the dynamics between boys and girls when puberty hit us all (and what I understood seemed incredibly stupid to me). I was the only girl who repeatedly got the key for the boys’ locker room at the local swimming pool (which was hugely embarrassing to me since I wanted to be good at being a girl so much). I was a very late bloomer in terms of physical development (and therefore was excluded from all teenage girl bonding over menstruation and such). I was the only one in my social circle who never had a “real” boyfriend during adolescence (and the two I was with barely lasted longer than a week or two that consisted mostly of me feeling pressured to be more sexual with them than I wanted to be, and I definitely wasn’t in love with either of them). I was the only one who read books on anti-psychiatry in eight or ninth grade (age 14/15) during school breaks (which got even weirder when people learned that I did this out of personal interest, not for a school project). I was the only one with tomato-red hair in my entire school when I was around sixteen (and got harrassed by strangers on the street for that on a daily basis). I was the only one in my class who would speak up on sexism and ask the philosophy professor to do a unit on feminist language philosophy (which he seemed delighted to do, earning me even more annoyance from my classmates).

I eventually became a lesbian along with being a feminist, which at least meant I wasn’t the ONLY one anymore. Suddenly, there was a whole community I could belong to. How completely exhilarating! If only I had managed to be the “right” kind of lesbian for that social circle. I was an utter failure at being butch or even androgynous (although I didn’t have the vocabulary to even talk about these things), I soon became fed up with sexuality being discussed only in relation to violence and abuse, and I – horror of all horrors! – wore a bright red gown from the second hand store to the ball to celebrate an anniversary of the local women’s (read: feminist and lesbian) magazine. With my big Doc-Marten’s-eque boots and a strange haircut. There was ONE other woman in the room who was also in a dress, and she was straight at that point (I think). Then I wanted to spend time with men again, because some seemed really great people to create really great events with, so I eventually lost my place in the lesbian feminist community for good. Instead, I reconnected with the leftist/punk subculture and went on to be the only punk lesbian in my city (an identity I was told I couldn’t take on by a so-called friend because it didn’t exist).

A bit later I was the (then-)only female member of a group of otherwise gay men who organized a weekly non-profit queer bar night. I went on to become the only self-identified femme in my queer-dominated social circle (I didn’t have much in common with the only other femme I knew of in that city), which got me ridiculed, laughed at, dismissed, and reduced to my outward appearance. It also meant that people questioned my queerness and my commitment to the queer community on a regular basis. When I went to a women’s dance every now and then, I still was the only one in a skirt. But hey, at least I had a queer social circle that made me feel like I belonged, even though I made people uncomfortable occasionally! That queer circle stayed home for large parts of my soul for about a decade (and I’m ever grateful for that). I could even integrate my interest in BDSM into it (and also gained a whole new community when I started exploring it in practice, even though I definitely remained at the fringes of that as well).

Then I got a partner who didn’t identify as a woman anymore but considered himself a transgender butch and went by a male name and male pronouns. We were the only couple of that kind in the local queer community (I was asked if I was straight now by people who had personally and directly witnessed me as a mover and shaker of the local queer community. I also lost an important lesbian femme friend and mentor over the transness of my then-partner). When I stopped drinking and smoking I also was the only one who did neither in my circle of friends (which excluded me from all those bonding rituals over getting drunk together, cast me as a party-pooper, and eventually played a large role in my stopping to go out or organize events with them altogether). In my new circle of friends(?) I was the only one with lots of tattoos and piercings and emotional ties to punk and DIY queer culture.

Eventually, I got back to university where I was almost the only student in all of my classes who was already over thirty (which at best helped me take up an unofficial co-teacher role and at worst isolated me once again). I often was the only one who seemed genuinely interested in the subject matter, and who had read all the homework assignments (at least this time I proudly claimed an identity as a “Streberin” – which doesn’t have an English equivalent but roughly is a combination of nerd/geek and teacher’s pet – instead of letting people shame me for my interest in learning things and thinking deep thoughts and discussing them in class). By that time I had also learned that I was “highly gifted” with an IQ that placed me in a minority of 0.13% of the population. While that explained a lot, taught me immediate patience with my fellow human beings to a degree I had never felt before, it also meant I suddenly had an acute sense of how different I actually was in that area, and that I really didn’t have much of a choice about that, either.  So I joined the local chapter of Mensa, where I was the only one who was that queer (even though I was barely out about it) and found that I could have a nice, fun conversation with some of the people some of the time, we never really shared enough areas of interest to turn these conversations into actual friendships (not to mention the casual sexism, racism, and queer hate that seemed to be a part of many equally casual conversations, or the general disdain for anything spiritual). Perhaps needless to say, I’m not a Mensa member anymore.

About six years ago, I started exploring spirituality, initially by reading tarot. Once again, I was doing something that was definitely not considered good and worthwhile in the vague queer academic-activist culture I felt most connected to (when I finally started coming out about my interest, however, I discovered that there were indeed others, even though that still didn’t make a community). To this day, I haven’t told my mother or sister about my spiritual explorations (my father would also be on the list if he hadn’t died) because it’s just not something we do in our family. I found a good place to learn in the Aeclectic Tarot Forum, but I still was the odd one out whenever it came to things like sexual orientation (I was neither straight nor was I a lesbian or any other easily named queer identity), which impacted my readiness to even ask for relationship readings (especially after I once had a reader tell me that my transgender partner shouldn’t get surgery – and only admitted she hadn’t gotten that from the cards at all when I directly asked her about it, not to mention that I hadn’t asked about that at all). Nevertheless, it was nice to have a virtual environment where we could talk about a subject we were all interested in, where our identities didn’t matter that much. I met some really nice people there, including some who I now consider friends (and I don’t call anyone a friend easily).

However, my attempts at connecting with spiritually similarly-inclined people outside of the internet (e.g. at meet-ups or workshops) and at were not so successful. Neither have I found any spiritual path/tradition that I would have been able to adopt more or less as-is. The biggest part of this were issues around gender and queerness (about which I’ve written before (here, here, and here), so I won’t repeat all that.

After university, I started working my first full-time job (at the age of 36!) as one of two queer (but not out) employees of a small company of maybe thirty people. I was the only one who hadn’t studied what she was doing (so I lacked the cultural background of that discipline my coworkers and boss had), the only one with a decidedly crooked “career path.” I also was the only woman who wasn’t into fashion and who refused to conform with the femininity standard of that company. That excluded me from both the women and the men, and I think I was the only one who was never invited to a social get-together with my coworkers. My Beloved had by then decided to take some of the “official” steps that law and medicine offer for trans people in this country, so it became increasingly hard for me to even share my own queerness and that part of my life. Again, I was neither straight (and I think it showed), nor was I out as something people recognized.

With the decision of my partner to start living as a “man” full-time, I lost even more ties to the queer community because I just didn’t feel represented and invited anymore. Most of the time, there wasn’t even a label I would use for myself on any flyer that spoke to “lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, trans people, intersex individuals, and their friends” – I’m sorry but I’m way more than a “friend,” I’m very queer myself but my queerness doesn’t even have a name (especially not in German). I started living in a strange place that really belonged nowhere (which is both figuratively and literally true because our apartment is in exactly such a place), and that made it hard to feel at home anywhere except in my own room.

There was a brief time where I found a place where all those identity markers didn’t seem to matter much at all, and that was during my training to be a hospice volunteer. We were human beings there, and everything that usually is oh-so-important either came up only a long way into the training or not at all (I still don’t know everyone’s day jobs or family status, for example). That was astonishingly nice, and it made me realize that I have no space like that anywhere else in the world. And that’s not because I don’t want to belong, because I want to be different at all costs. I just don’t, and I just am. There are hardly any spaces at all that aren’t fraught with all kinds of stories that usually end up reaffirming that I’m not “normal,” that I’m always the exception and never the rule, that I don’t fit in easily, and certainly not painlessly.

Sometimes I wish I could be a round peg in a round hole, just once, so I get a break. Because being different is exhausting. It costs so much energy. You constantly have to provide a running commentary of the world where you have room, where you can exist, where you are okay. All the time. Every day. Year by year. And then you haven’t even started to look for others like yourself so that maybe, on some days, you can have someone else tell you these things because you’re too damn tired to do so yourself (and do the same for them on other days). And then you haven’t even started to speak up and do something about it. Which takes even more energy, because then you will have to explain yourself over and over again, to people whose idea of a good time is provoking you on purpose, to people who tell you that you should be grateful for all the good things you have (and look how bad it is for those people over there in that other country!), to people who end up hurting you over and over again while telling you they didn’t mean to and therefore you shouldn’t be upset.

However, whenever I think of that theoretical fairy and the wish she’d grant me, no questions asked, I never ask for being “normal.” Because I like being different, as hard as it often is. I like being able to see how things like norms work. I like constantly having at least one foot on the outside for the perspective that gets me. I like the creativity required by having to come up with alternative narratives of mainstream stories, or repurpose and remix existing cultural content to include my experiences (this is definitely one reason why I’m very much in love with the idea of (non-canon) fanfiction/slash).

And, to make this post at least somewhat complete, I need to admit that it completely ignores the areas of my life where I am indeed a round peg in a very comfortably fitting round hole. Where I am not at all “other” in a way that would put me at a disadvantage. For example, I am white, well-educated, carry a passport of the Western European country I’m living in, and have grown up speaking this country’s standard language without any strong dialect. I have easy access to good, affordable healthcare and clean water. I am healthy and able-bodied and feel mostly good about my body. I have access to the Internet and several local libraries and can read/speak/write/understand two languages, one of them being English. I have a solid roof over my head and enough money to cover all necessities and then some. My family has very few issues with my queerness. I am constantly read as a cisgendered person (there were a few exceptions earlier in my life but they’ve all been a long time ago), and I seem gender-conforming enough to not be in immediate danger of being beaten up, raped, or killed for my deviations from gender norms (at least that’s true for where I live). I have never experienced a war in my country, I’m free to vote and say pretty much everything I want without serious danger of life and limb. And these are just off the top of my head.

But that’s the thing about privileges (and all of these are privileges in the grand scheme of things, so let’s call them that): they are very hard to notice unless you don’t have them all the time.  It’s only when you lose a privilege you once had or when you gain one you didn’t have all along that you even notice the effects of your own privilege without having to make a conscious effort. (Personally, I found this computer-game analogy an awesome way to think about having privilege and what effects it has on those who have it. Note: It can easily be adapted to also work for people who are not straight white men but still benefit from the privilege that comes with being one or two of these things.)

Nevertheless, I  still consider “being different” a basic aspect of my life experience (if only because there simply aren’t many contexts in my everyday life where my otherness is entirely irrelevant and I experience pure “normalcy”/privilege, especially long-term). And yet, I wonder… What do I gain by repeating “I’m different” to myself over and over again? Is this nothing but special-snowflake syndrome and a case of first world problems? Would an increased awareness of my own privileges/”normalcy” (which I try to gain step by little step) eventually make me realize that my experiences of being different don’t really “count” compared to the lives of others? Why can’t I just see myself as belonging to the category of “human” instead of spending so much time focusing on what makes me different (I have been asked that and could only say that “human” is a much too large category to feel meaningful and provide me with a sense of belonging…)?

Yes, there will always be people who are a whole lot more different than I ever was or will be. Yes, they will usually also have a whole lot less privilege than I do. I definitely believe I need to work on at least acknowledging my “normalcy” privileges and then do my part in making things less unfair in general. I can’t just focus on my own minority aspects and ignore all the ways that place me in a position of undeserved and unequal power. But that doesn’t mean I have no negate my own experiences of being different and being shut out of the “center” and their emotional truths, nor do I have to beat up myself for having privilege that I mostly got completely by coincidence (no, I don’t believe in our souls choosing all these specifics of our life so that our souls can learn a certain lesson during yet another lifetime). Getting the balance right between the two is the real challenge here I think…

P.S. And now I’m wondering if this topic is “spiritual” enough to be posted on this blog and as part of the Pagan Blog Project… You know what? I don’t really care. Especially not since I have a hard time drawing a line between my politics, my everyday life, and my spirituality anyway. And why should I?

N is for Nothing


This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project (PBP). It’s the first one for the letter N (it’s actually the second N week already, but apparently I’m slow with the catching up I said I’d do).

I’m not quite sure how or why it happened, but after being almost obsessed with tarot and other aspects of spirituality for at least three quarters of a year (and possibly more), I suddenly don’t feel a pull towards any of these things anymore.

Maybe I’m just exhausted after the last three years that brought a lot of changes to my life that I didn’t choose (plus some that I did choose) and need to give myself a break. Maybe I just need to adjust to my new voluntarily jobless life a bit longer and be patient with myself. Maybe this is just another one of these phases where my attention turns elsewhere for a while, as it does with practically everything. Maybe there’s no reason to worry.

But I do worry. How serious can my spiritual inclinations be if I’m able to shut them off so completely all of a sudden? Isn’t this just laziness and a lack of discipline? After all, it’s not like I couldn’t do more. But apparently, I decide over and over again not to. I decide to watch one of my favorite TV series instead of reading tarot or writing on this blog. Even when I know I actually have stuff to read about. In fact, there are several aspects of my life that could bear some closer examination (after all, having the time to do that was the main reason for quitting my job). But I just don’t seem to have the energy to deal with any of that right now. So I do other things like help a friend renovate their room and exchange thoughts about racism, critical whiteness, queerness, and passing, and the desire to do things our own ways. Or I hear lectures at the university, or go to the first concert I’ve been to in years. I also hang out with people who seem to like my company, even if I’m not entirely sure why, and reconnect to some neglected parts of my life and get to know some nice people a little bit better.

As I do all these worthwhile things (yes, that includes re-watching old episodes of Glee), however, spirituality seems to have fallen by the wayside. There is a big stack of books I was looking forward to read with more focus than working 40 hours a week left me, but they remain slightly dusty and untouched. There are several blog post ideas ambling around in my head that I was looking forward to writing when I had the time and headspace to do so, but they remain (at best) scribbled notes on scraps of paper somewhere in a small heap over there in that ignored corner of my floor.

And I’m undecided what to think of this. A part of me just wants to reaffirm that this is just the way I work: bouts of obsession-like focus on some topic, followed by near-complete disinterest in the same topic a while later (with “a while” ranging anywhere from a few days to a few years). And after another while, a return to the topic, full of renewed interest and passion. Rinse and repeat. It works for me, so what if it’s not the accepted ideal of how these things are supposed to happen?

Another part of me, however, is very busy looking down on that kind of behavior as yet another expression of my utter laziness, my obvious inability to follow through with anything after things get difficult, and my complete lack of discipline at anything but getting up to pee every day (at some point). Not that this is an accurate assessment, as a calm and grown-up part of my mind would like to note. Devouring heaps and heaps of information and opinions on a topic over a period of several weeks (and often months or even years), pondering them in my conversations with other people or here on my blog (or elsewhere in writing), and often finding new connections that make sense to me can hardly be considered lazy. Nor can my stubbornness at bringing up a topic that I consider neglected in a broader discourse until I feel it has been at least recognized, even if it doesn’t make me especially popular with people who’d rather like things to stay the way they were before I spoke up, seriously be called “being a quitter.” And while I may not exhibit a lot of the kind of discipline that always does the same things at the same time the same way, I’m still able to do many things quite regularly, and not just when they are great fun.

Maybe I need to re-read Star Foster’s article on “Slacker Paganism” a friend recently pointed out to me? And then apply the wisdom therein to my own practice, of course. Because I’m secretly pretty sure this is really just one of these things where the hardest part is getting started. And perhaps there is some fundamental value for me in learning how to do things less-than-perfectly without beating myself up for it. If only the practice of that was so easy to arrive at as the theory! (Any tips for how to deal with one’s perfectionism when and where it’s not helpful?)

And I’m pretty sure that my own ideal state (or rather, flow) of things lies somewhere between total randomness and doing things only when I feel a strong, positive urge to do them, and total discipline and doing the exact same thing at the exact same time over and over again like clockwork, no matter what. Perhaps I could use a new mental image to think about regularity, too. Something like “happens easily and organically and is influenced by surroundings, weather, degree of nourishment, etc. and includes dormant times every now and then” instead of this robotic machine-thing that completely ignores that any kind of structure (for me) needs to be flexible or it will break down as soon as life interferes. Seems like the challenge (once again) is to find my own personal middle ground, even if it’s likely to be anywhere but in the exact middle of all this. Perhaps I need to think about ways to queer* the idea of discipline without losing its good and useful aspects…

* Not necessarily in the sense of spoiling it, and even less in the sense of making it homosexual, but rather in the sense of twisting and turning the general idea of “discipline,” prodding and stretching it until it starts to make sense again.

J is for Junk Oracle


This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project (PBP). It’s the second one for the letter J. While I certainly don’t want to stop the discussion that is going on at the last PBP post I wrote, I still want to get almost back on schedule with the project. This one is going to be a bit more light-hearted. It will also have more colorful pictures.

About two years ago, a member of the Aeclectic Tarot forum suggested doing an exchange of what she called “Flotsam and Jetsam oracle items.” Which of course begs the question: what on earth is a “Flotsam and Jetsam” oracle? They are more commonly known as Found Oracles or Junk Oracles. They are a bunch of things that were found/randomly acquired and that often would otherwise be considered worthless trash, used for oracular purposes. These things can be anything that’s fairly small which can be kept in a bag and dropped on a surface without breaking. Things like shells, old buttons, Lego minifigs, bones, marbles, small pieces of wood, Barbie accessories, broken pendants, crystals, plastic animals, stones, single earrings, badges, and so on (there’s a longer list in the link above). You need a fair amount of them to make up a good Junk Oracle, about as many as there are cards in an oracle or tarot deck (which means something between 35 and 80, although there really is no upper limit).

So where does the idea of a Junk Oracle come from? As far as I know, it has been inspired by divination practices like lithomancy (using stones/crystals), osteomancy (using bones), garoche (“tossing”),  Angolan/Chokwe divination baskets and other personal oracles/divination tools. What these methods have in common is that they use a collection of (usually differently-shaped) items that are then cast and read. Other than that, there are great variations in content and reading methods depending on the culture they come from.

How do you read with a Junk Oracle? We have come up with a variety of drawing and reading methods for our own Junk Oracles. You can draw a set number of items unseen from the container you keep them in. You can cast the items you drew (or even all of them) on a reading surface and then read any patterns you see (clusters, lines, groups, shapes…). You can use a reading cloth with marked areas that add meaning to the items that land there. You can let someone pick a number of items deliberately and then read them. You can assign set meanings to each item (here‘s an example for that), or you can read completely intuitively and go with whatever comes up during a specific reading. I’m pretty sure there are many other methods that also work.

At any rate, I ended up participating in the exchange, which was a lot of fun. Basically, we split into a handful of groups made up by a handful of people each (to keep overseas shipping costs down). Everyone then sent a little package of about five items to every other member of their group and in return got something from each of them. We were able to give some pointers such as “no plastic,” “no Christian symbology,” or “no animal parts” to each other, of course, so that no one got something they found seriously problematic and/or useless. I got an interesting selection of oracular items from my group (together with notes about the background stories of each item) and have used the resulting oracle with success. Here’s what I got, from four people from three different continents.

But I want to talk about another Junk Oracle today. It happened as something like a side effect of that exchange. You see, when we were sharing what items we would and wouldn’t like, several people mentioned they’d rather not have any plastic items as parts of their oracles. There seemed to be the underlying idea that plastic was a less worthy material than wood, glass, bone, or crystal because plastic wasn’t “natural” and that it therefore would be less useful as an oracle piece. There also were unspoken suggestions that an oracle like this should best consist of old and mysterious items laden with history. Of course that immediately made me want to create an oracle of the most plastic-y, trashy, pop-cultural items I could find.*

After some digging through some of my boxes and drawers with random stuff, nicking a few things from my nephew’s Lego collection (hey, it used to be at least half my Lego collection until I moved out of my parents’ house!), and buying more Kinder Surprise eggs than I usually would, I ended up with my Plastic Junk Oracle of 41 items (so far). I keep them in a bag made out of two really ugly fabrics (it was meant to be nothing but a test of the sewing pattern). The whole thing still feels very provisional, but that doesn’t keep me from using it every now and then.

This is how it looks. (I only just now noticed that the lining of the bag makes it look like a trash bag – how appropriate!)

Here’s an example reading, to give you an idea of how these things could work. I asked what I needed to know about my first few months of being deliberately jobless (which will start the first of July).

I reached into the bag of well-mixed items and grabbed a small handful of them unseen. I then dropped them onto a piece of folded-up fabric that provided a nondistracting background and a bit of padding. Six items are part of the reading, one of which landed next to the reading area (that’s the table of my sewing machine in the background).

The first two that draw my attention are the roof-down plastic ski hut and the owl right next to it. To me, these suggest a friend of mine who lives in a wooden house and has a special relationship to owls. Seems like she will play a role during that time – hopefully not by turning her house upside-down for me! The owl also symbolizes wisdom to me, so maybe this friend will have some valuable advice for me. Then again, the owl is also turned upside-down, so maybe I have to twist and turn round what she says in my mind a bit until it makes sense to me.

Then there is a Lego minifig of a red-haired female warrior with two axes. In this reading, she represents me (I picked her hair when I assembled her in the local Lego shop because it is most similar to my own, although my shade is more rust than tomato). For some reason, one of the axes looks like a shovel to me today, suggesting I may have to dig deeply. She’s also lying flat on her face, so I hope that doesn’t mean I’ll fall flat on mine! If I do, however, I will have to dig out myself. What’s more, the reason could just as well be my wanting to “go with my head through the wall” (a German idiom suggesting stubbornness to the point of hurting oneself).

It is most closely to a small padlock, with the keyhole side down. So maybe the approach of digging my way towards it through the ground/wall isn’t so bad after all! Sometimes, the best way is not the shortest one. The padlock once locked a diary of mine, which reminds me to journal about this process of digging.

The final item on the reading surface is a woman with a snake wrapped around her. She has a fierce expression and a fish necklace. I think she originally was some kind of sea monster. Clearly, she is not to be messed with. I read the snake both as a symbol of her power and as something that confines her like the swords in the Rider-Waite-Smith version of the Eight of Swords card do. So she is limiting herself with what she thinks about her own power. Looks like she may need a nudge to unleash it, even if doing so may not make her everybody’s friend (and even make her seem “dangerous” to some). Luckily, this figure makes a triangle with the Lego minifig and padlock, so I’d say that the digging and journaling may just end up helping me unlock my own power.

And then there is the item that landed next to the fabric. It’s a tiger in a blue sweater with a question mark logo and something like a diving mask. He stands with his arms and legs akimbo. He looks a bit like a superhero who forgot his cape (and pants). To me, this suggests that there will be no one waiting to save me, but that I need to dig out myself on my own (wise advice nonewithstanding). Since this figure landed to the top/north of the reading area, it could also mean that there is someone (like a guardian spirit or ancestor) watching over me although they won’t directly interfere with what’s going to happen.

To sum things up: The central item of the reading is the padlock, so I’m apparently meant to unlock something. I may have to go about it in a somewhat circuitous way, but that’s what will make the most sense to me. If I’m successful, it will help unleash a part of my power that I’m not accessing right now. My friend with the wooden house and owl connection may offer advice or something like a touching point or launchpad (the house originally could shoot out a skier), but the work will still all be mine to do.

I hope I have been able to give you an idea of how reading a Junk Oracle could work. Maybe you even feel inspired to create your own? Here’s another picture of mine, spread out in all its plastic-y, trashy, pop-cultural glory.

* (By the way, elf has written a great article about the “naturalness” of plastic. I found it through a mention in the comments of A Changing Altar’s recent post about synthetic things in Pagan practice.)


Edited to add (24 May 2012):

Juniper from Walking the Hedge also has a really good post about her ‘collection’ (as she calls it), complete with a description, picture and drawing (great idea!) of a reading she did with it.

J is for To Journey or not to Journey…


This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project (PBP). It’s the first – and very late – one for the letter J. It is inspired by a post called “JourneyFail” by courageous devotion, another participant of this project.

Here’s a quote from said post:

All of the Internet Pagans (many of whom are incredible inspirations to me) write almost exclusively of their amazing experiences journeying (or crossing the hedge, or slipping their skins, or shapeshifting–choose your parlance)–and almost none of them write about their failures.
Here’s the thing–I suck at it. I rarely experience success with journeying, when I mean to do it.

I also have a hard time with journeying, and when something actually happens, I immediately doubt that it was anything but my own imagination and wishful thinking. In fact, there hasn’t been anything in my experience so far that I would accept as 100% proof that I actually went anywhere else instead of making it all up as some kind of creative daydream.

I have been assured by some authors that journeying is so easy that only very few people really can’t do it, and that the biggest problem usually is not trusting oneself and one’s journeying experiences. This would suggest that I should accept what I saw and felt as real journeys and stop worrying and doubting so much.

Then again, there are descriptions of journeys as going into full theta trance, which apparently is a different state of consciousness than the one described by most core shamanic-influenced authors. Here we have certain images that are allegedly seen by people who go into that kind of trance (e.g. geometric shapes, tunnel imagery) as well as certain physical reactions (e.g. falling down/inability to stay upright, shaking). According to this definition, I may or may not have made an actual shamanic journey so far.

In short: The information about what makes a shamanic journey has been ambiguous if not outright contradictory. The main difference seems to be that most core shamanic-influenced people tend to emphasize how easy and safe shamanic journeying is and how we will always meet a supportive animal spirit first, whereas shamanic practitioners with different backgrounds tend to underline how difficult and dangerous it can be and how we may also encounter truly scary and malevolent spirits. (By the way, I touched on related issues is my earlier post “C is for Choice vs. Calling (and Core Shamanism vs. Classic Shamanism).”)

Which results in me being confused and torn over whom to trust and what to believe.

At first, I used core-shamanic instructions and went off to visit the Lower World for the first time. The first attempt was a complete failure, which I attribute mostly to my incompatibility with the CD I used (it started out as a sort of guided meditation to get people to their starting places and give them some basic information about what to do and what to expect and then eventually switched to just drumming). The second attempt worked so well that I thought I must have made it up. I left huge gaps between my journeys and therefore always felt like I was starting over again every time I made another journey attempt.

Initially, I deliberately tried to avoid learning about specific cosmologies/deities/animals/plants so that my rational knowledge of these things wouldn’t influence my journey experience (or what I took to be my journey experience). It worked okay, but the landscapes I visited never resembled the intensely vivid ones I had read about. Neither did I have any kind of all-senses-heightened experience – I was lucky if I saw or felt anything at all, but I never smelled anything and rarely heard anything but the drums.

That is, my experiences didn’t quite match with what I read about, and so I never reached the point where I had any kind of trustworthy measuring stick for my journeys (or “journeys”?). Since I also never any insights about anything that I couldn’t have known from elsewhere (unlike friends of mine who also journeyed reported), I never really stopped distrusting my experiences. I never knew if it was just my lack of practice, or my lack of innate talent, or something else that kept me from ever being sure that my experiences were valid.

At this point, let me quote another bit of the blog post that inspired me to write my own:

When you practice an experiential or mystery tradition (like witchcraft or shamanism or something similar, from a technique point of view) as a solitary, you start to rely on the accounts of others’ experiences to guide your experiments, to inform your choices for personal testing. So when Internet Pagans focus on their successes, when they choose to only show the Internet Newbies their best possible face, we fail to communicate to others that this is a long and often annoying learning process.

Indeed, I lacked comparison with others in a similar situation. Did others also struggle with the same doubts? Did they feel/act the same as I did when they were doing what they called journeying? How fast or slow a learner was I compared to others, and how much (or how little) talent did I bring to the table? That nearly all of my communication about shamanic issues took place via written text online didn’t make it any easier for me to even sort out who was just telling tales and who actually had experienced what they claimed. Not to mention that I often didn’t even know if we were talking about the same kind of journeying in the first place. It often remained unclear where the differences between guided meditations, daydreams, and deep-trance journeys were, which I guess is partly because there isn’t much useful vocabulary around to describe and properly define these things.

After a while, I also came to the conclusion that the core-shamanic idea of using shamanic techniques detached from any specific culture/tradition didn’t feel right to me. Maybe it was because I read one time too many that one should be firmly rooted in a cosmology before one even attempted to travel anywhere (the analogy being that of not traveling to a foreign country without at least having a map and/or guidebook and knowing a few basic sentences in the language spoken there). Or maybe I really felt a bit lost in comparison to friends who had culture-specific traditions on which they based their shamanic practice (or of which their shamanic practice was a fundamental part). At any rate, I eventually stopped journeying altogether and instead began looking for a tradition that made sense to me and that I felt alright about using, mostly by reading about the ones that are out there.

This is more or less where I am now. I’ve decided to spend some time learning about Northern Tradition stuff and I’m happy to report that I’m slowly learning names and that I can even already tell a few story basics from the Eddas. So far, no deity or other being in particular has stood out for me or demanded my attention in a dramatic way, although I seem to be drawn more to the whole Angrboda-Hela-Jormungandr family of Jötunns and other monstrous beings than I feel drawn towards the “regular” Aesir and Vanir deities. It remains to be seen, however, if this is just my default identification with and love for the outsiders in most stories, or if there is more to it.

The last journey I tried (after about a year of not journeying at all) was what I would call a failure. Perhaps my intent/question was too fuzzy to get anywhere. Maybe it just was a bad day. But I’m still thoroughly unsure whether I should attempt to journey again soon, even if I’m still far from having a map or being able to ask for directions in the local language, or whether I should wait until I feel more at home in the Northern Tradition cosmology. Should I focus on systematically building a basis for my spiritual practice and do things like practicing grounding and centering regularly and try to remember to actually talk to my ancestors instead of just glancing guiltily at the neglected ancestor altar? Or should I ignore the standard “curriculum” and forge ahead and learn by practical try-and-error as I usually do?

In any case, I should definitely make up my mind sometime soon or I will end up doing nothing at all… But how?

Opinions? Thoughts? Ideas?