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Emotional Shielding

June 26, 2010 1 comment

Dear Witchful Thinking,

I’m a college student and I’m home for the summer. Unfortunately, my home has become a very negative place. Can you give me any tips on emotional shielding?

Thank-you,
Anon

Dear Anon,

Coming home from college can be a tough transition. You are used to running your own schedule and having your own space. It is a time when you explore who you are as an individual outside your family, and then coming home can be a difficult experience. Sometimes our folks aren’t honestly ready for us to leave, because as far as they are concerned, you’re still their baby. Sometimes you come back and find that things aren’t the same. For parents, having a kid out of the house gives them room to look at their relationship, and they don’t always like what they see.

Whatever the reason, there are several ways you can shield yourself from negativity:

  • Shield Yourself. Create a charm or amulet–something you can wear. A Pentacle works perfect for this: start at each of the corners and trace it with your athame, wand or finger. Visualize the power of earth, air, fire, water and spirit protecting you. See yourself wearing it, and a protective egg around you that lets in only good and safe energy. Imagine any negativity simply bouncing off harmlessly, to be transformed into something else later. You can raise some energy into it by chanting, humming, soaking it in the moonlight or sun, or whatever seems appropriate to your spell. Whenever you wear it, you know that eggshell of energy is protecting you. When things get rough, touch or pull gently on it, to release the protection and remind you that you are safe.
  • Shield Your Space. If you have your own room, or a place that you call yours in your parents house, consider making it a sanctuary. First, clean the heck out of it! You can burn some sage and let the sacred smoke banish the negative vibes, but beware that the smoke sometimes smells like marijuana! Another option is cedar or sweetgrass. You can usually pick these things up at a New Age or metaphysical store. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you might be able to find a dry piece of cedar outside. Or consider aspirging with sea salt water. Once your space is vibrationally clean, cast a semi-permanent circle. Using your athame, wand or projective hand, draw a circle around your room. Visualize the energy surrounding it and making a 3-D bubble. Draw the energy up from the Earth. Give this boundary a purpose, that is keep out all negativity, that negativity inside be dissolved away, and that love and safety shall prevail in the circle. Consider decorating it to reflect that serenity, or create an altar to hold the energy of safety. When the energy of the room feels good, draw a door on top of your door, and tell the circle that you want to be able to come and go freely, with the door acting as a permeable barrier that still keeps out negativity. Should someone burst in your room and spill their negativity everywhere, you can always clear it out again. Remember the more energy you put into your visualizations, the stronger they become. When the break is over, and it is time to go back to college, take down your sacred space–it takes energy to sustain it, and the distance between home and college will make it tiresome.
  • Shield your Astral Self. If you are adept at meditating, consider this idea. Go to the Astral Plane and shield yourself there. Ask any entities for advice or insight into the problem. Try visiting a deity you work closely with and see if they have any thoughts. Ask them to protect you in the physical and Astral worlds.
  • Actively Banish the Yuck. You can use a Mudra to banish the negativity and calm yourself. Choose a hand gesture that is subtle and easy to remember, perhaps the thumb and forefinger squished together so the hand resembles a dog, or make an OK sign. Whatever you choose, go into a meditative state and “program” your Mudra to your needs. Again, visualize yourself being safe and secure, protected from negativity whenever you do the hand gesture. With this programed, you have only to make the gesture, and you will feel its effects! Be sure to be specific when you program.
  • Try the Mundane. Magic always works better when paired with a mundane manifestation of your desire. If there is conflict in the house, it is ok to face it. Problems rarely go away on their own, and if you address it and bring it into the light, so to speak, it is much more likely to be addressed. Even if you can’t actually do anything about it, you can gently voice your concerns, talk over how you feel and how it affects you. People don’t always consider how their problems affect other people. Maybe there is something you could do to make the problem better, but don’t get tangled up in someone elses mess! Unfortunately, people have to learn their lessons on their own. The best you can do is tend to your own life lessons.

I hope that gives you enough to get through the summer. Good luck with this situation! Remember that college is right around the corner.

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Cherry Hill Seminary

January 10, 2010 3 comments

School is one of my biggest passions. I love it! Maybe it is because I’m dedicated to Athena, but I’ve been in school almost continuously since I was five. Education is important to me, but it also took me awhile to figure out what I was put on this earth for. I’m big on training and professionalism, which doesn’t bode well in Paganism, honestly. I dreamed of working in academia as someone who studied Paganism as a legitimate spiritual community and a source of knowledge. I wanted to professionalize our clergy so the community would have some real resources at their disposal, and could keep up with other religions. In particular, I wanted to see Pagan Chaplains in the military.

This all started about five years ago, when I began my graduate program in teaching. I was already dissatisfied with the program and wanted to do something else in my life besides be a glorified babysitter and secretary. I looked to being a military chaplain, which requires, typically, a Masters in Divinity, ordination, and “ecclesiastical approval” from a church body. Already there were a lot of challenges to that laundry list of requirements, the hardest being the MDiv degree.

Imagine spending 70-90 semester hours in a religion that is not yours! I spent 3 credits in a fundamentalist Christian MDiv program before I figured out I wasn’t going to fit in, be comfortable, or graduate with a good GPA. I desperately wanted one of our own.

The seminary I work with, Woolston-Steen, doesn’t have an interest in getting accredited by the people the military would require (which seems fair, it’s their school!). But it means that their advanced degrees don’t mean anything outside of the religious community. Now that would be fine if we had more infrastructure like Pagan hospitals and churches where you could be sure to recoup your education investment and have a career. But we don’t. We live in the mainstream culture.

Recently, Cherry Hill Seminary, an online theological school for Pagans run out of South Carolina has decided to live in the mainstream culture. They are seeking accreditation through the Association of Theological Schools, which would mean that a degree from there would be considered legitimate in “the real world”. Accreditation is a long process, and should take 2-3 years if they keep at it, and it seems like they are well underway. And if the ATS doesn’t like the concessions they’ve made, then they’ll have to face M. Macha Nightmare! Good luck to them! She’s fierce! And she’s the head of the board of directors.

Accreditation by the ATS means

  • You can get a job in an academic institute of higher learning
  • You can work as a hospital chaplain
  • You can work as a military chaplain
  • …or a prison chaplain
  • You can put it on a professional resume or CV
  • You can start your own church (well, you could have done that before, but this makes it easier to get grants and stuff like that)
  • Who knows! Only the future graduates can show us what it means. I plan on opening a counseling practice catered to Pagans and doing academic research and book writing. A professional Pagan degree would help with all of that.

A few short years ago, the idea of a professional pagan ministry was unthinkable. Our elders have been working hard to serve the community, but often unnoticed beyond those that are close to them. As practitioners, we don’t always have people to turn to in times of crisis, and even those we turn to may not have the training to really help us. Yada yada, I’ve talked about this before.  But this is the exact goal of Cherry Hill–not to train more Witches (though there are some very good and very interesting schools out there) but to professionalize those who want to dedicate more of themselves to the service of others.

The faculty they have teaching are typically professionals with advanced MA or Doctorate degrees in their fields. They have spent their careers balancing the needs of Pagans with the demands of their professions. Judy Harrow is a professional counselor (and I absolutely admire her career), Brenden Meyers is a Ph.D and the author of A Pagan Testament (one of my new favorite books for research), and Michael York who is a professor of religion (you may remember his book). They have teachers who are Druids, Dianics, Solitary Practitioners, and Pagans from all walks of life. They have professors with backgrounds as diverse as law, education, pastoral counseling, comparative religion…just the stuff we need for a first generation of professional pagan clergy.

M. Macha Nightmare at the Conference for Current Pagan Studies.

Last year, at the Conference of Current Pagan Studies, I had the pleasure of reading two of my papers (which I don’t think I’ve posted here yet!). The best part of the conference was meeting Nightmare and her students from Cherry Hill. Two or three had papers to present, and I was incredibly pleased at the quality of the scholarship. It was a diverse group of topics and very well researched. (You can read my summary of the conference here and here). Now, with the addition of promised accreditation, and a track record of actually doing what they say they are going to do, I think I’ll put some of my money where my mouth is, and get that MDiv that I wanted all those years ago. The sky is the limit!

Starting Your Own Group

December 4, 2009 Leave a comment

In a recent post, I talked about how folks who can’t find their own coven could, in fact, start their own groups. I know. It sounds like a butt load of work, and it is, but there are many benefits to starting your own group:

  • Hang out with your friends
  • Do your favorite things
  • Works with your schedule
  • Focus on topics you are interested in

If you are in college the best way to start a group is to start a club on campus. Usually in the Student Life section of the campus directory, there will be an office that is focused on clubs. Learn what you need to do to start a club and then follow the directions. They already have an established procedure, so no need to reinvent the wheel.

You will probably need a certain amount of people to establish a group. I searched for folks on Witchvox and met them for coffee before talking to them about starting a college group. You can also post fliers around campus (make sure you follow the rules about that or they won’t let you post anymore! Why get on their bad side, eh?). I kept my ears open in class for students who seemed to have rather Pagan-like ideas. Not everyone in the founding charter needs to be Pagan, but they must be willing to sign the document and try and come to a few meetings. Try asking your sympathetic friends to help you get started.

If you are already out in the real world, you can start a group that meets at your local library, UU church, Masonic Lodge, cafe, or in your own home. Think about what kind of activities you will do and how many people might come and plan accordingly. Planning on wine? Most public buildings won’t allow the consumption of alcohol. Live in an apartment? Maybe not the best place for a drum circle. Want to do skyclad? Probably not a good idea at a school or cafe.

Define the purpose of your group. Will you focus on discussion and teaching each other? This is an excellent idea if you are at a college, since members will come and go. Will you focus on a single tradition? If you are already trained in a degree and have the leave of your elders to do so, this may be a good option. Will you focus on public service? I know a group who puts on a big psychic fair every year and the money goes towards people in the community who are going through personal and family tragedy. Will you focus on literature? A book club might be a great way to help each other learn, or to get through a book course.

In any group you are in, you will probably have to make up a charter, which will become the most important document in your group. It defines the mission of the group, how they will vote, what leadership roles are required, and a group philosophy on how to handle problems. Likely this will require the work of one individual doing the writing and most of the thinking, but do take everyone’s ideas in. Define if decisions will be made by democratic vote, membership quorum, consensus, or hierarchy.

Get connected–find a method to talk socially and about group subjects beyond your meetings. Consider starting a yahoo group, facebook, myspace, or Witchvox posting. This gives interested people an opportunity to see what you are doing without actually going to your meetings. Creating a social network may allow the word to get out about events you are putting on.

Decide who will be the leader. The person who founded the group does not necessarily have what it takes to lead the group: whether it is people skills, organization skills, desire, or simply time. There are many kinds of leaders, and different strengths may be required for different groups.

Your group dynamics will change. Groups go through a lifecycle, and if you are aware of what changes to expect, your group leadership can roll with the punches.

  • Forming. In the forming stage, personal relations are characterized by dependence. Group members want to belong and know the group is safe. Folks keep things simple and avoid controversy while they are checking out the group. Everyone is very polite. The group defines what they will do together.
  • Storming. The next stage, usually called storming, is characterized by competition and conflict in the personal-relations dimension an organization in the task-functions dimension. Group member ideas, feelings and beliefs must conform to suit the group. Desire for commitment. May conflict over structural issues such as leadership, voting structure, authority, etc. May be some competition and hostility. Most groups break here, especially if firm ground rules have not been set, or the leadership is too demanding. Utilizing your group charter can be a neutral way of enforcing the rules.
  • Norming. In Tuckman’s norming stage, interpersonal relations are characterized by cohesion. With the use of listening and communication skills, members change their preconceived ideas about what the groups “should” be, and cliques begin to dissolve. With the group so defined, members experience a sense of belonging as interpersonal conflicts are solved. They readily share feelings, ideas, feedback, and alternative possibilities. There is a lot of creativity. However, with the group being so comfortable, they may resist change and fear the breakup of the group.
  • Performing. The performing stage is not reached by all groups. If group members are able to evolve to stage four, their capacity, range, and depth of personal relations expand to true interdependence. The group does what it has set out to do. The leadership and authority adjusts to the needs of the group and individuals. Members work independantly, in subgroups, and as unit with ease and comfort. A lot gets done because members are not worried about their group status–moral is high and members are very loyal. There is genuine problem solving and support for experimentation.
  • Adjourning. Tuckman’s final stage, adjourning, involves the termination of task behaviors and disengagement from relationships. With the major projects complete, or the school year ending, members move on to other things. Loss of leadership or change in membership can create a minor crisis, in which the group has to redefine itself around the changes. Leaders have to give up control, and members give up inclusion and exclusion. Time to tie up loose ends and disengage from the interpersonal relationships.

The best way to deal with these changes is to recognize and honor the process, especially when it is time for the group to end. Since we are Pagan, consider marking it with ritual. Not every group will go through every stage in the same order, or at all. But Tuckman’s basic group theory gives some guidelines and structure for what to expect. If you suspect your group might get stuck on storming, perhaps teach some interpersonal communication styles, or come up with one or two the club uses.  Remember that change is inevitable, so count on it, even in the norming and performing stages.

Ultimately, the best advice for starting a successful group is to have a good meeting time and place, defining the rules of the group, having a stated purpose, and keeping an open mind to change.