Tag Archives: meditation

Wands and letting go

You can spend a lot of money on wands if the inclination takes you, and it’s possible to buy them in all kinds of materials, degrees of craftsmanship, and attendant cost. Mine were all wooden, sourced for the greater part from trees in the area I lived in, and collected to reflect the ogham tree alphabet. There’s a fair bit of uncertainty around tree ogham, it certainly isn’t the only kind of ogham, there’s dispute over which plants are meant by what – like so many things in paganism its roots and uses are uncertain and modern interpretation may be at odds with what our ancestors intended. And also, like so much of modern paganism the point really is what we do now and whether it works for us.

A traditional wand runs, lengthwise from the tip of your longest finger to the crook of your arm. It gives you a very personal length, and one that feels good to hold, wave about, or sit with. Working with a specific wood, knowing the tree – both as an individual and a species, makes wand ownership into a journey and a relationship. They don’t need to be ornately carved. Just smoothing the ends with sandpaper and rubbing them down with vegetable oil will give you something lovely. Keep them dry. As natural things, they are susceptible to mould and will rot.

Wooden wands are tactile, good to hold, to sit with. I like them for meditation. You don’t have to think you are Harry Potter to benefit from meditation with a wand in your hand. They can be grounding, helping you learn about the tree they came from and the wealth of folklore associated with it. Building a wand collection means building a knowledge base with it, adding insight with every new plant explored. It means building relationship with the land you are in, and specific plants. You hold a forest in your hands.

I’m writing this blog post in part as a eulogy. My wands did not survive this winter. I’ve had them years, some of them. I knew the trees they came from, the soil they rooted in. I worked with them, from time to time, over a long while and their presence in my home was one of my overt statements of my Druidry, there for everyone to see.

I said goodbye to them today. It was a sad moment for me, but a necessary one. They did not take kindly to the challenges of this winter. (See previous comments about the importance of keeping wands dry and safe from mould.) There were other issues too. They belonged to a time in my life that I need to let go of and move away from. They were part of a landscape that I’m not a part of any more, and where the trees they came from are still alive, I’m probably never going to visit those trees again. It felt right to let them go. They were part of a living web of connections and relationships. And I loved them. I put time, love, energy and thought into each one, the sourcing, cutting, shaping… they were unique. I left them as an offering alongside an apple tree that came down last autumn. It seemed like a good place. I said goodbye to them, letting go of friends, companions, teachers. It was not easy. But at the moment, nothing is easy. There are a great many things I have to let go of, all of them with stories, history, significance. I picked this one to write about because it’s more recognisably about my Druidry than some of the other items.

Alongside the wands, I’m letting go of most of the other overtly pagan things I have – the ornaments and trappings, the books… some of it I’ll store. Some is leaving. I’ll still have the awen symbol in my skin. Do I need the outward display? Probably not, but I liked the aesthetic, and there was comfort in it. Do I need an altar space in my home? Perhaps not. Amidst the letting go, the stripping back, the being taken apart from outside… I pause to ask sometimes, what of this defines me, or makes me a Druid. What can I let go of and still be myself? What can I give up or stop doing, and still be a Druid? I don’t know. It’s a process.

Crafting Boundaries

Here are some pagan approaches to building and reinforcing notions of personal boundary. These are simple exercises, ones that I’ve worked with for a while.

As ever, it’s best to begin with the practical. It’s hard to hold physical boundaries unless you have a clear sense of your physical self. Tuning out awareness of the body is a normal response to pain and invasion. Any activity that makes you more aware of yourself is worth consciously exploring. Activities that use the whole body are best – such as dancing and swimming. Undertaken with the intention to listen to the body and be aware of its edges, this can help rebuild a sense of the physical self. Washing also gives an excellent opportunity to address this issue. When you wash, take the opportunity to pay attention to your skin and shape, how you feel and look. Work on that awareness through taking care of yourself and paying attention to your own needs. This helps reinforce self-care and insight. Get into the habit of treating yourself kindly and it becomes easier to expect the same from others.

Meditation offers a number of ways forwards. Taking the time to breathe deeply and be aware of your body is productive. Hold an image of yourself in your head, recognising your completeness and your right to be in control. As a human being, you do not deserve unkindness, cruelty, invasion of space or intrusion into self from others. You might want to try visualising yourself inside a safe space – you could see that as a ball of warm, affirming light, as an eggshell holding you safe, or a place that gives you comfort – a room, a woodland grove etc. Find out what helps you to feel whole, in control and secure, and work with that imagery. It’s important to do this regularly and at times when you feel reasonably calm. Then, in times of difficulty, you have this mental tools at the ready, and can summon them up. Being able to hold the mental image of your defined space and safety can, in my experience, help with times of distress and challenge. I find it depends on having enough time to mentally summon those defences during a hard patch– which isn’t always an option. However, turning to such visualisations after a distressing episode can help re-build sense of self.

Some people find it helpful to visualise items of costume or props that give them a feeling of strength and courage – a robe, a pointy witch’s hat, a suit of armour, a really big sword – anything that reinforces and helps you focus on holding your ground is worth exploring. When I am feeling especially vulnerable, I envisage myself with huge, black, scaly dragon wings, big enough that I can fold them about me and hide in them. Having such an image to focus on diverts my attention from fear and distress, and that in itself is also useful. It’s difficult to think about lots of things at the same time. If I am concentrating on the scalyness of dragon wings, it is harder to be overwhelmed with fear.

Creating and holding boundaries is an ongoing process, one of the many things we live out from moment to moment. Putting up a wall to hide behind is not an answer, there is no simple one off solution to fixing feelings of vulnerability, and difficulty in holding your own space. It’s a thing to work on, from one day to the next. Look for people who will work with you and support you in the process by offering kindness and respect. Be conscious of who violates your personal and mental space. Sometimes the only answer is to get away from the person causing the harm. Once you have clarity about your own boundaries and worth, it’s far easier to see where that’s not respected, and to do something about it.

Owl Spirits

They came in my teens, rustling feathers and taking up residence at the back of my already troubled mind. Drowning in unfamiliar hormones, ravaged with existential angst and doing all the things teenage folk do, this was just one insanity amongst many. I loved them, feared them, had no idea what to do with them. During A Level art I tried making owl plates in an Owl Service style, and taking owl figures from them, and sometimes that helped. I could feel the scrape of their talons, sharp along the edges of my psyche.

For a long time, the sense of owls in my head was tied up with everything I felt uneasy about. A complex, fledgling sexual identity for which I had no language, a knowledge of difference and an inherent pagan-ness I hadn’t yet found a way to explore. Too strong, too wild, too crazy and carefully trying not to get myself formally identified as insane, I did not feel safe about being an owl person for a long time.

Owls are night creatures. They are silent death, falling from the sky onto unsuspecting rodents. They swallow whole to avoid getting blood on their feathers and later cough up what they cannot digest. They are swift, lethal, beautiful. I’ve lain in the night listening to them calling from the nearby woods, a haunting sound, full of mystery and melancholy. Traditionally seen as a bit sinister, and considered bad luck if you encounter one by day, owls are challenging entities to work with. I’m a vegetarian, and more pacifist than not, but I am frequently drawn to predatory creatures.

Becoming more consciously pagan in my late teens, and learning a few handy techniques took me forwards. An opening up of my own creativity, and time spent meditating allowed me to get a lot more comfortable with the craziness in my head. I was particularly inspired by Emma Restall Orr’s ‘Druid Priestess’ which described a process of communing with other creatures and travelling with them, visualising yourself into their form. It is a form of shape shifting that (probably) happens in the mind, and I began to play with it, learning to find my wings.

Flight for me has always represented freedom, and now out of the fears of childhood, darkness feels like peace and comfort. To fly in darkness would be a lovely thing. Wind in my feathers. In Portland this year, I dreamed I was turning into an owl, which felt tremendously hopeful. A finding of wings and power.

Working with spirit is not precisely the same as working with the living, actual creature, although connecting with the latter helps the former process. It’s more about certain kinds of energy, ways of being and perceiving the world. The spirit of owl is traditionally associated with wisdom, but owls themselves aren’t excessively bright – much of their skull capacity is taken up with those huge eyes, and much of the brain is occupied with processing information from said eyes. To what extent our notions of the spirit essence of a thing is ‘real’ and to what extent just the externalising of human concepts, I can’t really say.

It wasn’t until I stopped being afraid of my own power, sexuality and craziness that the owls stopped being a source of fear and became allies. This was an important lesson. Fear puts up barriers and creates problems. Acceptance and openness paves the way to relationship and understanding. They no longer sharpen their talons inside my mind, and I have learned to close my eyes and take wing. They offer liberation, escape, and hope of better things. I do not know where they will take me next, but have no doubt it will be interesting.

A matter of perspective

In dreams I saw a raven
Circling in the skies,
I think I saw myself
Flying in disguise.

Between the many shades
Of woodland green I saw
A pool bright with the sun,
The waves in fire undone.

Breaking through the underbrush
I think I was a bear
Drinking flames of water
To cool my burning thirst.

Sending soft soil flying,
As frog I kicked with sturdy legs
Reaching for the cool respite
Through the glimmer gliding.

I floated, deeper, down,
Immersed in liquid light
Now chastened, casting shadows
In my emerald kingdom.

© jsmorgane (April 2010)