Beginning a regular practice

(Part 3 in an ongoing series. Part 1, Part 2.) I hope by now you've chosen an element of worship to start your practice with, whether that's prayer, offering or contemplation. Maybe you've chosen more than one, but for this stage, I strongly recommend that you stick to just one at first. Now, how to translate that one thing into a regular practice? Some people do best with rhythms, schedules, patterns. Those people should come up with one simple thing they do every single day. Just one, just once. Have one small, short prayer to utter. Have one stick of incense or one small item of food to offer. Have one minute of time set aside for contemplation. Pick a set time to do it -- when you first get out of bed, after your shower, when you sit down to dinner, last thing before bed. Whatever is a nice, stable pattern in your life, link it to that. (I do mine first thing when I get out of bed, and last thing before I go to bed.) You won't actually manage to do it every single day, especially in the beginning. Sometimes things will come up, or you'll feel awful, or whatever, and you'll skip it. That's ok. Don't stress about it. Just do it tomorrow, or the next day. Sometimes you'll stop for weeks altogether. That's ok, too. It happens to all of us. When you're ready, start up again. It's ok even to schedule days off from practice. Say, Mondays you have to get up extra early, but a morning practice works best for you otherwise. OK, skip Mondays. Try to do it as often as you can, though. Try for four or even five days out of seven, to start with. It's hard to establish a new habit, so go easy on yourself. You don't want your religious practice to be a source of stress in your life, you want it to be a moment of peace, of solace. So don't stress about it, just do it as much as you can. Some people don't do well with patterns, and prefer something a little more freeform. That's fine, too. In that case, murmur your prayer the first time you pass your shrine for the day, or the second, or just as some point. Make your offering a splash from your first cup of coffee for the day, whenever that is. When a thought of a god occurs to you, stop and think about them for a moment. If you get to the end of your day and you haven't done your thing, do it before bed. Whatever works for you works, and is therefore a good practice. The rest of the advice applies here, too. You won't manage it every day. Don't freak out, just do it tomorrow. Give yourself days off if you need them. Simply come back to your practice when you can. For both groups, when you are consistently doing it without it being a big chore, without having to think about it, maybe not every single day, but consistently most days, then you can add a second thing. Do not attempt to add new things until you have established the habit. Remember, begin simply. Don't overcomplicate your practice. Add an offering to your prayer, or a prayer to your contemplation, or a second prayer to a first, or whatever simple thing that makes sense to you you can find. Or add a second time during the day that you do things. In the morning and at night. Eventually, you can add more complex things. A lustration (ritual cleansing), or daily divination, or whatever else you like. But maybe not in the beginning. Give it time. Work up to it. Maybe add that as a third thing. Have one simple, basic thing that you can go back to, though. Sometimes, you will stop your practice for a long period, and starting up doing five things all together and all at once will seem like too much. It's ok to start back up with just one thing. It's also ok to scrap your entire current practice and find a new single basic practice to start with, as the foundation of a new practice....

Beginning to Do More

(part two in an ongoing series; part one is here) One of the problems with so many books on basic paganism is, I think, that they don't start with worship, they start with exercises, with meditations and trance work and magic, or they start with ritual without any explanation of what ritual is for or how it works or what it means. Some people want to start with those things, and there is nothing wrong with that. But there aren't a lot of books out there that start with the basic principles of worship, and most of them are for specific traditions. Worship breaks down into three basic components: prayer, offering, and contemplation. Prayer is simply addressing a god or spirit directly with some message. There are different kinds of prayer -- supplication, or asking for something; intercession, or asking a lesser spirit or god to intercede with a greater one; thanksgiving, does what it says on the tin; praise, extolling the good qualities of the god or spirit; and various kinds of statements of belief or intent -- but all of it addresses the god or spirit directly in an attempt to reach them. Prayer can be very formal, like a hymn, or very informal, like the one-sided conversations in Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. They can be centuries old or extemporaneous. It doesn't matter how you pray, but if you wish to worship, it does matter that you pray. For polytheists and spirit workers, I recommend that prayers of praise outnumber all other types of praise roughly 2:1. Be sweet to your gods. Tell them you love them, or that they're awesome, or whatever else, regularly. Ask for things infrequently, and only when you're doing your best as well. Offerings should, I think, be fairly obvious. Things given as gifts to the gods. What offerings are most appropriate, the manner in which you give them, and what you do with them later depends a lot on the gods you worship and your practice. Food, drink, art, writing, incense, whatever you choose to give to the gods or spirits, that's an offering. Offerings are possibly the element of worship that our Protestant-dominated society has most alienated us from. I think that's a shame. Offerings can be a wonderful form of communion with gods and spirits, can bring you closer to them, just as giving gifts to your loved ones brings you closer to them. Contemplation is simply intentionally stopping to concentrate on thinking about the gods or spirits. This can be meditation, ecstatic communion, creating art about them, reading about them, anything that simply considers them, their nature, their actions. You can start with any of these elements. The suggestions from the first entry on this remain that same: Begin now. Begin where you are. Begin simply. Begin with what makes sense. So, today, right now, stop and do something simple that makes sense to you. Stop and pray, stop and make an offering, stop and think about your gods or spirits. Just do it. You can elaborate on it later, come up with a prayer to say every day, think of a better offering to give, come up with some more specific way to contemplate them....

How to begin with the Purple Thread

Many people find it difficult to begin to worship a new god/hero/group of them. But beginning with the Purple Thread is pretty easy. First, get some purple thread. If you're a spinner, as I am, you spin it. As you do so, recite the prayers from the last post on the Thread. When you prepare to spin, say: Seven women whose lives are twined In history and myth Seven women whose names are wrapped In purple thread Seven women whose lives show Our weaknesses and our strengths Seven women I honor and praise: The women of the purple thread. Then begin to spin. Since I'm a drop spinner, I give the spindle a good flick and spin as it drops, saying: I spin for Arakhne, Who rues what she did, And weaves now forever I pray to Arakhne of the Purple Thread When I wind up that length, I almost sing, "The Purple Thread winds on and on, the Purple Thread winds on," which after a while, combined with the spinning and the rest of the prayers, puts me into a light trance. You can do all your spinning for one day for one member of the Thread and go through them all over the course of a week, or run through them all one after the other on one day. When you finish, and have plied if you wish, and have washed and set it, move on to the next step. The rest is the same whether you spin or not. Take a length, which can be as short as enough for a bracelet or as long as enough to circle a room, of purple embroidery floss, cord, or yarn (don't use sewing thread, it's too fine). Tie a knot, or string on a bead and knot it in place, for each of the seven. (It may help to have each of them be unique somehow, for future use.) This will thread serve as meditation or prayer beads. Knot the ends together. At first, all you'll want to do is to pray the prayers, and to contemplate the heroines and goddesses. Take the time to read about them. I use the prayers in my daily ritual, with one member of the Thread each day, starting on Sunday with Arakhne and finished on Saturday with Kirke. I think that's enough to begin with....

The Purple Thread again

I was telling a friend about the Purple Thread over on Dreamwidth, and realized that a) I didn't have a good explanation of the whole shebang here, and that my prayers here are out of date. Time to fix that! Summary of the Purple Thread as written up for my friend: My Purple Thread cultus revolves around a set of seven women, demi-goddesses, and minor goddesses linked together by certain themes. The Hanged Maiden is one, as is the Wronged Maiden. The Thread progresses upward until, at its far end, it finds its epitome in Kirke (Circe), who is never overcome. The thread starts with Arachne, who rues what she did. In some versions, she hanged herself and was resurrected by Athena before asking for penance, and certainly she hangs by threads forever now. Patron of the over-proud who learn humility, and of weavers. Next is Erigone, Beloved of the Vine. Her father Ikarious was the first mortal to whom Dionysos taught to cultivate grapevines and to make wine. When he shared his first batch with his neighbors, they didn't know to water the wine, and became very drunk and passed out. Their families, finding them, thought that they were dead, and fell upon Ikarios and murdered him. When young Erigone found him dead, she hanged herself from a tree. Her loyal dog then cast herself into a well and drowned. Dionysos, returning from a ramble only just too late, finding them all dead, set them each in the stars, as Bo├Âtes, Virgo, and Canis Minor. He also drove the villagers mad and set all their daughters to hanging themselves from trees until they made amends, and ever after that city held a propitiatory rite in which young girls swung on ropes tired to trees, and tied ribbons, cups and dolls to dangle from branches. Patron of suicides and those with depression, and of the bereaved. Now comes Ariadne, Mistress of the Labyrinth, before her apotheosis. She helped Theseus to murder her brother Asterion, the Minotaur (the murder itself a necessary mystery); she loved her monstrous brother. Theseus betrayed her and left her on the shore while she slept. When she awakened alone and abandoned, she too hanged herself. Dionysos came along and saw how lovely she was, and resurrected her and made her a goddess, and by now she has left her thread. Ariadne was of distantly divine heritage, distant enough to make her immortal. Patron of those who dare the labyrinth and walk strange roads. Now comes Helen, Lady of Sorrows, who speaks for the Silenced (including the first three of the Thread). After the Great War, few stories are told of her. Menelaus took her home as spoils of war, but set her aside, and sent her into seclusion. Perhaps she, too, hanged herself, and was granted access to the Isle of the Blessed, where she ruled beside the likewise-apotheosized Herakles, now freed from the Hera-inflicted madness that drove him to kill those he loved. Or perhaps she escaped, and wandered the world, and helped women, and ended none knows where. Perhaps Aphrodite or Athena, impressed by her strength, apotheosized her without death, and sent her back to continue her work. She is a patron of abused women. Then Cassandra, beloved and cursed. You know her story. She, too, was taken as spoils of water, and mistreated, and of her many ends are told, but not one is true. She is not an active patron as Helen is, but go to her for prophecy and advice, and be very sure you listen well. Now Medea, betrayed and vengeful, and we start to reach for greater power, a women's power on her own. Cousin to Ariadne, she, too, turned against her family for a pretty man's face, and left, and was abandoned. Not content to be set aside, not even considering suicide, she struck back instead. She is fully divine, though as distantly as Ariadne, and may or may not have died at all. She is patron of women who seek vengeance. And finally Kirke, full goddess in her own right, who used men as she saw fit, and was not devastated when one she loved left her. She studied with her cousin Hekate (as did Medea), and learned secrets of magic, of necromancy and transformation, and much more, and kept her own counsel and no other's. She is patron of women who take up all the power they can. ("Women" here is loosely defined. Anyone who identifies even part-time as a woman or a feminine person qualifies, and they can certainly choose to act as patron to anyone they damn well please as well. You may find that some of them also have genderqueer connections. I have not looked for any.) Current prayers: Seven women whose lives...

How to Begin

"Begin at the beginning," the King said gravely. But how? is what I hear many people new to paganism, to polytheism, to magic, and more, asking. How do I begin? Where is the beginning? There are so many books out there that purport to, or at least imply that they do, have the One True Way. All of these things to read, all of them telling readers How It Must Be Done. It's ridiculous, and overwhelming, and it scares people off. Begin now. Don't wait for things to be perfect, because they will never be perfect. If you wait to begin praying until you have all these fancy tools and altars and statues and ritual garb, you won't begin, because there will never be enough of it. There's always something else to have, forever. If you wait for it to be perfectly silent before you meditate, you will never meditate, because unless you have an anechoic chamber handy, there is no perfect silence. Pick something, anything, to do, and do it. Do it again, and again, and again. Keep doing it until it's habitual to do it. That's a regular practice. Ready for more? Pick something else to do, and do that, too. Begin where you are. There is literally no place else you can begin. Very few people can meditate for more than a minute or two at a time to start. Very few people can get every visualization on the first try. It's ok if you're not one of the very few. You are where you are, you can do only as much as you can do. So today, do what you can do today. Do that again tomorrow, and the next day. After a while, the amount that you can do today will feel easy. That's when you stretch it. Meditate for two minutes instead of one. Keep beating your drum for an extra four-count. Whatever it is, try for a little more. But don't get mad at yourself for not being able to do it every time. That's useless. It will stop you from doing anything. Begin simply. Whatever you pick to begin with, let it be simple. One kind of meditation, one prayer, one offering, one deck of tarot cards. Don't needlessly multiply things. There are so many cool things out there that it's tempting to jump in to as much as possible as fast as possible. But this way lies burnout. There is time and time and time, and you can study anything you want, because there is time. But for now, begin with just one thing. Begin with what makes sense. This is brand new to you. A lot of it won't make sense. You have plenty of time to learn, to come to understand. For now, start with the things that already make some sense to you. There's depth beneath them, more than you realize, and you'll learn about that in time, too. But the best way to learn it is by doing it. So don't put off doing while you read more and more books, trying to understand everything before you begin. Begin now, where you are, with something simple, that makes sense at a basic level. And then go from there. Unlike the White Rabbit's verses, there is no end to stop at. There is time to get to it all, eventually. If you practice, you will gain skill and confidence, understanding. You'll gain it at your own rate, not anyone else's. You have your whole life to learn it, your whole life to get there. Be as patient with yourself as you can be....