Friday, September 19, 2014

Pagan Blog Project – week 38 – S#2 – Salamander

my mind: ???? (  

Pagan Blog Project – week 38 – S#2 – Salamanders

Salamanders used to confuse me.  I remember being a Baby Pagan and reading about the elemental correspondences to the directions.  I was familiar with the concept of elementalsthrough playing Dungeons and Dragons (true story) and elements and directions are simple enough, but I was confused about the elemental creatures and how they corresponded to the directions and physical elements.  This is especially true with South, fire, and the salamander (and less so with the other three elements, elementals, and directions.)

So, in most traditions, the elemental creature that corresponds to the direction of South and the element of fire is the Salamander.  What confused me was that I associated salamanders, reptiles, amphibians, and lizards with water.  For some reason, lizards and salamanders seemed slimy and moist to me, slippery and fluid, not at all like the fiery, darting, flashing associations of fire.  This really bothered me for a long time.

adorable and moist. My mind: fire??? (
Throughout this year, one of the Pagan Groups I’m involved in has been teaching workshops and generally focusing on the Spirits of Place.  It was through exploring this topic that I finally began to understand salamanders and their association with fire, and it wasn’t until I did some good old fashioned research that I found out the answer.  (aka Google and Wikipedia).

So, elementals are a common idea found throughout folklore, but it wasn’t until the 16th century and an alchemist named Paracelsus finally wrote his thoughts down, thus making it “official.”  The reason he and others put salamanders in the south and with fire was because they all thought that salamanders came from fire.  What would happen was that during cold months, salamanders would go and hide in wood piles where things were nice and cozy and protected from the harsh weather.  People would bring the wood in from outside, add the wood to their fires, and then salamanders would go scattering everywhere, as if springing up from the flames themselves.  Because of this, people thought that salamanders came from the fire (rather than coming from the wood that was eventually set on fire) so that is how salamanders become associated with the element of fire, which is associated with the south.

my mind: ah ha! (
But the more I thought about this, the more I realized how wrong I was about salamanders and lizards and other crawly guys.  I spent my youth in the Southwest, where there are plenty of lizards and not much water.  In addition to having associations with fire and salamanders, many cultures have stories of fire breathing dragons and other majestic, powerful, and fiery creatures. 

The association is simple, really, I just overthink things!  (or don’t  use enough common sense… but the end result is still the same.)  And I’m happy for my new-found knowledge and understanding of South, fire, and the salamander, because finally, the elements are complete to me in a way they were not before!

What’s something really obvious about Pagans that took you a long time to learn or understand that you’re embarrassed to admit?  Don’t hold back!  We’ve all been there!  Share it in the comments and we’ll all laugh together!

Monday, September 15, 2014

More Information about Prisoner Visitation and Support

As you all know from my Go Fund Me campaign, I am trying to raise money to attend Unitarian Universalist Women’s Spirit, a women’s retreat at the end of October.  In addition to UU Women’s Spirit, I’m also attending the annual conference for an organization called PVS, Prisoner Visitation and Support Services.

PVS is an organization that has been around since the 1970s.  It originally began as an organization that visited people who were arrested for being conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War.  Since then, the mission has changed, but the general function is the same.  Once a month we visit up to four prisoners at our local Federal prison.  Prisoners may be men or women, depending on the Federal institution closest to you.  The Federal Prison in Butner houses men only, and currently I am visiting three guys.

Before joining PVS I had to have an interview, fill out an application, and attend a training program at the Federal Prison.  I was fingerprinted by the FBI (twice!) and even have my own prison badge and number.  When I enter the prison I have to sign in, go through a metal detector, and wait to be escorted back to the visit room.  Sometimes it’s just me and a guard, or I’m there with other PVS people, or sometimes I get escorted back with friends and family and loved ones who are excited and nervous to see their family members.

December will be my two-year anniversary with PVS, and one of the guys I visit right now was my very first visitor at the prison.  We were both so nervous!  I was terrified as I walked down that long, stark hall, and then into the visit room where all of the visitors sit in neat little rows on flimsy, plastic chairs that remind me of stuff you’d find in a kindergarten classroom.  Some of the guys I greet with a hug, and some of them get a warm handshake.  Some of the prisoners have not had a hug in years or even decades.  Some of them haven’t had visitors or post cards in that long or even longer.  One of the guys I visit has been in prison longer than I’ve been alive.

Research shows that when prisoners get visitors, it helps maintain order and balance within the prison itself.  My guys can only come visit me if they are verified by the chaplain and have a history of stellar behavior.  (Not just good behavior, but the best of the best.  This is for my own safety and protection.)  So, the guys who get PVS visitors have an incentive to be on their most perfect behavior because if they mess up, then they won’t be able to visit me. 

Research also shows that prisoners who get visitors are less likely to return to prison or incarceration after release.  So, prison visitations can potentially help with the problem of prison overcrowding, as well as helping to prevent future crimes from being committed. 

Aside from all of the research-based statistics regarding prison visits, I think it’s a good thing.  I think it’s a kind thing.  Even though my visits are only an hour long with each guy, they look forward to visits and postcards every month.  PVS tries to provide visitors to people who don’t get visits from friends or family, and so out of the three guys I have, one sees his family about once a year, and the other two haven’t seen their families in five or even twenty years.

The Annual Conference will provide me training and education regarding incarceration, the prison system, listening skills, active listening, non-verbal communication, and even my own safety while being in a prison.  (Watching for con-men, setting boundaries, personal safety, etc.)  It will give me a chance to tour another Federal prison in Florida, to connect with other PVS visitors from around the world, and to meet researchers and prison staff.  I’m required to attend every two years, and since I was in my third semester of social work graduate school last fall, this is the first year I’ve been able to attend. 

I’m incredibly lucky that I’ve been awarded a FULL scholarship to attend the conference, but unfortunately it’s in Florida (near Orlando) so I’ll have to drive down in order to attend.  I plan on leaving Wednesday, getting a hotel, and then being at the retreat center near the prison in time to attend the 4pm “Newbie” PVS presentation.  The conference lasts until Sunday night, so I’ll drive a bit, get a hotel, and then hopefully be home on Monday night.  PVS accepts donations, so I look forward to the time when I’m able to donate money to this great organization, and when I’ll be able to help someone else attend this conference.  The 2015 conference is in Fort Worth, Texas, and I’m considering going to that one, too, to visit some friends and family who are in the area.

I love my time spent with PVS, and it has changed my life immensely.  The guys I visit have taught me a lot about culture, prisons, socio-economics, mental illness, and aspects of life that I had no idea about but are a daily reality to those who have not been as fortunate as I have been.  

And I understand that these guys are criminals.  They are.  But they’re humans, too.  The law has judged them and they are being punished, but that’s not my job.  My job is to just be a friendly visitor, to talk to them with no strings attached, to give them a glimpse and a hope of a better and more wholesome life.  And honestly, I’d say that the visits have probably helped me more than it has helped them.  PVS visits have changed me as a person, they have opened my eyes, and I look forward to this year’s retreat, future retreats, and future visits with “my guys.”

If you're interested in reading more, please follow this link to a PDF copy of a letter sent to PVS from one of the guys I used to visit.  Walter was released last year.  I think of him often. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Pagan Blog Project – week 37 – S#1 – Simple Self-Love Spell

Pagan Blog Project – week 37 – S#1 – A Simple Self-Love Spell

Here is a little self-acceptance charm I kept with me while I was managing a coffee shop and struggling with depression in a bad way.  Not only is it good for self-acceptance, but it also helps you be patient and more loving with others.  When you can accept yourself, you’re more likely to accept others, and vice versa.  Love ripples and expands, then bounces back and multiplies in infinite ways, so here is an easy way to bring a little more love into your life and into the lives of those with whom you interact.

You will need a bottle of impatiens flower essence.  Impatiens is a good flower essence to use for those who struggle with impatience (naturally), tension, intolerance, and general anxiety and stress.  The flower essence helps you to be calm and more harmonious.  It helps you find a balance and rhythm in your life, and reminds you to be patient with yourself and others.

What is your power number, your favorite number, or your lucky number?  Hold the bottle in your power hand (are you right or left-handed?  Use which ever hand is your dominant hand.)  Shake the bottle of flower essence while reciting quietly or out loud the qualities you’d like to bring into your life.  I would say “by the power of three times three times three, I bring love and patience to me!”  And as you will it, so mote it be, blessed be!

Now, take the essence and drop a few drops into your tea, coffee, or water first thing in the morning.  Working in a coffee shop I’d often have coffee first thing, so into my coffee it would go.  I’d recommend 3-4 drops.  It won’t change the flavor of your drink at all, especially if you only use a little bit. 

Before you take a sip, think of the qualities you’d like to bring into your life that day.  Blow your intentions, your energy, and your breath over the surface of the liquid until it is spinning clockwise.  Take your first sip, and offer a blessings to the Cosmos in thanks for the love and care it has given and continues to give you.  So mote it be!

Keep the tincture into a special place.  I kept mine in a silky, pink pouch along with a tiny piece of pink tourmaline.  Pink stones in general are good for love, including romantic love, universal love, and self-love. 

Pink tourmaline reminds us that to love ourselves is to love others, and to love others is to love ourselves.  (It pairs perfectly with impatient!)  Some use it as a protective stone, but it also promotes love, sympathy, patience, and friendships.  It helps keep you aware of yourself and how you connect to others, as well as how you connect to the Universe.  It helps those who suffer from depression and anxiety to find more balance in their lives, and it helps keep emotions into perspective, balancing the mind and heart.

Remember to be patient and kind to yourself.  If you’re not your own best friend, how can you expect to be a friend to anyone else?  How can you expect others to give you what you cannot give yourself?


(I must give credit where credit is due!  The "blowing on your morning tea" spell comes from my Bee-Friend, who taught a workshop on herbal magic at a Pagan retreat I went to many years ago.  The flower essence for impatience was recommended to me from the owner of a local new age shop, who gifted me with the piece of pink tourmaline when she knew I was going through hard times.  Love to both of them for their kind gifts and the lessons they have both taught me over the years.  I am blessed to have kind, generous, and knowledgeable teachers and friends in my life!)  

Monday, September 8, 2014

More Information on UU Women's Spirit

As you all know from my Go Fund Me campaign, I am trying to raise money to attend the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Spirit retreat.  This great event has been around for a long time, helping many women from all walks of life and backgrounds to come together in fellowship and community, and to celebrate and honor the inherent power and beauty of the Divine Feminine.

One of my friends has been trying to get me to attend this event for years.  There is an event hosted in both the spring and the fall, and for one reason or another I’ve never been able to go.  I’ve never had the money, I didn’t have the time because of work or school, or I had some other scheduling conflict.  This is literally the first year that I’ve been unable to attend.  Even though I’m currently employed, upon registering for the event I was not.  I’m very lucky that my boss is kind enough to give me the time off for this and other things that are important in my life.  I may not be working my dream social work job, but this job is fulfilling other needs in my life, which is a blessing.

The purpose of UU Women’s Spirit is “to create, conduct, and support activities that encourage and empower women to explore their religious and spiritual origins, experiences, and beliefs. Pursuing, nurturing, and affirming creativity and diversity are major emphases.”  I’m really excited to be able to participate in an event like this, and I’m sure the retreat will have a lot to offer me.  I’m really looking forward to meeting and connecting with all of these lovely ladies, and I’m hoping to build some relationships that will last a long time.  I’m confident that this retreat will help me grow and develop, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.

My first year social work internship was at a UU church, though, and it was a lovely experience.  It was actually through my time as an intern at a UU church that I came to join PVS (Prisoner Visitation and Support.) 

The UUs are doing a lot of great things, particularly in the areas of local social justice on the national scene, the UUs do a lot with their CUUPS programing, Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans.  UU churches are often how people get plugged into their local Pagan community, and having a physical church or Fellowship to provide a Pagan safe space can be really important to people.  My first North Carolina Pagan event was at a CUUPS group, and that event connected me to lasting friendships that have changed my life and have proved to be incredibly meaningful throughout the years.

So, as you can see, I’m very much looking forward to the UU Women’s Spirit retreat.  I’m thinking about taking a drum workshop to help me learn to play my tambourine, which I use in devotional work to the Goddess Cybele.  I’m not very good at the tambourine at all, so I’m looking forward to some formal tambourine instruction!

I’m still waiting to hear back from UU Women’s Spirit to see if I quality for the $190 scholarship to help pay for one part of the two-part weekend.  Fingers crossed!  And I look forward to when I do have a full-time social work job and I’m able to contribute to the scholarship fund to help someone else who needs help.  Many people have been very kind with their contributions and I look forward to the day that I am able to pay it forward, and in the meantime, I am inspired to help out in the ways that I am able.

Again, thank you all!  You are blessings to my life, and I appreciate your love and your support.  I am infinitely blessed, and I hope that the blessings return to you three times three times three!


Friday, September 5, 2014

Pagan Blog Project – week 36 – R#2 – Runes

Pagan Blog Project – week 36 – R#2 – Runes

My group sometimes partners with a local coven, and for a few years many of us have been gathering once a month for a special study group.  We started with Chris Penczak and his “Inner Temple of Witchcraft” series.  But after two Penczak books, we knew we needed a break.

A member of the group suggested Northern Mysteries and Magick by Freya Aswynn.  One of the first books I had read about Northern Paganism was Leaves of Yggdrasil, an earlier edition of Aswynn’s book.  I had enjoyed it at the time, but promptly moved onto something else and then totally forgot everything I read.  (This tends to be how I function, unfortunately…)

A few years ago I decided to read everything I had about my Northern ancestors (I come from both Swedish and German ancestry, among others).  In college I had taken a class on Northern Myths and Legends, but I was finally ready for more.  So for about ten months I read books about mythology, folklore, epics, Eddas, magic, Asatru, runes, and anything else I had in my library.  My intention was to transition into contemporary Germany, the Arthurian cycle, and Druidry, but I never made it that far.  I had finally just reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore, and I started graduate school shortly after, so my reading habits once again took a dramatic shift in focus.

Over the years I’ve picked up a few sets of runes, tried to make my own, made rune sets for others, studied a few books, played with them a bit, and even taught a rune workshop.  But I’m not a rune master by any means, and the Cosmology and function of runes is still pretty foreign to me.  I mean, I understand all of the theory behind the runes, but when it comes to actually using them and reading them and understanding them on an intuitive level?  I’m still lost.

A good friend of mine has shared a similar opinion of the runes, talking about a rune workshop she went to and how frustrating it was to her.  But she said that at the end of the workshop, they all dropped into a meditative state and the runes were chanted by one of the workshop facilitators.  She said that’s when she finally realized and understood how powerful the runes could be.  (Though, like the rest of us in the study group, she keeps on saying “It’s all Greek to me!”)

So, like I did when I did my intensive Northern study, I try to draw one rune before bed.  I make notes in a journal.  I read the books.  I make notes in the margins.  I write runes on my hands and on my desk.  I try to remember them and recall them.  I try to chant them, or at least recite them.  And sometimes, just sometimes, connections are made.  I have dreams about them, or I randomly remember something.  I’m pleased to report that their names and shapes aren’t as hard for me to recall as they once were, but still, runes are a challenge for me.

But out of respect for my Northern ancestors, out of comradery of my study group, and a few other reasons that I won’t share here, I’ll keep on studying the runes and hopefully, one day, the runes won’t be Greek to me.


Do you read the runes?  Do you have a favorite book about runes, Northern myths or legends, or even modern Heathenry or Asatru?  Do you have another preferred form of divination that you use?  What helped you to learn and study the runes or another system that you enjoy?  Please feel free to share your thoughts or experiences in the comments!  As is clear with this post, I could use all of the help I can get!  Until then... clear skies and runic blessings!