Libertas – Freedom in Service

For every blessing there’s a burden, and devotional relationships are no exception. The latest over at Gangleri’s Grove talks about some of the highs and lows in a devotional life, and I personally found that it resonated quite a bit. Check it out!

I was reading a novel a few days ago and came across a line from Seneca “deo parere libertas est” – to serve/devote oneself to a God is freedom. I was so intensely struck by the sentiment that I’ve been mulling it over since I first read it. Certainly, it is a sentiment that I […]

via Libertas — Gangleri’s Grove

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Survivor? Or Pioneer?

*Note: I am specifically speaking about polytheisms centered around PIE religion and the descendant IE faiths. There are other polytheisms out there, of course, but they’re both a) not nearly as commonly practiced by those identifying as “Pagan” or “polytheist”, and b) far beyond the scope of this post AND this blog. I’m also American, so writing primarily for that audience. Thanks for understanding.

My deepening study of Proto-Indo-European religion is resonating through my life in some interesting ways. I’m constantly finding new bits of info or perspectives that challenge what I thought I knew.

It was through that study that I was suddenly able to see a perspective so ingrained in modern Paganism/polytheism that I didn’t even know it was there until I had an alternative for comparison.

It boils down to this: When we practice our faiths, do we see ourselves as Survivors? Or Pioneers?

The Survivors

When it comes to modern PIE-descended polytheism, Survivors see the world like this:

The Survivor Scenario.

At one point in history Proto-Indo-European religion ruled the day, at least for a specific part of the world. It was a polytheistic faith, and it established the ground rules for all the derivatives and variations that came after. 

Over time different descendant groups developed distinctly different playbooks, but they were all still for the game established by the PIEs. The Romans and the Celts and the Norse were all different from each other, but they retained their polytheistic roots and were built on that original Proto-Indo-European framework.

Then Monotheism came in like an atomic bomb, blowing all of those beautiful, distinctly different polytheistic faiths to smithereens. BAM! PIE-descended polytheism (with the exception of the Vedic, which took a completely different route) disappeared from the world entirely, leaving us unmoored and adrift from the traditions that came before.

It was a polytheistic apocalypse, and those of us claiming polytheism today are the last survivors. Like the folks in Mad Max or Waterworld, we scavenge the ruins of once-great civilizations for whatever glimpses of authentic meaning still remain amongst the wreckage, because however tattered those remnants are they’re still better and/or more authentic than anything existing in the here-and-now.

Gathered around a campfire in a blown-out hellscape.

“Back before the world ended, people came from all over for training in the Great Mysteries! How amazing would that have been?” “Right? SO much. I was born too late, dammit!” *tosses another stick on the fire, brooding as the sparks fly*

This view – the Survivor Scenario – is why so many Pagans enter their practice with a sense that they’re either reliving or attempting to revive a bygone era. They believe, consciously or not, that the Golden Age of polytheism has passed us by. For Survivors, modern polytheisms will always be fundamentally inferior to ancient polytheisms, and our efforts will at best get us within shouting distance of what our ancestors once had. We often despair of doing even that.

It’s a view of polytheism that forever looks back and never ahead.

The Pioneers

I’ll admit, the Survivor Scenario is the one I’ve been working with for years now. It permeates modern polytheism so strongly that I didn’t even know it was there until I started getting more into my studies. Once I saw it, though, I was able to see an alternative to the Survivor Scenario. I call it the Pioneer Scenario.

Pioneer Scenario

Most of us who claim polytheism today rarely go back to the original PIE culture (at least as far as I’ve seen), instead focusing on individual hearth cultures that came from it. Even worse, we tend to look at the entire body of knowledge belonging to each culture as monolithic. It’s like we think these cultures sprang fully-formed from the ground and didn’t have any growing pains at the beginning, that they didn’t have centuries to develop, that they didn’t have to start somewhere.

We never consider that the original Proto-Indo-Europeans were a migratory people, and every time they reached a new place to settle they were again faced with the task of adapting their practices to fit the circumstances of their new home.

When we see that, though, we begin to see Modern America as simply one more culture in a long line of them. We’re attempting to do the exact same thing with our polytheism our predecessors did – plant it in a new homeland and grow it into a faith that’s rooted in tradition but relevant to the here-and-now.

Like any of the other groups we’ve got a mixed bag of challenges and blessings that will shape how our particular polytheism grows, but to make anything lasting we’ve got to ditch this idea that our culture is inherently inferior. It’s different, to be sure, but it’s not deficient.

Once we accept that, we can venture beyond merely copying what worked for the other PIE cultures. Doing so won’t work, not in the long term, because it’s not ours that way. We have to seize the opportunity to create new traditions that both honor our PIE heritage and this new cultural landscape in which we find ourselves. Just as our ancestors did before. Otherwise we really will be the last polytheists standing.

Lewis_Clark

“What new adventures lie thataway?” “I don’t know – let’s go find out!”

Our challenges and blessings are both significant, though, and we’ll need to keep both in mind if we’re going to succeed in establishing a uniquely American polytheism.

As far as challenges go, our ancestors had the benefit of living in a world where polytheism was the norm. We don’t. It’s also true that we no longer have an unbroken chain of inherited knowledge for any hearth culture. I can’t go to my local Druid, spend 20 years learning the lore, and practice Druidry the same way ancient Druids did. That opportunity is long past. Only a tiny portion of all the writings that once were have survived the passage of time, too, and a huge swath of oral history is forever lost. These losses are truly tragic.

Instead of dwelling on the losses like the Survivors, though, the Pioneer asks “What unique blessings can this new cultural landscape bring to the PIE table?”.

And there we have quite the list.

We in the modern era have archaeology and psychology and sociology, biology and chemistry and physics, to deepen our understanding of our world far beyond what our ancestors had. We can use that to fuel our polytheism. We can share information between continents, in real time. I’m sharing this blog post using a system containing information that rivals the most celebrated libraries of the ancients, and almost 90% of our population can read it. We’re not just locked into studying one hearth culture to the exclusion of the others by virtue of our physical location alone – we’re in the enviable position of being able to study all of them, simultaneously, from the comfort of our own homes, and we can use that knowledge to inform our practices.  We may not have the depth of information our ancestors did, but I’m betting we’ve got way more breadth, and that information is available to damn near everyone regardless of class or family lineage. And while social progress can be debated, I am thrilled to live at a time when it’s more acceptable to challenge traditional gender roles, or openly live as LGBT+, or to hold any number of other individual perspectives that can enhance our collective experiences.

Personally, I think focusing too much on the Survivor Scenario hampers our ability to adapt, and it impedes our ability to appreciate where we are as much as where we’ve come from. Which makes it harder for us to build something that will carry us into the future.

I’m doing my best to reject the Survivor Scenario entirely. It doesn’t serve anyone. I’m consciously choosing instead to focus on what modern America has to offer as we take our place with the other hearth cultures at polytheism’s table. I’m excited to see what this branch of the PIE family tree will one day grow into, and I’m eager to do what I can to help.

What about you?

Prayer Ritual Basics

Since posting about my upcoming Prayer Ritual I’ve gotten several requests for a how-to guide. I figured the best place to start would be an explanation from the one who inspired me to do this, Stevie Miller over at Feathers in Amber. She graciously provided the below explanation and photos of her techniques. One of the things I most like about her practice is that she’s not afraid to experiment with different approaches, so you’ve quite a few examples to start with!

Starting an Open Prayer Ceremony
Stevie Miller

If you have spent any amount of time on social media–and really, who hasn’t?–you’ve probably seen a surprising amount of people asking for prayers. It might not occur to you, as it didn’t for me, until you start looking for it, but these requests are everywhere: sick and injured friends and family, job searches, hurting relationships, house fires, cars breaking down. In a circle of just a couple hundred people, things like this can be going wrong every day.

As a spirit worker, I seem to have something of an “on duty” sign that lights up when people specifically ask for prayer. Even if the people making the request are from different traditions than mine, or outside of polytheism altogether, I often feel moved to help. But since I didn’t want to impose my beliefs on others, I wanted to come up with a way to figure out who wanted that kind of help from me, and how I could offer it on a regular basis without it taking over my life.

A simple prayer ritual to Odin with an offering of mead and incense.

A simple altar layout for a prayer ritual, featuring an offering of mead and incense.

Enter the weekly open prayer ceremony. I let people know that I will be lighting candles and reading out petitions once a week and that I’m open to requests. Suddenly, those requests came flooding in from every direction–more than I even had candles for! People loved the idea, and I even got asked if others could pray for me in return, and if I wanted donations to be offered to any charities in return for this sacred work. I was also asked to write the article you’re reading now.

I also found that this practice has benefitted me. The routine is fantastic for ensuring that I’m offering to and talking to my Powers regularly. Social accountability–that is, other people expecting that you’re going to do something, and your posting evidence of it–is great for establishing and maintaining a good habit. It has also made me feel much more connected to others. Spirit work, especially when you serve a really niche tribe–and in my case, a discarnate, non-human tribe–can be an extremely lonely path. But with this, I’m using my skills to do good for others, and hearing back about how it has helped them. It has been starting to make me feel like I really do have a community, and they need me.

This picture shows the Odin candle, an offering of mead on top of a prayer list, and a piece of knot magick representing all the prayers made.

This picture shows the Odin candle, an offering of mead on top of a prayer list, and a piece of knot magick representing all the prayers made. She kept the cord on the altar for a week so that the Gods could watch over everyone’s intentions.

The Gods, Ancestors, and Spirits seem to enjoy being needed too. I’ve consistently gotten messages over the years, both intended for myself and intended for others, along the lines of “Ask Us! Come to Us when you are in need! We want to be a part of your lives and your works. You don’t need to do this all alone.” Calling on the Powers regularly for the people has strengthened my bond with Them too.

I wholeheartedly believe the world will be a better place when more of us are praying for each other and offering to the Powers. So if you’d like to start an open prayer ceremony of your own–which I would strongly encourage!–I’d like to offer some tips.

Define your community: Maybe you just want to open your ceremony to people close to you, or maybe you want to make it public. I post publicly on social media about it, and, odd exceptions aside, accept every prayer petition I receive. You may want to do it differently. Whatever you choose, figure out who you’re offering this service to and how you will let them know about it. An alternative is to simply gather up the prayer requests you see and hear in day to day life. You’ll be surprised how many you encounter once you start looking for them.

Set your boundaries: What Powers do you want to work with? Will you let people request prayers to a specific deity or spirit? What kinds of prayer requests will you accept? When will you accept prayer requests? What is your maximum capacity? These are all things you will need to define for yourself and your audience if you’re going to do open prayer ceremonies.

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A beautiful altar layout utilizing nine candles to represent the collective prayers said. Note the rune stones in front of the candles – she drew a general omen for everyone she prayed for and shared the results.

Create your ritual: I’ve found that it’s easiest for me to deal with open requests if I keep my ritual format simple. I do a simple invocation, I make offerings to the Powers I have invoked, I read the petitions of the people while lighting candles, and I thank the Powers for Their blessings. Sometimes I will add a component where I take an omen, such as a three rune pull or a card draw, or a component where I meditate and listen to see if the Powers have any messages for just me personally or for all the people being prayed for. That’s it.

Distance offerings: Since I’m praying for people who are scattered all over the country, I took up a practice that seems to be gaining popularity in polytheist circles: I promote offerings to charity in the name of the deity being honored that week. For example, the last couple times that I have worked with Odin, He has made it clear that He would like offerings in His name to be made to Alzheimer’s research. This allows people who are not present at your ceremony to take part if they feel so moved by giving something in exchange. Reciprocity is important in many traditions. It also helps you work on causes your Powers find important, which can only improve your devotional relationships, right?

Simplify: I keep the whole process simple because it’s easier for me to focus on the petitions, and to keep this process going without getting burnt out. For example, you don’t have to light an individual candle for every single petition. I sometimes use 9 which is a symbolically important number in my tradition; for many 3 is also a sacred number.

An image of nine tealights arranged in a pattern centered on an Odin jar candle.

Miller’s use of nine candles during a prayer ritual.

Offerings can be low key, like a nice beverage or some incense. I use Wednesday as my day of the week because that day is named after my Patron Odin (“Woden’s Day”). Keeping it on the same day each week makes it easier for me to remember (I’m lucky if I know what day it is!) and also makes it easy for people to know when their prayer requests need to get to me by.

After my prayer ceremony is over, I usually share a quick snapshot of the lit up altar just to let people know that their petitions have been spoken. I’ll share any commentary that I have from the rite itself, especially if I took an omen and want to share my reading of it.

In the future, I plan to work with different Powers and offer prayer ceremonies focused on particular intents, such as healing and abundance. I’m hoping to foster connections between people and deities or spirits they may not be as familiar with too.

I hope that this has been helpful and that you are inspired to start your own open prayer ceremony! Blessings to you and your communities.

The Virtue of Courage

In the wake of #Charlottesville my Facebook feed has been overflowing with folks shocked and outraged by both the eruption of violence (although anyone surprised hasn’t been paying attention) and the fact that Nazis are once again an active public force in 2017.


Don’t think it was straight-up Nazis, or don’t know what went down? Here’s an on-the-ground look. Disturbing footage – you have been warned. 

I’m assuming that everyone reading this post is firmly in the “Nazis are Bad” camp, so I’m not going to belabor that point. I also don’t want to overtalk the POC and Jewish folks who need the floor right now.

However, I would like to discuss a tangential issue that keeps coming up: the guilt many are feeling because they’re not out on the front lines clashing with Nazis face-to-face, shedding blood for the cause.

Examples abound. “I wish I could protest, but I’m not able-bodied and wouldn’t be able to physically protect myself.” Or, “I would be out there, but I have two young children and can’t leave them without a parent if I’m arrested/injured/murdered.” Or, “I’m sorry, but I can’t get off of work to protest without losing my job!” It’s like they feel lacking in some way, like they’re not being courageous enough, and they’re apologizing for it.

Let’s unpack that.

What is courage, anyway? 

Courage is a virtue honored by every Pagan/polytheist path I can name. Even beyond that, though, we’re all the heroes of our own stories, and when the chips are down we picture ourselves as heroes. Or even superheroes. And if – when – we fall short of being the heroes we think we should be we beat ourselves up for it.

A poster from the Wonder Woman movie with the tagline

Hero: One person, or a member of a very small group, advancing relentlessly in the face of an overwhelming force, armed with the strength of their convictions and protected by the blessings of the Gods.

It wasn’t always like that, though. Ancient polytheists valued courage too. Thing is, they defined courage differently than we tend to, and that naturally manifested in a different view of heroes.

Here, this says it better than I can:

“Aristotle describes each virtue as a mean between extremes. Courage, for example, is a mean between cowardice, on the one hand, and rashness on the other.

“To be courageous is neither to shrink from your best action on account of fear, nor to foolishly go into danger when no good is likely to come from your doing so. This means that what is courageous for one person may actually be cowardly for another, and rash for a third, depending on the abilities and situations of the individuals. For a small seven-year-old to fight a large eight-year-old bully may be courageous, when it would be cowardly for an adult to act in the same manner, and rash for a four-year-old to do so.

“The key to determining the mean in the case of courage is deliberation about what good is threatened, what options one has to protect that good, and what the likely outcome will be using the different options. The course of action which does not sacrifice the good to fear, when one has a likelihood of protecting it by taking action, is the mean between the extremes of cowardice and rashness, and hence is the courageous one.”

Deborah Kest, Right Action – A Pagan Perspective, ADF

By those standards, Wonder Woman was courageous. As a superhero, her charge could conceivably make a real difference and she didn’t let fear stop her from making the attempt. Anyone attempting to emulate her would be considered rash, though, because they would have immediately died on the field without accomplishing anything. That doesn’t make everyone not Wonder Woman a failure, it just makes them human.

Ancient heroes were often blessed in some way, demigods or magical or whatever. They could do things beyond the human. That’s what made them heroes. Those of us without those blessings could never hope to measure up. Which is fine – we weren’t expected to.

In the ancient world, heroic deeds were inspirational benchmarks, not standards to be met.

Most of us are more prone to caution than recklessness, right? Were I somewhere with bullets flying I’d be way more likely to hunker in my bunker than charge screaming across a battlefield. Thinking of Wonder Woman might be the inspiration I needed to act instead of being paralyzed by fear.

On the other hand, if I were prone to being reckless? To not thinking things through? Those in the bunker would be inspirational, because that extreme would be the harder one for me to reach.

True courage lies between hunkering down and brazenly charging down the throat of a stronger foe. Hitting either extreme means we’re missing the mark. Courage is the sweet spot in the middle.

Nazis win if we quietly keep to our bunkers. They also win if all those protesting them die in the doing. No matter which extreme we’re talking about we wind up with no one kicking Nazi ass. And who wants that?

Courageous Responses to Nazis

Each of us has our own mean, our own courage sweet spot, based on our own individual circumstances. We simply have to find it.

It can be hard to find that sweet spot in the moment, though. If we’re hardwired to hide we’ll do that by default until we have time and space to process. If we’re more prone to lash out we’ll do that until we can rein it in. Our instinctive responses will happen before our brains can catch up.

Martial artists are familiar with this phenomenon. That’s why they practice the same moves over and over until they become instinctual. They’re deliberately rewiring their brains so that the training overrides their instincts.

We can do the same thing when it comes to courageous action. While most of us don’t want to live a life where crisis becomes routine, it does help to work out our logic trees in advance of a crisis. When it comes to Us vs. Nazis, we’re better off if we’ve at least grappled with the theory a little before we go about putting ourselves in harm’s way.

So let’s grapple with Aristotle.

1. What “good” is being threatened? What are we protecting?

Bam.

An image of people throwing the Hitler salute on one side and the Statue of Liberty on the other. The caption is

I can’t make it any plainer.

Nazis directly and violently threaten our communities, our friends and neighbors, our families, and ourselves. They’re fascist, racist, sexist, ableist, xenophobic, and homophobic. Many of the homegrown version are theocratic, too. I don’t know about you, but damn near everyone I know falls somewhere on their hit list. All of those targeted groups need to be protected.

On a greater level, the Nazi threat radiates beyond our communities onto the world stage, especially considering the power America wields. Imagine the might of the US military in the hands of Steve Bannon and his fanboys.

With courageous action against Nazis we can help protect every citizen on earth. That’s a pretty important thing to do!

2. What are our options? What can we do to protect what we value against Nazis?

There’s a whole wide range of responses we could make here, from deciding to “focus on happier things than politics” to “drawing and quartering every Nazi we find”. I don’t find either of these options to be ethical (and I hope my readers don’t either!), so I’m not going to discuss them. That said, what are some ethical things we can do?

  • Show up ready and willing to physically throw down with Nazis in public protests.
  • Serve as support for those physically protesting (supply bottled water and food, disperse information for planned protests, host planning meetings, offer crash space for those coming in from out of town, offer transportation, offer a safe retreat option if things go south, help protestors network, etc.).
  • Take classes in de-escalation tactics and first aid and/or help other people get trained.
  • Learn self-defense and/or teach it to others.
  • Help protesters and targeted groups with self-care or networking.
  • Step in when witnessing a one-on-one case of Nazis harassment, or call the cops if stepping in isn’t advisable for whatever reason.
  • Show up to speak out against Nazis in public forums, knowing violence is unlikely but possible.
  • Speak out against Nazis in face-to-face situations unlikely to lead to violence, such as with family and friends, knowing you’re risking those relationships.
  • Actively amplify the voices of those targeted by Nazis.
  • Cut ties to those who espouse Nazi views, letting them know why you’re cutting those ties.
  • Make your anti-Nazi stance knows to employers, both your own and those with whom you do business.
  • Make your anti-Nazi stance known to the employers of known Nazis and the companies with whom they do business (hotels, web servers, gyms, restaurants, etc).
  • Write letters to your government representatives linking your anti-Nazi stance to recent events.
  • Speak out against Nazis online, knowing that doxxing and other types of reprisals are possible.
  • Speak out against Nazis online anonymously.
  • Refuse to let Nazis rebrand themselves, or apologists to do it for them. Call out Nazis where you find them as Nazis, without using whatever more palatable term they come up with. (Notice how many times I specifically say “Nazi” in this post? There’s a reason for that.)
  • Write, sing, dance, paint, and put on theatrical productions that show how bad Nazis are – there’s certainly PLENTY to work with!
  • Recommend those creative works to others and support the creators.
  • Form a book club to collectively read and discuss pertinent works (The Diary of Anne Frank, The Hiding Place, and Number the Stars are all classic options).
  • Prepare hidden rooms in your home or on your property to hide victims of potential purges without posting that shit online! (An extreme, I know, but it is an option for any upcoming dystopian hellscape… ).
  • Get passports for you and yours in case you need to leave the country as a result of doing any of the above.
  • Leave the country to ensure the safety of yourself and your dependents while continuing to speak out against Nazis from the outside.

Please notice that these options aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s also not an exhaustive list.

3. What are the likely outcomes/consequences of taking these options? What are the likely rewards?  

There’s no hard and fast answer to this because every person’s circumstances are different. Publicly stating anti-Nazi views in cosmopolitan New York has a very different range of likely consequences and rewards than doing the same in, say, Middle-of-Nowhere Oregon!

Keep in mind that the key word of this whole step is “likely”. Sure, we could catch Ebola tomorrow, but it’s not a likely scenario and we shouldn’t plan our lives around the possibility. However, that means that part of being courageous is staying informed. How do we know if something’s likely or not if we refuse to see what’s really happening around us? Information is power, always, and in this case information helps us make the best choices possible.

By confining our options to “likely” we improve our chances of finding that happy spot between “letting fear guide our steps” and “being reckless with our health and safety”.

Consider too that Nazis are making the same decisions we are, with the same consequence/reward balance. Factoring that in helps us more accurately judge a given action’s effectiveness. Besides, discouraging Nazis from being Nazis is its own reward.

4. What is the best action I could take when protesting Nazis? Which option demonstrates true courage?  

Something I find fascinating about Aristotle’s breakdown is that, by his standards, our feelings about it don’t really matter. We can feel scared or cocky or anything in between, and that’s fine. Courage relies on what we do, not how we feel about that choice. That’s why the article quoted above is titled “Right Action” instead of “Right Feeling”.

A courageous act is one that is the best choice available for the greatest good possible from a given set of options, regardless of our fear or lack thereof. It’s less berserker and more chess master.

And that leaves room for all of us to courageously protest Nazis to the best of our abilities and circumstances, with the only shame being the refusal to try.

May we all try our best.

To the Resistance!

Online Class on Ritual Construction

Thista Minai is a dear friend of mine, a nationally-known educator and Ordeal facilitator, and author of the forthcoming “Casting a Queer Circle – Non-Binary Witchcraft”. She’s also running rituals around the country for 100+ people on the regular. (Seriously, her travel schedule is insane.)

The cover for the soon-to-be-available Casting a Queer Circle.

The cover for the soon-to-be-available Casting a Queer Circle. I am SO EXCITED to see this book published, y’all. So much yummy goodness inside!

When it comes to ritual construction she knows what she’s talking about and has a resume to back it up.

She loves teaching her approach to ritual construction, too, so other people can learn first-hand the tricks and tips that work. Thing is, most events don’t really have a demand for ritual construction classes. They’re looking for more beginner/intermediate stuff, and this class is a little too specialized and advanced for that.

We started talking about it yesterday and I mentioned wanting to take her Essential Ritual Construction class myself. Always good to pick up new skills and approaches, right? And chatting about it over tea just isn’t the same. We tossed some ideas around, and she’s willing to offer an online class (probably through something like Udemy) if there’s enough interest.

So. Is there enough interest? Would you (or your group) be willing to invest a few bucks and an evening of your time to attend an online class on Essential Ritual Construction?

Here’s the blurb from her website:

Essential Ritual Design

What does it take to create meaningful ritual? In this nondenominational workshop, we will explore ritual’s essential components, and discuss what makes a ritual ‘good’. We will examine both practical and spiritual considerations in designing and executing effective ritual for groups small and large, public and private, traditional and eclectic.

Comment here or PM me if you’re interested. And feel free to share! This is a more advanced-level topic, and it can be hard to find resources that go into the nuts and bolts of it. Let’s work on getting more of those resources out there for those who want/need them!

Note: Queer Witchcraft is now available here.

Head Covering and Mental Health

A bright and happy hijab.

I started covering my hair way back in 2013, and posted about my reasons when I started. Since then I’ve gone from covering full-time to covering sporadically to going right back to covering full-time again.

Through those changes and over that time my initial covering reasons (piety, modesty, and feminism) haven’t substantially changed. Something I didn’t know when I started, though, is how beneficial covering would turn out to be for my mental health*. It’s been quite the experience!

I’ve seen improvement in these three key areas:

  1. Self-Esteem and Self-Care
  2. Emotional Vulnerability and Boundaries
  3. Social Anxiety and Depression Management

So let’s talk about those.

Self-Esteem and Self-Care

Saying that I had low self-esteem in the past would be misleading. I know what I’m good at, where I shine, and playing to my strengths is second nature. I’ve never had a problem accepting that I’m an awesome person with a lot to offer the world.

However, my appearance has never factored into that. Almost all of the attention I’ve ever received for it, positive and negative, in some way circles back to ideas of sexual objectification. I’m either someone bangable or someone not bangable, and being assessed like that before someone even knows my name is profoundly uncomfortable and unsettling. Even worse, those judgments are based on an aspect of self I don’t enjoy, don’t value, and have minimal control over. I’m just not down with that.

Thing is, though, rejecting that whole concept resulted in me rejecting my body. I dealt with it when necessary and categorically ignored it when not. For most of my life I’ve felt more like a brain in an ambulatory jar than anything else, and who devotes a lot of time or attention to caring for a jar? I’ve done the bare minimum required to keep my body mostly functional and never really gone beyond that.

Until I started covering. Covering my head has helped me reconnect to my body.

My head coverings are beautiful. They’re also perhaps the only part of my appearance that has zilch to do with sex. In fact, covering my head often seems to remove me from objectification-based assessments entirely. Every day is a new chance to be artistic with scarves I’ve chosen and techniques I’ve practiced, and when people see me in the streets it’s the results of my creativity that elicit commentary.

A beautiful double braid tichel-style wrap from Wrapunzel.

A beautiful double braid tichel-style wrap from Wrapunzel.

I’m more inclined to properly care for my body when it’s not attracting unwanted attention. Maybe it’s a bit backwards, but covering makes me feel more like my body is mine as opposed to some kind of public commodity I’m obligated to keep in top form for someone else’s enjoyment. Since I started covering I’ve found myself naturally focusing more on what makes my body feel good. As a result I’m drinking more water and eating better. I’ve actually developed a skin care regimen and work on getting enough sleep. I’m even slowly but surely working towards physical fitness goals.

I don’t know that any of that would ever have become a thing for me without covering.

Emotional Vulnerability and Boundaries

Being vulnerable around others is something with which I’ve struggled. All too often in my own head “vulnerability” equated to “weakness”, and being weak led to being hurt. Not exactly encouragement to do it, you know?

Covering seems to provide a psychological layer of protection, a kind of buffering. I think it’s maybe even spiritual, since I focus on my Lady and Her goals for me when I wrap. Regardless of the reason, covering my head helps me open my heart.

It’s easier to talk about my hopes and dreams when I cover. My fears and inadequacies are easier to share too. It’s like I’m wearing a hug, like I’m supported and loved no matter what, and I can be more open because I’m less defensive.

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A bright and happy hijab.

For me, being less defensive also results in my being more assertive. I know it’s not that way for most people, but in my life safety and security have been assured more by meekly going along than by bucking the system. Whatever that system might happen to be.

Covering is like a physical boundary I maintain every day, and it weirdly serves as a reminder for me to maintain my other boundaries too.

Anxiety and Depression Management

I covered full-time from the tail end of 2013 until about mid-2015. By that time my year of covering had ended and I started tapering off a bit. I left the house uncovered more and more often, until eventually I rarely covered at all.

The tapering off of the covering coincided with a deepening depression. I can’t say if the depression contributed to not covering or if not covering contributed to the depression, but they do seem to have been related.

Depression has always been something I’ve had to manage. For the most part I’ve succeeded remarkably well. However, it has always marched hand-in-hand with social anxiety. By mid-2016 my depression was deeper than I can ever recall it being, and my anxiety started spiking so badly that I essentially became agoraphobic. I started having health issues and migraines around this time too, which did not help. I was about as low as I could get.

A white wimple and veil.

A wimple and veil. In many ways they kind of look like flowy hijabs. They’re just made differently. While traditionally they’re white linen, I’ve been experimenting with other colors and fabrics.

I lit a candle and begged my Lady to help me. I didn’t know what else to do. About two weeks later I found myself reaching for my coverings again. I found that when I covered things got… easier. I wasn’t as overwhelmed in social spaces. My migraines became less frequent. I anchored some shields on my volumizer (the poofy thing worn under scarves to give them shape) and that helped too. The more I covered the better I felt, the fewer my symptoms, the higher my energy level. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I’m not going to sit here and say that covering cured my depression. That would be an incredibly simplistic statement for a complicated issue, and it’s not like covering was the only approach I took. Besides, it’s not like I’m cured anyway – I still have good days and bad days, the same as anyone struggling through. But I will say that I personally find covering to be an incredibly useful way to help manage my depression and anxiety symptoms. I checked with other ladies who cover and a few of them reported the same type of thing, so it’s not isolated to just me, either.

Moving Forward

As of now I’m back to covering full-time. I usually find hijab styles more comforting than tichel styles because they cover my neck, and I switch between them depending on exactly how much comforting I need on a given day. I’ve lately started experimenting with wimples and veils, too, and find that those styles make me feel more connected to my ancestors.

I currently live in Ohio, and at least in my area there is a sizable Muslim population. My covers don’t really stand out here, and I don’t feel alone either. That changes when I leave the area, though. Covered women are often targeted these days, and it’s something I have to consider before traveling elsewhere in the US (*cough* Texas *cough*) or interacting with a new group of people.

My covering is still an act of piety, one that brings me joy and reverence. It’s still a symbol of modesty, too, and it’s changed my entire relationship to myself and the world. It’s still very much a feminist statement for me, and since November it’s become a political statement too. Add in the mental health benefits and covering is a part of my life that is here to stay.

Covering is not a very common practice in Pagan and polytheistic circles, although I do think it’s growing. Because of that, it can be baffling for folks encountering it in our communities. I hope that my open sharing can inspire some conversations. Covering has become a fundamental part of my polytheism. Maybe it can help others, too.

 

*Note: This whole post is about MY mental health and how covering affects it. No one else’s. I am in no way saying that covering is the best/final/only method of managing mental health issues. It works for me in the way I’ve stated. If your mental health is a concern, please do whatever works best for you and seek the help of a mental health professional if needed. 

Seeing the Wheels

A close-up of the armillary sphere on my altar. It is on top of a black wooden box, and flanking it on either side at the bottom are two burning jar candles.

I recently felt a deep, overwhelming need to change up my altar. Specifically, I needed a statue to represent my Lady, Arianrhod.

Thing is, I couldn’t find anything that fit Her. The most common statue of Her simply doesn’t work for me. Nothing wrong with it – it’s beautiful work – but I can’t get over my quibbles with it enough to put it on my altar.

Maxine Miller's Arianrhod statue, in bronze, on a black background.

Maxine Miller’s Arianrhod statue.

Then I had a completely different kind of thought. One of the first concepts my Lady shared with me is that of the Center. It’s been fundamental to my worldview since I figured out what it is, and I always associate it with Her. She is the Lady of the Silver Wheel, after all!

Which is why an armillary sphere to represent Her on my altar is perfect.

A close-up of the armillary sphere on my altar. It is on top of a black wooden box, and flanking it on either side at the bottom are two burning jar candles.

The armillary sphere on my altar. Isn’t it awesome?

Once I got everything on my altar sorted and rearranged I lit some candles and settled in to spend some time with Her.

And then I had a vision. I Saw the Wheels, my Lady’s Wheels, and touched a Mystery.

After recovering a bit, I realized that this vision can be shared. You can have it too!

So here it is. I invite you to See the Wheels with me. If you don’t have an armillary sphere of your very own Google some images (or simply use the picture above as a reference) to see a manmade model of what I’m talking about. It’s worth the time.

The Vision

I open my eyes and gasp. I’m floating in space, surrounded on all sides by velvety black skies spangled with gleaming stars. They’re silver, yes, but also icy blue and blazing red and warming gold. Celestial fires burning, beacons in the dark.

A picture of a field of stars taken by the Hubble Telescope. These are from the Sagittarius sector.

Like this, all around me.

I wonder if I can reach out and cup one of those fires in the palm of my hand. They look so close I think maybe it’s possible. As I reach out I hear a voice like bells say “Not today!”, and lower my hands back to my sides. Maybe tomorrow?

I feel gentle winds caressing my skin and fluttering my hair. I’m confused for a second – since when did space have wind? – but I’m soon distracted by a glow at my feet. First I see a dot of light, growing ever larger, until it forms an arc. It suddenly clicks that I’m seeing part of a ring spinning around me. It contains all the colors I think I’ve ever seen, and it rotates clockwise as it rises to meet me. 

This is the first circle of the armillary sphere, the Wheel of the Day. In this Wheel is contained every moment of a day in my life. I even see a section of the Wheel that looks like my current vision! Sunrise and sunset, work and home and worship and sleep and play, all the seconds that make up my day, spin around me in a dance of light and shadow. 

Beyond the borders of the Wheel of the Day I see another glowing ring of light. It too rotates clockwise, although much slower, and it’s angled differently. This Wheel encompasses both the Wheel of the Day and me, still floating in the Center. It’s the Wheel of the Year! I see, in glorious procession, the flowers of Spring melting into the verdant fields of Summer, which meld into the golden fields of Autumn and then the barren snows of Winter. Along the ring are eight shining gems of light, and in them I see the colors of the surrounding seasons magnified and clarified. And I understand sabbat celebrations in a way I didn’t before. 

In a different part of the star-strewn velvet in which I float I see another arc rising, another Wheel spinning. It’s further out, and that ring encompasses me and the other two Wheels too. It too spins clockwise, but it’s offset from the others and rises on its own plane. Peering at it more closely I see it’s the Wheel of my Life. All the years I live, all together, with my memories in gleaming color and my future in shadows that are broken with seemingly random flashes of intense light. I realize that even here I can’t see my future clearly, because it’s not set. Those flares in the shadows show me that events are coming that cannot be changed, only managed, even if I can’t figure out what they are yet. My Lady’s presence surrounds me and I relax, knowing She is preparing me for them even now and will be with me when their time comes.

In yet another part of the sky I see another Wheel rising, on yet another plane. It too spins clockwise, but more slowly still. It gleams red like blood and flows like water, with an infinite number of glittering flecks swirling through it. This is the Wheel of the Ancestors. Every person who has ever lived is represented here, and the glittering flecks that glow most brightly are the people who have directly contributed to my line. They’re family! I see some flecks growing equally brightly, but in different hues, and know that these are family members of the heart instead of blood. It’s humbling to see all the people who have died so that I might live, and I promise to lift them high by living with honor and purpose. 

Beyond that Wheel I see another, also spinning and rising. This one is green and gold, copper and bronze, the dark brown of rich soil and the glowing red of molten lava. It glimmers with hidden gems and shines with metallics as it spins with aching slowness. This is the Wheel of the Land, and since Land moves in a timescale that’s hard to comprehend it’s only here that I can see it moving at all. It makes sense that this Wheel surrounds the Ancestors too, because without the Land the Ancestors would have no place to stand. I see the colors getting paler and dustier as this Wheel spins, like they’re losing saturation as it turns, and realize with a sinking sensation that I’m seeing the effects of humanity on the Earth. I see shrinking habitats and strip mines, pollution and disease and death, and acknowledge my contributions to the fading while vowing to do my very best to ease them.

At the very edges of everything I see another arc rising, another Wheel encompassing the whole. This one is crystalline and iridescent, and so bright that the only reason I can bear to gaze upon it is because I’m being allowed to See. This is the Wheel of the Gods, where all the divinities who have ever been dwell. I see Olympus, and Valhalla, and the Otherworld. I see nations rise and fall as the Gods play chess on a board, except I know both chess and boards and this is too incomprehensible to be either. The more I try to understand the brighter the light, until I have to blink to get the spots out of my eyes. 

Far beyond the edges of the crystalline Wheel of the Gods I see the shadows of other Wheels spinning, other cycles of which I am vaguely aware but are too distant for me to grasp. I feel blessed to have seen them at all.

I turn my attention back to myself, at the Center of all the spinning Wheels. With a bit of a jolt I realize that I too am a Wheel! I spread out my legs and arms like a starfish, like DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man, like a pentacle, and feel myself spinning within the Center of all the other Wheels. I peer into myself and see an endless number of Wheels spinning inside me too, each smaller than the last, and feel myself falling. Or am I flying? It’s hard to tell, and I start to get dizzy, so I pull my attention elsewhere.

I look at all of the Wheels together, for the smallest to the largest, and suddenly know that each and every Wheel’s spin is necessary to the spin of all of them. They’re interconnected and interdependent. Epiphany strikes. They’re not distinct Wheels at all! They’re all part of one big spiral! I hear my Lady’s laugh as Her hands continue smoothing and spinning the spiral, feel Her determination that it continues to spin, and know that I have a part to play in all of this too. But what?

I feel my Lady’s regard as She patiently waits for me to work through what I’m being shown. I gently spin for what feels like hours while I search for what She wants me to know, until suddenly it becomes obvious. By Centering myself, by opening myself to change while smoothing the spirals over which I have influence, I make Her job easier. In my own small way I contribute to the spinning of ALL the Wheels, even those I can’t clearly see, because I am one. I’m part of the whole. 

I hear her voice, full of pride, whisper “well done” as the Wheels flicker and vanish.

I open my eyes and gaze once more at the armillary sphere on my altar, serene and still as it represents this great Mystery.