Sunday, June 26, 2011

Apothecary: Home-made Bath Salts

A friend of mine asked how I make my bath salts, because lately I'm on this kick about how many things we buy from the store when it can be made at home with fewer artificial ingredients and many times it will cost less.

Bath salts are incredibly easy to make, and so long as you have a good sealable container can last several months. Be aware that any essential oils that you use in the mix will change the shelf life of the salts. (If your lavender oil has been sitting in your cabinet for a few years, you should probably get new oil instead of using it. Herbs, even in oils, lose their vitality over time.)

Bath Salt recipe:

6 parts coarse salt - usually kosher or sea salt
3 parts epsom salts - these are in the drug store, and are actually magnesium salts. They help to relax the body.
1 heaping tablespoon of baking soda - this softens the water in the bath.
1 tablespoon of olive oil - great moisturizer for the skin, but be forewarned, the tub will be slick after your bath from this key ingredient.

If you are using essential oils, a little goes a long way. I usually do the drops in five drop increments. Five drops for oils that are likely to be overpowering, such as any of the mints. Ten drops for those that are somewhat less so, such as lavender. Only rarely would I ever go above that amount.

Mix all your ingredients in a bowl, preferably ceramic. Some herbs can be altered by contact with aluminum, so if you are using essential oils, keep this in mind - no metal bowls or utensils! Also, avoid using a wooden bowl for this sort of work. The wood absorbs the oils and can eventually contaminate anything else you do in that bowl.

Ceramic is where it's at, folks. Or other non-porous non-metallic substances.

Mix the ingredients thoroughly. If you want, you can add food coloring, but I don't. When trying to make something that's free of nasty additives like what's on the store shelves, adding food coloring can introduce all sorts of fun and unpronounceable substances!

Honestly, I think the stuff is divine without the addition of essential oils. Always consult a reliable herbal before playing with any sort of herbs. Herbs can interact with your medications, and can trigger your allergies if you aren't careful.

I don't make any of my herbals often anymore, because in an apartment, there just isn't room for some of the things I would really need to do it right, but this is one recipe that I continue to do from time to time.

Of course, don't ingest this stuff. Epsom salts are not your friend when taken internally.

That said, I'm not a doctor or a professional herbalist. :p

I can say, however, that my personal experience is that my skin is extremely soft after using my bath salts, and that with some candles and incense, they can make for a very relaxing few hours.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Ancient Gods and Ethics.

I know I said my blogs this month would be about the virtues from "The Charge of the Goddess," but sometimes the Muses say otherwise.

There exist several books for exploring ethics and morals from a Pagan perspective. The earliest that I know of is "When, Why, If..." by Robin Wood, a very talented Pagan artist. If one works through this book honestly, at the finish the reader will have a much clearer idea of what they personally hold as a code of ethics.

Much more recent, and more apropos to today's topic are Brendan Myers books "A Pagan Testament" and "The Other Side of Virtue: Where Our Virtues Come From, What They Really Mean, and Where They Might Be Taking Us." Myers has his Doctorate in Philosophy. I haven't read the latter, but "Testament" is a great exploration of the stories of the ancient world and Pagan cultures.

I've heard more than one folklorist and student of mythology make the mistake of assuming that the Ancient World had no moral basis. They get caught on the stories of rapine and the mysticism of the myths, and don't look deeper.

The vast majority of the stories that have survived are snippets and bits, broken and unclear. Some of them are missing a word or two, and others have the entire story lost but for a few words, and some of what has survived was meant to be pure entertainment. Even if we were to have the entirety of the stories, they varied from place to place in most cases. Each city, clan, or tribe would have their own understanding of the tales they shared. In the ages since, the Western World has been fascinated with the puzzle of it all, and has assembled composites, which have been told to people as the myths.

This is especially true of the Greek Myths.

Still, we can glean insight into how the Hellenes (the Ancient Greeks) understood right and wrong.

It seems to me that discussion has to start not with the King of the Gods, but with the Goddess of all what is right and true, Themis. One of the daughters of Ouranos and Gaia, today most people know of her a lover of Zeus. The Titaness was first and foremost the Bringer of Law, who taught mankind the concepts of hospitality, proper relationships, and social order. Her children are most often listed as the Horai (the Seasons, whose names translate as Good Order, Peace, and Justice), the Fates, and Prometheus (whose name means Forethought, which also means She is the mother of Epimetheus, Afterthought.) She sat beside Zeus as a counselor and arbiter.

That isn't to say that She and Zeus always made decisions that fit with our modern conceptions of right and wrong. It was, after all, a totally different society from our own.

Many of Zeus' epithets hints as his role as a God who governs over ethics and morals and right behavior. He was Ktêsios, the God of the Home, who was always honored as part of the proper activities of the family and household. He was Boulaios, the God of the Council, and Amboulios, Counsellor.

Here is a small list of relevant names:
Kosmêtês Orderer
Epidôtês Giver of Good
Theos Agathos The Good God
Xenios God of Hospitality
Meilikhios Merciful
Palamnaios Punisher of Murderers
Agoraios God of the Marketplace

Looking at the ways in which Zeus was understood to exist in the lives of the Hellenes, it becomes challenging to understand how anyone can honestly argue that the Ancient Greek world lacked in ethical or moral bases.

And that's without even beginning to discuss the moral philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, Diomedes, or Epicures (or dozens of others.)

Just scraping the surface of one culture here. I don't want to bore you or confuse anyone with more.

This is also where we get back to one of the themes that keeps cropping up here. If one is inspired by the ancient world's stories of the Gods, and if one is worshipping those Divinities, then one should eventually look at how proper or right action is expressed by those same. Whether you find that Plato's "Republic" is inspiring or that it offends your modern egalitarian virtues, or if you look at the role of Themis and Zeus, ultimately, the pressure is on you.

You have to find your way forward. That's where books like "When, Why, If..." and authors like Brendan Myers can really help. Most of us don't have the time to become classical scholars, but would still like to live good lives that are reflective of our spiritual lives. To do that, we have to be willing to honestly face down our own actions, the consequences of what we have done, and to be willing to keep going. It also means being willing to screw up on occasion.

Far from being bereft of moral thought, the Ancient world was intensely centered around proper and right action, even if the modern world doesn't always agree with their conclusions, something that is also certainly true of mainstream religious history as much as our own.

The question becomes then, do you have the courage to seek out the guidance of the Gods with honesty and conscious acceptance of the hard work that is involved? Even if one is following a path that offers a seemingly clear set of principles or virtues, there is still the process of negotiating how you understand those same.

Sources: entries on Zeus and Themis

To buy the aforementioned books:
Robin Wood "When, Why, If..."
Brendan Myers

Monday, June 13, 2011

Power isn't One, it's Many

One day some years ago, around the time that the second or third Harry Potter movie was coming out, my husband and I were listening to a Christian Radio program. I like to do that so that I hear different perspectives than my own. The local Christian stations are all very Conservative.

This particular day they were talking about the "evils" of the "occult" and Wicca. At least, what they think the occult and Wicca entail. Which is to say half-truths and falsehoods shaped to support their own spiritual understanding of the Divine and the world. (I realize that those half-truths and the like were based on ignorance, but still...)

They talk about Neo-Pagans with minimal understanding. They say that we worship the creation, not the creator (that is not true.) They also paint us as a bunch who are hungry for "power," and they claim we are simply lost and seeing to gain that power through consorting with fantasy or worse, diabolical powers.

If you read the earlier post on Pagan values and compassion, then you read "The Charge of the Goddess" by Doreen Valiente, and you will have noticed that power is indeed listed there.

But this isn't power like the Christians on the radio are thinking. Starhawk writes extensively about power. She classes various types. Most people interpret power to mean "Power Over." Which is, she posits, where a great number of our society's errors descend from. CEOs have power over their employees. Hierarchies and the like proliferate. Few understand that it is much more important to have "Power Within." This is the ability to manage our impulses, our base urges. It is the ability to master our sense of duty, to face our responsibilities with honor.

He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still. - Lao Tzu

But really power is more than that. Power is the ability to believe in yourself. To understand that you can make a difference in the world. Starhawk classes this as "power with." It means being able to unite in common cause to do what is right.

This includes power within as a matter of course, because working with others is not always easy and means mastering one's smallness inside.

I am not interested in power for power's sake, but I'm interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Do we as Pagans seek power? Yes. Many of us do. But by that do we mean the power to curse? I'm sure there are some who do so. Just as there are Christians who pray for the harm of others. Those who have, honestly forgotten that even those who you despise carry the Divine within them.

But by power we do not mean power over. Power over is manipulative and destructive and often relies on tearing others down, when in truth we are all equals. The money and materials we gather do not make us better or worse than anyone else.

Power is bigger than that. Power is the ability to face fear and do right in spite of it. Power is the ability to overcome what challenges we face. Power is the call to become whole, to be empowered to act in a way that best reflects our world view.
And it is a view that accepts diversity, that accepts that we can be wrong and that we should grow.

Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. - Epictetus

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any. - Alice Walker

Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.
Mohandas Gandhi

I only wish that ordinary people had an unlimited capacity for doing harm; then they might have an unlimited power for doing good.

Nothing external to you has any power over you.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular.
Tony Robbins

You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.
Marcus Aurelius

The power to do good is also the power to do harm.
Milton Friedman

May the Gods guide you true,

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pagan Values and Compassion

Charge of the Goddess

Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess;
she in the dust of whose feet are the hosts
of heaven, and whose body encircles the universe

I who am the beauty of the green earth,
the white moon among the stars, and the mystery
of the waters call unto thy soul;
Arise, and come unto me.

I am the soul of nature who gives life to the universe.
From Me all things proceed, and unto Me all things must return.
Before My face, beloved of gods and of men, let thine
innermost divine self be enfolded in the rapture of the infinite.

Let My worship be within the heart that rejoices,
for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals.
Therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion,
honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

To thou who thinkest to seek Me, know that thy seeking and
yearning shall avail thee not unless thou knowest the Mystery.
If that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee,
thou wilt never find it without.

For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning; and
I am that which is attained at the end of desire."

- from Doreen Valiente's "Charge of the Goddess"

I'm not Wiccan. I started out on that road though, and what I learned there is deeply influential on my spiritual path. I've thought about joining a coven, preferably something a bit BTW (British Traditional Witchcraft.) The opportunity doesn't exist near me.

June is Pagan Values Month for a bunch of Pagan Bloggers. Last year, I really enjoyed reading all the entries. The sheer wealth of sources for values, ethics and morals that exists for Pagans is wide ranging and diverse. Shall we look to Cato? to the words of the Egyptian Book of the Dead? to the Nine Virtues of the Asatruar?

Warrior virtues. Earthy virtues. Values born out of the Laws of Nature.

As my Pagan Values series, I am looking to the Charge of the Goddess, as was written by Doreen Valiente, inspite of not being Wiccan myself.

" Therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion,
honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you."

These are part of my code of values. Over the next few weeks. I will talk about each of these.

Values are not neat and clean, but diverse and challenging.

We are given to find out what is right and true. To listen to our deepest self, the part of our life that can hear the voice of the Divine. This takes hard work, honesty and the ability to accept that sometimes we won't act appropriately.

We will make mistakes.

The importance is how we deal with those errors. We pick ourselves up and make amends. We check and see if we have lived up to the virtues that we hold close. Then we let go, and do better.

It's a process, a journey.

In so doing, we become a better person, a better child of the Gods.

The hardest part is letting go. I am terrible about it. I cycle through the past in replay, and it's a dangerous and dismal thing to do.

But we can do it.

The trick lies within Compassion.

Compassion is a virtue that can be found in every religion that I have met. Whether it be Jesus talking about the Good Samaritan or the Dalai Lama sharing his wisdom about loving kindness.

Compassion is about empathy, about being able to see the perspective of others.

"Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival." - The Dalai Lama

"The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another." - Thomas Merton

"No man is a true believer unless he desireth for his brother that which he desireth for himself." - Muhammad

More relevant for my purpose here, however is Pema Chodron:
"Compassionate action involves working with ourselves as much as working with others."

When we err, we must look to compassion. Rather than battering ourselves with the past, we must have compassion for ourselves.

This is hard.

In Kemetic, ancient Egyptian, thinking, the act of abusing yourself is called eating your heart. You are lost in thought, thinking about the future and then your mind turns towards past mistakes and before you know it, you have a great big bite of yourself, and you are chewing it to bits.

Let go. Honor yourself with compassion.

"Hail, Bast, coming forth from the secret place, I have not eaten my heart."
- The Negative Confessions

May the Gods light your way.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tarot Code of Ethics

On Tarot:
In my personal experience, Tarot does not tell the future, but gives you a glimpse of possibilities, assuming that all things remain the same.

Readings are conversations that happen between the client, reader and the cards. Dialogue and discussion is part of the package. You will have a much better reading if you are willing to discuss the cards and how you respond to the imagery, as well as the situation overall. Ultimately, you are responsible for what you take away from the reading, as well as, responsible for your own life situation. Act according to your own conscience. Tarot is for insight, not direction, and should not be used to dictate how to live.

I have been reading tarot for a bit over twenty years, and various oracle cards for about fifteen years. In spite of those years of experience, I am not certified with the ATA or the TCBA. I have done readings in stores professionally in the past, and have taught introductory courses on cartomancy through the Pagan Student Alliance at Stephen F. Austin State University.

Tarot Code of Ethics:
1. Tarot readings will be kept confidential as far as the reader is legally able. No one will learn the querent's name or the results of the reading.

2. I cannot in good conscience provide advice about health, or do readings about people other than the querent. If a reading concerns the querent and others, the reading will be shaped to emphasize the role that the client has played in the situation.

3. I conduct my readings with respect for all clients, regardless of their origin, race, religion, gender, age, sexual preference, etc.

4. I will represent my experience with Tarot and other systems of divination honestly.

5. In situations where financial, legal, medical, or psychological matters outpace my expertise, I will recommend that the client seek out professional advice as appropriate.

6. I respect my client's right to refuse or end their reading at any time.

7. I reserve the right to refuse a client or a particular question if necessary, and will return any funds that were received for that purpose.

8. I will not do readings for minors unless their parents are present at the reading. In distance readings (via email), I will assume that paypal payments are proof of the eligibility of the client.

9. I will interpret the reading to the best of my ability but will be honest when I draw a blank. I am not infallible, and will speak as clearly as I can.

For further insight into your rights as a client, please check the links below that helped inspire the above code.

This code of ethics is inspired by: