stillness

The Road to Runes

January, 2019

The Road to Runes: Isa, Waiting for the Thaw

Isa means ‘ice’ and is associated with stillness, stagnation and immobility. It is the third rune in the second aett of the Elder Futhark, also known as Hagal’s aett.

Today I was pondering a frustrating work problem and decided to see what the runes had to say. My situation was that I wanted to make a change, but there was the possibility of a certain opportunity if I stayed where I was for the time being. It’s that age-old question immortalised by The Clash: should I stay, or should I go?

Stillness

I drew the rune Isa, which literally means ‘Ice’. Isa is associated with stillness and stasis. Ice seems to render flowing and fluid water suddenly still and motionless. It stops things in their tracks, yet it is beautiful and alluring. This makes it all the more dangerous, as while we pause, transfixed by cold beauty, we are not moving forward and completing our journey. Of course, sometimes a moment of stillness can be refreshing and rejuvenating. But when we stay still for too long, we become stiff, useless, and even forget why we were moving forward in the first place.

This rune indicates that I am stuck. The work situation that I was worried about shows no signs of resolving itself anytime soon, and I am left with the same dilemma; to forcefully break out of the situation or allow things to take their course, no matter how slow and frustrating this may be.

Gestation

Although the frustration of being stuck is my primary reaction to Isa, Isa can mean so much more than this. Just as the earth rests in winter before new growth in spring, so do we sometimes need to let ourselves rest and be still before our lives get back on track. Isa can indicate a period of gestation; a time to let things grow and progress naturally. It could actually be the worst time to change or force change, as now is the time for rest and letting things take their course.

Isa represents Niflheim, the cold and misty world of the dead. It is a place we fear to be; frozen and unmoving, with no chance of life. This is like real-world stagnation. We yearn to be ever moving forward, achieving and progressing. Isa makes us realise that sometimes, events which are outside our control can prevent us from moving forward, and that we have to accept that and not let that stagnation prevent us from being the best we can be. Continue to live our lives, as well as we can, and trust that when the ice thaws, the water will flow again. Our river will move inexorably towards the sea.

The rune seems to tell me I just need to wait, for now. However, I should keep working at my problem, checking in, being cautious and aware of new information and changes. I should not let my ego take over but remain calm and avoid giving in to frustration. If I follow my own process and stay true to myself, eventually the ice will thaw, the problem will become clearer and the solution may even become visible.

As an afterthought, I drew another rune, which was Dagaz, the rune of breakthroughs. This gave me more hope, and I’ll discuss this further in next month’s article. Don’t forget, you can tweet me @Mabherick if you want me to focus on a particular rune for this column. Until next time!

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About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways.

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Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways on Amazon

Review: Headspace, the App

March, 2018

Headspace: Everyday Mindfulness

I decided to continue on my mindfulness mission by having a go with Headspace, an app with the tagline ‘A few minutes could change your whole day.’ This app focuses on the practical benefits of short meditations: reducing stress, improving focus and sleeping better. Just like with my Calm review, I’ve only reviewed what content I could get for free. The financial commitment for Headspace is pretty hefty. UK prices, you’re looking at £9.99 a month, or a one-off cost of £71.88 for the year. Want to unlock all features permanently? That will be £299.99 please. I just think these prices are very off-putting, and will stop people even trying the app for free in some cases, as they know that if they like it, and it works for them, they are going to be shelling out a huge amount of money.

Actually using the app is a doddle. It starts with a ‘meditation basics’ program, which is actually really useful. The speaker is male, British, with a calming and down-to earth tone. He speaks about meditation as if it’s a daily requirement like brushing your teeth, and makes it seem easy and accessible for all. For the first time in guided meditation like this, I am told to start with my eyes open. Each meditation session can be tweaked to reflect how much free time you have in your day. You can meditate for as little as three minutes, and as much as ten in one go. I found the ten-minute sessions were useful at the end of the day for relaxing me before sleep time.

As well as the basics program, there are other freebies, which seem to change from day to day. Today’s was an exploration of stillness and silence. Before the meditation started, the guide spoke of the nature of silence, and whether it is passive or not. He explored the usefulness of stillness, and how it helps us to be present in the moment, not wrapped up solely in our own thoughts. This aids us in listening to others.

Silence is the foundation of calm and clarity that allows us to hear what others have to say.”

There are also some mini meditations, but for free, you only get access to the ‘Breathe’ mini, which as the title suggests, gives you 60 seconds of exploring the sensation and mechanics of your breathing.

One of my favourite things about Headspace is that it can easily be linked to the ‘Health’ app on your iPhone, and I presume there will be a similar option on Android devices and similar. So, when I look at my ‘Health’ stats, if I have meditated with Headspace that day, the phone will describe how many ‘mindful minutes’ I’ve taken. I like the sense of achievement that comes with this, and recognising that I’ve been good to myself and my mind for at least a few minutes each day. The app itself also records some data for you, and shows you how many minutes and on what days you’ve meditated.

There’s also a kids’ section, split into ages 5 and under, ages 6-8, and ages 9-12. These have titles such as ‘Appreciation’ and ‘Kindness’; good at any age! But particularly useful for young, developing minds. Sadly, as far as I could tell, none of the kids’ stuff was available on the free version.

I’m going to keep the app on my phone, as even just having the basics package has been really useful. It’s so easy to use, there’s no set-up, you just download it and start meditating. An absolute beginner could use this, even if they had zero experience of mindfulness or meditation. I really hope the prices reduce at some point though, as at the moment, they are just far too high to consider a full subscription. Perhaps one day, when I’m a bit more flush with cash! But all in all, an excellent user experience; very relaxing and very unique in its informal and easy-going style.

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About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft.

Follow Mabh on TwitterFacebook and her blog.

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Spiralled Edges

October, 2015

Spiralled Edges – Just Be

I recently read a blog article talking about the necessity, and great difficulty, some have in holding sacred space without actively doing something. So much emphasis on our self-worth is placed on doing, on being productive. We downplay and devalue the place and purpose for just being. We use the practice of doing to hide from our selves.

Sometimes the greatest act of love we can provide is to just be and hold Sacred Space for someone without trying to do for them.

Sometimes, we become impatient when growth and change or knowledge doesn’t come as rapidly as we want it to. We mistake times of dormancy for stagnation or even a movement backwards from our hoped for goal. We forget, that sometimes the seeds of change need to lie hidden within, buried within us, just being without doing, growing in strength while the outer world moves on.

There can be power in stillness. This isn’t a time when nothing happens, it isn’t a time of death. It is a time of being without doing.

A few years back, when going through personal difficulties I went to Spirit to ask “What do I need to be doing? What can I do to become well again?” They responded by telling me, “Don’t do, just be.”

Finally, they told me to stop doing shamanic journey work even to go into my Sacred Garden, and to practice being fully physically present in my body. I didn’t realise how much of my life had been spent mentally outside my physical body until I started trying to be more fully aware and more fully present within it. Psychologists would call it disassociating. Shamans might call it journeying. I called it feeling out of sync with myself.

A lot of my work over the past few years has been towards rediscovering what it feels like, both the good and the bad, being fully present inside my own skin.

I by no means make any claim to having fully learned this lesson yet. But, I’m getting better at it and find that I am more aware of when I love outside of my physical body, and more easily able to move back into sync with my physical self. Sometimes, I do fall back into that state of thinking I should be doing… something. If I could just find that one thing that I must do. And Spirit tells me, infinitely patient, “Don’t do, just be”.

Right now, we are moving ever closer to the final harvest in the Wheel of the Year, Samhain. The veil between worlds has thinned and our focus is on the dying God who will soon be journeying to the Underworld.

Then He, and the world itself (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), will naturally move from a state of doing into a state of being. It is a time for inner reflection. It is a time for being, the most sacred and loving practice that we can do for ourselves, and for others around us.

As you sit in this time of being, let yourself just be without trying to hurry back to the Earth’s stirring and awakening. Practice being with a friend who is going through difficulties without trying to do for them, without trying to fix them, without trying to change them. Practice being inside yourself as you go through difficulties without trying to do, without trying to fix, and without trying to change. Allow yourself to just be, with acceptance and understanding.

The time for doing will come round again, in its own time.

Prunings from the Hedge

June, 2011

The Power of Stillness

The northern quarter of the circle is the quarter of Earth, and its inner or elemental power is traditionally called the power to keep silence.  It would be more accurate to call it the power to keep still, because the quarter of Earth includes the material body.   The Watcher of the north is Ghom or Ghob in ceremonial magic, and his elementals are called gnomes or ghobelins (goblins).  In the related tradition of Tuscan witchcraft, the Watcher is named Taga or Tages, the Divine Child of the Etruscans.  Tages sprang from a furrow a farmer was plowing early in Etruscan history, and presented that people with a scripture (they were one of the few pagan peoples to possess a revelation), by which their seers and soothsayers were able to predict the future.  Because of this revelation, the Etruscans knew that their civilization would pass through a number of crises and eventually succumb to a conqueror – the Romans.

The Watcher of the north, according to magical tradition, came to the Earth from the star Fomalhaut, one of the four royal stars of the Medes.  Fomalhaut is prominent on the northern horizon at dawn on the winter solstice, and thus winter is the season of the northern quarter of the Wheel of the Year, which is related to the ritual circle.  The north is called ‘the place of power’ in witchcraft, and in many traditions the altar is placed in the north rather than the center of the circle.  This is because the Earth, which revolves approximately in the plane of the ecliptic, is oriented towards the star Polaris, and the Sun points in about the same direction in its progress around the galaxy; thus, the World Pillar is aligned with the pillar of the solar system and turns in sympathy with it.

When Ghom arrived on the Earth ages ago, he took up residence in the Earth, and his elementals, the gnomes, traditionally live underground.  When a witch is assigned a personal gnome at initiation, it goes into the pentacle, the weapon or tool magically resonant with the witch’s inner pillar.

In Celtic tradition, sacred wells were similarly in magical sympathy with the inner pillar of the druid.  They were thought to extend all the way down to the Underworld, the place of residence of the root-soul of the druid or other worshipper.  The surface of the well corresponded to the surface of the mind, and focusing on its waters, the druid went into trance and dove deep into his or her own inner pillar, plunging into the ever-quieter depths down to his or her root-soul.

The surface of our everyday minds, as we know, is generally rather chaotic, with mental conversations crossed by sudden images or outbursts of feeling.  This is most evident when we start to fall asleep, our senses withdrawn from the outer world.  Images and words are jumbled together in illogical association, and trains of thought wander off and disappear before they are completed.  In dreams, chains of imaginary events often exhibit the same harum-scarum quality.  In waking life, we often force ourselves to focus on certain sequences of thought selected out of the welter of mental static, and we often lose the thread and wander off into byways that have no practical relevance.

One manifestation of this turbulence is the feeling one often has of uneasiness connected with whatever we are doing at the time.  We feel that somehow we should be doing something else, and this gives us a sense of hurry that often spoils whatever work we are doing, particularly if we are trying to do more than one thing at a time.  Cats do not experience this feeling, and that is one big reason why witches have traditionally kept them as familiars.  When a cat relaxes, it does so completely, and when it eats or chases a string, it does so in perfect peace.  It is not concentrating in the human sense, for concentration usually involves a sense of forced attention, keeping out internal and external distractions.  Distractions simply do not exist for it.  It is not plagued by trains of thought because it cannot think in the sense of talking to itself.  It lives in silent knowledge without words.  Cats do, however, register and remember sounds, and that is how they can recognize our voices and tell from our tone what we are feeling, in a simple way.  A witch keeping a cat for a familiar will seek to emulate this inner quiet and even practice repeating sounds mentally, as a way of regaining access to the pre-verbal mentality humans once shared with animals.

This inner quiet in which cats live out their lives is necessary for witches in ritual, as it is necessary for people practicing yoga or martial arts or meditating.  The witch must descend his or her inner pillar at least one level, below the surface level of chatter and static, to what lies just beneath.  Thoughts do not cease at this first sub-level but they quiet down from mental speech to mental whisperings, much as happens when we let go of the day and fall asleep.  The witch’s personal gnome helps him or her to accomplish this descent, and this is what should happen, ideally, when the witch places his or her hand on the pentacle or special stone on the altar.

The gnome shows the witch how to focus on the spaces of silence between sounds, and this causes mental sounds to spread out, so that they are more widely spaced and no longer overlap or interrupt each other.  Repeating external sounds mentally also helps to spread out or dilute mental noise.  The witch slips between mental noises, as it were, descending through the silences between them to the next lower level.  At this level one hears whispers not unlike those that pass through the mind as it is falling asleep; but this is only the first lower level.  The inner pillar is like an elevator, and it can take the traveler down many floors.  This is a form of soul or astral travel that takes place without leaving the material body.

At the next level down, there are no more whispers, these being replaced by subtle currents, sometimes called ‘the still, small voice within’ by contemplatives and mystics.  One can focus on one of these silent voices and derive meaning from it, surfacing once again in the process.  In this way, Socrates became aware of what his personal daimon was advising him against doing.  This is the level cats operate on, using their memories of sounds.  If one is descending with open eyes, these currents will seem to enter consciousness from the perimeter of the visual field.

In his or her inner spirit journeys the witch will eventually descend even farther, but for ritual purposes it is sufficient to attain the first sub-level of whisperings.   As mentioned, these inner whispers are spread out and do not overlap or interfere with each other.  If the witch can live much of the time on this level, he or she will feel freer because of the increased inner space.  He or she will enjoy “fifty miles of elbow room,” in the words of an old Dixieland song.

This greater room to move around inside will not only facilitate ritual but make it possible to tackle small habits and compulsions.  One has then acquired energy for one’s salamander and can, with its help, start  cultivating the power to will; for elementals are attracted to the energy of the opposite quarter, seeking a two-element balance.  In addition to providing communication with the Watcher of its quarter, one’s personal elementals also seek to take in the energy of their opposite on the Sun-wheel or circle, and, getting it, they provide the witch, in turn, with the energy of their own quarter.  As we will see when we discuss the southern quarter and the power to will, will (which is inseparable from action) is not a matter of gritting the teeth and forcing something.  When inner quiet and space have been achieved, will can flow gently into action, without any sense of inner violence.  This is what the Taoists call wu wei, action in inaction, and is one of the inner meanings of the Rede’s “harm none, and do as ye will.”