symbology

Wreathing the Wheel

May, 2019

Beltane, the Maypole, Interweaving

For May, I’d like to talk about Beltane and the processing of weaving. If you’re familiar with the Celtic holiday of Beltane, then you already know that this holiday is often celebrated with a decoration that serves as ritual, dance, entertainment, and more: the Maypole. While the exact symbolism of the Maypole is disputed, it is generally considered to be a magical appeal for fertility, power, and transformative forces coming together. In the Tarot, this process may be symbolized by the Lovers in the Major Arcana, or the Four of Wands in the Minor Arcana: different forces coming together in a celebratory act to create something entirely new.

For the monthly spread for May, I decided to use a simple Maypole theme to help me consider and incorporate this theme into my month. It’s very easy to accomplish a beautiful look with very little effort with this kind of a theme — just pick out your favorite rainbow-colored set of pens, and have fun making curls! But I also wanted to consider the theme of the Maypole and extend it in a more contemplative and spiritual way in my own life. This exercise may seem like an odd one for a bullet journal — especially since bullet journals are usually geared towards organization and lists — but I wanted to explore the idea of interweaving themes of life with the interweaving ribbons of the Maypole. If you’re looking to journal spiritually, you may enjoy doing a similar type of exercise.

While I’m only working part-time, I have a lot going on these days: I do freelance art and design, I write articles for my own blog and PaganPagesOrg, I’m designing a Tarot deck and writing a book to go with it, I’m growing an extensive garden with various types of seeds, I’m making herbal medicine, I’m learning sewing, I’m studying chemistry, I’m cooking lighter, I have a new puppy I’m training… lately it seems that I’m doing a lot of things, but they’re all going in different directions! 

For this theme, I decided to list out a bunch of the different things that I’m trying to accomplish in shorthand: train the new puppy, make sure he gets nails regularly trimmed, bathed; work on my Tarot deck, book, drawing… etc. What your list contains will certainly be unique to you, and there are lots of different ways to organize it, but I decided to use color symbolically in this theme: health concerns are blue, money matters are orange, my gardening goals are green, and so on. Many different types of color associations could be used in this way, and they are all sure to be beautiful! 

This felt like an unusual exercise for me, because it felt like anti-organization to take all the themes in my life and scatter them to the wind in this way. But it also helped me see my own activities in a new way, and I would encourage anyone who wants to see their interweaving lives to give this a try. If nothing else, you might gain a new appreciation for just how much you have on your plate!

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About the Author:

Sarah McMenomy is an artist and witch. Her craft incorporates herbalism, spellwork, trance, divination, auras, and more. Her work can be found at https://sarahmcmenomy.tumblr.com

SpellCrafting: Spells & Rituals

September, 2018

Balance

Merry meet.

Celebrations are often planned for the sabbats, but don’t overlook the power these times add to magical workings. As the world hangs in balance, day equal to the night, we can use its balanced energy to regain our own balance before heading into the dark half of the year.

Gather the materials you’ll use: a marker of any kind and a round disk. These can be the wooden ones found at craft stores, a jar or bottle lid, or the top of a deli container.

This spell can be done as part of a ritual in sacred space, or in any area in which you feel comfortable, perhaps adding incense and candles to set the stage.

Sitting in that space, let yourself relax and let go. Give yourself time to begin to feel the balance of this day and breathe it in, absorb it into every cell. If you cannot “feel” it, know that it is there and imagine its vibration. See a sign that, to you, represents this state. It might be the yin yang or an infinity symbol, a line, an equal sign, a representation of scales, or anything else that can trigger the balance you are experiencing. Othello pieces are white on one side and black on the other, and I have used them in the past.

Channel that vision and energy into the sigil as you draw it on your disk.

Sit with it as you think about where you and your life things are out of balance. Does it involve discipline? Nutrition? Boundaries? Is there something you are missing? Something for which you have an overabundance? A situation that lacks its polar opposite for stability? Take the time to visualize each of them balanced.


Feel yourself come into balance on all levels, filled with peace and harmony.

You can choose to add these words Mackenzie Sage Wright included in a Mabon spell she wrote that can be found on exemplore.com:

As yin is to yang, as dark is to light,

As male is to female, as day is to night,

Find Nature’s perfect balance within me

So I may live my life in harmony…
by the powers of three times three,

this is my will, so mote it be!”

Carry the sigil anytime balance is needed – be it spiritual, physical, emotional or mental – and tap into the powerful energy put into the spell it on the equinox.

Although most powerful when done on the equinox, there is no reason this spell can’t be done anytime of year.

Merry part. And merry meet again.

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About the Author:

Lynn Woike was 50 – divorced and living on her own for the first time – before she consciously began practicing as a self-taught solitary witch. She draws on an eclectic mix of old ways she has studied – from her Sicilian and Germanic heritage to Zen and astrology, the fae, Buddhism, Celtic, the Kabbalah, Norse and Native American – pulling from each as she is guided. She practices yoga, reads Tarot and uses Reiki. From the time she was little, she has loved stories, making her job as the editor of two monthly newspapers seem less than the work it is because of the stories she gets to tell. She lives with her large white cat, Pyewacket, in central Connecticut. You can follow her boards on Pinterest, and write to her at woikelynn at gmail dot com.

 

Send Us a Sign

February, 2009

Nearly every form of communication used by humans contains symbols.  In fact, you are looking at a whole bunch of symbols right at this moment… they’re called letters.  And if we were using hieroglyphs, we’d still be using symbols.  In one sense, even if we were speaking, we would be using symbols.  Symbols are an integral part of our magic and spirituality.  Without them, we wouldn’t be talking about them!  The importance of symbols to Pagans is no greater than to other human beings but it is to our benefit to understand more about them because of what that knowledge can do to elevate both our magical abilities and spiritual activities.

The first thing that you need to know is what a symbol is.  The short definition is that a symbol is an analog; it’s a substitute for the real thing.  The letters that form the words on this page are symbols for sounds we make with our mouth.  Put the letters together in one way and they become a word that means one thing (‘god’); put them in a different order and they mean something else (‘dog’).  It’s a beautiful way to communicate.  But if we say or spell the word, it still isn’t the thing we’re talking about, is it?  Even the spoken word is a symbol.  The ability for language may or may not be limited to humans, but we’ve sure made it a big part of who and what we are.  There isn’t a parent who hasn’t celebrated their child’s first words, even if they later grow tired of hearing them constantly going on.  It’s probably fair to say that humans are the only ones who have produced such a complex and useful way to communicate information.  Our brains are wired to accomplish this fantastically complicated task as if it were nothing at all.  We use it even in our dreams.

To look at symbols and how they are used is to look at the very way we think.  Carl Jung, one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th Century, new this well and produced an enormous amount of work concerning the subject.  To study it all would take many years but a quick look here will take only a few minutes.  We’ll only look at the highlights and how that information impacts our magic and our religious practices.

Generally speaking, symbols come in three varieties.  Sometimes it’s difficult to categorize a symbol into one of these three groups unless we know the specific way it is used.  Be that as it may, let’s look at those three groups:

* LOGOS. Logos are the simplest kind of symbol.  It’s fair to say that every symbol is at least a logo.  A logo is a very simple substitute for an object or event or thought.  Letters are this kind of symbol.  Symbols are ubiquitous to all of our communications, not just with others but even with our self.  Logos are a lot like the simple substitute codes (‘A’ = ‘q’; ‘B’ = ‘x’; etc.) most everyone learns about as a child.  They aren’t the thing, but they mean what that thing is.

Just like letters, which are substitutes for sounds made by us, the meaning of logos can change.  Letters can change how they sound (Carl vs. Caesar) and other logos can take on different meanings as well.  In fact, the mutability of logos is one of their most useful traits; they can be used for an enormously varied universe of things.  However, that mutability can also lead to some confusion in the meaning and that problem must be considered when using them (which we do all the time).
* ICONS. Icons are much less mutable than logos.  Much of the power of myth depends on iconic symbols.  In his work, The Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell described how the iconic figures that surrounded the central focus of the hero in myths around the world represent the same sort of things within the culture from which the story emerged.  And even some visual symbols such as the equal-armed cross or the spiral, which are so wide spread in ancient times as well as today, are iconic.  Icons take on very complex structures of meaning.  They are much more powerful symbols than simple logos and usually come about though a long history of them gathering this power of meaning.

A good example of the development of an icon is the cross.  The equal-armed cross was used by cave-dwelling humans hundreds of thousands of years ago.  The exact meaning of it to those people is unknown, but it’s likely they used it to signify some sort spiritual orientation, just as we use the four directions of east, south, west, and north for spatial orientation.  A couple of thousand years ago, the Roman crucifix, a device of horrid torture and punishment, was used to kill an important figure in the Jewish community.  His death was used as a springboard for the development of a new kind of Judaism known as Christianity.  The crucifix that was used as his method of torture became iconic of that religion (it struggled for supremacy as the chief icon for a while with the secret sign followers used for a long time… a simple drawing of a fish), symbolizing a complex of liturgical features of that religion.

Icons figure heavily in our mythology and fiction.  They are filled to the brim with meaning and usually don’t change their meaning unless overwhelmed by a radically opposing source of meaning.  Such changes are usually due to a shift in culture.  Travelers will attest to the difference in some icons from one country to another.  Rarely, new information can produce a paradigm shift in a population that has a heavy influence on its icons.  When this happens, it usually is something so mind blowing there is no border that can contain it.  Almost without exception, such radical changes are accompanied by great social upheavals, wars, and political/economic realignments.  People get upset when their icons are changed.
* ARCHETYPES. Of the three varieties of symbols, archetypes are both the easiest and the most difficult to understand.  They are by far the most powerful in that they impact us on almost a cellular level and are virtually universal in their meaning.  Archetypes are like icons on steroids!

Jung explained that archetypes tap into what is generally called the collective unconscious.  This concept states that there is an agreed-upon reality that produces certain universal ideas.  We are not necessarily born with all of this information, but we absorb it from our psychic environment at a very early age.  Archetypes portray meanings both gross and subtle concerning some universally understood objects and experiences.  As an example, mother is an archetype.  Every one of us has a mother.  And nearly all of us have known who that person is and the millions of things that the word evokes.  To list the complete meaning behind that word would take us nearly a lifetime of writing.  And it would be no surprise to see two such lists look almost exactly the same.

The mental and emotional impact of a single archetype is enormous.  Great speakers often use this power in calculated ways to persuade their listeners into believing and behaving in certain ways.  We’ve all seen how crowds of tens of thousands reacted to Hitler’s speeches.  He used only a few archetype symbols over and over again to raise the energy of these throngs until they were willing to follow his dictates with almost a mindless fervor.  Such is the power of these symbols, there is always a cautionary clause when talking about their use in magic.

By now, it should be clear that neither our magic nor our religious activities can be accomplished without the use of symbols.  Understanding what symbols are, however, doesn’t tell us how they operate.  Frankly, we don’t know a great deal about this.  But what we do know explains a great deal both about how our minds work as well as how magic works.

The enormous amount of data that our senses report to our minds is something like a giant information bank.  Deposits are made by way of a variety of systems and in several different forms.  Once those deposits hit the central bank (the mind… and, by the way, some of what we call ‘the mind’ isn’t really part of the brain), they are sorted, routed, and transformed into information.  The information is then related, transcribed, and stored in various ways so that it can be accessed when needed.  All this is usually done in a split second.  For purposes of our analogy, we’ll call the unit of information a memory.  Memories need to contain connections to other memories and to have a way they can be brought out or tapped into as deemed necessary by the thinking processes of the mind.  When these processes are at work, they produce thoughts and meaning.  Without a system capable of handling all of this a million times a minute, we’d not be very effective at life and die out as a species.

Symbols are at the heart of this amazingly complex system.  Essentially, symbols are tiny ‘programs’ for relating information and providing meaning.  Since most of our thinking is done on the unconscious level, symbols are most effective in that area.  In fact, symbology could be said to be the programming language for the unconscious.  When we perform a conscious act, we tap into the information bank of the unconscious via symbols, access the information, cross-relate it in whatever way necessary to make that information into meaning, and translate that meaning into conscious thought.  Most conscious thought is a distillate of this complicated unconscious activity.  In fact, nearly all conscious thought is a linear pattern of meaning fed to our conscious mind in a very narrow bandwidth from the unconscious.

Symbols have meaning precisely because they come with well-defined relational connections.  It’s something like when checks come into a bank with codes all over them; they make it easy to process them.  Meaning is one part definition, three parts relational connections, and five parts emotional connections.  Things are defined basically by saying what they are compared to what they are not.  What and how a symbol relates to other symbols gives it a big boost when the mind wants to understand something.  Since a symbol comes with a code that tells the mind to access certain areas of itself for information about the meaning of the symbol, there is a better chance for accuracy of meaning as well as less processing necessary.  Symbols are more efficient than raw data input.  Since part of this code also seems to favor certain emotive aspects of the mind, this works to quicken the production of meaning and the mind is capable of handling more input because of the built-in efficiency that symbols have.

The ability to communicate most efficiently with the mind, especially the unconscious mind where all thought and motivation begins, puts symbols at the top of the list for magical tools.  And their ability to motivate us through emotional connections makes them powerful spiritual tools as well.

Simply knowing about symbols and how important they are won’t make us an expert in their use.  But it is hoped that this will improve ability to analyze your magical, communicative, and spiritual activities… to provide a new perspective for understanding you and your world.