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For the second spread of the week, I laid five cards: top, bottom, left, right, and the middle card last. This is designed to talk about what I’ve inherited from my maternal line; my mother, and her mother and sisters, and their mother before them.

Wisdom: Five of Swords- My mother comes from a line of women who work hard, and make do with not much. We are also not afraid to challenge people or circumstances, to push boundaries and cut away at things that don’t serve. This is a strength, in so much as it has permitted us to survive, and at times, approach thriving. However, I think it’s also important to remember that there are ways of interacting with the world around us other than starting with a sword-point.

Shadows: Ace of Cups– Feeeeeeeelllllinnnnggss whooaaa feeeeelinnnnggsss. The women in my family have feelings and opinions about everything. Some of us repress them, some of us don’t, but given that this is in the “Shadows” position, I’m going to hypothesize that we may have overly many of them, or else maybe we’re tied too closely to them in our decision-making and interactions with others.

Curses: Princess of Cups– I’m not entirely sure what to make of this card as a curse; I generally read it as pretty positive, or at least neutral. It could be connected to the Shadows card, though, in the sense of us being governed too much by our emotions and unconscious mind, or maybe that we repress too much, and thus are not conscious of our own motivations.

Blessings: Three of Cups– We know how to make friends, lovers, partnerships. This is true- I think a lot of us are introverts, certainly, but we do have pretty deep emotional and familial connections with those people we choose to connect with. That interpersonal connection is important to our well-being.

Life Lessons: Two of Cups– Given that the Blessings is the Three of Cups, and both of the “negative” cards have to do with repressed or extreme feelings, perhaps the lesson is to learn to be more deliberate about which emotional relationships we end up in, and how we get there. To choose our entanglements rather than to just stumble into them.

This year’s Shadow Work October theme is Cycles of Self, and Week 1 begins with the idea of Roots. This, the first spread to be done is called the Roots spread, serving to show us where we’re coming from and what’s going on that’s brought us to where we are. This is quite literal, not metaphorical- this is about our past and our ancestry, our families and places of origins.

Using the Druid Craft Tarot, I pulled the following cards:

1. Family Shadow: immediate family’s burden of shadow we carry. Page of Pentacles: This is kind of an interesting thing to think of as a “shadow”, but I think what I’m getting from this is a sense of wandering, of being nomadic, or being uprooted. Both my biological parents are the “black sheep” of their families, and I do think they’ve both suffered from a sense of not belonging, which in turn has affected how I interact with my extended family.

2. Family Core: upbringing, tradition. Death: This is another interesting one! We do have a fair share of tragedy and literal death on both sides of my family, which does mark us, but I think this is true of a lot of families. I do think my family on both sides tends to be a bit more fatalistic than a lot of folks; not in a bad way, necessarily, but we don’t beat around the bush with regard to illness, death, or trouble. There’s also a certain amount of reinvention and rebirth? And also the sixth sense/the sight/whatever you want to call it, and these things were definitely a core part of how I understood my family background growing up.

3. Family Light: immediate family’s strengths and valuable traits we carry. Nine of Cups: Hah! Well, I suppose it is true that all of my parents know how to have a good time, possibly more so than I do.

4. Elders Shadow: grandparents’ and elders’ of the family burden of shadow we carry. Six of Swords: Transition, change, movement. My grandparents did all move around a fair amount, whether to find a new place to establish their family, or because of war, or even just emotional change, there is/was definitely a lot of going forward and not looking back.

5. Elders Core: lineage / family wisdom. Three of Cups: The ability to make the best of where you are, to form partnerships and friendships that will be to your benefit. We’re adaptable, and whether we’re in a situation we chose or not, or if we’re happy or not, we’re pretty good about making it work.

6. Elders Light: grandparents’ and elders’ of the family strengths and valuable traits we carry. Nine of Wands: Yeah, this makes a lot of sense. We’re a damned tenacious bunch. We can be wary and suspicious of strangers, but we don’t give up, and we don’t give in, and if you give us shit, we’ll hit back.

7. Ancestors Shadow: the burden of shadow we carry from our ancestry for generations. The High Priest/The Hierophant: I’m not sure I understand what this is getting at. Perhaps an over-attachment to power or authority? Certainly my family, like most families, has been heavily patriarchal, and also heavily religious for generations.

8. Ancestors Core: collective wisdom of our ancestry / tribe of origin. Ten of Pentacles: Well, that’s about as good as it gets, and I think there’s something to it- for all that we have a multi-generational sense of pragmatism and realism, we also have big appetites for life, and also a certain willingness to take on risk in hope of a better future. We wouldn’t all keep moving around and trying new things if we were resigned to the fates we were born into, I think. We’re looking for that place we can make our home.

9. Ancestors Light: strengths and valuable traits we carry from our ancestry for generations. King of Pentacles: The ability to make and rule a rooted and secure place of our own, to be the monarch of our own domain. Also, abundance, whether of the earth or of money, which is interesting, given my family has never risen past working class, at least not in the last 3 or so generations. But we do have lots of farmers?

10. The Outcome: who we are as a result of our Roots. The Lord/The Emperor: I have apparently inherited more from my more previous ancestors than my immediate family, and am able to create my own realm and rule it well.

I decided to do @mnomquah’s ShadowWorkOctober challenge again this year, and like last year, it begins with a Hero’s  Journey Spread. I will be using the Druid Craft Tarot for my ShadowWorkOctober readings this year. (Apologies for the poor photo quality.)

For the Hero’s Journey, you’re meant to choose ten cards, each corresponding to a different piece of the path. However, I accidentally laid out twelve, so I turned over the first ten and read them, saving the last two to be some kind of additional information on the reading as a whole.

The Hero’s Journey Spread

1) The Hero – Who are you at the beginning of your journey? King of Swords. It’s been a tough and busy year, the last summer in particular. The wariness and aloofness of the King of Swords seems fairly accurate to my current state of mind. Also, though, he is a discerning and strategic intellect, which is a good thing for where I am right now with trying to get various projects off the ground.

2) The Quest – What is the conscious purpose of your journey?  Rebirth (Major Arcana 20). Traditionally this is the Judgment card, but I think Rebirth is more apporpriate here- I would very much like a fresh start on several things, or at least an advancement of the cycle.

3) Refusal of the Call – The reason why you’re afraid of to seek out what you desire. Seven of Swords. I think of this card often as imposter syndrome, or feeling like something is a zero-sum game. But those things are often lies we tell ourselves to avoid taking risks, or to rationalize fear.

4) The Guide – Who/what will guide you on your journey? Two of Pentacles. Balance. Hah! Yeah, ok, I do need more balance, and I’m always striving for it, but apparently I haven’t fully achieved it yet.

5) Road of Trials – The lessons for you to learn; what you need to go through. Three of Swords. Heartbreak, anguish, pain. This is… concerning. This could be failure, in the sense that the thing/things I pursue are not successful, or it could be something that comes up that prevents me from continuing my journey, or at least sways me from the path.

6) The Dragon – Your greatest obstacle to overcome. Ten of Cups. I guess I fear success? Or maybe more accurately, I don’t believe it’s possible for me, so I don’t pursue it as doggedly as I would if I felt it was a sure thing. I need to learn to think of it as a destination, not a possibility.

7) Death – What you have to leave behind? Queen of Swords. I’m unsure of how to interpret this one- is it that I will have to leave some autonomy behind? Will success mean getting caught up in others’ agendas? Or will it mean that I’m a more social person? I’m not sure about this one.

8) New Knowledge – What new wisdom and power you will obtain on your journey? The Hanged One. Perhaps if I’m leaving behind a Queen in favor of the Hanged One, I’m learning to let go of tight control and instead create my own space to be out of time? Or maybe learning more patience?

9) Boon – What you will take back with you to share with others? Nine of Cups. I tend to read nines as subtly negative, and thus usually read this as greed, or gluttony. My friend reads nines as much more positive, and would read this card as well-earned decadence or luxury, and frankly, I like that option better for this question!

10) The Hero Returned – Who you come back as from the journey? The Moon. Perhaps I’ll come back even more creative than I was before? Maybe even with recurring creative cycles? That could be nice…

The Hero’s Journey Spread with two additional cards

And then the two final cards- the Princess of Cups and the Princess of Wands. These are actually two of my favorite cards in the deck, and drawing two Pages/Princesses seems auspicious for starting a journey. The combination of Wands and Cups seems good too, as it seems to imply that I have the creativity and the will to do what I need to do; I simply need to strike out and do it.

Mabon 

An altar with three peaches, a pomegranate, three copper cups, three corn men, a painted wooden spoon, and several assorted jars

When it came to Mabon this year, our hive had some different feelings about which direction we should go. I was feeling a lot of water energy, and Mabon is also a Sabbat I tend to associate with the Celts (though I know that the historical evidence for it is sketchy at best, it’s the association which has stuck with me, sorry). Ivy really wanted to make sure we remembered to burn the corn men we’d made at Lammas, and Kian was interested in the harvest sacrifice/turning of the light half of the year into the dark half of the year aspects.

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Close-up of the Mabon altar with fruit and tools

Meanwhile, I’d been feeling a little caught up in ongoing interpersonal drama, in spite of not being directly involved myself, and it had also come up that there were potentially some folks out there who were, for lack of a better way of phrasing it, wishing us all well to our detriment. (You know that thing where someone really really wants something for you, with at least mostly good intentions, but it’s a thing that you would not actually welcome or find beneficial? Yeah, that.) So, it seemed like a good time to do some cleansing/warding/blessing magic in order to make very sure that any influences we did not consent to were reflected back at the sender, to make sure our wards and bounds were being respected, and to do a general cleansing and blessing of our spaces and selves.

We went to a beach near us, with corn men in tow, and all of our assorted supplies. Our hive dedicated ourselves several years ago to a deity who is private to us, a hearth mother goddess of Slavic/Eastern origin, and we each own a painted Russian spoon which we use to give offerings into our little copper cups in her honor if there is not a fire. If there is a fire, she gets the first offerings. In this case, the first offering was a pomegranate, for the movement of the light into darkness and the journey into sleep and the Underworld, so we squeezed some pomegranate juice onto our corn men as they began their travel into death and transformation.

 

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Three corn men burning on a grill

We ended up having a hell of a time getting a fire going, as it was too breezy by the water, but we finally got the little pile of corn bodies to catch, they burned great. Kian read the poem of John Barleycorn for them as they turned to ash, and we thanked them for their sacrifice that they might provide life from the earth again when the wheel turns back to life in the spring.

I always struggle with feeling disconnected from the land, living in an urban area without the distinct seasons I grew up with, and I wish this could have been corn I grew from my own fields, and burned on my own land instead of a grill in a public park, but I guess we all just have to work with what we have on hand. There are things I like about being an urban witch, but I’m a farm kid at heart, and sometimes that’s more apparent than others.

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Four tarot cards, a painted wooden spoon, and two peaches on a dishtowel

After we’d burned the men, we took a little time to do some magic- I’d pre-prepared some ingredients for a cleansing mix, a protection rub, and a blessing ointment. We mixed them up in our three copper bowls and distributed them to each of us, so that we could take them home and use them. We’d done our Mabon ritual the weekend before Mabon, as it fell on a Thursday, but we agreed to do the actual cleansing, warding, and blessing on the day itself. Particular attention was going to be paid to our mirrors and windows, as they can be inadvertent openings into yourself and into your home if left unprotected.

We also drew a card each for our divination for the next space of time before the next Sabbat- the wind also helpfully picked one for us. Three sword cards and a pentacles, which is interesting- though, helpfully, none of the sword cards were the truly ominous ones. Still, there’s something to being on our guard and careful in the next while, I think.

Three small jars, one containing cleansing mix, one containing protection herbs, and one holding the ingredients for a blessing anointment

As our last acts before we left, we ate pomegranate seeds to help us transition into the coming darkness, and made some fruit offerings to the sea (and to the seagulls and crows, which would no doubt partake on the sea’s behalf).

(I liked the kitchen-witchery aspect of this Sabbat- I use herbs fairly widely, but I don’t tend to spend a whole lot of time on making things to use for tinctures and potions and rubs and so on, but I enjoy it when I do it.)

Next up: Samhain!

Lammas

Almost a full year ago, I retired from public service with the coven of which I’d been a member for more than eight years. Shortly after I retired, the two remaining members of my initiatory class also retired, and we spent the rest of the next year in retreat from public ritual, enjoying the mental and emotional and spiritual space after having been members of a large group for a long time, and also re-grouping and re-discovering who we were as private pagans, as semi-solitaries once again.

During this time, one of the things that I came to realize, and which the other two agreed with me on, was that we missed having regular observations of the solar year.

Our coven observed each Sabbat with quite a bit of pomp and circumstance, and over the years, had re-invented them to be specific to the coven, with specific non-ancestral names and ritual actions that accompanied them. Some of this I liked, as it gave some continuity to Sabbats which can otherwise be a little meaning-obscure beyond random traditions (Ostarra and easter eggs, for example), but we had all three missed the more seasonal component, which had seemed to us to get a little lost in the shuffle. We’ve all grown up in areas of the country with distinct seasons, and turning the wheel of the year felt important to us, along with the recognition of the more ancient roots and practices that went along with these holidays. So, we decided that we would like to start observing them again, though not publicly at first, and do the work of figuring out what their meaning and importance was to us on an individual and group level.

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Spell work with divination cards laid out on a table

We had been discussing this for a while, but the next Sabbat really coming up by the time we felt ready to venture into ritual again was Lammas/Lunadsagh. So, the first thing was to figure out what pieces of Lammas felt important to us: for my hive-sister, Ivy, the harvest aspect of it was important, particularly the idea of the fruit harvest. For me, it’s a feast of bread and the first grains, and also closely tied to Mary. For Kian, our third hive-member, Lammas was less of an important holiday to him, but he was on board for the ritual eating and drinking! We also decided that divination and/or spellwork at every Sabbat for the period of time following it was important, and we inaugurated that at this event.

It was a relatively small affair, but it felt really good to be doing even just small ritual again. Ivy and I baked a bunch of bread, hers with fruit in it, which was delicious. I created an altar that celebrated Mary, Sif (a Norse grain and hearth and home [among many other things] goddess to whom I’m dedicated, and the general theme of abundance and the first of the harvests, with offerings of fruit and grain and honey and wine.

Ivy working on her corn dolly, with a two corn dollies standing up in front of her next to a pink teacup

Ivy brought corn husks, and we made corn dolly men and women, which was a lot of fun- we’re keeping the corn women until Imbolc, at which point we will ritually drown them, and the corn men we will burn at Mabon as a sacrifice. We also took the time after we’d eaten to draw cards from a variety of decks, and lay out a spell for what each of us wanted to manifest in the time before Mabon- you can see mine above.

We’re still a long way from doing anything public, if we ever do, and we’ve scaled everything way back from what it was with a large group, of course. It was an interesting feeling, I have to say- it very much feels like a cycle of re-discovery, moving from the way I celebrated the solar holidays on my own as a solitary witch, then how I learned to observe them working in a large group, and now falling to somewhere in the middle. It’s good, though- a re-birth of sorts just in time for the feasts of abundance.

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A back-lit corn man standing in front of flowers and offerings on a plate

06 – The Lovers

I stopped doing this for a bit because posts on this series were being reblogged to content aggregation blogs, which I don’t like. But, I’m also not sure how to stop it other than to state that I do not give permission for my work to be reposted on other blogs.

What is the positive aspect of this card?

Well, on a very basic level, this card can indicate love, often of a sexual or romantic nature, in a consenting and enjoyable context. More broadly, this card can mean self-love (as in, regard and care for one’s self, not masturbation, though it can certainly mean that, too), or the love between close friends or family members, or even just the joyful embrace of life itself. Arguably many of the great poets and musicians could have been represented by The Lovers when in the exuberant peak of their creative love affair with the world around them, I think.

What is the negative aspect of this card?

Obliviousness. Whether you are enamored with yourself or another, it is very easy to become possessed by passion or sentiment to the exclusion of all else and all others. People in love can be incredibly selfish to anyone who is not their beloved, and it is important that we make an effort, when being ruled by The Lovers, to extract our heads from our posteriors and look around on a regular basis.

Astrological association and why?

For me, this is Libra and Aquarius, maybe mainly because those are the main two signs I’ve known that have a tendency to be “in love with love”- Librans, in particular, I’ve heard wax rhapsodic at length about the beauty of love/their lover, and even when love is beating them down, they wouldn’t trade it for anything. Aquarians, I think, relish the pleasures of it somewhat less than the pleasure-driven Librans, but they can be just as obsessive about seeking that next emotional hit of a crush or a fuck. (I’ll also throw in Taurus for good measure, because I think of them as the romantics of the zodiac.)

I stopped doing this for a bit because posts on this series were being reblogged to content aggregation blogs, which I don’t like. But, I’m also not sure how to stop it other than to state that I do not give permission for my work to be reposted on other blogs.

What is the positive aspect of this card?

The Hierophant is the card of hierarchy, of structure, of authority, and of systems, particularly with regard to spiritual institutions. Consequently, one name for it is “Il Pape”, or, “The Pope”, and many people dislike it. But, as tribal animals, humans acting in groups really need some sort of structure, no less in our religious and spiritual practices than anywhere else. The positive aspects of the Hierophant, therefore, are concerned with tradition, with heritage, and with “doing the right thing”. Where the Emperor is concerned with responsibility for the greater good, the Hierophant is telling us to trust in that greater good; to have faith that the larger whole exists for a reason, and is working as it should. Or, if we are part of that system, it reminds us that the system is larger than just us; the needs of the many come first.

What is the negative aspect of this card?

As with anything to do with power structures, The Hierophant can become corrupted. When tradition is used as a club for conformity, that’s bad. When the emphasis is not on the ways in which experience can guide us, but is instead on the ways in which we should stay to the previously trodden paths, that is also bad. There’s a certain stodgy focus on the by-laws that can come with the Hierophant, as well as a shallowness that ignores depth of truth in favor of the trappings of history.

Astrological association and why?

This card, for me, is very clearly Capricorn and Virgo- Virgo is known both for a self-sacrificing nobility, and for an inability to see the forest for the trees, while Capricorn is the master of systems and power dynamics, both for good and for ill. On a good day, you can’t ask for a better leader than a Capricorn or a better second in command than a Virgo- there will be a vision, a well-executed plan, and enough supplies to get everyone to the end. On a bad day, petty in-fighting and power trips run the risk of taking over.