Thursday, August 25, 2016

Tiny Gifts

What you need to understand about depression is that it is not an emotion (like sadness): it is a condition that affects how you process information. If you tell a depressed person a joke to cheer them up, it doesn't improve their ability to process information. If anything, their inability to find joy in the joke only adds to their depression.

With depression comes the lie that you are alone and your worthlessness is completely valid and true. Being reminded that you are loved and gentle displays of affection are noticed and appreciated. 

Because these gestures are not loud and boisterous, they can manage to slip under the veil of depression and not be processed incorrectly. They are little pin-pricks of light that remind the depressed person that the negative thoughts they are thinking are not Truth, that it will pass, and that they are loved for very real reasons.

 So be assured: your tiny gifts are noticed.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The See-Saw

I was walking to work this morning when I crossed a post that had a sign attached to it with one of those thick plastic quick-ties. The pointy end of the quick-tie was sticking out straight, right at eye level. I took a moment to slide the pointy end into the plastic strap so that the end wasn't sticking out.

"Hey, hey you!" came a voice. I turned around and noticed a guy sitting in his car. He had rolled down the passenger window and was leaning over. "Why are you doing that?"

Suprised, I replied, "Because I don't want someone to get their eye taken out by this pointy end."

He gave me a thumbs up, rolled his window back up, and said "Good man! Good man!"

This little exchanged suddenly reminded me of pivotal moment with my Dad. I was probably around 7 years old and my Dad had taken me to play in a public park. He pushed me on the swings, watch me come down on the slide, made sure I didn't fall off the monkey bars. We came to a see-saw and I sat at one end and said "Get on the other end Dad!"

Dad got that inquisitive look on his face, examined the see-saw carefully at the pivot point, and then placed himself at the other end. I stood up so that he could sit on it, but he said "No, no. Sit down and don't move."

He then placed his shoulder and hands under the wooden see-saw and with a sudden upward movement, snapped the plank in half with an unholy crack. I thought my Dad had gone crazy. I sat there with my mouth hanging open as he pulled the plank all the way over until it broke off, and then placed it on the pivot bar. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!" I cried out.

"The see-saw was cracked in the middle," he explained, perfectly calm. "The next person who would have sat on it would have broken it and they might have hurt themselves. C'mon... let's go for ice cream."

That memory came flooding back to me this morning. I know Father's Day was just this past weekend, but... thanks Dad. I'm sure you had no idea how much that singular moment changed me and has influenced my life in so many ways ever since.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Comfort in Crisis

When facing crisis, there is some benefit to being reminded that "It's going to be okay."

Being reassured in the moment can give your mind and emotions just enough space to calm down, you can collect yourself, and come up with a plan to deal with the crisis at hand. Being told "It's going to be okay" is not meant to be a solution or an invitation to ignore the problem: it creates a port in the storm.

No one has the right to use your crisis to shame, humiliate, or abuse you under the guise of "Tough Love". Being told to "shut the fuck up", "get over it", "grow-up", "stop complaining", etc. is the opposite of helping. The person facing the crisis already knows what is at stake, and that knowledge can be so overwhelming that the person is either frozen in place or is actively fleeing. Any attempts at "tough love" just adds to the noise of the crisis and does nothing to help.

If you want to help out, show up. Don't yell out motivational slogans from the dock to help a drowning person. Jump in and keep that person afloat or toss them a rope and pull them in. It's messy, it's hard, and it's dangerous, make no mistake. 

But physically building a port in the storm is much more effective than yelling at the thunder.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Grounding and Centering: The Pool

The last time I did a public ritual, I used this guided meditation to allow the people to ground and center. This is a guided meditation that I composed, wrote, and narrated (below).

It's not the traditional "you are a tree" type of guided meditation, which I'm not a fan of because I've never been a tree, so it's sometimes difficult to visualize (I'm also a little claustrophobic, so the though of being restrained by having my feet become roots freaks me out).

Close your eyes. 

Look at your feet and you will see a small pool of water. The water is still and clear. As you look at it, you clearly see your reflection. As you stare at the pool of water, you will begin to see other faces. The face of a good friend. The face of a loved one. The face of a parent. The face of a friend you have not seen in a long time. The face of a person who annoyed you today. The face of a person who makes you laugh. The face of a person who makes you cry. The face of a person in this space you do not know.

This pool is your mind and it is filled with the thoughts and faces of all the people in your life, the places you've been, the experiences you've had, the stories you share. You put your hand in your pocket and you feel a small stone there. You put it in your hand and at the count of three, let the stone fall into the pool. 1... 2... 3...

Let the ripples carry all those reflections away unti the pool is clear again. Clear your mind of all these images until it is still. Now imagine the pool getting larger... not deeper, but wider. You feel the water wash over your feet. The water is refreshing and comfortable, clean and soothing. Imagine the pool stretching out and touching the feet of everyone in the room. 

Draw some of the energy from the pool up into your being, let it mix with your energy, then let it flow back into the pool. Again. Draw the energy higher into your being until you feel it wash over you, refreshing your spirit, then letting flow back into the pool. Do this one more time until you feel balanced with the energy in the water.

Now send some of this energy out into the pool until it reaches a person in this circle that you know. Send it to a person you do not know. Send it to a friend. Send it to a stranger. And be ready to receive that energy back. 

In this way, we are all connected by our energy and the energy of the water. We are all always connected, but now it is undeniable.

When you have sent out your energy and received the energy and feel balanced, open your eyes.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Depression Epiphanies v1

Depression attempts isolate you, which is why it's important to reach out to others, even when you don't feel like it. This past week, I've fighting off a cold so I've been going to work, then going home to bed early every night trying to get enough rest. But the isolation of that coupled with the depression can spin false yarns in your brainpan and convince you of horrible things.

I was starting to become convinced that my friends were drifting away and that I was seeing the end of my membership in what has been the most awesome friendship circle I've ever been involved with. Maybe they just no longer enjoyed my company and I was being left out.

I arrived at my D&D game last night and a bunch of people had gone out to get food. "I think Erik texted you," said Maia.

"I've gotten in the habit of NOT looking at my phone in the car," I replied. "So I must've missed it. I'll call him now and hopefully, it won't be too late." But when I looked at my phone, there was a text from Erik:

"I am ordering you a chicken Pad Thai."

I nearly burst into tears right there. It was a tiny gesture, but it destroyed the lie that the depression had be feeding me all week. Love ya, buddy. That moment meant more than you'll know. I owe you $10.

When you're in the throes of depression, fight against your feelings and immediately seek out those people who remind you that you're a good person who has a place in this world. Don't let the depression dominate this silent conversation because it is a fucking liar and you deserve better.

"Do you think it's wise to write about your depression so openly like that? People might think you're crazy or unreliable. Maybe that stuff should be kept private."

This attitude is EXACTLY why i need to write about it so publicly. The stigma around depression creates a space where people feel they need to be quiet about it lest they be judged unfairly.

When I write about my epiphanies about depression, I'm trying to show that what you experience has nothing to do with the Absolute Truth about You (which is what depression lies to you about) and everything to do with the condition of depression. I want you to think "Wait... how can he be having the same feelings as me, but he doesn't live the wreck of my life? Maybe this has nothing to do with who I am, so it's definitely something I can overcome."

That's why I write about it.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Pagan Ritual Etiquette

This article attempts to describe proper and respectful etiquette when attending a public or private Pagan ritual. These guidelines will cover what is expected of you, as well as what you can expect from the ritual leaders.

This is going to be a challenging etiquette article to write because Pagan rituals are extremely varied, ranging from personal to public, festival to community-based, and deeply influenced by local and cultural norms. What works in Montreal may not apply in Texas, be considered foreign in Ireland, and came come off as offensive in Vancouver.

The only way to mitigate this conundrum is to be brave, put aside some ego, and ask questions as politely and honestly as you can. Be aware that some people may find your questions odds or self-evident, but this may be because their own experience is limited to the cultural norms in which they were raised. Listen to  what they say, try to respect it in that situation, but also apply some critical thought before adopting it into your own practice, ethics, and etiquette.

What is a Pagan Ritual?

You've been hearing about a Pagan ritual taking place in your community. You're curious, but you have no idea what to expect. A Ritual is a piece of spiritual theatre designed to move the participants, move the Gods, or both. A Pagan ritual is designed to bring a group of people to celebrate, commemorate, perform magic, or a little bit of everything.

In general, the structure of a Pagan ritual can be broken down into the following:

  • Setting up the space
  • Greeting the participants
  • Collecting the fee, if any
  • Forming a circle
  • Explaining what is about to happen
  • Grounding and Centering
  • Establish the sacred space
  • Perform the task for which the ritual was called
  • Share food/drink
  • Close the sacred space
  • Feast and socialize
  • Clean up/Ritual After Care

Different traditions will drop some of these steps or add others, but by and large, this is generally what happens in most public/private rituals I've seen and attended. Variety is the spice of life.

Read the description for the ritual carefully, and if there's anything you don't understand, ask questions.

What to Bring

Every ritual has different requirements based on what the organizers had in mind. Read the description for the ritual carefully, and if there's anything you don't understand, ask questions.

Here some general guidelines about what you should bring to a ritual:
  • Comfortable clothing, shoes
  • Ritual wear (optional)
  • Feast food to share (see the Feasting section below)
  • Feast gear: reusable cup, plate, bowl, utensils
  • Fee: not all rituals require a fee, but donations are always appreciated. Rooms and supplies always cost money.
Here's what you should NOT bring to a public ritual. For a private ritual, you should check with the ritual organizers:
  • Weapons of any kind (including athames)
  • Alcohol 
  • Drugs 
  • Any objects you cannot stand to lose (there are thieves everywhere)
Note: In relation to drugs or alcohol, you should also not come to ritual intoxicated. If you decide consume something that may impair your judgement, that is your choice to make. However, if you are so intoxicated that you are a danger to yourself or others, you may be asked to leave. Please make choices that respects everyone's safety.

Most importantly: bring your best self! If you're not feeling well or in a bad mood, this negative energy can adversely affect the other people in the ritual. Try to ground that negativity out and approach the ritual space as neutral being, if not a positive influence. If you do not think you can do that, you may want to consider stepping away from the ritual until you feel better.

You will only get from this ritual what your bring to the table: a ritual is a group construction. You need to work in concert with the ritual organizers to make the experience a positive one, not only for you, but for everyone involved.

Arriving on Time/Arriving Early

Pagan communities are often plagued with something that has been non-affectionately called PST: Pagan Standard Time. PST can result in people being anywhere from 10 minutes late to over an hour late. More and more, organizers are not tolerating PST and will start their rituals on time and without you.

Therefore, to respect the hard work that the organizers have put into putting this ritual together, you should arrive to the ritual space 15 minutes before the event begins. This will give you time to get settled, meet some people, ask your questions, and get all the information needed before the ritual begins.

If you promised you were going to attend and, for whatever reason, you cannot attend, please let the organizers know as soon as you can before the ritual begins. Maybe you think you won't be missed, but believe me, the organizers have taken note that you said you'd be there.

If you don't show up, the organizers will worry about you, adding to their stress of the day. If they find out later that something came up and you could not let them know in time, they'll probably understand. If your reason for not coming was "Didn't feel like it" and couldn't be bothered to let anyone know, that kind of disregard stings and it won't be forgotten any time soon.

Getting dumped is no one's idea of a good time, it is always disappointing, and feels like a betrayal. Also, you don't want to earn a reputation for being unreliable.


At some point during the ritual (usually at the beginning or at the end), the Ritual Organizers may ask for donations. These donations are usually to pay for supplies, room rentals, and other expenses accrued in putting these rituals together. Some Organizers have an open "pass the hat" policy, some have a flat rate, and others have a sliding-scale rate.

As a general rule, we suggest that a $5 donation is a reasonable amount to charge for a 1-2 hour ritual.
  • If the ritual is "free", but they are asking for donations, please give what you can. In most cases, $5 is a reasonable amount to ask.
  • If the ritual has a flat fee and you decide to attend, please provide the fee as requested. If you have questions about the fee, please ask your questions before the event takes place. The actual event itself is not the place to have this discussion.
Click here for the author's opinion on this topic

How to Behave in a Ritual Space

If you are taking part in a ritual, you should consider yourself a guest and on sacred ground. Therefore, you should endeavour to be a gracious guest as you would be in someone's home or in a holy temple. Be on your best behaviour and treat the organizers and the other participants with respect. Read the description for the ritual carefully, and if there's anything you don't understand, ask questions.

If you have any particular needs that may affect your participation in this ritual (mobility issues, allergies, time constraints), let the organizers  know as soon as possible so that they can make adjustments. Once the Ritual begins, it's much more difficult to make these adjustments on the fly.

Once the ritual begins, keep in mind that everyone is there to experience something that is not only personal, but that is also shared by the group. It is important that everyone plays their part in making the ritual a beautiful, moving experience for everyone.

Appropriate behaviour in a ritual space greatly depends on the parameters set by the ritual leaders. If the ritual depends on quiet meditation, then you should meditate quietly. If the ritual calls for loud, raucous dancing, go on and shake your boogaloo as much as you like! The important aspect to remember is that you need to tailor your behaviour to suit the ritual design. Remember that you are on sacred ground, so act respectfully as dictated by the ritual design.

In most rituals, there is a central altar that contains various tools, incense, candles, and other objects that are meaningful to the practitioner. As a general rule, DO NOT TOUCH any of these objects without explicit permission by their owner(s). For many practitioners, these objects are sacred and can only be handled by the owner. You can look, you can ask questions, but do not touch.

Some rituals invite the participants to take part by taking action or sharing with the group. If you are asked to share some words with the group, try to be brief as much as possible. It can be daunting to share something meaningful with a group of people, many of whom are strangers, so sometimes people tend to ramble nervously, not realizing how much time they are taking. Try to keep in mind that everyone needs to have their turn and that the time to complete the whole ritual is finite. Take the time to compose what you want to say, be succinct, and be honest.

While everyone should have the freedom to speak their minds, a ritual is not the space in which to indulge in heated debate, make controversial statements, or be critical of anyone or anything. There is usually a social time after the ritual in which you can engage with people as you see fit, but the ritual space is not the stage for this.

Rituals are designed in a number of ways: some follow strict traditions, some borrow from a variety of sources, and some are completely original and unique. It's important to come to a ritual with an open mind and realize that the structure of any ritual may be different from what you are accustomed. Rather than exclaiming "That is NOT how that is done!", try to be open to new ideas and new ways of approaching spiritual expression.

If you're not in charge of the ritual, then you're not in charge. You don't have to like it, but that does not give you the right to derail the ritual and force it to conform to your expectations, even if you are an expert in your own tradition. If you have any concerns about the ritual's design, you should discuss your concerns with the Ritual Organizer after the ritual is done.

Inappropriate Behaviour during Ritual

If you are unsure what type of behaviour is appropriate at a Pagan ritual, read the description for the ritual carefully, and if there's anything you don't understand, ask questions.

1. Spectating

A Pagan ritual is an experience in which everyone takes part, but the individual experiences can be as varied and profound as the number of people who attended. For this reason, disconnected, detached spectators are either not allowed or not encouraged. Spirituality is not a spectator sport, so you cannot be standing on the outside watching it happen. You should either take part, or not attend at all.

Don't worry about taking part though: everything will be explained, nothing is binding, and if at any moment you feel you need to leave, you can do so without judgement. The ritual leaders will have people in place (Warders) to help you if you need to leave the sacred space for whatever reason.

2. Taking Pictures/Recording Audio/Video

Almost without exception, taking pictures or recording audio or video in a Pagan ritual is prohibited. The only exception is when the Ritual Organizer says that is permitted explicitly. If the Organizer doesn't mention it, you can safely assume that pictures/video/audio taking is not permitted.

In this world of Social Media, consent is king. If you take anyone's picture, you need everyone's consent. Even if you're being careful, someone's face could end up in your picture and once it the picture gets loose on the Internet, there can be real and very damaging effects. It's just not worth the risk: let you memories be your souvenir of your Pagan Ritual experience.

Feeling Comfortable, Feeling Safe

Most Pagan Rituals are designed to accommodate the needs and realities of the participants, but if at any moment you feel unsafe or that there is something happening that makes you uncomfortable, you are completely within your rights to raise the issue or to leave the event.

Ritual organizers often have people called Warders and their jobs are to contain and managed the energy raised in ritual, but to also handle any issues that come into play. These issues can involve dealing with passers-by, law enforcement, or difficult people who want to interrupt the ritual. Warders are also responsible for the well-being of the people in the ritual space, so if you have any concerns of if you feel you must leave the space, the Warders can help you with that. If you don't know who the Warders are in a ritual, ask the organizers (preferably before the ritual starts).

If at some point, something is being asked of you that makes you uncomfortable, you can quietly and politely decline. If you see something that puts someone in danger, alert the Warders or the organizers discretely and make your concerns known. If the danger persists, you need to take whatever action you deem to be necessary, which may include intervention or by walking away. As much as possible, try to work with the organizers to ensure everyone's safety.

A ritual leader should NEVER attempt to coerce you into doing something that makes you uncomfortable or that crosses your personal boundaries. You have every right to politely refuse to take part in any ritual activity as you see fit, and you owe no one any explanations or justifications.

For example:

  • A cup of alcohol is being passed to each person to drink a toast. If you do not wish to drink it, you can kiss the cup, lift it up in thanks, or pour out a drop onto the ground as a libation (preferably outside).
  • The ritual organizers ask that people perform the ritual skyclad (naked). Read the description for the ritual carefully, and if there's anything you don't understand, ask questions.

    However, you should be able to refuse this request and still take part. If anyone pressures you to disrobe, politely and firmly refuse. If they insist, you should respectfully walk away from the ritual. Report this incident to the event organizers if possible.
  • The participants are invited to hug each other. If you are not comfortable with hugging, you can politely and firmly refuse anyone attempting to hug you. Instead, offer a handshake or a first pump, as you feel comfortable.


After the Ritual is done, there is sometimes a Feast that takes place. Participants are asked to bring food to share and this is a time to socialize, network, build and foster community, and just enjoy each other's company. Not only does the Feast help to ground the energy of the participants, but this is also a good time to ask questions and thank the Ritual Organizers for their hard work. Read the description for the ritual carefully, and if there's anything you don't understand, ask questions.

Feast food should be finger foods: something that's easy to eat without utensils. For example, fruit, veggies, dips, chips, crackers, juice, brownies, cookies, etc. You should also bring Feast gear to help you eat all these goodies.

For people with allergies, if the ingredients of your Feast food are not apparent, indicate the presence of nuts, milk, gluten, etc.

Bring enough to feed a couple of people. If everyone brings a little something, there will be lots for everyone.

Whatever is leftover, BRING IT HOME WITH YOU. Don't assume other people will take it. This is just an added headache for the Ritual Organizer to deal with.

At the end of the feast, clean up after yourselves: do your best to leave the space looking the same or better than it was when you arrived.

Ritual After Care

Running a ritual is exciting and exhausting, so the organizers/leaders may need some time apart from the group just to relax, regroup, and decompress. This can take the form of meditation, eating some food, or just doing their own ground and centering to release the pent-up energy.

Speaking from personal experience, I am the worst at this. Once the ritual is done, I'm excited and happy and socializing, so I either forget to decompress, or I don't decompress enough. The result is that when I do get home finally, I lay in bed with my eye wide open, wired beyond belief, and I don't sleep well. Or if I do sleep, my dreams are bizarrely over-dramatic.

Whenever possible, the ritual leader should take the time to decompress from the ritual, which means they may be unavailable to talk to the group for a time. As a participant, do not take this personally. Give the ritual leader some time and come back to him/her later for questions, feedback, or praise.

If you're noticing that the ritual leader is not taking the time to decompress, gently remind them that they probably should do so.

Cleaning Up

Once the ritual is done and the socializing is over, it's time to clean up the space. Ideally, you should leave a ritual space in the same or better condition than when you arrived. The ritual organizers are probably exhausted at this point, so be courteous and help them clean up the space. A clean venue post-event will go a long way to ensuring that the venue can be used again for future rituals.

v1.3, April 2016

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Colors and Techniques of Magical Problem Solving

Recently on a Facebook forum, the concept of Left-Hand path was raised. A person suggested that a Left-Hand practitioner of magic was a person who worked magic, but was an atheist. That's not a definition I've ever heard of. Another poster suggested this article on Left-Hand Path. While it does speak of the general community's fear or disdain for Left-Hand practitioners, it described them as people who work a magic outside of the mainstream practice or that are trouble-makers. I'm not a fan of trying to define a thing by what it isn't.

So here's my take on Left-Hand vs Right-Hand magic. I also need to point out that I studied Left-Hand path off and on for about 1.5 years with a mentor whom I greatly respect. Not everyone will agree with my take on this, but this definition makes sense to me.

Simply put, Left-Hand and Right-Hand magic describe magical techniques or styles that define how you approach a problem or how to achieve a goal.

  • Right-Hand (white magic): increase the probabilities of achieving the goal. 
  • Left-Hand (black magic): remove obstacles in the way of achieving the goal.

So let's use an example to illustrate this style choice. Let's say you are applying for a job and decide that you will perform a spell to boost your chances of getting it.

  • Right-Hand technique: a few days before the ritual, you could craft a spell that ensures that the weather on the day of your interview is bright and shiny, that your interviewer wakes up refreshed, happy, and in a good mood, ready to be impressed by what you have to say.
  • Left-Hand technique: you craft a spell that removes the other applicants from the running, which reduces the number of people you need to compete with for the position.

Now I know that the Left-Hand technique sounds pretty ominous, but this is where your personal ethics come into play. You don't need pianos to fall from the sky to squish your competitors and remove them from the job pool. You could just have them find work in other places or have them no longer be interested in the job, which in effect, removes them as obstacles. How they get removed is completely up to you and will reflect your values as a human being. Make the right choices.
Note: Remember that the magic can't do all the work. If you want that job, you still need to be well-dressed, clean, alert, and arrive on time. No amount of magic is going to help you if you show up late or disheveled. 
Let's look another more ambiguous example. Let's say that you have a friend who is very sick and you decide that you will perform a healing spell.
  • Left-Hand technique: you do a spell that banishes the sickness from the body, removing the negative effects that make your friend sick.
  • Right-Hand technique: you do a spell that boosts the person's immune system, allowing his own body to fight off the illness.
One aspect I discovered during my studies is that Pagans tend to practice both paths in their application of magic, but rationalize it as they see fit. In the Sick Friend example, a Pagan may say "Destroying the sickness is not Black Magic because it promotes health!" That's using the result to justify the action, and historically, this type of philosophy rarely ends well.

The Left-Hand path is all about removing the problem, so it would be very left-hand pathy to remove the sickness and very right-hand pathy to boost the immune system. These are just different angles and techniques to solve a problem, but it's your ethics that determine the flavor or the morality of those techniques, not the techniques themselves.

When you boil it down to its essence, Magic does not have color, nor does it have morality. It is a tool that is wielded by the practitioner, but it has no nature of itself. You can use a hammer to build a table, or you can use a hammer to kill a person, but in either case, the nature of the tool does not change. This is why we do not have Black Carpentry to build guillotines and catapults and White Carpentry to build tables and chairs.

I'm not a huge fan of the color associations. They are very North American in their nature and come with tons of connotative baggage. Why is White Magic good and Black Magic evil? I'm not going to explore the historical significance of those choices here, but I'm sure you can find articles on the InterWebs that describe both.