When the Dog Bites

Ceremony and Ritual

M

iracles,

Have you ever seen the movie The Sound of Music? If not, you should. People make fun of it, and it is pretty cheesy in moments. It is also much edgier and more relevant than a lot of us may realize. The story takes place in Austria right before the rise of Nazism and the occupation of that country, and centers around a family of children, their overly stern and demanding father, and a bright-eyed governess. Usually billed as a love story, it is also (and perhaps more) a story about how easy it is to look away from or ignore a situation that is growing worse with each passing day. It is a story about betrayal – and the choice to betray or not betray the things and people that matter most.

One of the most important moments of the film is when Maria, the governess played by Julie Andrews, summons up the courage to sing to the frightened children during a violent thunderstorm. The song she sings is called My Favorite Things and is basically a list of the things Maria really loves.

It is not easy to summon up the things you most love in dark times.

Now, if you have seen the film you know where the title of this letter comes from…here are some lines from My Favorite Things: When the dog bites/When the bee stings/When I’m feeling sad/I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so bad!”

I like this song. I like the film version, and I like this version by the great Jazz musician John Coltrane even better.

Now every lunar cycle I pull cards from a few different decks that I know and love. I sit with the cards over the two week period, beginning with the New Moon to Full, and then from Full Moon to New. During this period, I make sure to pay attention to what comes up in my daily life and experience. This regular practice can be a useful learning tool to see and reflect on bigger patterns that one might ordinarily miss.

Last New Moon at the beginning of the month, one of the cards that turned up was The Singer of Courage – a card from Brian Froud’s The Faerie’s Oracle, which I adore. The Singer of Courage is a card that indicates that the querent is entering into a time when he or she will need not only courage but to be a singer of courage.

What does it mean to be a singer of courage?

The teaching of the Singer of Courage, The Sound of Music, and My Favorite Things is that courage looks less like an act of clenching teeth and powering-through (although there may have to be some of that), but more like someone actively remembering and holding firmly to the beloved and good things, the true things – especially when it is easiest to let these things go.

Many of you also are experiencing your own unexpected dog bites and bee stings – I know I have over the past two weeks. And this, in turn, brings you your own moments where you can and you must call up the courage to summon up the things you most love in hard times.

On this Full Moon and Lunar Eclipse, we have the opportunity to spot patterns – especially the patterns that we are most comfortable with, most reluctant to question or examine too closely. Our work here and now is to see what patterns are asking to be seen, to gauge which events no longer serve us and need to change. We can only meet them with our courage, a virtue that is very much not a superpower but a native, natural, rooted in our soul soil, power – one that we have access to all of the time. How do we access it? The song tells us.

We remember our favorite things. We recollect what matters most. Say it. Dance it. Sing it. These are the sacred ceremonies that the Singer of Courage will recognize and not fail to attend to. They are the medicine-bringing magic.

Want to get more in touch with your native power of courage?
This candle ritual can help you fire it up.

And you can also consider this prompt for your writing practice:
What are the places that scare me the most and how can I best meet them?

Soulful Seekers Spotlight

Since courage is our theme for this letter I want to give two shout outs to some courageous ladies I know. Elizabeth who runs Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab has created an incredible series of scents that raises money for RAICES, a Texas not for profit that is directly involved in addressing the crises we are experiencing at our Southern Borders. Refusing to turn away from horrors requires a special kind of courage. Purview the scents and purchase here.

Jacquelyn Tierney is asking those who will be in attendance at my book signing in Santa Fe to call upon their courage and allow her to witness their lives and stories through the lens of her camera. Details are here.

xo,
Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Hold On, Hold Close, Hold Together

Foundations

M

iracles,

Like millions over the season, I have seen the new Star Wars movie, not once but twice. (If there was ever a job description for “mom of a six year old boy” – this would very likely be at the top of the list.) It is my favorite Star Wars so far, in large part because the core conflict of past Star Wars (dark vs. light) has given way to a more interesting and, I think, more relevant conflict of new vs. old and, in a parallel argument, hopelessness vs. hope.

As I thought and felt into what words our community of Soulful Seekers might need to hear at this moment, I kept coming back to these themes: old vs. new, hopelessness vs. hope. And then, when I saw them writ large on the screen, I knew it was time to write about them. Of course, the truth is that I see them, we see them, everywhere, and that this popular film, meant for entertainment, in fact embodies not a few of our struggles.

Our culture’s wholehearted embrace of new technology, convenience, and efficiency is one of the most obvious places we see what is New accepted and what is deemed Old jettisoned off to the side – as we forget, even to our own detriment, to ask old essential questions about trust, goodness, truth, and excellence. Much of our political rhetoric is pitched as Old vs. New, “Conservative” vs. “Progressive” and so often seems to miss the point. Before either category, we are people, daughter, son, sister, brother, lover, mother, father, and friend, whose ideas and words have the power to make blood flow or the power to staunch wounds.

We can even see the Old vs. New and the Hope vs. Hopelessness motif playing out astrologically as Pluto, planet of deep transformation, is joined by Saturn, planet of conserving old ways, in the sign of Capricorn, which speaks to our most powerful, stabilizing, often corrupt and in many cases highly beneficial institutions. We all feel this movement and the sea change it anticipates.

And I see it personally. Every year as the Old Year dies and the New Year is born, it seems that everyone is thrilled at the possibility of a fresh start, a blank page, a new chapter – I feel that thrill too! – but all too often, in our haste towards the new and uncharted, we are willing to leave everything from the past, from the Old Year at the threshold, not discerning the lessons, actions, thoughts, feelings, and experiences that are worthy and worthwhile and should be carried with us into the next year, and the next, and the next – perhaps carried for the rest of our lives, perhaps not, but definitely held onto for now.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely think culling and banishing are essential at this time (which is why I created a community ceremony to do just that) and throughout the year. What I am advocating for is a selective, intelligent, and courageous, approach to the magical and sacred act of banishing.

A few days back, I was talking to my oldest friend, someone I’ve known since second grade. He is a now successful choreographer, director, and librettist, who works all over the country putting together plays, musicals, and operas. We were catching up after 15 years of not seeing each other, and reflecting on where we have come since we were eight years old. We both observed that none of our successes have been simply good and none of our failures have been simply bad. This is not a new thought – you know it to be so in your own life too. When you consider what to release and what to hold onto, remember this. Not every bright moment needs to be carried forth and not every pain or struggle needs to be set down and immediately escaped. They are all teachers.

Without spoiling the moment for those who have not yet donned their lightsabers, what I can say is that in the film The Last Jedi, there is a dramatic moment that clearly says: this is not working. This way of holding things, Old vs. New, Hope vs. Hopelessness? At the end of the day it does nothing but pull us apart. We can see this politically, as the arguments get louder and the listening (especially to voices that have different thoughts and opinions from our own) diminishes. We see it personally as we drop the Old in favor of the New and say ‘this year everything will be different’ again, and again, and again until the whole thing, well, gets kind of old. Oh, the irony.

The conflicts need to be re-framed; which is to say, we need a deeper and clearer understanding of them. The New without the Old is unrooted and unmoored. It lacks consciousness of lineage, which also means that in a very real way it lacks vision and clear direction. The Old without the New is ossified tradition for tradition’s sake that, at worst, breeds ignorance and superstition, and at best is not open to the spirit of a thing, but only the form. Either one without the other is downright dangerous…politically, personally, and spiritually. The same is true for hope and hopelessness. To only have hope and to see the world through rose colored glasses is to ignore much suffering and that in itself is a cruel act. To only feel hopelessness (something more and more voices have advocated for recently) is to act fundamentally from a place of fear and wrath, not love and courage. And we have all seen what happens when we only act from fear or anger.

So what to do? How to understand this in a way that makes better sense? How to put it together so that we ourselves are also more together? As usual I suggest we get literal with it. I envision the New Year as a baby. I see a robust and healthy little baby boy – who is carried in the strong arms of an old woman. To me she is Hekate, radiant Crone Goddess and midwife whose “crime” that got her kicked off of Mount Olympus was daring to cherish all children, all new life, no matter their parentage and no matter their imperfections. Old and New coming together, carrying time forward once more.

Maybe for you it is found in the strong affinity that the Old and the New have for each other, how they enrich and enliven and season each other. I think of my how own son carries a special love for his Nana, my grandmother – now in her 80’s – who loves babies and little children and her great grandchildren in the way that only a Nana can.

And you can reflect on your own life too. Are the actions and accomplishments, dreams and desires you wish to summon up in 2018 more likely to occur if they are informed by your past, if they are woven into your full story? We do not need to carry everything with us as we go forward, but we also do not need to feel as if everything must go either; just as we can know that feeling hopelessness at times does not preclude us from living from a place of hope.

There will always be tension between opposing forces, whether they be Old and New, Hope and Hopelessness, or a thousand other oppositions that we could conceive. Some spiritual teachers advocate for a resolution of all tension, dissolving difference into single unity, and for letting go as radically as possible. I do not. Not only do I find that this approach does not work in day-to-day life, but I find that our differences, our specificity and particularities – and that includes the uniqueness of our manifold stories – are essential to who we are, to how we are, and I think our actual experience resists attempts to smooth out and down all rough edges.

But I do know this about tension. The tension is a force that can destroy, break apart, and sever forever. And it is also a force that is required to fly, to soar, to fall in love, to flourish, and to create anything. Rather than letting go, perhaps we ought to try a new direction, to seek to learn how to hold that tension in a more beneficial, useful and creative way. The solution would not be to choose Old or New, Hope or Hopelessness, but instead choose to find a way to hold both, together, as we hold of our parts together, and as we hold onto one another. It will not be easy. But this, then, is my wish for the New Year, carried by the Old – may we learn what it means to hold on, hold close, hold together and may we do it beautifully and well.

In love and blessings always,
Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Never Give In!

Lunar Letter

D

ear Miracles, crisis

If you ask me to pick a word that our culture both overuses and misuses more than any other word, I would choose “crisis.” The state of public education? Crisis. Unemployment numbers (regardless of whether they go up or down)? Crisis.

Corruption on Wall Street? Crisis.

Deceit and ineptitude in Washington? Crisis.

Western Culture and “the West” as well as Europe, Asia, Africa, and of course the Middle East? Crisis, crisis, crisis.

And those are just global considerations.  Let us not forget the whole host of personal crises to attend to as well: from food that is no longer actual food to marriages that fall apart, jobs that destroy our vitality, and children who shoot to kill.  To read the news and most non-fiction bestsellers in any given year is to come up against and lock horns with crisis over and over again. The word, and all of the weight it carries surrounds us, pours into our ears, sits on our tongues, and covers our skin in a fine film of fatalism.

Words matter. From the promises, prayers and spells we make, the names we call ourselves, to the stories we listen to and tell, words make up a big part of who we are and how we understand. Especially in the digital age.  For the soulful seeker, to reclaim certain words, to save them from misuse and overuse, is nothing less than to reclaim our own autonomy or sovereignty in the 21st Century. To my mind calling back our autonomy and sovereignty is one of THE goals for sacred arts and for education generally speaking. Sovereignty that is deep and rooted as the most ancient tree. Autonomy that stands and shines out like the clearest star. How do we make our way back to these things? One way is to begin with what is closest to us, the words we speak, the words we hear, every single day.

So “crisis” sells, doesn’t it?  As a consequence, we are left feeling that both our world and our personal lives are on the brink of some dire catastrophe all of the time. In that belief, that feeling, and that space we are at our most vulnerable. We are all too willing to follow the next shiny guru promising an easy and risk-free way out, the next celebrity, business, or literary trend that swears to have figured out the whole puzzle if only we will contort ourselves into stranger than fiction shapes and do/be/say/think in this one, exacting way, or happy to look for ways we can outsource our troubles and anxieties to someone or something else. In other words, it is when we are fed a diet of constant crisis that we are most likely to give up our sovereignty, lose our autonomy, and place ourselves in a position to be taken advantage of. In these moments we are thin-skinned or even skinless, tender, exposed and we want nothing more than to feel safe, protected, and secure once again.

But let me let you in on a little secret: crisis? It’s nothing new. We were on the brink of crisis a century ago in 1915 as Europe continued to be pressed in the vice of mechanized and chemical warfare. We were on the brink fifty years ago, twenty-five years ago and two thousand years ago too. Crisis, it seems is both something more and less than what we usually think. Like our shadows it follows us faithfully through the millenia. Perhaps it is time to get to know it, and in so doing call back our sovereignty and our autonomy.

The word “crisis” is overused but the word is also misused. Language is a living, growing thing, and if you look back far enough, you can uncover its essential root stock which, just as in the world of plants, often carries the most nutrition and medicine.  “Crisis” originally was introduced into English as a medical term meaning that protocols around diagnosis and treatment were at a crossroads and a definite decision needed to be made (one that would take other possible decisions off the table).  But the root of the word “crisis” is derived from a Greek word (over 500,000 modern English words derive from Greek!) and the root carries the meaning of decision, choice.

So it is that the word “crisis” tends to get our heart rates and blood pressures up, our adrenal glands pumping on overdrive, and our breaths becoming short and shallow.  But it should actually encourage the opposite reactions: concentration, focus, clarity, and the summoning up of all our intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual gifts to assess the situation we find ourselves in and then make the wisest decision regarding the best possible course of action. In crisis, there may be danger, but there is still hope. With intelligence, action, courage and patience, something can be still done.  But not only that, something will be done. To be in crisis too is to be at the crossroads, that liminal place where heaven and earth, this world and the imaginal realms, intersect, where everything is possible and all journeys begin.

The great question now, and it is one we will be unfolding over the next two lunar letters, is how the soulful seeker stands at the crossroads. What does she actually do at the crossroads, facing the crises so   interwoven in the fabric of any human life? Where does she go to find healing and wholeness, and how does she carry those gifts back into the everyday world?

And so the question to ask right now under the Full Moon in Aquarius on 1/23 is
What do you need to know to begin your journey?

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Why Walking Away is Rarely the Answer

Lunar Letter

D

ear Miracles,

If you remember in the August Lunar Letter, we looked at what it takes to be a soulful seeker. In a word, we saw the need for an “eyes-wide open” faith, which stays alive to our deepest and our sharpest questioning. In response to this Letter, I received several thoughtful messages from you asking me to write/speak on a related topic: what should we do when soulful seeking becomes a divisive wedge in relationships? 

This is a question I receive quite often, in many different forms, and all of you who wrote to me are right. This is a problem that needs to be addressed in our sacred arts communities.

One person finds herself trying to explain why she would like to have an area of her home dedicated to candles, prayer and contemplation, or to divination practices, and her spouse looks at her as if she’s sprouted a second head. She can take only so much of this, and begins to wonder if she should divorce him.

Another person tries to tell his secular Jewish parents that he would actually like to attend the neighborhood synagogue regularly, not just during the high holidays, and they roll their eyes at him, and his relationship with them suffers. They always seem to do and say things that undermine him.

Someone else finds herself unable to explain to her Baptist grandmother the finer points of her astrological chart and becomes worried that at any moment said grandmother may begin talking about the Devil’s handy work. She used to spend long afternoons with her grandmother, but it is becoming more and more difficult to do so – and she is even wondering if it wouldn’t be better for everyone if she stops visiting all together.

Yet another person finds herself making excuses and covering up when talking to intellectual friends who are skeptical of spiritual matters. She worries she’ll lose her friends.

Someone else no longer can talk to family, has becomes estranged, because she feels they stand on the other side of a vast unbridgeable canyon.

In order to belong, we can often feel we need to cover over our eccentricities. But if we do that, in some way it feels like we are betraying ourselves. If – on the other hand – we try to proclaim our differences proudly, then we risk destroying our relationships and isolating ourselves in unsupportable ways.

This is a tough one, people! And it is a very, very old conflict. One of the toughest things is that every relationship is different.  That means that there’s no silver-bullet, one size fits all, solution.  But the good news is that you’re not alone.

So what should we do? To approach this problem, let’s begin by identifying a trend. We see more and more commonly in our sacred arts communities today something like the following solution to the problem:

You come first. Do what is right for you no matter what the consequences. When conflicts arise the choice is clear: keep the spiritual teachings and practices and leave the relationship – even if it is your beloved, your parent, your sibling or child. 

Now let’s buck the trend and see what happens.  Try this on for size:

Relationship is first. Do what is right for you in the deepest and truest sense. When conflicts arise the choice is clear: if your spiritual teachings destroy your relationships – if they do not teach you how to approach relationships with greater wisdom and understanding – go back to the drawing board, seek wisdom, and ask, what is right relationship here, what does it look and feel like?  

Why might this alternative approach interest us as soulful seekers?  For one thing because the greatest mystical and sacro-magical teachings the world over emphasize one thing more than almost any other: right relationship.

Right relationship with the mysteries and powers of a magnificent cosmos.

Right relationship with our dear neighbors and loved ones (not to mention with strangers.)

Right relationship with ourselves.

There are times when certain relationships do indeed need to come to an end, or at the very least be re-assessed. And it is true that in some cases weaving spiritual practices into our daily lives can appear to create conflict.

But if certain relationships need to end, could it be because of – and not despite – the real need we all have (all of us, without exception!) for good and genuine relationships in our lives? If conflicts appear to be stirred up by practices, could it be that they were already there in the first place, but that somehow we were not acknowledging them properly?

The single greatest problem with the simplistic “you-centered” remedy is that relationships can never be avoided. Try as we might to make ourselves numero uno, we find ourselves again and again having to live and work with people.  Stubborn, intractable people!

Instead of trying to escape from this conflict without success, we might do well to consider the alternative. What if the very people who best push our buttons – the ones we love the most – and the very deepest conflicts in our lives, are our best teachers, the ones who grant us an perfect opportunity to seek greater understanding and wisdom, therefore to do soulful work? Just as we would never wish away our friends and best teachers, so we might do well to cease trying to escape from, or rid ourselves, of these conflicts at the roots of our life as human beings and as soulful seekers.

It makes sense, doesn’t it?  After all, one of the most valuable things we can learn from divination practices such as the Tarot as well as so many other sacred arts such as the storytelling tradition of faerie tales is not how to flee from conflicts, not how to put “ourselves first” no matter what, in order to soothe away conflicts temporarily. We learn, rather, how to fight well! We learn how to embrace the unknown and get out of conflicts and difficult times with more grace and wisdom, more wholeness and holiness, than we had before we went in. That is, we learn true sovereignty, and how to enter into a deeper more objective and vital engagement with relationships, facing conflicts with compassion, understanding and greater insight…and, above all else, a “can do” attitude characterized by inspired and wise action.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.