Becoming the Keeper of Your Own Flame

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This morning was indeed a glorious morning.  I was up before the sky goes from midnight blue to sunrise pink.  I did something this morning that made my time in the woods seem like a spa day.  I packed a thermos full of dark rich espresso flavored with stevia and hazelnut creamer.  As I led Friz down that familiar path, I could feel the warmth of the thermos pressed against my back from my backpack.

As we settled down onto the ground, I pulled that warm to the touch thermos out of my backpack, and as I unscrewed the top, I could see the steam escape.  Wonderful scents of cream and hazelnut and strong coffee wafted toward my nostrils.  In that moment, I couldn’t resist joining that joyous dance which is coffee.

I believe that all things happen for a reason.  There is magick to be found in all situations.  As I was dusting my bookshelf this week, one particular book leapt from the shelf and onto the floor in front of me.  This book is titled, “Random Thoughts n’ Lotsa Coffee.”  This wonderful book came to me through a dear friend in the fall of 2013.  As I leafed through the pages, I would find myself smiling or chuckling as I remembered when I first read this book by author J.V. Manning.

As I began to re-read the entries, I came across one that resonated deeply in my spirit.  This entry, “Only in Silence, Can You Hear,” speaks of taking a step back…removing yourself and allowing yourself to live life instead of allowing life to go on automatic pilot.  In that entry, the author herself was dealing with some storms in her own life…but think about it, even when storms aren’t surfacing, how often do we live on automatic pilot?

I know in my own life, each day has seemed to become more about rushing from one happening to another, barely taking time to breathe, let alone still my mind.  We are constantly bombarded with work issues, home issues…just the daily taking care of business.  Somewhere in that busy-ness, we are expected to nurture our own spirit, work splendid magickal workings, and take care of the needs of others around us.

As Imbolc approaches, I have been reading more about the goddess Brigid and who she is.  She is goddess of the land.  She is the goddess of peace. She is the goddess of the home fires.  She is the goddess of healing.  She is the goddess of contemplation.   All of these are things that I need to take to heart as the next part of winter moves upon us.  flamehand

For some reason….and I don’t know why…I always kind of kept it in the back of my head that it was the responsibility of the goddess to keep my fires “stoked,” so to speak.  I would continue running around like a chicken with my head cut off and scream up into the trees, “Stoke those fires within me, goddess!”  Then I would wonder why I would burn out faster than a Qtip soaked in pig fat.

This week has been a lesson in taking time.  Time for me…stopping and listening to the silence around me.  It is in that time that my spirit, my very soul is able to speak.  It is in that time that I am able to listen.  I have been using my sacred space that I created…to most it would seem like a large closet, but to me, it is a refuge.  A place where my heart can hear and listen.  It was in this time of separation and silence that  I was able to ask the goddess to show me the heart of someone whom I hadn’t given a proper chance.  It was in those moments of solitude and quiet that I was able to hear her tell me to look at this person’s heart…nothing more, nothing less.  It was in that silence that my heart opened to who this person truly is and the potential they hold.

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We have to take time to take care of our own spirits.  Life has become a whirlwind around us.  If we don’t make the time for those small, seemingly insignificant moments where we are allowed to sip on a cup of coffee and process life around us, then we have become machines.

This morning, as I leaned against that comfortable old tree with that little blue chihuahua in my lap and my hands wrapped around a thermos lid full of coffee, I closed my eyes…I listened as my own voice broke the silence…”Let me be real slow to anger…Let me speak blessings…Let me look on each day and each circumstance with gratitude…Let me always be honest to a fault, with myself first and then to others.  Let me be a vessel of peace and healing…Give me the strength to always fan the flame within my own spirit first and then to help to fan the flame within others.”

In that moment, I felt a warmth from the top of my head to the soles of my feet.  I don’t know if it was the coffee, the goddess…all I know is that at that moment, the hearth fires within my very soul were burning strong.

The Magick has come easier this week.  I have learned that sometimes it isn’t about creating the spell…it is about listening to everything around you and letting the spell create itself.  Magick is weaving itself around us all the time.  It is a living breathing thing that is constantly moving and constantly changing…and just waiting for us to catch up to it.  If we could only learn to stop trying to outrun it.

Blessed Be!

 

 

Here is the link if you are interested in a copy of “Random Thoughts n’ Lotsa Coffee”

http://www.amazon.com/Random-Thoughts-Lotsa-Coffee-Collection

 

Why Are People So Afraid of the Dark?

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This past week was a thought invoking week.  My brain has been mulling over so many things.  One of those things was the result of a wonderful new friend’s post on the Weathered Wiseman Facebook page.  She had simply posted, “I am thoroughly enjoying your blog!!  I found you on The Pagan Black Book.”  I responded by telling her that I couldn’t be more thrilled to hear this and I offered her blessings upon blessings.  Later in the comments, someone asked, “Are there dark blessings?  I didn’t know that.”  I didn’t think anything about the comment.  My response was, “Everything is a mix of dark and light.  It’s all about finding balance.  I don’t just work with the Dark Goddess.  I also work with Brigid, Cerridwen, Cernunnos…I always try to work in blessings.”

This made thoughts fly through my mind like snow flurries.  Why are people so afraid of the dark?  For that matter, why are they afraid of anything that they perceive  as dark?  Is it because the darkness is so mysterious?  Is it because darkness is seen as unpredictable?  In light, you can see everything that approaches you.  In darkness, you may hear what is coming, but you may not see it right away.

This morning I experienced the truth in that last statement.  Friz and I had gone to the woods early…before the sun came up.  It was dark.  The trees were very stark looking standing in front of me.  Add to this, the fact that I have horrible vision in the dark anyway.  I picked Friz up as a safety precaution.  I didn’t so much want to carelessly step on my dog.  We sat down next to one of the trees and I leaned back and closed my eyes.  As I sat there resting, I heard a rustling.  I shrugged it off.  I figured it was a cat, possum, a ground bird…everything that didn’t threaten or make me nervous.  I continued to sit there with my head back and my eyes closed.  I felt a hand on my shoulder.  I yelled.  My trusty guard dog barked after the fact because he recognized the scent attached to the hand.  It was only after I composed myself that I realized that I had picked Friz up and run quite a few feet.

As I composed myself, I realized that the Green Wizard and his ‘not such a puppy anymore’ pup was standing in front of me.  As I stood there breathing heavily, he apologized for scaring me…explaining that he thought that I had heard him.  I told him I did, but passed it off as being noise from an animal.  He leaned down and stroked Boomer and laughed saying that I was half right.

We settled down and I reached into my backpack and handed him a couple of sandwich bags that I had filled with biscuits.  I had intended to feed the birds and animals with them, but I would bring more back later and the Green Wizard looked like he needed them more at the moment.  I pulled my black candles out of the backpack along with my crow skull (I longed for simplicity this morning and what better for the dark part of the year and the dark moon).  As I lit the candles, the Green Wizard asked me, “Why black?” I explained to him that black was for protection and banishing any negative energies.  I told him that the crow skull was a representative of the Dark Goddess, the Morrigan.

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As we talked about the different attributes of the Morrigan, I explained that many people are afraid of her and that she is seen as a dark, harsh, killing force.  He smiled crookedly and said that people have a way of misconstruing things that don’t make sense to them.  He agreed that it was fear of the unknown.  I asked him if he saw me as a dark wizard.  He laughed out loud and told me that I was the farthest thing from it. He said that if nothing else, I was a very passionate wizard with very strong beliefs and convictions.  He went on to say that my practices fall back to the ways of the ancients as far as the herbs and roots I use and that the skulls and bones I use may make folks wonder, but that the honor I give to the animals and the protection and healing magick that I use would give evidence to the true nature of my heart.

I started to ponder the word ‘passionate.’  When we think of passion, we often think of something mysterious and brooding.  Does passion come from that ‘feel-good, love and light’ part of us?  No. It doesn’t.  Passion comes from a part of us that stirs deep inside of us…it is that part of our energy that can be unpredictable and sometimes untouchable.   Our passion tends to be something that we guard closely.  It is something that we don’t give away or show readily.  It comes from that hidden part of us.  If you were to ask someone what their passion is….first, they will hem and haw….then they will nervously giggle…then they will say quietly, “No….it’s stupid.”  We are leery of sharing that deep, hidden part of us with anyone.2014-11-22 15.15.46

 

I know that some people refer to this part of themselves as their ‘shadow-self.’ I remember a conversation some years back with a friend of mine.  He was just beginning to delve into that darker part of himself.  He was starting to see himself as he truly is…a mixture of light and dark.  It was after this soul journey that his passion became more a part of his everyday life and his business began to flourish.

Searching for your passion is not for the faint of heart…nor is it for the brainless.  Wars have been fought because of passion.  Men have died at the end of a sword controlled by passion.  Relationships have thrived and been broken to pieces because of passion.  On the other side of the coin, though, new world’s have been discovered because of passion. Lives have been saved because of passion.

A dark wizard?  No, I am definitely a combination of the two.  My passion?  Magick.  Completely and fully….I love watching energies swirl around me.  I thrive on seeing what the elements are capable of.  It gives me chills when I experience the Gods and Goddesses.  Am I afraid of my dark side?  Oh no….I have learned to embrace it and walk fully empowered by it and that part of me that calls to the light.

Here is a spell I concocted to stir that passion in all of us.  All you need is some hot red pepper jelly, some cream cheese and crackers.

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I start by taking out two of the crackers, spreading them with the cream cheese (a nice big dollop)….and then heaping that over with a nice spoonful of spicy hot red pepper jelly.  As they sit in front of me, I envision that part of me that I wish to access…that passion that I have kept hidden for so long:

Both hot and sweet, I call to you.

Stir in me what I’m to do.

Awaken passion deep inside…

No more to slumber or to hide.

Dark and Light I now embrace,

And with myself come face to face.

Heat and cool now intertwine.

A balanced life, now is mine.

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Blessed Be!

Battling Societies Demons

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I love Joel Robison’s photography.  It seems to portray every emotion that I could ever think of feeling.  His work gets right to the heart of people.

I had errands to run this afternoon.  This meant that I had to go out into the midst of people.  As I grow older, I despise being around crowds more and more.  As I strolled through the mall looking for jeans (nope, I don’t wear cloaks and robes all the time), I constantly had to dodge couples with strollers, endure screaming children, and watch others who felt way too entitled, run sales clerks ragged.  As I stood in line at one store to purchase that one pair of jeans, one of those self-entitled people pushed her way in front of me.  “I only have the one item.  I don’t have time to wait in line.”  Yep.  Wrong thing to say to this witch.  I could feel those flying monkeys raising up inside of me.  I could feel the poison beginning to drip over the apple. I looked at her solemnly and quietly said, “You need to get back in line.”  She ignored me and pushed me out of the way.  The push was all it took.  “Get the fuck to the back of the line, bitch!” roared up from my chest.  She stood there with her mouth gaping open staring at me.  Again, quietly, I said to her, “Get to the back of the line.  Your lack of manners and your sense of self importance aren’t going to get you anything with me.”  She slowly backed away from me to the tail-end of the slow moving line.

The second part of my journey took me to Michael’s.  I needed a few more fall leaves for the top of my buffet.  As I walk through the store, I hear a mother screeching at her child across that store and the child screeching back.  This went on for the entire 45 minutes I was in there.  I got in that line and who do you think I got behind…the banshee and her brat.  They are yelling back and forth at each other as they stand in line.  In fact, they are yelling so much that they don’t hear the cashier call them up to check out….five different times.  She screamed louder.  I told her that the cashier was calling her up. She then screeched at me.  I looked at her with fire in my eyes…”Listen, you loud-mouthed screeching heifer who is apparently passing all of your wonderful qualities down to your wretched child, move your ass to the checkout, shut your mouth, and get out of my sight.”  My mama always told me to offer directions to folks who needed them. 2014-10-05 19.09.14

The final part of my journey today, brought me back home.  As I settled in for a much needed nap,  I hear the upstairs neighbors.  It sounds as if they have the whole entourage of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus up there.  I hear thump….crash….boom.  My dogs nerves are shattered.  My cats are hiding in the closet.  I walk purposefully up the stairs to the door of the condo.  I ring the doorbell.  The guy answers and his words are, “What’s the problem?”  “Oh, I don’t know.  Could it be the fact that you and your children sound like herds of wild horses running across my ceiling.  It isn’t like we haven’t discussed this before.” He responds, “I don’t think they are loud.”  As I walked down the stairs, I told him that it’s ok…from this point forward, the police will be called, the landlord…whoever I need to call.  I am tired.2014-10-05 08.59.19

I needed the woods desperately.  I could feel my blood pressure climbing higher and higher.  I needed to ground.  I needed time with my dog and no one else.  Friz and I head past the condos and back toward the edge of the woods.  I had my mini Book of Shadows with me.  Everything inside me wanted to spew out curses.  I was lying on my stomach in the dirt turning page by page.  I came across an entry from over a year ago.  I read it slowly.  As I read, I realized that I wasn’t battling people.  I was battling the demons or oppressive energies of society.  People are so stressed now.  They honestly don’t know whether to wind their butt or scratch their watch.  I look around and I see people moving in auto-pilot.  At least I have nature. I can look in their eyes and see that there is absolutely nothing there.

All I can do is try to insulate myself.  I have to keep myself surrounded in magick at all times.  It is hard to remember when tempers flair.  As I absorbed the coolness and the energy from the earth, I listened for the heart beat of the Earth Mother.  This time of year as the veil grows thinner, it is almost as if I can hear my grandmother in my ear.  “You have to move like the trees in the breeze.  You have to move like water…let things flow around you and through you….as long as there is movement, it will filter out the negative.”

I stayed in the woods for a long long while this afternoon….hours.  When I finally pulled myself off of the ground, my body was cold.  I could feel it down to my bones.  I think I realized today…I need to be in the woods more.  I need not to hear the voice of society…I do that enough at work.  I need to hear the wind, the leaves, the wisdom of the trees.  After all, isn’t that where the witches of old sought council?  Animals….trees….spirits.  I need to stop being bound by the devils that society has welcomed in and entertained.   I need to remember how to fly.2a244c55aaef21ef7f528aa59e3cd5b4

Be the Witch You Are

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Sitting outside, minding my own business, playing with my phone and eating my lunch while overhearing a small group of inconsiderate Buckhead Bettys talking smack about everything from their husbands to the maids and everyone in between. When a bird flew by and crapped in one of their salads. You should have seen the look on her face and heard the shriek she let out when she bit into a spoonful of bird crap.

This is from the Facebook post of a friend of mine.  We have all been fed crap at some point in our lives.  We have been told that we aren’t doing something correctly or that something we believe isn’t the truth or that we are wrong for being who we are.503155

In looking back, in so many ways, I was a chameleon.  I was always changing to blend into my surroundings.  I think back to my high school years…I was neither jock nor redneck or geek or popular.  I blended with all of those crowds.  It was easy to fade into the background, never having enough voice to speak to who I really was.

As I aged, I became more confident in who was inside my skin.  It became easier to say the “G” word.  I was confident enough to walk down the street holding hands with my partner.  Charlotte, North Carolina was not quite as confident in my ‘gayness’ as I was.  I remember being beaten up a few times just for standing strong and believing in who I am.  I couldn’t understand why other people should be allowed to show the love they had for their significant other in public places, but I couldn’t.

More years added more callouses.  I came out of another closet…the broom closet.  Once more the chorus of background voices started singing the “you need to…you ought to…you’ve got to…” serenade.  People can’t seem to understand that others have to walk their own path.  We feel the need to push them bound and gagged down the path we think they should follow.

Social media has become a great source of access to those practicing the Craft, but with the many groups, it can also be a great source of judgement for those who may be new and walking with a bit of uncertainty.  Don’t get me wrong, there are groups out there that are honestly interested in the growth of those new to the Craft.  It is when I see others take a holier than thou attitude when it comes to aiding someone in their journey that starts that slow burn in me.  I also have no time for those who will question or ridicule a path that someone walks because it doesn’t mirror their own.1375283_10152309486609007_5108159257972466424_n

Our lives are an evolution.  We are constantly growing…branching into many different directions.  We have to allow others to walk, to fall…but we have to be willing to pick them up.  We have to be willing to change.  The world around us shows us that change is the only constant in our lives.

This morning, when Friz and I made our way to the woods, I could smell change in the air.  Even though it was still warm-ish out, there was a crispness in the air.  I carried Friz most of the way this morning.  It had been a week since we had seen each other (I was away on business in Florida).  I honestly have to say that as we rounded the corner to the column where the Green Wizard normally shows himself, I felt a bit disheartened when I didn’t see him.  I walked toward the woods with Friz cradled in the crook of my arm.  We got to our little clearing and I started unpacking…candles, bones, magickal what nots…and breakfast.  Just as I settled in, I heard a rustling that startled me.  I turned quickly and let out a short yelp as the Green Wizard rushed toward me.  Friz was all excited.  I think I peed a little just from the surprise.

He fell onto the leaves laughing and I did a mock scowl.  He chuckles out an apology.  I can’t be mad….after all, I was so disappointed when I didn’t see him…and it was so good seeing the twinkle in his eyes coming back.  We talked about everything and nothing all at once.  He asked about the trip to Florida and I questioned him about his journeys for the week.  We talked about the approaching change in seasons and Mabon.  We talk about things to come.  The Green Wizard’s mood becomes more somber, “You know you are the only person who doesn’t look at me and see a homeless bum.  You have taken the time to get to know me.  You understand who I am.  You have taken time to understand my hopes and my dreams…to know that there is more to me than ragged clothes and a wandering path.”

I explained to him that to some degree, we are all wandering.  We are all ragged and dirty from all that life throws at us and throws us into…but we continue the journey.  We find who we are buried in those moments when no one else is looking at us…when we fade into the background.  It is in the silence that we learn to hear and recognize our own voices.

I read a piece written and shared on Facebook by a dear friend of mine, Cindy Maluna,

Mabon…September 22. The second of the three major harvests, and also the autumn equinox. The balance between light and dark. Southern hemisphere….Ostara…spring equinox. The days grow shorter, darker from here on out. Things die, or will become dormant…a necessity. This marks the descent of the Sun God….he will return at Yule. Just a short time actually…and the coming months are full of activities to keep us busy. We’ve enjoyed the veggies…will savor the fruits…and survive the winter. We will. We’ll order bulbs…plan our gardens….tend our houses. You can’t change the cycles…one balances the other…death. Rebirth. You have to look at it with practicality, with realism. Our bodies change, we grow old, we die. Those who give birth….our legacy…goes on. Those who don’t have children….you leave your mark on this world…your thoughts, deeds, yes…you are still part of the great thread of life. We’re entering the Crone stage….and believe me…it’s an awesome time…can’t have children anymore? Give birth to yourself….create this special time of YOU. I move slower, ache more, take longer to do things….but I enjoy what I do, what I create….I savor it. I love it. You have so much to contribute to this world…until the day you die…you have opportunities right in front of you. Don’t miss out by looking back… what you were…..create what you will be. Harvest, eat it up…and enjoy. You are on this Earth….make it count. Become a legacy….welcome Mabon. BB2014-09-20 18.38.13

 

I explained that it was through Magick, through our own legacy of the Craft, I came to know and to understand him and him, me.  I walked him through my own daily journeys….learning every day to be a more genuine, effective me.  Those closest to me see my failures…they watch me fall.  More important than anything in the world, though, is the fact that they see me pick myself up, brush off the dirt and keep on moving.  I have only one desire and that is to be the best I can personally be.  I fully intend to be the witch I am.

Blessed Be!

So When the Moon Tells You Something… Believe It.

2014-06-14 15.19.13Darkness. That’s the first thing I remember. It was dark, it was cold, and I was scared. But then… then I saw the Moon. It was so big, and it was so bright. It seemed to, chase the darkness away. And when it did… I wasn’t scared anymore.

 

Why is it that all secrets seem to be cloaked in darkness.  We feel that secrets protect us when all they do is hurt us in the long run.  This has been a week of ‘Can you keep a secret’s.’  The truth is, no, I can’t.  My face gives me away every time.  If I even try to tell the smallest white lie, I go all red in the face…I giggle like a twelve year old trying to tell a dirty joke, and I try to escape.

I remember when I was a small child, my father had planned a surprise for my mom’s birthday.  Everyone around her was sworn to secrecy.  My mom comes into the room one afternoon as we were making plans and asked what we were doing.  Yes….you guessed it…I sang like a canary.

When I joined the ministry, I was scared to death.  I had heard all of these pastors around talk about ‘pastor/parishioner confidentiality.’  It horrified me.  I did find, however, that it was totally different than telling a lie or keeping a secret.  It was just a matter of not acknowledging the information at all.  Even now, at work, if someone comes up and says, “So you’re gay?  So you’re a witch?”  I just smile and answer with yes…it just saves me the stress of trying to hide it.

I determined very early in my life that I would never give anyone the stress of holding onto my secrets.  I never wanted anyone else to feel that feeling that I would get in the pit of my stomach when someone asked me for information that I had promised to guard.  It was in those early years that I began telling my secrets to the moon.  I could whisper them or yell them, she never ridiculed me and she never told those secrets to anyone.2014-06-04 08.50.15

Lately, I have come to trust others with my secrets.  Now I share those secrets with Wolf and Crow.  Wolf guards them ferociously and Crow takes them high into the sky on her wings and drops them among the clouds.  I am never threatened with them coming back at me at the wrong time.

I remember the hardest secret I ever had to keep.  It came about when I began my first long-term relationship.  I had been dating a wonderful man for about four months and like was turning into love.  He was tall, dark, and handsome…an ex-marine.  When he held me in his strong arms, the world stood still.  He invited me to his apartment for dinner one evening and after we ate, he sat me down on his sofa and said softly, “I need to talk to you about something.”  My heart broke many times in that moment.  I imagined everything from him breaking up with me to him telling me he was moving out of state or re-enlisting.nightmares

He grabbed my hand and told me, “Now you can’t tell anyone.  I am trusting you with my life.  I am HIV positive.”  You have to remember that this was in the days before much was known about the disease and everyone was afraid.  I was just as afraid, but my love for him was stronger than any disease or any fear.

I stayed at his place that night.  After he went to sleep, I opened the french doors to his balcony and walked out into the moonlight.  I called to the moon and I sighed deeply as she appeared before me.  I whispered my troubles and secrets into her ear.  The moon always actively listened and sent her energy to strengthen and to hold me up. She was full that night.

I think it is funny…the things that follow us through our lives.  As much as I leaned on the moon for strength in those years…she has always been there.  Nowadays, she has learned to text…”You OK?”  I text back that I am ok.  Somehow, she always knows when I am not being completely honest.

I have heard some of our friends simply call her ‘the Moon Lady.’  To me, she will always be ‘Maluna’ and to me that will always mean ‘my moon.’  It seems that she has always been there…I have known her in my heart and spirit for as long as I have known the moon herself.  When we talk, it isn’t about secrets…it is about where our energies and magick can better be spent.

Thursday night, I got home late…honestly just in time for the full moon.  I gathered everything with me, except Friz.  He fought valiantly to stay up until I got home, but sleep won that battle. I walked to the woods in silence…almost a feeling of reverence under the moonlight.  I could hear her calling.  We needed to talk.  As I settled into the warmth of the night with my cauldron and candles burning, I could feel her energy soaking into me.  She has always been faithful to me…even when I felt like I was alone.

I have honestly never been alone.  The moon is who called Wolf and Crow to me.  It was under that moon that Friz was dedicated.  It was under that same moon that I made promises to my first partner and also that moon where I made promises to my current partner.  She is an old friend…she is there through every season of the year and through every season of my life.  She is the one who first called me the Weathered Wiseman, and she will be the last one to call me that name.  It is by her that I rest and by her sleep that I awaken.  It is the moon who promised that magick would always encompass and encircle me.

I share that magick with you.  So when the Moon tells you something… believe it.2014-06-14 21.44.57

Incantations and Curiosities…

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Sticks and stones, fur and bones…

Serpents skin and feathers

Skull of crow and blackthorn’s stick,

Break the chains that tether.

 

Winds I engage to blow away,

Water drown it all…

In Earth it’s buried, deep and still.

Flames around it sprawl.

 

Mandrake, hellebore aconite…

Poison to the core

Raven’s wing and ground wasp’s sting

Drive away forevermore.

 

Lightning, Thunder, Wind and Rain…

Encircle me with power.

Wipe away those things that interfere

At my intention, cower.

 

With all my strength, I do push through

Evil’s held at bay.

Success and magick, all that’s good

Are now my life’s due pay.

 

Funny, just as I put that last line into the blog…the wind whips outside, thunder booms, and lightning flashes.  We were just hit with a gully-washer of a storm.  It always intrigues me, the things that take place when one is fed up.

This week has been a struggle.  Not just a struggle, but one of those weeks where it feels like you have someone standing next to you with the sharp end of a tack pointed toward you, poking you at any moment you find yourself peacefully resting.  I have been poke to the point of feeling raw and irritated and bruised.

I have been in an internship program at work now for three months.  I have pushed myself beyond my comfort levels….I have out-performed those who were years younger than me….I have watched the initial group go from eight to now two people.  Last week and tomorrow, we have been and will be going through assessments to see if we fit the positions available.  My gut feeling Friday told me that I did not do so well on the written part of that particular assessment…but then, I have never tested well.  Sit me down in front of the product and I can show you, with determined accuracy, the things that need to be done.  I have watched as one by one, those who did not perform well, were ushered out the door.

Those of you who are familiar with the Weathered Wiseman know that I am my own worst enemy, my own worst critic, and my harshest competitor.  I have beat myself over the head continually over the past week….I have given myself many more lashes than anyone else could ever deliver.2014-04-27 17.52.37

Last night, I went a friend’s house for a night of playing cards and drinking.  Funny how those who have known you the longest tend to pour sympathy over you…..”Well, you have been in worse spots.” “It isn’t like you haven’t worked hard.  You don’t have anything to worry about.”  It is also amazing how much of a difference a whole bottle and then some of wine will make.

There is always the tender, warm fuzzies that you get from witches when you are feeling sorry for yourself.  Encouraging? Yes.  Supportive?  Yes.  Warm fuzzies?  Yeah, not so much.  LOL!!  One friend, whom I treasure dearly and is always there for me…spoke harsh truth, “Go outside NOW!!  I am sending strength to you on the wind!!  GO OUTSIDE, NOW!!!  The Morrigan HAS SPOKEN!!!”  She knows better than anyone that I gather my strength from the elements….and of course as I stand outside, a strong coolish breeze wraps around me like a hug and a spanking all at once.  I realize that I am a stubborn witch…I also realize that most of the time, I need my ass kicked rather than kissed.

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Yesterday, during the day,  I was in such a funk that I sat inside all day long with the shades closed, cup of coffee in my hands, “Bewitched’ dvd’s in replay mode on the television.  The only thing missing was the big fuzzy robe and thumb sucking.  Friz didn’t know what to do with me. We didn’t go through our usual romp through the woods or pond.  We didn’t lie down in the leaves under the canopy of trees.  There was no backpack with candles, no skulls.  Just re-runs, coffee and chocolate….not even good chocolate.  We are talking Easter leftover chocolate bought on sale in the Kroger candy aisle.  At one point Friz climbed up my chest and looked at me eyeball to eyeball.  If he could have talked, it would have been, “Heifer, get off your butt and walk with me to our private place.  Take your magick stuff and you will feel better.”  Instead, I stayed in my lump until we went to play cards.2014-04-13 19.23.21 HDR

I woke up this morning a little more determined.  Friz did too.  This morning, he headed to the woods.  It was evident that he was going with or without me.  Luckily, I packed my backpack.  I didn’t realize that I had put everything that I could think of in it.  I took out the skulls and bones and stones and feathers and fur and as I addressed the directions and invited the elements in, I sat and quietly started to address my own self pity….my own feelings of inadequacy…my own feelings of depression.  I pulled out a small journal that my friend Jackie gave me and I wrote the spell that started this blog.

I know my own heart.  I know my strengths and abilities.  I know what I am capable of.  I know that I have poured all of my talent and knowledge and drive into this internship.  My only prayer to Lord and Lady is that those around me and those with the decision making power see that.  I have never given anything less than 100%, no matter what it involved.  I don’t do half-assed.  I am not without fault and not perfect, but I am who I am and I pour myself wholly into people and life.  One incident does not define me.

Peculiar…it takes a chihuahua, a handful of boisterous witches….and a bottle and a bit more of wine  to make me realize that the only time the magick won’t work is when I stop seeking it and expecting to see it all around me….and also realizing that it is working and all around me whether I see it and believe it or not.grey_wizard_2014_01_01_14_by_skydancer_stock-d70elsn

Blessed Be!

Embracing the Shadows

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Growing up, I was such a skittish child.  Everything that you could think of scared me.  I was scared of the dark…I was scared of unknown places…I was scared of pretty much everything that I love and embrace now.

This week, I stepped into a place that I haven’t been in a long, long while.  I stepped into my darker self.  That place where all the things that I don’t like about myself reside.  It is a place much like the pensieve that Dumbledore has in his office in the movie, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”  It is that place where I put the thoughts and feelings that tend to crowd my mind…the things that ‘don’t fit’ what everyone expects me to be.  That is where most of my anger and hurt and confusion and melancholy go.  After all, witchcraft is all about love and light, right?

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I have found that witchcraft in many ways is exactly like the churches I left behind so many years ago.  We have tried so hard to keep from being a ‘traditional’ religion, that we adopt all of the practices and symptoms.  We are so embracing, but we are the first to ridicule Christian holidays and the meanings that they have placed behind them.  Unfortunately, that move from tradition means that we expect everything around us to sparkle and gleam…..clean of all the sediment that life can throw at us.

The fact that a lot of this week was overcast and drizzly may have contributed to my ‘darker’ side coming to surface.  In describing what I have felt, I like the term that I heard a friend use a few years ago…he described it as his “shadow self.”  In looking at it, that is a more accurate description.  It isn’t dark or evil, it is just that part of myself that I am not completely comfortable sharing or seeing.  It is that part of us that is hidden away until it becomes too restless to hide anymore.  It is that annoying relative that comes bursting through the door during holidays who doesn’t really fit the family dynamic.  The fear of the ‘shadow self’ comes from being afraid that we will see who we really are…or a part of us we never wanted to see to begin with.catwolf-shdw

It is in these moments that I must access the Morrigan.  It is in those moments, more than any, that I need the strength for the journey…that need for change. It is in those moments that I have to remember that the shadows aren’t bad or evil….the shadows are just those parts of me that I have become uncomfortable with…that don’t fit with my everyday life.  It is in those times that I go into myself.  It is in those times that I have learned to access the shadows to create…to make the tools for the Craft that I need and that I feel others may need.

It seems that in those moments, I hear wolf clearer than any of my spirit guides.  I hear his low howl moving higher….addressing that brooding, melancholy part of my spirit.  It is also in these times that things come to me when needed.  I have a friend who constantly forages the woods around her.  She constantly finds animal bones and parts…..and she knows that I call on those spirits, so anytime she finds anything related to wolf, she sends it to me.  I bless the bones or fur just in case the animal met with a violent end…sending it peacefully into the summerlands.

I have been wanting an athame for a long, long time, but could never find one that suited me.  Last week in the mail, I received two beautiful wolf femurs and some fur.  I have decided to use these to make my own athame.  She also sent me the toe bones.  I will use those to create runes.  It is honoring the dead animal and pulling on that energy that I have felt all last week, plus it is becoming a tool for the Craft that I love so much.

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As I walked to the woods this morning, I could hear Mama Crow behind me.  I have learned that where one goes, the other always follows.  Friz has gotten used to her.  Her loud caws don’t even rattle him anymore.  As we got closer to the woods, I have to admit that a part of me looked around to see if the Green Wizard had shown up, but there was another part of me that knew we would not see each other today.

I settled into the damp shaded area of the woods that I always went to.  I could smell the wet, mildewed and rotting smell of leaves left from the fall.  I settled in and pulled the skulls from my backpack along with candles and herbs and stones.  As I lit the candles and welcomed the elements and spirits, I could feel my shadow self lurking behind me….always pacing at the edges of everything…never fully becoming a part.  I invited that part of myself into the circle.  It was in that moment that I was overtaken with every emotion it represented.  Instead of fighting to confine that piece of me….the darker parts of me, I found that those parts were just as powerful and just as necessary as the ‘love and light’ part of me.  I found that just as with intention, that it is all in the direction….it is all in the movement and force that you give your shadow self.  I won’t allow that part of me to rule me, but it isn’t fair to try and put it away so I don’t have to deal with it either.  It can actually be a valuable asset in energy work and other magick.  Power/Magick/Energy is only dangerous when the heart of the user is not seeking the betterment of those things around him or her.

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I had a dream Friday night.  In that dream, my whole family shared a large Victorian house.  The house was an ancestral home. In the dream, my mom and aunt were witches too.  We were guarding the home against some force.  I had taken Friz (the chihuahua) and Bella (the dachshund) and the cats, along with Bella’s puppies (she is spayed) into a room, and magickally sealed the room with a protective charm.  My aunt put all the family (including my partner) into a room and sealed it with a protective ice spell.  My aunt, my mom and me were the only ones left to guard the house. We had a tower of green ancestral candles  in the main room.  Ma sat on the sofa, my aunt was by the fireplace and I was by the door.  A tornado-like force came at the house.  It was my grandma (who is dead) flying in through the fireplace.  She told us that we needed to be prepared, strong and ready to fight for all that we knew was true.  Ma summoned all the fae around the house and told them to go outside and stand guard.  We all took our stations and with hands raised, we pushed and shielded against something akin to a hurricane.  I remember vividly feeling the sweat form on my forehead.  As we pushed forward we could feel the force weaken.  We gave one final push and felt the force break.  We looked around and could see that we were all disheveled, but knew that victory had been won.

Victory is always ahead…..it is in accessing every part of ourselves and knowing to continue to push.

Blessed Be!

Run and Hide Your Crazy…

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I heard a phrase on the radio the other day that I haven’t heard since I was a young’un.  I was listening to a country music radio station on the way home from work and a song by Miranda Lambert came on.  The song is called, “Mama’s Broken Heart.”  In the song, Mama tells the girl to ‘Run and hide your crazy and start acting like a lady.’  I laughed out loud because I can remember Mama telling her brothers and sisters that they needed to just ‘run on and hide their crazy.’

It is just so funny to me how things just kind of surface in our lives to give us a ‘heads up,’ so to speak.  Who knew that I would be dealing with bat-shit crazy this week?  Something always seems to be stirring, huh?

Let me preface what I am about to write.  Firstly, I am not Wiccan.  I am not Gardnerian.  I am not a Voudouist.  I am a Witch.  I practice in many different ways.  I employ animism, rootwork, herbalism, spoken and written spells, rituals to God and Goddess, dancing (naked and clothed), naturism, shamanism, and Native American medicine.  I am accountable to a small circle of friends, not a coven.2014-03-26 22.26.35

 

I have had a love of magick (and yes, I spell it with a ‘k’ because I choose to).  I am a part of the universe and the elements and they are all a part of me.  I make no excuses for anything I do in my Path…and I ask for no one’s approval.  As long as I feel the energy of the earth, sky, seas, sun and moon….all is well with the world.

I will also say that I have many friends who walk many different paths….Wicca, Voudou, Gardnerian, Shamanism–so many it is hard to even count.  They walk their paths with integrity, purpose and devotion.

So…you may ask, what brought all this on?  I received a scathing message this afternoon from someone who read my blog.  In this message, I was berated for not having been initiated properly by a High Priestess and Priest.  I was told that my ‘practices’ were essentially for naught because I did not belong to an  authentic tradition, and that I had not fulfilled the ‘year and a day’ requirement.  I was told that my spellwork  and rituals were too simplistic and my blogs too ‘fluffy.’  I was also warned of my association with the ‘dark’ gods and goddesses.

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Did I get angry, you may ask?  No.  Did I send a message back ripping this person from horn to hoof?  No.  Did I hurl a powerful, gut-wrenchingly painful curse or hex at this person?  No.  This person has already made their own bitter, hate-filled, narrow-minded cave to live in.  Just by this persons own divisive way of thinking, they have alienated themselves from such a powerful part of the magickal community.  They will never allow themselves to get to know some of the most creative, lively magick-filled folk ever created.

I do speak a warning to those of you reading this.  Do not discount the power that others hold.  Be warned, lest you fall into the ways of the mainline church.  If we start to behave the way this person did, we will soon be denominationalizing paganism (though I have already seen some leanings).  When we start to get ‘preachy’ about one way being right or wrong, others start to walk around us and avoid us…just like the street envangelist standing on a wooden box at the crosswalk.

My question to you is:  How do you respond when you find out that someone’s path is not like yours?  Are you open to what they believe?  Do you listen intently as they tell their experiences…even though they may not line up with what you were taught or do you stand there with little besoms and flames  darting in your eyes just waiting to tell them how wrong their chosen path is?

I am more than used to being told that I am wrong.  Being gay, I have been told that my ‘lifestyle’ is not natural so many times, I could circle the world with all the little gay rainbow fairies that passed out by the sheer shock.  Being told that something I do is wrong doesn’t even phase me anymore.  If I am wrong, I will be the first one to tell you.

It is not your job to live your life as a dementor.  It is not required for you to suck all of the happiness and joy out of the world.

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If the pagan community were to join energies, despite our differences, just imagine the magick that would encompass this world.  To most of the mundane community, magick has been confined to fairy tales and fiction.  Gods and goddesses have become only mythology and dragons and other magickal beings have been relocated to artwork and toys.

We have the potential to show paganism and witchcraft as honorable and full of integrity.  We have the ability in our very minds and hands to focus intention in ways never dreamed possible.  All we have to do is Learn to Play Nice!!!   2014-03-30 19.45.34The power is right there in your hands!

Blessed Be!

Leaving the Winter Behind

BLIZZARD WORCESTER

For some of my friends, this year has brought a rough winter.  They’ve been faced with, and buried by, tall snow drifts.  And this winter, I feel we have all been buried in some fashion…whether it be in snow or ice or emotions or pain.  This past year has been a year of death and endings; this winter has been exhausting.

I have watched those I care deeply about struggle and trudge uphill, only to be met with cold winds and pushed backward by other forces or energies.  So many have been confused and been made to stumble against the blizzards life has brought.  So many have taken to hiding from life itself; never wanting to leave the comfort of their own space….others have gone recklessly into the streets causing havoc in the midst of their own turmoil.

My partner just got back from visiting his family in South Dakota.  He said the wind was so cold (-40°), that it felt like it was biting to his very bones.  Ever felt that fear….that dread…that went to your very bones?  This winter has brought that for many.  I have heard so many complaining of sickness and depression/discouragement.

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This morning, early, I took to the woods with Friz.  It was a bitter cold….I was wrapped up in my cloak and had Friz in his hoodie (I think I need to invest in a chihuahua sized wool cloak for mornings like this).  I packed my small cauldron away with my other altar supplies in my backpack.  When we got to the woods, I unpacked and set up the altar.  I lit the charcoal pellet inside and sprinkled incense over it.  I lit the candles and placed the skulls.  I invited the elements and the directions.  I welcomed my familiar spirits wolf and crow.

I found the most incredible thing at my local metaphysical store here in Atlanta.  It is called flying paper.  You write your spell…wish….intent on the paper and set it on fire and it flies off.  I wrote in black ink, my intent onto the paper and the names of those who needed my magick.  I watched with childlike eyes as the papers drifted up above me and disintegrated….breathing my intent and magick into the universe.  I could feel a lightness in my own spirit as I looked in front of me and could see wolf and crow dancing and playing with each other.  Friz was tugging on my cloak and play growling.  This past full moon…..something happened…even though the cold of winter is still upon us, the warmth of spring can be felt and smelled.  It is, of course, a distant feeling and scent….but it is still there all the same.  This I feel in my bones.

I feel a hope and excitement stirring inside of myself.  As I sat in front of the cauldron, I pushed all of those feelings into giant balls of intent and moved them out to all of those I know are in deep need.  It is that same energy that surrounds the bulbs nestled in the earth…..that anticipation and promise that a beautiful blossom stands at the end of the wait.

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We have waited patiently through the winter…through the harsh and bitter cold.  It is now time to begin the work.  It is time to dig our way out. We come out of hibernation much like the bear…..gaunt and ravenous.  We have used up the magickal stores that we gathered and tucked away for the winter months.  It is now time to dig into those most magickal parts of our spirits.  It is time to nourish our spirits….come out of hiding and watch the magick unfold in front of us.

You can’t tell me that you haven’t felt it stirring.  You can’t deny that something has taken grip of your very spirit and sparked your thoughts and feelings…..something new….something powerful.  I feel it…..the animals feel it……the elements feel it…..the very earth beneath your feet feels it.  Her heart begins to beat with the beat of excitement.  A time of rebirth and newness is around the corner.  As I lay on the ground this morning in front of my cauldron, I placed my ear to the ground.  I could feel the heartbeat of the earth mother…..pregnant with more magick than we could ever fathom.

For some reason, most of us truly fear what the Lord and Lady have called us to.  We are afraid of the magick that we pursue so hard.  We run toward it and just as we see that it is right there in our grasp, we pull back……afraid that what we have so desired may actually happen.  We long to see our gifts and abilities work in full force, but at the same time, are so afraid of it that we dare not tap into what sits right in the palm of our hands.

Do not be afraid to travel a new path;

It may be the way to find what you’ve been looking for all along.

It is time to release all that has held you back through this rough and bitter winter.  Release…what a freeing word.  Release everything that ever held you back.  Don’t you deserve to live in the fullness of the Earth Mother’s heartbeat.  Release that anger….that bitterness…that lack of confidence.  We are walking…..no, running toward a new season.  Take off your shoes and run barefoot toward your destiny.

For Once in your Life, Do Not Live Your Life Afraid!

Experience the freedom of singing out loud and not caring if every note is perfect.  Even if you don’t have a stick’s worth of rhythm, dance to the drumbeat of the Earth around you.  Look at yourself and see the beauty that is you.  Let that inner lion roar….let that inner wolf howl at the moon. You are capable of things that no other person is capable of and you have a purpose.  Fear and self-doubt only stifle the magick.   The more your heartbeat lines up with the Earth Mother….the stronger that heartbeat will be.  This morning,  I sang along with a wolf and a crow.  I sang to a chihuahua.  I laughed with the wind and I danced along to the rhythm of the heartbeat of Mother Earth.  Today, my little blue chihuahua and I, walked in the woods alongside Brigid and Cernunnos.  Our intentions flew like fireflies dancing across a night sky.

My hope for you this year is that you don’t hold onto those things that bind you and your magick.  My hope for you is that you live a life of magick fueled by the heartbeat of the Earth around you…that you learn to sing with the winged ones and the four-leggeds…..that you learn to dance with the wind…..and that you can change the world around you with your intent and magick…..that more than anything, you learn to let go of all those things that don’t serve your spirit in the most powerful of ways.

Blessed Be!

So Here’s To Life…

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Storms happen in life sometimes.  If you have lived any amount of time, you know this.  Bad things happen….good things happen…you deal with it.  I remember reading somewhere a while back that when pilots encounter storms, they try to get above the clouds.  Sometimes, though, you just can’t help it…you get thrown right into the middle of the storms.

This morning, Friz and I started out for our weekend morning walk and time in the woods.  I hadn’t listened all that carefully as I was getting dressed…Friz, however, did.  When I tried to get him out of the kennel, he stayed toward the back, curled up in the blankets.  I got him to come out and got his harness on and my cloak.  We started out the door, to be greeted by torrential rain…not just a tiny rainstorm, but an all out gully washer.  I was eager for Friz just to pee and then we would run inside.  Friz had other ideas…he had to do something a little more, ummm substantial.  There we stood….completely drenched as Friz hunkered down to accomplish what he had set out to do.  When I got back in, I stripped down and dried Friz off.  Cloak was hung to dry and clothes in the dryer.  Friz and I decided that he would go back to bed and I would have coffee and read.  I have learned that in all things there are lessons.  The lesson this morning is, “Sometimes no matter how hard the storms come at you, you have to do what you started out to accomplish.”

When I lived in North Carolina, I worked with an exotic bird group.  My job was to help hand-raise the little Macaw  babies.  Now Macaw babies remind me of puppies.  It was not an unusual occurrence to see me walking around the building with three or four little Macaws waddling after me.  If I sped up, they sped up.  If I slowed down, they did too.  I would put blankets in the middle of the floor and they would all be on top of me playing and making some of the weirdest noises you have ever heard.MacawAfrican_grey_and_many_other_parrots_for_sale

Then came the day that my four babies fledged.  All birds must learn to fly, at some point.  It is a part of who they are…it is built into every fiber of their beings.  I was cleaning the building one afternoon and all of the babies were playing on a playtop that had been designed just for them.  The next thing I know, I hear strange squawks and I turn around and there are four baby Macaws flying straight at me.  There was nothing I could do except stand there and wait for them to land.  I had two on top of my head gripping with sharp little toenails and one on each arm.  They were all very proud of what they had accomplished.  The only thing they needed to do was take that first leap and there was no turning back.

We humans have become so fearful of that first leap.  It becomes too easy for us to settle into whatever we have allowed life to create for us.  I am just as guilty of this as the next person.  In the fall of 2010, I went back to work with a company that I had tried for years to escape…all out of necessity.  I went in with a plan to only stay in the position for a year to gain some experience in accounts receivables, payables and inventory.

Soooooo, here we are three years later and I have watched myself settle into a position that I do not enjoy at all….I have watched myself become a zombie of sorts, staggering about the workplace, repeating the same old things that I have heard those in the position before me regurgitating.  I settled….yes, I settled in major way.  I compromised myself.  I never compromised my own values, principles or morals…..but I did compromise myself.  So when my roommate was ‘let go’ at the end of November….it was the motivation I needed to find myself again and see what could be accomplished.tumblr_myl8rv1NjI1qcm7gio1_500

I started interviewing for positions with a company that has such a wonderful ‘people first’ policy.  I knew that this would not be an overnight process.  I called on those around me and those I knew in the Craft to pour magick into and around me.  I did spell work.  I burned incense.  I called to my familiars…my ancestors…the elements….and the Lord and Lady.  This all came to fruition this past week.  I was given an offer to join this company….in a temporary position that would become permanent.  That word….temporary….freaked me out in every way.  I like stability.  Change is one thing, but temporary, to me has always been a shaky kind of word.  Something that could disappear at any time.

You have heard me talk over the past few months about needing to simplify.  I have worked very hard on this.  I have made myself slow down…quite a bit.  I have learned to breathe.  I have learned to sip my tea instead of gulping it down to rush into the next project.  Was I going to go about this decision differently?  No.  I did exactly what I did when I went bungee jumping years ago.  I stood there feeling that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach…..I took in a few slow breaths….and then…I jumped.  I hurled myself fully into whatever lies out in front of me.

With the decision to move into this made and the response to the offer on its way, I breathed.  This breath was a breath of release….a release of fear….a release of the strain my past job had put on my health, mind and spirit.  I could feel myself moving into that simplicity again.  I dove right into the middle of the storm and what did I find?  Peace.

I am reminded of a song by Shirley Horne…”Here’s To Life.”

No complaints and no regrets.
I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets.
But i have learned that all you give is all you get, so give it all you got.
I had my share, i drank my fill, and even though i’m satisfied i’m hungry still
To see what’s down another road, beyond a hill and do it all again.
So here’s to life and all the joy it brings.
Here’s to life the dreamers and their dreams.
Funny how the time just flies.
How love can turn from warm hellos to sad goodbyes
And leave you with the memories you’ve memorized
To keep your winters warm.
There’s no yes in yesterday.
And who knows what tomorrow brings or takes away.
As long as i’m still in the game i want to play
For laughs, for life, for love.
So here’s to life and all the joy it brings.
Here’s to life, the dreamers and their dreams.
May all your storms be weathered,
And all that’s good get better.
Here’s to life, here’s to love, here’s to you.
May all your storms be weathered,
And all that’s good get better.
Here’s to life, here’s to love, here’s to you.

You want to talk about a spell?  The lyrics of that song make a hell of a spell.  As I sat in front of my cauldron Wednesday night watching the fire blaze, I had this song playing softly in the background.  In my smaller cauldron, I had a charcoal disk with incense that a wonderful friend had made for me.  I closed my eyes and visualized all those that I care about dancing across my mind.   I sang this song to each of them.  I sing this song for those of you who will take the time to read these words.

I took a slow walk through the woods this afternoon after the clouds cleared.  I could see in my mind’s eye all of the magick that had taken place in those woods over the past year.  I am sure that each of you can visit those same sacred spaces in your own life.  I realized that it is so important when other things try to overwhelm us….we have to revisit those places of power and peace that we have been gifted with.

I had a wonderful, wild dream last night.  I dreamed that some neighbors had captured a crow. They came and got me because they didn’t know what to do with it. When I got there, I looked eye to eye with this crow. It was very obviously Mama Crow. She was biting everyone else….but when I offered her my hand, she climbed onto it. She nestled herself in the crook of my arm and fell asleep. I never caged her or restrained her, but she never got more than ten feet away from me…cawing nonstop.2014-01-11 22.27.59

I spoke to a wise sister about the dream.  She told me that I had taken many positive steps over the past months.  I ignored what others might have me do….I have listened to the Goddess.  I have become much more confident in myself and my magick….I like the sound of that…my magick.  Nothing that anyone else has given to me….just what has come from my relationship with the Lord and Lady, the elements, and the spirits around me.

This is the year of new beginnings and I am excited to see where the road will lead me.  Yes, there will be rough places in the road…but I will keep moving forward.  So, Blessed Be….Here’s To Life!