Kristi asked me to guest blog for her awhile back, and I excitedly accepted. Then I had an “oh no” moment. My blog is rather different from Kristi’s blog. I had no idea what or how to write for her blog. I dredged my mind for any ideas that I could possibly work and write for the blog. And then I remembered the quote from Oriah Mountain Dreamer that I had previously shared on Kristi’s blog in the comments, “What if the question is not why I am so infrequently the person I really want to be, but why do I so infrequently want to be the person I really am?” So I thought about that and realized I don’t have to change my topics or my message, but perhaps the way I present it.
See, I write a blog called Appalachian Witchery. Its main focus is historical pieces about a magical tradition born in the Appalachian Mountains and practiced by the granny women and men for generations. The other part of the blog is dedicated to actually working with the stories and lessons from history. So how could I combine my normal blog writings, and have something for Truly, Madly, Sassy? Then it dawned on me. Allow myself to write the message that my ancestors would want me to share. My Mamaw and my other elders who have passed away over the years all practiced some form of magic, and while they would have never used the word witch or witchcraft to describe what they did or who they were by today’s modern definition, that is what they were and did. However, these women and men were not the witches of mythology with long gnarled fingers, warts, wearing black, and cavorting with the Christian Devil in the forest making pacts in blood. No, these men and women were by and large Christian pillars of their local communities. They had knowledge handed down from previous generations, and gifts of sight and foreknowledge handed down through the blood and gifted from Appalachia and her spirits. They were the salt of the earth people who always had a pot of coffee or tea, and a cake or pie waiting for company to show up randomly asking for help or just an ear to listen. They were the people who spent time out in nature, and learned her signs and omens, who spoke to the spirits that no one else saw, who spoke to the trees, plants, and rocks, and the people who could see and speak to spirits to help them cross over and stop bothering the living. These are my people.
One of the most important lessons I ever learned from my elders was about slowing down, taking time to explore the outside world and to listen. We spend so much time in our lives anymore with the idea that we have to be doing. The idea that if we are not doing something then we are being lazy, unhelpful, and wasteful, but the old generations knew that this is when we get our inspiration and when God (however you want to define that word) speaks to us.
So how do we get to a clearer, more connected life with the natural world and God like our ancestors experienced?
First, find five or ten minutes out of each day that is just for you. During this time step outside and breathe. Take a few good deep-cleansing breaths, and allow your body to relax. Then, take a slow inventory of your physical body. Mentally scan yourself. Where are you carrying stress and tension? Is anything hurting you? And then take a few more breaths and visualize the inhaled breath going to rest in those spots and help heal it.
While you are outside and after you have paid attention to your body, now is the time to turn your focus outside of yourself for a moment. You may like to have a notepad with you just in case inspiration hits you or you see something that you may want to write down for future recall. Look around your space, wherever you are, and take notice of the sky, the trees, the animals that may be around, and even the people and their behaviors. Observation is one of the most important skills that we can have. By paying attention to the “baseline” of behaviors of the natural elements, and even people, as we can begin to see our own signs and omens in their behaviors. Perhaps you will see a bright red cardinal and then you will get a phone call from a friend needing help, and this occurs more than once. Then you will know that you can usually expect a friend will be in need when the red cardinal appears to you. Everyone will have their own omens and signs that are particular to them. It’s why I never really suggest books or websites to people when they ask me about what a certain animal means when it appears. I tell them to go home and meditate on it and think about what the animal represents for them, and what occurred around the time that the animal behaved differently or showed itself to them.
The next step is to listen. This is a hard task for many people. We spend most of our life waiting to reply to whatever someone is saying to us. We don’t take the time to truly listen to what is being said. We hope and expect that our friends and family members will truly listen to us when we need them, but we don’t often offer the same skill to them in their hours of need. During this time of listening I suggest you sit with your eyes closed for at least 3 minutes, and really listen. Pay attention to the sound of the wind as it moves over the stones, the birds as they chirp, the sound of cars revving. All of these sounds will be important in connecting you with your space, and like the previous part of the exercise, it can provide you with omens and signs. If the birds aren’t chirping like normal perhaps that indicates a predator is near to their nests, and that could indicate for you there is a serious issue that needs to be addressed before it causes more damage in your life. Every sound, and movement has the potential to be an omen for you. And not all omens or signs are bad. Perhaps the squirrels are being more vocal than normal, and you discover that means you will have an influx of money or someone you love is coming to visit. But we have become so far removed from our own bodies and our physical spaces that we have lost the ability to really connect. That is what the ancestors did. They connected with their selves and the natural world.The other part of this exercise is that it helps you get in touch with your higher power. During the time you do your personal body inventory it is also the perfect time to start to talk and meditate on issues and topics that you need guidance with. I spend a lot of time talking to my ancestors and higher power at this time.There is a reason witches are sometimes described as mumbling a lot, because we do. We verbally talk to everything – the trees, the rocks, the plants, the spirits that no one else sees, the higher power, etc. So I spend time lowly talking about my troubles, and asking for help. Then I shut my mouth and close my eyes and allow myself to just reach out and connect with the natural world. Because after all, what is a more direct line to the higher power than the world that was created for us by that higher power, and by doing so I get answers almost every time. Sometimes the answers come from a car passing playing a song loud enough for me to hear, or an ancestor will activate a memory or even speak to me, sometimes God speaks, sometimes the animal omens provide the answer. But there is so much peace that we could find if we would just still our bodies and minds, and allow ourselves to just be.