Circling nothing

White writing on black: "This space intentionally left blank."

“How would you describe something [something] that isn’t there [nothing]? … the way they [the Indians] decided to represent the nothing was they took a little piece of nothing and they drew a circle around it, which turns the nothing into a something.” 1

And thus zero was invented.

The way we represent the sacred is we take a little piece of the world and draw a circle around it, which turns the ordinary of our living room or local park into sacred space.

Nothing is always present – the void of our death looms – whether there is a zero or not. And the sacred is always present, whether there is a circle or not. These loops help us conceptualize and ground the abstract, but they are not the concepts they represent.

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Circling nothing was originally published on We're Made of Mud and Magic

How accessible is your Pagan website?

Screen shot of the alt text over an image: "Blue and white stick figure actively wheeling a wheelchair."

 

I’ve been getting ready for the launch of A Broom and A Spoon, a podcast for and by Pagans with chronic illnesses made by ED and I. Since we also plan to discuss issues relevant to Pagans with mental illnesses, disabilities, and sensory processing differences, it is important to us to make everything connected with the project as accessible as possible. It has been quite the project, and I wanted to share some resources and tips I’ve discovered so far so other Pagan resources can also be made more accessible.

 

Website testing: It turns out there’s a lot more to an accessible website than alt text for images, though that is really important. This website was very enlightening to me about both of my websites: WAVE: web accessibility evaluation tool. Many of the defaults for both Squarespace and WordPress websites are not very accessible. For example, Squarespace’s way of dealing with alt text means that when I use a screen reader app, all of the alt text is read twice. My WordPress pages are full of errors like “Missing form label”, “Redundant title text”, and “Redundant link”, all of which are done by WordPress or the theme I chose and will have to be manually overridden (if they even can be at my skill level).

 

Keyboard accessibility: It is driving me nuts that I can’t get focus indicators to work on either website when they should be on by default. WebAIM is full of tips and cautions for making websites more accessible.

 

Designing for everyone: I love these posters of how to design better for a variety of needs: “Dos and don’ts on designing for accessibility“.

 

Closed captioning: YouTube auto-generated captions are on a scale from bad to terrible. Really, I tried to watch some of them on mute and I have no idea what the person is actually saying. Please, please, edit the captions.

 

Videos for the blind: On the subject of YouTube, if you are posting one, consider making a described video version for people with vision problems. There’s an easy free tool at YouDescribe.org, though you have to send people to their website to see it. If you don’t want to record your own, let me know – I love doing described videos.

 

Edited to add: Social media accessibility: I stumbled across this great tutorial on accessibility on the major social media platforms: Accessible Social Media.

 

I have a lot of work to do on my websites to get them to where I would like, accessibility-wise. I hope other Pagans will be inspired to check their own websites and online resources too, and pass on tips to each other. Let’s make accessibility a core Pagan value!

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Metaphor failure

Two trees with intertwined roots

 

The problem with metaphor in ritual is that it won’t work for everyone. During grounding meditations involving visualizing roots reaching deep into the center of the earth, someone (me) might be distracted by imagining roots meeting red-hot magma. During rituals using a fall harvest theme, someone (me) might be distracted thinking about how nature is planting, not harvesting.

 

I’ve disguised more than one poorly thought-out concept with metaphor, so I understand the urge. They are also tempting to deploy as a substitute for true understanding of the ritual theme, or when deeper knowledge is hard to convey in the ritual context. Metaphors are best used cautiously and only when really necessary.

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I wouldn’t have if I’d been them

  My first public Pagan event was a revelation: meeting other Pagans after a couple of years of studying and practicing on my own, standing in a real ritual circle, chanting with other people and raising energy. This was before everyone had the internet, so this was my first experience with Pagans besides reading their…

I wouldn’t have if I’d been them was originally published on We're Made of Mud and Magic

On trust

A winding dirt road surrounded by scruffy bushes and with mountains in the distance.

A winding dirt road surrounded by scruffy bushes and with mountains in the distance. The road I’m on barely warrants the name; it is more of a trail, the width of a car, that winds through the forest. I’m in four wheel drive, bumping slowly downwards. At one point, the road turns upward sharply than drops away again immediately. I stop at the top. The nose of the vehicle is pointed up at the trees and I can’t see the road at all. My friend in the passenger seat – a more experienced off-road driver – laughs at my nervousness: “The road is still there. You know it’s there, so just go.”

View from above of a pair of feet in sneakers walking on cement. “Don’t look at the floor. It’s not going anywhere,” says my Tai Chi teacher. My partner and I laugh; he knows that right now I can’t really feel my feet. That is combining with my lack of balance to make my animal instincts less sure that the floor is, indeed, still there from one step to the next.

I lean atheistic in no small part because I like to perceive instead of believe. I want to trust my senses, but they are sometimes failing me. My instincts can be tricked and can override my logic, so I must extend my trust to common sense and my memories.

I need to know that the ground is still there, still strong and supportive, even if I can’t see or feel it.

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Nature isn’t here for you

A leaf with natural heart cutouts, lit from behind.

 

If we are the universe embodied and if we are here to experience the universe, it makes sense that there would be rewards built in to connecting with the natural world. As we serve the cosmos, we receive happiness, serenity, and maybe some healing as a side effect.

 

I see a lot of headlines like “How to harness nature’s healing power”, “How forests heal people”, and “How to use nature to improve your health”. Their version of nature is lush, green, and peaceful. There’s no red in tooth and claw; there’s no predator, prey, and parasite. Theirs is a tamed nature that exists as a tool for our benefit.

 

To me, respect for nature means understanding that it isn’t here to serve us. It can be the soothing green shade with bird song, but it can also be the disease carrying deer tick picked up in that same idyllic place. It exists for itself alone. We are lucky that walking through the natural cathedral of old trees or observing a wild flower conveys spiritual, mental, and physical benefits, but framing nature in terms of how we can use it maintains the same paradigm that led to animal extinctions, rain forest clear cutting, and vortexes of plastic waste in our oceans.

 

Get out into the green when and how you can, for the personal benefits or as an act of worship, but don’t mistake your reasons for nature’s purpose. And wear insect repellent as needed.

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The universe seeing itself

Each of us is a piece of the cosmos experiencing itself. We have always used our senses to do this, and our imaginations at least back to cave paintings, but in our world now, we have enhanced abilities so the piece of the cosmos we each represent can see more and experience more than our ancestors could dream of.

 

Zoom in and see the composition of nature.

 

A single fan-shaped ginkgo leak and three images of it from a microscope.

A dried ginkgo leaf under a microscope.

 

Zoom out and see our earth from an impossible perspective.

 

Photos of Earth from Space: Blue Marble Eastern hemisphere, Blue Marble western hemisphere, and Black Marble: the Earth at night.

The Blue Marble East and West from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and The Black Marble from NASA Earth Observatory.

 

Pan around the world and witness stories where you will never be.

 

 

Feed your inner divine cosmos with information and with imagination and with beauty at all scales.

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Watching for holy days

In some desert areas, there are spectacular wildflower blooms after particularly wet winters. In the mountains, temporary waterfalls are created by spring snowmelt. Lunar and (especially) solar eclipses; meteor showers; comets, auroras, bird migrations, autumn foliage… there are marvels that come around us, and not too infrequently. We must not be “too busy” with quotidian affairs to experience them.

Seize the (Unusual) Day from the Atheopaganism blog

 

On a sunny day, a paraglider and a bunch of kites are flown at a shoreline park. We can have as many natural holy days as we can notice. Where I live, in Vancouver, watch the flags and trees: when the wind starts blowing from the south, rain will arrive within a day. If we notice it coming – if we go outside to an open area away from wind tunnels and wind shadows every day – then we can celebrate both the last hours of sunshine and the return of the rains that nourish our temperate rainforest.

 

Maybe ideally we would celebrate every sunrise, every sunset, every sign of the changing seasons. The animist part of me knows that every piece of the world is sacred, so every day is a holy day. We’re surrounded by miracles and beauty every day, all the time, but we also need to pay the bills and visit the dentist and take out the recycling. And despite reading many cute articles about how to clean your house in a ritual or sacred way, I don’t feel like I’m connecting with a higher power while I’m crawling to vacuum under the couch. Though I’m lucky enough to have a day job that is aligned with my values, it is still work and my love of spreadsheets doesn’t make them sacred. I am not a monk.

 

I can’t live every moment in a state of awe or connectedness; that’s why we have rituals. If I try to make every day into a sacred day, I know that none of them will feel special. The full moon is beautiful to see, but seems remote and I’ve never quite got the habit of Esbats. But I am challenging myself to watch for the south wind coming in, and to honour those weather changes. And if they should bring with them one of Vancouver’s rare lightening storms, I’ll be thrilled to honour that too.

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Balance one; balance all

I had a beautiful weekend. On Friday evening, Silver Spiral had a belated Litha. It was a gorgeous ritual. In the power raising, the group was given a fairly simple poem to turn into a chant. It started as just rhythmic speaking, than acquired melody, then evolved into a call and response with a complex…

Balance one; balance all was originally published on We're Made of Mud and Magic