Spirituality

Witch Interview, Part 3: Listening to Nature

In Part 3 of the witch interview with Gemstone and Barista, Gemstone shares how listening to nature feels magical to her.

Gemstone: “We get so caught up listening to music and t.v, and cars are so loud, that all of this drowns out nature, and how healing nature sounds can be if you just take a moment and listen. I think people like to take trips into nature because that’s the only opportunity they get to connect with the divine. That’s what earth magic is to me.

Whether it’s the sound of wind, rain, or birds chirping or cawing, bugs buzzing around, various other animal noises, there’s this beauty in the simplicity of sound. Where I live, the frogs are so loud that the entire valley is buzzing with the sound of the frogs. It’s amazing how they work in tandem. A froggy symphony!”

Me: “Do you tend to hear the frogs at the same time every day?”

Gemstone: “Yes, while the sun is going down. It’s like they’re signaling the beginning of their nocturnal time.”

Me: “Do you know what type of frogs they are?”

Gemstone: “Mainly two types, little tree frogs, and bullfrogs.”

I like observing nature to go back to basics for a while and reflect on where we came from as humans. Since I live in an apartment, and can’t drive, I don’t get as many opportunities to listen to wild animals, but I’ve still picked up on some things from observing pets I have come across.

Our little friends mostly eat, sleep, play, and snuggle. Although having more options for our activities and communication can make it fun to be human, it can be nice to just think about how cute a meowing cat is and go stroke their fur for a while. Our connection to nature might also go in the other direction. Identifying animals, plants, or other natural phenomena, like Gemstone did with the frogs, can make a good brain workout for science fans.

For example, I found out from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website that the ducks in my city’s parks are mallard ducks! I live in Spokane, Washington. The duck in the featured image, a picture I took five years ago, looks like the ones in the mallard section of their online booklet! If your area has a similar department, their website might have information that could help you identify the animals, too. By the way, I think a duck’s quack is one of the cutest nature sounds!

Image: a white and brown mallard duck with a green head swims through dark green water.

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Spirituality

Witch Interview, Part 2: How Mythology and Fiction May Affect Magic

In Part 2 of the witch interview with my friends Gemstone and Barista, Gemstone shares how mythology and fiction can inspire society to be more interested in magic, or at least more accepting of it.

Gemstone: “As a society, we’re always trying to make mythological ideas, like gods and mermaids, more palatable, such as in “Oh Brother Where Art Thou,” a black comedy retelling of Homer’s Odyssey. Most people are out of touch with magic, and we don’t realize that we’re all magically inclined.

Sometimes these ideas, stories, images, and mythological concepts can help people get in touch with their inner magic because it resonates with us. As a child, reading about Harry Potter made me realize how much I believe in magic. Everyone has magic powers. Everyone’s magic powers are different.”

Me: “How did Harry Potter influence your trajectory with magic?”

Gemstone: “Hagrid is a representation of earth magic because he can see what other people can’t see. For Hagrid, it’s all about animals, birds, and mythical creatures. He has heart and ability with them. Some people look at creatures and see them as dangerous. He’ll look at the same animal and see it as misunderstood, that its outside appearance doesn’t reflect what’s on the inside.

His character represents insight into someone’s inner character. He can’t stand Malfoy because he  can see past his pretty, blonde exterior into the rotten, inner core.

I had been making potions and casting spells from a very young age but was always afraid of what others would think about my witchy ways. I don’t think at that time I even realized I was a witchy woman but felt a call to nature and would constantly use plants and earth elements as I “played.” 

When Harry Potter came out it I poured over the pages feeling a deep connection to this magical world. Even though I knew it was a piece of fiction, the world J.K. Rowling created felt real. It made people less afraid of magic and what it means to tap into the unseen but deeply felt energy of the earth and the natural world.” 

I appreciate Gemstone’s spiritual connection to Hagrid, as a character who lovingly pays attention to and accepts other living beings, even those who are often misjudged. When Harry and his friends dealt with bullies, Hagrid always supported them. Gemstone has similarly comforted me a few times when I’ve been upset about other people putting me down. Hagrid was a safe haven for animals and humans alike who were in dire need of compassion, which is my favorite magic of all ❤

Image: the Pottermore website’s illustration of Hagrid’s Hut, where Hagrid did most of his work caring for magical beasts and supporting Harry and his friends.

Spirituality

Witch Interview, Part 1: Understanding Slytherins

Last month, I interviewed two of my friends, Gemstone and Barista, about witchcraft. All three of us identify spiritually as witches. The Harry Potter universe came up a lot in our conversation. Pagan witchcraft isn’t to be confused with fictional fantasy witchcraft, but some of us enjoy using these stories as inspiration for our faith. Today, I’ll share what we discussed regarding the Slytherin house from Harry Potter.

Barista: “It’s hard to be misunderstood or seen as cold. It’s not necessarily collecting the darkest artifacts possible, it’s shoving pizza in your mouth at 3:00 am.”

Gemstone: “It’s not necessarily darkness, it’s spending time on yourself. Slytherin understands the importance of partnership, but also that success depends on doing what one needs to do.”

Barista: “I care about happiness over wealth. I’ve had depression for years. I don’t need money, I don’t need success, I just want to be content wherever I am. It drove my ex nuts that I don’t want a job or degree, I just want to not want to jump off a cliff.”

Gemstone: “I haven’t wanted a career. What I want is success tied to the earthly realm and the metaphysical realm.”

Barista: “I want to go to a less expensive college for herbology.”

Gemstone: “Also, when something keeps coming up, it’s probably trying to tell you something. I’ve been seeing a lot of snakes lately, which I see as a sign to not consume yourself. We can continue to go in circles if we’re always chasing our own tail. It’s showing me that I have to be careful not to go in this circular pattern in my life. Self-consumption is a loss of self. Snakes have a very powerful, earthy, deep, transformative, energy because they shed their skin, they can grow, they have that flexibility.”

Me: “Does that tie into how you took a week off from work recently?”

Gemstone: “Yes, I can get so caught up thinking about other people that I forget to think about myself. If you want to work to heal others and love others, you have to care for yourself and love yourself first. That self portion is really important. We can get too caught up in it. That self love aspect is so important. You have to remember that you’re just as important as everybody else.”

In summary, Gemstone and Barista interpret the Slytherin house as putting your own needs first. It’s important to do what you feel is best for yourself, even though other people might be disappointed or judgmental in response. Setting boundaries allows you to care for yourself and to have a stronger foundation for loving others.

Image: a screenshot of the Slytherin icon on Pottermore, a site J.K Rowling started to expand on the Harry Potter world

Mental Health

Sensory Relaxation Techniques, Part 5: Taste

The authors of the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills Workbook recommend self-soothing with your sense of taste, if you enjoy savoring food (416, kindle ed.)

For a mild pick-me-up, I recommend something vanilla, banana, almond, potato, chicken, or fish related. To me, foods like these are the equivalent of listening to simple nature sounds, or feeling slightly warm water on my skin. Really taking it easy. For a bit more of a meal with this effect, I like breaded chicken strips or fish fillets, with fries, dipped in ranch. I also like tuna fish sandwiches. Some other foods that I think give an extra gentle boost include mushrooms, popcorn, and bread. Among breads, I find buttermilk biscuits most comforting. Anything that’s just pleasant, but not super noticeable to your palette, will work for this.

Having foods that are very familiar, even if they have a stronger taste, can have a similar, gently pleasant effect. I find chocolate stronger than vanilla, peanut butter stronger than almond, beef stronger than chicken or fish, but foods that I know well enough still give me a warm sense of security.

Sometimes, people assume that I’m a really picky eater if they see me have chocolate, or chicken strips, or whatever several times in a row. It’s actually more like, I feel so stressed out so much of the time that it’s hard to deviate from the foods I find most immediately comforting. This may or may not be something you want to watch out for, depending on how important comfort eating is to you vs. a sense of adventure while eating.

For now, I’m fine with continuing to mainly prioritize comfort food for myself, but I think I’d enjoy experimenting a bit more when my stress level feels more manageable. I care more about reducing my stress level enough overall to feel a bit less of a need in the future to lean on comfort food, than I do about coming across as a sophisticated foodie right now to impress people, and that’s fine. Some people might always feel very drawn to comfort food, or have sensory issues that limit what they find bearable to eat, or any number of other situations, which are all fine, too. We all have the right to manage our nourishment in whatever way works best for us.

Works Cited

McKay, Matthew, et. al. The Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills Workbook. New Harbringer, 2007.

Image: a pic I took a few weeks ago of chicken nuggets and fries at Jack in the Box.

Mental Health

Sensory Relaxation Techniques, Part 4: Smell

Our sense of smell is closely connected with memory, which scientists think might be because the brain processes them both in nearby regions (Taste and Smell). What good memories do you have that you could invoke again with your sense of smell? My mom loved pumpkin related things, so for my first Mother’s Day without her this year, I lit a pumpkin-cheesecake scented candle.

Aside from reminiscing, smell can also help with taking the edge off of annoying tasks. I wish that bodies weren’t high-maintenance enough to require bathing pretty much every day. Since they indeed require a lot of maintenance, I bribe myself with vanilla body wash, and later put on a dab of cocoa butter scented lotion.

Scents can also be useful for a bedtime routine. Sometimes, I’ll just take the lid off of my soap or lotion and smell it late at night. If I have anything extra around, I’ll use that for bedtime, instead. Lavender is one of the most popular scents for getting ready for bed. Researchers at Charles Sturt University in Australia saw brainwaves showing drowsiness in participants who they exposed to lavender (Gilbert).

Smell can support us through difficult situations from grief to more everyday annoyances and sleep difficulties. If you’re not sure yet which smells would help you, Bath and Body Works has samples that you can try.

I hope you have an aromatic day!

Works Cited

“Taste and Smell.” Sparknotes, https://www.sparknotes.com/psychology/psych101/sensation/section4/ . Accessed 02 Aug 2019.

Gilbert, Katie. “Soothe Your Senses With Lavender.” 09 Jun 2006. Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200606/soothe-your-senses-lavender. Accessed 02 Aug 2019.

Image: a pic I took a few weeks ago of my cocoa butter scented lotion. The brand is Dr. Teal’s, and I found it at Walmart.

Mental Health

Sensory Relaxation Techniques, Part 3: Touch

Touch is the most difficult sense for me to write about, since I’d especially like to have more physical contact with people. Where I live, in the U.S, it seems like it’s unusual for people to touch each other outside of romantic relationships, and I’m single. I love petting animals, too, but it’ll be a while before I can get a pet, and the neighborhood pets usually don’t want to be touched. What can you do when you can’t get your needs for touch met?

Some objects provide me a little comfort when I touch them. Feeling a plant’s leaves or petals, or a small handful of dirt, helps me feel connected to the earth. My friend Gem prefers to use rocks or gemstones for the same purpose, referring to them as worry stones. Comfort tends to be associated with softness, which is what works best for me, but all kinds of sensations can work for different people, including the hard texture of a rock.

Food also has a lovely connection to the earth. When you’re eating, consider not just the taste, but the texture and temperature, if you’d find that helpful. I love warm broth in a spoonful of chicken noodle soup, the dense creaminess of cheesecake, the tenderness of a fish fillet, a smooth milk chocolate bar slowly melting, drinking a glass of cold, thick whole milk.

Of course, when we’re done eating, there are dishes to clean, and running a household involves many other chores on top of that. A lot of us find cleaning a burden. If you’re able to clean, it might relieve some tension to feel the smooth surface afterward; what a relief it is to not have any muck blemishing its texture anymore. Scrub the gravy off the plate, now it’s even-textured again, yay! Chip off flakes of glue from a spill that hardened while making a craft, now the table is just earthy, polished wood again! I don’t think I’ll ever completely abolish my dread of cleaning, but I can see it now as a form of purification. I’ve slowly been feeling somewhat less of that undisciplined angst, and more of a practical connection to my spirituality.

While discipline matters, I still enjoy indulging my inner child; the part of me who loves soft blankets, stuffed animals, and clothes that drape with ease around my body. Gentle, supportive touch from others can be hard to come by. In my opinion, I may as well hold another kind of buddy, like my plush Umbreon, while I Netflix and wail 😛 A team of pediatricians have recommended that parents have their children touch comforting objects as part of their bedtime routine, and I like it even at age 25 (American Academy of Pediatrics). At the very least, I touch my Umbreon before bed, since it’s a Pokemon that evolves by friendship at night. I find that a relaxing thought at the end of the day, and it also helps me a bit with my loneliness.

Physical touch can be an act of self-compassion, spirituality, stress relief, or anything you need it to be. It can be anything from a regular bedtime routine to an exploration of warm vs. cool, soft vs. firm, running your hand over a large surface vs. holding tiny objects between your fingers. I hope today is kind to your body!

Works Cited

“Transitional Objects.” American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 Aug. 2009, https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/Transitional-Objects.aspx . Accessed 17 July 2019.

Image

A pic I took of my Umbreon plush laying on a placemat with an owl design.

Mental Health

Sensory Relaxation Techniques, Part 2: Sound

I find some solace in listening to my surroundings, especially music and nature sounds. For me, it’s most helpful for dealing with loneliness, so that’ll be my main angle in this post.

Sometimes, loneliness makes me feel ambivalent about my connections, or even angry. The song “Unconditionally,” by Katy Perry, helps me keep pulling myself back from that shadow side into a more centered place. I listen to it at least once a day. “I will love you, unconditionally…I’ll take your bad days with your good, walk through this storm I would, I’d do it all because I love you.” While this is the vibe I hope for from others, usually I listen to it more to remind myself to keep nurturing the connections people are willing to give me instead of wavering or quitting altogether from the pain of wishing I could spend more time with them. My favorite version of the song is this cover by Alex Goot.

A study published in the journal Scientific Reports shows that nature sounds can help you focus more on something external, which reduces vulnerability to depression, anxiety, and PTSD (MacMillan). I love going outside when it rains and listening to the drops fall on plants. The bush right by my apartment door makes an especially nice sound. The lead author of this study, Cassandra Gould Van Praag, Ph.D, adds that sounds have a more relaxing effect when you’re already familiar with them, giving an example of listening to rainforest sounds when you’re already familiar with rainforests (MacMillan).

I tested her advice out myself by listening to some of this rainforest sounds video. I see what she means; the unfamiliar animal calls make me feel more alert, and kind of curious, which are good things, but go in a different direction than relaxation. It seems like new types of input must take a little extra effort for the brain to process. You may be better off listening to sounds that you already know when you’re getting ready for bed, but new sounds could be good for when you’re bored and want to expand your horizons a bit.

I hope you have a melodious day!

Works Cited

MacMillan, Amanda. “Why Nature Sounds Help You Relax, According to Science.” Health, 05 April 2017, https://www.health.com/stress/why-nature-sounds-are-relaxing. Accessed 11 July 2019.

Image

Screenshot of Alex Goot singing and playing “Unconditionally” from the link. Close-up shot of his hand on a white piano.