Maximus Elephant Poo Notebook.

Yes, really, elephant poo. I love when people read the back of these books, find out what they’re made from and then almost throw them back on the display in horror. I probably shouldn’t say that…but it is kinda funny.

They’re actually really nice – my parents gave me one for Christmas. I didn’t catch any diseases from it, and it doesn’t smell lol. It’s made with 75% elephant poo and 25% post consumer waste paper (recycling, yaaaay), and gets totally sterilized as it’s processed. The process is ecologically friendly as well (I swear I read that they boil the poo with some kind of leaf that totally sterilizes everything instead of using chemicals, but I can’t find that on their website so I may have imagined it. That would be a very strange thing to imagine, though).

If you’re still not convinced, then maybe the fact that Maximus has really gone out of it’s way to help rural communities in Sri Lanka will sway you. Instead of taking up the government benefits and concessions that would have come their way from setting up in an industrial zone, Maximus has brought jobs to remote areas – even though this makes the logistics and organisation of the business more difficult and expensive.

Also, they donate a percentage (no, I couldn’t find out exactly what percentage) of their profits to The Millennium Elephant Foundation, a charity which works to help captive elephants in Sri Lanka. Their website is http://millenniumelephantfoundation.com/

The books themselves are all hand-made and there are a lot of different colorful designs. As they’re made from, er, ‘all natural products’, the texture of the paper is somewhat variable. I feel like that could be a real bonus for artists – this paper would be really interesting to work with. You can also just use it to write in, though – I used mine as a journal. The only thing to watch out for is that if you sketch in pencil and then go over the top in ink, most of the ink will rub off when you rub out the pencil sketch.

The Maximus website is http://www.ecomaximus.com/max/ You can order notebooks and other elephant poo paper products (alliteration, everybody) at http://www.elecosy.com/

Fun With Gender.

Every pagan must have heard about the Divine Feminine; maybe because most of us were raised in patriarchal monotheistic faiths, and maybe because women have been repressed in this society for a very long time, finding the sacredness and power in femaleness has been very important. Some pagan traditions focus solely on the Goddess/es, and many women find the physical womanliness of their bodies is a link to the Divine Feminine, just as their ‘feminine qualities’ – creativity, a nurturing heart, receptivity – link them to the Goddess/es.

I don’t hear as much about the Divine Masculine; male Deities exist, clearly (I know some people do believe in just The Goddess, but the majority of us acknowledge the existence of Gods even if we prefer to worship only the Goddesses), but it’s a lot less common to hear people getting really enthusiastic about Divine Masculinity the way they do about The Sacred Feminine. I’ve yet to hear a man telling me about the way his physical maleness helps him to connect with the Divine Masculine. Maybe it’s because men are already ’empowered’ in our society, or maybe men and women relate to these things differently, or maybe it’s just that men never really needed to reclaim the idea of a Sacred Male (because monotheistic Deities tend to be viewed as male).

A lot of pagan faith seems highly gendered, when you start to think about it. We have a set of archetypes for women and another set for men. Sex – heterosexual sex – will be talked about as the union of opposites, cosmic balance. There is feminine energy or masculine energy, frith or boast. Every thing in the entire Universe, it seems, can be sorted into a blue box or a pink box. Which is why life gets really interesting when you don’t quite fit in either box.

Modern life in general is…tricky, if you don’t want to sit in just the blue or pink box. It’s also rough if you want to be in one box, but everyone else thinks you belong in the other box. What toilet do you use? What do you do about changing rooms? How on Earth do you tackle the swimming pool? And the pagan community doesn’t always know what to do with you, either. Like, can I join the Moon Group or not? But actually, the Sacred Third is…well, sacred. You won’t hear it talked about a great deal, but we’re here, we’re real, and we’re as sacred as ‘biological’ men or women.

I *wanted* my messed-up and confused gender identity to have no impact on my spirituality, but it just doesn’t work like that. Not for me, anyway. In fact, once I started to research, it seems to be integral to my calling. I’ve been a bit shy to talk about this before, but I’m called to what a lot of people nowadays are calling shamanism (since I’m talking about being ‘genderqueer’, I may as well talk about this as well). And, historically speaking, a lot of what we would call shamans had non-standard gender identities or sexual preferences. In some cultures, just being what we would call transgender would be enough for the tribe to declare you a shaman. When I got some help and began to learn what I needed to do with my life, the very first thing the Spirits made me sort out was what the heck my gender identity actually is. For whatever reason, I needed to acknowledge my true feelings and do something about them in the real world. I’m not sure, but I think it has to do with liminality; walking between worlds, realities…and genders.

Luckily for me, I’d been devoted to Loki for a while before I was made to sort out my own issues. This was fortunate because Loki is a shapeshifter (and I cannot tell you how jealous I am of this ability! If only…). Most people think of Him as male, and I’d guess that He is, at His core. But He can easily become, physically, a man or a woman. To the extent that He has gotten pregnant and had a baby at least once, and probably more than once. That’s…a pretty strong experience of femininity, isn’t it? So He helped me a great deal. I also learnt that many Deities – especially Tricksters – are a bit more fluid with Their gender than modern people think They ought to be. *That* is my connection to the Divine – in terms of gender, anyway – as well as a role model I can follow. I was also led, through ‘coincidence’, to a pagan author who helped me to learn about my place in the spiritual world, though I still have a lot of learning to do. Like, really…a lot of learning. But I understand now that there’s nothing wrong with me – I’m exactly the way I’m supposed to be, and being the way I am has value. I’m not just something that people should ‘be tolerant’ about, and I don’t need to be ‘fixed’ – I have a sacred role to fulfill, just like men, women, trans men and trans women do. I don’t think I could have come to this understanding in any other religion.

World Fair Trade Day!

Today is World Fair Trade Day! (Confession; I only found out about this yesterday.) To celebrate, I thought I’d use it as an excuse to buy a truckload of Fair Trade chocolate talk about Fair Trade.

As I’ve mentioned before, I volunteer in a fair trade shop. I had my second review a few weeks ago, during which I needed to give a brief, simple explanation of what fair trade means – the sort of thing you’d say to a customer who asked. This was probably the biggest challenge of the meeting for me…As you may have noticed by now, I’m not too great at ‘brief and simple’. If a customer wants a 15-20 minute lecture on fair trade, then awesome. Otherwise, I’m struggling. However, my best super-simple explanation of fair trade is…

Fair trade is about making sure people are paid a fair, living wage for the work they do. Fair trading gives people the chance to lift themselves out of poverty and create a sustainable future for themselves, their families and, ultimately, their communities. 

(You will be unsurprised to hear that this is not what I actually said in my review. I don’t even remember what I said. I don’t want to know. I didn’t get fired, that’s all that matters…)

Although this explanation is technically correct, there’s *so much more* to fair trade. Fair trade looks especially to disadvantaged workers, to protect them and help them to improve their lives. It helps people to improve their skills and build their businesses, it looks to the rights of women and other marginalized groups, and it also encourages people to protect the environment. It has the power to completely transform people’s lives.

People often confuse fair trade with charity. I’m not anti-charity – I think there are times when charity is necessary and a force for good. But whole communities can’t be supported by charity indefinitely, and this is where Fair Trade comes in.

Fair trade is not charity, it’s fairness. Workers make a product and are paid a fair price for what they’ve done, instead of the lowest price huge corporations can possibly demand. The fair price for products is figured out by Flocert (http://www.flocert.net/fairtrade-services/). Being paid fairly allows people to make their own way out of poverty and create real livelihoods for themselves.

Many fair trade businesses sell hand-made products which keep traditional crafts alive and/or recycle trash (Mowgs baskets are a good example of a company that does both – see http://www.justfairtrade.com/mowgs-baskets-from/). A lot of companies also work with specific groups of marginalized and/or vulnerable people – women who have been trafficked into the sex industry, for example, or disabled people – to help them create new lives for themselves and their families. Sari Bari is a good example (https://saribari.com/).

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need fair trade…because all trade would automatically be fair. Until then, vote with your wallet for a fairer world 🙂

Conscious Chocolates Essential Orange 65%.

Healthy chocolate? Could it be? Well…Maybe! Conscious Chocolates are a company based in East Grinstead, West Sussex that make raw, organic, vegan chocolate bars that are also free from soya, gluten and refined sugar. They aim to use the purest, healthiest ingredients possible and have good information available on the health benefits of the ingredients they use (http://www.consciouschocolate.com/ingredients/).

Even better, they are a really ethical company. The cardboard packet that the chocolate comes in is compostable, the inks are water-based and the foil wrapping is recyclable. They aren’t Fair Trade certified, but that’s because not all the ingredients they use have Fair Trade certified suppliers. However, because of their emphasis on quality ingredients, all their ingredients command a premium cost anyway, and they’re confident that all their suppliers are being treated fairly. Read what they have to say about it at http://www.consciouschocolate.com/faqs/#fairtrade.

They even give to charity; on some of their products, 10% of the sale price is given to the Global White Lion Protection Trust, which works to protect white lions and help people to understand their cultural and spiritual importance. Find out more about this unusual charity at http://whitelions.org/

The Essential Orange flavor that I tried was different to other orange chocolates, because it contains tangerine oil as well as orange. I found that the tangerine gave it an extra lightness and freshness, which was really nice. It also has some cinnamon in it, so you can bet Husband and Loki are also fans. The texture of the bar wasn’t my favorite, but I’m new to raw chocolate, so maybe that’s normal? It wasn’t as smooth as regular chocolate. We also found that we needed to keep it in the fridge, because it’s very soft at room temperature (their website does say to keep it at 20 degrees c or less and away from strong odors. You can even put it in the freezer). I thought it was nice that the foil wrapper shared the story of the company instead of just being plain.

To find out more or shop for chocolate bars, visit their site at http://www.consciouschocolate.com/. They also have a blog with some really nice-looking recipies at http://www.consciouschocolate.com/blog/.

If you try this or other chocolates from Conscious Chocolates, let me know what you thought! 🙂

The Metaphysics of Faerie Trees

deadbutdreaming

‘Faerie Folks
Are in old oaks.’  Traditional proverb

In 1452, thirty-four French villagers were questioned by an ecclesiastical commission about a ‘faerie tree’ (arbor fatalism, gallide des fees) in Domrémy, as part of the process of overturning Joan of Arc’s conviction at the hands of the English/Burgundian Gestapo twenty years earlier. In the face of her inquisitors, Joan herself had offset her own belief in the faeries by apportioning it to her godmother, who had apparently seen the faeries gathering at the tree. And, even though the villagers were under no threat from the commission (quite the opposite in fact), none of the thirty-four interviewees would admit to a belief of the faeries, or that they had ever seen them at the tree. Instead, they informed the commissioners that “they had heard that in the old days faeries were said to have been seen there.” As the villagers…

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Honoring the Spirits of Buildings.

I’m petsitting for Parents and Sister this weekend. Cat Sister and Grumpy Tortoise are not particularly demanding charges however, so I’ve had some time to chill out and think about stuff. Change of scenery and all that.

One thing I’ve been thinking about recently is how to acknowledge the spirits of homes and buildings other than my own flat, and as I’m away from home right now it seems a good time to try and figure something out. Here alone, it’s all pretty straightforward; I can easily speak to and leave out small offerings for the spirits in the house and garden. Even when Parents and Sister are here…They’re used to me being a little weird by now. They just roll with it.

But what about when I visit other relatives, or when I’m at work? You might wanna argue that I should just go ahead and be completely overt about things, since animism is a valid spiritual worldview and I have as much right to practice it as any other person in this country has the right to pursue any other spiritual path. Maybe you’d be right. But life is complicated, people are different, and not everyone feels able to be that up-front.

I’m not willing to actually hide or lie about my beliefs, but I’m also not willing to rock up at a relative’s home and say “Hey! Whilst I’m here, I need to leave a plate of cookies that you’re not allowed to eat in your kitchen to feed spirits you don’t believe exist, and then bury them in your garden along with a portion of this nice dinner you’ve made for me, to feed more spirits that you don’t believe exist. OK?” I already have to tackle the whole vegan/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/mental health problems thing, and once I start hormone therapy I’m gonna have to tackle the transgender thing as well (people have been told, but no-one who doesn’t want to has had to confront it as reality yet. Most people have been *great*, and I’m really grateful for that. But some are persistently clinging to my old name, pronouns and stuff like that…and will quite possibly continue to do so once I have a beard and a tenor singing voice lol).

Anyway, I wanted to come up with some acceptable compromises, so that I can respect the spirits without people calling the local mental health team, or (more importantly) offending people in their own homes or workplaces.

I’m already saying a quiet hello to the spirits of the building I work in every time I go down to the basement level, which is where their presence seems to be the strongest. I will also quietly talk to them when I’m alone, to thank them for helping the business and things like that. I’ve considered asking permission to set up a small shrine for them somewhere out of the way in the basement storage room, but I dunno how well that would go down. In purely mundane, practical terms, someone may easily mistake it for stock and put bits of it out for sale. I also don’t know how comfortable other people would feel about having something like that in the building. When I asked, they said there was nothing they needed or wanted me to do – I kinda sense that they would like a spider-themed shrine in the basement and some kind of angel image/s in the staff room near the sink, but they get that I’m not in a position to do that for them.

As for the spirits of other people’s homes, I feel like the best way forward would be to quietly acknowledge them if I get a chance to do so (I could always pretend to need the loo or something) and be mindful of them during my stay – be a good guest and all that (which I’d try to be anyway, obviously).

Any place I’m staying alone or with just with close family – like the holiday we’re planning this Summer, for example – should be quite straightforward. The last time I took a holiday, my family and I stayed in a chalet. I burned a little incense cone every day and also made small food offerings, usually biscuits, which I left outdoors until the guy in the next chalet complained because his dog was eating them. I now also get that biscuits and chips aren’t the best thing for the local wildlife, so this year I’ll try things like fruit, salad and stuff that will drain away into the soil, like plant milk and fruit juice.

I’d be really interested in hearing how other animists tackle this problem, and what does and doesn’t work for you.

What Is Sacred Endarkenment?

The Black Stone Hermitage

“I think the sacred is more readily available to us in the dark.”

~ Martin Lowenthal, Getting Enlightened in the Dark

“…some people say we should never, ever leave the light.  We should endeavor to be “light workers” who fill every shadow with light and eliminate all darkness.  […]  If the light’s on all the time, how do we get any sleep?  Do we ever get to close our eyes?  […]

“Pagans understand that as much as we crave enlightenment…just that much do we also require endarkenment.  The New Age just doesn’t seem to have caught on yet.  We pagans can help others see that without the darkness we cannot recognize the light.  We need literal shadows – and psychological and metaphysical ones – to tell us what’s out there.”

~ Barbara Ardinger, Pagan Every Day: Finding the Extraordinary in Our Ordinary Lives


Crypt of Sacred Endarkenment

I was raised in a middle-class white…

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Booja-Booja Truffle Selection No 2.

Husband and I were given these extremely posh truffles as a gift (thanks, Family!)

Booja-Booja is a small (just thirty seven employees) independent company in Norfolk which, since being founded in 1999, has won eighty six awards! They don’t use dairy, soya or gluten, and all their products are organic and made on site.

They are not, as far as I can tell, Fair Trade certified, which is a shame. They say on their website that they keep long-term, positive relationships with their suppliers – partly because that’s the right thing to do, and partly because they often don’t have any back-up suppliers for the kinds of ingredients they need (see http://www.boojabooja.com/booja-blog/general/our-ingredients/). The only more specific facts I could see about their suppliers were to do with the raw cacao used in their Dark Ecuadorian and Raspberry Ecuadorian truffles (http://www.boojabooja.com/booja-blog/general/ecuador-cacao/) and the luxury hand-made boxes they source from Kashmir (http://www.boojabooja.com/booja-blog/general/artists-kashmir/). However, I absolutely admit that I haven’t read their entire blog, so there may be further information in there that I haven’t found. As they’re using unusual products, it may be that there just isn’t a Fair Trade certified producer out there for some of it. There’s a fair bit of Fair Trade cocoa out there though, so I’m not entirely sure why they don’t use it.

One really nice thing about Booja-Booja is that they donate 5% of their profits to two charities every year – a ‘far away’ charity and a more local cause. At the time of writing, they’re supporting Fauna & Flora International and Total Ensemble Theater Company. Find more information at http://www.boojabooja.com/booja-blog/general/helping-others/. It’s a really good excuse to eat ice-cream!

So Truffle Selection No 2 features twelve truffles; three each of rhubarb and vanilla fool, hazelnut, stem ginger and almond and salted caramel. They come in a no-expenses-spared purple box, which is very luxurious and makes for a special gift but does, unfortunately, include a plastic tray in which the truffles sit. The truffles themselves are all identical to look at – little squares dusted in cocoa (very stylish!). Fortunately, there’s a chart inside to tell you which is which.

My favorite may be the rhubarb and vanilla fool. It’s tangy and not over-sweet. The hazelnut is one of Husband’s favorites – his description is “like Nutella, but better”. It has a good hazelnut flavor that balances but doesn’t overpower the chocolate. The stem ginger is quite subtle – which will be a welcome delight or a slight disappointment, depending on your point of view. We both liked it. Finally, the almond and salted caramel. This is contending with rhubarb and vanilla fool for my favorite truffle. I’m not always a fan of salted caramel, but this is the best I’ve ever tried. The salt is a definite, tongue-tingling flavor (be honest – we’ve all tried a salted caramel and wondered where the heck the salt is), but there’s just the right amount (because I’ve also tried salted caramel that was so salty I couldn’t eat it). The almond makes a nice counterbalance to the zing and sweetness of the caramel.

If you’ve tried these or any other Booja-Booja truffles, let me know what you thought 🙂

No Regrets, Just Memories?

I have several tattoos. And I confess; I also have several cover-ups, and am planning several more.

Everyone told me I’d regret getting ink…and they were all sorta wrong and sorta right at the same time. I love tattoos. They give me something about my appearance that I like and that’s easy to control (unlike, say, hormone therapy, which is out of my control in almost every way). Tattoos and piercings have, odd though it might seem, helped me struggle through some dark, tangled times in my life. Also, I just have a need to modify my appearance.

This is not me being some kind of freak – body modification of some type or another has been around pretty much as long as human culture has been around. We’ve been piercing, tattooing and otherwise changing our natural appearance for so much of our history that I think it’s some kind of built-in drive. After all, almost all of us get haircuts, right? And trim our nails? And wear clothes? Maybe even dye our hair? Most women (and some guys) wear make-up and shave their legs and underarms, and even the most reserved, conservative individuals, who think that navel piercings and pink hair are the work of the Devil, don’t bat an eyelash at a pierced earlobe or a bottle brunette. There are things we don’t think of as ‘body modification’ because they’re socially ubiquitous, but when you think about it we’re all modifying our appearance, either temporarily or permanently, all the time. It seems to be an integral part of how human beings form a sense of individual and group identity.

So anyway, back to me and my ‘mistakes’. I didn’t have a prayer, in a lot of ways. I’ve spent so much of my life being pretty seriously mentally ill that I didn’t have a very good grip on my identity – trying to ‘logic my way out’ of gender dysphoria didn’t help in that department, either. But I’d never really known anything else, so I didn’t realize what was going on. Also, once upon a time I was a committed Christian. I don’t mean a half-crazed, gay-bashing tyrant screaming at all the sinful unbelievers about how they’re destined for hellfire and damnation, I just mean that I took my faith really seriously and built my life around it. Pretty much like I do now, actually, except that Loki showed up and dragged me kicking and screaming into polytheism. This means that I now have several religious tattoos that are no longer appropriate.

If I could peel off all my ink like stickers and start afresh, I would. Then I’d sit and spend ages coming up with some kind of cohesive, add-to-able theme so it all looked perfect and impressive. But life doesn’t work that way, does it? There are *plenty* of things I’ve done and said that I’d love to somehow change or simply erase out of existence. Of all the (many) mistakes that I’ve made in my life, tattoos have been by far the least damaging and easiest to fix.