The Figa

The Figa
Reclaiming Women’s Power and an Italian Amulet

FigaPic2Sm

A figa is an amulet in the shape of a closed hand. Often, the tip of the thumb peeks out between the middle and index finger. The figa represents a woman’s genitals and is a charm for protection and good luck. It is also a talisman for fertility.

Even as a youth, I was drawn to the figa, not only as a talisman but as an archetype. It held tantalizing mysteries, and its antiquity and exotic roots were a delicious contrast to the American 50s bland norm.

I acquired a new figa recently, and shot the above photo, so you could see it. Isn’t it beautiful? I absolutely love it!

I purchased my new amulet here; the shop has more, each one different: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ErikasCollectibles

I’d already had a figa for … hm, I don’t know how long. It could be 30 or 40 years, or far less. I don’t remember how I acquired it. I was raised in an Italian, shamanic family-tradition. Otherworldly sensibilities were so typically present in our home, a part of daily life. A figa could slip into my life seamlessly back then, the entry not as noteworthy as it could be for people who aren’t constantly surrounded by that sort of thing.

Yet, despite my familiarity with Italian folk culture and my intense draw to this charm, I rarely saw one that I thought beautiful. I was never fond of my old figa, had wanted a new one forever, but couldn’t find one that pleased me till now.

My finally liking one is significant to me as a woman. Read on to learn why.

Seeing my new figa, which is very feminine, sweet, and elegant, I realized by comparison why I’d rarely liked a figa in the past. For one thing, they’re usually quite macho. An object that is supposed to embody female sexuality should … embody female sexuality.

Plus, figa figures are often crude. The crudeness repelled me, though on a subconscious level until I saw my new sweet, elegant figa. The crudeness—again, I experienced this subconsciously—was like being slapped in the face, shamed for being female.

Instead, I adore my new charm. Its sweet, feminine elegance is powerful magic and significant healing.

I was blown away by the shop’s photograph of this piece. And I did my best when I took the photos for this post, but it’s even better to see it in person; its exquisite artistry almost took my breath away. The careful sculpting of an elegant, feminine hand, enhanced by the marbling of its resin, makes it a true treasure.

It triggered a train of thought. The charm must not only be an Italian folk symbol for female sexuality per se, but also imply lot more. The figa must have originally symbolized everything—everything—a woman can be if she is unbound; her full being realized and expressed. The amulet must have once represented this totalness of being and potency in all parts of life. Otherwise, I do not believe the charm would have become so incredibly popular. It is worn not only by Pagans but by many Italians, including Christians.
FigaPic1SmBe clear, when I write, “Everything a woman can be,” I’m implying everything a human can be. I am positioning a woman’s sexuality as potency, the same way a man’s sexuality is often viewed as potency in his business and all other parts of his life.

I love folk art, folk magic, and the place where the two intersect. I also believe one might better understand a piece of folk art if one knows the cultural norms prevalent when the piece was made. That includes pop culture. Enter Kenneth Lane. The figa I bought is a vintage Kenneth Lane.

What was occurring around jewelry designer Kenneth Lane when he had the urge to create a figa that would be neither vulgar nor shaming? What in the political climate impelled him? Or did something solely personal to him serve as motivation? (The political always impacts us personally, but you know what I mean.) Whatever it was, we owe him a debt.

I mean, “figa” is Italian for the demeaning term “pussy.” The styling of most figa figures reinforces that nastiness. I do not object to a figa shaped roughly in a spirit of exuberance, or if a limited skill set did not allow finely honed lines. What I oppose is the consistent vulgar representation and the overall gestalt it feeds, a deeply hurtful cultural norm.

By the way, I see nothing wrong with a masculine figa per se, but there’s something wrong with a feminine symbol generally being masculine.

In any case, Kenneth’s jewelry was popular with Hollywood stars. Although many Pagans wear a figa, the pendant is also popular with non-Pagans. So people can knock pop-culture all they want, but I bet Kenneth’s pendants made women of all kinds proud of being women.

Kenneth’s styling was powerful. It wasn’t until I saw it that I could understand by contrast how demeaning most figas are and reclaim another part of my power. His rendering of the figa was able to heal me from a cultural norm so deeply ingrained and horrible that it still hurt my soul despite my fierce pride in my female nature and witchy wildness. I have a new piece of my magic as a woman and a new piece of my womanly pride.

What had been a sacred image in ancient Rome lowered in value until it became used as a rude gesture. A symbol that once must have honored women came to denigrate them. I believe Kenneth helped change that. I hope my thoughts here help a bit, too.

The profound power that exists in every human is diminished when we reduce anyone’s power through shaming depictions.

But when we shine a light on the wonderfulness of those around us, our own powers shine.

… Now the only problem I have is how to stop myself from buying all the figas in the shop. There’s a gorgeous variety, each piece quite different. I’ve already bought a second one. Here it is on my altar:
FigaPic3SmI will treasure these figas always. Here’s where to acquire an outstanding charm: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ErikasCollectibles

Traditional Witchcraft, Spirituality, and Ethics

FDG2016TphatCurrently, it is a prevalent opinion among Pagans that traditional witchcraft was strictly magical, lacking theology or moral aspects. While I can respect that theory, it is not congruent with my own experiences. I suspect whether traditional witchery had sacred or ethical aspects varied by locale or by family tradition.

I never argue with anybody’s experience, only their theory. Theory is ever-changing. I’d never want to invalidate anyone’s experience, including my own. I’ll share mine below.

My experiences lead to conclusions that differ from the aforementioned current popular Pagan position. I hope to add to the Pagan dialogue on the topic, and provide support for those who, like me, have an unpopular point of view.

Growing up in a family tradition, I learned magic and a mystical worldview con leche. Therefore magic and mysticism were a given, as much a part of life as the air I was breathing. In the process, a religious and ethical worldview was deeply ingrained in my cells.

Note I say “my cells,” not “my brain.” It took my entire childhood and adolescence to imbibe the tradition’s basics, because cellular lessons take time.

The understandings of the tradition were so deeply imbedded in our home life that much of the family tradition was taken for granted, not out and out spoken, but more implied and lived. This includes the theist or moral aspects.

In fact, calling it an understanding in the above paragraph is somewhat of a misnomer. It is not so much an understanding as a way of being.

In any case, a lifestyle with many of its important aspects being subtle or unspoken seems an earmark of many traditional witches I have met.

When I got older, I saw that this subtlety sometimes causes people who were viewing the family tradition from the outside to not see the tradition’s deep religious and ethical roots, only the more overt—and perhaps less core—trappings. When I participated in family traditions in Europe, I usually found deep religious and ethical roots in them.

Observers are not engaged in the family culture. They are standing outside it, watching. Only by being part of a shamanic family culture over a long period of time can one can really understand the culture. The notion that to watch something is to fully understand it is a fairly current concept of scholarship. As I said above, learning the traditional witchcraft of my family required an experiential, long term lesson.

It has become almost de rigeur to insist traditional craft never had sacred or principled aspects. This makes it important to me to write this post about my family tradition, because I feel I’m speaking up for my Gods, for my witch ancestors, and for others who feel as I do.

I do not like it when a theory ceases to be a theory and becomes a mandated belief—in other words, when someone is mouthing somebody else’s words to, consciously or not, invalidate other seekers. Unfortunately, the concept that traditional witchcraft had neither ethical nor theological base has become yet another Pagan rote declaration, usually said—or written—in an intimidating tone of I-know-better-than-you-so-whatever-you-think-is-stupid.

I can admire people who authentically believe other than I do. An informed and friendly exchange of ideas about traditional craft, spirituality, and ethics could be a lovely thing. Healthy debate is a wonderfully educational process for everyone involved. A supportive, respectful, and thoughtful exchange of ideas can do wonders.

But debate is not the same as trying to legitimize and define one’s path by invalidating someone else’s. That hurtfully invalidates a lot of newbies who already feel insecure about their belief system. This can crush a newcomer’s spirit.

Coming to our community, hoping to finally find fellowship, but instead encountering someone just as invalidating as mainstream society, can be doubly heartbreaking, because they thought they had finally entered a safe space. So they often never participate in our community again, and end up without support in their Pagan explorations.

People who need to squash others in order to validate their own power have less power than they think, and more mere bluster than they realize.

Thus, I felt impelled to write this post to support invalidated Pagans.

A last thought on traditional witches and ethics: perhaps in some cases, a lack of morality had less to do with any tradition and more to do with human nature. Some people just take anything, even that which is moral and sacred to begin with, strip it of those roots, and use it for their own selfish—or even evil—goals.

I hope this post is a useful contribution to Pagan dialogue about traditional craft.

If you want experiential lessons in traditional craft, I teach The Third Road, a tradition I channel, informed by the magic of my ancestors and my mom. (Channeling teachings is part of traditional craft.) I teach mostly via group phone calls—aka teleseminars. Here’s the link to subscribe to my newsletter, which tells you about upcoming classes: http://www.well.com/user/zthirdrd/InfoForm.htm

Bless you.

Cleansing Away Negative Influences

Traditional Purification Spell Adapted for Modern Pagans

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This time-honored ritual cleanses you of negative energy that you have accumulated. Even if outright evil’s touched you, this spell can help take care of it.

It is simple: rub a raw egg over your whole body. Do not break the egg; you’re rubbing the unbroken egg, still in the shell, all over yourself.

A modern twist: If you’re concerned about salmonella, hard boil the egg first. Do you have an opinion about whether a hard-boiled egg would be as effective? Let me know. Here’s my opinion:

I prefer the traditional spell. I’d also prefer a world in which salmonella was not even an issue. And I’m not going to give up eggs for breakfast or for magic, just because we live in an imperfect world. That would be letting the negativity of the world get to me.

Magic is a tool to deal with an imperfect world and make it better. This spell helps rid me of the negative influences of this imperfect world. So I adapt the spell.

Also, I think the effort of hard-boiling somewhat compensates for the loss of the vibrance in a raw egg. Your effort is a form of energy, a vibrancy unto itself, which adds to the spell. I don’t mean you have to have any intention of that when you boil the egg. Your effort is simply energy, without you even trying to make it so.

If you feel the need to further compensate, I wrote liturgy for that purpose. Say it right before you rub the egg on yourself: “This egg is part of the circle of life. By this and by the ancient Mysteries which have long empowered this spell for witches, I shall be cleansed.”

Traditionally, you then throw the egg into running water, such as a river or stream. If that’s an insane option—e.g., you can’t reach running water without traveling an unreasonable distance, or winter has frozen the nearby river, here are modern alternatives:

Wherever you dispose of it, be sure it’s far away, where negative energy the egg has taken on does not come into contact with anyone, and where the elements can purify the negativity away.

When I had really good plumbing and lived urban, I’d smash the egg into my toilet bowl and flush it. I figure that constituted running water, LOL. Then clean your toilet, so no egg remains.

But if you have poor plumbing, or a group does this ritual so there is more than one egg to get rid of, you might clog your toilet.

You can bury the eggs, unless e.g., winter has frozen the ground stone hard.

If I was going to do it here, in winter weather, I’d walk to the woods on my property. They’re a fair distance from my house. Then I’d hurl the egg even further away, into the woods.

I wouldn’t compost it usually, because compost tends to be kind of close to the house.

This is a simple but powerful rite. I only use it for big problems. In other words, this imperfect life keeps throwing garbage at us, so we need to keep cleansing it off, instead of letting it get to us. That sort of cleansing is comparable to the usual ongoing cleaning a house gets: You wash the dishes, vacuum the rug, and so on. But occasionally, you shampoo the rug, because a lot of crud accumulated or there was a big spill. It is deep cleaning time! In the same vein as the rug shampooing, the egg rite is really more for bigger problems.

And it is not beneath the most spiritual people. I have two clients who inspire and uplift me with their integrity, beauty, and sheer radiance, but I taught them this ritual recently. No matter how attuned we are, we occasionally let the major yuckiness we meet get under our skin.

I love channeling new spells, but sometimes the oldies are perfect. I’m grateful they’ve been in my repertoire for many years. I’m also grateful the Muse sent me adaptations. Blessed be.

NewsPrpl

Mysticism and Non-Academic Scholarship

A mystic needn’t be an academic to be a scholar. Why is this idea important? Some people create a magical, fulfilling life based in a non-academically-shaped worldview. We also might want to teach from such an orientation. Our cosmology can be as carefully constructed and extensively developed as any scientific understanding, but many would crush our power by insisting there is only one intelligent way to see, to learn, to study.

Trust your observances made through mystical states, e.g., trance. Trust your non-ordinary modes of perception, like intuition.

I’m not suggesting you blindly believe and act on everything you think you’ve observed. For example, when you have an intuition or receive guidance from spirits, run it by a down-to-earth person who exists on the mundane plane. Non-academic perspectives are as subject to fault as academic insights.

But, luckily, I did not wait until a university validated each step of the many I needed to travel along my shamanic path. I’d have taken fewer steps, losing great joy and fulfillment, not only in my personal life but also because I would have taught less.

Academic validation does happen to me lots, and it feels nice. But relying on it as a way to tell myself or anyone else, “See, I know what I am doing” would undermine my belief in my style of scholarship. An example: Pics of subatomic particle tracks validated what I’d seen in trance for decades. But I’d validated it for myself already. Hence the painting below:ShamanicPhysics 2012-03

Training can be crucial. Just as a scientist studies his “craft,” so have I. I also spent years in trance, 24-7, researching as diligently as any scientist in a lab.

I’m not suggesting you trust yourself only if you do the full-time training or research I did. Mine was needed because of goals I had as a teacher and mystic. Otherworldly reality is innate in us all. Just as many linear-minded non-scientists trust their personal worldview, so should many mystics observe and assess their environments, drawing our own conclusions, instead of docilely following “experts.” I mention my full time commitment only to reinforce the extensive possibilities of mystical wisdom.

Insights I gain through altered states are building blocks of trainings I create. But I don’t carelessly throw something together in the name of Divine inspiration. I spend years developing a curriculum before teaching it.

My fastidiousness does not naysay the observations of someone without training. The psychic realm is as much a part of human heritage as ordinary daylight; we all have insights about it; and they are important contributions to community dialog. In fact, one of my goals as a teacher is to create tools that help people trust their insights and recover their innate mystical awareness, which has often been squelched.

Being a mystic does not deny your intellect. (And too many beautiful, astute, linear minds are used to invalidate somebody’s heartfelt, lyrical worldview.) I know amazingly left-right-brain integrated mystics.

It’s like being a musician. In my last year of college, I supposedly needed more units of logic-based classes to get my degree. But the college president felt that my thirty hours of music theory, which is mathematically based, obviated the need for further logic classes.

When I write a song, channel liturgy, or travel faerie realms for info, my intellect needn’t suppress my efforts. It can weave in and out of my emotive fanciful state, improving my effort. I also might go over what I have created to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, until I’m satisfied.

In various mystical states, there’s a dance between the two sides of the brain and the heart and soul. Each aspect of you comes forward, adding what it can. All of you weaves constantly, in such rapid-fire succession of ever-changing intertwinings that you might be totally unaware of this complex inner interaction.

At such times, we learn truths that others may deny. We plug into immense powers to control our own destiny. We become part of miracle. Even other pagans may try to invalidate these gains, Goddess bless them, instead of realizing that their approaches and ours can be different without either of us being wrong.

But the things we learn in such states set us free.

This has been a limited view on mystical scholarship. But the crux is: Let yourself be free.

Bickering, Community Service, and Self-Awareness

Part two in a series on supporting newcomers (and oldtimers) in your spiritual community. May, 2013. Part one is on my other site, at http://www.outlawbunny.com/2011/06/14/welcoming-newbies/

A woman phoned me to inquire about my classes. That’s not unusual; I teach oral tradition style, so feel I should be available by phone if someone wants to ask about my work.

She immediately said that very few pagans are hard-working in their spiritual efforts. This is not unusual, either; I hear that sentiment plenty.

After addressing her community critique, I tried to move the conversation past it, but she kept returning to the issue. She is not someone for whom I’d be a good teacher.

It is only human to bond with someone new by denigrating others. But it is a tendency I try to avoid: While it feeds the ego of the two people bonding (they get to feel superior to everyone else in the world), it keeps them from getting any actual work done. I mean the sort of work that happens in my classes: for example, self-examination, self-care, nurturing of ability to serve community, and building shamanic skills. No, I am not the teacher for her.

Fool, tarot card, Francesca De Grandis, 12-03

The fool is about love. Fool, tarot card, Francesca De Grandis, 12-03

When first working as a spiritual counselor in an occult shop, I received a pretty big shock. I’d been guiding folks in a private practice, mostly by referral. Suddenly I was thrown onto the front lines. Someone would come to the shop to consult with me because their daughter had just died. Or their 14-year-old son had gotten somebody pregnant. Or their husband beat them.

I went home and threw out my lofty new age abstractions. I threw out my Celtic cross spread, at least for most of the shop appointments. (For those of you who don’t know the spread, it makes for a complex lengthy session.) A lot of these shop sessions were only ten minutes long. After that my boss pressed the buzzer: Time’s up!

I sat in my home and started coming up with very fast spreads that would tune me into the heart of the client’s issue(s) and the essence of the advice they needed. I compiled a list of community resources: contact information for women’s shelters, teen crisis counseling, etc. I honed my inner skills more than ever so that I’d sense a client’s needs stat.

I was a working minister.

Decades later now. As then, not all my work is with trauma survivors. Often, I help people with more “everyday” concerns,” as well as train folks in shamanism, other esoteric skills, creativity, and marketing. But I’m definitely always on the frontlines: in community, with a busy schedule of counseling and teaching.

I mention being a shop employee and my ensuing work because: I’ve rarely gotten involved in pagan debates; I am too busy! Mind you, I discuss my work with other front-line ministers who can help me polish my shamanic skills, not burn out, and otherwise address my work. But I do not want to be criticized because of theoretical issues that have little basis and are thrown on the table by angry people with no understanding of what I am really up against on the ministerial front lines.

When we’re busy looking at our own faults, polishing our own skills, taking care of ourselves, and serving community, we don’t have time to unnecessarily criticize people.

Criticism is appropriate sometimes. Each of us needs to be held accountable by community. And healthy debate is joyfully welcomed in my classes because fresh perspectives rise.

The sort of criticism that I’d like to see less of is the endless picayune bickering that seems to produce little. Hmm, well, it produces swollen egos, draws the limelight, hurts sincere seekers whether newbie or oldtimer, and silences timid souls. Important sidebar: It hurts the newbies not only because they feel rejected but also because it encourages them to behave in kind.

Even as an oldtimer, I can feel hurt and invalidated, when people get so riled up and so angry and bitter; and behind their words is the statement, “I am better than you, I am better than you, I am better than you.” And behind that statement is their primary one: “Go climb in a hole so that your sincere efforts don’t shame me any longer.” This can be devastating to newbies who are ardent seekers with hearts wide open!

Those kind of arguments and the comments of that person who phoned me are also tantamount to saying about the person being criticized, “You are the ‘other.’ You are ‘one of them,’ so you are not as worthy of love and respect. I do not have to treat you with caring and decency because you do not have the same vulnerabilities as me.”

Now, if this post ends now, my mental meandering amounts to me just being another superior jerk. But I am going somewhere productive (I hope):

It felt important to paint a recognizable picture of high-handed community strife and its outcome for three reasons:

1) If you avoid insane community debate, you still might be uber-critical of other pagans (or someone else) within the confines of your own mind. When I find myself doing that, it’s time for a good look at myself. Internal criticism (perhaps a running commentary on the superiority of others, lol) has the same impact on me as it would were I voicing it online. Same impact, dude! I might be avoiding looking at my own errors or avoiding responsibility, to either community or self.

Feeling superior is more comfortable than looking at my own faults. And superiority can, oddly enough, make me feel safer than self-care. And superiority is safer than getting out into the world to try to make a difference. You avoid the endless, high-handed criticism of I-know-better-than-everyone-else idlers who are likely to pursue you once you try to make a diff in the world.

2) Angry superiority is what many newcomers first see. Or we might meet newbies with a subtle version of the same thing. I want to make a practice of examining myself for this. For example, is my ego playing out in a more subtle manner? Goddess, when someone inquires about my work, keep me humble, welcoming, self-aware, and focused on love and service. Goddess, at all times, keep me humble, welcoming, self-aware, and focused on love and service.

3) If you are afraid of getting into the pagan community because of what you see, now you know i see it too. You are not alone. Please realize there are people who do not bicker. We aren’t as vocal because we’re busy living. If you ask the Universe to guide and inspire you, you will find us.

And, with us, you can work and dance and celebrate the Gods. Because we are pagan to the bone. Heathens, celebrating the stars, the earth, the seasons, ourselves, and each other.

You will find us. We are here. I am like you.

Fluffy Bunny Pagan

digital painting & picture poem, Francesca De Grandis. For info about a limited first-edition print, click on the painting.

I had a ball making this look over-the-top cute, kept adding and adding pastels and flowers and pretty-pretty, and then adding some more. The text on the print reads, “I am a cute little bunny, hopping around safe in my pastel meadow and forest of pink flowers, happy bluebirds, and faerie tales. All of this is enclosed within an enormous eagle whose talons make skyscrapers look like sewing pins, and whose beak drips with the blood of potential threats to me and mine. And the eagle resides within a great darkness, an emptiness that is the Mother of all things, and She really loves bunnies. So go ahead, call me “a fluffy-bunny pagan.”

 To my knowledge, no one has ever called me a “fluffy-bunny pagan.” But I dislike the term, and made this painting in support of anyone who’s been wounded by any kind of sarcastic remark about their spiritual path by other pagans. There are enough attacks on pagans without us attacking each other.

 This is a digital painting, except for the photo of the wee rabbit in the lower right-hand corner. It was trance-painting; Spirit guides my digital brush, stroke by stroke. I am freed by this guidance.