Create your own Tree of Life

Every generation of Qabalists has the obligation and the opportunity to add to the treasury of knowledge and understanding of the Tree. In order to do that, you must understand the Tree in a way that makes sense to you. The best way to approach this is to make your own Tree.

The first Tree I created was to help me better understand and visualize the correspondences between the Tarot, Astrology, and Qabala. I used Adobe InDesign and mocked up the Tree, and then put the corresponding Tarot cards and astrological symbols on the various paths and spheres. I then printed it on a giant poster via an online print-on-demand shop, and as I worked with the Tree I wrote stuff on Post-Its and stuck them on the poster. All of that is still on my wall, and I still refer to it now and again as I work with the Tree. (If you want a copy of this to print yourself, I’ve made it open-source – it’s best printed as a 3×5-foot poster.)

The second Tree I created was a Steven Universe Qabala! I was bingeing the show at the time and kept thinking about how various characters aligned with the spheres. I ended up commissioning an artist (Megan Willis, who is amazing) to draw the characters in the spheres, so I could print it and hang it on my wall. (I also made a mug out of it. Print-on-demand is amazing.)

Please do not use or share this image elsewhere without permission – thank you.

Putting the Tree into terms I understood, into a framework that was my own, helped me deepen my relationship with the Tree. I highly recommend this activity for anyone who wants to continue their Qabala study. Here’s how to do it!

Supplies: 

Notebook, pen (or graphic design program on your computer, if you want to be fancy)

Setup:

Google images of the Qabala, or refer to the ones found around this blog.

Draw the Tree of Life glyph on a piece of paper. Write the names of the spheres. If it’s helpful, add keywords near the spheres to help you remember their meanings and correspondences.

Spend some time thinking of what the Tree and the individual spheres mean to you. Add color and designs to the Tree. Don’t overthink it – do what feels natural.

If you’ve got a particular favorite TV show or movie, think how those characters might fit in with the Tree (even if you can’t think of ones for every sphere, it’s still worth the effort!). Hint: Action/adventure/fantasy films and shows with lots of characters tend to work particularly well here, as they tend to lean on classic archetypes.

If you’re an herbalist or like working with crystals, think about which herbs or stones would align with each sphere, and why. (There are traditional alignments for each and they’re worth studying, but your own interpretation is also valid!)

I recommend working on this over a period of a few days or weeks. Come back to it, see if your ideas have changed or shifted, or if you have more to add.

I’d love to see what you come up with, by the way. Feel free to reach out to me and show me your Tree!

“Queering Your Craft” is a perfectly queer intro to witchcraft (review)

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of “witchcraft 101” books, to update the reading list for my coven’s new members. I’m thankful to see so many of the new books in this category are less problematic than “the classics,” and many go beyond the basics and include brief overviews of a lot of the different aspects of magickal practice, like Tarot, astrology, herbalism, crystals, and kitchen witchery. I wish I’d had books like these as a baby pagan!

One of the newest books in the “witchcraft 101” world is Cassandra Snow’s Queering Your Craft: Witchcraft From the Margins, released earlier this month. After enjoying Cassandra Snow’s Queering the Tarot (here’s my review), I was eager to see what she wrote next.

Queering Your Craft is a fantastic introduction to witchcraft for queer people who feel called to the path. Snow offers a queer-inclusive overview of various aspects of witchcraft: elements, sabbats, moon phases, astrology, working with deity, divination, and how to use magick in your daily life in a true DIY fashion. Throughout the book, she weaves in her core focus of magick as a tool for personal empowerment.

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Make beautiful garbage

“Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear,
Just sing, sing a song!”

Those are lyrics from a song on a Sesame Street record I had as a kid. In 2017, I decoupaged a small Jupiter Ascending poster*, saying the same thing in a different way: “Make beautiful garbage.”

This is one of my mottos, because it tells my internal editor to STFU when I’m writing music, writing a blog post, making a mala, cooking dinner, baking, crocheting, or crafting. Not everything needs to be perfect. Not everything is intended to be distributed to a wide audience. Creating things is sometimes an end in and of itself.

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5 ways to take care of yourself during a contentious election

Whether you live in the United States or not, you’re probably going to be holding your breath in the coming days and weeks to see how the national elections shake out. There is a lot at stake, particularly for anyone who isn’t a cisgender, heterosexual, abled, white man, or for anyone who doesn’t want to die in a pandemic.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed. It’s easy to be consumed by anxiety. It’s easy to lose hope.

This queer witch is here to help with some tips for the coming weeks. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the freedom to simply take the month off work and live in a blanket fort with a plentiful supply of pizza rolls and campy movies. But there are some things we can do to make our lives a bit easier.

1. Pace yourself

It’s important to stay informed and engaged. Try not to do it all at once. A burned-out activist isn’t as powerful as one who takes time to recharge. Budget your news and social media intake each day. Most phones let you set timers on daily use of specific apps. Take one action a day to make a difference, whether that’s calling or writing to an elected official, donating to a cause, or helping support someone having a rough time.

2. Take breaks

This is a marathon, not a sprint. Take breaks where you can: breaks from nonstop productivity, breaks from being indoors, breaks from your phone and the Internet. If you struggle to stop doomscrolling, try installing an app like Forest, which lets you set blocks of time where you can’t use certain apps (you can pick which ones), while a little virtual tree grows. Eventually, you can save up enough points to plant a real tree in the world.

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Breaking the mold – Paganism for the current era

The following is a guest post by Irene Glasse. It was originally published on Glasse Witch Cottage and is being reposted here with permission. If you like this post, check out Irene’s Patreon and support her work (the rewards are fantastic)!

One of the best and most beautiful aspects of modern witchcraft is that it is an evolving path.  Although we base a good deal of our philosophy and practice on ancient religions, paganism and witchcraft as we know them today are new. Born of the 60s counterculture and the equal rights movements for women and black, indigenous, and people of color, modern paganism was the religious form our mid-century cultural reckoning called for.

Kinda sorry I missed the 60s concert scene

The early pioneers of paganism did the best they could with what they had but it’s important to remember that they, too, were a product of their time. They were throwing off the shackles of patriarchy and white supremacy but grew up wearing them. The history and anthropology our first generation sourced was limited by archeological techniques and research bias. Although our forebears were building something new, they leaned on their experiences to create it.  All of us are subject to the same pattern: what we learned in the past and the science and scholarship of our day informs what we do now. This is not a bad thing, but it is a very human thing.  And we need to remember that our first generation were human.

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“Gender: A Graphic Guide” is a super-condensed Gender Studies course

Admittedly, I’ve been really into catching up on Meg-John Barker‘s collected works in the past few months (see previous reviews of Queer: A Graphic History and How to Understand Your Gender). What I particularly like about these texts is how clearly and succinctly they’re written, which makes them accessible for a wide audience.

Gender: A Graphic Guide — written by Barker, illustrated by Jules Scheele, and published this past January — is essentially a hyper-condensed Gender Studies course written in plain language, heavily illustrated, and aimed at a general audience. Barker and Scheele weave a cogent, enjoyable narrative of “how humanity understands gender and what makes it so complicated” while acknowledging complexities, disagreements, and problematic elements within the evolution of our understanding of gender over time.

There were several points in this book when I yelled “YESSS!” out loud, alone in my apartment.

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Queer Samhain: Why should I honor my awful ancestors?

Most Americans lack a defined relationship with our ancestors, particularly those who died before we were born. We certainly don’t have a mainstream cultural equivalent of the ancestor-veneration practices in Shinto and many American Indian traditions. To address this gap of connection, many pagans and pagan groups, particularly those working in Shamanic contexts, are working to create better ancestor connection practices for us to use in our modern, magickal lives.

For some queer people, coming into a pagan tradition where suddenly ancestor work is A Thing can be…unsettling and confusing. Some of us cut ties with our families after being rejected for our queer identities. Some of us keep family at arm’s length because, while they aren’t outright hostile, they just don’t “get” our queerness and don’t make attempts to understand, much less affirm, us. Complicating this further, some of our deceased relatives were slave owners, bigots, or worse. Many of our families seem to actively work to disempower, rather than empower, us. So why on earth should we incorporate our ancestors into any of our magick?

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“How to Understand Your Gender” should be required reading for all humans

How to Understand Your Gender: A Practical Guide to Exploring Who You Are by Alex Iantaffi and Meg-John Barker was not what I expected it to be. Never before have I had a book so gently and lovingly take me by the hand and explain, in the most nonthreatening and accessible way possible, a difficult concept.

What I expected was for a little intro on the concept of gender and then, I don’t know, a bunch of quizzes to try and figure out a gender label for myself. Instead, the authors slowly, carefully, delicately unpack the concept of gender and its implications on our lives, acknowledging that it’s a charged and emotional subject and sprinkling mindfulness breaks throughout the book. They include several exercises to help define the impact your gender identity has on your life, and how to explore your relationship to gender. There are plenty of quotes from people of diverse gender identities, showing a wide range of experiences. And the authors are careful to note the ways in which sexuality, culture, race and class intersect with and influence people’s expectations around gender.

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Names, power, and vulnerability

I have a complicated history with my name, as both a queer person and as a pagan. Names are deeply important to me, and as the graphic on this image indicates, I’m about to make a change, but I want to tell you the story of how I got there. I’ve never told this story all together before; only pieces.

In the beginning…there was a name.

When my parents told the nurse filling out the birth certificate that my name was to be Jennifer, the nurse snapped, “Oh, don’t name her that – everyone’s naming their kid that.” My parents, shocked, decided to go back to the drawing board for a few days. My mom pitched the name “Amy,” my dad countered with “Annie,” and they gave me the legal name Ann Marie. The way they tell it, this was a brief conversation.

My memory of hearing this story in childhood, of course, may differ from the actual truth of what happened; but the emotional truth of how this story impacted me bears more importance, in the long term.

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Gnostic Mass Heresy: Breaking OTO’s Binary

The following is a post by Sibling AYIN, reposted by permission of the author. It originated on the author’s Facebook page and was reposted on Thelemic Union.

For background: In October of 2019, the O.T.O. revised their manual to enforce gender binary on their clergy – non-binary people are now excluded from serving as a Priest or Priestess if the role doesn’t match their sex/gender assigned at birth.

Head of OTO: Gnostic Mass is from a Male Perspective 

At the 1996 O.T.O. Women’s Conference, the Sovereign Patriarch/O.H.O. (Outer Head of the Order of Ordo Templi Orientis), Hymenaeus Beta XII°, decided to give his remarks on the topic of the Gnostic Mass. Of all the things in Thelema about empowering women in the New Æon, I wonder why he chose that topic? 

My guess is he may have wanted to explain things to the ladies before they started questioning things like why there are no female Saints in the Gnostic Mass, and other androcentric aspects of it under the E.G.C. policies that govern it. (Why a “Patriarch” would be the keynote speaker at a Women’s Conference is beyond me, but OK…)

Before they spent the conference discussing things on their own, the O.H.O. explained to the women that the intentional reason there were no women listed in The Saints Collect was because the Gnostic Mass should be understood as being “from a male perspective, having been written by a man.” 

Was it though? I’ve heard this explanation used 1,000,000 times by men in the O.T.O./E.G.C., assuming that since the Patriarch said it, it must be the gospel truth. Let’s dissect that a bit.

Did Aleister Crowley exclusively identify as male and understand himself to be a man “in his daily life as well as in his spiritual practice”?

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