I fasted for 40 days to seek spiritual insight. This is what I learned.

A nearly universal feature of spiritual traditions around the world, fasting plays a role in Christianity, Judiasm, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and countless other religions.

But with the exception of some pagan reconstructionists, fasting isn’t something emphasized in modern witchcraft or neopaganism in general.

The lack of information about fasting as a pagan or occult practitioner lead me to experiment with it from that perspective.

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Before we go into exactly what motivated my personal experiment with fasting, let’s go over what didn’t:

1.  I did not fast to lose weightI did, of course, lose weight.  And to the extent that I feel transformed physically by the inner revolution of the experience, I suppose weight loss contributes to the sense of “rebirth” into a new body.  But weight loss was not the primary goal. Also, I never left a healthy weight range, although I was on the higher end of that range before the fast, and I am on the lower end now.

2.   I did not fast to debate about the health benefits/dangers of fasting.  All kinds of claims loom around the internet about fasting and its benefits to health.  Some of them are pretty plausible (fasting increases insulin sensitivity) and some of them are downright dangerous (fasting cures cancer).  I’m not here to make any claim about the health risks or benefits.  That’s not what I was out to do.  I’ll let people far more qualified than I deal with those issues.

I ask you not to confuse this article with an endorsement of fasting in general, but simply consider it an account of my experience with the practice.  It really isn’t for everyone.

Fasting powerfully effected both my mind and my body.  I entered this journey with a lot of respect for what I was about to do, and I set limits.  The most important for me:

1.  I planned to stop immediately if fasting interfered with my work, or my ability to care for my child.

2.  I planned to stop immediately if I dropped below a healthy weight.

3.  I planned to stop immediately if I felt fasting seriously effected my emotional or physical health.

3.  I did not fast to support a spell.  But I think that would be interesting.  This fast was not part of a spell or ritual, but I think fasting in place of an offering to add power to spell work or ritual is an interesting idea.  I may try it.

Please note:  Mine was not an absolute fast, or a water fast.  I ate about 500-600 calories once a day, which was enough of a challenge for me.  I don’t know that the exact nature of the diet itself matters, but I tried to stick to simple, humble meals.   Mostly plain vegetables and rice.

Here’s why I did want to fast:

1.  To enhance the mind/body connection.  I tried short water fasts of 2-3 days before this experiment.  Very quickly, I experienced how sharply and directly fasting connects the mind to the body.  I wanted to know if a longer fast might deepen this connection.

2.  To promote mental clarity.  In particular, Buddhism and Hinduism have rich traditions of fasting to aid meditation.  Experienced fasters often claim enhanced abilities to visualize, more vivid dreaming and longer attention spans.  As someone with lots of interests and a notorious tendency to jump from one task to another, the idea of heightened concentration really intrigued me.

3.  To promote and deepen compassion for others.  Please do not misunderstand me.  As an otherwise well-fed person living in the first world, I obviously recognize that a voluntary period of fasting for personal spiritual growth bears no comparison to the hunger experienced by those living in starvation around the world.

However, I think at least exploring the sensation of deep physical hunger opens a sense of greater compassion for those who live without the luxury of daily bread.

Gandhi’s fasts especially inspired me to try fasting as an act of reverence.   Reading about his life during this time enriched my fast.

4.  To strengthen self-discipline.   Self-discipline behaves much like a muscle—the harder you work it out, the stronger it becomes.  I didn’t believe in the beginning that I could really do this for 40 days.  I was wrong.  And being wrong about that makes me wonder what else about my own limitations I’m wrong about.

5.  To change my relationship with food from one of impulsivity and thoughtlessness to one of mindfulness and respect.  Fasting forced me, in a very direct way, to confront the hang-ups about food my culture and upbringing impose on me.

In that way, I found it nothing short of life-changing.

Fasting taught me a lot, and almost all of it surprised me.  Here’s what I learned.

Fasting intensified my sense of mind/body awareness powerfully.  Just becoming aware of the sensation of physical hunger verses “mental” hunger is a revelation in a world where many of us go weeks without ever hearing our stomachs growl.

Even though this wasn’t a true water fast, I think this fast required more discipline than the short water fasts I’d done before.  Whereas in a true water fast, your hunger eventually subsides and stays that way for a very long time, eating once a day means triggering the metabolism and appetite.

Resisting it in that period after a meal really tested me, especially if I was in a setting that encouraged feasting, where well-meaning friends and family pushed food in my direction.  That none of them knew about the fast probably exacerbated it—-but I don’t know.

Knowing may also have made some of them more insistent.

By the way: people are really, really weird about fasting. 
While the acceptance of fasting as a practice varies widely in different cultures, in the United States, people seem particularly unsettled by it.  It’s almost taboo.  If you go around telling people you’ve dropped down to 500-600 calories a day, they usually:

1.  Think you have an eating disorder.  Particularly if you fall on the lower end of your weight range.

2.  Believe that abstaining from regular meals is inherently unhealthy.

3.  Question your mental health or think you are involved in a cult (if you tell them it’s for spiritual reasons).

4.  Do, think or say something equally ridiculous.

For all these reasons, and also because I think silence intensifies acts of reverence, I only told my husband about my fast.

Surprisingly, no one else seemed to notice.

To the annoyance of servers all over town, I ordered a lot of tea and water at restaurants, but I still went out with friends and family.  I continued to teach two yoga classes and two belly dance classes a week.  I chased after my toddler with plenty of energy.  I ran my handmade website without any extraordinary difficulty.

It interfered much less with my day-to-day living than I expected.  Actually:

Fasting definitely sharpened my focus.   In the beginning, it really interfered with my thinking.  A constant state of hunger distracts even someone with laser concentration.  Personally, I’m kind of flighty as it is.  So I struggled.  A lot.

I fought my impulses very hard at first.  I doubted myself.  I rationalized.  I bargained.

But eventually, the hunger goes away.  It’s bizarre.

After about a week, the hunger started to fade.   I read about this phenomenon, but I doubted it completely until it happened to me.

After two weeks, as my stomach began to tighten up and even small amounts of food left me feeling very full, it became almost more difficult to eat than not to.  At first, I found it a little alarming.  It’s so counter-intuitive.

However, once it happened, a fog seemed to lift, and suddenly, my sense of focus and awareness opened up a lot.

Reading, writing, meditation and creative pursuits held my attention much longer.  I often got “lost” in my tasks in a way that more shallow concentration simply doesn’t accommodate.

Prolonged fasting demanded much more from my mind than my body.  Before the fast, I expected to experience a near-debilitating toll on my body.  In fact, I felt energized most days.

Generally, I don’t engage in high-impact exercise.  My regimen mostly consists of low-impact dance, long, brisk nature walks and yoga.  But my active life continued mostly uninterrupted.

In fact, I was able to go deeper into more challenging yoga poses, relax more fully in them and hold them longer.

But mentally, fasting completely reworked my wiring.  I never realized how impulsive my relationship with food was until I spent a month constantly reminding myself: don’t lick the spoon, don’t taste-test the spaghetti sauce, don’t take the chocolate mint on the dinner check, don’t accept the free sample at the grocery store, and yes, a stick of gum counts.

For strength, I left offerings of bread or food on . . . pretty much any altar that welcomed them.  Certain Hindu and Buddhist temples in particular encourage food offerings, although you must be careful to look up the specific customs of what offerings are appropriate (meat almost never is, but in some cases, neither is garlic or mushrooms).

Sometimes, I just went on a walk with dog or baby and left offerings of handmade bread in the woods.  I found this really cleared my mind and kept me centered.

I carried also wore or carried tiger’s eye to remind me of my own inner strength, and I left the 5 of Pentacles tarot card on my altar.

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The Five of Pentacles is sometimes called “The Poverty Card” and symbolizes humility.  It seemed appropriate.

All of these things comforted me as I struggled through the more challenging hours and days of my fast.

On the upside, my one pauper’s meal a day tasted amazing. 

An old English proverb goes something like this:  “Hunger is the best spice.”

Even if it was just brown rice and raw vegetables with no sauce or butter, every flavor exploded on my tongue.  I noticed a heightened sensitivity to spices and salt.

I also found myself much more consciously grateful for food, much more respectful of how I used it, and more aware of when and how I ate it.

I went to the farmer’s market get the freshest possible ingredients.  I rubbed green beans between my fingers and gently squeezed cucumbers, fully appreciating them with all my senses when I made selections.  I prepared almost everything from scratch.

And I took my time eating.  I took pleasure in it.  It took much less to feel satisfied.

One benefit of my fast did not occur to me until I checked my bank statement:  Fasting saved me a lot of money.

Our food bill often creeps pretty high—not because we eat a lot, but because we eat well.  I try to feed myself and my family whole foods, avoid fast food, processed food and mostly either make my own or get it from a trusted source.  This benefits my health, but it doesn’t benefit the purse strings.

I set aside this extra savings.  Initially, I thought about using the money to buy canned goods for a food bank.  But local food banks proved surprisingly difficult to find!

So I plan to donate the money directly to a charity yet-to-be-determined, preferably one that benefits world hunger.

(ETA:  I donated to the organization Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition.)

Now, a few reality checks.

While this proved to be a mostly positive experience for me, I want to avoid downplaying the intense and sometimes unpleasant side effects.

I was often irritable.  I noticed some pretty sharp mood swings during my fast.  Nothing super dramatic, but I sometimes felt “blue,” or unable to tolerate minor inconvenience.   This usually passed quickly.

I was cold all the time.  As my resting metabolic rate started to drop, so did my body temperature.  Even on warm spring days, I wore sweatshirts and socks.  I think this type of prolonged fast would be much more uncomfortable during the colder winter months.

I had a hard time sleeping.    Fasting undeniably interfered with my sleep cycles.  Particularly once I entered deeper ketosis, I went at least 48 hours without sleep several  times.  However, I experienced sharp mental clarity and the lack of sleep didn’t seem to impact my performance on any level I was aware of or made aware of.

Simply put, I struggle to sleep deeply, but I also didn’t seem to need as much sleep.

In general, fasting was really, really hard for me.  Like most people, I fought a lifetime of conditioning to maintain a strong fast.

Although I fasted without any serious impact to my daily life, my inner world rocked completely.

To give you a point of reference, I lived under the burden of a pack-a-day smoking habit for more than a decade before I quit 6 years ago.  This 40-day fast tested my will at least as much as the first 40 days I quit smoking.

Having said all that, I definitely want to do it again.

Feel free to leave any questions in the comment section, or share your own fasting experience.

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Belly Dance for Pagans: The Art of the Goddess

Sometimes slow and sensual, sometimes upbeat and rhythmic, the mesmerizing art of belly dance continues to captivate me a full 10 years after I first discovered it.

I want to talk a little bit about what belly dance offers the modern pagan in particular, and why taking up this dance style compliments neopagan spirituality so well.

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Belly dance celebrates the divine nature of womanhood.  While many dance communities place high value on youth and specific body types, belly dance respects the beauty in every stage of life. Although the “triple goddess” theme is not a concept in belly dance, it’s easy to see the correlation between belly dance’s respect for the sacred feminine in all its forms, from young girlhood to full pregnancy and even well into the crone years.

Belly dance is perfect for covens.   Raising energy with belly dance in a circle is super fun!  Try “passing” the energy from one person to another, like a “wave” at a baseball game, but with shimmies or hip circles.

Belly dance is perfect for solitaries.  Belly dance is performed in groups (as in American Tribal Style), but it is also a solo art.  Solitary practitioners benefit from the opportunity to develop a unique belly dance style and have something to share at festivals or private parties.

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Belly dance is culturally eclectic.  While many people commonly believe that belly dance originates in the Middle East, no one actually knows from where what we call “belly dance” today descended.  Modern belly dance may incorporate flavors of hip hop, ballet, Bollywood or African dance.  This openness to enrichment of the belly dance vocabulary makes it uniquely adaptable.  Egyptian witch?  Try an Egyptian style belly dance.  I’ve even seen blends of belly dance with Celtic dance or Thai.

The belly dance community is generally pretty damn welcoming.   No one will whisper about you showing up to a halfa in a midriff just because you don’t have Kate Middleton’s stomach.

You’ll find a lot of pagans.  Especially in the tribal belly dance community.  It won’t take you long to run into a few “of your own.”

You’ll probably dig the wardrobe.  Chances are, there’s already something in your closet you can wear to a belly dance party or class.  I don’t know why there’s so much overlap but . . . there is.

Well, there you have it.  A few of the many reasons to make this the year you learn a beautiful new form of expression.  Blessed be!

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What’s new at Moody Moons?

Check out what’s new at Moody Moons, plus a few items to make your Yule season a little warmer . . .

Click on the photo to follow the link for product description.

Fresh from the workshop!  Egyptian goddess oils.

Cleopatra oil.

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Nefertiti oil.

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Yule Loose Incense Blend.

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Enchanted Winter incense blend.

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Looking for a natural gift for him?  Try all natural rosemary deodorant.

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Feel free to just browse.  Moody Moons has loads of gift ideas for all your pagan-minded friends and family.

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10 Free Ways to Enrich Your Pagan Life

Don’t get me wrong.  As a pagan business owner, I fully encourage an occasional indulgence in witchy treats.  Get that new broom you’ve been eyeing, try the exotic incense blend, go for the gemstone that sparkles pretty.

But I also want the pagan experience to be available and accessible to anyone, at any time in her life, whether or not she has the cash to spend on ritual “luxury” items.  So here’s a quick list of ideas to enhance and deepen your pagan life that won’t cost you a cent.

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1.  Go to the library.  Remember that place?  With the books?  Kind of like Amazon, except it’s free and you’re not stuck with a clunky hardback taking up shelf space after you’re done reading it.  Even in the most conservative parts of the country, most libraries have at least a few books on the subject of paganism, Wicca or the occult.  And if they don’t, be creative!  You can build kitchen witch spells from cookbooks, learn how to raise herbs from gardening manuals, and learn about ancient Roman gods in the world history section.

2.  Meditate.  If you’ve been neglecting your meditation practice, it’s time to get back in the groove.  Even short meditation session of five minutes or less promote wellness of the body and mind.

3.  Check out a public ritual.  Odds are, there’s one within 20 miles of you.  Sites like Meetup.com and Witchvox will help you find “your people.”  With the exception of women’s only groups or other specialty events, most public rituals welcome everyone and are usually free.

4.  Try fasting.  Practiced for thousands of years by traditions around the globe, the spiritual benefits of fasting are almost universally recognized by every major faith in the world.  Unless you are pregnant, sick, diabetic or have another medical condition that might be compromised by a fast, short fasts are safe for most people.  Fasting promotes self-discipline, higher meditative states and can even have health benefits if used in moderation.

5.  Teach a workshop.  Are you uniquely qualified in a particular branch of paganism?  Maybe you know how to make brooms, or when it comes to the Nordic gods, you really know your sh*t.  Share it!  Most event organizers are thrilled to have volunteers, and you learn as much, if not more, by teaching than you do taking a class yourself.

6.  Get crafty.  Challenge yourself to throw together a spell or ritual using only what you have on hand.

7.  Commune with nature.  I mean, duh.  This probably sounds obvious to a community of self-proclaimed nature-worshippers, but be honest: how much time do you really spend outside every day?  More or less time than you spend in front of a screen?  I am betting less.  Nearly all of us need more time in the fresh air.

8.  Bond with your familiar.  Whether yours is furry or scaly, take some one on one time to reconnect.  She may have a message for you.

9.  Memorize.  Do you know your astrological signs by heart?  Maybe you’d like to know a piece of pagan poetry by heart to bust out at rituals?  Just taking the time to commit small aspects of ritual life can be rewarding and meditative.

10.  Try Reiki.  Honestly, I personally have no opinion on the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of Reiki.  My personal experience with it is limited.  But if you are looking for a new spiritual interest, Reiki is safe, and if you’re willing to study on your own, it’s free to learn, requiring few, if any tools to get you started.

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10 Ways to Use Clear Quartz in Wicca

10 ways to use clear quartz in wicca

If you’re into stones, clear quartz was probably one of your first, and if you’ve never been into them, clear quartz is a good place to start.  This versatile, basic gem has a million and one uses.   Here’s a few ideas to make the most of it.

Leave it in the full moonlight to charge.  An easy way to make use of a full moon this month!

Bury it in the garden to bless herbs.  Then challenge the kids to find it in the spring—it’s a great way to get your garden turned over with free labor!

Store one with your tarot cards.  Try this classic method for keeping your deck cleared.

Place one near or on the resting place of a departed loved one.
 Instead of flowers, honor your loved one’s grave site with this simple, spiritual treasure.

Add it to your travel altar.  A pinch of herbs, a simple white tea candle and a tiny piece of natural quartz will turn the smallest space into an instant altar for travel.

Supercharge a mojo bag or spell box.  Include a small piece in any spell “container” for extra punch.

Place next to your bed to “collect your dreams.”  Clear quartz is believed to be a neutral crystal that “stores” thoughts.  Put it next to your bed or on top of a dream journal to help you remember your dreams.

Hang it from your review mirror.  Help to calm your nerves and sharpen your focus during this often stressful part of the day.

Attach one to your pet’s collar.  Send good vibes to your familiar.

Hold it during meditation.  This classic meditation aid soothes and focuses wandering minds.

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My Spiritual Approach to Post-Pregnancy Weight Loss

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I am from the “weight loss generation” in the US.  Bombarded by advertisements for quick-solution weight loss, glossy pages in print magazines of impossibly thin women and the idea that appearances supersede inner harmony with the mind and the body, the pursuit of perfection became big business as children of the 80s and 90s grew up.

Undoing all that damage to our relationships with our bodies proves almost impossible 20 or 30 years later.

Personally, I’ve never been overweight, but I’ve never been happy with my body, either.  And I know I’m in good company.  Lots of people, especially women, average women, but even women who meet most Western beauty standards, feel as I do.

Without missing a beat, I look in the mirror daily, swiftly ticking off everything I hate about what I see.

Thin hair, scarred skin, weird bone structure, crooked teeth, wide hips, little breasts.  The list goes on and on.

Pregnancy made this ritual especially excruciating.  I counted every new stretch mark, every pound, every dimple of cellulite.  I looked at images “pretty pregnant” women—the ones with perfect, round little bumps, smooth skin all the way to delivery, most of them ten or more years younger than me (“Why did I wait so long to do this?  I’ll never bounce back at my age!”)

But crossing over from Maid to Mother gives me a new perspective on my body.   To see it as sacred, the ultimate temple to be maintained with devotion instead of daily assault and emotional self-abuse suddenly seems much kinder and justly grateful for what blessings it bestows on me.

The time arrives now for me to aid my body in postpartum healing—which is not the same thing as restoring it to its pre-pregnancy status, but to embrace all its new features, nurturing it as it is now.

I believe that all meaningful journeys in life begin in the spirit.

This seems especially true when on sets out to alter the body through discipline and conscious effort.

My plan is not to count calories, track minutes of exercise, or otherwise live a regimented life style, but to see things differently, change my attitudes and bring my child up with a healthy understanding of the mind/body connection.

Everyone’s ideal journey differs, but the following ideas are thoughts I’d like to adopt to replace old attitudes ingrained by mass marketing and pop culture.

1.  I’m going for a daily walk with the baby because it’s as good for my mind and soul as it is for my body.  Making exercise a chore is the fastest way to give up on it.  The freedom to walk, ride a bike or run in a natural setting is a profound gift.  Even if you live in the city, walking among people and appreciating the sights, sounds and smells of your surroundings brings tremendous mental clarity. I intend to look forward to my time outside.

2.  Food is either poison, or it is medicinal.  There really isn’t any gray area.  When I look at nutrition this way, it becomes much easier to make good choices.  We like to make diets complicated—or rather, the for-profit weight loss industry does.  I’m not going to get into a big debate about the morality of food with respect to meat and animal products, but setting that aside, I am of the personal opinion that natural is best.  The more natural, the better.   That’s what I’m going for.

3.  Yoga just feels good.  There really isn’t anything to dread about exercise if you enjoy it.  For me, yoga is a perfect integration of the mind, body & spirit, all of which it emphasizes beautifully.  The goal of harmonizing one’s body with one’s mind and spirit inspires me.

4.  Belly dance is a celebration of womanhood.  Long ago, I chose belly dance as a way to express myself and condition my body to align with my soul.  Focusing on developing it further seems especially appropriate during and after childbirth, when the power and beauty of womanhood expresses itself so profoundly.

5.  Water is life-giving.  There is nothing “boring” about drinking water.  Water is an element, it sustains life all over the planet, and it is the only fluid necessary to sustain my life.   I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with juice or coffee or tea, but just as food either nurtures or poisons you, fluids either flush you of toxins, or cleanse you of them.

So that’s it.  That’s my plan.  I’ll let you know how it’s going a few months from now.  Wish me luck!

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