All things minty fresh!
In my little aromatherapy series I thought I would start with Peppermint rather than the ubiquitous Lavender or Tea Tree.  Peppermint is a sorely overlooked essential oil, perhaps because it is so strong it will overpower most blends you would care to make with it.  But I find it one of the most invaluable oils for getting me those really tough days.

It has a clean, sweet and minty scent which can feel a little like being beaten round the head with a tube of toothpaste – but there is nothing which is more powerful for waking me up, focusing my mind and energising me.  With my love of all things citrus you would like I would be reaching for the grapefruit and orange scents but neither of them compare to the intense sensations I get from peppermint.  There are two situations I find it most useful – firstly the mid-afternoon slump at work and secondly exercising when I don’t feel like it.  But recently I was diagnosed with a nasty little dust allergy and some days the only time it doesn't hurt to breath is when I am inhaling Peppermint, the cooling menthol really soothes all my sore parts.

Magically speaking I probably wouldn't use Peppermint as it leaves me too awake, too present and too strongly grounded for my preferred mental ritual state.  But if you ever need a boost of something to get you through a rough day - reach for the Peppermint!
I was reading the first issue of the Gaian Times, I know the work of the people running it and was also wondering if I could pitch an article to them.

Then I stumbled across this fabulous article on magic and psychology (a pet subject of mine if you know me!)  I have never seen such a good articulation of some of my views and would recommend it to everyone who practices magic!

Yesterday I was privileged enough to go to a Heathen Wedding.  I have never been lucky enough to go to a handfasting of any type beforehand and this was a very special and magical experience.  It was a deeply moving ceremony well attended by Pagans and non-pagans alike. I enjoyed every moment of it but it led to the inevitable question from my non-pagan friends:

"So, what is a Pagan then?"

A question which seems to become increasingly hard to answer.  Once upon a time it was enough to refer vaguely to some sort of polytheistic nature-based faith path, but not even that broad description seems accurate these days. The alternative is to describe Paganism in terms of what is *not*, www.dictionary.com, not Christianity, Islam or Judaism; but defining something as important as a religion in terms of what it is *not* seems negative and unhelpful.  Apples are not Bananas, Oranges or Pears but that doesn't help you you understand what Apples are.

As this question rattled around over the weekend I found myself trying to formulate a better answer and came up with this:

"Paganism is a common language for people who share similar magickal, spiritual paths to communicate with each other and form communities ."

A work in progress admittedly, but I do think we need something more up to date these days.

My view on "labels" and their place in modern Paganism is better left for a blog post all on it's own... but as a teaser - I don't think they are as terrible as everyone else seems to?
I have adored aromatherapy for 16 years.  When I was a teenager I bought several amazing tomes on aromatherapy and devoured them.  In later years I did less compulsive reading but by then I had already established a set of habits and routines and even when I was an impoverished student I always had essential oils in my life (from Birthday and Christmas presents mostly).

I use them for:

Magick, Chakra work, Mediation
Stress-management and relief
Concentration and Focus
Anti-bacterial purposes
Various ailments

There are probably a million and one other ways I could be using them on top of those.

But I wanted to write a quick introductory post because I will likely be coming back to this theme again and again.  Scent can be a vital and deeply pleasurable part of ritual work and essential oils can induce a far larger range of moods and associations than other options such as incense.  They can also be a discreet way of practising low-key magick in the workplace or other areas of life where you do not want or need to draw a huge amount of attention to your practise.

A few words of warning which are oft repeated in the various books:

1. Check the contraindications before you use the oils - some should be avoided by pregnant women, people with allergies or will irritate the skin if applied directly.
2. Don't use them internally.
3. Always check you are buying "pure essential oil" (a good way to tell is price - if they seem so cheap it is too good to be true - they are probably not pure). 

My top aromatherapy books for inspiration and information are:

The Fragrant Pharmacy by Valerie Ann Worwood
The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils by Julia Lawless
Culpeper's Herbal

So dive right in to a wonderful, scented second half of the year!
Oh, how I wish I was here right now!

I knew a full-time job and a part-time Masters course was going to be tough.  But the last couple of weeks have been particularly difficult.  I was expecting to have to spend lots of my free time on the course, reading, writing assignments and attending teaching.  But I wasn't expecting to lose quite so much of my creative energy.  Up until a couple of weeks ago I was managing to writing posts for this site, do other bits and pieces of creative projects and manage work and the Masters. Then work got stressful, the Masters got difficult, I very quickly burnt out.  All my reserves evaporated almost overnight, although if I am honest the creativity had been leaking out of me for a lot longer.

The extreme tiredness, inability to find joy in the usual places and realisation I had done nothing creative for ages would have made me very sad; if I hadn't been so worn out I didn't notice. That is definitely not a good frame of mind for Magick.

Why so confessional today, Antara?

Well...there is something important here. I am working towards a joined up life, and that means realising that spirituality and work and health are all parts of one whole Antara.  They need to be in balance otherwise something has to give.  But annoyingly when one area isn't working properly it can drag the other parts out of alignment as well. Especially work because it consumes so much more of my energy than the other aspects.

So I made a concerted effort to stop stressing about things, let some stuff fall off my "to worry about list". I managed a 30 minute meditation session and felt a little calmer.  I reminded myself how much I love the Goddess Guidebook and gave myself some permission and some space to take things a little easier. Today I began to see a little bit of creativity sneaking back into my life...and then I realised it was Midsummer.  I am not quite ready to ride any Wild Donkeys at the moment but I am beginning to unfurl again.

So I am taking a gentle route back, working out what I *have* to do and what I really *want* to do.  I am ignoring what I think I *should* do if it doesn't fall into one of the earlier categories.   Quite an  unusual approach for me.

Managing my life and my health are vital to practising magick and can be pretty hard work.

Oh, and have a magical Summer Solstice you lovely people!
When my life gets stressful (as it has recently) Magick is the first thing to go.  I beat myself up about not being disciplined or dedicated enough, about relaxing in front of the TV when I could be practising the [insert flavour of the week] Ritual; but in the last week I remembered that this is tendency to feel like one isn't doing enough, only makes things worsr. 

Magic is work, it takes energy and a clear mind.  It can be draining and tiring.  As I was feeling tired and stressed and berating myself for not doing a couple of bits of magical work over the weekend I began to realise something.  That at the moment any attempt to meditate would fail.  My mind was too churned up or alternatively too tired out.  I felt a bit fuzzy-headed and slightly (usually for me) under-confident.  Does this sound like a perfect recipe for successful Magic?  Not really. 

Given that stress is a huge factor in modern life, it is likely it is a huge factor in the life of the modern witch.  Particularly in these times of economic uncertainty where many people are losing their jobs, are short of money or are incredibly overworked in the jobs they have kept. So how can we stop stress from overwhelming our lives (or in particular our magickal lives - this being a magickal blog).

So before I can back to the practice I have to step away from stress. Easier said than done.  In my current state of feeling overwhelmed by everything I know I have to start somewhere, to avoid feeling like I have been trapped.  But equally I can't be taking on big things, big projects and big ideas.  So where do I go from here...

If I know anything about shifting the energy block of stress it is this:

1. Go a bit easier on yourself.  Now is not the time to beat yourself up for failing.  If you need to take things a little bit more easily - arrange thing so that you can.

2. Do small things and don't worry if they don't work.  Meditate for 5 mins instead of 20.  If you can concentrate and the meditation is a wash out then don't worry about it but make sure you show up tomorrow.  Keep showing up and not worrying if it doesn't "work" eventually a small break through will happen.

3. Eat a little better, drink a little less caffeine and exercise a little more.