Witches and Brooms – Sex Magic/Sexual Fantasy Or Something Far Greater?

Witches and Brooms – Sex Magic/Sexual Fantasy Or Something Far Greater?

Over the years I’ve heard quite a few people equate the riding of the broom by a witch to a sexual experience. Often these folks state that the witch used a hallucinogenic ointment which was rubbed onto the broom, and then inserted in a sexual manner which made her think she was “flying”. I can tell you, there are a lot easier ways to get high.

This theory comes from a few confessions extracted during the dreadful times of the witch hunts across Europe. What is often forgotten or purposefully left out is the fact that these so-called confessions were extracted under torture. Europe and Scotland had absolutely awful methods of torturing so-called witches to extract information from them, usually with questions led by the examiner to produce a consistent result among the captives. In England, torture was illegal, however, they still kept their victims awake and used sleep deprivation to get what they wanted, as well as having the person kept in one position for hours at a time without being able to move. That’s torture too.

If we are to believe that what was said under torture is factually correct, then we must also believe what else was said alongside this confession. We must believe that these people had sexual congress with goats, or the Devil himself. We must believe that these people suckled their familiars (animal helpers) with their own blood. We must believe a host of other outrageous stories that were created to instil fear and hatred, dividing a populace and creating a space where the old, the weak, the poor and the independent thinkers were targeted against the power of the Church and patriarchy.

It is my firm belief that the sexual imagery of the witch “riding” her broom is the result of the sexually repressed minds of the witch hunters themselves. It is only one of many sexual fantasies created by these men who were paid to bring people in for prosecution. This was their job, and they made money from it. You would have to be quite a horrible type of person to want to do this sort of job in the first place. Just saying.

In fact, the witch riding her broom comes from a long heritage of witches working with staffs, stangs, wands and distaffs. We can trace this work in Europe back to the völva (plural völur), a type of Norse shamanistic practitioner of magic and divination. Völva actually means “staff carrier”. Usually a woman, she always had a staff, sometimes wood, sometimes an ornamental iron distaff. We know this from the many burials found across Scandinavia which have these women buried with the tools of their trade.

I’ve even heard some folks say that the practice of the völva was seen as shameful in Viking society. They use the sexual fantasy imagery and overlay it against the profession of the völva, claiming that this is what she did with her staff, like a witch riding her broom covered in the flying ointment. First, let’s look at the “shameful” aspect.

For women, it was not considered shameful to practice magic, except from a Christian point of view. For men to practice the magic of the völva, known as seidr, it was seen in Viking times as “ergi”, often translated as shameful. For a man to do women’s work was seen as unmanly, though we do have to remember that the sources from which we get this information were written after the Viking period by the patriarchal Christian monks. We also see women warriors, buried with their weapons, and so the question of men’s work and women’s work is even more circumspect. We see in the myths of the gods and goddesses a couple of the gods doing womanly things: Odin learns the art of seidr from the goddess Freya (he’s not seen as unmanly), Thor dresses up as a woman to get into a giant’s hall (still not unmanly) and Loki turns himself into a mare to have sex with another horse (still not called out as unmanly and actually producing Odin’s steed, Sleipnir, in the process).

(Artwork from: https://www.deviantart.com/briannacherrygarcia/gallery)

Add on top of that the fact that all the burials found of the women who are considered to be völur are high status burials, and the question of shame seems absurd. The Osberg ship burial, perhaps one of the most famous Viking ship burials, had the body of a völva laid to rest with with a host of beautiful treasures (what was left of them, for the burial had been broken into a long time before, with many of the goods stolen). No person who was considered shameful would be given such a send off.

The question of drugs does come into play when looking at the ancestors of the more modern-day version of the broom riding witch. Many of the burials were found to have pouches of hallucinogenic herbs on the body, such as henbane or cannabis seeds. These seeds, when thrown onto hot coals would produce a smoke that, when inhaled, would most definitely get you “high”, but not in the way that the sexual fantasy of the witch riding a broomstick would by the witch hunters. The clue is in the staff itself, and what it symbolises.

The word seidr is thought to derive from spinning or weaving. The völur were those who could see the way that fate was woven or spun through their contact with the spirit world. Their distaffs were their link to that ability. For those graves wherein a wooden staff was found, the link lies more with the World Tree that one can use to travel to the nine worlds in Norse cosmology. Through the staff there is a sympathetic link created with the World Tree, with Yggdrasil, and it can be used to “ride” between the worlds.

And this is where the descendant of the völur appears today, in the form of hedge riding, an aspect of Hedgewitchcraft. Riding the staff/stang/broom/whatever you have to hand that resembles the world tree helps you to travel between the worlds in order to find the information that you require in your Craft. Most Hedgewitches today do not use hallucinogens, being able to perform the working through trance states that are induced by other means.

So, in conclusion, the equating of broom riding and sex seems more like a far-fetched fantasy than the actual reality when we dig a little deeper into the history and the ancestry of witchcraft. That it is continuing to be spread today only helps to demean and undermine the power of women in working magic, turning something extremely symbolic and important into a sexually repressed fantasy created by the patriarchy. When a witch is riding her broom, or using her staff, stang or wand in ritual, the lineage is far greater than most people can ever assume, and is far more powerful than any witch hunter could ever dream of.

For a great video on the staff of the völva, see Freya’s video below:

Womb energy? Womb Space? Nope.

I have a lovely book which I’m re-reading, about empowering the wild woman within, manifesting her in all her glory. This book is filled with beautiful poetry and great exercises, written from the heart from a Woman Most Wild. And yet – and yet…

It’s one of many books about female empowerment that talks about working with the energy that originates in your womb space. While this book does state that you can do this even without a womb, it still annoys me, going against the grain of my very feminine soul. Like so many others talking about energetic womb space, many in the Pagan community with feminist goals are still being held back by a woman’s reproductive organs. At least, that’s just my opinion. I’m sure many will disagree.

Maiden, Mother, Crone. Right there, we have the Divine Feminine in a nutshell for so many Pagan paths, and yet it is one that is defined by a woman’s reproductive cycle. We are told that we can feel Her in our own womb spaces, whether we still have them or not. She is defined by her womb that birthed the universe. Is the Divine Masculine defined by his phallus? The Cerne Abbus Giant might say so, but his club is a lot bigger.

His name was Cedric Alton.

Even when I still had a womb, before the hysterectomy that gave me my life back after 30 years of living with fibroids and cysts, even then I never connected to the Divine Feminine through womb energy. I knew from a very early age that I would never birth any children physically. I never wanted to. My dolls were my friends, not children I wanted to raise. Even my Cabbage Patch dolls that I wanted so much (because everyone else had one), even then, after the first day I was tired of taking care of them as children, and they immediately “grew up” to become companions. I have never wanted children in my life. A day spent with someone who has young children reinforces this each and every time. I’m too sensitive, I like quiet and peace and being able to have the freedom to do whatever I wish or need to do at any given moment. My womb was never going to be used for what it was meant for.

Before anyone goes all “Lousie Hay” on me, I will stipulate that I firmly do not believe that my desire to not have children caused my condition. I am a staunch believer that genetics, diet, lifestyle and good/bad luck are the reasons for medical conditions. I think that if we begin to believe otherwise, we are instilling a process of blame and shame for medical conditions. Yes, the body and mind are one, and do affect the other to a certain degree, but I believe that this is taken way too far in many people’s opinions that have absolutely no basis in scientific fact. I am a very practical Pagan. I am happy to dance with the faeries in the moonlight and have a great interest in herbal medicine, but I also feel very strongly about getting all my vaccines and using the benefits that modern medicine can provide. Others may feel differently, and I respect their opinion, though I might not share them.

My womb is like my appendix. It’s a part of me, but if it isn’t working properly, it’s better to have it out. All my life I had painful periods, and was only diagnosed as the womb was being cut out of my body and the real extent of the damage from my condition became known. How much of my life was lived in pain I can only attest to now, because I am free from that pain. It’s like having a whole new life. Sure, I’ve got other problems – don’t we all – and I still ache with arthritis and manage my asthma as best I can. But I’ve got my life back. My womb space caused me nothing but pain since puberty. That’s not something I’m going to celebrate. Like an ancestor who caused you pain, you can acknowledge that they were a part of your life, but you don’t have to celebrate them.

Besides, I am more than my womb.

My womb does not make me a woman. It does not make me what or who I am today, nor did it ever define me in the past. I am more than my womb. I don’t and never have fit into the Maiden Mother Crone categories. I am me, a part of everything and beholden to no one thing.

A poster I had on the wall for many, many years: Light in the Forest by Sue Dawe

Was I a “girly girl”? Yes, and no. Labels never really stuck very well on me. As a child I loved dresses and princesses and unicorns. I also loved knocking the ball out of the park when it was my turn at bat on the baseball ground. I played hockey with the boys at lunchtime at elementary school, and I figure skated by myself in the evenings at the outdoor rink. I adore belly dance and the wonderful costumes, but I wear jeans and shirts or leggings for the most part in the rest of my life. The Divine Feminine roared through my veins, but I also heeded the rallying cry of the Divine Male and everything in between. Baseball isn’t masculine, and unicorns aren’t feminine. These are just “tools” we use to put everything into neat little boxes, just like the terms Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine.

Weapons, a chariot and cats. Who needs anything more?

I have loved The Goddess all my life. It began when I was very young, and had a book about Greek myths. Artemis and Atalanta, these two ladies were my inspiration, my guiding force. Artemis, the eternal maiden, strong and free, what a role model. Running through the forests, standing under the moonlight, beholden to no one. That was The Goddess for me, and still is today, though in many other forms alongside this one. I have always loved independent female deity: Brighid, Freya, Morrigan, Andraste. Give me these ladies over an Earth Mother any day.

Some of these ladies are extremely sexual and sensual. Good for them, and good for me and all women! I’ve always embraced my sexuality and sensuality. Combined with the intimacy of a good, strong relationship there really isn’t anything better. But did I feel Their energy in my womb centre? Nope. Not once. Where did I feel Them? In my heart. Always, in my heart. That energetic centre swells just thinking about these ladies, just as it does when I think about whatever it means to be in the Divine Feminine category. Same for the Divine Masculine category. My power lies in my heart chakra, not my womb space. My love for this planet comes straight out of my chest, filling my soul with a brilliant light that guides me through the darkest of nights.

So each time I read a passage in a book, or attend a workshop that mentions moving into my womb space, I just have to grin and bear it, and shift the energy up higher, to where it belongs: in my heart. I am not my womb space, and no woman should be defined by that, whether they have them or not. Perhaps if we drop the labels we give to divinity, and forego Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine, then we will truly see that the energy really does emanate from the heart for both, or All, instead of from Their, and our, reproductive bits.

We are star-stuff, as is everything. You can’t define something like that with any more clarity. Or by their physiology. You just have to accept it, and love from that wonderful energy centre that we all have: our hearts.  

Heart energy centre/chakra. Right there in the middle of all things.

To Keep Silent

Most people in Modern Paganism have heard of the Witch’s Pyramid, sometimes known as the Magician’s Manifesto. In this, there are four goals for a person to achieve their own power, which are: to know, to dare, to will, and to keep silent. I’m discussing each of these one by one in my podcast series, but I’d like to take a closer look at the adage: to keep silent.

Many say that this maxim was used in order to protect witches from “outing” each other during the witch trials and persecution of the Middle Ages. I’m not sure if this quote dates that far back, in all honesty. However, that’s beside the point of this article. There are some beneficial ways that the motto can be used, and also a lot of detrimental ways.

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A good point: it teaches people to shut up and listen. You can’t really listen if you aren’t quiet. It also teaches us that words do have power. We need to use our words responsibly, especially in this age of social media and the abuse of people through the anonymity of the internet. A Witch’s word is said to hold power too – lies and half-truths undermine a Witch’s power (this applies to all people, in my opinion). Words can heal or destroy.

Being silent also helps us to see the bigger picture. When we step outside of our ego and its chattering, we begin to hear the stories of others and see the grander scheme of things. We all have egos, and we need to learn to work with them in order to not be ruled by them. When we are ruled by our egos, we aren’t living intentionally: we are instead living reactionary lives.

Being silent is also helpful in teaching us to be alone. With so many gadgets to hand to distract us from ourselves, we’ve forgotten how to be alone, how to be bored and, yes: how to be lonely. It’s only when you truly deal with loneliness that you can come to understand it and work to improve your situation. Then again, there are the more solitary folk who prefer to be alone, and who find solace in this space for themselves, to work, to heal, to dance and to pray. When we have cut ourselves off from all other distractions, we begin to realise that we are never truly alone. We have nature, the gods, the ancestors, all around us, all the time.

But what are some of the detriments to the saying, “to keep silent”? Well, silence has been used to abuse people for a long, long time. When we silence someone, we are exerting our power over them. Taking away a person or a group’s voice can be the most harmful thing you can do socially, politically, environmentally and ethically. Sometimes this even crosses over into the Pagan sphere, where unsavoury and unethical groups or persons use the adage “to keep silent” to use and abuse others. It can also be used to keep power from an individual or group, to not share knowledge in order to control them. It can be used as a front, a guise, a glamour for when someone doesn’t know an answer, and simply quotes this maxim to maintain an air of mystery and power. These kinds of “teachers” are really just in it for their egos. The best teacher will willingly admit to not knowing something, often learns from the student, and is willing to say so openly and honestly.

This sense of secrecy helps a group or person to establish power and mystique. It entices people to come closer, to learn more. The old Victorian orders and groups wove this veil of secrecy around their groups, not only to protect their members but also to make themselves feel more important. This has carried through in various forms throughout the decades, and has led to the history of Modern Witchcraft being a bit of a fuddled mess. If people were open about themselves, where their traditions came from, and who did what, we might have a more cohesive and coherent history to turn to. Even in the last 70 years we are still trying to unravel pieces of the puzzle, from Gardner and his associates and beyond. They can’t tell us – they’ve all passed on to the Summerland, taking their secrets with them. We can’t verify a lot of claims made by people and groups, which in this age of fact-checking has become paramount.

Many people, myself included, have found this utterly frustrating. So many traditions have created false histories in order to claim validity. In this way, they feel their tradition has the stamp of authenticity, because it goes back to so and so, etc. The irony of lies and half-truths to authentic a tradition is, I’m sure, not lost on many. I personally am not one to equate a religious or spiritual path’s age with validity, and there are many others out there who feel the same. If a spiritual path works for someone, and it was created yesterday, it’s just as valid as a 2,000 year-old tradition that spans the globe. But when secrecy is used to obscure fact because of false claims or untruths in a specific tradition, it can devalue it in the eyes of some. It’s never fun when you find out that your tradition had charlatans and forgers, ego maniacs and more thrown into the historical mix.

History will always have a veil of obscurity over it, hidden truths and perspectives written down by “the winners”. But with the adage of “to keep silent”, this can simply perpetuate the wilful abuse of the truth and facts.

Perhaps we need to learn when to speak up, when to speak the truth, our truths, and when to keep silent. When it is appropriate to do so, in order for power to be shared by all. The person with the most power is the person who is most willing to share it. And they usually don’t shout about it either.

Pagans with Asthma

 For some Pagans, asthma can really affect their personal practice. It can get in the way of so many things that you want to do, and overall be a real challenge to your way of life. I have weather-triggered asthma, as well as seasonal asthma from tree pollen in the spring and early summer. This means that many of my own personal practices had to be adapted in order for me to still be able to do all the things that I love. Here are some of my tips and tricks for getting through the difficult times when your condition is acting up. Please note, I am not a doctor, I am just passing on some advice that my own doctors have provided, alongside tried and tested methods that work for me.

First off – take your medication. If you’ve been prescribed inhalers, take them. For seasonal asthma, my GP has also recommended in addition to the inhalers, take an antihistamine every day, such as Piriteze. I take mine at night, just before bed. If you know when you asthma will start to kick in, ie. roughly which month, start taking the antihistamine a few weeks before so it’s really in your system when it all kicks off.

Second – look into supplementary herbal remedies from a qualified herbalist. I use the Love Your Lungs and the Allergeze formula from Nature’s Pharmacy. Melanie Cardwell is a licensed herbal practitioner who has worked with Druid College for many years. She also offers really good herbal courses and workshops. Let your herbalist know which medications you are on, and also consult your doctor too on the herbal remedies you wish to take.

A big tip for seasonal asthma – keep the windows closed if pollen is a trigger. You can open them at night when pollen levels are lower, to air out the house. I also used screens on my windows, initially to keep out the mozzies, moths and horseflies from my home in the country, but which I’ve found also keeps out the larger particles of pollen. At the end of every autumn, I take down the screens to wash them and put them away for the winter, and I’m amazed at the amount of pollen on them, luckily on them and not in the house! I bought flexiscreens that attach to windows using Velcro strips around the window edges. These are great because you can just throw them in the washing machine when you need to.

As well, wear a mask outside. These days, people won’t look at you funnily if you wear a mask. Years ago, I wore a bandana around my mouth and nose when I was working outside, to keep the pollen out of my lungs. This enabled me to do what I needed to do. In the evenings I could do rituals outside without a mask, for the most part. Some days were better than others. If a thunderstorm was coming, I had to grin and bear it – and use my reliever inhaler.

There are also a couple of yoga poses that open up your chest, such as supported fish pose. I prefer the supported version of this pose, because I find the traditional pose throws out my lower back. Using pillows and blocks to get into a comfortable position, I can lie there for about a minute and just concentrate on opening and expanding my chest and airways.

Getting an air purifier has also really helped. We bought ours second-hand, and put in a new filter. It didn’t cost us very much, but has really helped, especially overnight in high pollen seasons. It has a night setting, which doesn’t make as much noise as the normal setting. We also have a de-humidifier, which can be used during winter and through low pressure systems that bring a lot of rain and thunderstorms, which for many is also a trigger.

I’ve had to be meticulous about cleaning the house as well. Dusting, to remove any airborne particles has been my mission these last few years. I dust and vacuum every week, and twice a year I do a big clean in the spring and autumn, getting into all the nooks and crannies, under sofas and behind beds, etc. I’ve also found a wonderful tool for cleaning inside the radiators. It’s a long brush that really gets down inside them and pulls all the dust and other stuff that can get trapped inside, only to be released every time the heating comes on. The first time you use this, expect a lot of dust, so wear a mask! I also have the vacuum cleaner nozzle right by the brush head, so that when it’s pulled out, it catches the dust before it spreads to the rest of the room. Kind of like that suction thing that’s used while the dentist works on your teeth.

I’ve had to give up using incense, which was a real blow. I adore incense. I bought handmade incense from my favourite store in Montreal for many years, and also loose incense from StarChild in Glastonbury. Gorgeous, gorgeous scents. However, incense releases too many particles in the smoke, and triggers attacks in me, so I have had to give them up. Sometimes I might use it outside during ritual, if I’m sure I won’t be inhaling it, but even then that’s now becoming a rare thing for me, and I prefer just to enjoy the scents of nature. I can’t do saining or smudging anymore either with smoke, so I use different methods of purification, such as water (from the tap, rainwater, salted water or moonwater that I’ve made by leaving water outside overnight under the full moon, sometimes with a quartz crystal in it to add power to it), deep breathing, allowing the breeze to clear and cleanse me, the sunlight or moonlight, or energy drawn up from the earth and down from the stars.

To scent the home, usually I just have a window open when it’s possible to get some fresh air inside. In winter, this is lovely, as I don’t have to worry about pollen. I can open the windows while I’m making the bed, just to get a few minutes of air into the bedroom. If I want a particular scent, I can use an essential oil. Not in an oil burner, however, as this again triggers my asthma, as the water particles from the steam and the oil attached to them get into my lungs and cause it to tighten. Instead, I take five to ten drops of an essential oil and place them on an organic cotton ball or pad, or even a wadded up tissue or loo roll, and then hide it in a pretty bowl somewhere in the room. For extra oomph, I can place the container on a radiator, where the scent will disperse without the steam that triggers my asthma. For some, this may not work, as scent can be a trigger, so you will have to really know what sets you off and what doesn’t in order to be safe. My favourite oils to use are geranium for the living areas, and patchouli for the bedroom. I use little brass cauldrons that I found at antique fairs and shops, and these are dotted around my house. I also have one on my altar, for when I am working inside. I like to use lavender at my indoor space, as it brings peace and the cats seem to enjoy it.

Candles – you will have to be careful which ones to use, if you can use them at all. I’ve found that all petroleum-based paraffin candles aren’t good for me (or anyone, really) and so I use soy or beeswax candles. Beeswax is expensive, and so I use soy candles from reputable and sustainable sources. You will have to do your homework to find a good soy candle maker/distributor in your area. These give off less smoke and particles than the usual paraffin candles, and so aren’t so much a trigger for me. I air out the room afterwards too.

I haven’t found that changing my diet has had any effect on my asthma, but for some that has worked. I’d advise talking to your GP and herbal specialist about this, as they might have advice to share with you and be able to work with your needs. As always though, everyone should eat their fruits and vegetables!

Meditation also helps to lessen the effect of stress-related asthma. Stress can be a big trigger, and so the more you are at peace with yourself and the world, the less you will suffer, not only from asthma but from a whole host of ills. Meditation also helps you to get in touch with yourself, and the more you know about yourself, the better off you will be able to take care of yourself, and others.

I hope that this blog post has been of help to some of you out there who suffer from asthma, with some tips and tricks to living your fullest Pagan life without triggering attacks. If you have any advice that works for you, please do feel free to leave it in the comments section below. First and foremost, talk to your doctor about your condition, and if it hasn’t been diagnosed, get one as quick as you can. What some people might think is asthma could be a heart condition, and so you really do need to get it checked out immediately.

Blessings on your practice!

Prayer is a personal thing

Deity in any Pagan tradition is a very personal thing. The best way to get to know more about a deity, apart from extensive research, is through prayer. Some people have difficulty with the word prayer, seeing connotations to other religions with which they prefer to disassociate themselves. However, prayer is not relegate to certain religions, and is found the world over. It is not solely a Christian practice or only pertaining to any of the other Abrahamic faiths. How else would we communicate with deity, whether it is a pre-Christian Irish goddess or Greek god of the sun, or a God and Goddess of our local area with no recorded historical name? If you are communicating with a deity, that is prayer.

Prayer can be simple or complex. You can recite long, flowery verses in loving devotion within a ritual to the gods of your choice, or you may choose to honour them with a few simple, heartfelt words throughout the day. How you choose to pray is entirely your decision.

Prayer is simply opening up a line of communication with deity. When we begin to establish a connection with deity, we find a growing relationship that flows both ways. We can talk to the deities, and they can respond in turn. There are many ways to pray, such as:

•           Prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude

•           Prayers of devotion and love

•           Prayers of petition, such as asking for healing or guidance

•           Daily prayers to keep up a connection to deity throughout the day

•           Seasonal prayers recited in honour of the Sabbats and the Wheel of the Year

Your prayers might be spontaneous, with words inspired by the beauty of nature spoken aloud or quietly in your mind to the gods and goddesses. You might find beautiful, written prayers in books and literature that you wish to recite and/or memorise for ritual or daily practice. Old prayers are not necessarily better than new prayers. As well, writing your own prayers might have more relevance to your own practice than reciting the words of others. If you are feeling poetic, try writing your own prayer to deity, after doing thorough research on their attributes, their likes and dislikes, their form and personality. You can then write your prayer around those ideas. Here is an example of a prayer that I wrote to the Welsh goddess, Arianrhod:

Lady of the Silver Wheel

Whose realm of the starry heavens

Glitters in silver and in gold

Whose gifts of prophecy and sovereignty

Are shared amongst your devoted

Lady of magic

You challenge me as you yourself have been challenged

And I rise

I rise

I rise to the challenge

To be my most authentic self

With your guidance and wisdom

Now and forever more

This prayer takes into consideration her connection to the moon, her abilities and also her stories told through the Welsh myths. It is written plainly, without rhyming or meter. If you prefer to use rhyming and meter, this is also a good choice, for prayers are easier to memorise in that fashion. For example:

Ceridwen, Ceridwen

Brewer of the Awen

Lend strength and protection

Ceridwen, Ceridwen!

When engaging in prayer, it is important to consider that there really is someone on the other end, and that being does not wish to continually be asked for things without getting anything in return. If we are constantly petitioning the gods, then imagine what it would feel like if someone was constantly petitioning you for help. The gods help those who help themselves. There is no problem with prayers of petition, so long as they are balanced with other forms of prayer, perhaps daily prayer or prayers of gratitude.

Know that when we are petitioning the gods, we are not handing over our fates to them, or asking them to solve all our problems. It is still up to us to instigate the change that is needed in our lives. We can petition the gods for help and guidance, but we must also do the hard work that is necessary as well. We practice an independent tradition, based upon personal responsibility. After all, that’s why we are Pagans! And as Pagans, we pray to the deities, as often as possible, both in ritual and outside of ritual, to keep that connection and relationship strong.