Samhain, when the veil is thin

pumpkin-headFrom the seasonal acknowledgement of dying plants and animals at the Autumn Equinox, we shift our focus to life/death transition on the human plane: Samhain.  I think of this time as the Heart-of-the-Dark.  While day and night were balanced at Mabon, the nights have grown longer still ever since the autumnal equinox and continue to do so until Yule.  Samhain falls in the middle of this ever-darker time, celebrated on October 31st as All Hallow’s Eve, Halloween, with the related traditions of All Souls’ Day on November 2nd, celebrated as Dia de los Muertos in Mexico and in U.S. cities that boast a large Spanish population.

Tom altar 2If you’ve never experienced Dia de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead—I recommend it highly.  There’s a carnival/ spiritual mix to these proceedings that initially surprised me.  Families go to graveyards to clean and decorate, then picnic near the headstones of their ancestors, setting out platters of the departed one’s favorite foods for the spirit now hovering nearby.  Children receive skull-shaped candies with their own names written across the foreheads—muy macabre.  These are mestizo traditions, a mixture of Aztec and Catholic.  In Denver, a variety of activities are presented at several of the city’s alternative art galleries.  Pirate: A Contemporary Art Oasis at West 37th Avenue and Navajo, mount a large annual celebration, hosting neighborhood activities such as altar-building and a candlelight procession, honoring those who have departed.  Bright colors abound.  Altars contain ofrendas—offerings—and are poignant, heart-rending, funny and mournful by turns, and often very beautiful.  Fragrant copal scents the air, bands and dancers perform, and there’s a giant, wild piñata for the kids, followed by a grown-up version, stuffed with adult toys and treats.  Such festive pursuits aside, the altar-building is very serious, often containing pictures of the deceased, perhaps details of their demise, objects that were significant to the person, as well as anything that might honor, amuse or entertain their visiting spirit.    

I’ve gradually added elements of these Spanish traditions to my Wiccan practices.  A group altar, constructed by one’s entire coven with photographs and  significant objects, is a powerful sight.  The favorite dishes of our deceased compatriots become our potluck feast, and spirit-servings are placed on a platter on the altar, which occupies most of the west wall.  This year, my mother’s picture will join the others.

Though recent losses predominate, this can be extended to cover any passing from years past that still feels unfinished or rawa miscarriage or abortion from years back, a grandparent’s death one was “sheltered from” as a child.  This is a cathartic working and shouldn’t be rushed, and needs some resolution, some closure of its own.

To suitably release the grief and other emotions raised, this remembering can be followed by a ceremony called “Pushing Through” that comes from the Pomo Indian tradition.  Participants arrange themselves so they’re all facing the same way (again, west is a logical choice) in a boat-shaped wedge.  Those with drums or rattles begin pounding up a high, building energy; those without instruments act out the rowing, or sit and concentrate—all are in contact, touching at least at knee or shoulder.  The energies build, until, on a verbal cue from whomever’s leading this, all slowly and forcefully lift their hands, as if boosting the spirits upward and releasing anything they may be holding onto that could keep these souls from fully crossing over.

Another wonderful theme comes a large public Samhain ritual in Berkeley, California, that I attended in 1995. It was created by women in the Reclaiming Collective.  They ended their evening by inviting participants to call out the names of children born within the preceding twelve months.  Balance!  We say farewell to those who have passed and welcome back those who have reincarnated here on the earthly plane.  This acknowledgement of new life gives a pleasing closure to Samhain rites, an emotional symmetry.  It’s also something of a reminder on this particular holiday to consider not only mortality but fertility, as well as birth control measures (or lack thereof), as all these spirit visitors make their rounds.  If there’s someone special in the Summerland you’d like to welcome back as a new life, this is a propitious time to issue your invitation.  If you’d rather not accommodate a spirit aiming to reincarnate, well, use some care.

“I lay down all golden in time, and woke up vanishing…”

Though both Mabon and Samhain deal with themes of mortality, neither is simply a time of gloom and mourning.  Worldwide and in every tradition, there are Goddesses and Gods waiting on the other side to welcome us to Their lands at the end of our earthly sojourn.  The veil is thin now.  We visit with those who have gone before, honor their memories, reconnoiter for our own future travels, welcome those new little ones who have chosen to return among us.  And we savor the forms we inhabit, vanishing but yet-golden.  In the midst of autumn’s decay, life is as sweet as a late apple, as fragrant and bright as the lingering marigolds, as pointed as a chill breeze nipping a bright-mooned night.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES

  • Build altars to remember, grieve and honor our deceased
  • Share the stories of those we’re remembering
  • Feast and set out a plate for the spirits – use their favorite foods
  • Life goes on: Acknowledge the preceding year’s births, welcome new arrivals

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Quote: “Sweet Bird,” Joni Mitchell

A good resource: Chloe Sayer and Elizabeth Carmichael, The Skeleton at the Feast: The Day of the Dead in Mexico, (University of Texas, Austin in association with the British Museum: Austin, 1991).  Muy gracias to Bob Luna for his generous assistance.

The lower photograph is of our Pirate gallery altar to mark the passing of my nephew Tom McKeever  in 2007, created by his mother, brother and me.

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Lammas aka Lughnasadh.

lammas-manThe time to reap what we’ve sown arrives at Lammas, or Lughnasadh, on August 1st. The word lammas may come from the Anglo-Saxon hlafmaesse, meaning Loaf Mass: the rites of the Old Gods denied them at this traditional time, on August 1 (or the first Sunday in August) people took bread to the church to be blessed. The other name, Lughnasadh, combines Lugh, Goidelic Sun-deity of the Tuatha De Danann, with nassad, which can mean a fair or assembly or even “binding together.”1

Some legends say Lugh invented Lughnasadh to honor His foster-mother, the agricultural goddess Tailtiu, who once spent a year clearing a huge tract of land near County Meath; Lugh later built Her burial cairn there. Annual competitive games were held on the field in Her honor and it was the preferred time and place for handfastings, perhaps to encourage the growing crops to also be vigorous and productive, or perhaps to formalize any human Beltane plantings that had proved fertile. Robert Graves, however, cites Lammas as deriving from Lugh-mass, a ritual of mourning for Lugh Himself, who died this day; the funerary games honor Him. Irish Lughnasadh rites once opened with mournful processions, led by a young man carrying a hoop-wreath — symbol of the departing sun?  Since Lugh may connect linguistically to lux, the Latin word for light,2 a funeral is apropos: The days are already nearly an hour shorter that they were at Litha, the Summer Solstice, back in June.

Whatever Lammas’ etymology, all the fire energy and pounding that began with Brigid at Her smithy exactly six months ago are now focused on the grains as they’re ground to flour and baked into breads. Loaves in human shape become John Barleycorn, honored for his sacrifice. Also present is the Corn Dollie. To create her, choose an excellent ear of corn, perhaps with four perfect kernels at the tip, the Hopi’s preference for their Corn Mother.3 Peel back the husks (which become her skirts), braid her golden corn-silk hair and ornament her as befits a Corn Queen. Next spring she can become seed corn (which is the practical reason to pick the best ear you can find to “mother” the next year’s crop), or she can dwell in your home until you make your new Lammas Corn Dollie next August and then be interred like Tailtiu and Lugh at that ritual (perhaps with the crumbly remnants of the evening’s John Barleycorn) to bless your land.

Besides our sacramental consumption of John Barleycorn and perhaps His liquid variants, this is an excellent time to glory in the sheer beauty of Mother Earth’s generosity. Try encircling your altar with dry grains and their fragrant spice and floral counterparts. In her book Jambalaya, Luisah Teish suggests combinations such as cornmeal and bee pollen, millet and lavender, or rice and cloves.4  I’ve used rich red lentils and rose buds on some occasions, blue corn and star anise on others. The possibilities are endless and the effect is both aesthetic and visceral, evoking abundance on a satisfying gut level while truly delighting the senses. At ritual’s end, coveners take portions of these materials home to their own altars or kitchens.

At both Litha and Lughnasadh, we also ask for protection for the crops still in the fields: some folks believe weather workings are appropriate now. These are also traditional times for blessing one’s animals.5,6  If the time-honored technique of herding your critters between two raging bonfires doesn’t seem like a realistic option, try bringing their collars or food dishes into circle.

And to show the Deities at both festivals how their bountiful generosity is appreciated, we eat. All grain-based and fresh vegetable dishes are especially symbolic – and delicious – now. Celebrate diversity in your harvesting: seek out grains and produce grown from “heirloom” seeds rather than factory-farmed, mass-produced, genetically-engineered hybrids. Besides supporting ecologically crucial crop diversity, it’s a way of truly tasting what our ancestors planted, prayed for and ate in the distant past.7  Dress in harvest golds and greens, pour libations with a free hand and when you’re done, ground the energy graphically by recycling and composting anything that wasn’t consumed.

Lugh and John and all Your Grain Brothers, we mourn Your passing but honor this sacrifice on our behalf. Sunna, look kindly on our endeavors and let our harvests – both literal and metaphoric – be joyfully bountiful!

RITUAL IDEAS & QUESTIONS
–  Make Corn-dollies
–  Bake a grain-man of bread
–  What are you currently harvesting in your life?
–  What seeds are you carrying forward?

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1. Steve Blamires, Glamoury: Magic of the Celtic Green World, (St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1995), p.271-8.
2. Robert Graves, The White Goddess, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974), p. 301.
3. Zsuzsanna E. Budapest, The Grandmother of Time, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989), p.160.
4. Luisah Teish,  Jambalaya, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985), p. 231.
5. Diane Stein, Casting the Circle, (Freedom: Crossing Press, 1990), p. 126.
6. Campanelli, Ancient Ways, p. 91.
7. National Research Council, Agricultural Crop Issues and Policies, (Washington: National Academy Press, 1993)
Previously published in The Hole in the Stone.

Called by Spirit?

 

trumpet-girl-no-captionQ: I’ve been told [by a psychic, a shaman, a Tarot reader, a healer I’ve worked with, etc.] that I’m meant to be a shaman and a healer.  I’m not even sure what that means!  Where do I start?

A: On questions of prophetic information, my first question is usually “How do you feel about what the person told you? Does that information ring true for you?”  Especially when we’re going through confusing times, it’s natural to seek clear direction.  But check in with your own inner barometer:

  • Does this feel true, right, cosmically familiar, appropriate, appealing? 
  • Or does it feel – at least for now, at this point in your life – baffling, unappealing, maybe weird or even scary?

We are never obliged to rearrange our lives based on the information delivered by psychics, readers or shamans – really!  This is true no matter how much you paid for the reading/session.  If what you were told doesn’t ring true or feel right for you, put it aside.  This doesn’t mean going to other readers, telling them what you were told and asking for verification – it just means:
Put it aside. 
If this path is really yours, it will reappear.

If such a message does feel right, a good starting point is a basic workshop in shamanic practices and journeying.  Once you’re journeying regularly and developing a strong alliance with a Power Animal or some other Spirit-Plane Guide, that being will let you know if yours is the path of the healer.  Since you’ll do any healing work together, building that alliance of mutual trust is the beginning.  Without that strong alliance with your Spirit Guides, a shamanic healer’s path isn’t even possible.

If you’re meant to follow a healer’s path, get to know your own Guides: They’ll will make sure you know about it, even rather insistently or over your own objections. 
Really, they’ll make sure you know.


This comes from the Frequently Asked Questions page on my website. I teach beginning and advanced shamanic workshops, as do plenty of other experienced and reputable people. You can find many of them here.

Celebrating Beltaine

For it giveth unto all lovers courage,
that lusty month of May.1 

maypolesIf Ostara is viewed as the return of fertility, Beltaine can be viewed as the time to do something about it. This is the seasonal celebration of sexual union. It’s the time of the Maypole dance, when the pole (male) is enwrapped in fabric streamers (female).2   It’s when the previous year’s fires are allowed to burn out and a new blaze is kindled and shared—taine (or teine) is Gaelic for fire.3   Fertility and abundance were encouraged by human couplings, out on the land, under the stars. This male/female symbolism can be utilized despite one’s sexual orientation, since any act of creativity is bound to call on both left and right brain, both logic and intuition, within ourselves, to become fully realized.

Pale but charming suburban remnants of Beltaine were celebrated during my 1950s childhood as May Day. “May baskets” were crafted from colored paper and lacy paper doilies, stapled or glued into fanciful shapes with a hanging-loop of narrow paper at the top. Filled with the season’s first flowers, the baskets were anonymously hung on neighborhood doorknobs— we’d ring the bell and run off feeling elfish.

A friend remembers dancing the Maypole as a Catholic school kindergartner. Those students annually crowned their statues of the Virgin Mary with wreaths of tiny rosebuds. Altars heaped with elaborate offerings were dedicated to Mary as “Queen of the Heavens, Queen of the May,” a brief paganish respite at a strict 1940s Catholic parochial school. 

“Witch hunts” of the political variety helped squelch May Day customs in the United States. Designated International Workers’ Day, a Socialist holiday, in 1889,4 by the 1950s May 1st had become the occasion of massive military parades in Communist Russia, complete with missiles and tanks rolling through the streets of Moscow. Faced with lingering paranoia about Joe McCarthy and his ilk, many Americans forsook their old floral customs rather than risk being labeled “soft on communism” or worse. 

The graphic symbolism and high energy of a Maypole is wonderful and explained in great detail elsewhere,5 but basically you need a tall, strong pole, well-planted in the ground. An even number of people is necessary, divided into two equal even-numbered groups moving around in opposite directions. Strips of cloth several inches wide show up better than narrow ribbons; you’ll need one long strip per dancer. There are ways to adapt the Maypole to limited space and solitary/small group workings. Find a good phallic stick in advance; during your Beltaine rites wrap it with streamers and your intentions for the coming season. Old traditional colors were red and white (for female and male sexuality), but any significant hues can be used. In a group, people might wrap personal sticks, or one stick can be passed as people wind and bind and speak intentions until the “maypolette” is completely swaddled and the streamers are used up.

Several sources speak of saving the first rain of May to bathe in6 or rolling in May-day morning dew.7  Consider soaking your streamers in the evening dew (Father Sky joining Mother Earth) before wrapping your pole, or placing your Maypolette outside to absorb this potent moisture on May-morning. 

Early Beltaine fires were created with a fire-drill (a stick spun briskly into a hole in another piece of wood—more sexual imagery?)8 and leaping the flames may have been a means of symbolically firing up the human nether regions. Nine different woods were traditionally used in the fire, each with its own significance (9 = 3 x 3, the Triple Goddess, triple-strength).9  These fires—regenerative heat incarnate—were a vital part of earlier rites and well worth retaining. For the city-dwellers among us, this may take the form of a cauldron fire (that old stand-by, rubbing alcohol and epsom salts), but we can still jump over the flames and shout our intentions—what aspects of our lives we discard, what we claim.  

Through all Beltaine observances runs a pleasing sensual current that celebrates the body in flesh and blood and beauty. The joy and color of the Maypole, the exhilaration of fire-leaping, the acknowledged enjoyment of our own sexuality—all these echo the current exuberance in nature as flowers (the sex organs of plants) appear and the earth blooms again. Invite Flora’s bounty to your rites—cut, blooming in pots, seedlings, in salads or in your hair. Remember the chicken-and-roses-recipe scene in the film “Like Water for Chocolate”?  Let our sensual floral relatives help heat up your festivities!

RITUAL IDEAS violets-in-nov2013b

  • Create a Maypole, or an individual “Maypolette” wrapped intentions into a small stick with ribbons or fabrics strips
  • Take turns stroking each other’s feet and hands with flowers – very sensual!
  • Create and jump over a fire
  • Consenting adults, why not allow for some amorous time outside amid the returning greenery and under the night sky?
  • Catch some May-eve rain, or roll in May-day morning dew
  • Flowers are sexy and sensual – enjoy them

_____________

1. Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur (1485)  Later adapted into lyrics for the musical Camelot
2. Though we tend to think of ribbon for this, strips of cut fabric—streamers—work wonderfully.
3. Steve Blamires, Glamoury, (St. Paul MN: Llewellyn Publishing, 1995), p. 250
4. The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia
5. Pauline Campanelli, Ancient Ways (St. Paul MN: Llewellyn, 1991), pp. 52-77
6. Luisah Teish, Carnival of the Spirit, (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994), pp. 103-11
7. Blamires, ibid., pp. 254-5
8. Blamires, ibid., p. 253.
9. Campanelli, ibid., p 72.

Ostara: Red Eggs and Rabbits and Snakes, oh my!

“Spring is come home with her world-wandering feet,
And all things are made young with young desires.”

Image

Spring celebrates the Goddess as Maiden – Kore returns from the Underworld and brings the fructifying principle of nature back with Her.  Hibernating animals reawaken, migratory creatures return; plants, busy with root-growth all winter, begin pushing up and out.  The sunlight, growing since Yule morning, now graces and warms our days.  By Ostara – our Spring Equinox holiday takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of Spring – we have nearly three more hours of sunlight each day than at the solstice.  Even if the weather’s still wintry, the earliest plants are struggling to rise and the nights are significantly shorter.

So are the shadows.  As the sun moves from a southern to a northern declination, we lose the low light angle and long daytime shadows of deep winter.  The light gains ascendancy and winter literally recedes.  The Vernal Equinox occurs on the first day on which the sun rises north of the equator, falling within a day either way of March 20.  This year it’s March 20, today.  The days and nights of equal length actually occur a few days earlier, this year on March 16 (sunrise to sunset, this day was still a few minutes less than twelve hours long) and March 17 (the daylight hours exceeded twelve hours by several minutes).

“Vernal” comes from the Latin verb vernare, meaning “To renew oneself in Spring, to be young.”  In a seasonal ordering of the Beth-Luis-Nion tree alphabet, Robert Graves connects the Latin vernare to the letter Fearn, between letters Onn and Saille.  In his poetic hand, the letters Onn-Fearn-Saille evolve into Anna Fearina Salmaona, “Queen of the Spring, Mother of the Willow,” a lovely image now, when the small willow aptly called red-twig gradually begins budding.  If your concept of “willow” tends only toward tall and weeping, watch for this widespread wild version glowing red along Colorado creek beds.  A decorated willow-branch archway figures in an Argentinean springtime ritual for mothers and godmothers.

The color red rules in Ostara traditions.  Numerous sources speak of eggs being dyed red now to symbolize rebirth, and red is surely a more compelling hue than the tender pastels that dominate modern Easter decor.  Zsuzsanna Budapest connects red eggs to the Festival of Astarte (March 17), an ancient Near-Eastern rite joining female/male energies (a nice analogy for the night-day balance).  Pauline Campanelli associates scarlet eggs to the Druids, colored red with furze (Onn) blossoms to honor the Sun.  Red dye can also be obtained from bark of the alder, named as a tree of resurrection in The Odyssey.

ImageEggs and the color red were both common burial inclusions.  Eggs have been found in or on ancient graves in Hungary, Egypt, Russia, Greece and Britain; red ochre has been found in megalithic graves in Pembrokeshire’s Prescelly Mountains, at the Çatal Hüyük site in Turkey and on the Salisbury Plain, among many others locations.  In the funerary context, red is usually interpreted as a charm for either rebirth through reincarnation or new birth into a life-after-death.  At birth, we arrive slicked with our mothers’ blood; there is a pleasing symmetry in departing back into the Earth’s womb wearing the same color.  And of course Spring, symbolically associated with the East (and the dawn) is as logical a time for rebirth rites as the autumn (sunsets and the West) is for death-rites.

Why the big emphasis on eggs?  For our ancestors, eggs were scarce during the winter months.  Hens need sunlight (and the Vitamin D it provides) to produce eggshells, so back then, when the hens began laying plentifully again, Spring had really returned.  Foods imported from distant regions and factory farms with artificial light sources now put eggs in the grocery stores year around.  An egg is first “born” when its laid, and then again when it hatches.  And while we tend to associate eggs with birds, remember that eggs are also laid by snakes.  By shedding their old skins, snakes symbolize regeneration and transformation as well (and they present an alternative to all the seasonal cuteness, though, alas, I’ve yet to see a chocolate snake).  Barbara Walker mentions a 13th Century French custom in which a snake was carried up to the baptismal font during Easter week.  Hibernating creatures, snakes too begin reawakening in Spring.

The rabbit or hare, the other main symbol at this time, is cited for its fertility.  This is more than mythological: The gestation period for a doe rabbit is a mere thirty-one days.  By contrast, cats and dogs carry their young twice as long; even squirrels average forty-four days.  Rabbits can begin breeding at six months.  Mad as a March hare?  That “madness” is estrus, sexual frenzy.  Ostara Herself was believed able to take the form of a hare, and these animals, especially white ones, were sacred to Her.  In British myth, the hare also symbolizes transformation, another reason for the creature’s significance now.

Ostara’s resurrection theme can’t be over emphasized.  This is the time for renewal, rebirth, resurrection after winter’s dormancy.  In my group, raw, preferably fertile eggs are decorated in circle and taken home to our personal altars (after we all try to stand them on end, of course, a feat allegedly possible only at the equinoxes).  If you plan to garden, Ostara is a logical time to bless those seeds; if you do any pruning, save the wood for the Beltane fires.  In celebrations, consider meditations and journeys on such questions as “what is awakening now in my life?”

RITUAL IDEAS and QUESTIONS

— Decorate and balance eggs

— Bless the seeds (or starter-plants) for your garden

— “What is (re)awakening now in my life?”

— “What is coming into balance?  What feels unbalanced?”

© 2014 Renna Shesso –
If you share this, please credit and link

_________________

Resources:

Alternative spellings are Eostre, Ostre, Eostara, possibly related to Eos and Astarte, and definitely the source of the word “Easter.”  Derived from estrus, from the Latin oestrus, or frenzy.

The quote comes from “From the Night of Forebeing, An Ode After Easter” by Francis Thompson (1859-1907)

Zsuzsanna E. Budapest, The Grandmother of Time

Pauline Campanelli, Ancient Ways – Campanelli has extensive information on coloring eggs with natural dyes.

Robert Graves, The White Goddess

Buffie Johnson, The Lady of the Beasts

John and Caitlin Matthews, The Aquarian Guide to British and Irish Mythology

Luisah Teish, Carnival of the Spirit

Barbara G. Walker, The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

 

IMBOLC – A Celebration of Light Returning

blacksmith-lady-detail“You know how to whistle, don’t you?”*

Following the Winter Solstice, the days are noticeably longer by the time the next holiday arrives, whether we call it Imbolc, Brigid’s Day or Candlemas.  And what date is it anyway, the 1st or 2nd of February?

Fact is, what we celebrate as the mid-point between Yule and Ostara was originally several different holy-days, with separate origins and dates, but with a few broad thematic points in common.

Brigid is the Irish name of the great Triple Goddess of the Celtic empire.   She was hailed as Brigantia in England, Bride in Scotland (where Her symbol is the white swan), and Brigandu in Celtic France.

Fire is Her element, and the arts of poetry, medicine and smith-craft fall under Her particular provenance.  She’s identified with Mother Earth Herself, childbirth and the fertility of the soil, and is credited with the invention of both whistling and mournful keening.  She’s credited with teaching the foxes to dance.  In Ireland, Her principle shrine was at Kildare, where Her priestesses kept an eternal flame well-stoked.

In the sixth century, February 1st became Saint Brigid’s Day on the Catholic calendar when Irish worship of the goddess and Imbolc, Her cross-quarters holiday, proved impossible to eradicate.   A fictitious history was concocted to transform a Goddess into a saintly human, and her Kildare shrine evolved into a nunnery.   Even as a saint, Brigid’s miracles concern fertility and She remains the patroness of poets, blacksmiths, midwives, healers and the hearth.

Recognizing Her ancient power, the Kildare nuns sang, “Brigid, excellent woman, sudden flame, may the bright fiery sun take us to the lasting kingdom.”

Candlemas, on February 2nd, is a separate holiday overlaid with a variety of church traditions as the Festival of the Purification of the Virgin.  According to Mosaic Law, women were soiled by the act of childbearing and could “touch no hallowed thing, nor come into sanctuary” for a proscribed time after giving birth.  February 2nd, falling forty days after Christmas, marked the official end of Mary’s imposed isolation after the birth of Jesus.  Incidentally, giving birth to a daughter was considered even dirtier work, with eighty days of “purification” required.

Whether this custom had its roots in male fears of female procreativity or was originally a welcome opportunity for the new mother and baby to rest and bond, the name Candlemas came from the the fact that the year’s supply of church candles were blessed at the February 2nd mass, which gets us back — albeit circuitously — to fire.

The first half of February, starting on the 2nd, was originally dedicated to Juno Februata, worshipped in pagan Rome as the goddess who inspired the combustible fire, the fever — febris — of love.  To honor Her, Romans carried burning candles with them throughout the city.  This irritated early Christian authorities, who responded by co-opting the fire connotations of February 2nd as Candlemas.

The love-fest portion of the energy was pushed a couple weeks back to St.  Valentine’s Day in an attempt to “abolish the heathen’s lewd superstitious custom of boys drawing [lots for] the names of girls, in honor of their goddess Februata Juno…”

This mingled history gives us Brigid’s fire and fertile soil, Juno Februata’s love-fever, and plenty of potent images of heated creative skills:  Poetry, smithing, healing, loving and birthing, all fanned by the first warm-winded hints of winter’s demise.  In ritual, strike metal (a rhythmic beat on a Tibetan singing bowl, perhaps) and evoke Brigid’s smithy: How will Brigid’s smith-craft shape and temper our lives in the coming months?

RITUAL IDEAS and QUESTIONS

  • “What projects fire me up right now?”
  • “What old stuff can I cast away into the flames?”
  • “What do I love?  How do I feed that fire?”

To the sound of ringing metal, journey and ask Brigid to shape your life, smoothing out the rough spots, bringing in strength and beauty

_________________________________

* From the Howard Hawks film version of “To Have and Have Not,” 1944.

Other sources:
Robert Graves, The White Goddess; Janet and Stewart Farrar, The Witches’ Goddess; Patricia Monaghan, The Book of Goddesses and Heroines; Barbara Walker, The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets; and (no kidding) Father Butler, Lives of the Saints.  Originally printed in The Hole in the Stone magazine.

 

Pouring libations

Artemis libationWhen I go outside to talk to the stars – or to the Moon, or Venus, or the clouds – I take some things with me.

It might be a glass of wine.
Or a piece of bread or a tortilla or an apple.
Or a cup of water (I’m in high-plains Colorado and water is sacred here, even if it comes out of a tap).

Once outside, I speak my thanks aloud, first and foremost.  If I don’t say Thanks for what’s going right, why should the Goddess bother sending more?  Then – sometimes – I add requests.

Somewhere in the midst of this, I pour out some liquid, scatter my grain-stuffs.  This isn’t because I think the Goddess, the gods – or the divine source, or the Higher Power, or by-whatever-name – are literally hungry or thirsty.  That’s physical-world stuff.

My offerings are a form of honoring, and an exchange of energy.  Offerings and libations – the liquid portion of these offerings – have an ancient tradition worldwide.  I think of offerings as a symbolic giving-back of what’s been given to me.

That’s why I use the good stuff.  Offerings can’t be some moldy bread I might fling out for the squirrels, or a bottle of cheap vino I keep just to pour on the ground but won’t drink myself.  As per an old adage about not cooking with any wine you wouldn’t care to drink, what’s getting “cooked” here are my goals, my plans, my life.  This is worthy of good ingredients.

Offerings and libations needn’t be a fancy-supplies-laden practice.  They don’t need to be scheduled in advance.  This can be a spontaneous practice, fairly casual and brief, because what really happens here is between you and the deities you’re addressing.  And when that happens, life-shifts happen, too.

Spinning the world into creation

French15c3
New Years 2014:
I stepped out at midnight to look south and up, to Orion and his belt, always prominently placed in the Solstice-New Years season’s midnight sky. Orion’s three-star belt is easy to find, and usually the “sword stars” below it are clear, too.

But in other lore, the sword stars and the belt above them represent Freyja‘s distaff, the spinning tool that holds the not-yet-spun flax: Here the sword-stars are the shaft and the belt-stars are the fiber-holding prongs. The distaff was the feminine version of a staff of office, especially in the hands of a völva, the shaman-seeress. For her, it was a seidhstafr and represented her spiritual office, and her ability to access the realm of spirit. Rather than fibers, for the seeress the seidhstafr-distaff held potential. As the spinning can direct concentration, the distaff directed the will.

The goddess Frigg was a domestic spinner. Frejya is a the spinner of magic.

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The image – a woman spinning off a distaff – is French, 15th century.

Breaking a lengthy silence…

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…that didn’t involve being silent anywhere but here in the strange terrain of Blogville.

I’ve had a few months of emotional processing that wasn’t the stuff of public posting – the health, hospice and healing and long-term care… or demise – of other people.

And yesterday, I was one of the officiants in a memorial service that felt like it both gave me closure and opened the way, simultaneously.  The memorial was for a not-close friend and former student.  Over her months in hospice,  I gradually became aware of her long-time activity in a variety of wide-ranging areas in her own life – in Wicca, in incest/abuse-recovery, in her lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered community, in her vocational circle, in her Daughters of the American Revolution circle.  Like me, many of her friends knew her only through one of these avenues.  At her memorial, her very Wiccan memorial, people were cross-pollinating between groups and meeting each other for the first time.

And given the nature of the woman we were remembering, those who appeared for her memorial were open, and curious, and willing to share of themselves in sharing their stories about her.  There were tears, but some were tears of laughter.  People knew her vividly, because that was how she’d lived.

When we imagine a vivid character, there’s a tendency to conjure up the Auntie Mame archetype: an extravagant, wealthy eccentric, someone “living large.”  None of that here, since money – or its absence – was often an issue.  But character isn’t dependent on cash.  Mentions of this woman’s sense of humor  wove a quirky strand through so many remembered episodes, humor that was irreverent in laughing at life and at circumstances and at herself, a sense of the absurd. And one person after another spoke of some remembered comment she had made to them, thoughtful words, kindly spoken, freely given at a time and in a way that had deep and lasting significance to that person.

After sharing and laughing and crying, we all shaped ourselves into the rough form of a boat and rowed her spirit into the West and waved farewell.  It wasn’t quite what she’d requested: She originally wanted us to build a physical boat.

Sometimes in my shamanic journeying, I used to ask about compassion, to better understand compassion, to know more clearly how to help foster more compassion in myself and in the world.

My power animals and other guides eventually got tired of this.  “Quit using these big words.  Compassion!  Compassion!  You and your big words!”

Me: “Well, then, what?  Help me understand this better.”

“Forget compassion.  Be kind.”

As I absorbed this and let it expand, their short-and-sweet teaching spoke to whether we wanted to perceive ourselves as large-spirited, noble and high-minded beings, or whether we could simply act on the impulse of being kind.  The idealized self-perception versus the simple embodied action.

I don’t recall anyone yesterday describing our departed friend as “compassionate.”  But they shared story after story that spoke of her kindness.

“Death is that state in which one exists
only in the memory of others,
which is why it is not an end…”
— Tasha Yar, “Star Trek: The Next Generation”

Standing in the rain

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Thunder rolled overhead, and then the sound of rain began, soft and then louder, pounding the ground.  So I went outside.

When I was a kid, one of the best things to do ever was to be outside during a storm, feeling the rain, , splashing through puddles, getting drenched.  I’d take long walks in the rain and come home soaked and happy.  One of the best ways to be in the rain was at night, laying in the wet grass, face up, feeling the rain pound across me in waves.   I was outside of time, merged with energy of sky and land, a small being between sky and land, mediating the space between them, dissolving that boundary.

 I am the daughter of Earth and Water, and the nursling of the Sky… I change, but I cannot die.*

Sitting inside today, working, hearing the thunder begin, I realized how seldom I’ve been outside in a storm in recent years.   Some camping trips have been remarkably wet, but when camping, weather goes with the territory, and staying dry is a good practical decision. Here at home, I may feel thankful for rain, but when outside in it, I tend to run from doorway to car, from car to doorway.

Choosing rain is different.  I’m not dodging raindrops to get somewhere. The rain itself is where I’m going.  The object isn’t to get wet… that’s just a side effect.   The object is the rain itself, the moisture, the atmosphere, this particular way of experiencing water and weather.   There is a recklessness about rain.

Thunderstorms – big ones, real gully-washers, the kind that pound through town, that sweep twigs and leaves into the storm sewers and then vanish out into the plains – used to be a regular part of the spring and summer.   These sudden storms seem rarer now.   Rain seems rarer.   But the plants, the soil itself, are hungry for rain, excited for it.  Rain is erotic… Mother Earth getting a sloppy-wet kiss from the sky.  Carpe diem?  Carpe pluvia… sieze the rain.

Comes a time, with age or infirmity and the benign incarceration they can bring, when going outside at all unassisted may not be an option.  When a request to go outside into the rain may be translated as “let’s increase your dosage.”   I have loved ones and friends in that situation now, needing help to navigate a even few steps, protected from recklessness, protected from rain.  Well, you don’t need to protect me, not yet, dammit.

So, outside I go.  The rocks along the garden are brighter, their colors intensified by the moisture.  The scent of the rain-bruised mint plant infuses the wet air.   The clouds move off to the east, taking the downpour with them, but the grass glows green, and I’m wet.

My thanks to the storm gods.  My thanks to the water goddesses.  My thanks to the cloud spirits. My thanks for wet skin and the ozone rain aroma.  My thanks for this human form that I get to inhabit here for a while, so perfectly designed to enjoy a rainstorm.

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“The Cloud,” P. B. Shelley