Lughnasadh Reflections

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While last summer seemed to stretch on forever this one has just flown by. Lughnasadh has passed and though there’s a stretch of muggy days left, fall is coming, and I am very much ready for its return. I’ve now completed a little over a year working in the RV industry, and August heralds the winding down of the camping season, and a slower pace of work. It is both relieving (fewer people in the store, fewer broken parts to match up, etc.) and worrisome; the days at work seem longer when there’s less to do and it can be agonizingly boring at times. I fear stagnation and falling into a lull as the days grow quiet and dark.

This year was the first that I did not craft a “wicker” man to toss into a bonfire on Lughnasadh. This past year or so, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, has been strange. I’m finding myself without the people and traditions that used to act as markers for my point of being in the cycles of time. It was a little disorienting, and I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it exactly other than it was just… weird.

All the same, Lughnasadh has come to take on yet another new meaning for me (I was musing as I wrote this post that it seems to be one of the festivals that changes for me in subtle ways all the time, and yet still remains my favorite of the eight). Rather than being a time to prepare and gear up for school and for being extremely active in an academic/work sense, it is now a time to breath a little sigh. I can look forward to quieter days ahead, more opportunity to take time off, my favorite local festivals and events, etc. It’s almost taken on a completely opposite meaning, and yet… It also heralds a time for myself to get working on projects. Newfound free time means work should be done on things like the blog, steps towards my future, my art, etc. It is only in working through these things I’ll avoid the brainfog that seemed to settle in between about November and June for me.

What is your relationship with the first harvest? How and when do/did you celebrate it?

Yours among the ripening apples,
Rachel

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A Journey With the Wheel of the Year

The Wheel from The Wildwood Tarot

The Wheel of the Year is, easily, one of the most unifying things in the neo-pagan community. The seasonal festivals might have slightly different names or customs between practitioners and groups, but most (that I’ve seen) seem to acknowledge in some way, shape, or form, the eight stations of the Wheel of the Year.

In recent years, I’ve seen (and participated in) a number of attempts at re-thinking the Wheel of the Year. After all, the eight sabbats were created based on ancient western European agrarian festivals. While incorporating ancient practices and interpretations brings us closer to our long-lost pagan ancestors and the rhythms of the land and its seasons, it’s a system that doesn’t necessarily fit everyone’s paganism.

Michigan is definitely not in perfect sync with the traditional Wheel of the Year. For example, Imbolc and Ostara, usually regarded as the beginnings of spring are usually cold and icy here- with snow storms likely to continue well into April. Lughnasadh doesn’t quite see the first of our grain (though there is some summer sweet corn), but there are tart blueberries to pick.

Much of the last few years had involved much of coming into my own particular path as a pagan as well as a young adult. I’ve gone over the high days almost each time they come to pass, rethinking traditions, adding new things to my celebrations, letting go of what is of little use to me, etc.

But something happened: I graduated from college, and suddenly all the markers I used to use for stopping to observe my place along the Wheel of the Year were gone. It wasn’t noticeable at first. Beltane just after I’d graduated from college was, after all, still the sweet beginning of summer and freedom from the academic part of the year. Midsummer was my usual return to my spiritual and artistic work… But Lughnasadh was no longer about preparing for the coming school year- in fact, there was very little to really prepare for, because I work in an industry with a busy season between May and October. If anything, it was a breath of release- but I didn’t know what to do with it.

I had spent the last thirteen years or so of my path defining my year by the patterns of that which had defined a great deal of my life: school. My view had been framed around cycles of classes and how my paganism and my artistic interests were able to be enjoyed in relation to those cycles. My rituals for the sabbats centered around preparations for what was to come: being away at school, finals perhaps, a free period in the summer to work on my own projects, etc. I had celebrated the turning Wheel of the Year with the same handful of people- people who have since gone about their separate ways, who are in different parts of the state or country, or vastly different paths in life.

By about Imbolc, I was feeling really very lost and lonely, and really beating myself up for not having “done anything” for most of a year.

A short while after Beltane, when all had come full circle once again, I felt the strength to sort of pick up where I’d been with my OBOD course work and personal study. What I realized was that it was completely OK that I hadn’t performed any rituals or felt connected to the few celebrations I had hosted. After all, a great deal of my previous frame of reference was sort of lost in a pretty sudden way.

What I’d accomplished in not worrying about the rituals or the fact things hadn’t gone exactly the way I’d hoped, was that I was able to observe and learn a new cycle for the year. Now, it’s almost flipped from what it had been: where my period of “rest” and personal work had once been May-September, now it’s more like October-May when work is slower and there’s less yard projects to worry about around the house.

I’ve become more intimately aware of the seasons and patterns of nature as they manifest around my local area. The leaves turn gold in October. Orion is visible over the horizon in late September. Sometimes there’s a random thaw in January. This is where I can see the Moon through my bedroom window in the summer time. The crows return to the yard in late June and stay through most of the fall… These sorts of things are now a part of my view of the wheel, and I’ve begun again the process of reexamining the cycles and seasons of my life and my practice.

What is your relationship with the Wheel of the Year? Have you ever experienced a period of time where it seems almost entirely foreign to you? How did you overcome that? Leave your thoughts and comments below!

Yours beneath the maple boughs,

Rachel

Personal Update and Solstice Reflections

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This past week or so, with the Solstice and my twenty-third birthday mark the conclusion of my twelfth year as a practicing witch, and one year since this blogging journey was begun. I’ve not been as active as I’ve wanted to be on this, my YouTube channel, the rest of my social media presences, or in my own practice. This past year has been incredibly trying, but I’d like to believe that I’ve finally come through the worst of it.

 

I’ve been home now and done with my undergraduate studies for about two months. It’s still feeling a little lack-luster. Where’s that promise of a job in something relevant to my degree? Why do I feel so apathetic about grad school? What the hell does one do with a B.A. in history? There are a lot of unanswered questions, and a lot of things that feel stagnant and frustrating about being in my parents’ house in my hometown and working at something completely unrelated to all of the things I’ve spent years and years of energy into with my studies.

 

We’ve also had a hell of a lot of rain. Both Beltane and Midsummer were sort of de-railed by the heavy rain and flooding that came with them. I’d planned gatherings with friends for each that had to be called off because of the weather and scheduling conflicts. In retrospect, I think I needed those moments to myself.

Beltane was a rainy evening, spent in the pavilion at the local state park. This was where I performed a rite of dedication to the Wylde Hunt and to Herne the Hunter. It was a simple ritual, but a powerful one. After months locked away in my dorm for a good portion of my time, it was something I needed: the power of fire, the sound of rain, the cool night air, and the stirrings of summer life returning to the world.

 

The next month or so between then and Midsummer was spent sort of in hiatus. Spirituality, as much as I didn’t want it to, was sort of placed on the back burner as I got my footing in my new job and used to being back in my parents’ place. But I did a lot of things I am grateful for: spending time in my hammock as the trees started to unfurl their leaves, planting an herb garden, taking up archery again, and doing some reading (a longer review on By Land Sky & Sea by Gede Parma might be coming soon).

 

The June Full Moon really signaled an awakening for me again, though. I was making money, starting to succeed at some of this ‘adulting’ stuff, and doing things, but I was still feeling stuck, unfulfilled, lost on that path. Following a reading from my local witchy-store owner, I did some spell work for direction, self-sovereignty, and inspiration. I wasn’t disappointed by the results.  For the couple of weeks between the Full Moon, and the arrival of Midsummer, I was sort of haunted by this moon goddess figure that appeared holding a lantern of silvery blue light, or a moon-shaped scythe, and seemed to be guiding me through the mists of my dreams and meditations, and kept seeing crows, hawks, and vultures all over the place. I asked for guidance and ‘direction’ in my life, and here was this guide trying to show me the way. It took me a good deal of time to connect what I was seeing to the goddess Morrigan, but it was all there: crows, the triplicity of the moon, the mists of the otherworld, the waters that she as washer at the ford resides by. The goddess of death and transformation had taken a more subtle and gentle approach that I was quite unaccustomed to seeing, but yet, here she was in my life once more.

And yet, Midsummer is only the beginning of this new journey that I’m starting on. I can feel that now as I type these words. This next stretch of my path is important, and life-altering. I’m not yet certain where it is leading me, but it seems to be a much more healing and empowering bit of discovery and work than this past year has been.

In the last few days, I’ve turned to working on tarot and returned to Druidry once more. I was very blessed to be given a close friend of mine’s introductory packet from the Order of Bards Ovates & Druids. He had purchased the intro pack and decided it wasn’t for him some time ago. For me it felt like being handed a Hogwarts letter. Everything about it resonated on such a deep level. It was what I’d been hoping for in a spiritual study course all this time and unable to achieve. Now, I’m just waiting on the first of the monthly packages to come from the order; the wait for snail-mail from the UK is killing me, but I’m confident it will be well worth the wait when it finally arrives.

Between this, and finally getting my desk space situated at my parents’ house, I’ve felt more awake and inspired to work on art, spirituality, writing, and this blog as well. I’m hoping this upswing carries on for quite some time. It feels much better than where I was at for a good portion of the last several months.

So now, I’m working on getting more content out for the blog and the YouTube channel. Mark and I are attempting to build a coven in our hometown, and are working together on revitalizing our practices and our lifestyles together. Here’s to the next trip through the Wheel of the Year being a deeply spiritual and important one.

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

Thinking About: St. Patrick’s Day and The Spring Equinox

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image found via wallpapercave.com

Today marks a holiday that has, for a very long time, held a great deal of significance in my life: St. Patrick’s Day. Now, I am not, nor was I ever raised Catholic, but I was made familiar with the story about how St. Patrick “drove the snakes from Ireland” as a kid- and was later introduced to the notion that the “snakes” in question were in fact the remnants of Celtic paganism in Ireland.

Growing up, St. Patrick’s Day was among the most elaborately celebrated holidays in my family / friend group (Halloween and Christmas/Yule were the only things of more significance). It was something that had many fond memories, wearing green, listening to Celtic music, attending the parade downtown, and enjoying the Irish inspired feast that was prepared by family friends. I had, for a long time, been very interested in my Celtic heritage, and St. Patrick’s Day was, in essence, a day in which I could celebrate that apologetically. But realizing, as I was growing into my Pagan path, that this day was considered to be a day celebrating a man who is credited with ridding Ireland of pagans, left me at a sort of moral quandary.

When I was a bit younger than I am now, I liked to support the sort of anti-Catholic reclaiming of the day: all of those “Proud to be a snake” type sentiments that seem to go around. But, as I’ve made clear, I’ve been studying medieval history (in which the Catholic Church plays a rather prominent role), as well as my own ancestry and continuing my interest in Celtic spirituality. The truth of the matter is that much of what we know about the ancient Celts and their stories come from the transcribing of them by Catholic monks. I’ve learned more, also, about the ways in which the Celtic Church adopted certain aspects of Celtic spirituality from the pagan roots that had remained. Books on Celtic spirituality today, whether they’re focused on a more Pagan or Christian view point seem to focus on many of the same virtues: hospitality, heritage, music and poetry as sacred things, connection with the land…

So why get lost in the battle over which religious tradition is more “correct”? Why spend a day being angry about something that happened well over a thousand years ago?  I’ve chosen, instead, to observe this day as one on which to connect with my ancestors: both of blood, and of the Celtic spirit that still survives in both Pagan and Christian aspects of spirituality, and to really focus on those aspects of Celtic spirituality that I wish to continue on into my own practice. So, whichever way you observe St. Patrick’s Day, I hope you enjoy it!

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image found via: crystalinks.com

The Spring Equinox is also just about upon us. This year, I believe it falls on March 20th. For me, Ostara, or the Spring Equinox, has been a holiday I’ve never really know what to do with. As I believe I’ve mentioned, the seasonal weather patterns don’t always quite line up in Michigan, to the Wheel of the Year which is more oriented towards European climates. The days and nights may well be equal in length on the equinox, but the hold of winter is usually still very present here well into April / nearly May. The balance has never quite been something I’ve really felt this time of year. Speaking in the terms of deities, the goddesses often associated with the name of the festival: Eostere, Ishtar, etc. have never been goddesses that I have felt called to work with either.

This year, I’ve been finding myself called to an archetype I believe does sort of coincide with the idea of balance between dark and light: that of the maiden goddess of death. Persephone as flower maiden / Queen of the Underworld, Hella the half beautiful/half corpse like ruler of Helheim, Blodeweudd as beautiful flower maiden / but also the one responsible for Lleu Llaw Gyffes’ death… The juxtaposition of the beautiful young woman and the archetype of death one might more readily associate with a crone goddess instead. It feels extremely relevant to me, a young woman, who is seeking to go into funeral service work in the future. Perhaps, this Spring Equinox would be an ideal time to start working with one or more of these goddesses and see where the journey takes me.

How will you be celebrating the Spring Equinox?

Wishing you a blessed St. Patrick’s Day / Ostara / Spring Equinox and wonderful weekend,
Rachel

Imbolc: The Light in the Darkness

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As the new solar year gets under way, it is nearing the time of Imbolc. In Druidry, and indeed for many neo-Pagans, this is a festival that marks the returning of spring. The light has started to return to us following the Winter Solstice, or Yule, and the first signs of new life can begin to be seen. It is associated with a return to youth, light in the last dark months of winter, a time for stirring from our post-holiday stupor, as it were.

I do quite honestly believe that this year is the first year in which I feel these things in any sort of real sense. For several years, my practice often completely overlooked the festival altogether. How could I celebrate the coming of spring when I’m up to my rear in snow? Where was the light at the end of the tunnel when we’d hit only about a quarter of the way through the Winter Semester of the academic year? After the solar New Year’s glimmer and excitement had faded, it was altogether much more difficult for me to find that same light still burning by the time we had reached Imbolc. A bit of a seasonal rut and bout of depression seemed to hit every February without fail as I juggled work, school, and social life, as well as trying to even find the motivation for the simplest of continuances of my pagan practice. Celebration and ritual generally wasn’t in the schedule for me.

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This year feels different, and I’m a little disappointed that it a) took me this long to find a connection with that idea of hope and of light returning for this sabbat, and b)is occurring right before I move to a drastically different climate where I’ll have to learn again the patterns of the Wheel of the Year as they unfold in the tropics rather than in my rather temperate home state. Perhaps it’s the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having; I was able to take a walk in the ravines this afternoon without gloves or anything of the sort because it was nearing forty degrees Fahrenheit. I’m almost more willing to believe that spring is nearing this year. It might also be that I’ve something new to look forward to in the coming months: graduation and the start of a new life.

Early January was sort of riddled with a deep depression that I had sunken into, but now that things have started to move forward, I’m gradually feeling a bit better. There’s something stirring, and I’m hoping it’s something better than last year had to offer about this time.

Here’s hoping you all have a blessed sabbat however you do- or don’t!- celebrate it. May the quiet and steadfast light of hope and life reborn be with you as The Wheel continues to turn.

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

Autumn Equinox & The Hunt- Reaping & Release

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The Autumnal Equinox, or Mabon, is only a few short days away now. One of my earliest memories of this particular sabbat is of my old high school group clustered in a tiny grove of pine and cedar trees, moving counter-clockwise to banish any remaining ‘funk’ before we descended into the colder, winter months. After all, who wanted to head into darker months holding onto a bunch of negativity? I think we’d gotten the rite from one of the Sweep novels, to be completely honest, but something about it felt strangely poignant then, and still does now. As the leaves redden, deaden, and fall, so too should any of the negativity that I’m holding onto before the dark of Samhain and Winter arrive.

It is a time for laying to rest that which does not serve me, and for acknowledging that the part of the year had come when my creativity’s peak is reaching its end. Between Beltane and now, I generally have a great deal of motivation for different projects, adventures with friends, making physical things, etc. Mabon marks a turning inward. From here on out, until that time comes once again, my focus is more inwards, more on personal work than on outward creativity.

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But the equinox is equally about calling to me the strength I’ll need to journey on through the darker months as well. The coming months are usually more deeply reflective; they reveal many things about myself, and can be trying in ways that rest of the school year is not. These are the days when I’ll need those deep reserves of inspiration, motivation, faith, etc.- particularly when my path feels stagnant.

This year, as I’ve been working more specifically with the Hunt, I’m planning to call upon them for assistance. I’ve explained in blogs and videos recently that I work with them as sort of psychopomp-like entities. They can assist when things feel as though they’re going nowhere. Within the next couple of days, I’ll likely be doing a small ritual to honor them and begin this process.

Wishing you all the best in your own reaping and laying to rest this harvest season,
~Rachel

Re-Thinking the Wheel: First Harvest

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Van Gogh’s Wheat Fields

As part of rebuilding my practice, I’ve wanted to begin reexamining how I celebrate the sabbats- if at all. Like many, I’ve found that the Wheel of the Year that has been used across the Pagan community at large, just simply doesn’t fit for a number of reasons: my local climate not quite lining up just right for the sabbats, simply not connecting with certain holidays, etc.

So, being that it is the first sabbat since the creation of this blog, we begin with Lughnasadh… The name for this sabbat comes from the Irish god of the Sun, light, and just about any skill under the bright blue sky. While I find the tales of Lugh quite enjoyable, I don’t feel myself exactly called to work with him, and thus find using the name Lughnasadh (the more I really think about it anyway) to be something that also doesn’t quite jive with me- nor do I really care for the way Lammas rolls off the tongue. I’ve begun my personal reflection on this sabbat by simply calling it First Harvest. It feels much more appropriate for the celebration.

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Corn Dolly crafted by Walking On Fire.

Working with a group over the last several years has created a number of traditions and associations with the first harvest of the year. For me, it signals that Summer is coming to an end. Summer fruits and grains are ready to be harvested, days are gradually growing shorter, and for the great majority of my life, it has meant that school would be beginning in just a few weeks. Typically, there aren’t many big summer projects or trips taken after this date (at least in my circle of friends and family). So, for me, this has always been a time to give thanks for the fun and the work that I’ve gotten done during the summer. It’s also been a time for preparing what I need for the coming fall and winter months. School, generally, starts shortly after this sabbat, and I like to take this time to set intentions for the academic year. I reflect on lessons learned in the previous year, release old and useless patterns, and set about manifesting what I need for the coming one.

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Beautiful Lughnasadh Altar by Vandrake Druidstone

Traditionally, my group and I have a bonfire at this festival. We create a wickerman (a small, corn-dolly sized one), and fill it with bread and our energy of giving thanks for what has come of the summer. The wickerman is then burned in our fire. We also have a tradition of tying clooties to one of the trees in my yard, baking bread and having a potluck, making herbal sachets and poppets for manifestation for the coming academic year, and doing tarot and oracle readings for the darker months as well.

Tonight, we’ll be engaging in these activities again. I’m looking forward to getting together with everyone once more. I’ve got plenty of plans for this school year’s releasing and manifesting; I can’t wait to get them started.

First Harvest/Lughnasadh/Lammas Blessings to you all,
~Rachel