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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How To: Create Tarot Spreads

The Wild Unknown Tarot

Creating spreads for use with tarot can be an immensely rewarding practice. It can deepen your relationship with your cards and your knowledge of the tarot as well as providing more clear and specific information than a traditional spread might. Have you ever stared at a beautifully laid out Celtic Cross spread and puzzled over how exactly to interpret the card that came up, the position name, and your question all into one coherent answer? Perhaps it’s time to start building your own spreads! Below I’ve given three methods I use when creating spreads to use in readings for myself and friends.

Method One: Start With a Question

Seems easy enough, right? Sometimes, especially if you’re building spreads on the fly, it’s easiest to start with the question at hand. Let’s use one I’ve created as an example.

Two Paths Tarot Spread

I call this spread my “Two Paths Spread”. It was created when I needed some help deciding between a couple of different paths through the treacherous maze of my college education. I began with a simple “What happens if I choose X? What about Y?”

Then, I broke down what information I needed in order to feel that larger question was satisfactorily answered. I needed to know, for each path, the pros and the cons of choosing each path. I wanted to know what my biggest challenge would be on that path, and also how I’d best be able to overcome that challenge. Finally,  I wanted to know where I would most likely end up if I chose that path and followed the advice I’d been given.

I laid the cards out into two rows, one representing choice one, and the other choice two, and voila! The spread was born. To this day, this particular spread remains my most useful, as it can be applied to any number of choices. Stuck between three choices? Add another row! It’s pretty versatile and is driven by the questions I specifically want answered about a particular situation.

Method Two: Start With and Significator

Many spreads ask you to use an significator, a card chosen to represent yourself, the issue at hand, or the goal you want to achieve. Sometimes, picking an significator can be another great way to get some ideas for a spread. I’ll give a couple of examples:

Ace of Cups Spread

This particular spread was created for a friend, I call it the Ace of Cups Spread (simple, right?). He’d been having the Ace of Cups appear repeatedly and felt called to pursue the vibrant, healing, creative, and intuitive energy of the Ace of Cups, but wasn’t exactly sure how. 

So, I pulled the Ace of Cups from the deck to act as a significator, and placed it in the middle. Then, much like the last spread, I thought about what sort of answers we might want. The Ace of Cups, to me, always represented that which fulfills you spiritually, emotionally, and creatively. It is the Holy Grail. The cauldron of Awen bubbling forth. I wanted to show a comparison of how one is living in the present, and what modes of life would be more fulfilling in the ways the Ace of Cups is. So the questions “What am I doing now?” and “What do I want most to be doing?” were the first two cards to be placed in the spread.

No grail can be found without a quest. So I asked “What is it I lack to find this fulfillment?” and then “Where do I find that missing piece?” The final questions were about “Which blockages or challenges will I find along this path?” and “How do I overcome them to achieve that fulfillment?”

The Hunter's Arrow

Another spread I built around the use of a significator was The Hunter’s Arrow. It was meant to be used for pursuing a goal or a project through to fruition. Here, I also used the shape of a bow and arrow for inspiration. In this spread, the significator is chosen to represent the goal you have, and is placed right at the tip of the arrow. In the image above, it is represented by the Seven of Wands.

I used the shape of the bow as well as the answers I needed to formulate the rest of my questions. The curve of the bow itself represents resources readily at hand for accomplishing the task. The card directly behind the arrow’s point is the action needed to propel ones self in the right direction, and the three cards to the right represent short-term and long-term outcomes and the way in which the project may be transformed in the process.

Method Three: Start With an Image

The third way that I craft my spreads is to begin with an image as inspiration, much like some of the spreads I’ve crafted in the shapes of the constellations.

Orion Spread with Runes

Here is the Orion the Hunter spread I posted just a few days ago (I used runes because they photographed a little bit better in a confined space). Here I began with the image of one of my favorite constellations. I ordered the cards by the brightness of the stars (found in the index of Sandra Kynes book, Star Magic: The Wisdom of the Constellations for Wiccans and Pagans) and used both my personal associations with the constellation and folklore and mythos surrounding it to create the spread.

For me, Orion has always been a point of strength and familiarity when things get rough (cyclically in my life, usually in the fall and winter when he can be found in the southern skies of my home). I always felt that he was watching over me and lending me his strength (Kynes’ book also mentions the constellation’s associations with storms, rough times, and of course a number of warrior/hunter gods and heroes in myth). For this spread, I asked questions about the nature of my struggle, what things I had at my disposal, how I might shield myself, how to keep my wits about me when times were particularly rough.

The Raven's Prophecy Tarot

And that wraps up my process! The essential this really is breaking a question or a situation down into bite sized pieces of information to glean from it. You can start with a big question, a feeling or a goal you want to achieve, or an image you’re inspired by. The possibilities are limited only to you imagination.

Do you create tarot spreads? What is your process? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Yours beneath the falling rain,
Rachel

Full Moon Tarot Readings for March 2018

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It’s that time again: For the March 1st 2018 Virgo Full Moon, I will be offering three free readings. The energy of the Virgo Full Moon, particularly at the beginning of the month, is perfect for getting one’s ducks in a row, doing some early spring cleaning, and making sure your foundation is stable before reaching forward towards a new goal. What better way to tap into that energy than with a tarot reading?

As always, these free readings will include a picture of your reading, and a detailed interpretation of the spread. These will be given on a first-come, first-serve basis.

There are two methods by which you may contact me for this service: via the contact page on this blog, or via the “ASK” button on my Tumblr account. Please, in the greeting for your request include the month/year you are requesting a reading for (example: ‘Hi, I’m _______. I’d like to request a slot for the full moon of January 2017!’) so that I can keep them all separate in my inboxes. Then, feel free to leave me a question you’d like answered or a brief explanation of a situation you’d like a reading on. If you message me on Tumblr, please include an e-mail address to which I can send your reading once it is finished.

Some helpful tips are included on my tarot readings page on this blog.

I look forward to hearing from you! And I’m super excited to be able to do this again.

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

Hymn to the Winter Hunt

Winter is nearing its end here as Imbolc approaches, but the howling snows that have returned to Michigan this week make me feel as though we’ve still some time to go. This poem was originally written for the winter issue of Ink & Fairydust, an e-zine of fanfiction, poetry, spiritual writings, and other various creative works. Being that it’s been out for some months, I wanted to finally share it here…

Hymn to the Winter Hunt

When the cold winds from the northwest blow,
When the moonlight casts its silver glow,
When the dark skies threaten snow
T’is then I hear their call.

It echoes through dark forest and fen-
A droning horn- and silence then
That makes the wary traveler ken
The truth behind the squall.

In the icy blasts of wind that cut
Through clothes and doors kept tightly shut
There is a pounding. Do you seek what
Lies out there in the thrall?

The Horned Man on rugged beast
That hunts the boar to make his feast
Or maybe like some darkened priest
Beckons you to heed the call.

To ride on winds above the ice,
To give the greatest sacrifice,
And surrender to that which does entice…
Are you ready for the fall?

Or perhaps, in swirling dark
You’ll fly just like a meadowlark
And find some light, a warming spark
Of truth behind it all.

Take heed, take heed oh you who go
To travel in the ice and snow
For hunters harry you as you go-
Death comes to us all.

Awen: The Three Rays of Light

Another re-posted poem from 2012. I’m still quite fond of this one. I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the style it is written in, only that I had a lot of fun with it in high school. Something to research, perhaps…

Awen: The Three Rays of Light

Awen, the Three Rays of Light
Divine radiance shines in all beings.
Hear it, see it, feel its presence.
The wisdom was carved on Rowan staves.

Divine radiance shines in all beings
Discovered by the giant, Einigen
The wisdom was carved on Rowan staves.
Menw discovered the staves in Einigen’s skull.

Discovered by the giant, Einigen
Menw taught the Druids the lore
Menw discovered the staves in Einigen’s skull.
The rays are spirit, inspiration, and illumination.

Awen, the Three Rays of Light
Menw taught the Druids the lore
The rays are spirit, inspiration, and illumination.
Hear it, see it, fell its presence.

The Battle of the Oak & Holly Kings

A repost of a poem I wrote many years ago and had published on my old blog, The Raven & The Oak.

The Battle of the Oak and Holly Kings

A rivalry
Many centuries old
Since ancient times,
The tales were told
Of two great kings,
One dark, and one light,
Who twice a year,
Would heroically fight.
The Holly King,
The darker one,
Ruled the Winter,
The dimming Sun.
While the King of Oak,
Was vibrant and bright.
He reigned over Summer,
The Sun’s growing light.
At Yule they would battle,
‘Twas  an inspiring scene,
And the victory would go
To the mighty Oak King.
But at Midsummer’s time,
With the Sun at its peak,
The Holly King would win,
The Oak King grew weak.
And so it went on,
Year after year,
And the story was told
To all who could hear.
So, honor the Oak King in Summer,
When the Sun’s light is warm,
And the Holly King in winter
And the swirling snow storms.

Thinking About: Initiations / Rites of Dedication

yule lantern

Yesterday, I was finally able to perform my initiatory rite into the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. I’m not able to speak at great length about the ritual itself in this post, but I can speak about my feelings leading up to it, and my thoughts following its completion.

Despite having the materials for the course for the past six months or so, I had done very little of the actual course work. Life sort of caught up with me, and my job, home life, and mental health just did not lend me the time and proper head space I had needed to perform the rite. Thankfully, the quiet spell has seemed to have broken over the past couple of days, and I’m feeling called home once again to my practice, my art, and my studies with the little warm spell we appear to be having.

Strangely enough, it was the rite of initiation that had given me some of the most trouble in the materials I had received- not because of its content or its format or any objections I had with what it would entail. I couldn’t quite place the source of it for those first months- in fact, I don’t know that I realized some of the… oddness I’d been feeling until I was speaking to a friend about the topic this afternoon.

Every so often, I had found myself called to go over it once again. I’d start making the plans and preparing for it, and something would come up: the weather would get bad, I’d have something I had to do, etc. It would be set aside and left for the next time I’d felt the stirring somewhere within me to get back to work.

Yesterday was different. I had finally accomplished reformatting the rite a bit so that it would work with the amount of private space I had and a few other technicalities; it sat in my journal, just waiting to be performed. Yesterday was another of our random January thaws. The sun was bright and we were nearing forty or fifty degrees Fahrenheit rather than the bitter 10’s and 20’s that are typical of this time of year. I felt it on my way in to work that morning; something was stirring. By the time I was home for the afternoon, the desire to be outdoors and working on something was burning within me.

And something spoke to me then: the initiation ritual. And after months of trying to plan it out, to perhaps contact other local-ish OBOD members to assist me in performing it, to make sure everything was prepared… I decided simply that I was going to go through with it, and quickly gathered some incense and a candle and my journal, and headed out to the small grove of pine and cedars that has been my sacred space for over ten years…

The ritual was nice, pleasant, it brought me back to a sense of being at home- on my land, within my being, in my spirituality… But as I was walking inside after its completion, and as I was talking to my friend this afternoon, I couldn’t help but think that initiation and dedication rites are never quite as profound as we expect them to be.

herne candle

I find I’m always, on a certain level, expecting the ritual itself to be the eye-opening, awen-inspired moment of “Ah-ha! I understand completely, and now everything will start to be different!” But as I reflected upon my journey to the rite itself, and upon the lessons included with the ritual in my course materials, I realized that the true initiation had begun long before I had stepped out the door that afternoon.

Initiation and dedication to a specific path happens not in the single moment of a ritual. They begin within us before a circle is drawn or a candle lit. The shift of paradigm has occurred before the rite; the rite is merely a formality, a means of affirming that which we have already long known to be true. The epiphany is not a new paradigm or state of being, but a realization that we have arrived at this new place some time ago, and can now acknowledge and celebrate it.

For me, that shift started back some seven or so years ago, when I first saw the Green Man staring up at me from the pages of a book, and I started upon my discovery of Druidry. It was there in my discovery of the OBOD’s countless open resources, the befriending of other members of the order, the books, podcasts, YouTube videos, music, etc. that I found resonated with me- which were created by members. A shift had occurred the day that I purchased the Bardic Grade course, and again on the day I received the first packet of gwersi in the mail. What happened in the grove yesterday was merely me finding the voice to affirm and speak aloud the truths that had been in my heart for years. And now, the journey deeper into my studies continues.

What are your experiences with initiation rites or dedication rituals (be them to a new path, deity, etc.)? Share, if you’d like, in the comment section below.

Blessings of the Winter Forest,
Rachel

Full Moon Tarot Readings for Sept. 2017

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I was disappointed I’d missed the opportunity to post for free tarot readings for the month of August, but I’m back and opening them again for September’s Pisces Full Moon.

As always, these free readings will include a picture of your reading, and a detailed interpretation of the spread. These will be given on a first-come, first-serve basis.

There are two methods by which you may contact me for this service: via the contact page on this blog, or via the “ASK” button on my Tumblr account. Please, in the greeting for your request include the month/year you are requesting a reading for (example: ‘Hi, I’m _______. I’d like to request a slot for the full moon of January 2017!’) so that I can keep them all separate in my inboxes. Then, feel free to leave me a question you’d like answered or a brief explanation of a situation you’d like a reading on. If you message me on Tumblr, please include an e-mail address to which I can send your reading once it is finished.

Some helpful tips are included on my tarot readings page on this blog.

I look forward to hearing from you! And I’m super excited to be able to do this again.

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

Thinking About: Deities

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The Morrigan by Aly Fell

Perhaps one of the most commonly asked questions I see in scrolling about the online pagan community is “how do [I] know which deity I’m meant to work with or worship?” and it’s the topic of the next YouTube Pagan Challenge video I plan to do. Coming to paganism which celebrates the existence of many different gods and goddesses can be overwhelming, and it can be difficult to decide which of these many personalities you’re going to mesh well with and form long-lasting devotional relationships with. With all of these choices, it can sometimes seem daunting wondering where to begin.

I’m going to open with my biggest bit of advice. Know what your beliefs about the gods are first. There’s a difference between being a pagan who is a hard polytheist and being a pagan who views individual deities as personifactions and facets of a singular divine source, or as archetypes within the collective unconscious, or any other combination of these things. As we know, beliefs held by pagans vary almost as much from individual to individual as they do from tradition to tradition. Knowing exactly what the gods are and how they affect our world in your beliefs is key to knowing how to proceed in entering into relationships within deities and other entities. For example, one might feel wary about approaching multiple deities at random if they believed as a polytheist that all deities are real and independent entities with their own personalities, temperaments, etc. On the opposite side of the spectrum, those who view the deities as archetypal or as part of a greater whole might feel more free to explore different beings tied with a similar archetype (death deities, fertility gods, etc.).

My second bit of advice: There’s no real right or wrong answer. If you feel called to a deity, or interested in them, by all means make a respectful attempt at working with them. Make an offering, try invoking them into your circle for a ritual, meditate on them or their mythos, try praying to them. Do this over a period of time. Make note of the results. You’ll find very quickly which personalities vibe best with your own. This can be affected by your own heritage, interests, etc. For example, though Herne and Cernunnos are both gods of the forest and hunt, I find that working with Herne better suits my work as we have a better connection. Cernunnos feels too ancient and serious, whereas Herne feels more human-like and approachable. For others, working in the opposite way might feel more “correct”. There’s no scientific way of telling which god or goddess your meant to work with. You’ll just know. There will be a sense of comfort, or power, or just knowing that whatever working you’ve called upon them for will work.

Not everyone has a patron deity. It is not a required part of being a witch or being pagan. Sometimes close devotional relationships will evolve, change, or fade. I used to work quite closely with the goddess Brighid when I was younger. Over time, the energy just didn’t flow in quite the same way. This happened naturally and organically. This is totally okay. Herne used to be more apparent in my life in the guise of Green Man. Sometimes, too, there are deities who appear only periodically in your life. They come bearing a message and help you through a particular time in your life, and then they’re gone. For me, both The Morrigan and Mannannan Mac Lir have been such entities in my life. They are often very present in the summer months to help me work through what I need to before fall begins and then are gone. Again, this is completely okay.

The key thing is do your research. Don’t just call upon a deity because x spell told you to. Know what you believe about the gods. Know the mythology and cultural practices associated with the deity you’re communicating with. Be respectful, and remember they do usually have a sense of humor. Mistakes are okay, and sometimes things will work out in very unexpected ways.

Forest Blessings,
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