Thinking About: Samhain

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A small shrine I set up on my altar. On it, are pieces of jewelry from my mom, my grandmother, and great grandmother.

In this corner of Michigan, it feels almost as though Samhain and Autumn itself have been skipped. The weather has gotten incredibly chilly already, and it seems like the leaves have been dropping a bit faster than they used to. With the all of the warnings about the dangerous changes in the climate, I can definitely feel on these frigid blustery days that something is amiss.

But even the spirit of autumn seems absent. It feels like a dreary veil of grey has sort of fallen over the whole ordeal. Where I would usually be preparing for Samhain, I’m filled with a sort of apathy. Perhaps it’s a reaction to the environment. Perhaps with all that is filling my mind between the horrors of United States politics, the climate, and what’s going on in my own personal life, I just don’t have the energy left.

The time between Mabon, which passed with very little feeling for me this year, and Samhain are usually filled with a great deal of creativity and spiritual activity. The Wylde Hunt appears again in the blustery winds and the rolling thunderstorms. But this year it feels stagnant, and murky. It’s hard to feel as connected as I typically do.

However, I’m of the opinion that succumbing to that feeling of despair and hollowness only gives it a further foothold. Today, after several weeks of disuse, I approached my altar, lit some candles, placed some items in its center to honor my ancestors and family. The feelings of autumn might feel missing, but there is still time to reflect; to tend to the decaying and changing happening under the surface; to honor what was, what is, and what shall be; and to reach out and feel that yes, those energies are still there even when we don’t feel them to be present in our lives.

I suspect Samhain will be a quiet one for me this year. There’s much to think about, and much that needs to change- on a global level and a personal level. Last year was about re-attuning to the cycles and finding the rhythm without the old markers for shifts in the seasons. This year has been a lesson in subtlety, and feeling connected even when it feels most difficult to do so.

What are your plans for Samhain? How are you preparing for the darker part of the year, and the changes still ahead?

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

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A Lament at Mabon

I’ve found myself feeling very disconnected and aloof lately. What follows is a bit of wax-poetic rambling from earlier this evening as I sat among the trees to enjoy the energies of Mabon, and the rising of the Full Moon.

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“Princess of Cups” from The Druidcraft Tarot, artwork by Will Worthington

Once I knew the language of trees
How each rustling of their leaves
Could mean so much—if only one knew how to listen.

Once I had so much definition in just that one thing:
That I could see their faces and
Read their leafy lips as they blew in the autumn breezes.
And now it seems so foreign…
Have I been so long in this land of fluorescence and brick?
Have I been gone so long that I have forgotten
How sweet the melodies of the forest can be?

Now it fills my heart not with understanding
But with a melancholy longing
For that which once felt so familiar to me, no—
That which still feels familiar—
But only the familiarity of a dream
As though in the very throes of sleeping wonder
I’ve been wrested from it by mundane duty.
Ephemeral on the edges of my consciousness:
Like flickering of faery light,
And distant horns of hunters that roam the evening skies.

In my heart, with each pulsing of the blood that flows through my veins,
I feel it… an echo.
An echo of something deeper—and much more profound and yet:
In my waking consciousness, I cannot quite put finger on that which I have lived before.
The melody haunts my eardrums and yet I cannot quite put to fingertips—
Or lips—the profound tune that catches in the wind and then is gone.

Faintly, my mind’s eye remembers beauty which no photograph, no drawing—
No painstaking sketch could ever come close to imagining.
On the tip of my tongue, the faintest taste of something… something…
Always searching for that which I cannot in waking consciousness grasp.

With each falling leaf,
With each howl on the wind that seems to pierce my very soul…
I want to remember
I want to wake up
Back in the place where trees spoke and moonlight bled between the branches on inky nights…

There were nights when I would run
From phantom figures in the trees,
Where I swear I heard the hoof-beats harrying me along dirt paths…

There were nights, long ago, that seemed to go on forever,
Where the cold dark eyes of a vampire
Haunted me in my sleep,
Where deep and sorrowful melodies pulled me into a sense of ecstasy.

There nights when I could hear the goddess calling me in the mists,
Her silver light a comfort,
A crow to show me the way…

And yet, now…

I cannot feel more than mere glimmers of what had once been
There was a time when I had tasted of Cerridwen’s cauldron—
When I could see the way energy moved through the land—
So apparent to my sight, that I felt one with them.

And now…
I am so trapped in that webbing of wire and artificial light
That I find myself balking at the very notion of sitting in my own yard past sunset.

And yet
Here I am on the verge of dusk,
Staring, trembling, into the forest—
As if on this night of all nights
Something will come to me that will wake me from this madness

On this grassy marshland hill,
Perhaps I’ll find a wonder—or a wound…
Like blessed Pwyll, of Dyfed before me,
Perhaps my lady in white will come riding by to take me back to that place of understanding,
That place of oneness…

Perhaps the dark hunter will blow his horn
And carry me upon his steed and into the western winds.

Or perhaps,
I will have sat here, my heart broken open,
Only to return again tomorrow
To that endless drudgery of everyday life…

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

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

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: 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

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