Thinking About: Rites of Passage / A Pagan Life’s Rituals

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This post is sort of serving as a jumping-off point for a video I have planned for prompts 17-22 of the YouTube Pagan Challenge, all of which sort of center around rites of passage, major life events, and rituals of living a pagan life:

17. How would you introduce spirituality to children, would you pass this book on to your children?
18. Funeral rite and how would you prefer your remains to be treated?
19. Rites for the birth of a child, adoption, naming and blessing ceremonies.
20. Coming of age rites and customs for the stages of life.
21. Marriage or partnership ceremony.
22. Is there such a thing as a twin flame, soul mate, destined partner?

I had mentioned before that I was sort of raised without a formal religious background. To my knowledge, I wasn’t baptized in any way; there wasn’t any sort of formal naming/blessing ceremony. Significant birthdays for me were age 13, 18, and when I left my teens behind at age 20 (By the time I’d hit 21, I’d already consumed alcohol and had been able to do it legally in the U.K. two years prior. The magic had sort of worn off). But they weren’t, at least in a way that was obvious to me then, spiritual in any way.

I also haven’t been married, or undergone any of the other rites mentioned above myself. The funerals I’ve attended have all been rather Christian in their design as well, so in a Pagan sense I’ve not much experience there either. But I do have ideas, which I’ll discuss further down below.

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I think, given the opportunity and provided I end up having children, that I would definitely share my spirituality with them. I would want to call upon my gods (and my partner’s) to bless and protect that child. When they were older, I would share with them the stories of the gods, celebrate the sabbats, explain to them the different parts of spellcraft, ritual, and my altar spaces. If, when they grew older, they found that that faith was not what they believed, they would absolutely be free to practice whatever religion (or lack thereof!) they wished. I think the important thing is approaching religion with children not as something obligatory or something that will bring upon the punishment of you or your gods should they elect not to participate in. It should be something exploratory. It should be something they are welcome to ask questions about, form their own ideas / opinions about. I really would have enjoyed something like that as a kid- not that coming to my own conclusions and learning on my own wasn’t valuable and rewarding in its own right.

As far as coming of age rites go, I think some of the birthdays mentioned above might be important to them. Perhaps, should they decide they want to, I might help them with their own witchy dedications and the like, but I really feel that so much of that is deeply personal to the individual. The important thing, when I get to that point, will be open communication with my child.

I don’t know that I would pass my books of shadows on to my children at all. They’re too personal to me. I think I’d much rather have a compiled grimoire of things that I had found useful or created myself to pass down instead of my full journals themselves. I think I’d want those buried with me (but more on that down below).

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Two of Cups- After Tarot

Moving past childhood and adolescence, we come to the questions about marriage and partnership. I’m not sure that I believe in twin flames or soul mates and all that. I believe that my current boyfriend is someone whom I would like to spend the rest of my life with, and we have indeed talked about marriage, children, all that good stuff. Maybe it’s soul-destined, maybe not? I don’t know, really. Maybe some people are soul mates, but I think that society has created this sort of toxic idea about soul mates, and all of this stress on finding “The One”. In reality, all things in life are transient. People change, circumstances change, etc. I think that focusing too much on finding “the one” and that being the end-all-be-all of our intimacy and relations with people can be more detrimental than helpful.

But enough of that negative nancy-ing about soul mates, and on to the more fun stuff, yeah? I would very much love to have a handfasting ceremony. This is something I’ve been discussing with my boyfriend as we’ve making plans to live together, etc. Basically, the “Big White Wedding” really isn’t my style. Give me an intimate gathering of close friends and family, a simple handfasting ceremony where everything is done outdoors and such, and big bonfire and good food to celebrate afterwards. That to me is infinitely more special than a fancy white dress I’ll only wear once, and a big elaborate party. As I’ve said though, this is still nothing more than a Pinterest board fantasy lingering in the periphery of my life right now.  There’s much to do still before that becomes something I need to worry about.

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10 of Swords- Robin Wood Tarot

And now, onto the stuff I’m actually, strangely, the most passionate about: death and funeral rites. I’ve been increasingly more interested in the death-positivity and green burial movements: those that put after-death care more into the hands of the family of the deceased. I think that handling the corpse, arranging the funeral, etc. should be less taboo. There was a time when all of this was done by the family, and I’d really love to work towards making that more common-place once again, and making burials less harmful of an impact on the natural environment.

That said, I’ll return to a statement I made earlier about my books of shadows, and the topic of how I would like my remains treated. I think, truthfully, that I would like my books of shadows burned with my corpse and the cremains used in one of those Bios urns to plant a tree. That, I feel, would be a lot better than a concrete tomb with a giant stone over it.

Obviously all of these things are entirely dependent upon what happens in the future. How starting my own family goes in the future, who my partner is (though I’ve a pretty good idea of who that’ll be 😉 ), and all manner of other circumstances play a part in how these different rites of passage will come into being. Regardless of what happens, my faith in the gods, will likely play a large part in how they’re carried out.

What rites of passage have you marked? What ones do you plan to? Leave them in the comments below!

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

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YT Pagan Challenge: Sacred Spaces, Holy Sites, and Circle Casting

I had been hoping to film part of my eighth YT Pagan Challenge video outdoors in one of my on-campus sacred spaces, but it seems the weather is just not willing to agree with me. So, so I can give you all a bit of a visual, this post will be jam-packed full of pictures of the places I was talking about in the video.

First thing’s first: my on-campus sacred spaces. I am blessed to be going to a university that is filled with small garden spaces and has a sprawling expanse of wooded ravines hugging along the side of campus. In my five years here, I’ve been able to find a number of places to relax, be one with nature, and perform a few rituals and magical workings in. Three of the major places where I tend to hang out and do my workings are the arboretum, the garden behind the religious center on campus, and a grove back in the ravines behind the art building.

In each of these spaces, I’ve found little places to leave offerings, quiet spots to sit and meditate, and have even done a few rituals there.

The arboretum is full of places to explore, and I admittedly spend a lot more time there than anywhere else. There’s a stump I’ve found a short distance off of the path that I use frequently for spell work, and have left offerings at over the past few years. It happens also to overlook a ravine in a pretty straight shot to the grove I’d found in the woods as well.

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In the little garden behind the religious building on campus, there’s a statue of St. Francis that seems to have a presence and an energy all its own. I’ve made a habit of leaving little offerings in the hands of the statue whenever I go there to write, drum, meditate, etc.

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And then, of course, there is the grove in the ravines. It’s just off the path, and was shown to me by a good friend who graduated a couple of years ago. It’s often where I go if I’m looking to communicate with the Wylde Hunt while on campus, and has been the site for a couple of rituals. There’s a large three-trunked oak that sits in its center, and there are a few places to sit in little nooks between its roots. I like this place because it is a little further away from the main part of campus, and therefore quieter. You can’t hear the bells from the clock tower and are a lot less likely to see people wandering by. There’s also a fantastic view of the stars on clear nights.

Aside from these natural spaces, I do tend to do much of my ritual / meditation / etc. within the safety (and warmth!!!) of my dormitory bedroom, as well. My room is almost always decorated with pictures that are sacred, beautiful, inspiring, etc. to me and I try to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere for myself to live/study/rest/etc. in and for my friends to visit.

My altar space is situated by the window, which overlooks a little courtyard and the woods beyond.While I’m at school, this is the most sacred space to me, and I work really hard to keep it that way while I’m here.

Of course, when I’m home for winter / spring / summer break, I have places where I go to practice as well. Due to the nature of the space situation in my parents’ home, most of those places are outdoors.

In my own backyard, I am again blessed to have a great expanse of land full of trees and a big ol’ forest beyond. In particular, there’s a small grove hidden among a bunch of pine and cedar trees where I do some more private rituals, and then there’s Treebeard, a cottonwood tree where I leave offerings, prayer ribbons, etc. and spend time enjoying the space on the shady hill just beneath him.

I’m also blessed to have other little places of beauty within my hometown such as the local state park, my local witchy shop, and my aunt’s gorgeous and wild garden. These are places that really make me feel attuned to the energies of the universe and the natural world, and where I like to perform tarot readings, have debates about different witchy/spiritual topics, etc. with my friends.

And of course, there are a number of places in Michigan that have spiritual significance to me. The biggest one is the Boyne/East Jordan/Charlevoix area up in the northern part of our lower peninsula. Over the years, it has been a place full of childhood memory as well as shared memories and explorations with one of my best friends, Mark.

Being a pagan who follows a primarily Celtic path and lives within the United States makes it a little difficult to visit holy sites associated with my practice. There are, no surprise, remarkably few here in the states. There are Native American sacred sites, but because that runs along the slippery slope of what is culturally appropriative and what is respect for the culture and traditions associated with those sites, you’ll note that none of the places I’ve shared above are tied to those places. I was fortunate enough, four years ago, to visit the United Kingdom and places like Stonehenge, Avebury, and Glastonbury. These are memories that I hold really dear to my heart, and feel very privileged to have experienced in my lifetime.

Two of my very favorite memories from my trip to the UK came from my experiences on the weekend we went visiting various sacred sites. While in Chalice Well Gardens, I’d sat down by the well head to meditate and get away from the rest of the crowd of students I was with for a while, and man and his young daughter sat down alongside of me. The little girl had to have been about 4 or 5 years old at most, and as most 4-5 year-olds are, she was a little rambunctious and was bouncing around a bit. Rather than be upset with her, or harsh, I heard her father very calmly explain this was a special place, and saw (much to my amazement and admiration really) her nod in understanding, and sit down to meditate with him.

The second vivid memory I hold dear from that trip (as far as sacred space and that goes) occurred while we were in Avebury. It was rather late, the sun was setting, and we really didn’t have much time to spend there, but I remember it being a much more tangible feeling of presence there. Perhaps it was because we could actually approach the stones; maybe it was just the liminal time of day we were there or the place itself. I couldn’t quite say.

As we wandered about the stones, we saw an older gentleman with rather wild grey curls sitting at the base of one of the smaller stones. He had candles, incense, etc. and was using dowsing rods. The rest of our group gave him sort of a wide berth, and I (as the sort of unofficial pagan authority of the crew) stood a respectable and out-of-earshot ways off, explaining to my roommate that he was probably using the dowsing rods to look for ley lines in the area. He then turned to look at us and asked: “Have you two got good imaginations on you?” We were a little surprised, but answered that yes, we supposed we did. “Do you know where the word imagination comes from?” We honestly weren’t sure. “I. Magi. Nation. A nation of magicians. Merlin is one of my guides, you know.” He then proceeded to tell us this tale about Merlin performing his first magic trick in the stone circle in which we stood: he’d turned a friend invisible and was unable to turn him back again. He also told us about how the Druids had used that place as a place for their initiations. I wasn’t at all sure on the historical accuracy of those things, but in the moment, you sort of wanted to suspend your disbelief. Awen was flowing, and you could almost see what he was describing in your mind’s eye. He then looked at us again and said: “I get Druid from both of you.” I was a little shocked because, of course, I was. I told him so, and he simply turned, and went back to his business of dowsing as though it had never happened. And for the life of me, I swear no one else seems to have seen or heard him say these things but my roommate and I. That is no doubt a mystery and a feeling I will remember for quite some time.

And finally, the last part for this prompt: circle casting. I’ll be honest, I don’t perform circle casting in my own work. For one, I’ve been studying off-and-on with a Druid organization for some time that doesn’t utilize them in their ritual formats. But, more importantly I find them to be distracting and a waste of energy and time. Circles, to my understanding, function for a few general purposes:

  1. To contain and thereby magnify energy raised during a working until it comes time to release it at the end of the ritual.
  2. To protect the individuals within and the magical working from the influence of any nasty / negative energy.
  3. To create a sort of liminal and marked out place in which a ritual can occur and entities (spirits, gods, whatever) may be more easily contacted.

However, as I’ve mentioned above, I don’t generally feel a need to do this. For starters, I always cleanse a place before I use it, and if appropriate might make small offerings to any outside spirits that might be poking about to say “Hey, please let me use this space for a bit.” I don’t perform rituals in places where negative energy is hanging about, and I certainly am confident enough in my own ability to raise and manipulate my own energy to not feel a need for the circle of protection, or the circle that focuses energy in an external space. I also work with many liminal deities. I think it’s very safe to assume I don’t need liminal space for them to get messages across. When I do a particular magical working, my own personal energy field acts in the way a circle might: raising, containing, and releasing energy for my working. It eliminates the need for a physical circle- which means less time/resources marking it out, and I don’t need to cut a door in it should I forget something (which I often do!). It also helps hone in my focus on the working at hand. I often find that by the time I draw and cast a circle, call the quarters, etc. I’m quite distracted from what I was originally intending to accomplish.

Please note, I’m not bashing on anyone who uses circles. They can be quite useful to one’s practice especially when you’re just beginning! I just don’t feel a need to use them.

And, thus concludes a very long blog post. Thank you for hanging in there and reading if you’ve made it this far.

Love and blessings to you all
-Rachel