What is a meaningful harvest in the age of over-consumption

Six years ago, I decided I wanted to mark the beginning of the harvest season in a specific and flexible way In the middle of the summer, we are rarely home on a predictable date and we have a hard time keeping any sort of routine, so any family tradition in this season has to be portable and simple. 

My solution? I found a durable  table cloth and each year on August 1 or 2, the Celtic feast of the first harvest, I ask everyone who happens to share a major meal with my family, to sign the table cloth. We all sign as well. Then in odd moments over the winter, I embroider all the signatures onto the cloth. 

I'm not an expert at embroidery, so some parts are a bit clumsy, but it is a meditation in gratitude for me. Every year, that meal has been a special one, serendipitously surrounded by good friends or supportive and lovely strangers. As I embroider my gratitude is as much for the community and friendship of those brief summer moments, as it is for our physical harvest.

The harvest feast and the sense of relief and gratitude for winter's security that went along with it was a crucial part of human experience for millennia.  Today we have kitschy phrases for affirmations of gratitude, which we tend to force on people who are surviving the hardest moments of their lives--telling those fighting cancer or grieving the loss of a loved one to focus on "gratitude."

It isn't working.

Our society is increasingly disconnected from thankfulness and moreover we almost never feel that relief and satiation, the knowledge that our families are secure for the upcoming season.

Our economic ideology is one of constant "demand." We are encouraged to feel--even manipulated into believing--that our livelihood is insecure and we need more. "Employee insecurity" is a prized goal in business circles--keeping professional staff on their toes in a scary marketplace.

And the modern world really does require an awful lot of expensive stuff, if you want to have a career and not live on the margin of society growing herbs, like... ahem, some people you know. 

The reason I want to mark the harvest season isn't just because we have a garden and actually get some small harvest at this time. It has more to do with things everyone today can relate to. After all those thousands of years, humans still need a moment of relief. We don't do well in a constant state of need, anxiety and uncertainty. 

Harvest isn't just about gratitude. It is also about securing the hatches and experiencing a moment of safety. 

Gratitude is good. If you can truly feel thankful for what you have and know you have made it, marking the harvest season may come naturally. But if you are really struggling, either materially or emotionally, as so many people are today, being told that you should focus on what you are thankful for at any time of the year is not likely to help.

Instead, especially at this time when the harvest season is just beginning, there is also a need to find a moment of relief. Whatever it is that troubles your life, what would let you know that you can get through the next few months? Can you reach for something now that will give you at least a brief sense of security and stability?

Whether that's taking a much needed break and going on a well-earned vacation or reaching out to supportive friends at whatever distance, this is the modern spirit of the harvest feast.

Our modern harvest may not be an annual event, timed to the growing season. It may not even involve food or material things at all. But the biological rhythm of our bodies needs this sense of relief and security periodically. And this is a time when we are naturally yearning for it.  

In the age of too much consumption, a celebration of bounty and prosperity may not make the most sense. Instead it may help to take this time to reevaluate what we truly need, to gain a sense of fullness, so that we can let go of over-abundance and clutter. 

Our greatest need today often isn't material but rather social and emotional. What about instead of celebrating matieral bounty, celebrating the family, friends and community we have, be it small or large? What about looking at the emotional strength and balance you have built up--even if it still isn't perfect--as a harvest after hard work?

Gratitude is important. In fact, it is probably the most necessary  prerequisite for happiness. But I don't believe in feigned or forced gratitude. If you don't really feel thankful that you are not hungry, then there is little point on trying to make yourself feel it.

Looking at those things that are hard-won in your life, whatever your important milestones are--gaining confidence at work, finally starting that creative project you've dreamed of, growing a family or network of friends and so forth--may be more useful. And sharing whatever you have in over-abundance, whether it is time, knowledge or material goods, with those who have needs in that area is the best way I know of to foster your own gratitude. 

Once harvest celebrations were about amassing enough food to tide us through the lean times. Today we can adapt this concept even if you live in a city without so much as a house plant. Harvest is whatever you build up to tide you through hard times. That can be emotional, financial, social or life energy based. 

Now is the time to fill the reserves, to figure out what it is that will tide you over. You have the strength for it now. 

Hindu Goddesses of the Thunder Moon

The full moon glows in the still, hot night air. The thick aroma of ripening fruit permeates the night. I sit in cool water in our wading pool. The silver light makes me the same pale non-color as the normally bright blue pool. 

Creative Commons image by San Sharma 

Creative Commons image by San Sharma 

This is called the Thunder Moon, and this year it is living up to it's name with a vengeance. My mother was nearly struck by lightning just the other day, on the other side of the world in Oregon. The whole world went pure white around her and the shock of immediate thunder shook the whole town. Here the stifling air--even after dark--is a good sign a big storm is on its way and the night will soon be filled with deafening noise and sizzling forks of light. 

On nights like this, it is not difficult to understand how ancient peoples often included a ferocious god or goddess of storms in their pantheons.  We have angered the climate gods with our decadent burning of fossil fuels and pollution of the sky. Storms seem to be the retribution of choice. Well, that's one way to look at it at least.

But July has always been the time of thunder in northern lands. The heat of June often gives way a bit and purplish clouds pile up, streaking neon-blue lightening. Tomorrow the forecast calls for another storm and I'm hoping for some rain on the garden. My eight-year-old daughter is still terrified of thunder and I don't blame her. The feeling of awesome power sweeping across our exposed hillside is disconcerting.

I have a hard time understanding how our little wooden house can withstand the ripping winds that send the tops of all the trees around us thrashing like dancers in a mosh pit. But our house stands and other than the startling slamming of doors, all is well. I check the chickens and the greenhouses in the moonlight. The garden is past the young and tender stage, so I don't cover it but let it weather the storm on its own. 

Creative Commons image by Stefanie Härtwig

Creative Commons image by Stefanie Härtwig

I am on a quest to study a different pantheons of ancient goddesses for each month (or moon), and there should be a special place for Hindu goddesses. My children come from a people who migrated relatively recently from northern India and still bear the features of that land in their faces. And so, if my daughter is afraid of the thunder, i hope these may give her some comfort and inspiration.

The Maiden of the Hindu goddesses is Laksmi, who is sometimes portrayed as a mother because of her gifts of plenty, but she is called a maiden in many traditional chants. There are many mothers in the Hindu pantheon, but I have chosen the  Mother as Anumati, goddess of nurturing and permission. The Dark Goddess is, of course, Kali, the terrifying goddess of vengeance, transformation and destruction. She no doubt approves of these thunder storms.

The Full Moon

Anumati is a goddess of spirituality, good fortune and motherhood. She is also a personification of Shakti. Her name means “to give permission.” (Dalal 2011) When she is called in the heat of the summer, her permission grants freedom from bonds and burdens.

There is still a need for caution. The thunder moon is a time of limitations, the tempering of spring and early summer enthusiasm. So, we must think specifically of what we seek and ask permission with the knowledge that not all paths are open at once, that by taking one path we choose not to take another.

Anumati's symbols are simply of the moon and the blessings of plenty and divine favor. It is a time to make wishes and choices, to ask permission of the Goddess for those things we most wish to do with forethought and the knowledge that this is one of the most open times to do so. Incense is a fitting offering.

The Waning Moon

I’ll admit that I’m a bit afraid of the Hindu images of Kali, somewhat the way my daughter is afraid of the thunder. I’m into intensity (and so is she), but this is over the top.

Kali is this ferocious goddess who kills those who defy her and hangs their body parts around her neck. One of the best understandings of Kali I have found comes from the book Naming the Goddess, in which Jennifer Uzzell describes the honoring of Kali in her Hindu family where she is seen in diverse aspects, both motherly and destructive.

Kali's great intensity has the power to transform in the most profound way. (Uzzell 2014) Like the Tower in the Tarot, her power is terrifying and yet necessary. Other than her fearsome images she may be symbolized by the orange and black colors of the monarch butterfly that embodies transformation. She can be honored with meditation and chants and an openness to change in necessary ways.

The Waxing Moon

Lakshmi is the Hindu Maiden Goddess of gifts and happiness. Her essence is positive emotion and beauty. Like the soaring beauty of the summer crescent moon, she is pure and radiant. We can honor her by sharing and spreading around the wealth and well-being she brings to us. (Rhodes 2010)

Her symbol is a white owl, symbolizing the need to open our eyes wide to the light of spiritual wealth. Stand in the center of your sacred space and turn to each direction, calling on the elements of the directions to spread the wealth and well-being of Lakshmi to all living beings in that direction. Aesthetically beautiful food is a traditional offering to Laksmi. 

When exploring other cultures, perhaps especially a culture my adopted children have some ancestral connection to, it is of paramount importance to try to put these goddesses into cultural context.

In accordance with Hindu traditions, it makes sense to set up a shrine or altar to these goddesses with candles, incense and traditional Hindu images of their diversely lovely and terrible faces. Modern Hindus keep such a home altar in the north east corner of a living room, parlor or special room on the ground floor if at all possible. If such a spot is not available, it is acceptable to have a special shelf on an east or west wall or in a kitchen or bedroom, though never in a bathroom or storeroom. Cleanliness of the area is paramount and there is an important rule against keeping money or valuables in this space. 

Keep respect in your heart and actions. The thunder moon will bring you well-being and helpful transformation.

Bibliography

Agrawala, P.K. (1984). Goddesses in Ancient India. New Dehli, India: Abhinav Publications.
Auset, B. (2009). The Goddess Guide: Exploring the Attributes and Correspondences of the Divine Feminine. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Caputi, J. (2004). Goddesses and Monsters. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Chaudhuri, S. K. (2003). Hindu Gods and Goddesses in Japan. New Delhi, India: Vedams.
Hunt, L. (2001). An Illustrated Meditation Guide: Celestial Goddesses. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Jordan, M. (2004). Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses. New York, NY: Facts On File, Inc.
Leeming, D. and Page, J. (1994). Goddess: Myths of the Female Divine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Littleton, C. S. Ed, (2005). Gods, Goddesses and Mythology, Volume 4. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.
Loar, J. (2008). Goddesses for Every Day. Navato, CA: New World Library.
Lurker, M. (1987). A Dictionary of Gods, Goddesses, Devils and Demons. New York, NY: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd.
Monagham, P. (1997). The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Monagham, P. (1999). The Goddess Companion. Woodbury, MN. Llewellyn Publications.
Monagham, P. (2014). Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Motz, L. (1997). The Faces of the Goddess. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Rhodes, C. (2010). Invoking Lakshmi. Albany, NY: State University Press of New York.
Skye, M. (2007). Goddess Alive! Woodbury, MN, Llewellyn Publications.
Uzzell, J. (2014). Kali. In Greenfield, T. (Ed.), Naming the Goddess (pp. 220 - 223). Washington, DC: Moon Books.

Hearth-side comfort that's in tune with the moon... and free

The popular hearth-side email circle, which now has over 500 subscribers, provides interesting posts on practical herb lore, earth-centered spirituality, social inclusion and simple living. Now this newsletter-come-virtual-cup-of-tea will also help you take note of the phases of the moon.

This past year I have synchronized a lot of my activities with the phases of the moon. It has helped me to not only increase my garden's productivity but also to become more closely attuned to the natural environment.

Creative Commons image by  John Flannery 

Creative Commons image by  John Flannery 

It's a challenge though. Our calendars are not set up that way. In the beginning, you have to keep checking moon phases and be more conscious of routines to make it work on your own.

That's why i wasn't successful in some of my attempts to do this in previous years. But this year I have done it and now that it is done it feels easy and natural to me. 

I can now pass this on to my readers. Instead of sending out the Hearth-side emails on Fridays. I will be posting in the twenty-four hours before the new moon and before the full moon, barring computer glitches. 

This will lessen the frenetic pace, ensure better quality reading and give you a heads up on the moon phases, which won't require any extra attention. New subscribers are welcome. You can subscribe via the form at the end of this post and unsubscribe automatically at any time. New subscribers also get to choose a free ebook.

The moon is dark at the moment and in the northern hemisphere the nights are short with the summer solstice just passed. As far north as I live on the 50th parallel there are only a few hours of intense velvet darkness. If you can get out away from city interference and smog, the stars can be particularly brilliant

I wish you deep and refreshing rest as well as abundant energy for new beginnings in the morning. Take time to experience the season of summer, the sun, the wind and the dappled shade. 

An offering at the neglected shrine of Venus

Here is a poem inspired by the vibrant beauty of a June morning and my reading on the ancient goddess of Rome and other reading on today's weird social norms. 

Creative Commons image by Sarah Zucca

Creative Commons image by Sarah Zucca

She was told she wasn't really pretty

and she believed it.

The first boy she loved at sixteen

said he loved her even though she was fat

Solid calf muscles and round biceps

from track and hiking are not glamorous

Her full-hips and strong abdomen

were not in the magazines or on TV.

She noted down the numbers,

At five nine, she should 

be one thirty by that reckoning. 

Her face was never perfect,

her eyes too small and squinted

But sometimes she'd catch a glimpse

of her own shadow or her face looking up

she'd follow the line of her body with her eyes,

thinking it wasn't so bad,

nothing there to drive disgust, 

even grace of a kind, the health of nature

She was strong and swift.

She bent her mind to studies and career.

Twenty years flashed by before she knew it.

She scarcely thought of her body in all that time, 

except to be thankful for health 

and sometimes quietly to wish

that things could have been different.

How many times had she shouldered a pack

and hiked mountains or explored cobble stones

She built sturdy rock walls

with the husband she finally found.

He was not considered handsome either,

dumpy and overweight but strong as a mule.

And they decided dispassionately to throw their lots together.

She took care of her body's needs,

brushed her teeth and went for checkups

ate well and didn't smoke or drink.

But she rarely thought of it and rarely adorned it.

It was mostly just "it."

No mask nor jewelry,

except the thin gold of marriage

more a symbol than an ornament.

She pulled her long hair into a braid and called it good.

She had more important things to do

with her mind, with her heart, with her soul.

And the shrine of Venus grew dusty with disuse

When she comes to it at last after decades have passed

and looks at the lines across her face,

the flaws grown much deeper

and her body heavier and not nearly so strong.

Then she knows the price of offerings not left.

Now she places flowers before the shrine 

and puts gems in her ears and sweet oil on her skin.

She gives honor to the goddess she forgot

and dances in the beauty of a crone's body,

good and true to the health of nature

The Spiritual Runes: Pagan book review

I can't recall a time when the runes were not a part of my life. My mother has carried a little bag of clay bits engraved with runes on walks with her ever since I can remember. She'll stop at a bench overlooking an immense view of the Grande Ronde Valley and pull a rune out of the bag to contemplate.

Never content with things as they have "always been done," I've read several books on runes to try to understand them at greater depth. Most of these books discuss making rune scripts or bind-runes for the purposes of focusing intentions and bringing needed energies to a place or a specific issue. But mostly these books make only a token stab at substantial analysis of the spiritual basis for or history of the runes. 

That's why I leaped at the chance to review The Spiritual Runes by Harmonia Saille. Here is a book that claims to occupy the middle ground between the pocket how-to books that are accessible to all but seem to fall short on substance and the dense academic and primary source material.  And it makes good on that claim.

The Spiritual Runes is the first book I have encountered which provides solid historical information--including facts about the modern use and abuse of the runes--as well as rune interpretations for divination and very specific instructions for the use of runes in ritual and intention-based magic. Each section is complete and of suitable length and depth. No corners are cut and the tone is friendly and accessible at all points. 

The book goes into somewhat greater historical depth and provides more credible background for historical claims than most of my previous reading in commercial rune books. Still, the part where I found the book truly shines is the final section on rune rituals. This is mostly personal taste. I love the rituals suggested in this book. They are beautiful, simple enough to be practical and yet well-aligned for focusing intentions. I am sure to try several of them. 

Comment

Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Faerie goddesses of the Flower Moon: International Moon Circle 11

Until now, this series on moon goddesses has focused on a different culture every month. Yet I am not trying to proscribe to others which goddesses should be honored in which months or which cultures should be considered. It is more a template of how you can explore different energies and invite the blessings of goddesses into your life.

I have explored a wide variety of cultures because it is important in today's mixed and matched world where families and nations often represent more than one cultural root--to stretch our muscles of inclusivity and to understand that what binds us together and what differentiates us in goddess-centered circles. 

Public domain image

Public domain image

Still there are other ways, other templates for exploring goddesses beyond a cultural theme for each month, it is quite possible to focus on a topic, region or element. For May--the Flower Moon--I have chosen to focus on goddesses connected to elementals, the Fay and denizens of the Otherworld.

Many cultures call these "fairies" and they are--in the most basic sense. But in ancient times, they were not seen as frilly little pixies with pretty wings and dresses. Instead they were usually understood as powerful land and nature spirits, connected to the sovereignty of a country. 

This then is the focus for the Flower Moon and because I live in this land, I will stick to Europe for this month with goddesses that did not fit neatly into the cultural themes in previous months. (That's bound to happen. Culture has few hard and fast boundaries and many goddesses belong to more than one culture or only belong to part of a larger culture. They do not respect human borders drawn upon maps or even our narrow ideas of tribe and ethnicity.)

The Maiden for the Flower Moon is the Albanian fairy goddess Zana, the Mother is Danu the ancient goddess of rivers and hollow hills, and the Dark Goddess is Morgan Le Fey of legend, fate and the fairy realm. 

The Waxing Moon

Zana is the fairy maiden of the Albanian mountains. She leaps on sheer and wild mountain sides, singing in the eternal spring dawn, accompanied by three prancing goats. (Lurker 1987) She can be headstrong like a little mountain goat, but her spirit is that of freedom and nimbleness in mind and body.

She is close to the land where I live and folklore points to similar figures throughout Central Europe, though their names have been lost to time. Zana is a good name to use, because hers is still known. She is the youthful goddess of the growing things and the animals of the land I live on and thus a connection to the to the natural world.

Her symbols are mountains, goats and wildflowers. You can connect with her by visiting a place where plants and animals are able to live wild and untamed. Dance is also good.

Creative Commons image by Sandy Sarsfield 

Creative Commons image by Sandy Sarsfield 

The Full Moon

Archaeological evidence and linguistic roots trace the emergence of Celtic culture to the upper part of the Danube River in the heart of old Europe. The name Danube and the names of many other rivers in the region, such as the Dnieper, can be traced to an ancient Indo-european word for “flow” or “river,” which is very likely synonymous with the name of the goddess Danu, who has been carried into modern times by the Irish. (Koch 2006) 

It is impossible to know for certain that there was an ancient goddess called “Danu” or something similar in Central Europe as well as in Ireland, but it is likely. There are certainly plenty of unearthed goddess figures from that ancient culture and many cultures have associated rivers with goddesses. (McLeod 2014) 

There was a goddess in this ancient land and Danu is as good a name for her as we have. The hills in Central Europe are gentle and resemble illustrations of sleeping dragons, half sunk into the earth. The rivers flow between them, carrying the life blood of the land. Danu’s symbols are here in the old hills--metamorphic rock such as marble--and in the water, rivers and marshes.

One way to connect with Danu would be to engage in flowing, fluid dance. Another way would be to trace Celtic knot work or a triple spiral goddess symbol in a flowing unending pattern as a meditation.

The Waning Moon

Much fantasy has been written of Morgan Le Fey and it is difficult to find any certain truth, unless you are willing to trust to dreams and personal intuition. She is a well-known legendary figure but also an older or even crone goddess connected to healing, fate and transition to the Otherworld. (Slocum 1992) She may be another form of the Irish triple goddess of death, war and destruction, the Morrigan. Her symbols are lakes, a barge, a sword or a crown.

In Arthurian legend she is sometimes seen as a wise healer, sometimes as a malevolent destroyer and strangely also as both the enemy who causes hurt and the healer who nurses those she injured, according to some sources.  Whichever way you choose to take her, she has been a powerful figure for hundreds and possibly thousands of years. She is the mystery of fate which may not have a clear line from cause to effect or deeds to consequences.

You can connect with her by considering the role of fate and consciously choosing to face needed changes. Light a black, white or silver candle and let it reflect in a bowl of water. Consider that fate may not be set in stone and it may also not be a matter of getting what you deserve. Fate is just the part of what happens that is not within our control. As you accept that you cannot control all the important things in your life, you accept Morgan le Fay--her potential for healing and her potential for destruction.

Bibliography

  • Auset, B. (2009). The Goddess Guide: Exploring the Attributes and Correspondences of the Divine Feminine. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Caputi, J. (2004). Goddesses and Monsters. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Hunt, L. (2001). An Illustrated Meditation Guide: Celestial Goddesses. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Jordan, M. (2004). Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses. New York, NY: Facts On File, Inc.
  • Koch, J. T., Ed. (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc.
  • Leeming, D. and Page, J. (1994). Goddess: Myths of the Female Divine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Littleton, C. S. Ed, (2005). Gods, Goddesses and Mythology, Volume 4. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.
  • Loar, J. (2008). Goddesses for Every Day. Navato, CA: New World Library.
  • Lurker, M. (1987). A Dictionary of Gods, Goddesses, Devils and Demons. New York, NY: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd.
  • McLeod, S. P. (1960). The Devine Feminine in Ancient Europe. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc. Publishers.
  • Monagham, P. (1997). The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Monagham, P. (1999). The Goddess Companion. Woodbury, MN. Llewellyn Publications.
  • Monagham, P. (2014). Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. Novato, CA: New World Library.
  • Motz, L. (1997). The Faces of the Goddess. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Reid-Bowen, P. (2007). Goddess As Nature. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.
  • Slocum, S. K. Ed. (1992). Popular Arthurian Traditions. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press.
  • Sykes, E. (2002). Who’s Who in Non-Classical Mythology. New York, NY: Routledge.

The Hawaiian goddesses of the Egg Moon: International Moon Circle 10

The energy of spring is a welcome boost to activism and social justice movements. We need the joy of dance and flowers, the breaking free and the energy of fire. 

Creative Commons image by  Steve Corey

Creative Commons image by  Steve Corey

Though ancient Hawaiian culture was quite formal, it gave us some of the most inspiring goddesses for social justice. It is to these women of joy, freedom and fire that I devote the month of April, the Egg Moon. 

It takes a while for spring to make it all the way up through Central Europe to our Bohemian valley. February is long and frigid. March is usually gray, muddy and lashed with chilly rain. When spring does come it often brings sudden, wild color and light to our area. The shift usually happens in early April and I have chosen to focus on the colorful and sensuous goddesses of Hawaii for this moon. The Maiden is Laka, the Mother is Hina and the Dark Goddess is Pele--goddess of fire, destruction and anger.

The Waxing Moon

Laka is the Hawaiian Maiden Goddess of the wild wood, dance and gifts. Her energy is that of pure joy and the colors of the natural world. She embodies joyful wildness, the innocence of young things full of promise and delightful movement. (Andersen 2011) This is what happens in April when flowers burst forth and the first green is brilliant. Laka's symbols are flowers, dance and the color yellow.

Creative Commons image by Crishna Simmons

Creative Commons image by Crishna Simmons

The energy of Laka is a glorious gift. She reminds us to bring play into our lives, to dance, to make fun gifts for no particular reason. This type of connection to a childlike joy is also a way to honor her. This is a great time to make a dandelion or buttercup crown or bouquet and to dance with no one watching.

The Full Moon

Hina is the female generative force of Hawaii, the ancient creatrix. She leads other goddesses and breaks free of male domination. She takes on many different identities, including that of trickster. But she is always tied to moonlight. She represents the rainbow array of women’s experience and the mother beyond stereotypes.

The stories of Hina are full of action, adventure, dragons, flamboyant tricks and colorful mist. One important myth of Hina is about how she made the decision to leave her husband and find a new home. She has the power to create and the strength to call an end when needed. (Monagham 2014) Her symbols are dragons, rainbows, tricks (such as April Fools day pranks) and dance. Reading stories of her adventures would be a good way to honor her as well as making dragon and rainbow decorations.

The Waning or Dark Moon

Creative Commons image by Ron Cogswell

Creative Commons image by Ron Cogswell

While Pele is the goddess of volcanoes and anger, she is treated rather nicely by the popular media. There was even a club founded in 1922 for people who had looked into her volcano in a Hawaiian national park and made offerings to her. (Nimmo 2011)

Images of her often emphasize her joyful side, which does exist. But she also truly represents the intensity and quick temper that often make strong women intimidating and gain us the labels of “hysterical” or “raging.” Half the time this intensity doesn’t even come from Pele’s anger. Like many emotionally intense and expressive women, she just is that way. She may be expressing joy but it comes with fire and spitting lava.

A way to connect with Pele is to release your inner intensity, express emotions vehemently, even if only in private. Fire is her primary symbol, though dragons may also be appropriate.

Bibliography

  • Andersen, J. (2011). Myths and Legends of the Polynesians. New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.
  • Auset, B. (2009). The Goddess Guide: Exploring the Attributes and Correspondences of the Divine Feminine. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Hunt, L. (2001). An Illustrated Meditation Guide: Celestial Goddesses. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Jordan, M. (2004). Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses. New York, NY: Facts On File, Inc.
  • Leeming, D. and Page, J. (1994). Goddess: Myths of the Female Divine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Littleton, C. S. Ed, (2005). Gods, Goddesses and Mythology, Volume 4. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.
  • Loar, J. (2008). Goddesses for Every Day. Navato, CA: New World Library.
  • Lurker, M. (1987). A Dictionary of Gods, Goddesses, Devils and Demons. New York, NY: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd.
  • Monagham, P. (1997). The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Monagham, P. (1999). The Goddess Companion. Woodbury, MN. Llewellyn Publications.
  • Monagham, P. (2014). Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. Novato, CA: New World Library.
  • Nimmo, H. A. (2011). Pele, Volcano Goddess of Hawai’i: A History. Jefferson, NC. McFarland & Company, Inc.
  • Motz, L. (1997). The Faces of the Goddess. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Reid-Bowen, P. (2007). Goddess As Nature. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.
  • Skye, M. (2007). Goddess Alive! Woodbury, MN, Llewellyn Publications.
  • Sykes, E. (2002). Who’s Who in Non-Classical Mythology. New York, NY: Routledge.

Of Beltane and earth warriors

Pagans and earth-centered people, even if you consider only those who celebrate Beltane, are wildly diverse in worldview, beliefs and lifestyle. We don't all teach our children the same things. It has often been said that there can be no Pagan politics, because we never agree on anything.

Be that as it may, it is not difficult to see connections between earth-centered spirituality and the movement for social and environmental justice. If you have a strong spiritual path and you also feel strongly about protecting the earth, there is no doubt that these two parts of you will be intertwined. Likewise, spirituality and social/ethical values are interconnected for most people, whatever their spiritual path.

Creative Commons image by Francesca Ubliani 

Creative Commons image by Francesca Ubliani 

We follow an earth-centered path because we resonate with a way of being that is concerned with interconnection, natural cycles and a sense of the divine in many parts of life. We are concerned about the environment for the same reasons - interconnection, natural cycles and a sense of sacredness in the natural world.

Many also translate this into social justice. We are interconnected. Injustice anywhere is my business, because I'm part of the weaving. Natural cycles and the freedom to be close to nature is crucial. All beings have a part in the divine. Wildly diverse Pagans--just as people of other faiths--are going to translate these abstractions into concrete reality in all sorts of ways.

But in the end, the point is that we cannot actually separate spirituality from social and environmental concerns.

Beltane is a time when that connection is even more apparent. As the veil between the worlds thins, so does the separation between the spiritual and the social, the personal and the political.

Beltane is most often associated with sexual energy and passion. It represents the vibrant maturing of the youth phase in most cycles, that stage in which energy is moving upward and outward.

But it is difficult to ignore the other side of this coin of passion. There is love and sexual passion, yes. There is also the passion of the warrior. The Lovers card in the Tarot is followed immediately by The Chariot. And there's a reason for that.

Beltane is the celebration of passionate union. It is also the celebration of unity in struggle. It is no coincidence that movements for social solidarity adopted May 1 early on as May Day. Like everything sacred throughout history, that connection has, of course, been used and abused by those seeking control and power. But that doesn't negate the foundation--the energetic connection. Earth day is also close by on April 22.

When the body and spirit feel oppression within our human and non-human family or destruction of our home (the earth) happening all around us, warrior energy rises within us and demands a greater channel. 

This is a season when our warrior energy is demanding a release. In times of peace and tranquility that energy can be channeled into dance, love and other energetic, expressive pursuits. But when the body and spirit feel oppression within our human and non-human family or destruction of our home (the earth) happening all around us, warrior energy rises within us and demands a greater channel. In such dangerous times, the denial of warrior energy leads to predictable results: anger, fury, conflict and further destruction.

Anyone who has been in close contact with teenagers (the human stage closest to the energy of Beltane) knows that sexual energy is powerful. Suppression and silence only lead to unhealthy results. That is why we give it expression in healthy ways, learning how to channel it.

Creative Commons image by sammydavisdog of flickr.com

Creative Commons image by sammydavisdog of flickr.com

Warrior energy is the other side of that coin, the shadow in the spring sunshine. And its suppression is no more possible. 

The Warrior

Human society relied on literal warriors and hunters for the vast majority of our genetic history. In recent centuries, we have shifted our social organization from tribes to nations and tried to relegate warrior energy to defensive armies and law enforcement.

I'm for peace as much as anyone, and I have huge respect for professional police officers and soldiers. Their channeling of warrior energy for the protection of all is part of what is needed.

However, the warrior energy does not simply dry up in the rest of us--the civilians. Modern society attempts to suppress it for the sake of the status quo, but when we see and feel injustice, it erupts. If not given a legitimate outlet, that eruption is often self-destructive or harmful to others.

This should not actually be nearly as much of a problem as it has become in our modern world. We try to force warrior energy to conform to sports competitions or try to drug it into submission with video games. But neither of these truly satisfies the need at a deep level.

The most basic reason for this lack of release is that injustice and the destruction of our earth is all around us. And as long as there is such a threat, our warrior energy will not rest.

Yet there is something constructive and positive that can satisfy it. Instead of suppression, professional armies, sports or video games, we need to recognize that the incarnation of the warrior today is the activist.

Creative Commons image by Greenpeace Polska

Creative Commons image by Greenpeace Polska

As such, Beltane is the natural celebration of activism and resistance to tyranny. In this year when much of our environmental and social fabric is threatened, the celebration holds particular meaning.

The Activist

You may not like the word "activist" because it has been  used as a pejorative in recent years--to mean someone with a selfish agenda. But a person who is pursuing an agenda for profit is most often simply a business person. A person pursuing a profitable agenda for some other entity is just an employee. These are not activists, but rather people working at a job, whether you like their agenda or not.

Calling anyone with an agenda an "activist" Is a trick of those seeking power to suppress the warrior energy of those they want to control. 

Activists, on the other hand, are in the most clear definition of the word not paid and not working for any specific personal gain. Instead their motivation is that of the warrior--protection of home and family, protection of the tribe, defense of the interconnected reality that allows the self to live and thrive.

This is the other energy of Beltane, the shadow side.

The opposite pole in the dance with the lover is not the hater. It is the warrior. Union is the natural partner of protection.

In the past year, the brave people of Standing Rock helped other people all over the world realize the fundamental link between the ancient warrior and the modern activist. While there are activists of many types, fighting in defense of home, family and tribe in a myriad of ways, the activist most easily connected to the warrior tradition is the environmental activist.

From Standing Rock campers to alternative energy innovators, from animal advocates to investors in rain forest reserves, earth warriors share the energy of Beltane. That is why for me this is a celebration of environmental activism and interconnection around the world as much as anything else.

Children and warrior energy

Now that I have children, this topic has become critical for me. I see them pulled--by peers, media and society--toward frittering their life force away with video games or allowing it to be suppressed. I realize the need to awaken that warrior energy for appropriate modern activism. 

I have been an earth warrior from an early age. I spoke up in defense of Greenpeace activists when a teacher at my conservative middle school denounced them. I wrote letters to the local newspaper when I was fourteen to protest clear-cut logging practices. I marched in anti-nuclear protests when I was much younger than that and protested the 1990 war in Iraq, at a time when few others did.

The book Shanna and the Water Fairy is children's fiction but its writing was informed by these experiences. I know from my own childhood that children often feel the pull of warrior energy. And if given access to information about the issues, they are often passionate earth warriors. This book is first and foremost a gripping story that kids love to read or hear read a loud, but it also has the capacity to give hope to the spirits of young earth warriors, who may be beginning to feel that the struggles are too big for them.

Pagan Book Review: Pagan Dreaming

A review of a non-traditional dream manual

As a person interested in earth-centered spirituality, I've heard plenty of theories on dreams and dream interpretation. I've always been fascinated by the subject, but never committed to a paradigm. I've read both mystical and psychological texts on dreams, but didn't feel that the theories and interpretations made intuitive sense.

Now finally there is a book for people like me--the practical and scientific-minded mystic. Nimue Brown's Pagan Dreaming: The Magic of Altered Consciousness is a non-traditional dream manual that not only makes sense, it is also a comfort to read. The tone is like sitting down to a cup of tea in a homey kitchen with a woman who takes no nonsense and puts on no airs.

Brown's approach is dramatically different from the many dream dictionaries that claim that dreams speak to us in a universal symbolic language. Instead Brown argues that symbols are varied and--in our diverse world--likely to be individual in their language. This book is more about learning your own symbolic language of dreams than using someone else's. 

Pagan Dreaming presents both the physiological and brain chemistry side of dreaming as well as the processes by which giving dreams their rightful place in our lives can enrich a spiritual life. It's more of a manual of techniques and thinking than it is a dream interpretation book. And this sits well with me. 

The premise of the book is that most dreams, probably the vast majority of dreams, are ordinary processes of the body reflecting physical needs or sorting memory--essentially the "system check" mode of our bodies. And then there are a few dreams which may--and then really only subjectively--be considered to have emotional or spiritual meaning. This is the experience of most people.

Many books have claimed that the more one can act coherently in dreams and choose the type of dreaming, the more spiritually aware and integrated the person. Many books have claimed that a truly spiritual or enlightened person should have prophetic or significant dreams. These books are likely to make those whose dreams are more like a"system check" feel inferior and perhaps ready to accept the wisdom of a supposedly enlightened teacher. Brown is selling none of that. 

Instead she gives a guide to learning about one's own dreams, empowering the individual to be their own teacher. As such, I did not find in this book the answer to questions I have about some rare bit eerily predictive dreams I have experienced since childhood. I did not learn how to turn my mundane dreams into more of the predictive kind. But I did gain some ideas and a structure in which to start looking for a greater understanding.

Spring Equinox blessings from the crafty kitchen

Let the rain rain and the wind blow

An end comes to the the reign of snow.

Bright hues take from the drawer.

Life's new chance knocks at the door.

If your spirit sometimes feels a bit bruised these days, you're not alone. There are not a lot of good fixes that will harden our spirits without closing us down. But there is solace. 

For me, one solace is creating useful items that are also beautiful in connection with the natural world. It can be difficult to find the time, but well worth it when you do. 

Carve out a little time, brew some tea, light a candle and get out supplies. I have several crafts here to suit the materials on hand. Each one helps to ground and renew the spirit. 

These crafts are inspirations for Ostara/Spring Equinox/Easter crafts that are not actually made with an egg shell for a change. These are easy crafts individually and can be handled by a frazzled mom and kids, at least by this one, or by those without a ton of craft experience. And yet they are real crafts with tangible and useful results.

I include crafts in my blogs because I am often frustrated by the craft sites online that seem to give no thought to how hard it is to fit these things into everyday life, especially when you have little ones. I include here both realistic instructions and my own learning experiences in hopes that others may be saved the hassle.

20170312_121731.jpg

Easy Equinox Spring-in-your-step Soap

This is from an easy melt-and-pour soap recipe but can be used even if you're making your own lye soap. I used a moisturizing, clear glycerin soap base. I was frustrated with the soap we buy at the store that dries our skin and doesn't smell all that great. Also my daughter is always begging to buy expensive colorful soap and this is healthy, quick, easy and cheap.

  1. Cut a block of soap base into small cubes or quarter-inch thick slices with a sharp knife
  2. Heat in a pot devoted to soap and candle making on a low heat.
  3. Prepare a box (plastic or paper lined with plastic) or soap molds if you have them. I used a paper handkerchief box lined with wax paper.
  4. When the soap has thoroughly melted in the pot, add a few drops of food coloring. Just a few! Mine came out a very rich color and that was probably only three drops. (We used purple for luck, independence and psychic connection and because my daughter wanted purple. Other great spring colors are green (for prosperity and success), yellow (for happiness and imagination) and light blue (for peace and tranquility).
  5. Add 20 to 40 drops of essential oils (depending on your sensitivity to fragrances). We used mint (for happiness and spring renewal), pine (for healing, protection and fertility), geranium (for spring love and joy, as well as not incidentally an excellent repellent for tick season) and a touch of lavender (to dispel any lingering winter doldrums). This is what I call the spring-in-your-step soap fragrance.
  6. Add a handful of ground or finely chopped and crushed herbs. I use lavender flowers, which are pretty so I don't entirely grind them up. They give the soap a nice scratchy, scrubby texture which helps clean off the dead skin that accumulates over the winter (defoliation). And it adds lovely natural beauty. Stir the herbs in well.
  7. Pour the melted soap into your prepared box or molds.
  8. Let it sit for at least three hours or overnight. Remove it from the molds. It slides right out. Then, if you have used a box like I did, cut the soap into bars. I recommend making smaller bars than you would normally buy in the store because glycerin soap, which is healthier than the stuff you usually buy in the store, softens faster in damp conditions in the bathroom. A smaller bar will end up wasting less soap and you'll replace it more often.
  9. Wrap the bars in plastic wrap to store. The one mistake I made in this process the first time around was not wrapping up my soap. It dried out and cracked a little over time. It was still quite usable but not as pretty. Plastic or wax paper will work better. Paper often sticks to the soap. 

Time for a luxurious spring bath!

Salt-dough egg decor

This is a craft for my kids who love painting. It makes beautiful home decor, something to put on the wall above the table or in place of a wreath on the front door for spring. And it's a very forgiving craft. Even a toddler can make a beautiful spring egg if given bright colors and an egg shape.

  1. Mix salt dough (A cup of flour, a cup of salt, 2./3 cup hot water, a table spoon of oil)  and roll out thin.
  2. Use a large shape cutter or a knife to cut an egg shape about as big as your outstretched hand.
  3. Use small cookie cutters to cut out shapes from the inside (butterfly and flower cookie cutters are great but small circles and diamonds are fine too).
  4. Save the cutouts to glue on in other places on the egg shape.
  5. Bake on low heat or air dry for several days. 
  6. Paint with bright and pastel colors.
  7. Use glue or a glue gun to place the cutout shapes on the egg.
  8. Hang as a spring decoration
20170312_123532.jpg

Equinox candle magic

I'm crazy about candles in general and celebrating the Wheel of the Year I love to have candles specifically designed for various occasions. One way to do that is with color and scents. But I also wanted to find a way to make candles in various shapes. 

I am also a cookie-cutter enthusiast, so I figured I could make candles in cookie cutters one way or another. So I started experimenting. 

As you can imagine, the first experiments resulted in a lot of wax running all over the table. I suggest using paraffin wax, not beeswax for these candles. Beeswax will stick in small crevices of cookie cutters and be hard to remove without breaking the candle. Beeswax is also harder to remove from your table. With paraffin wax the old adage your mother probably told you really does apply:  Don't touch it until it's cool and it will come right off. 

After several more experiments I found that if you place a piece of wax paper over several layers of soft paper towels, you have a slick and wax-proof surface that is also slightly soft. When you go to pour your melted wax, you press down hard on the cookie cutter and it cuts into the soft surface, trapping the wax inside. Pour only a quarter-inch of wax and then wait and blow on the surface of the wax. You should be able to release it without the wax spilling after 30 to 60 seconds, depending on how much wax you have poured.

Let that candle sit and move on to your other cookie cutters or molds until the thin layer of wax in the bottom of the cookie cutter has more thoroughly cooled. Then position a wick in the middle of your candle and pour in a little more wax. Hold down the cookie cutter and wait a bit, holding the wick in place. The cooled wax at the bottom will remelt somewhat so if you bump the cookie cutter, you could have it all spill out. But it will only melt a little and mostly it should stay. 

Once you have your candle half full and slightly congealed, you've won. With that candle at least. Top off the candle as high as you can go and making sure the wick stays central and upright. 

20170312_123028.jpg

Hints and tips:

Grease your cookie cutters with cooking oil before use. I haven't had much trouble getting candles out of the cookie cutters but a little oil helps it slide. 

Don't worry if your cookie cutter molds leak. Just don't lift them up. Let spilled wax cool and keep pouring. The leaked part will serve as a dike and eventually your candle will get full. Then peel the spilled wax off the wax paper and put it back in the pan to remelt. No harm done. Just keep hot wax off your clothes and skin. 

Step-by-step cookie-cutter candle-making instructions: 

  1. Set grated or cut paraffin wax in a pot on low heat to melt.
  2. Select theme-appropriate cookie cutters as molds and grease them with a little cooking oil. Deep cookie cutters are better but even a very short candle will burn and look pretty.
  3. Lay down three or four layers of paper towels and cover with a sheet of wax paper. Place cookie cutters on the wax paper.
  4. Ready short pieces of wick about an inch longer than the depth of your cookie cutters.
  5. When the wax is fully melted add essential oils for fragrance. For spring I enjoy lemongrass and rosewood. And add wax colors, if you have them. Do not use liquid food coloring. I actually tried it and it does not work at all. 
  6. Hold a cookie cutter down firmly. Pour a quarter inch of hot wax into the bottom. Continue to hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Then release and repeat with remaining cookie cutters. 
  7. Return to the first cookie cutter and place a short piece of wick upright in the center. With some luck it will simply stick into the congealing wax and stand up without being held in place. Repeat with remaining cookie cutters.
  8. Once the wax is visibly congealing, pour in more wax little by little to allow time for the wax to congeal.
  9. Hold wicks in place as you wait for the wax to cool.
  10. Top off the cookie cutters as much as possible. There is no need to leave room at the top. The wax slightly contracts. 
  11. As the wax cools, peel off spilled wax and return it to the pot for reheating. 

You can use this method to make themed candles for many holidays. My favorites are sun, star and moon shaped candles, leaves, eggs and flowers for the spring, fruit and animals for the summer, acorns and deer (reindeer from Christmas cookie-cutter sets work great) for the fall, and trees, stars and suns for winter.

I hope these craft ideas are helpful or at least inspiring. Please share this post with interested friends.

You may also enjoy the children's chapter book with illustrations by Julie Freel that I have for Ostara. It is a story for kids ages six to twelve that centers around the Spring Equinox and deals with the difficulties of new beginnings, friendship and learning about diverse cultures. It is primarily a fun book for kids and my kids won't put it down, but it also contains ideas for natural egg dyes and other spring celebration plans.

Blessings of spring renewal to all! 

The spirit of Ostara: the cycles of the earth as a guide to good living

Sometimes I am asked why I celebrate the Pagan Wheel of the Year with my family, even when there isn't a fun community event to attend.

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Why do you need special words for season celebrations? Why do you need to complicate the dates of school holidays for your kids? There isn't definitive proof of the ancient origins of celebrating eight solar holidays, so isn't it partly made up?

As with most things connected to spirituality, there are several levels to my answer.. On the surface, the answer is simply that these celebrations ring true to me deep inside. And second, I want honesty in practice, I suppose.

Growing up in an earth-centered family that didn't use the Wheel of the Year, calling our celebration "Christmas," while  acknowledging that we were really celebrating the Winter Solstice, I always felt a disconnect. If we're "really" celebrating the winter solstice and we know historically that Jesus Christ probably wasn't born on December 25 and he isn't our main focus anyway, then why don't we just celebrate the Winter Solstice and cut out the middle man? 

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

I felt like kids in real Christian families had it better because they had a tradition, something meaningful in their celebration. And ours felt truncated, damaged... even, yes, stolen. This was not an intellectual thing. I was too young at the time to know the history but that was how I felt.

And I wanted a sense of authenticity for my kids.

That was essentially my motivation in the beginning for celebrating the Wheel of the Year. But lets's face it, it's a hard thing to keep up year after year--a holiday every six weeks or so, that begs for specific preparation, attention and connection. If it were only a matter of principle, I might not have lasted thirteen years and counting. Many people don't.

What keeps me strong and passionate about celebrating the Wheel of the Year is it's practical usefulness. 

Yes, practical, real benefits. Let me explain.

We all tend to get stuck at some point in our lives, either in depression or being a workaholic, being young and isolated form what isn't in our generation or being old and feeling like our life is over. There are many places to get stuck and those stuck places can last years.

And that is a large cause of misery. 

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

The Wheel of the Year essentially ensures that I don't get stuck. The celebrations in are in alignment with nature and thus objectively "true" or "real." Even deep depression eventually has to at least acknowledge the fact that spring came again. 

And better yet, the Wheel of the Year is a spiritual teaching in a nutshell. Within it there is pretty much all you need to meditate on spiritually. Each celebration calls up specific important values and themes and taken all together they are a code of spiritual being. 

People sometimes ask how I teach my children about Pagan beliefs and rituals. The primary answer is that I celebrate the Wheel of the Year with them. There are other things, like learning herbcraft, grounding meditation, prayers of gratitude for food and a little simple candle magic, but mostly it's about the Wheel of the Year for my kids. The earth is our textbook and the Wheel of the Year is our lesson plan.

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

It isn't just as simple as learning the cycles of the seasons though. Okay, sure, everything dies in the fall and is reborn in the spring here, but in some climates that isn't entirely true. That isn't really the point anyway. Each celebration has particular themes that feel connected to the earth and sun at that time and therefore are easily understood at that point in our journey around the sun.

At Imbolc we go within and delve into dreams and intuition. It is the time in the belly, before the birth of new plans, activities and projects. At Litha (the summer solstice) we are full of life, bounty, energy, pride and expression. We are often hard at work and celebration comes amid many other activities. At Samhain, we are drawn back to the earth, there is a feeling of old sorrow, of things coming to necessary ends and a tendency toward memory. It is the natural time to be reminded to honor our ancestors. 

If you celebrate Imbolc, you will not go a whole year without remembering to focus on your inner world. If you celebrate Litha, you will not go a whole year without expressing yourself with energy and pride. If you celebrate Samhain, you will not go a whole year without honoring ancestors.

And each celebration has a similarly crucial point. I will be writing more posts about the spirit of each celebration, but the celebration at hand is Ostara, so I'll start with that.

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Ostara

Ostara is the European Pagan term for the spring equinox and it is celebrated much like Easter. The appropriate symbols are eggs, sprouting plants, rabbits, hares and babies of all kinds. The obvious themes are renewal, rebirth, the beginning of life and expression, new beginnings in general and children. 

As a mother, it is very important to me that my children have a lovely time at Ostara. It is a time to honor and delight in them. They are the future, our new beginning as a species. Their joy in the springtime is a blessed and righteous thing. So, more than any other time they get to eat a lot of candy. They fully enjoy scouring the yard and back woods for treats and eggs. We make pretty colorful crafts, many of them egg-related. 

But when I started to contemplate exactly how to convey the concept of rebirth and new beginnings to young children, I realized that the spirit of Ostara goes much deeper than that. If this is a celebration that also honors children, that necessarily implies the protection and valuing of that which is vulnerable. New life is inherently vulnerable and we can see that protection of vulnerability in all of the ancient symbols of this celebration--particularly the egg.

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

We know that in our modern world the worst abuses of human rights are suffered by children. Children are more likely than adults to live in poverty or to be in need of basic necessities like food, water and shelter. Children are often the first to suffer when societal racism or other prejudices rear their ugly heads. There are obvious reasons why the protection of children is connected to human rights in general. 

The protection of new life extends, of course to the protection of the vulnerable among other species. The concept of both biological and cultural diversity is implied in the rainbow colors of Ostara. This is not only a celebration of one rebirth but of all the colors and miraculous diversity of life--human and otherwise. 

This realization has deepened my experience of Ostara. This celebration of renewal can be a great help in overcoming a stuck place in myself. If there is some lingering depression, hurt, resentment or stagnation, the return of light to our northern latitude does wonders for it. The necessity of getting outside and tending vigorously to the spring needs of our urban homestead is invaluable in getting past blocks. 

But more than that, the celebration of rebirth, color, diversity and the protection of the vulnerable is what the heart needs at such times. It is a shot of clear-eyed idealism., regardless of how bleak things may seem in the outside world.

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

This year, many of us are exhausted from a long winter that did not seem to be as restful as it should have been. We have been struggling to retain the way of life we and our ancestors fought for--the rights and freedoms that often came at great cost. We are also contemplating that now when we should be working primarily for a sustainable future, environmental concerns have taken a back seat to the immediate needs of vulnerable people in our society.

Plenty of us are already experiencing outrage fatigue. And it is just early days yet.

And here is Ostara, the celebration of renewal, a time to warm your heart and think of fluffy and bright colored things. It may be hard to grasp when things are hard, but this is what we actually need right now. 

Stop a moment, ground yourself in the earth. Remember that the earth's rhythm does matter. Let the energy of renewal and new life flow into you. Focus your energies on protecting those most vulnerable, both human and non-human. Celebrate the rainbow of diversity in languages, cultures, colors and species.

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Break free.

 In my quest to teach my children these values of eternally resilient life and hope, I wrote the Ostara story Shanna and the Pentacle. This is a story for all earth-centered, goddess-oriented and vaguely Pagan families. It isn't a "teachy" book, but rather a story that grabs kids' attention, especially if they are growing up as a religious minority.

In this story about new beginnings, eleven-year-old Shanna and her eight-year-old brother Rye move to a new school. At first, that seems like challenge enough. New beginnings are exciting but not always easy. Amid budding flowers and preparations for their Ostara celebration, Shanna runs into a real problem. Her teacher and some of the kids at her new school object to a pentacle necklace that her best friend gave her.

When her family moved Shanna had to leave her best friend behind and that is part of the difficulty of this new beginning. When her teacher demands that Shanna stop wearing her pentacle to school and the principal confiscates it as a suspected "gang symbol," the young girl feels the sting of prejudice. 

Shanna is at the same time learning to accept others who are different from her. One of the new things about her new school is the greater cultural and racial diversity of this urban school over her previous one. Shanna soon discovers that friends come in many varieties and it is through a surprising friendship that Shanna gains the courage to stand up for her own identity as a Pagan girl. 

This story not only embodies the crucial messages of Ostara, but it is also filled with beautiful paintings by Julie Freel that evoke the season and the story. This is a story for Ostara, though one that will show that new beginnings aren't always easy. It emphasizes the importance of standing up for one's own identity, the great advantages of diversity and the need to protect the young and vulnerable. With this story, these values are not forced on children but delivered in a way that makes them as natural as the fact that the sun rises earlier every day in the spring. 

I hope you'll enjoy this story and share its fun and themes with children in your life. Many people have asked when there will be more stories in the Children's Wheel of the Year series and I am delighted to tell you that the Beltane book is very nearly ready to be printed and will be out well ahead of the holiday.

I hope you will support our endeavor--which is still non-profit due to the costs of the illustrations, materials and books--and share these stories with others. If you are eager for more stories about the natural themes and values of the Wheel of the Year, spreading the word about these stories is a significant help in our efforts to keep them coming. 

Happy reading and blessed Ostara to all!

Egg candles: an easy spring craft for big kids and adults

Many Ostara/spring equinox crafts for kids and adults come out looking suspiciously like Easter crafts. And well, obviously there are good and honorable reasons for that. But still... sometimes you get a hankering for something entirely earthy. 

I love early spring with its scents of seeds swelling and soil thawing. Even before the equinox I can feel the tension of it, like a bow string taught and ready to release an arrow. This calls for a craft with strong earth and birth symbolism.

I am definitely attracted to the idea of crafts that involve filling egg shells with earth and growing either grass, herbs or a small flower in them. But there is yet little sunlight at our northern latitude before the equinox and my egg pots usually come out looking pretty pitiful, rather than like a glorious celebration of spring. And that's if they sprout at all. A nice alternative for those without either the sunlight or the green thumb is to make egg candles for Ostara. 

This craft fits nicely in with the Imbolc period of candle-making before Ostara and if you use beeswax, the result is wonderfully grounded and primed to boost rituals for fertility, creativity, rebirth and growth of all kinds.

I was intimidated about candle-making for far too long, believing it was a craft only for those with a lot of experience and time on their hands. But at last, I was delighted to find a simple method that really doesn't take much time at all.

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1. Cleaning the egg shells:  First, the next time you cook with eggs, crack your eggs by carefully tapping the smaller end of them, rather than the middle. And then use your fingernails to peel back bits of the shell until you can dump the contents into your cooking container. Carefully chip away the shell until you have an opening only at the top of the egg, leaving most of the egg shell intact. Wash the egg shells with warm water and leave them out to dry for a few days.

2. Gathering your supplies: Meanwhile get together everything you will need.

  • First, you'll need a pan for melting wax. I recommend using something you won't be cooking food in, but I do use my pans that for making medicinal salves that also use wax. Wax residue just isn't good in soup.
  • You will obviously need some wax. Beeswax is best but any kind of candle wax or even the stubs of old candles will do.
  • If you want to color your candles for Ostara-pink, green and yellow wax colors are perfect.
  • You will also need wicks. These can usually be bought at any craft store. The kind with small foil circles at the bottom are best for this.
  • Otherwise, you'll need a wooden spoon, paper towels, wax paper and some small sticks or chopsticks.

3. Melting the wax: Heat your wax over a low heat on the stove, stirring occasionally. If you use low heat you don't need to worry that it will burn. Just don't leave it long enough that it starts boiling rapidly. Skim off any debris that may have been in the wax.

4: Setting up your candle molds and wicks: While the wax is heating, set your eggs (now candle molds) upright, probably in an egg carton. Place a wick into each egg with the small disc at the bottom. 

5: Pouring the wax: When the wax is uniformly liquid, carefully pour it into your eggs. You can use a dipper but that too will become coated with wax. I also recommend putting wax paper under your eggs to catch drips of wax. Wax, particularly sticky beeswax, is rather difficult to clean off of surfaces and particularly hard to get out of fabric. It also burns the skin, so be sure to have small children stand clear of the immediate area while you're pouring.

6: Holding the wicks in place: Now here is the only slightly tricky part. As your egg candles cool, you want to keep the wicks in place with the bottom of the wick at the bottom of the egg shell (not floating up) and with the wick coming out of the wax in the middle the hole at the top of each egg, rather than along the side which will be its natural tendency.

Egg candles 1.jpg

Because it takes awhile for the hot wax to cool and solidify, it is usually not possible to hold them there by hand unless you only have one candle for each hand. (If you do have enough hands, just hold the wicks in place and sing some songs for spring minutes and you'll be done in far simpler fashion and have an extra dose of creative energy in your candles.) The method that works best for me to hold the wicks in place without a lot of helping hands is to use two sticks--such as a pair of chopsticks--and pinch the wicks between the sticks, while resting the sticks on the tops of the eggs. The trick is to get a bit of the hot wax onto the top portion of your wick and then use the still warm wax to glue the wicks to the sticks by holding them firmly pinched for a moment. In the end the wick-holding mechanism looks like the photo to the right. (I'm hoping Dr. Seuss will do a book on wicks and sticks, based on this blog post. :D )

7. Cleaning up: This is one craft where a specific note on cleanup is appropriate. Most commercial candle wax comes off of hard surfaces if you just let it cool and then peel it off. You can remove it from clothing by placing paper towels under and over the cloth and then ironing well.

But beeswax can be a bit stickier and doesn't always come off well. The thing to remember is that beeswax and other waxes will also come off with heat. This is why I recommend keeping paper towels on hand for this craft. As soon as you are done with your pot and spoon, wipe them well with paper towels while they are still hot. (That part of this step should be done before you even hold your wicks in place.) You can also use paper towels to wipe dripped wax off the outside of the eggs if you strike quickly while they're still hot. But if you drip wax on a cool surface (such as the table) leave it alone until it cools completely. If you do end up smearing wax on the table, use a rag soaked in hot water.

8. Decorating: You can paint the outsides of your candles or tie ribbons around them. To hold them upright, either drip a bit of wax onto a hard surface and place the candle firmly on top, pressing down gently until it cools and the candle stays upright, or you can fill a bowl with rough sea salt, sand or rice and place the egg candles upright in it. Dry (uncooked) rice with green food coloring gives a nice spring touch. 

If you would like more practical Ostara crafts and ideas for earth-centered families, take a look at the kid's adventure book Shanna and the Pentacle. It includes craft ideas for this holiday as well as the story of a sister and brother who move to a new school and learn about cultural diversity and standing up for their own beliefs. 

The Arctic Goddesses of the Sap Moon: International Moon Circle 9

In the far north, the year is just dawning. The long moonlit nights are finally giving way to dawn. And the full moon of night is giving up its place to the waxing moon of young life. It is a mercy that the moon is in the sky in the Arctic when it is full, during the winter when there is so little sunshine. In summer, the moon is rarely visible, only in the sky when it is dark or new..

Wait. Pause and think on that miracle for a moment.

Creative Commons image by Daniel Frei

Creative Commons image by Daniel Frei

The moon and the sun dance in this way, never leaving the Arctic in complete darkness. Such is the kindness of the guardians of sun, moon and earth. And the understandable reverence and gratitude toward these goddesses felt by the various peoples of the Arctic for millennia is a powerful meditation for people everywhere. 

If we can connect to this knowledge that, despite the chaos of the universe and the whirling physics of the planets, our sun and moon have conspired to always shed light of one kind or the other on the coldest and loneliest places, In that light, it is easier to believe that our planet will survive the current period of destruction and the forces of returning life will prevail, no matter how deep the darkness.

It is nearly spring and yet I choose now to focus on the Arctic goddesses. Their symbols often appear more apt in the winter to people in temperate climates, but in their essence they are all about the return of light. And for that reason, I feel this is their season.

I have gathered goddesses from various Arctic cultures, connecting this moon with a geographical region rather than a specific culture or pantheon. This is by no means meant as a sign of disrespect, but rather a means of including less known cultures in this circle of moon goddesses.

The Maiden for this moon is Kalteš, the Siberian goddess of the hare, the Mother is the Saami Goddess Akka, and the Dark Goddess is the Inuit goddess Sedna. 

Waxing Moon

Kalteš is a Siberian Ugric goddess of the moon and the hare. She is also called the dawn maiden and she is a symbol of life, hope and energy in a cold land. She is a maiden who helps with births and determines the destinies of humans. Her symbols are the hare, the goose and the birch tree. (Lurker 1987)

The Sap Moon is the time when the birch begins to leaf in our part of the world, leading to the name of the month in the Czech language as Birch Month. A good way to connect with Kalteš might be putting birch twigs into a vase and making hare figures. We often make hare-or rabbit-shaped cookies for Ostara during this moon. 

Full Moon

Akka means old or mother-age woman. She is a Saami goddess of many faces. As Madder-Akka, she is Lady of the Mother, the ultimate mother who gave birth to the others. All that is good comes from her.

As Sar-Akka she opens the womb and is sometimes considered the supreme deity. She was traditionally honored by chopping wood outside the birthing tent, and new mothers ate porridge with three sticks in it to divine the future of their child. Finding the black stick meant death, white meant good luck and the cleft stick meant success.

Juks-Akka is the Bow Woman, the protector of children and the spirit of the wilderness. Uks-Akka is the bringer of light and the guardian of thresholds, both of the womb and of the home. She gives blessings to those going out into the world. (Monagham 2014).

So, this is a good full moon to make porridge from hardy and whole grains--sweet and delicious. Sticks may or may not be added, but divination is also a good way to connect. Blessing all the entrances to the home is also appropriate. 

Creative Commons image by Steve Cottrell

Creative Commons image by Steve Cottrell

Waning and Dark Moon

I rarely find the stories of dark goddesses too dark, but Sedna’s story was at first too much for me. I put her aside for a time, but she came up again and again in seemingly random studies about the goddesses of many cultures. And now that I look more closely I see the awesome power of her story. 

She seems at first to be simply a helpless victim, which was the reason I was initially uninspired. Sedna was a maiden who refused to marry. She ran away but was captured at last by a husband. Then her father came to take her back in his boat. It is possible that it wasn't just her who refused the marriage but also her family.

A storm rose up at sea to block the father-daughter escape. And fearing that his tiny boat would be swamped, the father pushed Sedna into the sea. She clung to the side of the boat but he cut off her fingers and arms. She drowned and her fingers turned into seals and her arms into whales as she sank. The end.

Or so I thought. But through further research I found that Sedna is the Inuit goddess of plenty, not of tragedy, victimhood and passivity. At first, I still wondered if she was a sign that the Inuit people feel they were short changed when it comes to "plenty," given that they inhabit a frozen land and have suffered so much at the hands of other humans. 

But again, this was just my narrow, modern thinking showing. As it turns out, Sedna is truly the goddess of plenty because to the Inuit the sea, the seals and the whales constitute a great and abundant plenty. The Inuit are well aware that we live from the lives of others, that our sustenance requires sacrifices from the earth and from the sea. (Monaghan 1999) This is why the story of the goddess of plenty is one of sacrifice and loss as well.

It is only gratitude that Sedna asks. Instead of the wrath of many dark goddesses, she let’s us suffer our own internal consequences for ignoring these facts of life and nature. Symbols of Sedna are the full figures of whales and other large sea animals as well as waves and boats. One way to connect with her is to honor those beings that provide us with food in whatever climate we may be in and regardless of whether or not they are plants or animals. Activism to protect the oceans and ocean creatures from pollution, over-fishing and other human activities are also appropriate in her name. 

Bibliography

  • Auset, B. (2009). The Goddess Guide: Exploring the Attributes and Correspondences of the Divine Feminine. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Caputi, J. (2004). Goddesses and Monsters. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Hunt, L. (2001). An Illustrated Meditation Guide: Celestial Goddesses. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Jordan, M. (2004). Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses. New York, NY: Facts On File, Inc.
  • Laguna, R. (2014). Ishtar. In Greenfield, T. (Ed.), Naming the Goddess (pp. 214 - 216). Washington, DC: Moon Books.
  • Leeming, D. and Page, J. (1994). Goddess: Myths of the Female Divine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Littleton, C. S. Ed, (2005). Gods, Goddesses and Mythology, Volume 4. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.
  • Loar, J. (2008). Goddesses for Every Day. Navato, CA: New World Library.
  • Lurker, M. (1987). A Dictionary of Gods, Goddesses, Devils and Demons. New York, NY: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd.
  • McLeod, S. P. (1960). The Devine Feminine in Ancient Europe. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc. Publishers.
  • Monagham, P. (1997). The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Monagham, P. (1999). The Goddess Companion. Woodbury, MN. Llewellyn Publications.
  • Monagham, P. (2014). Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. Novato, CA: New World Library.
  • Motz, L. (1997). The Faces of the Goddess. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Reid-Bowen, P. (2007). Goddess As Nature. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.
  • Skye, M. (2007). Goddess Alive! Woodbury, MN, Llewellyn Publications.
  • Sykes, E. (2002). Who’s Who in Non-Classical Mythology. New York, NY: Routledge.

Dedication to Brigid

This Imbolc, after thirteen years of searching and a year and a day of study and devotion to Brigid, I have chosen my specific path and made my dedication. This has come at a time of great injustice in the world. Brigid is in her warrior guise and rides to protect outsiders, refugees and children. Healers are needed. Poets and writers are needed. Warriors for justice are needed. I do not know all the twists and turns of the path ahead but I have faith in her guidance. 

Simple method for making a beautiful Brigid doll

My eight-year-old daughter is not normally very excited about crafts and she tends to be impatient, so I was amazed and delighted by our success with this craft. 

We made Brigid dolls today--two of them because she decided to set up her own altar and wanted to make her own doll all by her self. The craft held her interest for several hours and came out really beautiful.

1. We took a square of white cloth and put a solid ball of cotton in the middle of it. You can use anything from crumpled paper to cloth scraps to a Styrofoam craft ball. You can also use a white paper handkerchief in place of a white cloth for a quick but less durable doll. 

2. We then gathered the corners of the cloth and tied a red or gold string under the ball to form a kind of neck. We cut slits every few inches in the cloth, almost up to but not quite reaching the neck. 

3. Then we rolled up another smaller rectangle of cloth and tied it at the ends to form arms. This we inserted under the neck through the slits, so that the arms protrude on both sides. (I also inserted a little extra cloth in min for breasts but my daughter didn't. You can see the difference in the photos below.

4. Then we inserted some dried lavender stalks from the bottom in place of legs. This makes the doll smell wonderful. You can substitute many different herbs or stalks of grain. Really anything symbolizing your last-year's harvest is symbolically appropriate. 

5. We tied a second string around the middle under the arms, This serves as a waist and holds the herb stalks in place. 

6. Now it was time to decorate the doll. First we put on hair. We loosely sewed embroidery floss into the head, letting each stitch dangle for several inches. This was by far the most difficult and time-consuming part of the craft and it could be avoided by coloring or gluing on wool, fabric or feathers in place of hair. But we loved the look of the embroidery floss.

7. We then tied and stitched a scarf or hair band on over the hair. This can also be done with hot glue. 

8. Next we put on faces. My daughter chose to color hers on with markers and I embroidered mine on, although I am no expert at embroidery. Both turned out fine.

9. I added a lace apron to match the scarf, because I had a bit of extra curtain lace hanging around. Both can be made with any white cloth or even a white paper handkerchief. 

10. Finally we used another red string to tie a few lavender sprigs into the hands so that they formed a welcoming circle in front of the doll.

All ties were made with either red or gold strings. A Brigid doll should generally be white with red, gold and possibly purple highlights. This is the doll we will use in our Imbolc ritual. We will place the dolls in baskets by the hearth to sleep through the night before Imbolc. Then the children will come and light candles and symbolically wake up Brigid to bring in the spring in the morning. It is their favorite part of the Imbolc holiday. 

I'm so happy to finally share the making of the doll with my daughter too.

By the way, this is the same craft used in the children's adventure story around Imbolc called Shanna and the Raven. Although in the book the craft is done with natural sticks or stalks of herbs for the arms as well. There is also a delicious recipe for white and red strawberry dumplings in the book. It's a story about how a couple of modern goddess-orriented kids celebrate the holiday and learn to use intuition for their own protection. 

I hope you will all have peace and inspiration this holiday. Blessings of creativity and warm hearths to all!

The Slavic Goddesses of the Snow Moon: International Moon Circle 8

The Slavic pantheon is one of the least known in the world today. Christianity came early to the Slavic peoples and much of what came before has been lost--even the very names of many of the gods and goddesses, let alone coherent myths. Still there are echoes to be found in folklore, cultural symbols and fairy tales. 

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

I live in the Czech Republic, which is while supposedly a Slavic country also the most Celtic nation outside the British Isles. Ancient Celtic culture thrived in the Bohemian river valleys before the Slavic tribes came. We know little about the specifics of the warfare that ensued but genetic tests show that although the Slavic culture gained authority, many Celts remained to pass on their genes. 

As a result, in this country many of the Slavic myths have odd Celtic twists and turns. Maypole celebrations still pop up in the villages in the spring, there are troublesome and powerful spirits now called "Devils" who figure prominently in folklore.

To the east, the myths and stories change form and take on a different atmosphere, possibly more originally Slavic. And though there are a lot of questions about ancient Slavic goddesses, I have special reason to seek them out and this season of winter when the cold comes down from the north and east seems like the time to do so.

The Maiden for this Snow Moon is Zorya (technically three goddesses or one goddess with three faces), the Mother is Mokosh, the Slavic goddess of wells and healing, and the Dark Goddess is Morana.

Waxing Moon

As with the triple goddesses of many cultures, Zorya is three who are one. But when she is three, her aspects are most often depicted as three young maidens, rather than a maiden, mother and crone.

There is Zorya of the Dawn, Zorya of the Evening Star and Zorya of Midnight. (Monagham 2014) She is connected to stars and although sometimes she is described as the wife of the Slavic sea god Peroun, riding with him into battle and shielding warriors, the three Zoryas are also sometimes described as virgin goddesses. Either way her energy is that of the fierce and youthful maiden.

Her symbol could be three stars intertwined. The Slavic goddesses always pull me outdoors. I would suggest a walk at dusk when the crescent moon and stars are visible as a way to connect with Zorya. She gives us courage and power in whatever part of life needs women's fire. 

Full Moon

Mokosh is the goddess of springs, rain, spinning and fertile soil in the Eastern Slavic lands. She is a family-oriented and motherly figure. (Auset 2009) Symbols used to invoke her energy could be wells, water and raw wool. 

Distressingly little has been saved to tell about Mokosh. Some scholars consider her to be a Slavic equivalent of Irish Brigid. She is more watery though and more outdoors, not a hearth goddess although connected to family. The best way to honor her would be a visit to an ancient well or natural spring. Her gift is clean water and fertile creation in all areas.

Waning Moon

Morana, goddess of death, is mentioned in Patriotism, a poem in the Slovanic Kralovedvorsky Manuscript. There is little more about her than that brief mention from ancient sources, but the context in the poem is at the beginning of a battle in which obviously Pagan warriors note that their women stand with them from youth until death as they fight the royal soldiers who destroyed the groves and holy places of the old gods and the king who forbade offerings and worship of the old gods. (Wratislaw 1851)

This again points to the ability of women to be defenders and protectors. Morana, whether she was such in ancient times or not, can now be considered a defender of Pagan and earth-based spiritual paths. She is the call of the ancient past and of ancestors. Hers is the dark unknown into which we must go for answers. And she reminds us that life is not forever, that we must stand up for our truth now while we have the chance.

Symbols used to invoke Morana include an ax or a picture of a battle-ax, ashes or a stone marker. She can be honored through the study of ancestral roots and the protection of ancient ways.

Bibliography

  • Auset, B. (2009). The Goddess Guide: Exploring the Attributes and Correspondences of the Divine Feminine. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Burdette, A. (2014). Aine. In Greenfield, T. (Ed.), Naming the Goddess (pp. 90-92). Washington, DC: Moon Books.
  • Caputi, J. (2004). Goddesses and Monsters. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Hunt, L. (2001). An Illustrated Meditation Guide: Celestial Goddesses. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Jordan, M. (2004). Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses. New York, NY: Facts On File, Inc.
  • Leeming, D. and Page, J. (1994). Goddess: Myths of the Female Divine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Littleton, C. S. Ed, (2005). Gods, Goddesses and Mythology, Volume 4. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.
  • Loar, J. (2008). Goddesses for Every Day. Navato, CA: New World Library.
  • Lurker, M. (1987). A Dictionary of Gods, Goddesses, Devils and Demons. New York, NY: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd.
  • McLeod, S. P. (1960). The Devine Feminine in Ancient Europe. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc. Publishers.
  • Monagham, P. (1997). The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Monagham, P. (1999). The Goddess Companion. Woodbury, MN. Llewellyn Publications.
  • Monagham, P. (2014). Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. Novato, CA: New World Library.
  • Motz, L. (1997). The Faces of the Goddess. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Reid-Bowen, P. (2007). Goddess As Nature. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.
  • Skye, M. (2007). Goddess Alive! Woodbury, MN, Llewellyn Publications.
  • Sykes, E. (2002). Who’s Who in Non-Classical Mythology. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Wratislaw, A. H. (1851). Patriotism: the Ancient Lyrico-Poetic Poem. London, UK: Whittaker and Co.

Imbolc or deep winter: A season in the belly

Ice outside, fire within, the strokes of brush and quill, bitter steam of medicinal plants steeping in a pot--these things defy time.

February 2, the day known to Christians as Candlemas and to modern pop culture as Ground Hog's Day was called Imbolc by the Celts of the British Isles. It is being called that again by earth-centered people all over the world.

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

I grew up with many earth-centered holidays. I knew about the solstices and equinoxes. I even had some idea of the real meanings of Beltane. A harvest party in August or honoring ancestors at Halloween were also not entirely foreign concepts.

But Imbolc was new to me twelve years ago when I adopted the modern Wheel of the Year consisting of eight earth-centered holidays.

Here is a holiday entirely devoted to dreams, introspection, inspiration, intuition and creativity. It is like no other holiday because it can be easily celebrated alone and might even be best that way. 

I have come to love Imbolc. I feel like I am given permission to curl up with the Runes, Tarot and i-Ching in front of a cozy fire and dream without a schedule. I feel like I have permission to take a few days to do those quiet things I love, reading about herbal medicine (healing is a key aspect of Imbolc), creating something beautiful (art and creativity is central to Imbolc), sleeping long hours (it is natural to the season) and lighting lots of candles (the primary symbol of Imbolc is a candle).

I live far from many like-minded others and I often struggle to give my kids an experience of spiritual community. They are mildly resistant to our alternative dates for holidays at Yule or Ostara. The Summer Solstice, Lammas and Mabon just aren't quite right without a gathering of friends or community. But our home is perfect for Imbolc.

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

This is truly the quiet time in our climate, surrounded by cold and frost. We light many candles and have time for more reflection and healing. The colors are stark and beautiful, white, gray and brown. With the sun returning a bit from the edge of the southern horizon, there is a realistic sense of a new year beginning.

I have become specifically devoted to the goddess Brigid in the past few years and Imbolc is the feast day of Brigid. That makes it particularly special and a time to celebrate my connection to the goddess. Brigid is concerned with healing, fire, justice, creativity, inspiration and intuition--all aspects of Imbolc and all things at the core of my life. 

I celebrate Imbolc by making Brigid's crosses for our doorways and hearth. I do divination of various types and a ritual honoring the goddess. I often place a large platter in the center of the table with sea salt, crystals and seven white candles on it. My children and I make a Brigid doll to sleep by the hearth and have a family ritual of waking up Brigid after the winter's sleep.  

Imbolc can mean different things in different climates. For many people this is the day of seeds because the ground is ready for planting. It is still too cold in our climate for planing anything but hardy starts on window sills. The concept of seeds goes along with the Wheel of the Year as a life cycle in which Imbolc is conception, Ostara is the moment of birth, Beltane is exuberant youth and so on. 

In other places though, this day is associated with pregnant ewes, and the word "Imbolc" may have originally meant "in the belly." This is because it is a fallow time in many parts of the world. Plans and activities are in the gestation phase, not yet ready to be revealed. Growth is slow and hidden. 

If you would like to learn more about Imbolc or include this holiday in a multicultural program, check out Shanna and the Raven, an Imbolc adventure story. Shanna and her brother Rye celebrate the holiday amid magic and candlelight, but there are shadows in the modern world. The kids must use intuition and signs from a mysterious raven to protect themselves from a grown-up menace.

In northern climates this was historically the time of candle making in households. There was little other work that could be done with the ground frozen and snow heavy on he earth. The year's candle supply was often made at this time and when northern Europe was Christianized, the holiday was transformed into Candlemas, in which the newly made candles are taken to the church to be blessed. 

There is certainly a connection to blessing candles and protection from fire. Brigid, both the Catholic saint of this day and the Pagan goddess of this time, is widely believed to protect homes from fire. In the Czech Republic Imbolc is still called by an old name "Hromnice" (Thundering). There is no thunder at this season, but the idea was that certain blessings or acts could be done at this time to gain protection from fire and lightening for the year. 

Whether you celebrate a specific holiday during the next few eeks or simply use the winter time for activities that get lost during the rest of the year, I wish you a good season of inspiration, healing and creativity.

Buddhist goddesses of the Wolf Moon - International Moon Circle 7

This waxing moon has been particularly difficult for me on many levels. My daughter's health problems and emotional struggles as well as my own have taken over our daily lives.

I have felt a lot of despair. I've joined in with others to help a friend with her troubles and then returned to my struggle alone, feeling blamed for my geographic isolation and judged for my fears. I have a small circle locally in which I am expected to be stoic and independent. At the same time, I feel uncomfortable asking for moral support in the online world.

This is part of why my post on the goddesses of the Wolf Moon is late this month. As I reviewed my notes, I found a flicker of inspiration. It is not a solution. Perhaps just a sign... I'm not even sure what it is a sign of, except perhaps that spirituality isn't just "all made up and a waste of time" as I've been told by some. 

The sign came in the notes on Guanyin, goddess of mercy and compassion. I have tried to connect with her this waxing moon but I have felt blocked in my own head. I know she is endlessly compassionate and open. But she does not force herself or her compassion on others. She won't come to me. I must come to her. And that has been hard.

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

But then I found that she has reached out to me after all. I had forgotten that one of Guanyin's main symbols is rose water. I had no rose water this year, until I went to the distant and chaotic home of family friends over New Years, when the moon was new. The harried and overworked woman of the house quietly gave me a bottle of rose water as a gift, when I gave her some of my herbal salve. We don't know each other well and wish we lived closer than a few hours distant, so that we could really come to know one another. 

Throughout these struggles I have absentmindedly dabbed the rose water on to my face, unaware of the embrace of Guanyin each time I did it. Now I am sure that Guanyin has been with me, even though I couldn't feel her. She has been here all along.

The Wolf Moon is the time to turn my attention to Buddhist goddesses. Their symbols and areas of expertise are potent and unmistakable, even to those who are not Buddhist. Guanyin, the maiden goddess for the waxing moon, is the lady of compassion and mercy. Marici, the mother goddess, is the unconquerable. And the Dark Goddess Izanami forces questions around popular beauty standards, age and disability, eventually coming full circle to acceptance and universal compassion.

The Waxing Moon

Guanyin brings with her an enduring quality of caring and comfort. She can be honored during the waxing moon with rose water and prayers of compassion for those we see in need of it, including those who may have harmed others. She is the goddess who tells us that each person is loved, even those who have done wrong, the outcast and those who have lost their way.

Guanyin is the unending source of compassion, meeting all with caring and particularly comforting those who who suffer under patriarchal oppression, whether they be men or women. She represents the nurturing female force and the earth which abides through all suppression. (Leeming & Page 1994) 

The myth of Guanyin tells of her mistreatment at the hands of her controlling father and her refusal to let hardship and pain take her heart away from compassion. One way to come to know the culture of Guanyin better is to use the i-Ching as a divination tool and read the philosophy behind it.

The Full Moon

The Mother Goddess Marici is an Indic and esoteric Buddhist goddess of sun and moon. In India and Tibet, she is called “the woman endowed with rays of light.” In China, she is known as “Big Dipper woman.” She is depicted in stillness, sitting demurely on a lotus flower but also as a fierce, warrior woman riding a wild boar or sometimes a chariot pulled by wild boars and wielding many weapons. (Shaw 2006) This gives us ready symbols for ritual—the big dipper, lotus flowers or images of them, wild boar and chariots, possibly the Chariot Tarot card. 

Another symbol of Marici is the Maricinama chant, which contains the words: “She is invisible, indestructible, unbindable, unstoppable, inescapable, unerring, unpunishable, unburnable, and unassailable by weapons.” Marici exudes the energy of the intensely creative woman. She gathers great potential as well as protecting her children from harm and injustice. She sometimes has three faces, one silver, one gold and one dark. There is no reference to this corresponding to the phases of the moon, yet the symbolism is similar, the silver or white face being youth, the golden face being her fullness as Queen of Heaven and her dark face as overseeing death and mystery. (Chaudhuri 2003)

A celebration of this full moon should include playing the Maricimama Dharani which can be found on YouTube and learning the words if possible. Images of a wild boar and a lotus flower can be juxtaposed on the altar—the gentleness and intensity that we balance in creativity. The Chariot and Strength Tarot cards are useful meditations at this time. The Chariot is a symbol of Marici and the Strength card in the Druid Craft Tarot includes the image of a gentle woman with a wild boar. A cup of green tea is a good offering.

The Waning Moon

Izanami is a goddess of life and death in Japanese Buddhism. Her legend says that after she gave birth to the god of fire, he burned her. She became a disfigured old woman “unfit” for the living world and had to go away and rule over the dead. (Auset 2009) She can be recognized at the time of the dark moon by extinguishing candles (the burning fire) and experiencing the deep darkness of winter and the dark phase of the moon. It is also a time to recognize beauty within and to look past outer appearances.

We can remythologize this story also as a symbol of the wrong-headed social rejection of disability, age, injury and those who don’t fulfill the popular beauty standards. Izanami may have been banished to rule the dead, but she brought with her the light and inner beauty that she bestows upon souls.

Bibliography

Auset, B. (2009). The Goddess Guide: Exploring the Attributes and Correspondences of the Divine Feminine. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Caputi, J. (2004). Goddesses and Monsters. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Hunt, L. (2001). An Illustrated Meditation Guide: Celestial Goddesses. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Jordan, M. (2004). Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses. New York, NY: Facts On File, Inc.
Leeming, D. and Page, J. (1994). Goddess: Myths of the Female Divine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Littleton, C. S. Ed, (2005). Gods, Goddesses and Mythology, Volume 4. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.
Loar, J. (2008). Goddesses for Every Day. Navato, CA: New World Library.
Lurker, M. (1987). A Dictionary of Gods, Goddesses, Devils and Demons. New York, NY: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd.
Monagham, P. (1997). The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Monagham, P. (1999). The Goddess Companion. Woodbury, MN. Llewellyn Publications.
Monagham, P. (2014). Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Moss, V. (2014). Cailleach. In Greenfield, T. (Ed.) Naming the Goddess (pp. 133-136). Washington, DC: Moon Books.
Motz, L. (1997). The Faces of the Goddess. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Reid-Bowen, P. (2007). Goddess As Nature. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.
Shaw, M (2006). Buddhist Goddesses of India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Skye, M. (2007). Goddess Alive! Woodbury, MN, Llewellyn Publications.
Sykes, E. (2002). Who’s Who in Non-Classical Mythology. New York, NY: Routledge.

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Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Winter to comfort and heal

I know that by March I will be fed up with winter cold and gray. But for now winter is still young and fresh. New snow has fallen and our little town between the Bohemian hills is quiet under just a light haze of wood and coal smoke. 

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

"It's so good to have a hard frost," my husband says with an audible sigh of relief as he sips his coffee and looks out over the snow-dusted garden. "It will set the garden slugs and mold back It's been three years since we had a good cold shock.."

I know many climates don't have winter like this, not even cold, let alone with snow. But every climate has a fallow period, whether it is parching, cleansing heat or a deluge of rain to wash away the grime of the past year. Everywhere around the world there comes a time of the year for going within, for seeking out a cozy place with a comfortable temperature, for cleaning, refreshing and regenerating. 

Even though I loved sledding as a kid and I see my kids celebrating our little bit of snow with shouts and bright cheeks, I never realized until I was at least thirty that I look forward to this season of deep winter. This is one of the few times of the year when I am not constantly rushing and overloaded with work. End of the year deadlines have passed, tax deadlines are yet to come, outside work is either done or beyond help and life is settled into the winter routine. 

This is often the season when I do my best and most intensive writing. I wrote the first three books in my fantasy thriller series from January to March one year. It is a time for creativity and inspiration, as well as a time when there is enough space for those concepts.

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

In ancient times the Imbolc season in the middle of winter was also considered the time of healers. Partly this was because people tended to get colds and viral infections in the damp and chilly weather. The elderly and infants were in need of greater care and so healers were in demand. But for injuries, this is simply a time when healing is more possible because physical activity is reduced. 

One of the reasons I celebrate the nature-based seasons with the Wheel of the Year is that by paying attention to natural rhythms, I never forget to give each need in my body and soul its due. I tend to be a workaholic at times and it is good for me to be reminded to allow time for regeneration, healing and inspiration. 

Inspiration comes only when there is enough silence. Healing comes only when there is enough stillness.

This is nature's fallow time in the northern hemisphere, but whenever your fallow time comes, whether it is earth-based or personal, it is worth remembering that it is not a lost or wasted time. Rather it is a rare and precious opportunity for rest, healing, comfort and the quiet needed to awaken great things.

These are the values taught in the Children's Wheel of the Year books (otherwise known as the Shanna books). I wrote them in large part to illustrate for my children and others how each season has its value. The Imbolc story Shanna and the Raven is a suspenseful story about a brother and sister who use intuition and creativity to protect themselves from potential danger. The Imbolc season is highlighted as the time of healing and inner knowing within a gripping, kid-friendly story.

I don't make direct sales pitches in my emails often, but I would like to gently remind readers that now is the right time to order paperback copies of Shanna and the Raven in order to receive them by Imbolc. You can read more about the book and see photographs of the paperback illustrations here.

The twelve days of Yule with kids

There are always challenges to celebrating a holiday outside the mainstream culture, especially if you have kids. If you celebrate the Winter Solstice and your kids attend school, it is likely that you've had some of these headaches:

  • Your kids are not only still in school on December 21, it's also the day of the school Christmas party, which they can't bear to miss.
  • Your kids are embarrassed to hear you say Yule or Solstice unless you're home with the doors locked.
  • When you go out December 22 and 23, everyone is always asking your kids what they want for Christmas and you have already had your family gifts. 

"Arg!" as a modern-day Viking might say.

Creative Commons image by Mike Beltzner

Creative Commons image by Mike Beltzner

Okay, none of these problems isthe end of the world, but they are annoying. Fortunately, we have a few advantages as well. The twelve days of Yule give us a lot of options. Here are some ways in which Pagan and earth-centered families get around the logistical hassles. 

You can dispense with the giant pile of presents and the kid-mania all together and give your children one small present each day from December 21 to January 1. If you're extra organized you can coordinate the types of presents to match the themes of each of the twelve days of Yule. Or you can simply use the special events of the twelve days of Yule to take the pressure off your Solstice celebration to be perfect.

There are fun and enriching things you can work into your days with kids all through the season. Without even doing anything beyond what you would probably normally do, you can make each of the twelve days a holiday for your kids.

Here are the themes for each traditional day of Yule based on the twelve astrological houses and the values of the Wheel of the Year.

December 21 is for self reflection and rebirth. It is a good day for rituals and divination. We honor the deities and spirits of the Sun as well as the mother goddess of the starry universe. We start the day by greeting the rising sun with hot chocolate and lanterns on some high place outdoors. It is fun have a candlelight dinner with round dishes in the colors of the sun. Because many people celebrate the twelve days from sundown to sundown, this dinner is often actually held on the evening of December 20. We make a clay figure of a goddess for the table and in the morning place a gold-painted clay infant in her arms to symbolize the return of the sun. We also do an annual Solstice Tarot reading, in which each person receives an atmosphere card for the whole year and twelve cards, laid out clockwise for each month of the new year. 

December 22 is for abundance and property, often a day of giving gifts or house blessings, This is often the day my children take off of school. The morning is devoted opening stockings. Gifts may be presented as a sharing of the abundance we have been given. Or they may be seen as the gifts of Santa Claus, Befana, Odin, the sun child or the Holly King--as symbols of the sun's strength and light which in truth does ensure our life and wealth throughout the year. The gifts parents give their children were in absolute terms first gifted to us from the sun's energy. 

December 23 is for communication, art and music. This is an excellent time for crafts or caroling, We make small boxes or plates of cookies and take them to the neighbors homes with a song. 

December 24 is for the home and family. It is a good time to meet extended family or to stay home and focus on whoever you consider family, Some people hold annual home blessings on this day. Because it is Christmas eve for Christians, it is often a time we meet with family members who celebrate Christmas. whether religious or secular.

December 25 is for play, children or connecting with one's own childlike energy. This the first day when the sun finally appears to return from the darkness a little. We can see that the new sun child is truly alive and we can celebrate this life. It is a good day to indulge children a bit, play a bunch of games and put aside work,

December 26 is for work and professionals, a good day to take a gift to colleagues, support unions or go out for some adult fun. Kids could draw pictures of a profession they'd like to try or learn about their parents' jobs, Sometimes it is simply a day to reconnect with reality and get things together for more holiday to come. 

December 27 is for partners. This is a time to get a babysitter if you have children and go out with your partner, whether romantic or otherwise. Kids can make cards for people they love.

December 28 is for magic and life force. This is a good day for making magical or ritual objects, Adults or children can make items for a new altar. It is also a good time for sending out wishes for the new year or for divination on a particular troubling question. It is also a day for healing and for honoring the herbs that provide us with medicine.

December 29 is for education, thinking and learning. It is a good day for educational games or thinking on what education kids want to pursue, This is a wonderful time for reading or listening to stories, a quiet time of contemplation and inner pursuits. 

December 30 is for careers, life path and duty. This is the day for activities concerning one's true vocation and role in life, Adults may make art or do divination around their profession or vocation. It is a time to come together with others of a similar profession. Children can learn about responsibility by doing some new tasks at home and being given a token of extra year and extra duties they have gained.

December 31 is for community. This works not only astrologically but also in terms of the secular calendar. This is the day of larger celebrations for New Year's Eve. It is also a good day for kids to do some volunteer work or bring a meal to someone who doesn't get many visitors during the holidays.

January 1 is for sacrifice and spirit. This is a day for giving offerings and possibly for divination. There may be gifts of spirit for children. It is also the time to give up things or habits that are no longer useful to use. This is not merely a resolution for our own health but also an offering to our gods, land or ancestors. By giving up excesses that may harm us or our environment, we make an authentic sacrifice with a purpose.

Blessed Yule to you and yours!