An earth-centered spiritual perspective: Why is there undeserved suffering?

When I was twenty-three, I traveled around Bangladesh and walked alone into a slum where a million people lived in cardboard and tin shacks on a plane of mud. There I met a woman who was little older than me but looked like she was 80. She was born there and lived her whole life in extreme poverty. She broke bricks with her bare hands for a living. I met this woman because her eight-year-old daughter rescued me from an angry mob. 

Creative Commons image from the Department of Foreign Affairs of Australia

Creative Commons image from the Department of Foreign Affairs of Australia

I found my new friends to be incredibly hard working, compassionate and all-around good people. And I was forced to consider the question of why they lived such terribly hard lives, amid constant misery and sorrow, while I lived relatively easily and had many things handed to me, even though I was born in a shack without an indoor bathroom myself. 

In Bangladesh, they had an explanation. Bad karma. Supposedly the little girl who rescued me--a complete stranger--from a crowd of men demanding to know why I had come into their slum, even though I had tried to dress modestly according to local custom, had been naughty in a past life.

Though her eyes shown at me with kindness and innocence, that is one accepted explanation. There was very little chance she would ever be able to go to school or eat a decent meal and if she lived to be 30, she would be haggard, old and fortunate to still be alive.

And something in my spirit rebelled. This idea of karma was no better to me than the talk of hell fire, I heard from Christians back home in America. I was brought up with an alternative spirituality, but I had not been given an alternative explanation of suffering. 

Even in much less extreme situations, good fortune appears to be random. I grew up among relatively poor people in rural, remote Eastern Oregon but I managed to travel to five continents and forge a good life for myself, partly because my parents, though poor, were fairly well educated and did not harbor the hopelessness of generational poverty. My experience, moving between many different social classes has shown that there is little correlation between hard work and financial success. The poor are every bit as likely to work hard as the rich, if not more so. Laziness, apathy, depression and addiction happen among the rich and the poor. 

Today, as the political battles over things like food stamps, universal health care and free education heat up in the United States, I constantly run across arguments, in which one side claims that poor people aren't committed enough to earning a good living and they just need to work harder or smarter. And the other side claims that the economy is rigged against them or that health, family or other circumstances made a higher income unreachable. Rarely does anyone in the verbal sparring stop to acknowledge that hardship is mostly random and the only real question to argue about is why that is and what, if anything, we wish to do about it.

Spirituality arose among the first humans for two reasons: first, to discuss what happens after we die and whether or not we are just meat with neurons; and second, to answer this question: why do bad things happen at random even to good, hard-working people? 

Modern earth-centered and Pagan paths have various but fairly standard interpretations of the first question. As for the second question, it is worth some thought.

If you are the kind of person who believes in gods, whether a primal earth mother, a vague universal spirit or a whole pantheon of gods, then you have to confront the question of whether those gods have any power to affect our lives. Many people today believe that gods are beings that only act through our connection to them or our enlightenment, whether they just all "in our heads" or not. Others believe that spirit or the gods pervade the natural world and are part of us and everything else in the world. Some believe in gods or spirits who are specific beings with relationships to specific humans and that they can give aid, withhold it or even cause harm as they choose.

Either way, it seems like spiritual beings should have some justice to them. What would be the point otherwise? Modern Pagans mostly don't beg their gods for favors in prayers. But we do--well many of us do--ask for help sometimes. And even if you believe that it is only in reflecting in prayer or magical work that you help yourself, you either believe that is beneficial or you're just fooling around with candles and pretty rocks.

And if you're a pantheistic sort of spiritualist, who does not believe in gods per se, but believes that divine energy infuses everything, that nature is filled with sacred energy, then you also must believe there is some reason to acknowledge that creative force. You may not believe that the universe is either benevolent or malevolent. But you still must wonder if there is any point to the randomness of misfortune in our world.

There are also humanists, who do not believe in gods or divine powers or believe that if they do exist they have no power or desire to intervene in our affairs. Humanists may subscribe to the traditions of a spiritual path whether Pagan, Christian or otherwise, but they believe that humans have to deal with our own troubles on our own. While these humanists may not have to deal with the question of why gods let good people suffer, they must in the end discuss the randomness of hardship as well.

It has taken me many years of study to arrive at my own answer to this question, but when I found it, it turned out to be incredibly simple.

Suffering and hardship are random, whether the gods willed it to be that way or not, in order to give us compassion.

I do not believe in karma in the sense that you are punished for some sin in one life by being born to hardship in another. Nor do I believe in divine punishment either in this life or in an afterlife. Certainly we can make our own hardship at times, but the greatest suffering that humans endure is usually acquired at birth and is non-negotiable. 

And here's the crucial point. If we truly believed that everyone deserved what they got, either by karma, sin or sloth, and that the world gives everyone an equal, fair shot, then you would have no compassion. And you would be justified in that. It would be correct to have no compassion. It would be foolish and enabling of wrongness to have compassion.

The only reason for compassion is the understanding that much of the pain, hardship, loss and suffering of others is not a result of their cruel, stupid or lazy actions or inactions.

It just is. 

No god, goddess, spirit or karma put them there and none will rescue them without our energy and intention. Prayer matters. Physicists can demonstrate it. My personal polytheistic belief is that our gods do care about suffering and may in fact give solace or aid when our intention is strong and positive, but it is not in their nature to banish all suffering. And I am not sure that they would if they could.  

When I come closest to my matron goddess at moments of despair, I feel great compassion and caring from that source. But I also have heard a signular message. No one with the power to stop all undeserved suffering in the world would use it. Suffering is terrible, but it is not as terrible as a world of entitled, compassionless light without any understanding of darkness would be.

A circle of ancestors: Truths from deep in the well

Dark comes fast amid the trees, turning the colors of drying blood, red to brown. It's that time of the year, when thoughts turn to the past and to ancestors.

I put up an ancestor altar for Samhain / the Day of All Souls. There is one significant new addition to my beloved dead this year, a sweet voice I can still hear in my memory. But also over the past year, I have learned a few tidbits about how at least one of my ancestors was involved in a KKK group in Oregon. And some of the best photographs I have are from a more recent ancestor who was known to be both sexist and racist, along with having some better qualities. 

Ancestor altar.png

What does honoring the ancestors mean? Does it mean that you can take credit and say thank you if you don't know anything negative about your ancestors? Does it mean you ignore the ancestors you feel ashamed of and celebrate only those who did good things, like my great aunt who saved many lives as a humanitarian worker in the Philippines?

The past few weeks have been particularly hard on my family with a lot of community pressure and internal struggle for balance. There are times when I rethink the old belief that the universe gives us only as much hardship as our spirits can bear. It seems like the universe has been cutting it awfully close these days.

And sometimes I wonder. Maybe my philosophy is wrong. Maybe this is just bad karma from my prejudiced ancestors. 

Should I honor my ancestors?

I think of the well at our old family homestead. Once when I was fifteen, I was lowered into it to help with repairs because my slim body was a better fit for the narrow well than my father's broad-shouldered frame.

My father told me not to look up because sand and dirt could fall into my eyes as he lowered me on a rope 60 feet into the earth. I obediently kept my eyes down. With the headlamp I was wearing I got a good look at the rows upon rows of hand lain rough field stone that was used to reinforce the walls of the well. 

To this day that is one of the most respect-inspiring sights I've ever seen. I knew the rocky, clay soil of our remote Eastern Oregon ridge intimately. I had helped grow food in it since early childhood. I'd built forts and hideouts in its rugged outcrops. I had also dug for camas root in the meadows with precious little success, bruising both hands and tools on the many rough gray rocks in the clay. With my significant vision impairment, I had learned to move carefully among the jagged boulders on the windswept top of the ridge. This was not a land that lent itself to digging. 

And yet someone dug a 60 foot shaft by hand in the age before machinery and lined it with neat rows of perfectly fitted field stones. These were not the ancestors of my blood but they were in every fundamental way the ancestors of my our hearth. 

The winter my mother was pregnant with me, my family shared a tiny cabin with another family. Four adults and three small children in what was once a one-room schoolhouse. In November, they were out one night when the cabin burned to the ground, due to a faulty wood stove. My father moved my pregnant mother and two-year-old brother a quarter mile up the hollow to the moderately flat spot where this well stood. 

At the time there was nothing else there. Just the well, left by nameless settlers amid the snow and mud. My father parked an old, broken-down truck next to the well and spent the winter building a new cabin around it. I was born in the loft of that cabin, built over the roof of the old truck the next April.

This is my history and the significance of that well to me. Without a well, the dry Eastern Oregon ridges are unlivable. I knew people who had to haul water, and even as a small child, I remember having a deep gratitude for that well.

And yet...

My parents may have purchased that land fair and square, but there were--as it turned out--other traces of human habitation on it. My brother found Native American artifacts in an embankment in one of the camas meadows. And there is a circle of ancient mounds on the ridge that is too regular to be natural. 

The settlers who built the well or those who came before them--someone--stole this land, and while the road there still isn't paved, they made it possible for us to live there. 

This is what I think of every Samhain. My awe and respect for the lives endured by the ancestors of our land, hearth and family, as well as great sorrow and pain for the wrongs that can be remembered if one is willing to look. 

While I was down at the bottom of that well at the age of fifteen, I laid some insulation cloth as my father instructed. Then just before giving the proscribed tug on the rope to signal, so that I would be pulled up, I cautiously turned my head and looked up. 

I have rarely felt such raw terror in my life. At first I thought something was wrong with my vision, not out of the question given my eye condition. The top of the well was gone or else it was night and the full moon had risen. But I couldn't possibly have been down there that long, I thought frantically.

Then the truth crashed in on my consciousness. That distant round moon of light WAS the opening of the well. I had not thought about how far down 60 feet is or how closed in and vulnerable a soft human body would be that far under the earth in a shaft so narrow that I had to turn around carefully. Now that I saw the distant opening, the realization was terrifying. 

I felt my throat constrict and I fought a wave of panic that threatened to send me into senseless screaming and thrashing. My father had told me to be still and not make any loud noises. He was afraid I might dislodge stones in the well and be injured. Getting out of that well calmly was probably the first truly brave thing I ever did. 

That well was our lifeline and also an artifact of one of the worst genocides in human history. I was the great granddaughter of immigrants and settlers. I then left that land and went far across the ocean to another country, where I am a first generation immigrant and now a new citizen. I married a man who can trace the names of his ancestors back 600 years on the same little farm in the swampy land of South Bohemia. And our children are adopted from decimated families who were among a handful of Romani (Gypsies) who survived both slavery and the Holocaust in central Europe. 

Samhain is far from simple around here. 

In the end, I cannot make justice or peace for history. I can only set out the photographs, the names and the symbols of those people who came before, those who gave us life, sustenance, hope and a chance to make our own mark. 

The land of my childhood sustained me and gave me a body with health and resilience for which I am often grateful.  As a child I learned to call the quarters in the Native American way and I studied the Teutonic runes. Blood says I have no claim to the former and history has tainted the latter. There is truth in that. 

There is also truth in gratitude, in respect and in remembering. I will not claim stolen heritage. And yet, I cannot shake the feeling of kindness and peace that comes from the earth at the old homestead. I feel sorrow for the people forced to leave that land, but I do not sense that they hate me. I feel a circle of presence at Samhain, all the ancestors of my childhood--of family, of land and of hearth--and all the ancestors of my present, those of my husband, so well documented, and those of my children, unknown except for the painful history that we know rolled over them in one way or another. 

No, I do not feel an idealized warmth from all the ancestors, a circle of support and blessing. I do feel intense currents of sorrow, pain, shame and anger, interspersed with love and hope. But they are all there. They are not absent.

They are all in the circle at this time of year, no matter what baggage they may carry. And I feel called to honor them, not just on this one day but also by living in a way that gives honor for the gifts they each gave me. When the burdens seem too great, I want to always remember this. I humbly accept this life. I acknowledge what came before.

Books for attuning to the rhythms and magical energies of the moon

If you have always wanted to be more in touch with nature or attuned to natural cycles, the new moon is the time to take a step toward it. For me the first step on a new path is often reading books. It isn't just a passive, relatively easy step without a lot of commitment. I follow through on what I read.

Several years ago, I started reading about moon phases, signs and cycles on a new moon. Now I've come through most of a year, focusing my daily spiritual practice and much of my household activities on attuning to the moon's cycles. The result isn't some sort of higher plane of existence, but rather a comfortable routine that feels grounded, healthy and now so utterly natural that I am surprised to realize that it has only been a year.

Here are some books I recommend for learning why and how to synchronize yourself to the moon and use the energies of the moon for well-being. 

Moon Magic

This is a complete guide for those just beginning on this quest. 

A new title from Moon Books, Moon Magic is a modern witch's exploration of everything moon related. It's nominally multicultural, providing the names and symbols of deities from around the world, but the rituals and visualizations all have a modern, Wiccan-inspired atmosphere. All the deities hug you, for instance.

Still this is a good introductory reference, including helpful lists of monthly moon names, rituals and visualizations for each moon phase and the Celtic tree calendar. One of the less common and most helpful things in this book are correspondences of positive and negative symbols, herbs, colors and incense for each  astrological moon sign. 

The book is well-written and concise. There isn't a lot of fluff or talking you into reading further. Moon Magic is a good reference for beginners with the caveat that there is a bias toward modern, European witchcraft and the multicultural aspect is token. 

Llewellyn's Moon Sign Book

I have searched for just the right moon calendar in the English language for years, and haven’t found it. Llewellyn’s is the best I can come up with. That’s primarily because I’m looking for both moon magic, astrology and a practical gardener’s almanac that is in tune with the moon as well. I would particularly like a Pagan-oriented moon calendar with references to a wide variety of deities, beyond Middle Eastern and European.

Yeah, I am a tough customer. I am also less interested in random women’s poetry, affirmations and artwork, which adorn so many moon calendars. 

Llewellyn’s Moon Sign Book has a lot to offer though. The weekly calendar section provides the dates and times of moon transits through astrological signs and phases in a less than ideal format but it can be made to work, extremely brief gardening pointers, a short quote, a practical simple living tip, a tiny black and white picture and three or four lines for notes. 

There follows a good, universal gardening-by-the-moon section, which explains the basic principles but doesn’t include specific daily gardening tips. There is an extensive planting table showing which sign and phase to plant a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs as well as a separate companion planting table.

Both are quite helpful, though I find calendars which simply give specific days in the right part of the year for planting the various types of plants require less astrological study to decode. For instance, the book also includes a Moon Void-of-Course table which shows days when planting is not advisable, despite the sign and phase. So planting by the moon with this book requires reference to several different tables and pages for each calculation of a day or time to plant a specific species. 

That said the book does include a nice table that lists specific dates in each month for a wide variety of activities from weaning children to laying wooden floors. If you’re able to plan activities in advance this is a wonderful addition. Monthly moon tables (including the daily sign, element, nature and phase) and aspectarian charts are included, which allow for more detailed calculations. There are special tables for egg setting, hunting/fishing and pest/weed eradication dates. 

Less helpfully, major portions of the book are devoted to US weather forecasts over large “zones” by moon phase and these, in my observations, bore less than usual correlation to reality. This could be due to climate change and not the publisher’s fault, though climate change was not mentioned or discussed and probably should have been.

Another large section is devoted to a pan-sector business forecast that is both too broad to be effective and to focused on random details that did not in the end prove portentous this year at least. There is an energetic and relationship forecast that includes references to specific signs and this was moderately helpful or at least entertaining to read. 

Each  year the book includes several essays in the back on interesting moon-related topics ranging from healing, the moon phase divisions of various cultures and specific agricultural techniques. These were interesting and decently well written. 

Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets

Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets provides a list of herbs specifically for attuning to the moon. More than that, it provides a detailed discussion of plants and herbs for the planets as well. 

This tightly packed book takes the reader beyond lists of herbs. It includes the chemical make-up, medicinal and magical uses as well as the history of a set of herbs for the sun, moon and five additional planets. 

This book, though best used as a technical reference rather than read straight through, is helpful in determining which herbs and plants are suitable as offerings or incense when an astrological connection is needed.  

Staking a claim: What is Paganism?

With a quick search, you can find an active discussion--or more likely an argument--on one social media platform or another about the definition of the word "Pagan" at any given moment.

That is the nature of social media and the nature of Paganism. Both are amorphous, unbounded by time and famously light on rules. 

I have joined several such discussions over the years--first with mounting excitement as I discovered that the spirituality I was quietly--almost secretly--raised with had a name and then later in increasing irritation as I saw that name gnawed, mauled and fought over like a bone in a dog fight. So many groups lay claim to it or insist that they define it, either for themselves or for others, and it is no wonder that a newcomer just discovering this spiritual movement today might be confused.

Even my mother, who taught me the basic tenants of Pagan spirituality based on nothing but an intuitive reverence for nature and some scattered esoteric reading, is wary of the term Pagan. Living in a conservative rural area, one absorbs the linguistic definitions of the surroundings, and when asked to define what she thought "Pagan" meant, she recently said she got a general impression of "hedonism, promiscuity, disrespect for authority and drugs."

That's a microcosm of what can be observed in the media. Many people, even those who are essentially friendly to Pagan spirituality, have this same general impression.

So, because I write about Paganism and toss the word around here with abandon, I suppose I need to define what I mean by it, both for insiders and for outsiders, unless I want to risk giving the wrong cpnnotation. And in the process I will have to stake a claim of sorts, to take a side in several hot arguments. After considerable thought, discussion and research, I am prepared to take that stand.

What Pagan once meant

Creative Commons image by Dan Meineck

Creative Commons image by Dan Meineck

The people of ancient Europe may have had a name for their spirituality or they may have just called it some equivalent of "common sense." We don't know and instead we know them by the words used by their conquerors. 

The oldest definition of "Pagan" according to Merriam-Webster and every other scholarly source comes from ancient Rome, when it was used to mean "a country dweller." As Christianity moved into Europe, primarily in urban areas, and the rural areas remained largely non-Christian, the term Pagan came to mean simply "non-Christian." 

Even today, Google's automatic definition for the word "Paganism" is "a religion other than one of the main world religions, specifically a non-Christian or pre-Christian religion."

This is the historical origin of the term and many Christians as well as Christian, Jewish and Muslim publications use it to mean beliefs outside those three faiths, including atheist and agnostic perspectives which are entirely secular.

This gives rise to the vehement insistence of many of the denizens of the internet that Paganism is not "a" religion at all. Clearly a religion, a tradition or an identity can not be simply defined by what it is not. 

What gives a word meaning?

If one insists on a historical and primarily Christian definition of the term, then you are stuck there and in that sense Paganism is almost a meaningless term and one most of us would hesitate to adopt as an identity. But just as many Native Americans call themselves "Indians," when the origin of that term was a rather embarrassing goof made by an outsider, today there are a great many people who have adopted the term Pagan as a positive, meaningful identity. 

My argument is essentially the same as that of Native American Indians. Words change. Definitions are first and foremost what they actually mean to most people at this given moment in history. Scholars can argue all they want but we use words to be understood and so while another term may be more academically correct, it makes more sense to use the term that the person hearing or reading your words will actually understand as you intend.

And so, if you want to say that you are Native American but resent having to use a long, cumbersome term dependent on the name of an ancient explorer which many people in your own community don't recognize anyway, you may well use the word "Indian" because it gets the message across correctly and quickly, regardless of its original goofiness and the unfortunate need to specify a continent when discussing it internationally. 

The same principle applies to the word "Pagan" today. At least among the vast majority of Pagans, if you say "I'm Pagan" that means something positive and reasonably specific. It is quickly understood--by fellow Pagans at least--and it does not require a pedantic style to express as do many multi-word descriptors.

What Pagan means today

While many dictionaries today try to avoid defining Paganism beyond it's original "country-dweller" and later "non-Christian" meanings, it is enlightening to look at definitions given for the benefit of non-native English speakers. The purpose in this section of a dictionary is not to prove a point but rather to actually allow a traveler to know what is meant in modern society by the term. As a result, these are the most current and practical definitions.

Thus Merriam-Webster gets down off the high-horse of defining Paganism tritely as "a: pagan beliefs or practices, b: a pagan religion," and changes the definition for ESL learners to, "a religion that has many gods or goddesses, considers the earth holy, and does not have a central authority."

Ta da!

There is a definition that almost all Pagans can agree on.

Almost all, but not every last one. That is why there are the endless on-line arguments.

Polytheism?

There are some groups who are undoubtedly Pagan in spirit but specifically honor one god or goddess. Some honor only "the god" and "the goddess." Still. it can be safely said that--with only purposefully contrary exceptions--even Pagan religions which honor only one or two gods or goddesses, recognize the validity of religions that honor multiple gods and goddesses (rather than calling them inherently false as some world religions would) and thus in effect give a nod to the existence of multiple gods and goddesses. 

Some Pagan religions don't call spiritual energies or forces "gods"  at all. Others consider everything or all life to be "divine"  or "infused with spirit" and adopt a pantheistic view. However, this view serves essentially the same functions as gods and goddesses. It is simply better understood without the baggage of those terms.

This can be argued endlessly on-line, but it is one claim I am making. At least for the purpose of my writing, Paganism is positively defined as a religion involving many gods and goddesses or other spiritual entities or a universal spiritual connection with many means of approach. 

Nature as sacred?

The other point that is most likely to be bickered over is the idea of the earth or nature as "holy." That would depend on the definition of "holy," but to avoid that kettle of fish, I offer the term nature-centered (often said as earth-centered) spirituality.

Paganism is and was connected to nature in its basic forms, beliefs, myths and concepts. Even in the days when Pagan meant "non-Christian," the religions this originally applied to--i.e. indigenous Middle Eastern and European religions--were  highly focused on the earth, natural cycles, seasons, the fertility of the land and so forth. 

The pantheons of Egypt, Mesopotamia,  Rome, Greece, the Norse and the Celts were made up of gods and goddesses that represented the powers of the sun, sea, fertile land, rivers that brought life-giving water, rain, the moon and many other parts of nature and the cycles of life. By contrast, the focus of these religions was NOT on a world of pure spirit or mental gymnastics. They could have been. But they were not. They may have employed energy healing or a great many other psychic practices, but their focus--the focus of their gods was on nature. 

And most Pagans today share this focus. Most, but not all, who claim the term "Pagan."

Staking my own claim

There are those today who see Paganism as primarily an ancestral tradition and racial identity. That is not Paganism but simply the misuse of the concept of respect for ancestors to further a race-divided worldview.

There are others today who confuse Paganism with a craft in which events (or one's own mental processes depending on your take on the craft) can be influenced through the use of psychic discipline and the will. This is commonly referred to as "witchcraft," and is often confused with Paganism by practitioners and outsiders alike. There are however certainly Pagan witches who are both Pagans and practice witchcraft, just as there are Christian witches who are Christian and practice witchcraft. And from my observations, there are also atheist witches.

But there are a great many Pagans who do not practice witchcraft as well.

There may well also be other definitions offered and there are those who insist that all those who claim the term "Pagan" must be included, regardless of how vastly they differ from the accepted definition of the term, because the one part of the definition that everyone agrees on is that there is no central authority with the power to say, "This one belongs and this one does not."

Nor do I claim that there is any such "central" authority. But I do claim that language has meaning. And I do insist upon the real meaning of the term "Pagan," as understood by the vast majority of those who use it. 

When I explain the term "Pagan" to an ESL learner, which as an ESL teacher I do have occasion to do, my definition is very similar to that of Merriam-Webster. I do not confuse the issue by saying that some want to say they are Pagan. but claim that nature is not central to their beliefs. The truth is that those groups have other names for themselves as well and have no need to co-opt the term "Pagan." 

The Pagan Federation (one of several groups which claim to speak for a broad variety of Pagans) has an excellent, though lengthy definition of Paganism, which recognizes the broad diversity of Pagans in which many deities are not conceived of as either humanoid, super-powered or having an assignable gender. while also giving a clear and constructively stated definition: "A polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshiping religion." That works for me.

With a little more depth the PF site continues, "The Pagan outlook can be seen as threefold. Its adherents venerate Nature and worship many deities, both goddesses and gods."

Yes, that actually makes three principles: nature is sacred, there are many deities and at least some of them are female.

When I post this article to social media, there are bound to be arguments and someone who claims to know of a group that is "truly" Pagan, but doesn't subscribe to such a definition. That's okay because my foremost goal here is to define a term for my readers. When you read my writing, you will know what I mean. 

Paganism is a vast umbrella term for a religious category, much as Christianity is. To be Christian, one should revere Christ. That is the bare minimum of what it is to be Christian. Sure, Christians will often haggle and say that this or that group isn't the right kind of Christians so they aren't really Christian at all, but from a scholar's perspective, if they revere Christ, they are Christian is some sense. 

Paganism conversely requires at a minimum that those who claim the word revere nature and are at least open to the idea of multiple deities/spiritual forces and acknowledge that those deities/forces may--among others--be female. That's the bare minimum.

My beliefs may vastly differ from other Pagans. There are times when I find myself more in accord with certain Christians, Buddhists or Jews on some point of spirituality or ethics. But this has more to do with our sociopolitical stance than it does with the umbrellas of our religious identities. 

There is no central authority in Paganism, any more than the Pope dictates the beliefs of all Christians. But there are those who set themselves up as authorities in one group or another. Paganism is very diverse and often democratic. But just as in other religions, there are groups that are more or less formally or informally led.

I am not dictating my definition as a leader. I merely state it as a wordsmith. This is my use of the term. 

A respectful nod

A special note should be given regarding indigenous religions with their own names which have not in any formal or informal way adopted the term Paganism themselves, but which nicely fit the definition I have given for Paganism. This includes Native American, African, Siberian, Australian, Hindu and other nature-focused Asian faiths.

I cannot help that in my lexicon, the definition of Pagan fits your religion. I attempt to use the term "Pagan" specifically only in cases where a group has actually expressed a desire to be called Pagan. But when I'm talking in general about all nature-centered, polytheistic/pantheistic religions on earth, I do necessarily include many who have not chosen to be called "Pagan." 

I would heartily welcome an understanding between all earth-centered faiths on the planet. If and when a different term comes to encompass all of us in the actual use of the English language, I will gladly embrace it. If those who now fit the definition of Pagan decide to adopt this term, I will wholeheartedly welcome them as my spiritual cousins. For now I respect the decision of each individual or group to make that choice on their own.

And the staves crossed

However, to those who wish to claim the term "Pagan" for purposes that contradict the earth-centered and open values of Paganism--those who wish to use the strength of spiritual seeking in our movement for political, racial or domineering intentions--I say "no."

That is not Paganism. I am not a central authority, but I am my own authority.

Therefore, no.

I am one Pagan who says "no" to racially defined, authoritarian and earth-disinterested co-opting of my identity. There are plenty others with me. We are our own authority, and those shall not pass. 

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.

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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
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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. 

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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.