Blue Moon / Imbolc wishes

One of our family traditions for Imbolc (February 2) is to write wishes on slips of paper and put them into a wish jar for the year. First, we pull out last year's wishes to see if any of them have come true, and then we drop in new ones. It's surprising how sometimes the wildest wishes do manifest themselves in some way.

We make a point of going beyond "realistic wishes." When you wish, wish in full. This is what wishes are for and it matters. Imbolc is a special time for wishes and for prophesy. The full moon is also a magical time for wishes and a blue moon may have particular potency. 

This year I have decided to spread my pleasant wishes as far as possible. Here are my wishes for you. Feel free to share them and wish the same to your friends and loved one's. 

Blue Moon wishes meme.jpg
  • I wish you a clear night sky to view this super blue moon. 
  • I wish you a bright dawn full of hope and promise.
  • I wish you comfort and shelter in rough weather and the freedom to roam in fine weather
  • I wish you lively consciousness, a resilient body, the love of acceptance and surety of purpose.

And I also have wishes for the world at this turning:: 

  • I wish everyone could simultaneously wake up full of hope and compassion one morning, so that no one's small gesture of kindness would be rebuffed and the sense of hope would just keep going.
  • I wish all the pundits and news anchors would decide to speak honestly from their hearts and deepest convictions. 
  • I wish the people who run big corporations would suddenly all stop and consider the future of their own descendants and decide to tackle climate change seriously with us right now.
  • I wish that human leaders should be held accountable to law and the democratic will of the people this year. 
  • I wish for all humans to become aware of our close connection to plants, animals, the land, the air and the water around us, so that we make decisions that will give us the life we actually want.
  • I wish for all people to be free from addictions as well as from the dissonance between beliefs and actions.
  • I wish all the lonely and outcast people could find each other and become the biggest, most accepting and most joyful tribe on earth. 

You may laugh at my unrealistic wishes. But they are real, not just platitudes. This is the breath of hope.

Dedication to Brigid

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

Simple method for making a beautiful Brigid doll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

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

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

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

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

Waxing Moon

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

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

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

Full Moon

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

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

Waning Moon

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

Imbolc or deep winter: A season in the belly

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

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

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter to comfort and heal

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

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

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

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

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

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

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

The women's wheel of the world

Celebrating of the rhythms of the earth through the goddesses of many cultures

Today many of us wish to connect to the cycles of nature. In our houses, jobs and schools, it can be difficult to feel a purpose in life. We lose touch, lose connection, and find ourselves drowning in everyday apathy or anxiety. 

There is an antidote in marking the rhythms of nature and feeling closer to the earth and the seasons of the sun. 

Beltane maiden.jpg

It isn’t just a nostalgic hippie concept. It’s a spiritual practice and a way to explore the huge questions in life in a way that doesn’t contradict science. For those of us who think too much, there is often a tension between the need for a spiritual sense of meaning and our logical insistence that what you see is what you get. 

The turning of the earth and the moon, the tilt of the earth and the seasons brought by sunlight—these are things science has well in hand. We know the sun will rise, just as we know bad days have only twenty-four hours. We know winter will come, just as we know that each of us has to get old someday. 

The rhythms of nature are simple and scientific. And at the same time they are profound and at the root of the greatest philosophical and spiritual traditions of humanity. The cycle of life is much larger than the circle of a year, but the whole is too vast—and frankly too harsh—to explain to children or even to contemplate directly as an adult. But we don't take in the circle of a year all at once. We come to it bit by bit. And we don’t have to contemplate it with the mind only. We use all of our senses, our body, heart and soul to perceive natural rhythms and the Wheel of the Year gives us the understanding we cannot gain through force of will.

The sacred sun days

Creative Commons image by Lostintheredwoods of flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Lostintheredwoods of flickr.com

As the earth tilts toward and away from the sun, we experience seasons. At the point when our part of the earth is tilted furthest toward the sun, we have the Summer Solstice--the time of greatest light. And when our part is tilted away we have the Winter Solstice. After each solstice we start to lean the other way. From light to darkness. And from darkness to light.

In the ancient tradition of the Celtic-Germanic-Slavic land I live on these solstices can be called Litha (for the Summer Solstice) and Yule (for the Winter Solstice). These are the best modern terms we have, originating from ancient European languages. Other cultures may have other terms for the solstices and the other sacred days of the wheel. My goal is to include the whole world and other terms are welcome.

Between these special days of the sun, there are the days when the light and dark are in perfect balance—the equinoxes. In the fall we call the equinox Mabon. In the spring we call the day of balance Ostara. 

If you make a cross and put the solstices opposite one another at the ends of one line and the equinoxes on the other axis, you have an ancient symbol of the sun. And if you make an X inside the cross, you then have a star with eight points or a wheel, the base of a mandala pattern. The four new points are for the days halfway between the equinoxes and solstices. Beltane on the first of May in the northern hemisphere (November in the south), Lammas at the cusp of August in the north (February in the south), Samhain on the first of November in the north (May in the south), and Imbolc in the earliest days of February in the north (August in the south). And that is what is called the Wheel of the Year.

It is a way of celebrating the rhythm of life and it starts as a recognition that there is darkness, release, relief, creation, expression, harvest, destruction, transformation—in natural and perpetual turning. When you mark the seasons of the year as sacred, your body, mind and soul reclaim their own rhythms. It doesn’t mean that you don’t suffer from life. But it connects you to the good in each season.

The Sacred Women from Around the World

There are many ways to celebrate the Wheel of the Year. We often cook special foods and exchange gifts. There are fun traditions for the whole family to enjoy and quiet observances for those who seek spiritual sustenance. One way to mark the sun days is to connect to the diverse spiritual teachings of our world through the myths of sacred women—the Goddess—and the many names for goddess in different tongues.

Marking the holy days with goddesses can be part of an active and vibrant family celebration or it can be a simple and quiet moment of meditation for an individual. The goddesses chosen for a sacred day should reflect the spirit of the season in their stories. Here I will suggest three goddesses for each of the solar holidays. As in many parts of the world, you can see goddesses as maidens, mothers and crones. There is a Maiden Goddess, a goddess full of independence and youth; a Mother Goddess, a nurturer and life-giver; and a Crone Goddess, a wise woman of healing and transformation--for each station of the sun.

Imbolc

My year begins in mid-winter because of importance of the alternating rhythm of the growing season and the time of greater contemplation and inner work. I also wish to start the year with the goddess I am closest with—Brigid. Our family Imbolc celebration usually includes a small, child-friendly ritual, sweet dumplings made with milk curd, seed cakes, many lit candles and candle making, candle-shaped cookies, Tarot and i-Ching readings, putting wishes for the year into a jar, hanging new Brigid’s crosses and waking up the Brigid doll sleeping in a basket by the fire on the morning of Imbolc. It may also include a trip to a spring or old well if we can manage it.

Creative Commons image by  the Borghese Collection

Creative Commons image by  the Borghese Collection

Brigid is the maiden of Imbolc and though she is also mother and wise woman in other aspects (Weber 2015),  I can add mother and crone goddesses to this day as well. 

Saulė is the Latvian “dear little white sun,” (Motz 1997) and a good mother goddess for the cold day of Imbolc. She also shares the care of orphans with Brigid, who is often called “foster mother” either of Christ when she is portrayed as a Christian saint or of the one offering prayers in Pagan prayer. (Daimler 2016) Because my husband and I are adoptive parents, this has particular meaning in our family. We could easily incorporate an offering of endearments to Saulė. And given that we don’t do Valentine’s Day here and my children often wonder what their American cousins are talking about, we could include making heart shaped endearments for one another, as words of endearment are special to Saulė. (Motz 1997)

Elli is my crone of Imbolc. She is the goddess of old age and wisdom and yet I find the story of her beating Thor in a wrestling match (Auset 2009) to be wonderfully light-hearted. She reminds me of an old granny sitting by the Imbolc fire and laughing over her exploits and the folly of head-strong young people who think they will never be old. A symbol of her might be a shawl spread over the rocking chair by the fire and a story read from the children’s book of Grandmother Tales that portray old women as smart and capable. 

I can envision these three—Brigid, Saulė and Elli—discussing the needs of family and kin, planning fo the year ahead and tempering one another with their complimentary energies of fire, compassion and wisdom.

Ostara

Our Ostara tradition is usually fairly simple. We color eggs, decorate and make egg and bunny shaped cookies. Then the children hunt for eggs on the morning of the equinox. In local tradition, we decorate a leafless tree in the front yard with colored eggs and ribbons. We may read rabbit stories or other stories relating to Ostara. We’ll usually have a special lunch or dinner consisting of lots of eggs, such as quiche.

The name of the day Ostara comes from a maiden goddess. Ostara or Ostre is the the Saxon goddess of youth, fertility and beauty, who is accompanied by a hare. (Sass 2003) Her symbols are eggs and the hare which are already well incorporated into our traditions, although it is good to remember her with words at this time and consciously honor her through these symbols.

Anna Perenna is my Mother Goddess for Ostara. She is the enduring year, the goddess of the promise of a new cycle. (Monagham 2014)  We honor her at Ostara to give thanks for the promised return of spring, which is in our part of the world very heartfelt for everyone, and also to remember that the year will turn again, inexorably and always. We can make our quiche or other dishes this day round in honor of her. And because she is considered a trickster as well, we can plan April Fools pranks. 

The crone of Ostara is the Cailleach, the Celtic lady of chaos, harsh winds and primordial forces. (Greenfield 2014) We often have snow on Ostara, a last blast of winter coating our Ostara tree in white. The threat of weather disasters for our tiny seedlings is far from over and still keep them indoors at this season. The Cailleach is fearsome and a reminder that chaos can come despite Anna Perenna’s turning of the wheel. But she also lends us inner strength, a vitality and perseverance that is often lacking in the modern, overly convenienced world. She is also the Celtic equivalent of the crone of the cold season that our local legend bids a raucous farewell at Beltane, so it is fitting to have her in mind beforehand. We can honor the Cailleach by making a wind chime of feathers and metal objects that will bring her voice to the wind.

Beltane

Our Beltane celebration has been in my husband’s home village for many years now. The village has a huge bonfire and a fifty-food maypole. This tends to overshadow anything I try to do. However, I always get together some sort of flower-shaped sweets and May baskets for us to give to neighbors and cousins during the festivities. We sometimes go out to greet the beautiful Beltane morning and place offerings at the base of the maypole. Otherwise it is a community event involving cooking whatever will feed the most people.

Creative Commons image by PROLisby of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by PROLisby of Flickr.com

Ilankaka is the Nkondo maiden goddess for our Beltane. She is both creative and loving, but she also reminds us of the struggles of relationships, because she is captured by a man against her will and suffers great sorrow. (Monagham 1997) Beltane is a time of celebrating relationships and also making them better. The Maiden gives us the will to stand strong in ourselves as well and Ilankaka’s story is pertinent.

Panchamama is a delightful Incan mother goddess, honored in an unbroken line by tribes in the Andes and is still going strong today. She is an earth mother, a garden goddess and a “special companion” for women. (Leeming and Page 1994) May is they primary gardening month in our climate, when everything is planted and weeds grow desperately to beat the short growing season. It is a month when my life is very domestic and I love the idea of honoring Panchamama at this time.

The crone for Beltane might be Changing Woman. Her name in the Navajo language is Asdzan Nadleehe and she carries our ability to change within our lifetime, to be transformed and renewed at every age. (Loar (2008) There is a strong sense that Beltane is a time of when transformation is more possible, closer to the surface and a time to embrace the lessons of Changing Woman.

One of the ways I would recognize these goddesses is to put small offerings symbolic of their traditions in the earth at the base of the Maypole. We could leave a bright stone of polished marble (symbolic of Ilankaka’s brigtht radiance), some colored wooden beads like those often used in the Andes (as a symbol of Panchamama) and either a feather or a piece of snake skin (as symbols of Changing Woman). I would ask for the blessings of these goddesses on Beltane morning—the strength and independence to be a strong and healthy partner with the energy of the maiden Ilankaka still vibrant in my married life, the deep earth connection of Panchamama (and her help with my garden), and the ability to transform beautifully as does Changing Woman. 

Litha

The Summer Solstice is the solar holiday we have the least tradition for in our family. We often do little more than have a nice meal and try yet again to explain to the children about solstices from a scientific perspective. I try to have a bonfire but it isn’t always possible, sometimes due to lots of rain. This year for the first time, we will go to a local Pagan event that is appropriate for children. I am still searching for traditions for this time. If I could choose it would be playing music and drumming around a fire or some other activity involving expression and creativity.

Amaterasu is my Maiden Goddess for this time. She is often honored  in June in Japan. (Monagham, P. (2014) To me her seeming narcissism is a reminder of the necessity of putting ourselves out into the world, particularly women and especially when we are young. Today’s world is not kind to those who remain too passive. For better or for worse, we need goals and pride in our identity if we are to find a material life and work which brings us joy and fulfillment. Placing a small mirror on a flat stone or sundial to reflect a bit of the sun back into the sky, may be integrated into a ritual for Amaterasu.

Beiwe, the Arctic sun goddess, is the mother for this time. While the sun may seem too hot in many climates it is worth remembering that the northern climates need her warmth and life-giving energy. We are far enough north that even in the temporary heat, we have reason to see the sun as a nurturing mother. She can be honored by making “sun circles” out of leafing branches, (Monagham, P. (2014) and these could be placed around Amaterasu’s mirror.

Al-Lat is the ancient Middle Eastern sun goddess to provide a crone for this height of the sun’s power. She may be integrated into the ritual with a black stone or an eye drawn onto the mirror. 

Lammas

Lammas usually involves a camping trip or bonfire with friends, many of whom don’t share goddess spirituality, so my ritual celebration of the day is often quite simple. I like to make bread in interesting shapes and an outdoor altar if possible. I have a special tablecloth that everyone signs as a symbol of community and the feast.

White Buffalo Woman is my Maiden goddess for this time. She is both warrior and generous benefactor. She supports the community and brings the deeper meaning to community festivities that I long for. Her lessons involve respect for ecology and the earth, honoring warriors and defenders of the clan, as well as the desire to give back whatever it is that fills us with abundance. (Greenfield 2014) A perfect symbol of White Buffalo Woman is a picture or figure of a white cow, calf or horse.

Creative Commons image by Rosa y Dani of Flickr. com

Creative Commons image by Rosa y Dani of Flickr. com

 Saraswati is the Mother Goddess for this time, sharing her knowledge as a teacher. The earth is abundant at this time, but the wisdom to use the gifts of plenty wisely is crucial. Saraswati is not only a mother of abundance but also a mother of wise counsel, teaching and learning. A good symbol to bring her blessings to the day is a book.

Macha is the crone for this time of community and sharing. While White Buffalo Woman brings gentle gifts and fierce courage to the community and Saraswati brings the knowledge needed to nurture community, Macha embodies the energy of the activist for environmental and social justice, which is another important aspect of this day. Her energy be brought with a banner or sign with messages of the justice needed at the time. 

These symbols—a white animal, a book and a sign or banner—can be used to decorate the home or gathering of friends. This is a way to bring the healthy and beneficial energy of community together. 

Mabon

At Mabon we gather our family and sometimes close friends for a meal of thanksgiving. We visit or send gifts to older people. We also give gifts to or do kind things for animals. In my family the primary focus of Mabon is giving thanks and recognizing those who have given to us—for example our elders through all the struggles they have been through to bring us to this time and the animals that provide us with food, clothing, comfort, friendship and a healthy ecosystem to live in. 

Tabiti is a maiden goddess of hearth, family loyalty, harmony in the home and the protection of animals. (Auset 2009) She is also associated with the chieftains of family and clan and with oath giving. MacLeod 1960). Coals from the hearth make a good symbol for her and reiterating the oaths of family bonds and other commitments is a good way to honor her. New oaths may be given at Mabon feasts as well.

White Shell Woman is the Mother Goddess for Mabon. She watches over the crops and gardens that most directly sustain the family. She is a goddess of thanksgiving and the promise of light. (Hunt 2001) Both shells and corn are symbols of White Shell Woman. The best way to honor her is to give thanks for the many blessings we have, both material and immaterial. Even if we may still feel the lack of something, there is much to be thankful for, and gratitude brings many rewards.

Asase Yaa is the crone for this time. A Ghanian old woman of the land, she reminds us of the hard work needed to get nourishment from the earth. We must honor the work of those who labor hard so that we might eat as well as the sacrifices of previous generations. (Auset 2009) A symbol for Asase Yaa might well be a shovel or other tool of toil. To honor elders and those who have worked hard is to honor her.

One way to bring these energies together might be to allow each person in the gathering to say what they have to be thankful for in their lives. Each may throw corn or corn meal onto the fire as they finish speaking. Then each person could speak briefly of someone who they wish to honor, an elder or someone who has worked hard, and use a metal shovel to scoop out a bit of the embers of the fire. When the embers cool to ash, each person may state their oaths of family and community commitment, wet their hand with a little water and press it into the ash and then print their hand against a stone or wood surface prepared for this. These hand prints will then remain as reminders of the commitments made.

Samhain

With all the activities of Halloween going on, it can be difficult to get the family to focus for a moment on the spiritual side of Samhain. When my children were toddlers, they put out offerings for “Grandfather deer” and received small presents in the morning. We gave them candy and tried not to scold them for their many misdeeds on the basis of the concept that small children are “close to the ancestors.” Now as they grow older it is their turn to learn to give back and to honor ancestors as well.

My Maiden Goddess for Samhain is the Norse sun goddess Sunna. She is connected to spiritual magic and the symbol of a sun cross. (Woodfield 2014) This would be an excellent time to make bind-runes to put on talismans (a bag, shirt, doorway plaque or jewelry) for whatever magical energies you want to attract. Both bind runes and rune divination would be a way to connect with Sunna. 

Creative Commons image by Lisby of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Lisby of Flickr.com

Oya is the mother of nine children and my Mother Goddess for Samhain. She is a bit dark compared to most mother goddesses. Her connection to hurricanes, the transformative number nine and strong emotions of rage or fear may be frightening to some but I quickly connected with this goddess. While it is not comfortable to face these emotions, allowing them to be expressed can bring healing. I don’t necessarily want to go through hard times again, but I know that Oya can also play a part in healing from traumatic experiences, ecological devastation and social injustice. (Caputi 2004) A wild wind on a dark Samhain night is the time for Oya. Dressing up in ways that express dark and powerful emotion may be perfect way to honor her.

Baba Yaga is my Samhain crone. The contemporary stories that include her are scary enough to satisfy even secular concepts of Halloween. She is death, destruction and power, but she also grants wishes and punishes the unjust, the lazy and the apathetic bystander who tolerates injustice. (Greenfield (2014) To honor her we may make sacrifices in our lifestyle that help to redress imbalance or injustice or make commitments (Samhain resolutions of a sort) to work actively for justice and earth protection. 

Yule

Yule is already a very busy holiday for us. We have several cultures and an extended family to deal with. There are presents, big meals and various traditions happening every which way. Add to that the fact that we’ve been on a different continent away from home for two years but now we’ll be home, trying to reconstruct our home traditions. It is easy for the spiritual aspect to be overshadowed and almost impossible to hold any sort of small family ritual. The one thing we do always have is a Yule tree with decorations and usually a small scene of figures under it. This is one place where we can bring in the Goddess. 

I try to hold a brief dawn greeting of the sun with my husband and children on the morning of the Solstice. We usually also pull off a candlelight dinner the evening before with expressions of what we are thankful for and Solstice Tarot readings for the adults. 

It is into this part of the Yule celebration that I would like to bring some celebration of the Goddess. Usha, the Indian goddess of dawn, is my Maiden Goddess for Yule. Her twin sister is Night and they share the nursing of a child. They walk the same path, each in her own particular way. (Agrawala 1984).Her symbols might be a figure of an infant that is both dark and light or an infant wrapped in silk cloth with Indian designs. 

Ekhi, the Basque sun goddess (Sykes 2002) and motherly protector of humanity, is my Mother Goddess for Yule. She assures her children of hope and the eternal return of morning. She is a mother but is also born from the “reddish seas.” She reminds us of the need to stay a while in darkness in order to regenerate creative energy. She can be symbolized by a mother figure dressed in red or carrying a torch.

 Hekate is the Crone Goddess for Yule. She is a goddess of time, fate, solitude and witches, a mistress of the dead and “Keeper of the Keys to the Cosmos.” (Moss 2015) She can be symbolized by the figure of an old woman with a lantern or a key. 

Figures for these goddesses can be made out of clay or other materials and placed under the Yule tree. We can honor Ekhi at the candlelight feast on the eve of the Winter Solstice with poems of hope and thanksgiving for the promise of hope in difficult times. We can honor Hekate during the late night ritual of Solstice Tarot readings, lighting a candle in a small lantern. We can honor Usha at dawn when the sun returns.

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.
Daimler, M. (2016). Pagan Portals - Brigid. Winchester, UK: Moon Books.
Greenfield, T. Ed (2014) Naming the Goddess: Washington, DC. Moon Books
Hunt, L. (2001). An Illustrated Meditation Guide: Celestial Goddesses. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Leeming, D. and Page, J. (1994). Goddess: Myths of the Female Divine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.)
Loar, J. (2008). Goddesses for Every Day. Navato, CA: New World Library
MacLeod, 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. (2014). Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. Novato, CA: New World Library
Moss, V. (2015). Pagan Portals Hekate: A Devotional. Hants, UK: Moon Books
Motz, L. (1997). The Faces of the Goddess. New York, NY: Oxford University Press
Sass, R. (2003) The Old Saxon Language and Heathenry. Robert Sass)
Shaw, M (2006). Buddhist Goddesses of India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
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. New York, NY: Routledge.
Warch, M. L. 2014). White Buffalo Woman. In T. Greenfield (Ed.), Naming the Goddess (pp. 328 - 330
 Weber, C. (2015). Brigid: History, Mystery and Magick of the Celtic Goddess. San Francisco, CA: Weiser Books
Woodfield, S. (2014) Drawing Down the Sun: Rekindle the Magick of the Solar Goddesses. Woodbury, MN. Llewellyn Publications

A book review and then some: How I found the goddess Brigid

I think a Goddess may have chosen me. I say this not with the connotation that I am special. Instead I feel as though I was trying in vain to find my own Gods for a good part of my adult life. I'm too analytical for this to be a conscious task. Instead, I think a Goddess has finally chosen me--in the same way that I think a God or Goddess would choose every one of us if given a chance.

I was brought up with earth-based spirituality, but not much focus on deities. We had Greek, Norse and Native American myths and I felt a spiritual connection to the stories of Persephone and Demeter and I liked Thor simply for his brashness. But other than that, they were just stories—stories of significance and meaning, sure, but not infused with that sense of powerful consciousness and personality that seems to mark the true presence of a deity for others. 

Then a few years ago, I began noticing references to Brigid in increasing frequency—in stories that I read or in spiritual books and divination. The name kept coming up. I had never even heard of a Goddess named Brigid before that time. And I felt it was too cumbersome a name to give to a child, even though I had good reason to like it.

When I was sixteen, I ended up alone and frightened at a strict Catholic school in Germany among strangers who vocally rejected me because of my vision impairment. The one person who was kind and accepting toward me was a classmate named Birgid, obviously a variant of Brigid. I was not able to stay in contact with that classmate, but over more than twenty years, her memory has always stayed strong with me. And so when I began to hear the name Brigid, I connected it to that memory.

As such, Brigid had a head start in my heart. But at first, I thought that this Goddess was only one among many. Despite the fact that she is quite popular in some Neopagan circles, I did not find her in many of the lists and books about European Gods and Goddesses. From her conspicuous absence from some anthologies, I would have thought she was a minor figure. But as I have since learned, that is far from the truth. 

Brigid began to come into my life more forcefully in the past two years, when I became a published author. I heard more about Brigid, although it was usually in a passing comment or a random story, rather than in weighty spiritual books. After I had published my first three novels, I decided to begin my hearth-side email circle and make the theme of my website an online hearth that welcomes all and particularly those who have faced injustice in society. 

The idea first came to me while I was traveling in Portland, Oregon and one night I sat down with friends for a little wine and Tarot. I was telling my friends about my new business plans, when one woman--who says she doesn’t even remember doing so--turned to me and said, “Well, you know. There is a connection you should make. The hearth, writing, your healing work with herbs and your activism—it’s all very much the work of Brigid.”

I was taken aback and momentarily confused. Here was Brigid again, this time not just a passing reference but one very specifically directed at me. At the same time, I was struggling to integrate my new ideas and I didn’t have the patience for any digression. So, I let the comment pass. 

But Brigid didn’t let me be. Over the next few months, it seemed as if her name came up in every book I picked up. But there was precious little real information to be had about her until I ran across an Amazon recommendation for a book called Brigid: History, mystery, and magick of the Celtic Goddess by Courtney Weber. 

I’m a shrewd shopper, so I looked at other books on the goddess, but that one that I came across at random called to me. And I didn’t have the money to buy any book at the time, so I put it on my wish list. 

Then this past month, I ended up on the other side of the world in Portland, Oregon again and went into a Pagan bookstore with a little money in my pocket and a promise to get a gift “from my higher self to myself” as my mother likes to put it. And that was where I finally found a real goddess.

So, here is my review of the book with one caveat. This is a highly subjective, personal thing. Many people may be inspired by another deity or another book. And this book may not speak to everyone in the way that it speaks to me. But there it is.

I very rarely find a non-fiction book I can’t put down, but I read this book in record time, snatching every little minute and skimping on sleep while trying to juggle work, writing, herbal practice, activism and children—much the way Brigid juggles the aspects of hearth-keeper, bard, healer, smith and occasional warrior for just causes. The writing is that good.

Within these pages I found a reflection of the divine that I can embrace personally and wholeheartedly as never before. The author Courtney Weber does a masterful job of telling her own story of discovery in a way that is humble, credible and humorous while presenting spirited retellings of traditional tales, historical research, personal reflections, meditation exercises, ritual templates and divination practices.

The structure of the book is both organic and quite clear to me. Reading it felt like gaining two spiritual allies at the same time, Weber and Brigid—one immediate in this world and the other a picture pieced together from fragments until it became the goddess.

I had long since despaired of ever finding a specific path or teaching that I could adopt as my own. And I am very excited to have been proven wrong in that jaded belief. Weber’s approach to Brigid is as close as I have ever found to my heart’s way. I recommend that particularly those devoted to writing and other poetic arts, healing and activism give this book a try. It may just have more miracles to work.

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Arie Farnam

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

Imbolc blessings to children, parents and grandparents!

Imbolc is the time of firelight and long evenings. It is a time to curl up indoors, to think, to dream and to read. There is no better time to delve into the mysteries of intuition, magic and hope. 

Photo and words by Arie Farnam, Creative Commons License, share and share alike

Photo and words by Arie Farnam, Creative Commons License, share and share alike

I'm a mother and Julie Freel, the illustrator of the Children's Wheel of the Year series, is a grandmother. Our first concern is that children can access books that support earth-based spirituality. That's why we're making the ebook of Shanna and the Raven available for $2.99 on Amazon and other ebook stores until Imbolc. This means we take a loss on some copies of this book, but it also means that it is affordable for everyone knows a child who would like to read or listen to this book. 

Get the ebook of Shanna and the Raven for $2.99 until Imbolc from these stores:

Check out the prefer paperback you can get a copy from Amazon and see photos from the inside here.

Night terrors and protection magic: Addressing fear without dismissing it

It isn't suave to make this kind of confession, but in this case its necessary. I was afraid of the dark as a child. Very much afraid.

I wasn't afraid of monsters under the bed or of ogres in the closet. At least not unless I had recently watched a scary movie. Adults would often ask me what I feared and it was impossible to say exactly. 

I feared the tingling pressure of darkness against the back of my neck. I feared the way my muscles tightened and sometimes I couldn't move, even though I was fully aware of my surroundings. I feared the sense of consciousness and non-physical forms that I couldn't possibly understand. But as a child I didn't have words for these things and so I simply clung and  refused to be alone.

I found that darkness was actually only part of the problem. The other part was being alone. I found that the pressure against my senses didn't come if I was with another person... even a child much smaller than me. It wasn't that I thought a smaller child could protect me from something malicious. I didn't fear harm. I just did not like the strange pressure and awareness I felt but couldn't understand. And that feeling lasted until I was well beyond childhood.

 Today I understand better what I perceived as a child. I had some sort of gift for sensing non-physical reality. Despite the fact that I had very poor eyesight and couldn't see the facial expressions of others, I often sensed the emotions of others correctly, even when they wished to hide their feelings. And several specific experiences convinced me that I could at times perceive non-physical beings. Because I couldn't understand what I perceived, it was frightening and some of it may have actually been negative and beyond the abilities of a child to handle. 

It is because I've experienced this that I have a lot of sympathy for children who have fears they can't describe. Some of these fears may come from sensing non-physical reality. Others may come from deep memories or previous traumatic experiences that are not consciously remembered. Either way, there are ways to deal with these fears that address the root cause and allow children to keep their emotional and spiritual sensitivity without being afraid or encountering psychic negativity.

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In popular western culture today, the primary response of adults to a child's fear of the dark or the unknown is either suppression, denial or mockery. "Look. There's nothing under the bed. Just calm down and go to sleep!" or "If you just be brave and ignore it, it will go away." 

From my experience, these usual responses are utterly useless. Most children just suffer through it until they are old enough to block out the non-physical world. And that can seriously limit their sensitivity and ability to know themselves and reach their potential.

A few more creative adults make a game of battling those things that trouble the child, dressing up in capes with swords and charging around the bedroom to exorcise the monsters. This latter approach does often work, and that's more than just because it's fun and distracting for children. It is also because such games often contain the basic elements of energetic ritual.

That is where the real solution lies. If an adult is skilled in their own spiritual path and can keep a steady center while giving a child the tools of self-protection and energy conservation, lengthy struggles with these fears can be avoided. And the child can grow to develop psychic gifts to their fullest without having to put blocks on their sensitivities. I have seen people of various religious persuasions do this in various forms--from Christians to a Cuban voodoo practitioner. So, I can't say there is one "correct" way to go about it. 

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But the basic elements are common. An adult should help a child to create a safe psychic space, often a circle. There may be candles or other items that help in concentration and a feeling of peace. Teach your tradition's form of centering, whether that is through visualization, meditation or prayer. Then cleanse the negativity in the area in a way that makes sense to you, such as smudging with herbs, drumming or prayer. Set a boundary around the room or home, using substances (such as salt and herbs) or protective symbols. And give the child a symbol or talisman of psychic protection. Talk about energy and spirit with the child in terms the child can understand and explain what you have done. Don't forget to close the sacred space and give thanks.

Even this very general description may go beyond the spiritual experience of some adults. I don't expect those who believe solely in a materialist world devoid of gods, ancestors and spirits to agree with my perspective on this. I'm not a guru and my own spiritual path is very personal and eclectic, reflecting my varied past and international family.

However, I can offer a more concrete depiction of this process for those who embrace a Pagan, Wiccan or earth-centered path in the children's book Shanna and the Raven, which is an adventure story linked to the February 2 festival of Imbolc. The book follows a ten-year-old girl through experiences of both perceived and real danger and shows how her mother helps her to use both physical measures and ritual to empower her, connect with intuition and obtain safety. There are serious themes in this book but children love it for the story and don't realize it means to "teach" something and that alone makes the concepts much easier to absorb.

I often hear parents say that they don't allow their children to participate in their spiritual path until they are teenagers. And this perplexes me. Certainly, there are practices that are beyond the capabilities of children and children shouldn't be forced into a straight-jacket of specific beliefs. However,  there are many simple practices, rituals and traditions that can give children protection that truly soothes fears rather than simply suppressing them. And the successful use of such means will inevitably give children a greater overall sense of security and confidence. 

I wrote Shanna and the Raven as the first book in the Children's Wheel of the Year series precisely because I see these needs in my own children. And I hope they may help others as much as they have brought comfort to my family. 

What are your experiences with unexplained fears, the need for protection and using spiritual means to banish anxiety? Drop a line in the comments section below and join the discussion.

Imbolc inspirations for families

Good cheer! Good cheer! Imbolc in near!

Good cheer! Good cheer! Imbolc in near!

Imbolc is one of the least flashy Pagan holidays and it can easily be neglected. It is also probably the least oriented towards children of all the celebrations, but this is unfortunate. Imbolc is one of my favorite celebrations and I have found some very fun and appropriate ways to include my preschool-age children, while reserving time for adult introspection and inspiration. 

For six years, I held a small women’s gathering with a group of old friends as an Imbolc celebration. Until one of the fathers developed leukemia, we managed to get the men to take care of the children, so we could have some much-needed women's time. The past few years have seen many illnesses among the group and some particularly long, gray winters. As a result, we now celebrate Imbolc mainly with our own family. 

Crafts

Every year now, I construct a Brigid’s Cross, either out of plum twigs or out of corn stocks that I have saved from the previous year's harvest. Named after the Irish goddess of fire and healing, Brigid, the cross looks like a runic symbol of a square in which each of the four sides extends on the right-hand side. The basic cross is made by weaving together 12 sticks or stalks of grain. Then it is traditionally hung by the door of a dwelling to protect the home from harm in general and fire in particular. I made two, one to hang on the door like a seasonal wreath and one to hang near the hearth throughout the year.

Here's a link to a how-to showing some alternative methods of making a Brigid's cross.

I also make a Brigid doll out of small tree branches, dried flowers from the herb harvest., scraps of white cloth and red yarn. The basic idea is to take two sticks, cross them and bind them together with yarn. Then, I take a wad of cloth, cover it with more cloth to make a roundish lump and bind that to the top part of the cross to form a head. Then I lay a bouquet of dried flowers down along the bottom of the center stick like a dress and cover it with more cloth. I add decorations that look like a shawl and a yarn belt and paint on a face. The doll is an integral part of our child-friendly Imbolc ritual.

With a holiday so dependent on candles caution bears repeating. Imbolc is a particularly bad time to let candles burn unprotected. 

We had a close call with fire a few years ago, even though it didn't have to do with lit candles. My niece who was then nineteen visited shortly after the children and I had done our Imbolc ritual, and she made a fire in the wood stove without noticing that the Brigid doll and other items had been placed on top of the cold stove. The doll was badly scorched but nothing else was harmed before the problem was noticed. My niece felt terrible about ruining the Brigid doll and the kids were sad but after I thought it over, I realized the synchronicity of the moment. Brigid is the goddess who protects households against fire and in this case the Brigid doll had taken the brunt of the danger of fire, been scorched and had not burst into flame despite being made out of dry twigs and dried flowers, thus truly protecting us from fire. Make of it what you will but be sure to discuss fire safety with young children, if you introduce them to candles as a part of ritual.

A key symbol of Imbolc for my kids is an Imbolc crown. I use white paper and cut a strip to go around their heads. Then we attach four shorter white strips sticking up and flame-shaped bits of red paper to the tops of these. The effect looks like a crown made of four candles. I use four for the four elements, but seven is another number that is traditional for Imbolc, if you are feeling ambitious or have older children. The children color their crowns and I help by adding appropriate symbols and runes. My kids enjoy wearing these crowns for our Imbolc ritual.

Kids with Imbolc crowns demonstrating fire protection knowledge

Kids with Imbolc crowns demonstrating fire protection knowledge

The children and I also make three snake-shaped candle holders out of salt dough and paint them white, red and black to symbolize the triple goddess. The snake candle holders are easy to do. Make two long snakes out of dough. Coil one of them into a spiral to form the base of the candle holder. Using a tea candle as a mold, coil the other one around the edge of the base and build it up two or three layers. Form the end of the second snake into a triangular head and add dots for eyes. Brigid's animal symbol is the snake.

One year we decorated a special wish jar with tissue paper and sparkles. Imbolc is a time of making wishes for the year ahead and hoping for prophesy. Now we use this jar each year to store our wishes for the coming seasons.

Cooking

I make a traditional red-colored Imbolc soup that includes red lentils, lots of red peppers, pumpkin, carrots and red onions. I also make garlic rolls with seeds in them. Given that Imbolc is associated with the very beginnings of life and spring, it is always fitting to cook something with seeds at this time of year.

Both my husband's and my niece's birthdays come right around Imbolc, so their birthday wishes often take over the cooking regime. For several years now, their desire has been cinnamon rolls and this is quickly becoming an Imbolc tradition.

During the Imbolc season I decorate the table with lots of candles and a ceramic plate covered with salt, clear and amethyst quartz crystals and seven tea candles. This makes a beautiful and thematic center piece. 

Ritual and fun

With kids, I consider Imbolc to be the ideal time to start a cycle of education about gardens and plants. For preschool children it is good to start with a practical demonstration of sprouting seeds. You can use alfalfa sprouts and have the added benefit of getting to eat the results. Or you can try one of the contraptions that allows you to see a sprouting bean seed through a clear container. 

Last year, my kids experimented with planting beans in a box that had one side cut off and covered with plastic wrap. They were supposed to be able to see the seeds sprout and put down roots. The only problem was that the seeds we planted right next to the plastic wrap didn’t sprout well, but other bean seeds in the box sprouted and grew like crazy, all over the window. Still beans are particularly effective in getting the kids thinking about how seeds sprout because they sprout so quickly. Obviously this is also the time for planting some of the long-term starts that will be transplanted to the garden in the spring.

Imbolc provides the occasion for the first basic ritual my children have directly participated in. Do to the unique ritual crafts of Imbolc, it actually provides a nice opportunity for including children in ritual. We light candles in our snake candle holders and the kids wear their Imbolc crowns. We let the kids cast a circle by grasping hands in a circle and turning clockwise while saying, "North, south, east west. May our circle now be blessed." The circle is cast right in front of our hearth and the Brigid doll is sleeping on the hearth in a basket. The highlight of the ritual is when the children "wake up Brigid" by gently setting the doll upright and showing it the candles and other offerings. We sing appropriate songs such as “Rise up, oh flame” and “The earth, the air, the fire, the water returns”.Next, the children write or dictate their wishes for the next year. Slips of paper with these wishes are rolled up and put through a slit in the lid of the wish jar. We also make an offering to the spirits of our hearth and ask for protection. Finally, we use sage smoke to purify our new Brigid’s Cross, which we hang above the hearth for year-round protection from fire. Then the children open the circle by joining hands and going counterclockwise while saying, "East, west, south north. From our circle we go forth." This is all simple and active enough for very young children. 

I always make time for adult rituals and reflection after the children are in bed as well. Imbolc is truly a time when the need for introspection and quiet can become urgent. I would love to hear about your Imbolc traditions for adults or children. Please feel free to share in the comments box below. 

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Arie Farnam

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

Raising Little Pagans

Here is our first video showing the hands-on approach to Pagan seasonal festivals with children. This video covers Samhain through Ostrara and gives specific ideas of what a family with preschool-age children can accomplish. We are eclectic and follow no particular rigid tradition.

Happy watching. This video is appropriate for all ages.

Please note that my fiction is not aimed at children. The Soul and the Seed is a contemporary fantasy thriller with Pagan leanings. I recommend it for ages sixteen and up due to intense content, including some realistic violence. I hope Pagan readers will enjoy these books but I urge parents to be cautious about recommending them to children.