Springtime Waits for No One

Notes from my talk for UUFM on 12 April 2020

Last month was the Spring Equinox, a holiday called Ostara by Wiccans. Next month comes Beltane, halfway thru Spring season.

At Ostara the Sun rises directly in the East, days and nights are equal in hours. Here in the American Southeast, trees and flowers were leafing out. Up North, people are still waiting for that to happen. Anticipation!

Ostara is a time to start work. You made plans at Imbolc, right? Get those out and review! What were you dreaming of back in the dead of Winter?

I started work in my garden. Pulling early weeds, cleaning up dead plant stems, building what is needed or re-building what has broken. I found that my strawberry ziggurat had partly washed out, so I dug and poured in dirt from other parts of my garden…after first extracting a toad. I hope it found other shelter.

All those dreams of yours are YOURS. Remember that – you are responsible for bringing them into reality. How will you express yourself, improve yourself?

Next month begins with a huge fire festival, Beltane! Halfway thru the Spring season when life is bursting out of the ground. Beltane begins the brightest part of the year, when days are long and nights short.

Yes! The light has arrived! The Sun rises so early that I have time to work in my garden before taking a shower and getting ready for work. Great time to squish marmorated stink bugs or knock them into a bucket of soapy water.

It is time to GET BUSY. And it is time to eat your greens. Vitamins, fiber, minerals; you will need to stay healthy if you want your work to succeed. Take care not to burn out, whether it is sunburn, windburn or bonfire burn!

This is time to work, but not wear yourself out. We still have a lot of the work left to do. Strike while the iron is hot, take breaks when your aim begins to falter. There will still be enough work to do in Summertime.

This is a time to bask, but not be lazy. Enjoy the good days and the warm sunlight. If you cannot appreciate all of it, pick parts that do appeal to you.

What is your natural working pace? Are you fast like dandelions, popping up before the end of winter, or fast like blue jays, strong and clever? Are you slow and cautious, like oak who leafs out last or turkeys who stump so many hunters?

Check your progress as you go. Those late frosts are killer; what unexpected events throw a lot of your work into peril? Do what you can to pace yourself and prepare.

A lot of folks suffer allergies in the Springtime. What are allergies, but attacking the harmless? Pollen is not poisonous; your body mistakes it for an invader, because it is coated in protein like a virus.

Are you attacking harmless things or ideas? Can you take a step back and get a new, less personal perspective?

YES, protect yourself from real threats. Take actions appropriate to threats: wear bug spray if the mosquitoes are out, wear a condom if you do not want a new baby, wear a sunhat, wash your hands well if you are about to eat.

Spring changes fast! Engage your joy, pay attention to this vivid phase of life.

Imbolc 2020

“I do not want to go quietly, I want to slide in sideways, cookies in one hand, whiskey in the other declaring “Whoo, what a ride!” In my notes for this talk, I wrote “cabin fever” three times. I also realized, the Internet kind of erased cabin fever from our culture. I see that as a good thing. 

Imbolc is a Old Gaelic word that may have meant “in the belly” and referred to sheep’s pregnancies, or possibly meant to wash and cleanse one’s self. Most people believe it is the former. Late winter is when ewes prepare to deliver their lambs and their milk supply freshens. Paganism really always leads you back to critters. But this is a celebration of quickening; evidence of new life about to begin.

Imbolc is the halfway point in the Winter season, literally the middle of Winter. Winter began six weeks ago, and Spring begins in six weeks. These halfway points are the truest expression of a season; we are in the thick of winter. It is cold, dreary, windy, not fun to be out of doors.

What do we do this feverish, restless, dreary time of year? We have Carnival, Mardi Gras, Chinese New Year; huge, wild, brightly colored celebrations where you can let out all the crazy. If you keep trying to follow decorum during such a dreary period, you could permanently lose your mental balance. It is better to go crazy for a few days and shake out those winter blues. If you have read any James Herriot, you know that lambing season drives farmers a bit crazy, too.

Imbolc is a High Holy day and its signature deity is Brigid, or “Bride”, the most beloved of the Irish gods. Brigid was a fire god: a blacksmith, a poet, and the home’s hearth. Poetry? Fire, you ask? Yes! A good poems sets your heart and mind ablaze. Poets in Ireland were ranked higher than kings and queens, who were considered somewhat expendable. I am not making any suggestions, here, but Irish kings were sometimes sacrificed if things had gone badly for a few years in a row.

Imbolc is when you can tell that the daylight hours really are growing longer. It is sunset when I leave work now, not full dark. Dawn happens during breakfast, not on my way to work. Even Utqiag`vik, the northernmost point in Alaska, is getting 3 hours of sunlight per day.

The opposite holiday is Lughnasadh, the grain and apple harvest that is halfway thru summer. Lughnasadh is when you see the days are waning, but your larders are filling up. Halfway thru Winter, larders are emptying and we tighten our belts. This may not apply to food in our modern lives, but it can apply to our emotional and mental stores.
In farming communities, carnival is followed by fasting. In modern life, we are trying to keep up with our new year’s resolutions to lose weight or get in shape. Kind of the same idea…if you have hot work to do, cold weather is a good time to do it.

Candles are a symbol of Imbolc, celebrating the returning light. So are Brigid’s Crosses, milk, and early flowers like snowdrops or crocus. I have daffodils coming up, but I think that is climate change, not Imbolc. At Lughnasadh we made corn dollies; at Imbolc we make Brigid Crosses. The dolly sometimes gets burned after it is completed, but the cross is really just an unfinished basket. Where does that take us?

This is the end of the agricultural year. Gardeners smell Spring on the wind, or at least imagine it. We pore over brightly colored seed catalogs and dream at length about this year’s garden. We have forgotten all the work of turning the soil and weeding; we just want to see sprouts and flower buds.

The end of any thing is a good time to review. How did your projects work out this past year? DId you improve over the last time, or fall behind? Did you try a new thing? Was it an improvement? What ideas needs to get thrown out to make space for new ideas, what things could get finished before Spring arrives? What do you need to do to prepare for growth?

We handle all that ancipation with planning and preparation. Planning and preparation, you say? I say FUN! Get out the grid paper and plot your garden! Go thru your seed store and see what you saved from last year. DREAM. Fire up your greenhouse and get some seedlings started. We all have greenhouses, right?

Maybe finish that brigids cross, turn it into a egg basket. Maybe finish that poem you were writing, turn it into inspiration for your next step in life. Many folk are planning bee-feeding gardens, nowadays. This is the time of year that needs inspiration. Feed your busy little dreams. Put your dreams on paper, express all this pent up energy, get your thoughts and feelings out.

My husband uses white boards in every room, to plot menus, work days, healthy habits, notions. He bought two new white boards in the last week, and one of them is so big it will take up almost an entire wall. I love that.

What have you saved up in your heart and mind, and your belly? What does your gut tell you right now? The Hindus have 7 chakras, but the Irish have 3 cauldrons. The Belly, the Heart, and the Head. Each needed to be kept full, none should be neglected. We are halfway thru a season of deprivation. Are any of your cauldrons tipped over right now, or needing a top up?

The Belly:
You MEANT to give up junk food, but did you? Try again, put good food in its place, eat your green leafy vegetables and whole fruits.
Your gut tells you that someone on your friend lists is not a good person? Obey your gut and unfollow them.
What else is your gut telling you? If you are not in the habit of listening to it, start now.

The Heart:
Have you called your loved ones recently? Do it, tell them you love them. Get over their flaws and failings. Get over yours, too.
Do your favorite artists need support? Re-post their artwork, buy their work, comment on their social media.
What makes you feel loved? Seek that again. Start over if you need to.

The Head:
Bolster yourself by talking about or writing down these ideas of yours. Talk them up! Up! Talk yourself into bringing your ideas to life. Remember it is OK to be a little crazy right now. LET THE LIGHT IN. Let go of shade. Strategize, plot, plan, throw it all out and start again.
Do you have a gratitude habit? Is it working for you? Maybe it needs re-vamping.
Read your favorite philosophers again, read your favorite poems. Do you still love them? Do they bring you new insights? Try reading them out loud to your friends. If they are still your friends afterwards, good.

Imbolc reminds us to make use of dull times to prepare for better times. Hash out your ideas and dreams, sort out the dead seeds and half-baked notions, reconnect with what – and who – truly inspires you.

Even Brigid’s cross is just an unfinished basket. If it is not working out, toss it in the fire and try again.

Yule 2019

Why celebrate Yule, what is it?

Yule is the Winter Solstice, when the Sun rises and sets at the furthest point south on the horizon (this is the northern hemisphere’s winter).

If you can watch the Sun rise on Yule, look for a landmark that shows you how far south it rises. Watch from a normal place, some window in your house or your front or back door. You do not have to know the directions; just notice.

The daylight is short, the night time is long, the longest night of the year. It is tradition to play drums at sunrise on Yule. I wonder if that is where the idea of the Little Drummer Boy originated? Greeting the re-birth of a new Sun.

So, this is the low point of light, the least amount of light. We fight the darkness with fire, company and good cheer!

Traditions like these teach survival, teach us how to thrive in spite of tough natural forces. We celebrate Yule to remind each other that low times pass, cycles turn, and tough times will get better…soon. Maybe not just yet but soon.

We bolster each other’s spirits, make joyful memories and celebrate each other. We have each survived since last Yule. No one is guaranteed this, so we celebrate together!

This is a t8me of generosity, too. Generosity seems divine but is actually human. Sharing is an act of free will.

There is a perception that handmade gifts are best. But, handmade used to be all there was. It is a lovely tradition, and it still counts. Homemade cookies count as handmade. ( I love cookies!) But gifts you buy count, too.

What can you make? Not just things – do you make friends? Do you make someone happy?

In the days before industrial revolution, days of farm life, winter is an easier time of year. There is nothing to plow, sow or reap. Now, this is no longer true – in winter we are as busy as any other time of year. We travel, work, shop, host, decorate, cook, organise as if our lives depended on it.

All this activity during the dark time of year causes anxiety. Darkness is a natural time to rest and recover, not a natural time for high activity. Any time you can rest during this time, do!

The Holly and Oak trees both grow slow, strong and tall. Both have ovate shaped leaves with a pointed tip, both have leaves with several points around the edge. The Holly King rules the waning light from Summer solstice to Winter, and on Yule loses to his brother the Oak King.

Holly is evergreen and medicinal, if emetics are the medicine you need! Purging is a desperate measure but was commonly used in ancient medicine. Holly also stimulates the heart, increasing the pulse. Holly produces berries for birds to eat and spread its seeds.

Holly King is jolly, with bright red or white berries and deep green leaves. The sacred holly does not die when dark winter comes, and reminds us again that life survives. Holly King prepares us for loss, retraction, retrenching before the hard winter times arrive.

Some debate what is the “dark half of the year”. It can be defined several ways:

From Summer solstice, as the days get shorter and shorter.

From Autumn Equinox, when the night hours become equal with the day hours.

From Samhain, the time of frost and deep night.

At the end of Holly’s reign, he loses to his brother the Oak King. Oak defeats Holly when the light time of year begins.

Oak is beloved of Sun gods like Apollo. Oak is also a strong, tall, slow and steady growing tree. Oak produces acorns, which are food for mammals and are spread as mammals gather and hoard them.

These two brothers rival one another for the love of the Goddess, and represent two sides of the Greenman’s power. They represent two very different male aspects, the physician and the provider.

And at Yule we build a bonfire using the Greenman’s bones to invite light back into the world. Beginning with dry leaves, grass and twigs, adding larger branches as flames catch, and then piling logs around and on the growing blaze.

Hail the new light of the reborn Sun!

Samhain, Festival of the Ancestors

Samhain is the Gaelic word for “Summer’s End”. It is pronounced “SOW-in” in Irish Gaelic, “SHAW-vin” in Scots Gaelic, and “Pumpkin Spice” in American. 😀 I stole that joke.

Like English uses H to change the sounds of C and S, Gaelic uses the letter H to turn M into the V sound. M and V are more similar than you might have realized. That is a little Gaelic language tip for you; I did not get much further in my study of that language.

Samhain is the ancient holiday halfway between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, around the first of November. This is when in Ireland, cattle were brought back down from their mountainous summer grazing fields to the valley fields. Newgrange and other paleolithic Irish monuments mark these astronomical events.

Thanks to Irish immigrants, Samhain became the basis for what we Americans call “Halloween”, a contraction for All Hallow’s Eve. Halloween is the evening before All Saints Day. Halloween is also known as All Souls Night, when we remember our own, ordinary, not-sainted folk. Simply, it is a festival to honor those who have gone before.

Ancestor worship pre-dates the worship of deities. From what I can understand, as Stone Age people, we humans did not fear death or miss our dead relatives the way we do now. Instead, we stayed in touch with their spirits and memories.

Usually, ancestor worship itself was conducted by the oldest living relatives in the family. Those who were closer to crossing over to become ancestors themselves, and who had known the older generations were deemed best for communicating with those spirits. It became their sole occupation. Priesthood must have been a really nice retirement plan!

Modern Pagans often hold unrelated loved ones, such as teachers or even celebrities, as emotional ancestors. Those who inspire us to become better people have also fed our growth as spiritual beings. They “parent” us this way.

Who are your unrelated ancestors? Among mine are the authors Anne McCaffrey and Jane Austen, singer Karen Carpenter and my high school choir teacher, Cheryl Patchen. McCaffrey taught me keep writing and singing in spite of neglect or abuse, and that adopted family can be the best family. Austen taught me to follow my better nature rather than give in to impulse. Carpenter warned me to keep fighting mental illness. Patchen believed in me.

Did you have neighbors growing up who helped raise you? Have you thought about the word “raise”? Good people lift each other up, and as my friend Carolsue says, we live in a world with good people.

Wiccans honor our dead at Samhain. We believe at this time of year, it is easier to converse with our ancestors. The “veil” between our world and theirs is thin at this time, and also at Beltaine, the opposite holiday from Samhain.

One way to remember them is to offer their names to the Samhain bonfire. You can speak their names to the fire, or write them on paper to burn. I usually do both, reading the name aloud and then burning the paper.

Samhain is also the third or fourth harvest festival of the year; it is the Blood Harvest. I am going to let those words hang for a moment… This is the hunting season for well-fed wildlife, or time to harvest your fattened livestock. Their bones went into the Samhain bonfire, bone + fire. This is the time of frost, when (before climate change) the weather would reliably get colder. Meat stayed good longer in a cold larder, or it was cured with salt or smoke. Then it should keep your family fed thru harsh winter months. They did not have things like Spam.

And of course, it is the time of pumpkins, winter squash, potatoes, young wine from Lughnasadh’s pressing, the last of those flavorful peppers, apples and plums. There is still time to plant winter greens to keep your family more healthy during winter.

Another way to honor the dead is the Dumb Supper. “Dumb” means “not speaking”. As you enjoy your marvelous harvests in a Samhain feast, set one plate full of your dinner with a burning candle to draw those spirits who love you. Some Wiccans eat this meal in silence (dumb), to listen for their visitors’ words from the other side.

Many Wiccans include a pomegranate in their Samhain feast to honor the marriage of Persephone and Hades. Do not believe those silly English scholars who mistranslated the old Greek myths: Persephone was NOT kidnapped. Plucking a crocus was essentially knocking on Hades’ door. She was NOT tricked into marrying; offering an unmarried woman a pomegranate was the same today as kneeling and offering her a ring. Her mother’s opinion of the match was another story.

A much-loved Samhain activity is to spend time looking thru family photo albums. Perhaps dust the picture frames if you keep family portraits. Tell stories of your elders’ (hopefully funny ones as well as any other), talk about your family’s history and traditions. We are settling into the darkest time of the year, which is a great time to rest and tell stories.

Samhain is our New Year festival, as well. We chase out and confuse bad spirits by wearing masks and set skulls and bones outside our doors to warn them away. The Irish extinguish their hearth fires, then meet at the village bonfire and take home its coals to restart their hearth for the new year. The old has passed, the new are coming back soon: at the Sun’s rebirth occurs at Yule.

Since it is a new year, you might scry or read your tarot cards to gain insight for the coming year. You might converse with your ancestors by visiting your relatives’ graveyards, or simply stand outside on your porch to await their coming to see you, just as you would wait for the living who have texted to say they are are on their way.

If you choose to scry, keep in mind that all news is not good. Be prepared to receive messages of any sort. Christians interpret hearing bad news as the “Devil’s words” and view our holiday with anxiety. Bless their hearts. Wiccan faith says to accept the whole cycle of life as it comes. When you receive messages, do your best to handle the news.

And this is one reason that Wiccans set circles of protection when we scry. We need to filter out those spirits who might mean harm, or who are just full of mischief. Think of all the people you know in life. They do not change their nature when they die.

Samhain New Year is an excellent time to purge your home of unwanted or unused items, or items with some painful connection. It might be a valuable item, but if it only brings you sorrow, purge it. Purge yourself of sorrows too, using that burning ritual I mentioned earlier. Write your sorrow on paper and add it to the Samhain fire. That catharsis is magnificent.

Walking a labyrinth is another Samhain tradition. The labyrinth reminds us that life is full of twists, turns, doubling back, rushing forward, and then doing it all over again with fresh perspective.

Think of all the feelings you get when you work thru any problem! They can all be there in the labyrinth. Interest in a new thing, satisfaction in that first turning back to see where you were before. Frustration of going back and forth when you thought you were done. Confusion when you are not sure if you are following the right color on the floor. Joy of sailing forward thru a long loop, and then anxiety as you see yet another turn ahead. Relief when you reach the center. Exhaustion when you realize you are about to go thru all of that again – or maybe you love seeing it all go by again and laugh at the places you were stuck or frustrated before.

You might outline a labyrinth in your own yard, using cornmeal or flour, bricks, masking tape or ribbon. To use a bag of cornmeal or flour for this, cut a pouring spout from the top fold and use the flour to trace the design. Non-toxic, needs no clean up. The Cretan labyrinth + is a simple and most ancient design. Or, quite simply, or you can mark out a spiral using a garden hose.

Samhain is a time of immense power and change. In this season, it behooves us to connect with our past and weigh our needs and desires. Take time to appreciate where you came from, the good and the bad together. Take time to evaluate where you are and appreciate your own wealth.

Autumn Equinox, or Mabon 21 September 2019

This holiday really is a Southerner’s favorite. Sure, the South loves Christmas enough to put their tree up in July, but nothing makes South happier than cooler weather. If my social media feed is any indication, anticipation of this event begins after the first hot day in May.

What is this holiday, besides a lead up to Halloween? It is our second harvest festival. Apples, grapes, gourds and nuts are ripe. Time to make jam, pickles, wine, and roast pumpkin seeds. The grain mills that were busy after Lammas have churned out flour, so it is a great time for baking pies. The Horn of Plenty spills over. People who turned their Lammas grain into beer can spill over too. #tipsy So you have both products of the first harvest, and the second harvest’s crops. Quite the cornucopia.

The Horn of Plenty was Amalthea’s horn, the goat who suckled baby Zeus when Rhea hid him from his power-crazed, baby-eating father Cronus. Zeus blessed the horn so that it would always provide food for its owner. It was later gifted to Heracles after he fought with the ocean naiad Achelous over, of course, the love of a woman. It is hard to say if Greeks enjoyed fighting more or less than they enjoyed love. But goats undeniably filled an important role in their agriculture, and I understand that our football season has also begun. #fightfightfight

At Mabon as at Oestara, daylight and nighttime hours are equal. The dust of summer is damped down by leaves and heavier dew. It can be fun to have a bonfire or enjoy lighted candles. Wiccans love to cut an apple laterally and show their children the star shape that the seed pods make. Persimmon seeds get cracked open to see if they have a “spoon” shape. I do not remember what that signifies, but people like to see it.

Metaphyisically, take a look at the projects you are working on. Can you finish any of them in a day? Can you finish them in the six weeks before Samhain? Look and those you have completed, simply to enjoy the accomplishment. In a fast-paced world, it is easy to forget what we have gotten done.

When I was a child, Autumn was a months-long season. Now, Autumn is disappearing into the heat of Global Warming and its effect of Climate Change and its mild temperatures occur briefly. Summer’s heat lingers, or the polar vortex gets pushed south and brings early frost or rain at really bad times. If nothing else compels you to act to fight Climate Change, maybe you would be motivated to Save Autumn?

Advantage of Being a Religious Wacko

When you believe weird things, you don’t have room to criticize. I could stop there. That’s the point I wanted to make. We’re done. Thanks for stopping by.

News stories arrive in which politicians admit they believe women are less valid creatures than men and don’t deserve things like paychecks or job promotions. That Jesus traveled around the world making sure every tribe got His message so that no one gets out of choosing between Heaven and Hell. That Jesus’ magic blood-drinking ritual saved them from cancer. Or that God is playing hide and seek from behind a comet.

I was raised to think all of these (except the last one) were valid religious beliefs. (I don’t have examples of other religions’ wacko beliefs, but feel free to leave comments if you know some good ones.) I still think they are valid, the same way I believe Narcissus was a beautiful young man who fell in love with his reflection in a pond and was turned into a flower. The same way I believe that Sedna’s fingers became whales and seals. The same way I have conversations with trees and babies and people’s pets and see the future in how a handful of stones fall.

I really stretch the patience of my secular humanist friends. Bless them, they love me even as I make them palm their faces in confused exasperation. Bless them a little extra, because they don’t usually believe in things like blessings.

Write down things you believe in and take a look at them again. Try to explain them to someone. (Trees are good listeners.) Do you believe that your feelings affect the outcome of your most beloved sports team’s scores? That closing your eyes makes prayer work better? That your hairstyle makes you look better? Do you believe that eating fast food every day won’t actually, literally, genuinely hurt anyone?

Yeah, those aren’t very religious examples. Hopefully they’re less aggravating or personal that way. I don’t want to anger anybody. I say claim your wacko beliefs. Everyone has their own.

Maybe we should have International Wacko Day where everyone posts their strangest deeply held belief on the Internet, so we can find fellow wackos and enjoy their company. We can all drink the traditional melted ice cream and strike things that irk us with inflatable toys, as has been done on Wacko Day for centuries. Or for the first time. It’ll be great.