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I know this is a couple of weeks late, but life has a way of getting chaotic around Lammas every year.
As with any harvest festival, at Lughnasad we tend to focus on celebration and gratitude for bounty. Indeed, we should be extremely grateful for the boons bestowed upon us and celebrate the rewards of hard work. There is, however, a much more important side to this harvest. This is where we begin to tear up the plants that are no longer producing fruit in order to plant late summer crops. This is where we sort the unusable from the produce worth keeping. This is where we make decisions about what we can store and what needs to be thrown away.
We tend to be a modern culture of acquisition and fear of loss, which leads to hoarding, surplus, and waste. We do it with physical possessions, people, and emotions that no longer have a place in our lives. It’s hard to let go for fear of starving, but holding on to everything indiscriminately means risking the whole lot being spoiled or there not being enough room for what’s good and healthy. This can be a painful process. The wrong choice can be devastating, but even the right call can be tough at first.
This year has been one of, quite frankly, too many goodbyes. What started as a fruitful year all too quickly fell fallow and began to rot, and the only way to survive has been to make some terrifying sacrifices. I pared down my commitments, simplified a lot of my personal life, and cut ties with people who were detrimental to my growth. There have been deaths that touched me personally and a second chance that blossomed into a beautiful friendship only to be pulled from the ground like a weed and left for dead.
All of these things have weighed me down when there are so many things for which I should be grateful. All of these things have cast a shadow on a season that should be full of light, music, and celebration. There is too much rain, too little sunshine, and no way to know what will survive enough to see me through the dark season. I imagine this is how Lugh felt throwing a funereal feast for his mother who became an agricultural goddess. Imagine mourning the loss of a parent while exalting her gift to the Mother Earth and her people.
As anyone who suffers from depression knows, there’s a constant dichotomy at play. We must try to keep pushing forward, We must try to keep finding joy in the every day. We must feel our sorrows, move on from them, and keep looking for sunshine. On Lughnasad I am reminded that this is only the first harvest. There is more to come. There is more to eschew, but there is also more to grow and store in my heart and spirit. Not everything is lost. Not everything has dies. Not everything is gone, and that which is probably needs to be. These fields will not be fallow forever unless I stop cultivating.
Go now, cultivate and know the sun is shining, even if you can’t see it.
In years past, Litha has been about pure celebration. Love, revelry, and the raw power of the sun god filling us with waves of blessing. If you’ve ever smiled up at the sun and felt completely whole and happy, you know the feeling I’m describing. This year is a little different for me. There are some big changes coming my way, and I’m finding it extremely difficult to feel the sun in any aspect but burning. That strength and blessing I generally get this time of year is shadowed, and I feel myself weakening. I’ve begun to lose my spirit and the energy to keep pushing forward.
I don’t usually keen for Litha. It’s not generally a happy summer solstice activity, but it felt necessary. I didn’t go into the woods like I normally do. I went to the beach. If you’re not all aware, the beaches of Northern California do not warm. The moment the icy cold hit my toes I wanted to turn back and give up, but if I couldn’t do this how could I begin to claim my life back from the edge of the long night that loomed over me? I trudged forward, tears coming to my eyes as I remember why I was there and what stakes were at hand. I got as far as my knees before the screaming started, not the releasing wail of keening but the angry screams of someone who suddenly realized she couldn’t breathe. Friends, I’ve been drowning in my own life. For years. I’ve allowed myself to fight for enough air to keep sinking, but not much more. So I screamed. I screamed until the water knocked me off balance and straight into the sand of the undertow. I had not intended to go in. My clothes were soaked, my butt was cold, and my mouth was full of salt. I felt scolded by the ocean that has always lead me, and right well I should have been. I’ve let myself be dragged by the undercurrent for so long I’ve forgotten how to swim. I laid back and let the water rush over me. I stopped screaming, and I began to laugh. I laughed until the taste of salt once again assaulted my senses. The ocean wanted me to listen. To be quiet for once in my life…and listen.
I had forgotten that I carry the sun within me. I had forgotten the strength that has carried me through more hardship and darkness than I care to think about. I had forgotten the brightness that has always kept a smile on my face and my spirit alive despite that darkness. I had forgotten what it means to channel it all and become a force of nature. These are things I must hold on to if I am to come out of this alive. Alive. Not survived. Alive. Heart, soul, and spirit intact. This is a crossroads, not a dead end. This is the harvest of the seeds I planted when I asked for progress and the life meant for me, and if I let it all die on the vine I have wasted it all. I’ve fought too hard to be weak now. Wherever this road goes, and it will go through some thick, dark, places, I will carry the sun within, and it will guide me if I let it.
Aloha and a Blessed Litha
Go now, be strong. Be Alive.
This Ostara, despite weather in the low 40s, Hubby and I attended the first Ostara ritual we’ve been to in, I’m ashamed to admit it, a couple of years. When the invitation came through I felt it was something we had to make happen. Our family has been extremely blessed this year, and I needed to offer some of that fertile energy back to the earth to show my gratitude.
“Spring”, the High Priest started as I stood in the circle on a close-to-freezing March afternoon and tried to wrangle the sun’s warmth to sustain me, “is a work in progress. It’s not summer. It’s not there yet.” Nothing could have exemplified his meaning quite like my own breath visible in the air around me, when just days before I had been in sandals and a skirt eating ice cream in the park.
His words struck a very strong chord this week. After five weeks of training and a week of recuperating, I started a job that has been a personal goal for over six years, to become a flight attendant. I knew I had all the training, but I was terrified. Would I know it all at the right time? What if I really messed up? Would I be ok? The confidence that had pushed me onward in training quickly deteriorated around me the night before my first day, that morning, and well into my first flight. Just before landing my crewmember looked at me and said, “Breathe. You’re doing just fine”. The ice in my nerves melted, and as we got through each flight over the next few days I began to feel more comfortable.
On my last day of the trip I made a mistake that I considered pretty big. As much as my crew told me it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, I beat myself up about it for the rest of the day. The ice returned, but so did the words from our ritual. A work in progress. I, too, am a work in progress. I am not yet the flight attendant I will be. The nerves will subside, but they also may return sometimes, and that’s OK. I am OK, and I will continue to be OK. I’ll get there, but the only way to do so is to keep moving forward.
The summer will come. My summer will come. Hail, and welcome.
Go now, push forward.
Let me be clear before I start posting these stories that the point of this little Lessons in Love experiment was not to rehash old wounds or dredge up old drama. I had a few reasons, the main one being that we don’t always see how these things change our lives until those wounds have healed and we have seen what something better looks like. Some of these experiences were the same lesson, but sometimes you have to repeat a mistake to realize what it was that was wrong. Another reason for this series was to show that there’s nothing wrong with faith, because there’s always a new lesson out there, but there’s also always a new adventure.
After any one of these relationships, or any others I’ve had, I could have stopped trying. I could have buried myself in work, friends, life, and never let another person into my heart. Why didn’t I? Because I have faith in love. Because I enjoy the act and emotions of loving. Because even if the love isn’t real there’s still something to be gained from the experience. Likewise, I have applied for the same job thrice. Even though I felt like giving up, I tried again and got it on the third try. I start training in two weeks.
As the new growth of Imbolc begins to take root we begin to feel cabin fever and a need to emerge from the hibernation of the dark season. We have taken the time for introspection, and our soul searching and demon dancing is done. We are ready to emerge from the darkness renewed and ready to test the lessons we have learned from our time inside.
This year Brighid has taught me many lessons. She has taught me how to be strong enough to be patient, but how to be strong enough to walk away when the optimism that fueled that patience has run dry. She has taught me when to be calm and when to speak up for what I need. She has taught me when to be a caregiver and when to say no in situations where the burden has simply become too heavy. She has taught me to stand tall and be confident no matter how ugly, stupid, foolish, or hopeless I fee. She has taught me when to sit still and listen to the darkness and when to light a candle and push through it. She has taught me to dream when the world tells me that dreaming is illogical.
At Yule we celebrated the return of the light and the faith that the spring would return. At Imbolc we begin to see signs that our faith has not been wasted. So it is with life and love. The dark is never permanent unless we believe it is so. There is always light on the other side. That has been the point of this experiment. Yes, have had some rough relationships and some serious heartbreak, some that were even my fault, but I have come out of every single one of them with some amazing stories to tell. It is these stories that make me who I am, these stories that make my life wonderful, and these stories that will sustain me in the dark as I await the sun.
Go now, light a candle.
I posted back at Sammhain about keening as a part of a ritual I had been accustomed to doing at Yule, a ritual that emphasized letting go and moving on as we welcome the light of new dawn and the new beginnings that come with it. While it seemed unseasonable at the time, this season has brought me a very important lesson about healing. What the Yule keening missed is that starting over is not an overnight process.
After my initial keening ritual I went through a lot of emotional turbulence. I felt extremely free for a week. Then I felt detached, as if my emotional responses were getting lost somewhere in the absence of what I had torn away. For a few weeks it was a relief not to have to navigate feelings before I made decisions or started conversations, but something was missing. Earlier this week that scar tissue began to heal, and with it came an entirely new experience, mourning.
Today I found myself grieving pain I couldn’t even place anymore. In order to truly heal we must actually let go not just go through the motions. This is going to result in some feelings of loss. We become so comfortable with our demons that losing them can cause some grief, and only once we get over that grief can we be completely healed and whole again.
My focus for this Yule and the ritual we have planned is facing the void left behind and making peace with it, because that’s the second half of this process. Before I can begin to fill it with the things I choose to have in my life I need to be able to accept it and coexist with it for a while, or it will end up full of whatever happens to fall in. It’s hard for us sometimes to feel a void and let it be, because we associate it with emptiness and the unknown. Instead, these voids are open space, full of potential for growth and new life within us, space we can only heal once the initial mourning has ended and we have truly let go and moved on.
Go now, mourn your demons and move on.
I hear the voice of my grandmothers calling me
I hear the voice of my grandmothers calling me
They say wake up wake up, they say wake up wake up
-Voices of the Grandmothers chant
* please note: I didn’t write this, but there are conflicting sources online as to its original writer, and it has been shaped and changed by the many communities who have used it. My apologies for not properly sourcing it. *
I was once told during a Mabon divination ritual to plant my seeds in the winter instead of the spring like most, and it has rang true that I am generally more inspired and fruitful in the darker half of the year. Maybe it comes from the introspection that comes in the colder seasons. I am less distracted by the light energy and vibrating dance of the spring and summer. It could also be that I find my inspiration in the darker portions of myself, those places that we often try to ignore or change.
In the story of Persephone we see an eventual balance of light and dark. In embracing the darkness and joining Hades, Persephone sets in motion the events that create a separation between the light and dark times of the year. It is her journey that brings the world balance.
It is important that we too have this balance in our lives to reach our full potential. Persephone doesn’t just travel to the darkness, she loved it. She takes it in and tastes it, and in the end she returns to it again and again as a part of her self. We too must learn to experience and love our darkness as a part of who we are.
When we use the word “darkness” we think of frightening and unwelcome things. We think of violence and negativity. We think of anything dark as a blight, but true darkness can be a thing of beauty. The dark is “scary” because that’s when our imaginations take over, but some of life’s most magical things come from the imagination. The dark is the unknown, but the unknown gives us endless possibilities if we can get over our fear of it. From the dark we pull courage, strength, and inner calm. If we use what the darkness can give us to create and grow as much as we use the light we can be unstoppable.
Inner darkness is a place of deep emotion, sensuality, and survival. A place of transformation and rebirth. Each of these aspects of our personality holds immense power and potential that can be tapped into if we can take the steps to make our own journey to our own Underworld. I won’t say it’s not a little daunting. Steps are unsure and footing is loose. At first it can be terrifying, but once you’ve mapped the route and made peace with the darkness it can be a place of solace and quiet comfort.
Loving your darkness is about balance, but it is also about releasing fear. Once you are fearless you are free.
Go now, embrace your darkness.
(This post is a little later than I wanted it to be, but it fits with the overall theme of the topic. See, I’m not a procrastinator; I’m a demonstrator.)
We live in a world of five year plans and college prep pre-schools, a world where, at 30, I am considered too old to make new plans or pursue unmet dreams and goals. Now, were it my dream to be an Olympic gymnast I’d agree with that sentiment, but I believe those things to be the exception, not the rule.
At Mabon we celebrate the late harvest and the beginning of Autumn. This brings two very important things our way.
The late harvest is our last chance to stock up for the coming cold seasons. We must decide what we can and cannot use and rid our valuable space of anything that isn’t useful or that takes up too much room in order to keep what will help us thrive through the winter months. Setting goals and following our passions can sometimes require sacrifice and tough decisions. There may be people who don’t support us and hold us back. There may be other activities we have to miss and other interests that must be set aside to focus on those goals. Dreams take time, money, and effort to be viable. In the meantime we must be able to feed, clothe, and house ourselves. This generally leaves little room for anything else. What are you willing to give up to store your dreams?
The beginning of Autumn is also the beginning of the dark half of the year, which is generally a time where we turn inward. Introspection is always my first step when reaching for a goal. Why is it something I want? Is it really what I want, or am I trying to fill some other void? Is it something that can actually be accomplished? What will it take to get me there? I cannot begin to make real plans until my head and heart are in the right place to do so. Imagine trying to write a novel with a litany of other things on your mind. You will most likely end up distracted, frustrated, and incoherent. Clearing your thoughts and structuring your life to be conducive to writing a novel before you begin is going to give you the clearest path to that end result, and your novel is more likely to reach its full potential. When you are strong and healthy so are your dreams. The same is true when you are cluttered and not in top form. Take the time if you need it to prepare during this time of introspection so that you’ll be fresh and vibrant when the light returns and it’s time to plant again.
The key components here are dedication and optimism. In today’s disheartening economy it can sometimes be hard to imagine having the opportunity to reach out of the rut of keeping ourselves alive to even attempt to touch our dreams. Many people my age are still looking ahead to owning our first homes or having a family simply because it is not yet feasible to do so. Many more who have attempted it are struggling to keep it all afloat or have given up. We take jobs that pay some of the bills, and we work ourselves to exhaustion to pay a few more. We have become accustomed to debt and failed credit checks, because we simply don’t have a choice. It’s hard to see past the daily struggle sometimes and imagine being able to do something that makes us passionate, and the idea that we have missed our chance at a good life is prevalent. I’m here proposing the alternative that while the conditions might not be ideal, and while it won’t be an easy task, it’s not too late to keep trying. It’s not too late to make plans and set goals.
It’s Mabon, and it’s time to embrace the late harvest!
Go now, set a new goal!
At Imbolc we prepare for and rejoice in the coming spring. It’s a time of clearing away, planning, and preparations. It’s a time of promise and hope. There is still cold to be endured, but the darkest parts of winter are over.
Over the last year our family has been through Hell more than once. While it has fortifies us, it has also left us with a thick layer of ash and detritus of things that no longer serve us, those things we had to burn before we could move forward. A few weeks ago Hubby and I began the process of cleaning out not only the emotional litter and clutter, but the physical as well, and it really has made a lot of difference in our strength as a team.
One of the deities most associated with Imbolc is Brighid. I have dedicated myself Brighid for many years now. I have made offerings and called to her in times of celebration and need, and she has become a very important aspect of my spirit, but lately I have felt the need for a better connection to my inner Brighid, the part of me that has seen me through the times of greatest fire. This year my Imbolc celebration and personal work centered on making this connection. I have a litany of ambitious goals for the coming year, and if there is to be any progress then I will need her with me in all her forms.
The maiden to keep a creative, whimsical optimism to lead me through the most mundane tasks with the knowledge that something magical and truly happy awaits at the end.
The mother and midwife to help me give birth to my ideas and passions and nurture all my undertakings, and to help those around me do the same for theirs.
The crone to have the wisdom to succeed where I can and let go of what just can’t be done.
The warrior to be strong even when I am weary and outnumbered.
The blacksmith to fortify those around me who may feel weak.
The healer to keep myself and my family healthy and tend to them when sickness or uneasiness settles upon us.
The poet to keep the words flowing, the inspiration lighted, and communication smooth.
Never before have I felt the heat of Brighid’s dancing flame and the depth of her healing waters, and never before have I felt so empowered. I spent this Imbolc alone with my thoughts, my soul, and my words, and I was able to finally make a connection to the goddess that has been waiting inside me. All she needed was a spark.
When you plant a seed you have an idea of what it will grow into. You hold that picture in your mind as you watch the seed sprout and move through all the crucial stages of development, until one day it is right there in front of you in full bloom. Sometimes the end result is exactly what you expected. Sometimes you get something completely different, and you can choose to either appreciate it for what it is or feel disappointed. Either way you have invested time, energy, and patience to watch your seed grow.
That’s what it takes to be the farmer, but what does it take to be the seed? What does it take to possibly have no idea what you will become or how long it will take? What does it take to have faith that you will grow into a boon not a burden and trust the one or ones tending to you to know what you need and keep you safe and healthy? What does it take to truly know that all the stages of your growth are important and that the end result is exactly where and what you should be? What does it take to be confident in your knowledge of how to grow and be strong, when to push that growth, and when to let nature take its course?
At Mabon we celebrate the harvest as we reap the rewards of patient tending and take a lesson from the patience and dedication it took to sustain that which will sustain us through the cold season. This year my message has been a hard and heavy one about no longer looking at myself as the farmer and instead accepting my place as the seed. Where I would generally shape I must let myself be shaped. Where I would guide I must let myself be lead. This doesn’t mean I stop trying, it simply means I try differently. Patience, intuition, and introspection. Only then can I grow into something that will sustain and reach its full potential. Only then can I nourish the world.