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It has never been planned this way, but between Yule and Brighid every year the seeds are planted for what will become the focal point of that year. Last year I interviewed for the opportunity of a lifetime, a flight attendant position with the airline I have worked for for almost a decade. I got my acceptance call on Brighid in the middle of a blizzard.
It has taken nearly a tear for me to adjust to the lifestyle change. The traveling and the service were easy. The hard lesson was one of isolation. Accustomed to the support system around me, I had to learn to get over my own inertia and face the intimidating silence of being alone.
I’ve had to handle my frustration, my sadness, my fear, and even my happiness on my own, and though it’s been one of the most difficult periods of growth I’ve ever faced, it’s given me more faith in myself as a result. Last week, after a round of cancelled plans, I walked into a poetry slam not knowing a soul and got on stage as a stranger. Taking up a chair at a table for four was a bit painful, but as the room filled people would sit and chat for a moment or two between poets, and by the time I knew it the night was over. I had done it. I had gone out alone.
From that experience came a voice from within echoing a push I’ve felt since the beginning of the year to take some big strides with my creative work. Now that I feel fulfilled and content with my career and confident in my abilities to hold my dreams in my hands and know what they feel like, I feel inspired to pursue other goals with the same passion.
Passion. The one thing that has always driven me no atter what held me back. When I’ve been sick, broke, broken, and desperate. When I’ve been fallow and lost. When I’ve been alone. Passion has always kept me pressing forward, and it is that passion that I find when I call for Brighid this Imbolc. As her fire burns within me, it fuels the passion that dries me. Her flame gives heat to my words, movement to my music, and life to my art. Last year was my year of water and fluidity. This year is my year of fire. My year of Passion.
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.
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.
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.
Litha, the longest day of the year, a day of potency and joy, and a celebration of opportunity.
This is the first summer solstice I have spent covenless, yet it comes in a year that has been more substantial and blessed than most. I feel more powerful, more healthy, and more driven than I have in years. Still, this has always been one of the celebrations in which I surround myself with friends and loved ones, and this year it seems to be lacking.
As the day approaches I find myself on several precipices at once. I am on the verge of being a licensed driver for the first time in my life, I am taking huge steps with both my personal and professional life, my health is ever improving, and though we are in a time of change within our family we are still in a very positive and healthy place. My first focus will be to empower my final push in all of these areas.
My second focus is the present. There is no coincidence that summer represents celebration, flirtation, and youthful abandon. It has become abundantly clear to me that I let myself keep my eyes firmly fixed ahead of me, and that much of my energy and frustration is spent on the next step instead of the current one. A recent conversation reminded me that this was not, and should not, always be the case. I need to embrace the spontaneity that once fed my spirit and let myself live in the moment a little more. I need to enjoy the now and not worry about where it leads. I also need to stop letting past experiences hold me back. I am not who I was, and I have wrung every drop of lesson I can from those memories. I can no longer let myself hide behind apprehension in the guise of self-preservation. I need to live my life rather than always planning the next minutes of it or fearing a rerun of my past. Tomorrow will come whether or not I’ve put it in my Google calendar, but today will never come back.
My solstice ritual this year will be unplanned. I will find myself a spot near the river or in a park somewhere and let it happen however it feels right. I will most likely be alone, and more and more I’m content with that. I will have a few basic items with me, but for the most part my spirit will be my ritual tool. This will be an exercise in flow and living in the present, tapping into a place from which I used to draw all my strength, blending it with the energy I’ve found elsewhere and honed over time, and using my drive and determination for the future to fuel the fire. Only by finding and combining all three tenses within myself will I truly be using my full potential, and it’s time.
No matter what your plans are for the solstice this year, I want you to enjoy the day for the day, not just for what it leads you toward. I think you’ll find a lot more power and meaning in it as a moment than as a stepping stone. I know I will.
Go now…be now.
It’s that time of year again. Well, it’s several “that time of year”s again, but I mean one in particular. As witches, it is our 15 minutes of fame. Suddenly, we’re everywhere. We’re in movies, cartoons, the costume aisle at Target (what exactly is a Future Witch anyway?), and all sorts of mass media. The History Channel starts running documentaries about everything from the Salem Witch Trials to the rituals of the Knights Templar. For a couple of weeks no one has any problems with us. Now, I realize that’s a grave simplification, and there are still people who make their displeasure with the pagan community known, but for a short time every year we are a flamboyant commercial cliché. In a few months we will see the same thing as Christians everywhere fight their own “Jesus is the reason for the season” battle, even going as far as the ever more popular image of Santa bowing over the baby in the manger. This image alone is why I write on this particular topic, because it illustrated something poignant about holidays, the innate fact that they are both sacred and secular in nature does not have to be a negative thing.
There seems to be a belief that Jesus Christmas and Santa Christmas cannot coexist. I believe that they can, and do, as two separate pieces of a celebration. In some ways the two have become two unique holidays, as some people celebrate one but not the other. I don’t believe it is disrespectful, and I don’t ever believe a day that brings people together in a spirit of joy and hope is wrong. Pagans have been doing it since before it was Christmas, calling it Yule, and we didn’t complain when new holidays with suspicious similarities started cropping up.
All snark aside, there is nothing wrong with secular celebration. As little witches our kids learn to honor their ancestors on Samhain. In time, they will learn the Wheel of the Year and what the sabbats mean. They learn Samhain traditions and correspondences in the same way we know and celebrate them. They learn to respect and revere the holiday as something sacred. They also get to dress up in the costumes of their choice, go trick-or-treating, carve pumpkins, and all the other fun stuff that Halloween brings. In that same vein, Santa will visit our house on Christmas, but we will have had our Yule fire.
It is also important to note that when the kids are older they will also know the history of the traditions for both sacred and secular holidays, as one is just as important as the other. We must know about our history and how our cultures have evolved over time. We must know how people of the past have celebrated and why to really appreciate the seasons now. Yes, we add our modern touches, which are also important, as holidays must grow and evolve with us, but nothing can grow without roots.
There is nothing that says that celebrating a secular holiday takes anything away from the sacred holiday that generally accompanies it. We are complex and beautiful creatures, and it is that multi-dimensional capacity that makes us unique. While the sacred days bring us together in the spirit of faith, the secular days bring us together in the spirit of community no matter what our beliefs are. The more fundamental reason for the season is joining in celebration, no matter what you call it.
So, yes, this weekend I will be partying in costume, handing out candy dressed as the most cliché witch I can muster (don’t judge me, the costumes are all in storage), and honouring my ancestors in both private and group ritual. I will watch the same rerun documentaries on the history channel, and I will giggle every time they use the same outdated clip of some Samhain ritual from the 70s. I will meet with friends and family of all beliefs and traditions, and we will find a few moments of joy and laughter in a time when there is so much negativity and uncertainty flowing about us. This, my friends, is the reason for the season. Well…this and giant bags of candy.
Go now….smell my feet, give me something good to eat…