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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.
This year has been rough, for many of us. I don’t mean ” I stubbed my toe and had to get a pretty serious ingrown toenail removed” rough; I mean “my soul got ripped from my very core and turned into mashed potatoes and taken to some sinister potluck in Hell, and had to go find it and figure out how to make it a soul again” rough. You may have noticed a lot of radio silence this year, as I’ve spent a lot of time inside myself trying to sort out what I wanted it to look like. What better time to remodel than after a pack of demons has rampaged through your inner temple and torn it to shreds from the inside out. Ok, maybe that’s a bit histrionic, but that’s what it felt like most of the time.
At Yule we are prompted to give up what no longer serves us, what harms us, and what stands in our way. We keen, we burn, we eschew what we can no longer afford to hold in our lives. People, things, sentiments, everything must go! As we say goodbye to this darkness within we invite the new light that grows with the seasons. We accept the sunlight into us to shine bright with hope and renewal, and we celebrate that we have survived the longest nights.
This year I have enough friends who have opted out of the holidays to feel it in my heart. Some have lost loved ones. Others are having health or financial hardships. Still others have just become jaded for their own personal reasons. This is not a new phenomenon, but it has been a bit more pervasive this year, but it always reminds me of my own holiday spirit and the lessons that come to be from the holidays. I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating, so excuse me while I wax a little Hallmark Special on you all.
My mom loved Christmas. Every year, without fail, we had the tree that almost grazed our high ceilings covered in lights and ornaments. We had garland, worn from years of use, strung around the beams and banisters and enough light up animatronic scenes and characters to confuse the cats enough not to touch any of them. Some years the nativity scene would be almost buried in presents, but some years it would not, but I hardly noticed.
The warmth and joy that filled our house was tangible, and it instilled in me a Christmas Spirit that goes far beyond commercial messages or expectations we place on ourselves, beyond the stress and the worry, and beyond all the jaded skepticism and religious bickering I see every day on the internet or the news. No, this Spirit is about love and togetherness. The memories we made decorating the tree have outlasted any gift I’ve ever been given. The snuggling on the couch watching Prancer and Miracle on 34th St is something I can still feel when I miss my mom around this time. The love I felt at Christmas just from the time we spent as a family is something I’ve carried with me and tried to emulate in my own family during the holidays no matter what our situation might be.
Here’s a story I have not yet told:
The second Christmas Hubby and I spent together was a bit bleak. We were i our first apartment together. I had just started having fibro issues and hadn’t worked much. All I wanted was a tree. The fake one my father in law had given us was in storage, and it was locked up until the 1st of the year because we were behind on our rent. Hubby’s grandparents had just replaced their tree, so they had an extra, which they offered to us. It was bigger than the space we had for it, and it shed like a nervous chinchilla. After an hour of measuring and furniture scooting I gave up. I was sad, but we had tried. Hubby, on the other hand, was not going to let me concede to a fake pine tree so easily.
I watched the wheels turn as he surveyed our kitchen and dining area, then we put the resulting plan to work. What we ended up with was a quarter of a tree. We had stood the base of the tree against the wall behind our kitchen table and only used the branches for the top three sides we could see. It was a bit of a stretch, but we decorated the hell out of that little patch of tree, and we laughed and sang the entire time. I knew then that there would never be a dark Christmas at our house even in the worst times. There have been years that have tested us, but we have managed to find ways to make every one special.
The point? I’m getting to it.
The point is that Yule isn’t about eradicating the darkness, it’s about finding hope and joy in the light. It’s the stars and moon at night, just as we must also embrace the shows and shade in the daytime. It’s about approach and soul building. When I eventually found my soul, it wasn’t really any different than it had been before. I merely had to scrape off a layer of negativity, pick out some things that made it seem spoiled, and put it back where it belongs. The darkness didn’t ruin it, and the light didn’t do anything but show me what was already there.
This year has been rough, and we weren’t sure we’d be able to even afford gifts for the kids. When I left work with a flight bag full of small handmade gifts I never imagined I wouldn’t make it all the way home, but a few days later I returned to California feeling deflated. I hadn’t even send cards. We just hadn’t had the money.
I put everything in a box and sent it to Hubby and his girlfriend hoping it would at least make him smile for Christmas. The rest I carried with me on trips I picked up for the time I was supposed to be home. The cards, I sent. I figured that was the end of it. Then I saw the smiles on the faces of people I saw on my trips and the happy Facebook messages from people who were surprised by my cards. I heard Hubby and Mouse’s voices when they called me after opening their gifts on Yule, and they were so full of joy that, while I was still homesick, my spirit was renewed.
Yesterday as I placed a blue and while Yule/Christmas bouquet at my mom’s headstone, full of her favorite flowers, I caught the scent of pine that rose from it and was immediately reminded that I get to spend the holidays with family I haven’t seen on Christmas in many years, that I have been able to spend the better part of this year with people who are no longer with us and that I have been able to be a part of the lives of the children in our family again.
This was my first home, and it remains a very special part of me and my Christmas heritage. When I got back to y room I set up an impromptu alter, some festive things my grandma had left as a surprise for me, and the cards Hubby had brought me on a surprise overnight visit, and my heart was immediately lighter.
Light. There it is.
Light of hope. This doesn’t mean suddenly everything is better. This doesn’t mean all the injuries we’ve sustained this year are gone. This means there is hope. This means a light has been shed on our strength and our resilience. This means a light has been shed on those around us who love us, so we know we’re not in this alone. That light means guidance and a promise that if we are growing we are alive.
Light. Light reminds us that there is more than darkness. The fact that we recognize darkness is, in part, due to the very light we hail, as we are reminded when we speak to balance.
Aloha, Light. Aloha, Darkness. Aloha Christmas.
Go now, be joyous.
(Apologies for being late…WordPress obviously didn’t save my post scheduling. )
As the Harvest Moon passes and Mabon approaches, I feel my spirit beginning to reach for the balance that comes with the season. Summer has been a time of adventure, love, and growth, and now it’s time to slow down a little bit and prepare for what the dark season brings.
Preparation. What have I been continuing to spend energy on that just isn’t being fruitful? What am I still clinging to that’s just taking up space. (Remember this post?) What and who do I want keeping me company for the cold, dark, introspective time ahead? The answer to these questions make a huge difference in how I emerge in the spring. The most important question for me to answer is just that, How do I want to emerge in the spring?
At Mabon, the second harvest, we begin to see exactly what we will have with which to move forward. We’ve all heard the phrase We reap what we sow, and this is the harvest where we can no longer hope for anything other than what we have. All we can do is accept what we have created and give thanks, yes, even for what we don’t want. Why? Because every failure is a chance to celebrate a success, every step back is a chance to thank what has helped us move forward, and every downswing is a chance to know that balance is soon restored. Every weakness we weed from our crops is a chance to remember how strong we can be, that this is not the first or worst winter we will ever face. Every year we face the darkness, and every year we emerge. The harvest of Mabon decides how we will nourish and reshape ourselves in that time.
The time between Mabon and Yule is the window through which we feel the strength of the sun diminish and begin to build up our inner strength. At least where I live in the Northeast, it is usually the post Yule part of the wheel that is the most harsh weather-wise. Genreally this is how life flows as well. The joy, social glow, and distraction of the holidays will be over, and cabin fever will begin to set in. We become frustrated with the cold, with each other, and with the state in which life has been frozen solid, knowing we’ve still got a few months before the warmth returns. This is where our true strength is integral to our survival, here in the thick of winter. This window between the two seasons is the place where we build up that strength and prepare ourselves. This window is where we decide what makes us strong and what makes us weak, and we act accordingly.
So take this day to celebrate and give thanks, then take some time to visualize who you want to be when you emerge in the spring. Decide how to manifest that you in the interim. I have all the faith in you.
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.