March 10, 2019

Many Pagans are solitary practitioners, either by choice or by necessity. But a lot of Pagan activities for Ostara are designed for large groups. In 2014 and 2015 I wrote a series of rituals for those working alone on the Wheel of the Year. Every year they’re near the top of the list of most popular posts – here’s the Ostara ritual.

But maybe you don’t want to do a ritual. Or perhaps you’re part of a group that holds its rituals on the Saturday nearest the holiday and you don’t want to do a second ritual. Here are eight things you can do to celebrate Ostara as a solitary Pagan.

1. Learn about the Goddess Ostara

At the last High Day we had it easy. There’s tons of material on the Goddess Brighid, both ancient and modern. On Ostara? Not so much.

What we know is that Ostara (or Eostre) is a Germanic Goddess of the Dawn, who may or may not have been associated with Spring. The early English Christian monk Bede (673 – 735) is our only source for the connection, which is where the English name for the Christian holy day Easter comes from.

In The Stations of the Sun (1996), historian Ronald Hutton says:

It is therefore quite possible to argue that Bede’s Eostre was a Germanic dawn-deity who was venerated, appropriately, at this season of opening and new beginnings. It is equally valid, however, to suggest that the Anglo-Saxon ‘Estor-monath’ simply meant ‘the month of opening’ or ‘the month of beginnings’, and that Bede mistakenly connected it with a goddess who either never existed at all, or was never associated with a particular season but merely, like Eos and Aurora, with the dawn itself.

Jason Mankey had a very good post in 2015 titled Looking For the Goddess of Ostara/Easter. Rather than rehash it all here, just go read Jason’s post.

Also, remember that while Easter is connected to Ostara, it is not connected to Ishtar. Not all names that kinda-sorta sound alike in modern English have common roots.

2. Greet the dawn

Ostara may not have been a Goddess of Spring, but we’re pretty sure She’s a Goddess of the Dawn. So get up and greet Her at dawn. It’s easy no matter where you live: “equinox” literally means “equal night” – the days and nights are of equal length everywhere in the world. The only variation in sunrise time comes from your position in your time zone, and whether or not you’re on Daylight Saving Time.

We don’t know what offerings were traditionally made to Her. Mead strikes me as appropriate, though that’s strictly my UPG. Perhaps share your morning coffee or tea with Her. If you have little to spare, clean water is almost always an acceptable offering.

3. Go outdoors

Ostara is the Spring Equinox, a time to celebrate the awakening of Nature. The weather can be a bit iffy even here in Texas, but if you can get out even for a short time, this is the time to do it.

Go outside. If it’s warm enough to leave your coat or even your shirt off, do it. Feel the sun on your skin, even if that’s only your face. Look for new shoots of grass, buds on trees, and the beginnings of flowers. Listen for the birds.

Spring is coming – and soon.

4. Plant!

Spring is the season of planting. Different crops require different conditions and those conditions vary widely from region to region. But in general, cabbage, kale, lettuce, and onions can be planted early. This is also a good time for planting trees and shrubs, and some flowers. And if it’s just too cold, you can start many flowers and vegetables indoors and transplant them after your last freeze.

In addition to edible and decorative plants, don’t forget about magical ones. Got a favorite herb? Maybe something you need for a special spell that’s hard to find? Try growing it yourself.

5. Work magic for new growth

Plants aren’t the only things that grow in spring. This is also an auspicious time for magical workings for growth and increase, particularly if you do it during the waxing moon.

What do you need more of in your life? What do you want more of? Give it some hard thought and some deep meditation. For me, figuring out what to work magic for is more difficult than actually doing the magic.

Then once you decide, either do some sympathetic magic, like the main working of the Ostara solitary ritual, or just use your preferred magical system.

This isn’t a good time for banishing, but if there’s something you want to increase, now’s the time to do it.

6. Decorate eggs

Is painting eggs an old Pagan custom that survived into Christianity? No. There is evidence that eggs were decorated in ancient times, but no evidence that the practice was common or that it survived into the Christian era. Most likely it’s simply one of those practices that just seems right regardless of the dominant religious view and it’s popped up independently in different times and places. And while painting eggs may be associated with Easter, there’s absolutely nothing about it that screams “crucifixion” or even “resurrection.”

So take advantage of all the “Easter egg” decoration kits and supplies and make some Ostara eggs.

Did anybody else think the items in the red basket were syringes? They’re bubble wands. Ostara is the perfect time for fun and frivolity.

7. Observe the sunrise and sunset

Did you mark the sunrise and sunset at the Fall Equinox? If so, then you know where the sun will rise and set at the Spring Equinox. If not, now’s the time to do it. That should be due east for sunrise and due west for sunset, but hills, trees, or buildings may block your view of the horizon and shift it slightly for your exact location.

Many streets are aligned with the cardinal directions. Find an east-west street and watch the sun come up or go down. Just remember to do it on foot. Blocking traffic to watch the sunrise won’t make you popular with your fellow drivers.

8. Donate to a rabbit rescue organization

As with decorated eggs, the connection of bunnies with Easter is more about the season than anyone’s religion. My family raised rabbits when I was a kid, but they were livestock, not pets. If you want to add meat to your suburban farming they do quite well – they’re quiet and they’re clean, so as long as you clean up after them.

They can be pets, but they’re far more high-maintenance than cats – which most people don’t realize until it’s too late. Every Easter countless rabbits are sold as pets, and before long many of them are abandoned.

Google turns up numerous shelters for abandoned rabbits and/or wild rabbits that have been injured. Fellow Denton Pagan and rabbit farmer Heather Campbell recommends Wild Rescue Inc. in Denton. There are probably organizations close to you who could use your financial support – find one and be generous.

wild suburban rabbit

However you celebrate and whoever you do or don’t celebrate with, may your Ostara be alive and growing!


For more ideas on how to celebrate Ostara, see Easy Ways to Celebrate the Spring Equinox by Molly Khan of the Heathen At Heart blog and Ostara Sabbat Index: Rituals, Crafts, and Recipes for Witch’s Spring Equinox by Heron Michelle of the Witch on Fire blog here on Patheos.

January 22, 2019

Many Pagans are solitary practitioners, either by choice or by necessity. But a lot of Pagan activities for Imbolc are designed for large groups. In 2014 and 2015 I wrote a series of rituals for those working alone on the Wheel of the Year. Every year they’re near the top of the list of most popular posts – here’s the Imbolc ritual.

But maybe you don’t want to do a ritual. Or perhaps you’re part of a group that holds its rituals on the Saturday nearest the holiday and you don’t want to do a second ritual. Here are eight things you can do to celebrate Imbolc as a solitary Pagan.

1. Make offerings to Brighid

Brighid, Bridget, Brigid, Brid… Wikipedia lists 41 variations in spelling of the name of the Irish Goddess of Smithcraft, Poetry, and Healing. And that’s before you get into all the different pronunciations. I’ve forgotten when and why I settled on “Brighid” but I did, and She hasn’t told me differently. If you call Her by a different variant, that’s fine with me.

Regardless of how you spell or pronounce Her name, this is Her day. February 1 is St. Brigid’s Day in the Catholic Church, and Her association with Imbolc predates Christianity. I pray to Brighid every night, but I make special offerings to Her on Imbolc.

Milk and milk products are traditional, as is grain and bread, and beer and whiskey. If you’re running tight on money, or if you just want to give something personal, make an offering of poetry or song.

Hail Brighid!

2. Make a Brighid’s Cross

Another way to honor a Goddess of Crafting is to make something, especially a symbol long associated with Her. The Brighid’s Cross is usually associated with the Christian saint, but it may have Pagan origins.

There are numerous websites that have instructions on how to make them – here’s one.

After you make it, hang it in your house for protection and as a reminder of your devotion to Brighid.

variations on the traditional 4-arm Brigid’s Cross at the Solas Bhride Center – Kildare, Ireland

3. Read a book on the Goddess Brighid

Not that familiar with Brighid? Know the name but not the person behind it? Read a book! There are several books on the Goddess and many on the Saint (who may or may not be the same person) – there are two I can personally recommend.

Pagan Portals – Brigid by Morgan Daimler is a quick and easy introduction. Its subtitle is “Meeting The Celtic Goddess Of Poetry, Forge, And Healing Well.” It discusses Her names, Her stories, Her symbols, and how She’s honored in our times.

The other recommendation is Brigid by Courtney Weber, subtitled “History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess.” When I did a short review in late 2017, I said:

It’s a collection of stories and legends about Brigid from Ireland and other places where the Goddess and the saint have been known. And it’s the experiences the author has had with Her. She mixes in meditations, rituals, and spells.

It’s an easy read, and while it’s not a work of academic history, the history in it is good. If you’re looking for an introduction to Brigid, or to Celtic-inspired Paganism, give it a try.

4. Clean your house

One of the themes of Imbolc is purification. If the cold and snow has kept you and your family shuttered up in a small hut since before the Winter Solstice, your house is probably getting rather rank. It’s too early to open the windows and air out everything – Imbolc is the Promise of Spring, not Spring itself – but you can do some cleaning… particularly if you live in a modern house that doesn’t rely on burning wood or coal or peat for warmth.

Start at the top and move to the bottom or start at the back and move to the front. If you’re not up to cleaning the whole house, pick one room and clean it the best you can. When you’re done, light a candle and celebrate your clean house!

5. Do weather divination

February 1 is Imbolc – February 2 is Groundhog Day. If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow we’ll have six more weeks of Winter. But if it’s overcast and there is no shadow, Spring is just around the corner.

As with all divination, the closer you are the more the reading is going to apply to you. I’m not sure how relevant animal divination in Western Pennsylvania is going to be to me here in Texas, much less to people in Colorado, California, or Ireland. So do your own.

You can break out your runes or Tarot cards and see what that brings. Or you can learn some of the traditional weather signs of your region, then go see what the trees or the birds have to tell you.

6. Bless your candles

Whether the Christian holy day of Candlemas is a direct descendent of Imbolc or if it just happens to occur at the same time is uncertain. Either way, on February 2 Christians (of the liturgical sort, anyway – you won’t find Evangelicals celebrating Candlemas) bring the candles that will be used in the coming year to church to be blessed.

There’s nothing inherently Christian about blessing candles. If this wasn’t an ancient Imbolc custom, it is now. Gather your candles (this is a good time to resupply if you’re getting low), cleanse and bless them with incense, prayers, and your own energy. Then wrap them up until you’re ready to use them. I’d save anointing them for specific workings.

7. Start a garden (indoors)

Imbolc is the first of three Spring festivals on the Wheel of the Year, and nothing says “Spring!” like planting. Unless you live in Florida it’s probably too early to plant anything outdoors, but you can start planting flowers, herbs, and vegetables in pots and planters now. Here’s a link to a gardening site with a convenient table of when to start. Look around the internet and you can probably find something specifically for your region.

Then when the weather improves and the last frost is safely in the past, you can move your plants into your outdoor garden. Or if you don’t have an outdoor garden, keep growing them indoors.

8. Process to a holy well

Another Christian tradition that likely dates back to Pagan times is to process to a holy well on Brighid’s Day. The people of a village (often only the women) would process from a gathering point to a sacred well. The well would be cleaned and decorated (are you sensing a theme here?).

If you live in Ireland (where there are hundreds of holy wells, many of them dedicated to St. Brigid) you can probably find a procession to join, albeit a Christian one. Here in the United States, not so much. We don’t have the long tradition of public wells that exist in much of Europe. But if there is a public well near you, this is a good time to visit it.

Alternatively, you can borrow from Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) and use a cauldron or other large container as a well. Fill it with water, set it up in your back yard, then make a slow and deliberate procession to it. Make your offerings, then contemplate the deep connections that the Well brings us.

Brigid’s Well – Kildare, Ireland

However you celebrate and whoever you do or don’t celebrate with, may your Imbolc be warm and bright.

December 9, 2018

Many Pagans are solitary practitioners, either by choice or by necessity. But a lot of Pagan activities for the Solstice are designed for large groups. In 2014 and 2015 I wrote a series of rituals for those working alone on the Wheel of the Year. Every year they’re near the top of the list of most popular posts – here’s the Winter Solstice ritual.

But maybe you don’t want to do a ritual. Or perhaps you’re part of a group that holds its rituals on the Saturday nearest the holiday and you don’t want to do a second ritual. Here are eight things you can do to celebrate the Winter Solstice as a solitary Pagan.

1. Decorate your house

Are all the many Christmas traditions really Pagan? As Jason Mankey explained in 2013, some are, some aren’t, and some are complicated. The way I see it, the customs that don’t directly reference the birth of Jesus are organic responses to Winter and the Winter Solstice, even if they were started by Christians.

So put up a tree and decorate it with ornaments. Hang greenery – make your house a colorful contrast to the dreary outdoors. Set up candles – just use electric ones if you’re going to leave them lit when you’re not home and awake.

Even those of us who are happy for cold weather recognize that there’s something not so nice about Winter’s gloom. Make your home joyous and bright.

2. Light a Yule log

The Yule log is one of those customs whose ultimate origins are uncertain. But any ritual centered on a tree and a fire is Pagan enough for me.

There are numerous ways to do a Yule log. Some call for a specific wood. Some burn a whole tree trunk a foot or two at a time – that’s virtually impossible for those of us with contemporary fireplaces. Others don’t burn the log at all – they drill holes for candles and decorate it with greenery.

If you do burn your Yule log, save some of the ashes and use them in charms, especially charms of protection.

3. Watch the sun set

The Winter Solstice is the death of the sun – it’s the shortest day of the year. It’s a solemn occasion, one filled with mystery and magic. Particularly if you have clear skies, go outside and watch the sun slowly sink below the horizon.

What dies with the last sunset of the solar year? What do you mourn? What are you glad to be rid of?

Stonehenge is usually associated with the sunrise at the Summer Solstice. But the alignment works just as well (better, from my way of looking at it) for the sunset at the Winter Solstice.

There is no question that watching the sun set is among the oldest of Solstice traditions.

4. Sing up the sun

Imagine being inside Newgrange on the morning of the Winter Solstice – with clear skies. Imagine watching the inner chamber go from total darkness to golden brilliance.

The odds on being able to do that are very long. But you can watch the sun rise where you are. And as you do, sing it up.

Sing to a Sun God. Sing to a newly born Sun Child. Sing that the light has returned, and now the days will begin to lengthen. Knowing the science of the Solstice only increases the joy of knowing that the sun lives, and so life on Earth will continue.

5. Mark the sunrise

The Winter Solstice is the farthest south the sun will rise and set on the horizon (in the Northern Hemisphere). As you watch it die and be reborn, stand in an appropriate place (your front door, the middle of your back yard, whatever seems right to you) and make note of where the sun crosses the horizon. Do it again at the Equinox and at the Summer Solstice.

You’ll likely never build a stone circle or a passage tomb in your back yard, but knowing the extent of the sun’s movements helps connect you to the land where you are.

6. Gather mistletoe

Gathering mistletoe is one of the few customs we know were practiced by the ancient Druids, though for them it was tied to the phases of the moon and not the stations of the sun.

Forget the kissing customs. Even if you’re not alone, they’re not exactly consensual (unless they’re a way for couples to kiss in public when they otherwise wouldn’t be allowed). For the Druids, mistletoe was known as “allheal” – use it in your healing magic.

It’s also poisonous (though the American variety is much less toxic than the European) so best to use it externally and not consume it.

7. Give a gift

Christmas extravagance is the creation of modern capitalism, but gift giving at the Solstice dates back at least to the Roman republic. Any tradition of kindness and generosity is worth continuing.

Gifts need not be expensive, nor must they be hand-crafted. They simply require the desire to share what we have with others, be it great or small. Give something to a family member, a friend, a coworker, or someone on the street.

Give with no expectations, not even the expectation of gratitude. Just give for the joy of giving.

8. Make wassail

Wassailing is the practice of going outside singing songs of Winter’s joy. Wassail is the hot beverage that makes it more enjoyable.

There are a million recipes for wassail on the internet. Basically it’s hot spiced cider. Start with non-alcoholic, non-carbonated cider. Add spices, especially cinnamon. Heat to a comfortable drinking temperature. If you want an extra kick, add brandy, rum, or whiskey (but save the good single malts for sipping).

Wassail!

However you celebrate and whoever you do or don’t celebrate with, may your Solstice be merry and bright.

October 16, 2018

Many Pagans are solitary practitioners, either by choice or by necessity. But a lot of Pagan activities for Samhain are designed for large groups. In 2014 and 2015 I wrote a series of rituals for those working alone on the Wheel of the Year. Every year they’re near the top of the list of most popular posts – here’s the Samhain ritual.

But maybe you don’t want to do a ritual. Or perhaps you’re part of a group that holds its rituals on the Saturday nearest the holiday and you don’t want to do a second ritual. Here are eight things you can do to celebrate Samhain as a solitary Pagan.

1. Hold a Silent Supper

Sometimes called a Dumb Supper, this is something you can do by yourself or with a group of friends.

Cook a nice dinner – as fancy as you can. If there are traditional dishes in your family, or if a favorite ancestor had a favorite dish, be sure to fix them. Set a place for your beloved dead, and invite them to join you.

Then when the food is ready, eat in silence. Take your time – this is not a meal to be rushed. Listen. Listen with more than your ears. What do you hear? Who do you hear?

When you’re done, thank your beloved dead for joining you.

2. Clean a cemetery

Samhain is a time to contemplate both ancestors and death, and where better to do that than in a cemetery. Whatever you do or don’t believe about what comes after death, our bodies remain here and eventually return to the Earth, from whence they came. Something of our ancestors lies in cemeteries.

If you have ancestors (of blood or of spirit) buried nearby, this is a good time to tend their graves. If you don’t, or if you feel moved to do more, find a cemetery that needs cleaning and pick up trash and pull weeds. Most large public cemeteries have groundskeepers, but small private ones may not. And there are still some cemeteries that have been abandoned – those in particular need our care.

Check with landowners first – some are rather protective of their cemeteries, even if they don’t care for them as well as we’d prefer. Halloween is often a time of mischief and vandalism – make sure they know why you’re there. And be respectful: the vast majority of cemeteries are Christian sites full of Christian dead. That said, prayers for the dead are always appropriate.

3. Look through old family photos

Some families have shelves full of photo albums. When I was growing up, our old family photos were in the center drawer of my mother’s china cabinet. A few years ago my mother sent many of them to me – I asked her to label them as best she could. They’re now in a box on top of one of my book cases.

Regardless of where your old family photos are stored, Samhain is the perfect time to dig them out and look through them. See someone you knew? Remember them. See someone you never knew? Call their name. See someone you don’t recognize and whose name is lost to you? Speak to them, and ask them to speak to you.

That which is remembered lives.

The baby is my maternal grandmother, which means this picture was taken in 1908. The woman on the left is my great-great-grandmother. Her name is lost to me, but from her appearance my guess is that she was born sometime around 1840.

4. Create an ancestor shrine

Don’t just throw all those pictures back in the box. Take a few of them out, put them in frames, and use them as centerpieces of a shrine to your ancestors. Add keepsakes and mementos.

Then tend your shrine. Speak to your ancestors regularly (Monday is my day for ancestors). Make offerings to them. Call their names. And then listen for their presence.

Here’s a video on ancestor devotion with fellow Denton Pagan Linda Masten.

5. Read The Journey Into Spirit

Samhain is about our ancestors. It’s also about the inevitability and universality of death. Our mainstream culture denies death and tries to hide it away, but death will find us all – better to prepare for it now.

There is no better resource on death and dying than The Journey Into Spirit by Kristoffer Hughes. It’s really three books. The first is Kris’ story of his early encounters with death, his response to the call of the Reaper, and his early experiences working for Her Majesty’s Coroner. The second is a very helpful, very down-to-earth look at grief and the process of bereavement. The third is a speculative look at the world of spirit and what comes after death.

At 312 pages this book isn’t something you can skim through in a free hour. Take the time you need to read through it contemplatively. When the time comes you’ll be glad you did.

6. Plan your funeral

Everyone deserves a funeral they would appreciate, whether that’s a solemn mourning service or a rowdy wake. Or both. But if you don’t tell your family and friends what you want – and especially if the people making decisions for you after you die are Christians – you’re not likely to get it.

The time to plan your funeral is now, when you’re healthy and expect to live forever. If you wait till you’re on your deathbed, you may not be able to do it.

Maybe you want to plan the whole service. Maybe you just want to pick out the music. Or maybe you just want to be assured that your funeral will be led by someone who understands your beliefs and not by some Protestant minister called in by the funeral home.

Whatever you want, write it out, put it in an envelope and label it clearly. Put it with your will and your advance directive (you do have an advance directive, don’t you?). Then give copies to the two or three people who are likely to be organizing your funeral.

When the time comes, they’ll be glad you did. And so will you.

7. Give out candy to trick or treaters

Halloween has roots in Samhain, but it’s become its own thing: a secular celebration of spooky stuff, cosplay, and sugar overload. It’s a fun tradition, but it only works so long as we support it. Fundamentalists want to shut it down, and more than a few suburbanites complain about “those people” coming into their neighborhood. Halloween needs our support.

Trick or treating usually starts early. Unless you’re participating in a large public Samhain ritual on October 31, you’ve got plenty of time to answer the door for an hour or two, then do your own Samhain observances after they’re done.

Don’t be “that house” – give the best candy you can afford. And no comments about “aren’t you getting too big for this?” If a kid puts on a costume, give them the candy. They can grow up when they’re good and ready.

So turn on your porch light and share in the delight of miniature monsters collecting candy for Halloween.

8. Do divination for the coming year

This will be my 25th Samhain as a Pagan. Almost every year I’ve done a Tarot reading for the Celtic New Year that begins November 1. I also look back at last year’s reading. How did I do? What did I miss? What can I learn, from the reading and from the experiences?

Like all magical workings, divination works best when it’s tightly focused and limited in scope. “What will next year be like?” is a vague question that’s likely to yield vague answers. But it can prepare you for the general themes of the coming year, and it can push you to ask more specific questions that can bring more specific answers.

However you celebrate, may your Samhain be deep and fulfilling!

September 16, 2018

Many Pagans are solitary practitioners, either by choice or by necessity. But a lot of Pagan activities for Mabon are designed for large groups. In 2014 and 2015 I wrote a series of rituals for those working alone on the Wheel of the Year. Every year they’re near the top of the list of most popular posts – here’s the Mabon ritual.

But what if you’re part of a group that holds its rituals on the Saturday nearest the holiday and you don’t want to do a second ritual? Or maybe you’re just feel the need to do something other than a ritual this time. Here are eight things you can do to celebrate the Autumn Equinox.

sunset at the Autumn Equinox, at the 2015 OBOD East Coast Gathering

1. Read Culhwch and Olwen

On Tuesday I wrote about the controversy around using the name Mabon for the Autumn Equinox – I’m not going to repeat that argument here. But the name has been in use for over 40 years and you owe it to yourself to understand its history.

Mabon appears only once, in the Welsh Mabinogi, in the story Culhwch and Olwen. He was taken from his mother when he was only three nights old, and rescuing him is part of the list of seemingly impossible tasks Culhwch must complete in order to win the hand of Olwen from her father.

The story can be found in book versions, such as The Mabinogi translated by Patrick K. Ford from 1977. There’s also a public domain version of Lady Charlotte Guest’s 1877 translation on-line at Sacred-Texts.com.

2. Celebrate the end of Summer

I know, I know – Samhain is Summer’s End, not Mabon. But the Autumn Equinox is the end of astronomical Summer and the beginning of Fall. And while those in Northern climates may be mourning the end of Summer, here in Texas it’s something to celebrate.

Mind you, it’s still hot here. The average high temperature in Dallas on September 23 (the equinox can occur on the 22nd, 23rd, or 24th) is 86°F (30°C) and the record high is 100° F (38°C). Still, the 100° days are almost always gone by the equinox. And that is something to celebrate.

3.Cook a feast from local crops

On the modern Pagan Wheel of the Year, Mabon is the second of three harvest festivals. In practice, the time of the harvest varies widely based on the crops and the climate – something we’ve forgotten in a society where cold storage and refrigerated trucks mean no one knows what “out of season” means anymore.

Still, good fresh local vegetables, fruits, meats, eggs, and dairy can be found in most areas in September. So pay a visit to your local farmer’s market – or to your local farmer – pick up something that’s never seen the inside of a refrigerator, and cook your own harvest feast.

4. Eat a pomegranate

The story of Persephone and Hades is usually told in the Spring, when Persephone returns to Olympus and her mother Demeter makes the land fertile again. The Autumn Equinox is the other side of that story – this is the time when Persephone returns to the underworld, which Zeus decided she must do because she had eaten six pomegranate seeds.

So get a pomegranate, cut it open, and nibble on the seeds. Think about Persephone as She is now, not as a victim but as the Queen of the Underworld.

And before you’re done, take six seeds and offer them to whichever deity calls to you.

5. Cut an apple in half

In the cooler climates Mabon is often associated with the apple harvest. So pick your favorite variety of apple and cut it in half along its equator, as shown in the picture.

Look at the center and see the natural pentagram formed by the seeds. In many modern Pagan traditions, this represents the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, and the fifth element of Spirit. In Arthurian lore, the apple comes to us from Avalon, the Isle of Apples where Arthur went to sleep until Britain needs him again. The apple is a reminder of the healing powers of the Earth and the restorative powers of the Otherworld.

Gaze at the pentagram and contemplate the connections between the apple, the Earth, and the Otherworld.

Then eat the apple, remembering to offer part of it to your Gods, ancestors, and local spirits.

6. Meditate on the wine harvest

Grapes are another crop harvested at different times based on variety, climate, and local conditions. But as the graphic shows, mid to late September is a very common time to pick grapes for wine in France.

graphic via Wikimedia Commons

After picking, the grapes must be crushed, fermented, clarified, bottled, and aged. It will be at least a few months before the wine is ready to drink. Fortunately, wine from previous years is readily available.

So pour a glass of your favorite red or white and contemplate all the steps on the journey that transformed raw grapes to this exquisite drink you’re now enjoying. Think about how old some of the grapevines are as much as 125 years old (though most are much younger).

I find that while any alcohol will disturb my meditation, sipping a glass of wine can be a helpful aid in more active contemplation.

7. Mark the sunrise and sunset

We grow up hearing “the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.” Only it doesn’t – it rises and sets at different points on the horizon at different times of the year. At the equinoxes, though, the common saying is true. The sun really does rise due east and sets due west.

So go out at sunrise and note where the sun comes up. You don’t have to get up ridiculously early like you do at the Summer Solstice. But because of time zones and daylight saving time, the sun won’t rise for most of us at 6:00 AM. In Dallas it rises at 7:15 AM.

My back yard is closely aligned with the cardinal directions, but because the horizon is blocked by houses, I can’t see the sun till a few minutes after sunrise, when it’s already moved a few degrees farther south.

Many of the ancient monuments were aligned to the solstice or equinoxes. See what you can align to them where you live.

8. Meditate on balance and moderation

The word “equinox” literally means “equal night” – it’s the time when day and night are equal. Or close to it, anyway. Nature is never as precise as we like to think it is. That makes the equinoxes a good time to meditate on balance.

I still see some Pagans who see balance as some magical stasis point that if ever achieved would mean we’d never have to change again. The only things that never change are dead things… and even they decay.

Rather than trying to exempt ourselves from the growing pains of life, let’s take a few minutes to meditate on moderation and especially on wholeness. How can we make sure that all our needs are met, instead of concentrating on only one or two areas and ignoring the rest? How can we make sure all members of our community are doing well, and not only a few? Where do we have surpluses we can share? Where can others help us?

However you celebrate, may your Mabon be bright and joyous!

July 19, 2018

Many Pagans are solitary practitioners, either by choice or by necessity. But a lot of Pagan activities for Lughnasadh are designed for large groups. In 2014 and 2015 I wrote a series of rituals for those working alone on the Wheel of the Year. Every year they’re near the top of the list of most popular posts – here’s the Lughnasadh ritual.

But what if you’re part of a group that holds its rituals on the Saturday nearest the holiday and you don’t want to do a second ritual? Or maybe you’re just feel the need to do something other than a ritual this time. Here are eight things you can do to celebrate Lughnasadh.

1. Honor Lugh

Lughnasadh is the Festival of Lugh – it seems only appropriate that any observance or celebration should honor the namesake of the festival. Call to Him: Lugh Lámhfhada, Lugh of the Long Arm! Lugh Samhildánach, Master of All Arts! Make offerings – beer and whiskey are particularly appropriate. Pray, using either standard prayers or your own extemporaneous ones. And then listen – you may hear something in return.

2. Read the stories of Lugh

Last year I provided four condensed stories of Lugh:

The Birth of Lugh

The Coming of Lugh

The Leadership of Lugh

The Victory of Lugh

For source material, I primarily used Gods and Fighting Men as translated by Lady Augusta Gregory in 1904. There are other sources, but this one is free and readily available.

3. Honor a foster parent

Lughnasadh was named for Lugh, but it was celebrated in honor of His foster mother Tailtiu, who cleared the land of Ireland for planting and died from her exertion.

Perhaps you have a foster parent. Maybe there’s someone who was like a parent to you when you were a child. Or perhaps there’s someone who fills the role of foster parent in your community. Call them up, send them a card, take them out to dinner. Do something to thank them for their support – in honor of Tailtiu.

4. Visit a county or state fair

Lughnasadh is the spiritual ancestor to the many county and state fairs that celebrate agriculture and the harvest. They run from mid-summer to late fall, mainly dependent on the climate and growing season of the region. Here’s a list of state fairs in the United States, and another list of fairs in the UK.

I went to the county fair occasionally when I was growing up in Tennessee. Texas has a huge state fair and it’s located in Dallas. I’ve been here for going on 17 years and I’ve never been. Bad Texan – no brisket. Maybe I’ll finally take a day and go this year…

5. Learn a new skill

While we will never master all arts, we can learn new ones. Take a class in photography, or painting, or cooking. Or engage in that fine and noble art of figuring it out as you go and teach yourself. I’ve had zero classes in photography and one class in photo editing. But I needed to learn how to take good pictures for the blog, and while I’m no professional, I’m very pleased with most of my work. Some of the pictures you see on this blog were set up with high-end amateur gear, but others were shot with my iPhone. Just start shooting, and see what works and what doesn’t.

Cooking, gardening, knitting – whatever it is you’d like to learn, Lughnasadh is a great time to start learning it.

6. Play games

Lughnasadh is a festival, a time for games. This year’s Denton CUUPS Lughnasadh circle will be all about the Games of Lugh.

Many games require other people – perhaps this is a good excuse to get some friends (Pagan or otherwise) together for a gaming night. But this is a post of suggestions of things to do as a solitary…

Fortunately, computers make playing games by yourself easy. I’m fond of the quick and simple games like Solitaire and Mahjong – they make a nice short break when I run into a brief writer’s block. Others prefer the high tech games. Whatever you prefer, take a few minutes and play a game, in honor of Lugh.

7. Bake bread

The Pagan festival of Lughnasadh eventually gave way to the medieval Christian celebration of Lammas – loaf mass. The first grain to be harvested was made into bread and blessed.

Bread was invented multiple times in different varieties in different places. While regularly shaped, white, sliced bread is a 20th century American invention, more traditional breads are thousands of years old. Our ancient ancestors wouldn’t recognize much of the food we eat, but they would find bread very familiar.

If you don’t want to bake bread, you can engage in an even older usage of grain: make beer.

8. Read Lammas Night

Lammas Night by Katherine Kurtz is a wonderful work of historical fiction set in Britain during the early days of World War II. Its main character is a British Intelligence officer who finds himself caught up in an occult battle with Nazi magicians. While it repeats some of Gerald Gardner’s myth-as-history (it is a work of fiction, after all), the book is good portrayal of Wiccan and proto-Wiccan beliefs and practices. Its divination scenes could almost be teaching examples, and its initiation scene is just a few oath-bound elements away from being complete.

Lammas Night is out of print, but it occasionally turns up in used book stores, and there are used copies available on Amazon and other sources at a reasonable price.  If you like historical fiction or magical fiction or both, I highly recommend it.

However you celebrate, may your Lughnasadh be bright and joyous!

June 10, 2018

Many Pagans are solitary practitioners, either by choice or by necessity. But a lot of Pagan activities for the Summer Solstice are designed for large groups. In 2014 and 2015 I wrote a series of rituals for those working alone on the Wheel of the Year. Every year they’re near the top of the list of most popular posts – here’s the Summer Solstice ritual.

But what if you’re part of a group that holds its rituals on the Saturday nearest the holiday and you don’t want to do a second ritual? Or maybe you’re just feel the need to do something other than a ritual this time. Here are eight things you can do to celebrate the Solstice.

This year’s (2019) Summer Solstice is Friday, June 21 at 10:54 AM CDT.

1. Greet the sunrise

People have celebrated the Solstices for millennia and many ancient monuments are aligned with sunrise or sunset – the ancients knew the day of the Summer Solstice. But the idea of the Solstice as a moment in time is a relatively modern concept. So most traditional activities are geared toward the day, not the exact point in time. If you want to be traditional, don’t celebrate at 5:07 AM CDT, celebrate at your local sunrise.

Some local weather reports show sunrise and sunset times. I usually get them from the U.S. Naval Observatory website. Set your clock for a few minutes before “begin civil twilight” – that will give you plenty of time to experience the gradual brightening of the sky as the sun rises.

What do you do when you see the sun? Whatever seems right to you. Make an offering, say a prayer, recite a hymn to the sun, or just stand there and enjoy the sunrise.

2. Salute the Sun at noon

The only problem with greeting the sunrise is that you have to be up before dawn… and the further north you go (in the Northern Hemisphere) and the further east you are in your time zone, the earlier the sun rises. In Denton it’s 6:20 AM. In Spokane, Washington it’s 4:52 AM.

But the Summer Solstice is the height of the power of the sun, and the sun is strongest at noon. So go out, look up, and salute the sun at noon.

If you’re going to do this, I suggest you do it at local noon – the time when the sun is the highest in the sky it’s going to get for the location where you are. On the USNO website, it’s listed as “sun transit” – for Denton that’s 1:30 PM (remember we’re on Daylight Saving Time).

3. Bathe in the Sun

Paganism is a religion of experience. Yes, we pray and read and sing hymns like other religions, but we also want to feel our religion in our bodies. Much of Summer Solstice is about honoring the sun and relating to the sun – what better way to do that than to literally and physically take the sun into our bodies!

If you have a private back yard you can do this skyclad. If not, wear a swimsuit. If you don’t have a good place to sunbathe even in a swimsuit, just roll up your sleeves and feel the sun on your face and arms.

Excessive sun exposure can be a dangerous thing, particularly for those of us with pale skin. But I’m not talking about tanning, much less tanning under high-powered artificial lights. A little sun is a good thing – it stimulates production of vitamin D, which your body needs. And in small doses, it feels good.

So go outside and feel the sun on your skin – for a while.

4. Keep an all-night vigil

This one requires some work. On the night before the Solstice – on Midsummer’s Eve – go outside and set up a camp fire, a fire pit, or just a large candle (you’ll need more fuel, or more than one candle). Then spend the night in meditation, contemplation, and prayer.

This can be done indoors if necessary, but Pagan vigils are best done outside in Nature.

Prayer books and other resources are helpful here – you’ll run out of things to pray about extemporaneously very quickly. Plus standard prayers prayed over and over again are a good way to slip into a trance state. Just make sure trancing doesn’t slide into sleeping – that defeats the purpose of the vigil.

Some vigils require fasting, while others permit or even encourage food and drink. It helps to have a schedule: introductory prayers, meditation, libations, rote prayers, walking meditation, contemplation, food break. Then do it all over again until the skies start to lighten. Make sure your fire or candle stays lit all night.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At sunrise, get up and greet the sun with whatever prayers and offerings seem appropriate to you. Then extinguish your fire and go sleep for a while.

This is can also be done as a group. But if you do, make sure the focus stays on meditation, contemplation, and prayer, and doesn’t devolve into a party.

5. Honor a Sun God

Much of Summer Solstice is about the sun, but what if you’re a polytheist who prefers to keep your Paganism focused on the Gods? Then honor a Sun God.

Denton CUUPS earliest Egyptian Summer Solstice rituals included many of the Egyptian deities, but the main working was always dedicated to Ra. I wrote this for our first Egyptian Summer Solstice in 2004. I would phrase some of it differently today, but it’s held up well.

Hail, O God of the Sun. We welcome your presence as we celebrate the Solstice, the longest day, the pinnacle of your power; when you stand still in the Northern sky before you begin your journey Southward and the days grow shorter.

From the dawn of time, men and women of every land have honored, reverenced, and worshipped you, knowing that without your light and warmth, there could be no life on the earth. 

For four thousand years, you saw the glory that was Egypt. Through the centuries, you were worshipped in many ways in many places, and you were known by many names, chief among them Amun and Aten.

Today, we honor you in the ways of modern Pagans, and in the ways of the ancient People of the Nile.  Today, we call you and we honor you by your oldest name… Ra.

One thing I’d add today is that the Gods are whole persons, not just functions. Various deities may be Sun Gods (or Sun Goddesses – the sun is not considered male in every tradition), but They are more than a representation of our nearest star.

6. Read or watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespeare, romance, comedy, and a Faerie Queen – what else could you ask for? I’m not a Shakespeare scholar so I won’t attempt to review or preview it. I’ll just say that if you want to do something traditional and less active, this is a good choice.

The play can be found for free online. IMDB lists 18 movie versions (if I counted right – separating full versions from shorts from TV episodes with the same name is a challenge). I saw the 1999 version with Michelle Pfeiffer as Titania when it was in the theaters. That was a while ago – all I remember was that I enjoyed it.

7. Gather herbs

Midsummer’s Eve is a traditional time to harvest herbs, especially St. John’s Wort. Summer Solstice is the peak of the sun’s power, so herbs with a solar correspondence should be at their most potent.

The usual caveats apply. Make sure you know what you’re harvesting, especially if you plan to ingest them – very different plants often look alike, and some are poisonous. Don’t take everything – the next person who comes along may need them just as much as you. And be respectful to the plants and to the ecosystem where you’re foraging.

8. Research Summer Solstice traditions around the world

Do you want to do something specific to the land of your ancestors? Or are you curious as to what ancient religious traditions may have survived into the modern era as culture? Do some research! In particular, Eastern Europe has some festivals that look very Pagan to me.

Want to celebrate the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge? You’ll have thousands of people celebrating with you, but from a historical perspective I still think you’re there six months out of phase.

However you celebrate, may your Summer Solstice be bright and joyous!

April 19, 2018

Many Pagans are solitary practitioners, either by choice or by necessity. But most traditional activities for Beltane are designed for either large groups or for couples (and straight couples at that). In 2014 and 2015 I wrote a series of rituals for those working alone on the Wheel of the Year. Every year they’re near the top of the list of most popular posts – especially the Beltane ritual.

But what if you’d like to celebrate Beltane with something other than a ritual? Maybe you’re part of a group that holds its rituals on the Saturday nearest the holiday and you don’t want to do a second ritual. Or maybe you’re just feel the need to do something other than a ritual this time.

Here are eight things you can do to celebrate Beltane.

1. Plant flowers

Ostara is the beginning of Spring, but even here in Texas it doesn’t really feel like Spring till closer to Beltane. Now the wildflowers are in bloom, and a walk outside is a stark reminder that there are two colors in my yard: green and brown. Maybe yours is the same.

Put some color in your yard – plant flowers! You can start from seeds, though starting from plants is faster and more reliable. Some flowers are annuals, but others are perennials – plant them once and you’ll have them for years to come.

Don’t have a yard? Most flowers grow well in pots, especially in sunny places like kitchen windows.

2. Buy flowers

Have you managed to kill every plant you’ve ever tried to grow? Does your cat think flowers make nice appetizers? Or are you just not up for planting? Then go buy some fresh cut flowers.

Most grocery stores carry them, at least around here. For a few dollars you can brighten up your house and make it look like Beltane, even if your local weather is decidedly Winterish.

Cut flowers can last for up to two weeks if you keep them in water. And then when their time has obviously come, there are still more things you can do with them rather than throwing them in the trash.

3. Introduce yourself to the local land spirits

How well do you know your local land spirits? Perhaps more importantly, how well do they know you? Have you given them any indication you’re anything more than yet another clueless human who’s going to trash the place and then move on?

Remember than in the Indo-European languages “host” and “guest” share the same root word (*ghosti). The land spirits were there long before you – you are a guest in their home. But as someone who wields the of power of human culture and technology, you also have obligations as a host. That makes for a complicated relationship – be especially polite.

Go outside and introduce yourself. Don’t go emptyhanded – take something to offer. Clean water is almost always an acceptable offering, especially for land spirits.

After you introduce yourself, listen. You may encounter one spirit, or several, or many. Where I live, the land has (is) one spirit. The trees are all individual spirits. And the rosemary bush is the strongest of all.

Or you may encounter none, particularly if you’re new to the place, or if your conduct toward the land has been less than hospitable in the past. Talk is cheap – show that you really mean all those pretty Nature-centered ideas.

But a relationship starts with saying hello.

4. Leave a gift for the Fair Folk

According to Morgan Daimler (my go-to person for all things Fae) “the fairies were thought to be especially active and powerful on Beltane.” That means it’s a good time to leave gifts for them, to make sure you stay on their good side and avoid important items disappearing with no explanation. Cream and whiskey are traditional offerings, and food offerings are usually well-received.

Traditionally they’ve valued their privacy – the stories of our ancestors warn against getting involved in their affairs. But I’m seeing more and more interactions of the Fair Folk with the ordinary world, and it appears we have common interests where cooperation is warranted.

Regardless, you could do far worse than to demonstrate you’re willing to be a good neighbor to the Good Neighbors.

5. Read the story of the Coming of the Tuatha De Danann

It was on the first day of Beltaine, that is called now May Day, the Tuatha De Danann came, and it was to the north-west of Connacht they landed. But the Firbolgs, the Men of the Bag, that were in Ireland before them, and that had come from the South, saw nothing but a mist, and it lying on the hills.

from Gods and Fighting Men

Are you a book lover? An avid reader? Looking for something a little less physical for this Beltane? This is the anniversary of the coming of the Tuatha De Danann to Ireland, which makes Beltane the perfect time to read (or re-read) this story.

I quoted from the 1904 translation by Lady Augusta Gregory on the Sacred Texts website, but this version from the Celtic Literature Collective is also good. Morgan Daimler has a translation of part of the story and some commentary on the Four Treasures of the Tuatha De Danann on her blog.

6. Perform divination

Beltane is 180 degrees opposite Samhain on the Wheel of the Year. Both are times when the Veil Between the Worlds is at its thinnest (even though many of us think the Veil is shredded) and thus it’s easier to hear from the Otherworld. That makes divination easier than normal.

So break out your Tarot cards, runes, or other divination tool. Ask a question for yourself, your family, or your community. And then see what you can see.

Remember that divination can’t make decisions for you. It shows you what’s coming – you have to decide if that’s a good thing or not. Divination is like turning on your headlights when you’re driving at night – it shows you what’s in the road before you run into it.

Also remember that divination shows what will be, not what must be. If you don’t like what you see, it’s up to you to make the changes necessary to create a more favorable outcome.

If you can’t read for yourself (some diviners can, others can’t) then contact a professional diviner (and expect to pay them for their services). Or contact a friend who does divination and trade readings with them.

7. Walk between two fires

Beltane is a Fire Festival, and one of the traditional activities was to build two bonfires and pass livestock and people between them for cleansing and blessing. Building two bonfires might be a bit much for a solitary practice, but you probably can light two torches, or two candles. Or if you live some place where open flames aren’t safe, use electric candles.

Simply light the two fires and then walk between them. You may want to pause for a moment or two as you do, to meditate on what you want to leave behind and what you want to call into your life.

the approach, the two fires, and the main altar for Beltane: A Solitary Ritual

8. Take a nap under a tree

If you don’t feel like doing anything active – or in contrast, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous – take a nap under a tree. Find a friendly tree in a place where you won’t be disturbed. Ask permission, make offerings to the spirits of the place, and listen to make sure it’s OK. If you get a favorable response, stretch out on the ground with your back to the tree and relax.

There are no guarantees. Trying to go to sleep – particularly at a time of day when you’re usually awake – can be counterproductive. But if you do, you may find your dreams are particularly deep and vivid.

But you might want to have some iron in your pocket when you do.

However you celebrate, may your Beltane be bright and joyous!

Follow Us!



Browse Our Archives