Let’s Do Litha

 

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Litha. Midsummer. Solstice.

I celebrated the holiday by participating in the local Scandinavian Midsummer Festival. I recently joined the local Viking reenactment group, Reik Felag, and I was part of their living history Viking trading village at the festival. I spun yards and yards of wool with a drop spindle and chatted with people about how the Vikings, and well, the world, made thread and yarn for the thousands of years before the spinning wheel was invented. The Vikings may have only been a significant presence for several hundred years, a little over a thousand years ago, but spinning goes back to before the first written records.

Ever since humans evolved less body hair, we have needed clothing to keep us warm in the cold and to protect our skin from the elements. Spinning plant and animal hair fibers provides us with thread which we can then weave to make cloth, which is then sewn into fabric. It’s a lot of work, and I always find it interesting, when doing things of this sort, just how many people never seem to have thought about how clothing is produced. I suppose it’s because I like to make things (particularly textile things) and so I want to know where things come from and how they are made.

At any rate, I spent a couple of days outdoors, dressed like a Viking, spinning wool in the rain.

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Summer has arrived with a vengeance in the last week or so. Sunshine, heat, a bit of a breeze. I’m knitting a sweater for Eowyn for our upcoming camping trip, and doing my best not to lose it after being in a car accident. We’re all fine, but it was unpleasant, and it was my fault, and I’m more than a little freaked out about the whole thing.

I got home after the accident last night to find the delivery slip for this:

 

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This season’s Wheel of the Year swap on Ravelry is about sharing your own practice. I sent off a package about my nature-centred practice, and received one from a polytheist who works with the Greek pantheon. Her upcoming celebration, closest to Midsummer, is for Kronos, as the god of the grain. She sent me some stuff for a mini altar, a prayer, a lovely ball of wool, and a necklace. It arrived at the right time, when I needed cheering up. Good timing indeed.

Navigating Death

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Two days ago, we attended a funeral for my husband’s grandmother. She was in her late 90s and while her death was sudden, it was not unexpected, in that we knew she would die sometime in the next few years. Several months ago, Beowulf’s grandfather died and we went to his memorial service. This morning I got the news that one of my cousins just died. She was barely a decade older than I am, and I’m just about to turn thirty. She had been profoundly ill, something involving pneumonia that had led to a coma; they just took her off of life support. I didn’t really know her. We had met a few times, but I’m only close to a couple of cousins on that side of the family, since so many of them are much older than I am. But the news felt like a blow to the heart. I think about her husband, her children, her mom, and ache for them.

Death is difficult. We don’t know what happens to our consciousness when we die, and yet we know that we will all die at some point. We are mortal. This is an inextricable part of who we are.

When I was a Christian, I feared death. Christians are told that we should not fear death, because Jesus and heaven are waiting for us, and yet, many of us have deep and abiding fears of this great mystery. Then, slowly, I stopped believing in hell. I stopped believing in heaven. I embraced the uncertainty – we don’t know – and that absolute terror began to fade. I still fear death, in that I don’t wish to die anytime soon, that normal mortal wariness of the unknown, but it no longer paralyzes me. The stakes of heaven vs. hell aren’t there anymore, and that has made a difference.

The pagan views of what happens next seem to vary, though reincarnation seems to be an option that many consider. It’s certainly a possibility. I am content with hoping that our souls do not end in oblivion, and letting the other side of the veil take care of itself.

When someone I know dies, I tend to light a candle, and wish them well on their journey. I ask that those who love them and are waiting for them will greet their soul on whatever happens next. It’s all I can do.

Beltane Week

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Beltane is my new year; it represents my first sabbat, my first foray into the world of paganism. It’s special to me, and for that, I tried hard to focus on the new season.

Last Monday, I redressed the altar, bid farewell to the season of Ostara, and welcomed Beltane. And, of course, the week went to hell after that.

I’ve written before about living with an anxiety disorder and how that can affect me. Little things can set me off in negative ways. I am fully aware that my responses are not rational, but that knowledge doesn’t stem the tide of panic. Tuesday night, our landlord told us that they would be replacing our hot water heater the next day, because the one in the suite next to us, the same age as ours, was constantly leaking, and it was easier to change them out both at once. The unexpected event, coupled with people I don’t know well or at all needing to be in my space without much warning, led to me frantically cleaning and then collapsing on the living room floor to breathe slowly because putting away the dishes involved touching knives and knives were too much of a temptation. I slept very poorly that night, and was bouncing off the walls the next morning.

I had to take a couple days to resettle. I read a few books, took Eowyn to the park a few times, drank tea, fixed the vacuum, lit candles on the altar when I remembered, and didn’t get much work done.

Yesterday, we went hiking, along the same trail we visited last year at Beltane. The trail leads along the river and ends up at the unimaginatively named Crystal Falls. It’s a beautiful place.

The forests I know are the forests of the Pacific Northwest. At this time of year, they are green. The maples have leafed, the cedars and pines are, as always, green, and the trunks and branches are so covered in moss it’s sometimes difficult to tell if the trees even have bark. The bleeding heart is blooming, its pale lavender-pink lightening the green. The vivid pink blossoms of the salmonberry bushes are everywhere. Wild ginger has sprouted up at the base of many trees.

The river, a salmon stream, runs along the trail and fills the hiker’s ears with its music. The trail is muddy, and criss-crossed by small streams finding their way to the river. And at the end of the trail, there’s a waterfall. It’s not a big one, but it is beautiful. It’s easy to climb to the top, since the erosion from the water has left a lot of exposed roots and crevices in the rocks. At the very top, before the water churns against the rocks and spills over the edges, is a quieter pool of water. I like to sit here and watch as the river flows from calm to chaos.

Now here I am, a week after Beltane, settling into the new season, and remembering that losing focus doesn’t mean I can’t find it again.

Last year, Beltane was the start of something new. This year, it’s the continuation of a cycle, as I continue to fumble through a new practice. It’s messy. It’s chaotic. And sometimes it’s calm.

Between Ostara and Beltane

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I think it was around this time last year that I’d started reading a bit about paganism. It started with the realization that, while I’d been struggling with remaining a practicing Christian, I hadn’t really given any other religious practices fair consideration. In retrospect, this doesn’t surprise me. Christian churches tend to hammer home the point that theirs is the one true faith and all the others aren’t even remotely fulfilling. Of course, this point is typically assumed without consulting practitioners of other religions and asking them about their actual experiences. I was aware of this intellectually long before I could deal with the emotions behind it, but it was a deeply internalized idea and it took me a while to pull it out and discount it, even after reading something like Daniel Radosh’s Rapture Ready! (And no, I don’t get anything for linking it, I just really liked the book. Excellent examination of Christian pop culture; it was one of the first things I read where a non-Christian very explicitly pointed out the problems with assuming Christianity is better than other religious practices).

I started reading, got curious, and then it was Holy Week. On Good Friday, I found myself standing in line at Save On, and staring at the magazine rack. I think it was Time magazine, and there was a special Easter edition with a picture of a man wearing a crown of thorns. My visceral reaction startled me. I very nearly threw up and only just managed to get through my purchase and back outside, shaking a little.

The weekend just got worse from there. I hit the wall during the Easter Vigil service at the reaffirmation of faith. I couldn’t choke out “I believe in God the Father.” I slipped out of the sanctuary and stood in one of the rooms off to the side, in agony. I hadn’t thought it would hurt so much when the time came when I knew I had to admit my faith in the Abrahamic God was pretty much gone. But he was the god of my childhood, the god of my parents, and it was wrenching.

A couple weeks later, still in the period between Ostara and Beltane, I turned to Beowulf and said, “I think I might need to try being pagan.”

His response was “Okay.”

And here I am, a year later, getting ready to celebrate Beltane for the second time. A lot has changed, and a lot hasn’t. I’m still me, the kind of hippie, anxious geek, that I’ve pretty much always been. My current spiritual practice mostly involves growing plants and lighting things on fire (candles and palo santo, usually). I honour the Goddess, I honour the God, I remember my ancestors, I try to be conscious of nature and the earth. I’m skeptical a lot of the time, but have found that being skeptical about what comes after death gives me a lot more peace than believing in heaven ever did.

I’m not out to everyone. I’ve been selective with the people I tell about it, and that’s been a good experience. I haven’t been ready to tell some people, and I wanted to figure out what I was doing before I hopped out of the broom closet.

It’s been an interesting time, and I’m looking forward to what happens in the coming year.

Ostara

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Ostara – Happy Equinox, everyone!

My Ostara has been a lead-up of several days to the equinox itself. It started when my package from the Wheel of the Year swap on Ravelry arrived. I sent mine off a couple weeks ago and found myself absolutely delighted that I was sending something to a witch in Salem, MA. The person who got my name is from Germany and she sent me some absolutely lovely things for the sabbat.

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The yarn is super-pretty and I’m currently sorting through the sock patterns I have to see what seems right for it. The mini-flowerpot didn’t survive the trip (there was a big dent on one side of the package), but the seeds and the disc of compressed earth that went with it did, so I planted those in a jam jar and stuck it on the altar, by the rabbit statue and the egg candle. I’m lighting the egg candle a little later today.

The chocolate and tea are, of course, already gone.

I spent time out in the garden yesterday, trimming and weeding and then transplanting a few things, which seemed fitting. The weather seems to be warming up enough that I’m not worried about killing the onions I just planted. And I went to Fibres West, the local spring fiber festival, and picked up a few things for spinning. Now I have to figure out how to process silk cocoons.

And then Beowulf’s grandfather died yesterday. It wasn’t unexpected, as his health’s been failing for some time, and we had originally planned to visit today and say goodbye. Now we’re heading over to the island on Friday instead, for the funeral.

I didn’t know him well; Beowulf and I have been together for eleven years and I’ve met his grandfather once in all that time. He wasn’t terribly close, but he’s still sad, and not sure how to respond. I’m sad for him and his family, who are more affected by this than I am. So I’m going to light a candle on the altar for him tonight, and see what I can do later this week to help the rest of the family.

Death and life; the winter has ended, spring is come. The cycle continues.

 

 

 

Ostara: Preparing for Spring

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It is strange to be preparing for the coming of spring when there’s still snow in my yard, yesterday’s weather was a constant mix of rain and snow, and while today is sunny, the weather report predicts more snow over the next few days. Beowulf arrived home after a walk through the snow the other day and declared that it was “friggin’ March!”

I’ve been doing what I can to look forward to spring: I have seedlings started indoors for a few herbs and vegetables; there are green and yellow candles on the kitchen table; and I started setting the altar for the coming season. Eowyn keeps trying to water flowers indoors with a toy watering can, despite the number of times I tell her that the carpet shouldn’t be sprouting things, and it seems like she asks to plant flowers every other day. We painted wooden eggs with pysanky-inspired designs. One with spirals went on my altar, the others roam around the house as Eowyn deems fit.

I switched out the background on my computer for a piece of Ostara-themed art, which is one of my ways of keeping track of the sabbats. I’m putting together an Ostara package for my swap partner for the Wheel of the Year swap on Ravelry that I’m participating in.

And yet, it still looks like winter outside. The rain is normal for us, but the snow is not. The moments of sunshine today only lasted a short while.

But the crocuses and snowdrops are blooming. A few trees are starting to bud new leaves. Spring is coming soon, and despite the strangeness of the weather, “winter’s on the wing.”

“The Dark Crystal”

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Does anyone remember The Dark Crystal? The movie came out in the ’80s and it was all animatronics and puppets, and it was a Jim Henson film. You know, the guy who created the Muppets. I saw it on the shelf at the library and the video store when I was a kid, but it was off-limits. I mean, it had the word “dark” in the title, so obviously it was problematic.

My parents were somewhat charismatic Christians who got into the culture wars to a certain extent, but mostly did their own thing. In retrospect, they were hilariously inconsistent about books and movies. The Never-Ending Story, which scared the crap out of grade-school me? Totally okay. Darkwing Duck? Nope (I asked about this as an adult, since my mom had told us then that we weren’t allowed to watch it anymore because darkness, and she said it was because of all the commercials on that channel. Lesson learned: give my kid the actual reasons or she will think that I think something is evil when I don’t think that at all). We were allowed to read pretty much all the books with magic in them, but my mom banned The Babysitters’ Club for a while because she thought it was giving me nightmares (I begged to differ and snuck the books at my grandparents whenever I could until the ban was lifted; today I have no idea if she was right or if my anxiety was particularly heightened then for some other reason). I brought The Dark Crystal up recently in conversation, that I had just watched it, and there was no negative reaction to it. I suspect it was on the no-go list because I was so easily scared and it’s likely to have been one of those things that scared me.

Recently, I bought a copy of Labyrinth, since HMV is shutting down all their Canadian stores and everything’s on sale. I re-watched it, thoroughly enjoyed the goofy awesomeness of it all, and decided to get The Dark Crystal at the library and watch it, since it had been forbidden and now I was curious.

And it was interesting. I appreciated the art (especially the textiles in the Mystics’ valley), although the colour scheme of beige on beige with a dash of tan was a little boring. I guessed almost from the beginning that the Skeksis and the Mystics were a single race that had been split in two, and that healing the crystal would unite them again. It reminded me a little of the Ancients in Stargate, who were always meddling with other people’s world and lives and then screwing things up.

It’s not a film I plan to add to our personal collection. I didn’t like it enough to want to re-watch multiple times, unlike Labyrinth. But the messages of healing what it is broken, that we go wrong when we try to split our light and dark sides in two, and that we are only whole when we are both light and dark combined, spoke to me in a way that I don’t think I would have heard when I was a kid. (Although it was a message I also got from The Adventures of Mark Twain, the Claymation film of weird awesomeness.) I think of nature, “red in tooth and claw,” and yet exquisitely beautiful and delicate. Life is beautiful, and it is brutal. It’s not light vs. dark, the way I learned it as a child. It’s both in concert.

This is not to say that I don’t believe in evil, though I do tend to attribute a lot more acts to stupidity and ignorance than outright evil (which, honestly, often seems worse). But I do believe that most of us are capable of doing both good and evil, and that it’s mostly up to us to sort out our ethics and figure out how to do the least harm we can. While I can see that the concept of sin in the Abrahamic religions has its uses, I honestly don’t find that moral system very helpful anymore, since, especially in most versions of Christianity, you can commit some pretty heinous crimes and then just write yourself off as forgiven, with very little incentive not to do it again, given that God forgave the first time, so he’ll forgive you again.

So I did some more of my ethical and religious sorting, as it were, because of The Dark Crystal, and for that alone, I’m glad I watched it. Now that I’ve stepped away from a religion with a deeply entrenched concept of Holy Writ, I find my inspiration and my scriptures in many places, and my life is all the richer for it.