Samhain: Let’s Talk About Death

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Samhain came and went, with a small devotional to remember our dead, and a changing of the altar. It’s been followed with conversations about death, about dying, about the fact that we are mortal. It’s not morbid; it’s allowing myself to ponder a part of life that our culture tries to shy away from. It’s reaching out to the Dark Goddess, the Crone, and acknowledging that she is as important as the Maid and the Mother. The cycle isn’t complete without her.

Practice and me…we go in and out. I think about things a lot, and read a lot, and do rituals less frequently. It feels right for now. Some days I need to light the candles on the altar and reach out to the unknown. Some days I need to stay grounded in the here and now.

Here and now, the leaves have fallen. The weather has become grey, and sometimes freezing, and often damp. October and November are migraine season for me, and I have spent more than a few days huddled in bed with my eyes covered while Eowyn watches cartoons in the same room with me. We’re coming up to the winter holidays and I miss the people we’ve lost. My grandmother feels more present right now, and as a result, I ache for her more than usual. Beowulf’s remaining grandmother and grandfather both died this year, and while I was not close to either of them, the empty spaces in the family echo.

Here and now, I listen to the music from Fun Home over and over again. I study Old Norse and find myself falling into the old routine of learning new vocabulary and grammatical structure. I make costumes, research historical clothing, sew bags for the Etsy shop. I ride the bus when our car doesn’t work. I get Eowyn up in the morning for preschool. I try to make myself write and drafting feels like pulling teeth some days.

Here and now. Death is all around as the leaves fall, the flowers die, the days shorten, and the family ghosts seem closer than usual.

Here and now, we light a candle against the dark, and remember.

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Mabon

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Yes, I know it’s already several weeks into the Mabon season. Or Herfest. We celebrated with beeswax candles and apples and homemade bread. I made a beer and honey bread and took it to a friend’s house, where it was a great hit. Eowyn helped me light candles as I welcomed the new season.

We just had Thanksgiving here, since Canada celebrates that holiday in October. I find it fits well with the season of Mabon. I don’t limit the sabbats to a single day anymore; I try to think about them as a season as well as a special day. The change in the weather that hits right now is fairly dramatic, so it’s not difficult to change gears from summer to autumn. The rains are back. The temperature’s dropped. The nearer mountains have dustings of snow again. The leaves are starting change; some trees are already red and gold, while others are just beginning. I can bake bread without overheating the house, and I’m starting to wear long-sleeved shirts and sweaters again.

On Thanksgiving Day, we took a trip to a local pumpkin patch with Eowyn. She and I went last year, on a school day, when it was quiet. This year, with Beowulf along, the three of us got to see what the place looked like when it was busy. Last year, she was scared of the corn maze and refused to go in. This year, she charged in and followed some other kids all around the maze. She took her time selecting a pumpkin, too. It needed to be small, and nothing seemed to be the right size for her sensibilities until we told her we were leaving now.

I like this time of year. I like the way the weather changes, the way it’s time to prepare for winter. The Mabon prayer I used to open the season this year I found here. It talks about balance. Balance is hard to achieve, but that doesn’t stop me trying to reach out for it.

Balance is hard on the days when I’m so tired I feel like I’ve been run over by a metaphorical truck. Or the days when I struggle with getting things done. When Eowyn is grouchy. When getting up to get her to preschool in the mornings means that I roll out of bed a bare twenty minutes before we need to leave and we head out in a rush.

But sometimes it happens and the world feels right for a bit. (At least until I turn on the news, which is another story).

Still, balance or not, a blessed Mabon and blessed fall to you all, as we move towards the end of the year.

 

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.

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.

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.”

Imbolc

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Why yes, Imbolc was a few weeks ago. Here we are, halfway to Ostara, and I just haven’t made the time for blog posts lately. I re-dressed the altar with orange candles and set the seed packets I’ve bought for the garden up there, but didn’t get much done other than that. Well, and lighting candles, but my default seems to involve setting things on fire. I have a painting involving Brigid planned for when I can sit down and work without being interrupted by a tiny human, but said tiny human got sick with a mild version of chickenpox around Imbolc (and thank science we have vaccines or she almost certainly would have fared worse than a mild rash that she barely seemed to notice), and then when she was better, she brought home a really nasty cold from preschool and shared it with us and that derailed things a bit.

I did break out the BFL fiber I bought at Knit City back in October and started spinning that up, since it seemed fitting for the sabbat. It’s very pretty: plum with hints of green and grey. And it’s BFL, which is lovely to spin. Eowyn was fascinated and kept trying to help by sticking things in the wheel as it was spinning.

In the spirit of Brigid, who is a goddess who makes and heals, I have been doing what one of my friends calls “Finishuary.” The month of February is dedicated to completing craft projects. I finished a quilt yesterday, one that had just been waiting for the binding. Next on the list: Beowulf’s gaming bag. It’s been on the list for a while, all the pieces are cut out, and it’s all straight seams except for the zipper, but I just haven’t gotten to it. But I plan to make sure it ceases to taunt me this weekend. I’ve also been working on the second of a pair of socks that are for someone else and have been taking a while. I’m nearly to the gusset and the heel and I’m deliberately picking it up more frequently, rather than letting it languish. The sooner it’s done, the sooner it can wend its way to its recipient.

And now I’m already starting to think about Ostara. I’m participating in a pagan group on Ravelry that has a Wheel of the Year swap going, and I need to start putting together the Ostara package for my partner. I have wooden eggs to paint in pysanka patterns (not quite ready to try proper pysanky), and I just started a couple more herbs in pots on the windowsill. (This despite the fact that snow is on the forecast for tomorrow).

A blessed Imbolc season, and I hope the beginnings of spring are bringing good cheer with them.