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.”

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“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.

 

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.

 

Walking the Labyrinth

 

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Years ago, my family went to a church that was a mix of liturgical and contemporary traditions. During Holy Week, one of the things they offered was a contemplative evening with a labyrinth walk. I borrowed my parents’ car and went on my own, walking the labyrinth spread out on the floor in the darkened sanctuary, deep in thought. I emerged feeling centered, refreshed, at peace.

A month or so later, I was telling a friend at the Christian retreat centre I once worked at about the experience. “Labyrinths?” she said. “Aren’t those New Age?”

Instantly, what had been a beautiful spiritual experience was tarnished, a source of shame and guilt that I had participated in it. In that world, anything New Age was probably of the devil, it was dangerous, and it opened the door to sin, possibly even to demonic possession.

A couple years later, I did a bit of research and ran across the tradition of medieval labyrinths. I pointed to that and went, “Hah!” The labyrinth walk I’d done was validated, no longer darkened by my friend’s assumptions. What I didn’t realize then was that I shouldn’t have needed to validate my experience to her.

In reality, labyrinths are ancient, occur in numerous cultures, and have spiritual significance in more than one tradition; they have been used in both pagan and Christian rituals. My friend’s take on it was a typical reaction for a conservative-leaning American Christian, one that she, at sixteen, had probably learned from her family or her church. It was unlikely that she had thought to investigate it further.

But I, at seventeen, didn’t think to immediately research what she said and process it critically. I let her assumptions and my own colour what had been a positive spiritual experience. At that age, I wasn’t ready to critically examine the religion I’d been raised with and see its inconsistencies (at least, not any more than I already had at that point).

I worry sometimes about what will happen when my family finds out that I’ve departed the tradition in which I was raised (worrying doesn’t help it, but that’s GAD for you). I know it will happen at some point, but I don’t know when, and I’m not ready to share that with them, because I know they’ll be unhappy about it. I honestly don’t know how they’ll respond. I’ve dropped hints here and there, but I haven’t said anything explicitly and neither have they. Recently my mom said something about she and I disagreeing on some things spiritually but that not screwing up our relationship, and I’m going to hold on to that.

What I don’t want to do is diminish the joy I’ve found in embracing a new way of understanding the world. The first time I took part in a circle, at Pagan Pride in September, it was wonderful. The delight I feel when I read books like The Spiral Dance is very real. The ancestor ritual I did at Samhain was deeply meaningful to me. I don’t want to allow myself to be so easily swayed by someone else’s opinions which may or may not be well-informed. I want to listen, yes, but I want to form my own take on the subject.

So next time I come across a labyrinth, I will admire its beauty, and remember the lesson it has taught me. To be myself. That all things in the end come back to their beginning. That the journey I walk was my journey when I was a teenager seeking the Spirit in the dark of the labyrinth, and it is still my journey when the labyrinth I roam is that path both ancient and new, and she who waits for me is one who encompasses the light and the dark.

“And thou who thinkest to seek for me, know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not, unless thou know this mystery: that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee.

“For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning; and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.” Doreen Valiente, The Charge of the Goddess.

 

Rescheduling Due to Illness

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Well, the Solstice yesterday was a bit of a bust. Eowyn was recovering from a stomach bug. I accidentally gave Beowulf food poisoning when I tried making him a special lunch to take to work. Eowyn and I went to visit a friend and spent an hour or so with her at a coffee shop and wandering around the community she lives in, which is basically condos on top of an outdoor mall, so it’s a confusing maze. Then we drove home in rush hour traffic as it was getting dark. My plans to make bulle, a family tradition, just didn’t happen, and Beowulf and I tried to convince Eowyn to go to bed early because we were tired.

I did make a halfhearted attempt at lighting the candles on my altar, and I did do some reading in The Spiral Dance that got me past the chapter I’d been stuck on (trance states, not really my thing at the moment), but most of the Yule stuff just didn’t happen.

Today, well, dinner was actual dinner instead of toast. Beowulf and I tried the infused brandy I’d made. It’s reminiscent of Jaegermeister, thanks to the star anise, and is pleasant when warmed or when mixed with cola. I wrote a letter to a friend, and Eowyn and I went for a walk out in the slush this afternoon.

It’s still been a day of laundry and dishes and feeling not particularly productive, but better than yesterday. Beowulf is feeling better; Eowyn’s still not quite over her bug but is on the way there; and my Harry Potter underpants, which arrived in the mail the other day, are a definite mood-lifter.

We’re at the dark time of the year, and there’s something about it that always resonates with me, but it’s hard to quantify. Maybe it’s that sense that we’re working our way through, sometimes badly, sometimes not so badly, towards the light.

 

Insert Winter Holiday Here

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While the Christmas season started for retailers a while ago, it’s only really started for our family in the last couple weeks. We spent American Thanksgiving with my family and did an early Christmas gift exchange with them. I put up our tiny tree with Eowyn and decorated it on the second of December. The tree’s a mishmash of family ornaments and odds and ends. We have a blown glass frog, a Mrs. Santa who looks like she has a beard, a couple Baby Jesus ornaments, a tiny trombone, a set of tomte, and an elephant, among others. The raku Nativity scene I made during my stint in ceramics classes my last year of high school is sitting next to the tree on our windowsill.

And on the other side of the room, there’s my altar. I’ve only just set it up for Yule. I’ve made a few changes since Samhain. The glass skull that I filled with candy corn on a whim is now filled with an assortment of spices. I finally bought a set of candle holders the right size for chime candles, so I have those up there now; I selected a couple runes and drew those on the candle holders with a pen that I can wipe off with alcohol so I can change them later as desired. The pomegranate and the pumpkins are in the kitchen, for eating. I have plans to make a holly wreath, but for now, there’s a sprig of holly sitting there. I rearranged things a bit, and it looks tidier.

This is our first December as an interfaith family. A year ago, when our priest mentioned doing a service on the Winter Solstice, I said, “Oh, I’d love to do a solstice service!” We were out of town that week, but her service was more a contemplative Christmas thing than a solstice thing. I was the weird parent asking about Winter Solstice children’s books at the kid’s toy store and settling for a fantastic Hanukkah story instead (go read Hanukkah Bear, it’s amazing). But those were the first real inklings I had that I would be exchanging one faith for another, rather than simply discarding religion. I hadn’t even started reading about paganism at that point, but less than six months later, I would be celebrating my first sabbat.

December this year has been a flurry of seemingly grown-up things: Preschool events, dealing with a sick child (just a nasty cold), replacing headlight bulbs in the car in the parking lot of Canadian Tire, inviting our priest over for dinner to tell her that we’re leaving the church in the New Year and her telling us that their finances person is pretty sure the church only has 6-12 months left before it’s time to pull the plug anyway. Not making many plates of fudge or Christmas cookies because too much sugar and fat together makes me nauseous these days. Trying Glenlivet for the first time at the company Christmas party and then checking the price at the liquor store the next day and wincing (holiday gift suggestion for me, a bottle of that stuff would be lovely).

In the spaces in between the busy, the colds, the depression, I’ve been thinking about the turn of the year. I’m celebrating Yule with candles, with infused brandy, with cardamom Yulekake, with children’s books about trolls and a fantasy novel entitled Krampus: Lord of Yule (because it’s worth reading, solely based on the title). I think about the Doctor and the Christmas episode of Doctor Who where he describes winter solstice celebrations as reminding us that we are “halfway out of the dark.” I’m celebrating the darkness and the light, because we have both in us.

And some days, when the focus is more on the upcoming Christmas, I think about how that day is about remembering that new life brings hope.

Blessed Yule, and Merry Christmas.

 

 

practicalities

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“It might be doomsday, but it’s still wash day.” Penfold, Danger Mouse (2015)

The wisdom of children’s cartoons never fails to amaze me. I find myself wanting to base my ethics on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and dive into learning about the world in as many creative ways as possible, inspired by Magic School Bus. In reality, my ethics really got their start in Star Trek: Voyager and have been further affected by feminism, philosophy, aspects of various religions, and literature.

However, when I watch children’s movies and shows with Eowyn, I sometimes run across odd little nuggets that have found their way into the story. The above quote seems ridiculous when it’s delivered by a hamster in a spaceship who is frantically trying to do his laundry while Danger Mouse pilots them to the latest disaster, but he has a point. The laundry has to be done. Food has to be cooked, rent paid, the day-to-day business of survival must continue as best as it can.

I’ve been focused on living in the moment as much as possible lately; it hurts too much to think ahead to the future of the States, and other than calling the senators and representatives of the state where I’m registered to vote, it feels like I can’t do much. One day at a time, I work through it. There have been bad days and some pretty good days. Yet I still live as though the future will happen.

I make preserves for the winter; I do laundry so we’ll have clean clothes next week; I wipe down the bathroom with bleach so the mold that pops up everywhere in southwestern BC won’t take over. I plan Christmas presents, I think about what Yule’s going to look like this year. I light candles on the altar and draw sigils that look to the future. I make things for the Etsy shop. I take on editing clients.

I keep going. I don’t know what else to do, but I know the days when the depression tries to take over are the worst ones. And when everything feels entirely hopeless and that there’s no use in trying, those are the days when even just doing the dishes, because that means there will be clean dishes tomorrow, is enough to lift the cloud for a bit.

Maybe it’s doomsday. Maybe it’s not. But right now it’s time to move that laundry into the dryer.