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.

Polytheism after Monotheism

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I was raised in a religion that has monotheism as a central tenet. Today I identify more as a polytheist, though I’m admittedly closer to soft polytheism than hard polytheism, in that I think the gods are probably aspects/manifestations/avatars of the abstract divine that jump-started the universe (well, that’s where I am today. It’s quite likely to be different tomorrow, since some days I lean closer to agnosticism, and others towards medium-soft polytheism).

The irony of Christianity is that many, though not all, branches adhere to a form monotheism in which God is represented through the Trinity: a single god with three distinct persons, who are all different and separate from each other, but are still one being. I was raised with the insistence that God is one, but is also three, and we mostly focused on Jesus and God the Father (who didn’t get a special name, though he does have an awful lot of epithets), and ignored the third part, the Holy Spirit, a lot. This isn’t a lot different from what I believe now on some days, except that there are a lot more gods. I don’t worship all of them, but I believe they exist in some form or another.

I don’t believe in omnipotent gods anymore, which is something I’ve written about before. I think I stopped believing in omnipotence a long time ago, and it only really hit me when Pulse happened. And now it’s hitting me again, as I see people I knew in high school complain on Facebook about how whiny the liberals are being after eight years of them complaining constantly about Obama. As, two days after the election, more people are being attacked because of the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation.

And I’m mostly safe here, in Canada. I’ve lived in Canada since the day I turned eighteen, all of my adult years, and yet America is the land of my birth. I’m still a citizen, though there’s a good chance I will have my Canadian citizenship and will have renounced my American citizenship (not because of politics) by the time the next general election rolls around. The way the US is falling apart right now is deeply frightening and it hurts to know that. It hurts that the electoral college system resulted in an election where a man who has constantly spouted racist, sexist, and ill-informed views throughout his entire campaign won, over a woman who, though not perfect, was a far better candidate for the position. It hurts to know how close the election was, that so many people voted for a man who has acted so deplorably. It hurts to know that so many people embrace enough of his views and those of his future VP that they were willing to vote for him. It makes me sick. And fearful.

Where are the gods? Well, it’s not like they’re all-powerful, and even if they were, it’s not necessarily their responsibility to get us out of the dilemmas we make for ourselves. I may have prayed and lit candles for the Goddess, and poured a libation for Loki, but I also voted, and encouraged other people to vote thoughtfully. I probably could have done more, but that’s a lesson learned.

I admit it’s easier, not believing in a single omnipotent god who always acts for the best. That hurts too much. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t work. There are too many times when the best just doesn’t happen and you can’t argue that “God works in mysterious ways” because there is no way to make those situations better.

If there are gods, they don’t always act. And they don’t always have the power to do so. Sometimes they are silent. And sometimes they speak out of the darkness.

Samhain

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Samhain started off early this morning with an extremely bizarre dream that involved pregnancy, serious illness, potential death, gender-shifting, evil people, and good people. Either my brain was just having a great time being weird, or it means something. I hit the alarm a few times, then realized we had less than half an hour before Eowyn needed to be at preschool and stuffed the dream into the back of my mind to mull on later.

When I got home from dropping Eowyn off, I took the time to do my Samhain ritual then, while I was the only one home. I feel less self-conscious when I don’t have an audience, particularly since I was improvising this ritual. I went with what felt right, rather than going off of someone else’s script.

So I inscribed one medium-sized purple candle with jera and eihwaz, for the cycle of nature and the mystery of death, and lit it and set it on my altar. I lit tea lights for ancestors and teachers. One tea light was for a specific person, since they’re the most recent and immediate ancestor who has died, one was for those ancestors and relatives who have died and that I either did not know or did not know well, and one was for those people who I have learned from who have died. I lit some incense wood and let it burn for a few minutes. I spoke about how I remembered them, honoured them, and thanked them for what they have passed on to me. As I stepped away from the altar, the spider who lives in the lamp just beneath that shelf crawled up the lamp shade so I could see it.

I let the candles burn while I was at home and then blew them out (wanting to use my breath rather than the candle snuffer) before I went to pick up Eowyn. I’ll light them again periodically through the week until they’re burnt out.

Tonight we’re going trick-or-treating with some friends. It’s Eowyn’s first time, since our Halloween party is usually on the 31st. This year we bumped it to the 29th so it would be on the weekend. I’ll probably take her over to the wall where the pictures of my grandmother are and tell her a bit about her great-grandma (who wanted to be called GG by her great-grandkids). Maybe next year, we’ll tell more stories about those who have gone before us, and she’ll be able to contribute her thoughts, too.