Tag Archive | Wicca

Honoring Ostara, Easter: Simple Ways to Honor the Goddess of Spring and the Dawn

Originally published March 20th, 2012, this is a practical guide to the spring equinox celebration of Ostara.

 

Honoring Ostara, Easter: Simple Ways to Honor the Goddess of Spring and the Dawn

 

Wicca is a predominately reconstructionist religion. That is, one of its aims is to redact the Old Religion practiced in pre-Christian Europe. One key way we do this is by recognizing the European cultural and religious traditions that were preserved-even if altered-through Roman Catholicism. A simple example of Old Religion traditions preserved by the Church and our culture at large include wearing costumes at Halloween, decorating with evergreens in December, and sunrise services for Resurrection Sunday (a better and more accurate name for “Easter,” the Christian version). These are all customs most people in the western world recognize; far fewer recognize their roots in pre-Christian European cultures.

No other holiday, besides Yuletide, has been preserved in regards to the old ways and the old stories as the holiday called Easter by Christians. The name Easter is a simple Anglicization of the Anglo-Saxon name “Ëostre,” the high German form being “Ostara.” As witchvox tells us (seehttp://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usma&c=holidays&id=1991), both forms of this name reference the idea of “East” in Germanic languages (modern German, Osten-note the connection with the Ostara form of the name), the direction of the dawn. Ostara is both goddess of the vernal equinox and goddess of the dawn.

But beyond simply telling the story about Ostara and her magical egg bearing hare and the gifts of flowers she bestowed on the faithful, beyond all the ideas so commercialized and so taken over by Christianity, how can we, who wish to honor the Old Religion, do so as we welcome spring this year? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Greet the morning in which the equinox arrives by getting up at sunrise and watch the sun at dawn for some quiet time with nature.
  2. Meditate and pray for balance and harmony-for yourself, those around you, and the world. This is a good day to pray for divine help in preserving endangered species and reversing global warming. The optimal time for this: the five minutes leading up to and after the exact moment of planetary equinox when the planet is in “the moment between moments and hour between hours” as I pray every year as part of this prayer. Pray outside touching a tree or plant if you can.
  3. Bring in some colored flowers to your home and place in a spot where everyone will see them regularly.
  4. Wear pastel clothing on the day of the astronomical spring equinox
  5. Make and eat at least one colored boiled egg. Skip the commercial egg kits; a few drops of kitchen food coloring in boiling water with vinegar and extracted with a spoon is all you need!
  6. Spend at least thirty minutes outdoors communing with nature.
  7. Leave food offerings of thanksgiving for Ostara; the animals near you will be thankful!
  8. Plant a tree, herb, or shrub
  9. Drink a cup of lavender or lemon balm tea. Both herbs are associated with the holiday. Be sure you brew from culinary (aka English) lavender. If your preferred herb, spice, or tea retailer does not sell it, ask for it!
  10. Integrate marjoram, lemon balm, culinary lavender, thyme, and/or sunflower seeds into a special holiday meal.

For more information on Ostara/Easter please consult: http://www.pagannews.com/cgi-bin/sabbats1.pl?Ostara , http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usma&c=holidays&id=1991, and http://earthwitchery.com/ostara.html.

Advertisements

The wind is always there

My simple prayer this evening:

cockatoo in flightHoly Mother, Creatrix of all you know I trust in you and truly believe that everything is happening as it should, that there is a hidden wind beneath my wings. I know that though my feathers are wet from torrents of rain and snow, I know in my heart you are always there to strengthen me.

You also know that for all my faith and trust, sometimes I feel sad. Sometimes those wet feathers feel so wet I am not positive all the time that I can fly. Sometimes I feel a bit anxious because if I fall, it looks like a very long way down.

But for all the inner tremblings, I know your wind is always there. All I need to do is believe in your gentle guiding wind. In the gale, it sometimes feel like no bird can fly. But you are there.

 

Please, Holy Mother, Creatrix, help me to feel your wind under my wings when my feathers are soaked, bring people in my life to cheer me on and tell me they believe in me.

Every bird must fledge, must dare to touch the sky. Be with me and show me how to soar.

Medieval Beltane Music

All Wiccan holidays are based on the seasons.  That means that witches in the northern hemisphere celebrate the opposite season holidays as those in the southern hemisphere.

 

As European and American Wiccans prepare to celebrate Samhain, the last and final holiday in the Wiccan calender (the new year beginning on November 1st), let’s turn our thoughts to spring — and our southern neighbors — with this look at Beltane and Beltane music.

 

Medieval Beltane Music

It’s almost Beltane, also known as May Day, a day known for its flowers, picnics, and of course, the May Pole Dance.

Like many festivals, music is an essential part of worship, even though many, perhaps, do not process Beltane celebrations as a form of religious worship. Yet through the ages and into today, songs celebrating spring, the Beltane festival, and/or the coming of summer all bring us closer to nature and Beltane’s celebration of new life. Here are a few of my favorite period songs for celebrating this ancient festival:

“Sumer Is Icumen in”: a medieval four part round originally written in the 13th century in Middle English (see Middle English and modern lyrics athttp://www.pteratunes.org.uk/Music/Music/Lyrics/summerisicumenin.html), “Sumer Is Icumen In” is one of the oldest known songs celebrating the coming of summer (beginning May 1st in Celtic and Germanic cultures). Beautiful in both Middle and Modern English, this classic was one of the first medieval songs I ever learned to sing and remains a perennial favorite among re-enactors and neo-pagans alike. Don’t want to sing it or play it on the recorder? Two of the best recordings of it is by St. George’s Canzona from their album “Medieval Songs and Dances,” and, for a pop arrangement of this classic, check out the version by Jaiya from her album “Beltane: Songs for the Spring Time,” both available on itunes.

“Now is the Month of Maying”: written by Elizabethan Englishman Thomas Morley in the late 16th century, it remains one of the best known songs about Beltane. The King’s Singers have a lovely rendition of it on their album “Madrigal History Tour” that is true to its original madrigal/troubadour origins. For a very modern take on this classic, consider “The Month of Maying” by Jaiya, also from “Beltane: Songs for the Spring Time.”

“Tempus Adest Floridum” (the time is near for flowering): originally written in the 13thcentury, “Tempus Adest Floridum’s” tune became popularized in the 19th century when the Christmas Carol “Good King Wenceslas ” provided new lyrics to the then 600 year old tune. Find four verses in the original Latin at http://www.cyberhymnal.org/non/la/tempusade.htm and full translation at http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/f/l/flowcaro.htm. Enjoy a classical recording of the song on Jeremy Summerly’s album, “Let Voices Resound: Songs from Piae Cantiones,” available on Amazon.com.

 

For more information on Beltane and medieval/Renaissance music, please consult:http://www.pteratunes.org.uk/Music/Music/Composers.html,http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/festivals/may/beltane.html,http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/beltanemayday/p/Beltane_History.htm,http://londongirl.hubpages.com/hub/Bringing-in-the-May—the-history-and-culture-of-the-traditional-English-May-Day.

Major and Minor Tools in Wicca

Wiccan altar with candles, chalice, cauldron (bowl), wand, and athame

Wiccan altar with candles, chalice, cauldron (bowl), wand, and athame

When most people hear the word “Wicca” or “witch” stereotyped images typically come to mind. Whether it’s a green skinned hag with warts or a beautiful seductress using magic to overcome the will of others, few people unfamiliar with Wicca/Paganism have clear and accurate images of who these people are and what they believe. Central to these stereotypes are tools used by Wiccans in their practice. Whether it’s a cauldron, a magic wand, a cup, or a dagger, outside of “the Craft” and often even inside it, the primary and secondary tools used by the majority of Wiccans remains poorly understood. Here’s a quick primer on some of the most common tools:

Athame: a dull-edged knife or dagger (typically more dull than your typical letter opener), often with an ornamental hilt, athames cut only air and spiritual energies. They are used to define and sanctify a space for worship and release the area back to its normal use after. Hence there is a “calling” and “dismissing” of spiritual energies with the athame. Unlike the wand whose job is to invite energies, the athame is used primarily to repel unwanted energies and spiritual entities. In other words, it serves a protective function, cleansing the defined inner space and warding against everything outside the defined boundaries so that only positive energy can enter and negative energy is kept away. Masculine, yang force tool.

Wand: typically made of wood or crystal, wands also define worship spaces, but differently than athames. While athames repel unwanted energies and spiritual beings, wands invite desirable energies into the worship space. For that reason, many rituals begin by “casting the quarters” first with an athame, then with the wand to first repel what a person or group does not want, then invite what the person/group welcomes. The type of material a person uses for a wand affects the direction of the invitation (see http://www.gildedquill.net/GQWands.htm for several wands with their associated wood meanings and uses). Masculine, yang force tool.

Cauldron: a bowl or cooking pot, often made of cast iron with tripod feet, the cauldron originates as the primary household cook pot used to prepare meals. As such, cauldrons tend to retain their traditional associations with foods and food stuffs. Sometimes used as a brazier for burning incense, candles, or herbs, the primary focus of most cauldrons remain on food, hearth, and home. Symbolically the cauldron represents female, yin force energy as the cauldron closely resembles a woman’s womb in appearance. Regular, modern cook pots can be used as cauldrons, particular in kitchen witchcraft.

Chalice (cup): probably the most universal religious tool, the chalice’s ritual use transcends time, space, culture, and religion. Intuitively, the chalice’s first and primary function is that of a drinking vessel, holding the milk, juice, water, or wine called for in religious ceremonies. As such, it is the most versatile. A female, yin force symbol, the chalice resembles the female reproductive track in appearance and therefore is the most feminine of the tools used in Wicca.

Candles: from small chime candles to thick column candles, the variety of candles individuals may use is limitless. Usually the type of candle used is decided by functional needs and the color(s) is decided by spiritual or symbolic considerations. For example, green candles may represent balance, harmony, money, wealth, or nature. Pink candles are often associated with love-both romantic and non-romantic. Purple candles tend to have spiritual connotations-and so forth.

Candle snuffer: a safety tool, candle snuffers may be large or small, silver, brass, copper, or another preferred metal. Their function is implicit: to extinguish candle, incense, and other small fires by depriving the flame of oxygen.

Incense: whether in powder, cone, or stick formats, incense is a blend of herbs and/or resins that are burned for the aromatic and/or spiritual properties. Used broadly across numerous world religions, Wiccans often interpret the smoke of incense as symbolic of air (element).

Boline: a sharp ritual knife or dagger typically used to cut plant materials such as fruit, vegetables, prepared foods, and/ or plant stalks. Unlike the athame whose purpose is purely symbolic and spiritual, the boline is a practical object, a cutting implement used in sacrificing plants or simply to facilitate the serving of ritual foods such as a loaf of bread or a pomegranate.

Essential oils: part of the herbalism aspect of Wicca, essential oils are concentrated oils derived from plants and resins used for their spiritual and aromatic properties. Most oils need to be blended with a carrier oil such as almond or olive oil before they can be applied to the skin for healing. Oils can also be mixed with water and sprayed in a spray bottle or sprinkled into an area for a spiritual or physical impact. For example, lavender oil mixed with water and sprinkled onto a pillow or bedding is a well-known remedy for sleep disorders. Spiritually lavender is known for its protective qualities (see http://www.religions-and-spiritualities-guide.com/herbs-magics.html).

Herbs: important to kitchen witchcraft and its focus on herbal healing, herbs/spices are more than just flavorful for your ordinary cooking. Herbs have both physical and spiritual impacts, promoting health and healing on all levels of the person when used mindfully. The number of resources on herbs and herbal healing are too numerous to list, but one nice one for beginners is athttp://www.linsdomain.com/herbs.htm. My favorite source for herbs and herbal teas is athttp://www.13moons.com/.

Mortar and Pestle: used to grind whole herbs into a powdered form and mix herbs together, mortar and pestles are important tools for making herbal teas and combining spices for cooking. An essential tool in kitchen witchcraft.

Bells: used in numerous religious traditions, bells can serve many different functions. They can define spaces using sound. They can signal the start of worship. They can represent the element of air. They can also be used purely for their musical tones. The uses are almost endless according to individual preferences and outlook.

Besoms: also called “brooms” or “broomsticks,” ritual besoms are probably the most stereotyped of the tools used in Wicca. Contrary to stereotype, besoms are not used to mix toxic brews or for riding on at night, but are used to sweep away unwanted negative energies and form protective spaces. Many Wiccans keep their besoms in places of honor-above chimneys, doorways, or other entry-points of energies. They are literally used to sweep an area-but not free of loose floor debris like their non-religious counterparts. Instead a besom sweeps spiritual energies. They are typically round and may be of any number of sizes or compositions.

The tools of Wicca are often the same tools used in other religious traditions, just used for different specifics. They are highly individual in design and function. Yet together they help individuals and religious groups shape religious and spiritual experiences.

For more information on Wicca and its tools, please consult:http://www.tylwythteg.com/wheel.htmlhttp://www.willowgrovemagick.com/wiccan-ritual-tools-athames-and-swords.aspxhttp://www.gildedquill.net/GQWands.htmhttp://www.religions-and-spiritualities-guide.com/herbs-magics.htmlhttp://wicca.com/celtic/bri/cndlcolor.htm,http://voices.yahoo.com/wiccan-ritual-tools-besom-2031629.html?cat=34

Witch in the City: Seven Tips for Adapting Polytheism to Urban Environments

April 21st, 2012Beltane altar in downtown Brooklyn

 

Many earth-centric religious traditions, including Wicca, help us connect deeply with nature with outdoor worship. But where green spaces are sparse or sometimes inconvenient to reach, how does a Wiccan or other polytheist find the balance? Here are things I’ve done over the years:

  1. Use less fire and more water: instead of burning specific herbs, candles, or essential oils, mix them with water and disperse by libation or through a small spray bottle such as a travel sized pump bottle.
  2. Barbecue grills at parks are your friend: when you do need to burn something for a prayer or ritual, consider travelling to a public park that offers a barbecue grill and light your fire in the grill space. This greatly reduces your fire risk and makes it easier to control your fire.
  3. Use ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams for food sacrifices: one of my favorite rituals for holiday worship is to cast a libation of food and drink (non-alcoholic) into a pond or lake as a gift of thanksgiving to the deity/deities associated with the holiday. This is not only very historically accurate to what many cultures have done for millennia, but your gift is often greatly appreciated by the area wildlife.
  4. Keep incense lighting to indoor contexts: when you light incense outside, you risk not only fire that can more easily get out of hand, but mis-interpretation by passersby. Also recognize that many parks have strict rules against any sort of burning outside of fire pits/grills; you can get into a lot of trouble over fire-even incense!
  5. Replace bonfires with symbolic fires: when a ritual or custom calls for a bonfire, consider using lit or un-lit candles and incense.
  6. Embrace plant life: all life is connected. Connect to it-and deity–with your touch. Caressing a plant is a wonderful way to remind yourself of the beauty, wonder, and divinity around you.
  7. No matter what you practice or believe, prioritize safety over ritual. Accidents happen, especially when working around fire. Invest in those little aids like snuffers and water vessels that make you safer!

The night I lost my voice

From time to time, I move away from writing and the publishing business to write about my own life and perceptions.  Tonight is one of those nights.

 

It is no secret to anyone that my upbringing was violent, raised in a church that takes the Bible so literally that the most heinous acts of violence seem perfectly logical, godly, and properly.  Where a claim of “disobedience” from a young child is enough to make her responsible for rape, incest, torture, and worse done upon her.  And where no cry for help is to be listened to.  After all, it IS the three year old’s fault if her father rapes her and slashes her with knives, is it not?

Well, so I was brainwashed into believing for many years — until I learned not to.

 

In the first six years of my life I was mortally wounded by my father six separate times — three times on Beltane (April 30th/May 1st)  and three times on Samhain (all hallow’s eve).  Sometimes I will talk about being shot or drowned.  But what I never talk about was the night, I was maybe three or four, when my voice was taken away.

 

 

The audio edition of Boudicca:  Britain's Queen of the Iceni by Laurel A. Rockefeller and narrated by Richard Mann

The audio edition of Boudicca: Britain’s Queen of the Iceni by Laurel A. Rockefeller and narrated by Richard Mann

My favorite actor and, by the grace of god/goddess/the universe, the narrator of my biographical novella “Boudicca” talks about the importance of the voice.  If you have not seen his presentation talking about the importance of our voices (courtesy of Future Legend Media), it is a true joy to watch.  

 

Our voices are very important.  But that dark night — I cannot remember if it were Beltane or Samhain — my voice was both literally and figuratively taken away.

 

By this time, my father had his routine down pretty well, kidnapping me from my room and making sure everyone else at home was either asleep or too frightened to stir.  I was usually taken into the woods near our house.  My family home was on the edge of Lincoln, Nebraska when it as first built a few months before I was born — so there were ample woods and wildlife around.  As usual, my father cut my throat one to two centimeters below my left ear (this routine left a somewhat pronounced scar — if you look)  and offered some blood to whatever it was he felt he needed to worship or revere; I will not claim I know or understand, only that the nearest I can describe the sounds of these prayers would be the “black tongue of Mordor” in Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  After raping me (which was also part of the routine), he noticed I was fighting back with the one part of myself that was stronger than the ropes he bound me with:  my voice, my song.

 

There is something spiritual about singing from the heart and soul, especially when you are that young and lack the filtering egos and superegos that enable adults to filter information.  At four the mind has not yet learned how to reject incorrect or harmful information, let alone tell the difference between when adults are telling them the truth or lying to them — which is also why many children do not know the difference between reality and fantasy.  Because of this, a child’s song is especially pure; there is no deceit to it.  If humans ever tap into the voice of that which created all of us — it is at that same age.  Healing warmth filled me.  My spirit was far from broken.  Resistance was not futile.

 

Enraged, my father drove his boline (a razor sharp ritual knife) into my vocal chords.  The singing stopped.  All sound from my throat stopped.  I Crossed Over.  But as it was before, something powerful and divine would not open the door, the tunnel some see during “near” death experiences.  The silver cord binding soul to flesh remained strong and tight, holding my spirit to just a few feet or inches away from my blood-drained body.  I was, for the lack of a better term, “MOSTLY DEAD.”  The flesh had no blood left — but the spirit remained nearly as tightly rooted as it was any other moment in my life.

 

Satisfied, my father left me for dead for a time.  I cannot tell you what happened next except that at some point, my spirit sank downward, back into my body.  Was it god or the goddess who restored me to life?  Was it some part of my spirit that simply refused death?  I am too honest a scientist to guess and have always been so.

 

The next thing I knew, I was back in my bed — but I could not speak.

 

Do not ask me why no one noticed — or cared — that my notorious chatterbox fell completely silent for weeks while my body healed.  On the surface of my skin, only a tiny mark remained.  But I could not speak, let alone sing.  No sound came out, not even a buzz.  The family dog knew and tried to console me (this was about four or five years before I finally won my argument to get my first bird).  But absolutely no one else cared that I could not speak anymore.

 

I was silenced.

 

Time of course healed my flesh, leaving little evidence unless you look for it — except when I was asked to sing in school.  Though my voice has always been pleasant to listen to (one time, while writing a song on the subway on my way home from something in Brooklyn I was directly asked if I sang on Broadway — quite a complement), I had a technical problem with my voice.  No C sharp note!  The only way to hit it or get close was to FORCE it — essentially do exactly the opposite of what every vocal music teacher or coach tells you to do — to some unpleasant consequences at times.  Today I can sing that C sharp — after a moment of particular healing while attending university.

 

But though the physical side waned and healed with time, what I never realized until tonight was that my voice was silenced more sinisterly that terrible night in the woods.  From that night forward, every single person around me DISMISSED every single thing I said.  Truth or lying did not matter (naturally my habit has always been to tell the truth — whether you want the truth or not).  No one heeded me.  No one listened.  It was as if I were invisible.

 

On November 5th, 1985, the night before lines were due in the only drama class where anyone allowed me to participate on stage, a car hit me in the left temple, slicing across the left side of the brain before my skull shattered entirely to, well, rather gruesome results –and taking all memory, including academic memory, with it.  That was the seventh time I Crossed Over — and the only accident.  If I were a right handed person like most of you this certainly would have ended all ability to communicate from a neurological stand point because those regions are clustered behind/close to the left ear.  As it happens, I am in the 50% of left handers (5% of the general population) who have SYMMETRY in the brain — meaning that instead of a single center for speech and for understanding speech, I have one on each side of my head.   My ability to speak, read, and write, remained.

 

But what good is speech if you are completely ignored, if everything you say and do is ignored or made excuses?  This extended to my health — to food allergies, to the headache that never went away after the concussion.  Not even falling grades (I had to literally re-learn everything all over again that year in school) were enough to signal to anyone that anything was wrong.

My voice was truly gone.

 

It is therefore a very humbling matter tonight to not only remember the physical attack that silenced me as a child, but also realize that the attack was also very much a psychological and spiritual one as well, designed to do exactly what it achieved.  My father is a very smart criminal who was never caught nor punished thanks to his destruction of my voice, one more than willing to speak truth to power.

 

Breath creates your voice.  You cannot sing without pushing air through your larynx.

 

Holy Mother Goddess, teach me to sing again with confidence and strength.  Let my words no longer fall to deaf ears.  Let the beauty of my writing reach the minds and hearts of others.  And bring into my life those who will encourage me to sing once more, to climb up to a high perch and dare raise my voice to heaven once more.   Let there be, at last, people in my life who care enough to steady me so that I can finally be heard. Let this little bird finally take flight.

 

So mote it be.