Tomorrow is my birthday – I’ll be 53. No big deal.
Seriously, it doesn’t bother me. Neither did 30 or 40 or 50.
A long time ago I used to think that birthdays were magical. That I would somehow suddenly feel different being a year older.
I never did.
(I also used to think that I would feel different being in another grade at school, but that never happened, either.)
So, in a sense, it will be just another day. Depending on the weather (ah, the joys of a winter birthday!) my roommate and I will probably go out to eat.
I might do some divination for the year ahead. If I didn’t have other things to do that day I would maybe get brave and try the full 210 card Tree of Life Tarot spread, but it takes a great deal of uninterrupted time.
At any rate, I’ve been pondering birthdays and birthday traditions. Not just the blow out the candles on the cake tradition, but the sorts of things that are unique to individual families.
One of ours was that the birthday person got their favorite food for dinner that day. My grandfather never expressed a preference: my mother’s was always stuffed pork chops. (I can still see my grandfather’s hands as he stood at the counter stuffing them.)
Mine? Creamed chipped beef on toast. Yeah, yeah. I know it’s called “shit on a shingle” but I love the stuff.
And there was cake, of course. Again, the choice was left up to the birthday person. Mine was always chocolate, preferably with chocolate peanut butter frosting. Mom’s was chocolate. My grandfather’s was a spice cake.
My most memorable birthday cake was a round layer cake. My mother frosted it with green coconut frosting, built a fence out of Twizzlers, put a couple plastic horse figurines on it (I was – and still am – a horse lover). She even put on a few malted milk balls behind the horses for authenticity…
And then there was the unicorn cake I made my mother. She was working third shift, so I baked it while she was sleeping and put it in the freezer to hide it, and so it would be firm enough to frost. (She had been taking a cake decorating class which meant that I learned how to do it too.) After she left for work I started frosting it. All went well until the directions told me to make the horn from royal frosting. I had no idea what royal frosting was or how to make it, and I couldn’t find the recipe in her cake books. (This was pre-internet days.) I was tired and frustrated and facing a white horse with blue eyes and mane. It needed a horn. The horn in the picture was orange in color. A light dawned.
And a few minutes later the unicorn had a horn.
I cleaned a carrot, shaped it, stuck a toothpick in the big end and stabbed it into the cake.
It’s odd, how memories work. Most of my Christmas memories center around the tree, and most of my birthday memories center around food. I
(In fact, the only birthday present that really sticks in my mind was when I turned 16, (and was thus eligible for my learner’s permit for driving): I was given a set of keys to the family cars. I suppose I remember it because it was something of a rite of passage.)
Now, we’re more likely to go out for a birthday dinner (the birthday person gets their choice of restaurants) – a new tradition being forged.
As a kitchen witch, however, I find it intriguing that my birthday memories center around food. I don’t think that anything makes you feel quite as loved and cared for and… special… as having your favorite meal prepared for you.
Less than a week until Imbolc.
Imbolc is one of my favorite Sabbats although it was one that I had the hardest time understanding when I was starting out. For some reason I just couldn’t quite grasp what it meant.
Then one year I was working as a temp and was between assignments, when I got a phone call – on Imbolc – about a short-term job, and that was when it clicked.
Imbolc is about beginnings and possibilities and hidden promises.
I am in more or less the same position this year: between jobs. I have an interview later today for a part-time position that is ideally close to home. (A five-minute commute sure beats a sixty minute commute!)
Imbolc, in my own personal tradition (I should name my own personal tradition one of these days…) is the start of spring.
Sure, it doesn’t look like spring, at least, not here in Western Pennsylvania, but, nonetheless, it is the start of spring.
It is halfway between Midwinter Solstice and Spring Equinox, and the hours of daylight are noticeably longer.
And, in the words of one of my favorite Pagan songs, “The Rolling World”
“All life in the earth begins to unfold
As the waxing light is seen.
Each seedling will sprout into its own self,
To inspire us to be truly free.”
So, what do I do for Imbolc?
I keep an eye on the weather. (Imbolc is also known as Candlemas.)
“If Candlemas Day be sunny and bright,
Winter will have another flight.
If Candlemas Day be cloud and rain,
Winter has flown and will not come again.”
And I usually swear at the groundhog and listen to my roommate – who hates winter with a passion rarely seen in a sane individual – threaten to sell raffle tickets to see who gets to shoot him first. (Punxsutawney isn’t that far away from where I live.)
On a more spiritual level, I give thanks for new beginnings and new promises.
I plant seeds. (I’m currently torn between snapdragons, marigolds, tomatoes, or zucchinis.)
And I make rice pudding.
From my Cookbook of Shadows:
Any symbols of the sun or fertility are appropriate for this Sabbat, as are foods that incorporate milk products. (My favorite Imbolc food is rice pudding, as it incorporates fertility symbols, sun symbols, and lots of milk.)
1 cup rice, cooked and drained — wash pan and cook these ingredients:
4 cups of milk — symbolizing the milk of the Goddess
1 cup of sugar — for the sweetness of life
2 eggs, beaten — symbolizing both the sun and new life/fertility
1 tblsp cornstarch — to thicken and bind
1 tsp vanilla — because every recipe has vanilla in it
Add rice and cook (over Brigid’s Fire) stirring until it is like custard.
While stirring in a deosil (clockwise) direction, visualize the things you want to draw into your life. This is also a good coven or family activity, as everyone can take turns stirring it.
May the growing light show you the way to yourself.
I’ve burned away the things that I don’t want to be a part of my life anymore – I wrote them on small slips of paper and fed them one by one to a candle flame in a small cauldron on my altar. (Don’t worry – I had a bottle of water open and within reach – the element of Fire and I occasionally have issues.) Part of today will be spent meditating on the things that I want to draw into my life to replace the things I burned away. (Nature abhors a vacuum – if you banish something you need to replace it or it will sneak back.)
I’m also starting some new traditions this year.
One is an idea that I got from Face Book – a gift jar. Throughout the year, whenever something good happens, write it on a piece of paper and put it in a jar. Then on December 31 open the jar and read them as a reminder of the good things in your life.
(I have done something similar in the past – when I feel stressed and hounded by negativity I keep a Gift Journal. It’s just a small notebook in which I write at least one “gift” each day. It doesn’t have to be something tangible – it can be a beam of sunlight through clouds, something someone says, the caress of a breeze, anything that gives your spirit a boost. The point is that “energy flows where attention goes” and it’s so easy to only focus on the negatives and not see the positives. Change focus, change events. As within, so without.)
I’m also doing a challenge (along with some friends) to spend time every day doing something creative. For me this means something in addition to writing, which I do just about every day anyhow. I’m hoping that this challenge will result in some finished cross stitch projects this year. (And also a start on a Book of Shadows – or at least my CookBook of Shadows…)
Part of that creativity challenge will involve crocheting my way through the stash of yarn in the basement. I’m not sure how we came to have so much of it, but I think that it’s time that it gets turned into afghans and donated to charity: a homeless shelter or domestic violence shelter.
And, of course, there will be my ongoing work of becoming more focused on my spirituality on a daily basis, making it part of my daily life.
May all of you have a year filled with blessings.
So mote it be.
Midwinter, Yule, Winter Solstice, Longest Night… pick one! (In Paganism, not only is there no “one right way” there is apparently also no “one right name.”)
Am I the only person who has ever wondered how the 21st (ish) of December can be both “mid” winter and the first day of winter? That bugged me long before I found my way home to Paganism (as did the summer solstice = mid-summer/first day of summer) but once I learned about the Wheel of the Year it suddenly all made sense. Well, not the “mid” and “first” bit, but…
But… I found an approach to the seasons that made sense to me.
Samhain: Summer’s End (and the start of winter)
Imbolc: the start of Spring
Beltane: the start of Summer
Lughnassadh: the start of fall
Samhain: Summer’s (Fall’s) End.
So, my seasons are a little off-beat compared to the rest of the world, but so am I.
I’m currently giving semi-serious consideration to the idea of staying up all night to welcome the dawn on mid-winter’s day. I don’t have anything planned for the next day so I can be a zombie and no one would notice. (I’m pretty much a hermit so it’s a fair bet that no one would notice anyhow.)
Meanwhile, I thought I’d leave you with a little seasonal music:
“On Midwinter’s Day” by Damh the Bard:
“Santa Claus Is Pagan Too” by Emerald Rose:
“The Christians and the Pagans” by Dar Williams:
Please share any Winter Solstice songs that you like — I’d love to find more!
I don’t have one. I have been on this path for 25 years or more and I still don’t have a Book of Shadows.
Because indecision may be the basis of flexibility but it is also the bane of progress. In short, I can’t decide how to organize it, and my perfectionist streak wants it to be done right, not just done.
I do know that it is going to be in a three-ring binder instead of a journal-type book. (So why do I own so many journal type books, including ones that actually say “Book of Shadows” on them? Um… Good question. Probably for the same reason that I own enough spiral bound notebooks to stock my own office supply store.)
Why a three-ring binder? So that I can organize it and find what I’m looking for, and so it has room to grow and still stay organized.
Because my non-existent Book of Shadows has grown. When I first started it was a “Manilla Folder of Shadows.” Then it was “A File Cabinet Drawer of Shadows.” Then it became a “Box of Shadows” which at least had the right initials. That, however, quickly became an “Overflowing Box of Shadows,” which grew into an “Overflowing Box of Shadows with More Scraps of Paper Crammed in Along the Edges.” And so on.
I know what sort of sections I want, and three of them are spells, prayers, and rituals, but that’s where a large part of the problem comes in: what distinguishes between the three? When does a prayer become a spell and when does a spell become a ritual and when does a ritual become a prayer?
For instance, if I make an amulet of protection, and I do it inside a circle and I ask a deity for assistance… is that a spell, a ritual, or a prayer, or all three? Which section does it belong in?
Another thing that has held me back is the fact that I have lousy handwriting. (There’s that perfectionist streak again…) That has been more or less circumvented by the existence of computers, so it isn’t really an excuse anymore, although I do really love the idea of a hand written Book of Shadows.
And at this point, I’m wondering if it is worth it to create one. So much of what I do is informal and spontaneous, not to mention second nature to me, that I wonder if I would even use one.
And yet, I still love the idea of having one, although I don’t know why. Maybe just for the creativity of it? My current plan is to use scrapbooks and make a “Scrapbook of Shadows.” (Which, of course, gives me the excuse of finding the perfect paper for each page…)
I think I’m going to make making a BoS one of my goals for next year.
If anyone reading this has one, what is in it and how is it organized? I’m open for suggestions.
First, let’s clear up my favorite bit of propaganda: Samhain is not named after the Druid god of death.
For one thing, the Druids didn’t have a god of death.
For another thing, the name means “summer’s end.”
So how did it get to be associated with death, Druid god or not?
Simple, Samhain is the final harvest, the last of the three harvest festivals. Anything left in the fields after this belonged to the Fey and could not be harvested, but more than that, this is when animals that would not be kept through the winter were slaughtered and their meat preserved for the coming months.
Granted, in modern times we don’t worry so much about laying in supplies for the winter (except in areas where it snows and the mention of a possible snowstorm sends people on a frantic run to the grocery store for bread, milk, eggs, and toilet paper), so Samhain has taken on a different emphasis.
The Veil Between the Worlds is at its thinnest (see earlier comment about not taking the Fey’s food) and some believe that the spirits of the dead come back to visit their loved ones at this time.
So, at Samhain, Pagans honor their dead. (Think of it as our Memorial Day: we honor the spirits of those who have passed through the Veil.)
We do this in various ways: the most common are to set an extra place at the table for them and to spend some time meditating and remembering them and their influence on our lives. Most of us also do some sort of divination now, although it doesn’t necessarily involve the spirits.
My own traditions for Samhain primarily revolve around a special meal with foods that (mostly) hold a special significance.
Ham: in honor of Cerridwen, Keeper of the Cauldron of Rebirth (and Inspiration), to Whom pigs were sacred and Who was known as “The Great Sow.” (It was not an insult – pigs were important.)
Along with the ham are potatoes, both white and sweet. Why? Well, I like potatoes. But also because they grow beneath the ground so have a connection to death and the underworld.
Dessert consist of chocolate cherry upside down cake and pecan pies. The pecan pies are in honor of my paternal grandfather as they were a favorite of his. (He also loved three bean salad but I can’t stand the smell of it, let alone the taste, so he has to make do with dessert if he visits.) And the chocolate cherry upside down cake because it is dark and sweet, and the red of the cherries on the near black of the cake is a reminder of the ancient association with death – blood spilled onto the earth. (Add a plop of whipped cream, though, and it has the three colors of the Goddess, which gives me an excuse to make it any time.)
What traditions do you have for Samhain? A special meal? A special ritual? If you don’t have any, why not start?