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?
I am writing this blog post as a thank you.
As some of you know, on August 31st I became unemployed, walking away from a job that I loved because there were just too many red flags being waved at me regarding the company that was taking over medical services at the jail where I worked.
It wasn’t an easy decision. I cried. I waffled, changing my mind on a nearly hourly basis for two weeks. And with every change of my mind I cried some more.
And I prayed.
And every answer I got said to leave. The answers were soft, gentle, subtle: song lyrics that struck home and echoed in my head all day, a whisper of a breeze, a touch of the sun, a knowing that came from seemingly nowhere…
And every time that I made up my mind to leave, I felt a huge sense of peace.
But then fear intruded, and I waffled some more. What if I couldn’t get unemployment? What if I couldn’t find a new job in time to pay the rent after my savings ran out? What if, what if, what if?
I was torn, and the stress was making me physically ill.
But as much as I feared the what ifs, and as much as I knew that I would miss everything about my job, the thought of staying made me feel sick. I had no trust in the things the new company was telling us.
But I also seemed to have no trust in myself to listen to the subtle messages that I was receiving. (I trust my gods, I just didn’t trust that I was hearing Their voices and not my own.)
And then came a series of “last straws” that pushed me into my final decision.
And when the decision was finally made and my key and badge were turned in, the tears that night were not of regret for my decision or for fear of the future: they were tears of loss – I was going to miss that job. (And I still do.)
The decision to leave was the right one.
My stress level (which had been unbelievably high) dropped almost immediately.
And from what I’ve heard from former co-workers who stayed, it was an even bigger mess than I had thought it was going to be. More people have left and more are looking to leave.
September 1st was my first day of unemployment.
October 1st I got a phone call that I had been hired for a job that I had interviewed for last week.
A job that is closer to home and pays better.
It’s different than anything I have ever done before, and I am scared, but this time, around the small brief stabs of fears and self-doubt, and the occasional what ifs, there is an insulating layer of trust.
My gods have led me here, to this new place, this new experience. They have cleared the path and lit the way for me. How can I do anything but follow where They lead, singing in praise and gratitude?
I am blessed.
And I am thankful.
The fall equinox is this weekend, the second of the three harvest festivals of the Wheel of the Year. It is a time to look at what we have harvested in our lives, to give thanks for abundance, to celebrate the fruits of our labors.
But it’s more than just a harvest festival: it is also the equinox, a time when day and night are equal. To me it almost feels as if the Wheel pauses for a moment, giving us a chance to catch our breath before rolling us into the dark part of the year.
The equinoxes always lead me to think about balance, and how to achieve it in my daily life.
It isn’t easy. I always seem to be juggling too many things: work (or the search for it, currently), my spiritual life, home and housework, my creativity (writing and counted cross stitch). Inevitably it seems that one or more of these ends up taking a back seat to the others.
Lately I have been able to devote more attention to my spirituality, thanks in part to this blog: posting every week does wonders for focusing on a subject.
And not working helps: it’s a lot easier to focus on spiritual matters when the mundane isn’t dragging you here and there and everywhere in a mad rush to get somewhere. (My challenge is to maintain that focus when I go back to work.)
There is also the ever-present challenge of my creative pursuits, primarily writing and counted cross stitch. I need to learn to type with my toes so I can do both at once, but since that isn’t likely to happen, I would ideally love to find a way to feel like I am making progress on both crafts. (We won’t discuss the other crafts that I also never seem to have enough time for: scrapbooking, dollhouses/miniatures, jewelry making, etc.)
And, of course, the guilt that there are so many other things that need to be done, that I should be doing instead…
I could, I suppose, make a schedule of sorts, but that feels too regimented and forced and compartmentalized. And not balanced.
For me, true balance means that all aspects of my life are united, that I’m not feeling pulled in different directions, guilted into doing this or that or the other.
But I’m not even sure if true balance is obtainable. After all, the Wheel only pauses: it doesn’t remain poised on border between light and dark, and that’s not the lesson that it teaches.
No, the lesson of the Wheel is that there is always movement – but we always return to balance.
Sometimes you can find unexpected bits of wisdom in unexpected places. Poetry, for instance. And especially in the words of one of my favorite poets, William Wordsworth.
Say what? Isn’t he some old dead dude?
Well, yes. He died in 1850, but his words ring true to the Pagan soul. Don’t believe me? Have you ever read “The Tables Turned”?
Don’t care to wade through the whole thing? Have a few excerpts:
(Note: emphases are mine.)
Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.
And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.
She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Seriously. How many Pagans do you know who can quote long passages from many books on the Craft or religion or whatever, but who never venture out into nature, who have never sat next to a stream to hear its song, have never merged their energy with a tree, or grounded into a boulder?
Or maybe they’ve gone out, but have never taken the time to notice what is all around them, have never thanked the sun and breeze for their caresses, have never smiled at the flash of color as a bird flits across the path in front of them, and never stopped to ponder the message that they have been given?
Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.
We tend, I think, to over-think. Maybe it’s the nature of our world today, but many seem unable to just to accept what is. We have to murder it, tear it apart, shape it to our will. And in the process, we destroy the very thing that makes us whole.
Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.
First of all, non-Pagans reading this may be asking themselves about the title of the post. After all, it is fairly safe to assume that I am not an inanimate object. (At least, most of the time that’s a safe assumption.) The title refers to Pagans who are not (or cannot be) open about their beliefs – they are said to be in the broom closet.
Why can’t you be open about your beliefs?
Lots of reasons, but the main one is fear. Fear of harassment, job loss, eviction, loss of friends and family, persecution… When I first started on my path, many, many years ago, Wicca was not nearly as well-known as it is now, and a lot of people (maybe even most) were afraid of serious repercussions if anyone found out that they practiced “witchcraft” or followed a Pagan path. People lost jobs, homes, even custody of their children in divorce cases simply because of their religion.
Things have changed (are changing) but those fears were (and still are) valid – in some places more than others. Coming out is still a risk, and I don’t fault those who stay in the closet – it’s a scary world out here at times, and the laws don’t necessarily always protect your rights.
So, why come out of the broom closet at all?
For me, it began to feel false to hide my beliefs, to hide who and what I was. I felt as if I was denying my religion, denying the legitimacy of it. Or that I was ashamed of what I was. Staying in the broom closet sends a message – to our own subconscious as well as to other people – that we are doing something wrong, or shameful, something that has to be hidden away.
Those things did not sit well with me, so I began sneaking out of the broom closet on occasion, starting with wearing a pentacle. And despite living in a small town in Pennsylvania nothing drastic happened.
Yes, there is a risk in being open. But there is also a risk in staying in the broom closet: inside the broom closet nothing ever changes. Those changes I mentioned above? They didn’t come from people in closets. Change only happens if people make it happen.
People who choose to stay in the broom closet can still make a difference. They can still work semi-anonymously, behind the scenes: writing letters, donating money, spreading the word of injustices…
But people are afraid of what they don’t understand, and by hiding in the broom closet others don’t get to know that Pagans are people just like them. They think that they don’t know anyone like that, and that Pagans are strange and different and evil and spooky and… you know the stereotype.
Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but so far, the worst I’ve had to deal with is some mockery. I welcome sincere questions but I do have a co-worker who crossed the line a few times. I finally said “I don’t mock your religion. Please extend the same courtesy to mine.” He looked surprised – maybe even shocked – but I haven’t had any problems with him since then.
So, I’m out of the broom closet, but I don’t make a big deal of it: being out of the broom closet doesn’t mean being obnoxious and in –your-face. I wear my pentacle openly and I’m always willing to answer questions, but I don’t go around saying, “Hi! I’m a Pagan!” After all, it’s just who and what I am. Besides, other people don’t go around saying, “Hi! I’m a Christian!” (Or Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.)
For the most part I’ve had a “don’t ask don’t tell” kind of attitude. (If you don’t ask I won’t tell.) Some of that has probably been pretty much blown by my posting this blog to my FaceBook feed, not to mention all the posts from Pagan groups that I’ve liked or shared. People who didn’t ask and who I didn’t tell are now probably aware that I follow a different religion.
And you know what? I’m okay with that. If other people can post openly about their beliefs, so can I. And if they are offended by what I post, then they need to look within themselves and ask why they feel threatened by my beliefs.
And if they want to block me or unfriend me because of my religion, that’s fine too. I don’t need their approval and I am not going back into the broom closet.
I am a person.
I am a Pagan.
I am a Witch.
But I am not a broom.
I love synchronicity. So often it seems that I’ll be thinking about a subject, or talking about it with a friend, and suddenly that same topic seems to turn up in half a dozen different ways in vastly different areas of my life.
The two current topics are finding time for spirituality, which has been cropping up a lot for the last month or so, and, more recently, the use of magic.
And, oddly, the two are related.
When I first started on my path, I did a lot of energy work, both with and without crystals. Healing, shielding, meditation… all were part of my daily life. And I cast a circle for every Esbat (full moon ritual, for the non-Pagans who might be reading) and Sabbat (our eight “holy days” (in quotes, because all days are holy – or should be) that mark the turning of the Wheel of the Year.)
And I used magic. I used it to clear negativity from my home and to keep it a safe haven. I used it to clear my own emotions. I used it to help in job-hunting.
I was open to energy and magic and my life was full of wonder and connectedness.
And then… something happened.
I’m not sure what, or why, but it seems as if I sort of… stopped… working.
My Esbats and Sabbats became more informal. I rarely if ever cast a circle or even had cakes and ale. They became more of a mental exercise, a meditation on the meaning and event.
And slowly the magic in my life began to fade away.
And I want it back.
“As above, so below,
As within, so without,
As the body, so the soul.”
Somehow I had forgotten the connection: that what we do on this plane ripples into the others.
I always felt that magic was secondary to the religious and spiritual aspect of my path, but now I am beginning to realize how completely intertwined they are. When one of them fades – becomes less important in your life – the other fades away as well. And when I let magic fade — because it was the religion that was important — ritual observances faded away as well, because, after all, it’s what’s in the heart that matters most, right?
I’ve been feeling as if I’ve lost my way, and now I’m beginning to see why: it’s not magic OR religion, it’s magic AND religion. And with that realization came the understanding of how to get back on track.
I need to get back to basics, to bring the spiritual into the physical. That was sort of the point of this blog – that spiritual life was taking second place to physical life and I wanted to correct that, to bring spirituality back into my life.
But I’ve been going about it the wrong way: instead of trying to bring the spiritual into the physical, I need to start by taking the physical into the spiritual.
“As the body, so the soul.”
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a ritual to see to…
So, I had a week off work.
And it was wonderful. Relaxing. Non-stressful. I got a fair amount of things done.
I made one carnivorous and three regular terrariums.
I did some stitching (counted cross stitch) and kitted up a couple more charts.
I did some writing. (Not as much as I wanted or needed to, though – I need to kick myself back into gear for that or this series will never get finished, let alone get finished by the end of the year.)
I completed a bunch of small but time-consuming projects. (And kept moving a few others further down the list.)
I made some small progress in the chaos in my room. I’m not exactly seeing the light at the end of the tunnel yet, but at least I’m aware that there’s an actual tunnel and not a painting by Wile E. Coyote.
And most importantly I have taken a few minutes each morning before starting my day to spend time opening up to the gifts of the Gods and to thank Them.
And I have remembered – or been reminded – how much that helps.
I work in a jail. Not exactly the most relaxing, peaceful, or spiritual place on the planet, but it’s a wonderful place to learn. (And you probably don’t really want to know some of the things that I’ve learned there!)
I find that my day goes much better if I take time, either while walking from the parking garage to the entrance, or before getting out of my car, to ask that the Gods, especially Apollo and Hermes, be with me through my day. (Sometimes I feel the need for Athena or Ares, but usually Apollo and Hermes.)
What do I pray for?
I ask that Apollo fill me with His presence so that my presence may be one of warmth, healing and enlightenment to all with whom I come in contact. And I ask for protection, spiritual as much as physical. And I give thanks for the reminder – a shaft of sunlight, a brush of breeze – that I am not alone, that my Gods are there with me. And I ask Hermes to guide me safely through the darkness and back into the light so that I don’t lose my way.
Those brief moments before I enter the doors help me find my center – and make it easier to return to it when it gets lost during the demands of my job.
And when I step outside again at the end of my shift those few moments taken hours before make it easier to leave the darkness of the spirit behind me.
Tomorrow is Lughnassadh. I can’t believe that it’s here already – the first harvest.
And I have to ask – what have I harvested lately? Sometimes I feel as if my spirituality falls by the wayside in the midst of day-to-day life. I mean, I work full-time, work on novel-writing on a daily basis, and have other hobbies, as well: counted cross stitch, miniatures (I’m remodeling a doll house, and have others to assemble and do from scratch – as soon as I create enough room in my craft room to work on them), terrariums, houseplants in general, scrapbooking (well, as soon as I create enough room to spread all of that out, as well – right now I’m better at collecting stuff for scrapbooking than I am at actually making them, although I have several planned: one for my poetry, one for poems that I like that were written by other people, a Scrapbook of Shadows, etc).
So, yeah – my life is crazy at times, but it took an email from a friend of mine (Stevie Miller) to pin it down for me.
I had invited her to get together for a write in, and she agreed because, since we would be writing it wouldn’t violate her new rule. I had apparently missed her Facebook post so she emailed it to me:
“I’ve come to a realization that my life is getting too crazy lately. I’m so over-committed that I don’t have time to do the most important things in my life, namely making art and spending time on my spirituality.
This came to my attention first when I read an awesome article called “Creative People Say No” (I sent her that article.) I read this fantastic piece, and then I decided ok, I’m declaring an “art weekend” for myself the first weekend I have available, and I will not allow anything else to intrude on it. Then I saw that the first weekend I had available was a month away. And I still ended up committing myself to something for the Friday of that weekend, despite my best intentions.
It came to my attention again this weekend when I kept trying to pray right before falling asleep in bed (the only free time I had) and I kept falling asleep in the middle of my prayers.
It came to my attention again today when I wanted to spend some time with my sister and I realized the earliest free date I could offer her was September 20th. And it’s only July now!
Clearly declaring one “art weekend” is not going to cut it when art is my chosen way of life. And clearly saying a few hurried prayers right before I pass out at night is not going to be spiritually fulfilling for me.”
Her post went on to say that she was declaring a moratorium on new commitments until October.
And her post made me think. I’m good at guarding my writing time, and my alone time. But I’m not so good at guarding my spiritual space.
I do think about my path on a daily basis, but actual practice? That is often confined to Pagan music in my CD player in my car and prayers said while driving. And I hate that. I hate the idea that I am multi-tasking my religion. It’s not right.
So, instead of cutting something out of my life, I’m adding something in – namely, this blog. I had started it ages ago but never kept it up, and that is changing today.
I will be making weekly posts (Wytchy Wednesdays) to talk about… well, stuff. Whatever has wandered through my head during the week, or progress on daily goals for making my spiritual path as important as my creative ones – including decluttering my way to my altar, and daily morning prayers that occur before I get breakfast and get online or into a novel.
I’d love to hear from my fellow Pagans about their daily practices. What do you do? How well do you do at keeping them up? How and when do you find time?
And I don’t mean just the little things, like dedicating a task to a specific deity, or meditating while, say, repotting plants (guess what else is on my agenda for today?) but setting aside time on a daily basis, whether to light incense and a candle, pray, meditate… I’m open to suggestions and ideas.
Meanwhile, be blessed, and blessed be.