There is a 30 day Pagan journaling challenge for the month of September set up on Instagram and I thought it would be fun to do it – and would get me back into the swing of things as well.
And back into blogging here as I answer the posts. (I’m not much of an Instagram person.)
Today’s question is:
What is my favorite Sabbat? Why?
Yes, you read that right. Imbolc.
Not Autumn Equinox (even though fall is my favorite season) or Samhain or even Yule or Beltaine: Imbolc.
Because I like beginnings, and Imbolc is all about beginnings.
In my personal tradition, it’s the start of spring. (If Yule/Winter Solstice is “Mid-Winter” then it can’t also be the first day of winter. That falls to Samhain (“Summer’s End”) which makes Imbolc the start of spring and Ostara “Mid-Spring” and Beltaine the first of summer and Litha “Mid-Summer. Then the fall harvest season starts with Lugnassadh, then the Autumn Equinox (which really shouldn’t be called Mabon but that’s another story for another time) and finally Samhain, the final harvest.)
So, anyhow, Imbolc is the start of spring. The days are noticeably brighter than they were at Yule (although it’s not exactly any warmer here in Western Pennsylvania).
Still, Imbolc is full of possibility. The days are longer, and there’s a sense that spring, although still hidden, is coming soon.
Imbolc is also a weather marker. Also known as Candlemas, there is a rhyme for it:
“If Candlemas day be sunny and bright
Winter will have another flight.
But if Candlemas day be cloud and rain
Winter has gone and will not come again.”
(Unfortunately I don’t remember the source. I think maybe I read it in a Witch’s Almanac but I’m not sure. Or maybe The Pagan Book of Days.)
There’s a song called “Rolling World” that expresses it perfectly for me:
“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.”
(This is just a list of some of the main reasons (in no particular order) that I am glad that I found my way home to Paganism. Some of these will be discussed more fully in future blog posts. And I have little doubt that I’ll think of 10 more reasons as soon as this posts.)
1) Paganism honors the feminine: I don’t have to feel guilty, dirty, or unclean for being female. Nor do I have to feel that I am in some way “less” because I am a woman.
2) There is no “One True Right Way.” I never believed in proselytizing, even when I was a Christian. I always felt that missionaries going out and trying to force people to believe the same things they did was wrong. After all, their own beliefs had worked well for them for thousands of years – what hubris!
3) It gives me a sense of connection with the natural world. The endless turning of the Wheel of the Year, the cycles of the seasons, of the moon, of my life: they are all connected, and they are part of me and I am part of them
4) It gives me a sense of connection with Deity: The God and Goddess are here. They are in the world (They are the world) not outside of it somewhere. And because of that, because They are part of the world and so am I, I have a sense of connection with Them – everywhere and all the time – not just in church on Sundays.
5) Immediacy. Our God wasn’t born, didn’t live among us, didn’t die, didn’t disappear from Earth to dwell in Heaven. No, our God is born every year, He does live among us, He (as the vegetation god) does die/sacrifice himself, and He is born again to repeat the cycle. It’s not a one time thing and then gone: our God, like our religion, lives.
6) Paganism is not static or carved in stone. It’s a living religion, one that grows and evolves and adapts to a changing knowledge-base. I don’t need someone else to interpret “God’s Word” for me.
7) Paganism is not based in fear. I’m not going to burn in a fiery pit and cry and gnash my teeth for eternity. I don’t have to be perfect in this lifetime: I can – and will – come back again to learn new lessons. I’m not being judged for my actions and I don’t have to feel guilty, dirty, or unclean for being human. I don’t “fall short of the glory of God.”
8) Responsibility. I am responsible for my own actions and their consequences. And I have the power to create change in my life. Yes, there is the Law of Return, that what you send out comes back to you, but there is no one leading me astray: Satan is not part of Paganism, not part of our pantheons – he strictly belongs to the Judeo/Christian/Islamic tradition.
9) I don’t have to follow a set of rule written by men thousands of years ago. All I have to do to understand the laws of my religion is go out into the world and observe.
10) I don’t have to feel guilty, dirty, or unclean for having sexual thoughts or fantasies: sex is also natural, and part of the natural world. “Sex” seemed like a taboo word to me growing up, but The God and Goddess are not celibate.
On a (primarily) cross stitch related message board that I frequent, there is a handful of Pagans and we started a Daily Pagan thread. It’s marked as OT (Off Topic) and as REL(igious) in nature. All are welcome to come and read and ask questions, etc, but they need to expect that some things will be from a Pagan perspective. (Mostly we just talk about our day to day lives.)
One of our many lurkers posted that Summer Solstice always seemed to come too soon and then we begin to lose daylight. That got me started thinking…
One of my favorite things about Paganism is the Wheel of the Year, and the lessons that it teaches. Pagans know that just as the light doesn’t last forever, neither does the darkness.
And that led to the realization that the balance between dark and light is achieved not on the points of equality, but in the flow from one to another.
May we all find balance as the wheel turns.
It’s that time of year again… the start of summer.
This can be a rough Sabbat for a solitary, as the focus is so heavily on sexuality and lust and fertility and procreation. (In fact, being asexual in orientation, this really is the hardest Sabbat for me to get a handle on emotionally, and the hardest to connect with the energy of.)
But there are other forms of creation and passion besides sex.
Beltane might be a good time to plant a garden, weather permitting. Here in Western Pennsylvania the weather is almost reliable by Beltane: there may still be some frosts, but rarely freezes. (Although the way this year’s weather has been acting I wouldn’t be surprised to see snow!)
Do a ritual to honor the creative aspects of yourself. Do you do handcrafts? Write? Scrapbook? Draw/paint? Sculpt? Make jewelry? Spend some time with your creative pursuits — with your passions. Rekindle the flames of creativity and passion.
Want something more esoteric? Just as at Samhain, the Veil thins at Beltane, and it is said that the Fair Folk ride forth into our world. Perhaps leave something out to honor them and curry their favor?
And don’t forget to sing…
Emerald Rose: “Merry May Folk”
Damh the Bard: “Call the May”
Damh the Bard: “Under a Beltane Sun”
Damh the Bard: “Green and Grey”
I was beginning to think it would never come.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the changing of the seasons, and I think that winter has a special beauty that you don’t see in other seasons, but this one’s “special beauty” passed its prime long ago. We had over 20 inches of snow more than normal, and long streaks of abnormally cold (sub-zero) temperatures, unusual for Western Pennsylvania.
I am ready for spring.
Well, okay – spring started at Imbolc, according to the way that I see the Wheel, but it sure hasn’t been looking much like it around here.
We could still get some snow, even up into April isn’t unusual, but now the hours of daylight are going to outlast the hours of darkness. The earth is awakening and soon there will be flowers. And green!
But on the equinox itself, for a moment, day and night, lightness and darkness, will be equal, will hover briefly in balance.
That is, in part, what the equinox is about: balance, about finding it within ourselves so that we can live in and celebrate each moment, even as we remember and acknowledge that the wheel continues to turn, and that the only constant is change.
Meh… Enough with the philosophical stuff.
My plans are to maybe go out to the state park and walk along one of the trails, looking for signs of spring. (Depends on the weather and my knee.)
I’m also planning to cook ham and make deviled eggs. (Any excuse for deviled eggs!)
And I will spend some time meditating on balance, as I always do on equinoxes.
And this year I am feeling called to be more active, although I am not yet sure in what way.
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.
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!
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?
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.