Samhuinn 2014 Redux

Just when everyone is sick of Halloween posts in the blogosphere…here we go!

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Samhuinn and Alban Arthan are the two holy times that last more than a single day in my personal practice.  I’ve written about my extended Alban Arthan celebration before, but Samhuinn has been developing more slowly.  This year feels like it finally settled into a nice seven-day festival of ancestors and witchery.

October 30th: Pumpkin Night. Yeah, haven’t figured out a better name for this one yet. Basically it’s ritualized decorating and laying in supplies for Samhuinn itself. However, I’m much more likely to do it if there’s ritual involved! We have a small, tight knit neighborhood, so several household provide baked goods (even gluten free, dairy free versions!) for Halloweeners.  Definitely something I’d like to do for next year.  But this year was ritual prep, the brewing of Fire Cider against winter colds, dipping dried mullein in beeswax for tapers, and the annual Carving of the Pumpkin (which weighed more than my four-year-old).

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Big kitty, bigger pumpkin.

October 31st: Hunt’s Night. (And trick-or-treating if you have wee ones who engage in such shenanigans.)  After the kiddo is in bed, then the witchy fun begins!  The 31st begins a week of Wild Hunt work.  This has also been Cerridwen’s festival in my liturgical calendar for the past couple of years, but since Hekate has reasserted herself (as has the weird Rhiannon/Macha hybrid I’ve been wrestling with of late–more on that later), this may be the last time that I honor Taliesin’s mother at Samhuinn.  I’ve spent a year brewing the Awen under her guidance at the full moon, and I will likely continue with that devotional pattern.

November 1st: Ancestors of Blood. (Also, this year, group OBOD ritual.) Ruth Davis Bumgardner. George Hagen Bumgardner. George Ade Bumgardner. Vernida Bumgardner. Gerald Bumgardner. Ulysses S. G. Bumgardner. Robert McDonald. Catherine McDonald. Donald McDonald. Tom Hyde. Anne Corbet. This is when I try to do a dumb supper as well.

November 2nd: Ancestors of Spirit. Kent Redmond. Doris Redmond. Madeline Huber. Charles Huber. Les Eisner. Hildegarde von Bingen. Jeanne d’Arc. Bouadicca. Robert Graves. Bridgette of Kildare. Carl Jung. Karl Kerenyi. Seamus Heaney. J.R.R. Tolkein.

November 3rd: Ancestors of Place. Wachusett. The Nipmuc people. Brewer Brook. The Assabet River. Rice. Corn. Salmon. Pig. Lamb.  Also performed a release ceremony, shattering the tea pot that I gave my ex-husband at our wedding.

November 4th: Ancestors of Tribe. Ross Nichols (Nuinn). Iolo Morganwg. Margot Adler. William Stukeley. Gerald Gardner. William Butler Yeats. Bear. Stag. Hawk. Salmon. Taliesin.

November 5th: Guy Fawkes Day/Bonfire Night. The last night of lighting the jack-o-lantern–he goes in the compost heap or chicken run on the 6th. It’s also the last night of “official” Wild Hunt work for this season.

I left Samhuinn feeling very anchored in myself and my practice.  Which is a damned good thing since the next night was the full moon and the last part of the Cauldron Born rite that I started back in November of 2013. That, dear reader, is a tale for another time.

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Thoughts on Spirit Bottles and Reliquaries

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Spirit jar for A., the Strategist.

As many of you know, I’m a big fan of Jason Miller’s Strategic Sorcery course.  He has some great techniques and a sensible, straightforward syllabus that is an effective crash-course in magick and conjuration.  The lesson on spirit bottles is one of the most respectful approaches that I’ve seen, considering that many traditions have long and tangled histories around the practice.

One of the best things Miller does is get into the differences between local and non-local spirits, i.e., beings like the archangel Uriel vs. the nymph of a particular pine tree.  When making a spirit bottle or house for someone like Uriel, he’s so big there is absolutely no way that you’re actually going to cram all of him into that little bottle–no matter how good a mage you think you are.  What you can do is make a connection and give that non-local entity a foothold in your space so that you can develop a much deeper relationship.

Unfortunately, there is a very strong association with the term “spirit bottle” or “spirit house” and the practice of binding a spirit against its will to work for the sorceress. However, as Miller wisely points out, you really don’t want to trap a spirit in a bottle. If you’re good enough to actually pull that off, you’d have one extremely pissed off spirit on your hands. You’d be far better off performing a solid banishing ritual and pushing it out of your life completely. Why keep an enraged entity (who will eventually more than likely escape and wreak havoc on its jailor) in your space where it has a direct line to carry out its vengeance?

Not really smart when you think about it.

Then, there’s the simple matter of manners.  Speaking from my own limited experience, spirits do in fact have agency; they don’t necessarily want to sit around on your altar all day waiting for your requests. Treating a bottle or house as a place for an honored guest to visit is a much more hospitable approach; to say that the beings with whom I work are big on hospitality would be an understatement. When I use a spirit bottle, I’m seeking a contemplative relationship with the entity, rather than a power-over relationship.

Unsurprisingly, the baggage surrounding spirit bottle terminology has left me searching for another term. Dipping back into my early exposure to European Catholicism, I began to think of reliquaries. As a kid, I loved looking at the pretty boxes with the bones that were supposed to perform miracles. Looking at this practice now, from a polytheistic/animistic perspective, it’s a clear instance of ancestor veneration. (I’ve spoken with a couple of American Catholics who were frankly weirded out by the reliquary collections they’d seen in Europe, but I’d always found them rather comforting.  In fact, I still far prefer seeing a saint’s bones in a box to having to walk over their tomb markers on a cathedral floor. The latter has always felt disrespectful to me, and led to much hopping about trying to avoid stepping on various medieval cardinals interred beneath the pavers.)

Reliquaries do, in fact, serve a very similar function to spirit bottles, but with a very different set of expectations.  Often elaborate and opulent, reliquaries are at their simplest boxes with an object (relic) closely associated to a particular saint or miracle worker. That object is often a bone, but can also be a piece of clothing or hair. In short, it’s very similar magickal tech to a spirit house, which often includes items closely associated with the spirit’s nature, as well as tools for the spirit to carry out its work. Now, there is a difference in that certain types of spirits do not leave physical traces to include in a reliquary, but when working with plant and animal spirits, physical material is readily available.

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Materia magicka.

Thus far I have created one spirit bottle/reliquary (pictured above) for a non-Midgard being, A., from Miller’s personal grimoire.  There are tools and symbols inside the jar, as well as a map of where to extend his influence. On the outside of the container is a necklace with still more symbols of this being, which I wear when working with him in ritual.  The jar sits on my altar and once a week or so (more often if there’s other work to be done), I pour him out a libation.  He is fairly low-maintenance, and we both find the current arrangement satisfactory.

For spirits grounded in this world, I have materia for Turkey, Crow, Frog, Rabbit, Mugwort, and Datura.  I have not as yet designed the spirit boxes, but this may be a good Yuletide project–to reaffirm my connections with the genius locii of our land. (The other questions, of course, are of storage and display, and offering frequency. Making sure everyone is fed and happy can turn into a full time job if expectations are not made explicit at the outset of the relationship.  It’s also an argument in favor of not acquiring more allies than one can properly honor.)  Making the reliquaries is a slow process, both in terms of physical assembly and putting the whammie on the final product. Still, it’s one of the most worth-while magickal processes I’ve engaged in.

To conclude, one the the main reasons I consider myself a Druid is because of the emphasis on being in right relationship–with our ancestors, our landwights, our gods, our bodies, and our communities. Druid magick, in my opinion, needs to reflect this fundamental principle. Wyrd runs thickly throughout our lives, connecting us in ways that may remain hidden for years or even lifetimes.  Reliquaries offer a way to emphasize major nexuses in the web where our threads cross those of other beings, points that we can reinforce through right action and ritual. Eventually, with enough time and work, each nexus brightens until it illuminates other surrounding threads in our wyrd–ones which would otherwise be beyond our sight.

 

Meditation Mondays

14448002180_47f1e79874_nWhew. It has not been a good couple of weeks for meditating.

In fact, I had an eight-day lapse.

I’d love to be able to blame ECG for disrupting my rhythm, and maybe I can on some level (despite the fact that I engaged in several wonderful guided meditations that weekend), but I only have myself to hold responsible for not reestablishing my practice.

Rather than beat myself up about the gap, however, it will likely be more productive to strategize about how to get back into the swing of things. First things first: see how bad things actually are.

  • Didn’t meditate/record meditation from 9/26-10/3
  • Still have managed to have at least 20 minutes a week, however.
  • Despite all this, September was one of my best months for sheer time (150 mins) spent meditating that I’ve had.

So maybe things aren’t as bleak as all that. One of the advantages of the timer app is that it holds me accountable.  One of the disadvantages is that my inner perfectionist wants to give up at the first sign of possible failure.  Sounds like it’s time to remind the perfectionist that even someone who fails is still worthy of love.

Now, to boil some water and steep some meditation tea.

Paths Between the Pillars

prayer1-277x300I’m about to let you in on one of my dirty little secrets.

Back in high school, and even college, I was “blessed” with the ability to be good in just about any area I chose. I became very used to success: being concert master of not one but two high school orchestras, getting into the college of my choice, getting grants to fund my studies, graduating from said college (one of the Seven Sisters) magna cum laude with departmental honors. Chalk it up to my double Capricorn nature, but I love titles. If I believed in sin, this would probably be one of mine. I’m driven by a (often unhealthy) need to be the best, running at the front of the pack.

Now, at the ripe ol’ age of 32, I’ve been forced to confront that this is not the reality of my life. I do many things well, but I’m not a leader. Not any more.

I’m an awesome beta.

You need a ritual written? Let me get out my pen. You need some props for a ceremony? Hold on, I’ve got some papier mache, duct tape, and extra fabric around here somewhere. You need a divination about your job? I have my cards right here. A protection charm? Let me get my origami paper. How about an editor? I can do that, too. Let me support you in your vision, let me help you create something magical, wonderful, grand. Hel, I can even delegate on good days.

Sometimes, I’d like to think I could be a priest, maybe when I’ve grown up a little more–maybe even clergy. The question is, how much of this comes from a desire to help and serve others, and how much is because “clergy” is seen as the “terminal degree” in the land of Paganistan. (See? There’s that darned Capricorn tendency again.)  It’s a rough and ugly question to ask, but if you’re not asking it of yourself, and you’re on a cleric’s path…well, frankly, you’re not a person I’d want mediating between me and my gods. Nornoriel Lokason wrote a great piece on boundaries and belonging. The following quote particularly struck me:

It is unrealistic to expect and *demand* that everybody immolate their entire beings and become some robot-priest/ess where their entire life is about the gods. This is why there are too many people who feel inadequate as laypeople, by the way, because some folks pontificating from on high are calling for standards that would be taxing even for full-time dedicated priests, never mind Average Jane or Joe.  There’s something to be said about having a work/life balance, and the sort of devotionalism in others that inspired me some years ago now admittedly squicks me the fuck out, because it looks extremely unbalanced, unhealthily so.

That sort of fanatical, “look at meeee!” devotionalism is hurtful, not only to the attention seekers themselves, but to those who would draw inspiration from their experiences. Public displays of piety polarize Pagans and Polytheists into those who would be king, I mean, clergy, and the rest of us hoi polloi. These are not leaders elected out of love by their communities. These are self-proclaimed hierophants, whose One True Way smacks of the worst qualities of paternalistic Evangelical  Protestantism.  It’s a crying shame, because the devotional path could have been viable for the lay person, a way to be close to the gods without having to serve anyone other than oneself and maybe one’s family. That’s not the tenor of the most recent conversations, though, and it’s the reason why I break out in spots at the phrase “devotional Polytheist.” Devotion is quickly becoming the purview of so-called priests, leaving the rest of us where, precisely?

I don’t know that I can truly offer any solutions to the disease of devotion. Perhaps it’s all just semantics, but more and more “devotion” has come to mean an all-consuming obsession with the gods, to the exclusion of a balanced and healthy lifestyle. For my own practice, I use the term “veneration” or “adoration” to describe what I do. When I venerate my ancestors of blood and soul, I invite them into my life to participate in my world as it is, complete with children, pets, housemates, and neighbors. I adore my gods, experience ecstasy with my spirits, all within the container of this very real, very mundane existence.

Blogging and social media create difficulties for the ego. “Likes” and comments and followers create a subconscious popularity contest.  Self-worth becomes attached to the approval of strangers sitting on the other side of the webs of light that connect our keyboards and screens to one another. Maybe inherent nature of the blogosphere itself is one reason why again and again issues are couched in terms of either/or, black/white, chicken/fish. I’ve got to believe there’s another road between the two pillars of “priest” and “lay.”  Maybe there’s a whole highway system in there, just waiting to be discovered. We’re Pagans. We’re Polytheists. We can break the binary patterns of our mother culture and create a true plurality of belief and praxis.

There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground; there are a thousand ways to go home again. ~Rumi

Make Like a Crane

Happy Vernal Equinox! I think I heard the first “official” spring peeper this morning. However, being one of those snow-lovers, it’s been bitter-sweet to watch the glaciers recede in parking lots and on lawns. Their retreat leaves behind all manner of debris, a miniature echo of the glacial processes of the last ice ages. The archaeologist in me wonders what the current glacial retreat will reveal–probably not the plastic shovels and swords of the early 21st century, but maybe still something interesting.

Since I’m traveling, I won’t be dyeing eggs like I had planned (that’ll be next week), but I will be outside, standing on one foot with one arm behind my back and one eye closed, in balance at the moment of balance.

Blessed Ostara!

Strategic Sorcery Homework #5

I’ve been able to astral project/journey since I was 10 or 11. It’s sort of a combination of “get-up-and-go” and “elevating,” and it was very interesting to read about other techniques. It was really great to hear that you should never lose a vague awareness of the physical body—in fact, this was the reason that for years I thought I was “doing it wrong”! So thank you, Mr. Miller, for your detailed explanation and “myth-busting” sections in this lesson.

I tried the tactile repetition method, which I found most useful when I was working in my permanent sacred space. Handling my tools created a nice pull for my focus. I did a simple trip to my outdoor grove in the conservation land behind my house. I played with floating a bit, something I don’t usually indulge in, which was enjoyable. One thing I’ve noticed is that colors (in this world at least) are always somewhat muted. This doesn’t necessarily hold true for visiting other planes, however.