Different Strokes — And Different Dates

Happy Halloween!

It seems I’m one of the few pagans who celebrates Samhain on November 1, not October 31. I can see the appeal of just dubbing Halloween Samhain (and why one might do it), but I like to spread out my fun, you see? My favorite day of the year is still Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day, because I love the anticipation. Even as a little kid, I preferred the night before. I like the magic and mystery of waiting. Halloween is my Samhain Eve.

Nowadays, I think the better Catholic-calendar metaphor is Mardi Gras before Ash Wednesday: Halloween is the party before Samhain’s solemn day of remembrance. Halloween night, we revel in the delicious fear and wonder of a thin veil, and on Samhain we honor those on the other side.

What do you think? Any other Samhain oddballs out there?

Samhain 2012

I haven’t been posting much here lately (I’ve been busy with other druidy things, I swear!), but I will say that our grove had a lovely Samhain celebration tonight. I love the dark half of the year rituals when it’s cold and afterward everyone huddles around the fire chatting and eating home-cooked food. I loved our ancestor altar tonight, set aside in a pavilion away from the ritual area, hung with veils of tulle and lit with dozens of candles. I also love it when the tulle catches on fire and I have to bound across the pavilion saying, “Sorry, but FIRE! FIRE!” and then we team up to put out the fire–and then we move on. I love when everyone does their best and is focused and supportive of everyone else. I love it when we all wear our cloaks. I love it when everyone takes a semi-negative omen seriously and pulls together to make things right with the Kindred. I love it when we sing with gusto, if not well. I love it when we giggle over the waters of life because it’s just so marvelous that we’re receiving the blessing–and it helps that the alcohol warms us up after we’ve been shivering for 45 minutes! I love it when birds or bugs start singing and we all catch each others’ eyes and grin. I even love it when the fireworks go off at the stadium when ritual falls on game nights, because the fireworks always seem perfectly timed.

I love it when it’s just so real, and I come home so aglow that it takes me hours to fall asleep.

I love being a druid.

Happy Lughnasadh

I’m celebrating today with a trip to the gym, a trip to the fair, some harvesting work in my garden, and a summery feast of homemade black bean burgers, corn bread, summery salads, and zucchini bread for dessert. Yummy.

garden goodies

Heirloom brandywine tomatoes, yellow cherry tomatoes, and inexplicably tiny sweet peppers.

 

 

Nom. Happy harvesting, everyone.

Samhain 2011

Well, it’s taken me awhile, but I’m finally writing up our Samhain ritual!

Black Bear Grove celebrated Samhain on November 5 — I did my own personal Samhain ritual the night of October 31. I want to write about the grove ritual, though. It was, as I’m sure you readers are becoming accustomed to hearing, amazing.

I will try–for the sake of my eventual DP documentation reviewers–not to give a lengthy blow-by-blow. I really do want to write up every bit, though! :) The deities of the occasion were Donn and the Morrigan, the Gatekeeper was Manannan Mac Lir, and the Bardic Inspiration was Brighid. Seven people attended, including myself.

For bardic inspiration, a friend of the grove played a song and read some poetry. To attune the grove, a senior druid had us join hands and sing, one by one, around the circle, “I am, you are, we are one.” That part was especially beautiful.

For my part, I called Manannan as the Gatekeeper. (The druid in charge offered to let me have that role — we share Manannan as a patron, so I was touched that I got to call him.) I led the group in a meditation, asking them to imagine themselves on a misty seashore, facing west. I asked them to focus on the light of a loved one they have lost, to feel that person’s (or animal’s!) presence across the veils. I then had everyone pour a bit of saltwater, simultaneously representing their tears of grief and the waters of the ocean, into the well, and speak the name of their loved one. After that, I called Manannan and we sang him across the ocean with the Manannan Chant from the ADF website.

For the Morrigan, a friend of the grove led us in a meditation on the Great Queen and her power as warrior. She had us call up phantom armor, and she drew war paint–unique for each of us–on our faces. She also did an interesting bit where she dedicated her heart’s blood to the Morrigan (using wine poured over her hands), and washed it away, symbolic of the Morrigan’s role in death and rebirth. As i said in my post about the Morrigan, a crow called all through the working and ended up in our World Tree. I felt so called by the Morrigan that I made this doll this week. (She’s next to a soda can to give a sense of scale — tiny!)
DSCN1459

As the grove working, we had the usual ancestor altar with personal offerings and candles lit for loved ones. I won’t go into that too much because I think it was very personal, powerful, and private for us as a grove. The druid in charge then led us in a detailed omen for the year going forward, as well as looking back at the previous year–and we received great omens.

I’m going to branch out a little bit this time and offer an opinion on why the last two rituals were so powerful and so beautiful. We’ve had a dedicated core group of people, and with each ritual everyone has stepped up and really branched out in their workings. No longer are we all just making speeches. Now everyone is drawing the others into an active role in ritual and calling the deities to work with us in a very real way. It creates a pervasive and affecting sense of magic and harmony, both within the grove and reaching out to the numinous beings.

After the ritual, the senior druid present asked me to officially join the grove. I said yes. :)

Fall Equinox 2011

Or, as we celebrated it, Vinalia Rustica — slightly belated.

I’ve been MIA for awhile, I realize. My grandmother passed away the last week of August — and the very same week, my fiance’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. A funeral and then a week with my future in-laws to help them out post-mastectomy, followed by a sinus infection and bronchitis, and, well, I haven’t done much of anything for awhile.

Anyway, I did make it out last Saturday (September 17) for the Black Bear Grove fall equinox celebration. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, but I’ve enjoyed each celebration with this grove more than the last one.

We had tentatively planned to celebrate an Etruscan hearth culture (How cool would that be?), but upon learning that a true ADF priest would be attending our rite, we opted to celebrate the Roman early harvest/wine festival Vinalia Rustica, which honored Jupiter and Venus. Those were the deities of the occasion, with Pomona as Earth Mother, Bacchus as Bardic Inspiration, and Silvanus as Gatekeeper.

I’m going to skip the blow-by-blow this time in favor of describing a few parts of the ritual in detail.

For my part, I invited Bacchus. Our druid in charge really wanted to make a good impression on the visiting ADF priest, so she asked us to go all out in our roles… I did. I dressed as a maenad and literally shouted when calling Bacchus. This is unusual for me, because I’m typically petrified with stage fright, and I had written no words prior to the ritual. I gave myself to the moment. I called Bacchus, asking him why he had led his devoted follower to this strange wood, to these strange Romans who were most oddly dressed. I told him they needed bardic inspiration, and then, at his behest, I “initiated” them into the cult of Bacchus by showing them the mystery.

The mystery was a turkey baster painted as a phallus and filled with honey. (Oh yes I did.) “May your tongue be honeyed,” I said, and gave them all a drop of honey. “And may your words flow like wine.” I gave them a cup of wine to wash down the honey. I also gave them a circus animal cookie to rend with their teeth in lieu of rending a living animal (or human!) as a true maenad would.

It went over quite well. I got a few laughs and loosened everyone up, which was the goal after all. Bardic inspiration is, in part, being relaxed and letting the magic of the ritual flow through you. I’m not sure the ADF priest approved, but my grovemates did, and that’s what matters.

I also want to discuss the group working, which was truly something else. The druid in charge for this ritual is… well, she’s special. I’ll say that. A  truly remarkable person. She’s about eight months pregnant, and she invoked the Earth Mother. I helped her get set up on a blanket under a cliff at the site, and she sat up there and called us each to her individually. As Earth Mother, she presented us each with a grape and reminded us that though the seasons change and the darkness comes, we now harvest the fruit of our efforts, and the warm riches of the summer will sustain us through the winter. She had us each draw a stone as a personal omen, which we then kept as a gift from the Earth Mother.

Mine was blue lace agate, a stone of tranquility, protection, and spiritual communication.

This ritual was utterly uplifting.

About 14 people attended, which is huge for a smallish grove. We had a lot of visitor participation, as well, which is always heartening.

In short, I feel blessed this harvest season. And really excited for Samhain.

Lughnasadh 2011

I think each progressive High Day has been better than the last.

I celebrated with Black Bear Grove again, and had a wonderful time. We honored Lugh and his foster mother, Tailtiu. The gatekeeper was the gatekeeper of Tara encountered by Lugh and the bardic inspiration the Dagda.

That sounds pretty basic for a Lughnasadh ritual, I realize. So what made this one special? Well, for one, the druid in charge completely flubbed the core order of ritual. He got so wrapped up the statement of purpose and the story of Lugh that he went directly into our group working, calling on Lugh to bless the various tools we’d all brought, and we skipped, well, everything else. We went on, of course, to establish the sacred center, call the Kindreds, and do our personal workings. I think the DIC was embarrassed to have forgotten so much, but as another grove member pointed out, we had gotten into such a great groove and raised such potent magic already that it didn’t matter that it was all out of order. The COoR is great, obviously, but I saw during that the ritual that the magic exists outside of the COoR, and when it takes over, it’s best to go where it takes you.

There were two guests (besides myself) who were new and had actually driven more than an hour to come to the ritual. They fit in well, I thought, and had actually brought offerings and tools for the working, which is rare in an out-of-town guest.

For my part of the ritual, I honored the Earth Mother and Tailtiu. I’m starting to feel more comfortable speaking in front of others. I also didn’t have time to memorize anything this time because of an illness in the family, but I’m starting to see the value of speaking in the moment. I’d done my research, planned more or less what I wanted to say, and I just let the energy of the ritual do the rest.

All of the spontaneity this time was really special and gave the ritual a relaxed, natural feeling. The grove member who called the gatekeeper had us do a visual exercise to imagine him, the grove attunement was more interactive than usual, and even I had everyone make an offering to the Earth Mother… We were all more involved, more invested, and I think a small part of that is because we were all flying by the seat of our pants, so to speak.

After the ritual, the grove held its fifth annual Lughnasadh games, which included spear-throwing (at a Fomorian target!), trying to strike Balor in his eye with a slingshot (which I actually did, and won that contest!), throwing of heavy things (at which I failed dismally), a blindfolded throwing contest, and “quest,” which was a race to build a fire of a certain height.

Very fun, and a wonderful experience.

Beetles, Bugs, and Toads

Or… a Summer Solstice celebration!

I celebrated with Black Bear Grove on Saturday and had a lovely, wonderful time. I feel very grateful to have found a grove where I feel welcome and comfortable. I am painfully shy by nature, even after years of working as a newspaper reporter, so I have a hard time feeling at home with a group of semi-strangers.

Anyway. For the celebration itself, we did an ADF-style ritual in a Norse hearth culture. The deities of the day were Mani (the moon god) and Sol (sun goddess). The Earth Mother was Nerthus, who was covered throughout the ritual and set sail on the lake after we were through. The Gatekeeper was Hermod, and the god called for bardic inspiration was Bragi.

For our group working, we danced the sun on her way with a free form dance around the fire, stopping after each repetition of a chant to represent the solstices. Here is the chant:

Sun is the shield of the clouds
Shining ray, destroyer of ice
Sun is the light of the world
Burn away the dark, burn away the dark.

The omens were  Gebo (gift), from the ancestors; Mannaz (mankind), from the nature spirit; and Ingwaz (fertility) from the deities. The seer for the day interpreted these as an excellent omen: Our sacrifices were accepted, the kindred are communicating with us, and we will see a good harvest from what we have sown in the spring.

I felt that this ritual went much more smoothly (at least for me) than the Beltane ritual did. I felt more confident and more comfortable, and it was so well-organized that it was almost seamless. Well done to the Druid in Charge.

For myself, I was almost painfully nervous. I volunteered to call Mani, and wrote and memorized what I would say ahead of time, but I have such terrible stage fright that my knees were trembling before my part came. But in spite of my nerves, all was well. I spoke my part smoothly and confidently.

I’m starting to really feel at home. A grove member gave me a wonderful compliment before we parted ways, and I’m starting to feel like a part of the gang. I feel blessed.

And as for the beetles, bugs, and toads? A massive black beetle landed on my shoulder during the ritual. I am normally terrified of creepy-crawlies (I know, I know, talk about girly, but I can’t help it), but I swallowed my girlish screams and put him on a log nearby where he was oooh-ed and ahhh-ed over by the less bug-frightened grovies. There were mosquitoes galore, as my ankles attest today, tiny ticks, which I escaped, and many tiny toads smaller than my fingernail that we all cooed over. The nature spirits were most definitely present.