Further Down The Path (Weeks 11 – 14)

For the weeks of June 17th to July 15th

Nature Awareness

I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately.

Dead leaves and cobwebs cause the forest to vibe with Samhain and not Lughnasadh.

Dead leaves and cobwebs cause the forest to vibe with Samhain and not Lughnasadh. (Photo taken with my iPhone).

The green of spring is fading to golden yellow, and all too soon, everything will be brown. The leaves are still vibrant in the trees but the Earth is cracking like baked clay. These familiar paths where grass once grew are now barren, the stalks turned to hay now disintegrating underfoot. I still walk these paths, noting the changes, photographing the same trees as the Wheel of the Year turns. I try not to miss too many days between visits; one blink and everything has changed.

The salmon berries are done and now the forest is dotted with the deep red of thimble berries and inky dark blackberries. As I walk the trails I gorge myself on these forest gifts. But, remembering the birds and beasts of the land (as well as the plant’s need to spread it’s seeds), I leave some behind, both on the bushes as well as in easy-to-reach places for the squirrels and mice. Forest treats are best when shared, after all.

I’ve also found some naturalized St. John’s Wort bushes and a gully filled with broad leaf plantain which I plan to harvest this upcoming weekend. I will infuse the St. John’s Wort in oil to make a salve and use the plantain leaves for Lughnasadh talismans.

We haven’t had rain in weeks. This may not be a tragedy for many corners of this beautiful planet, but living in a temperate rainforest, no rain has an effect very quickly. But Mother Earth smells amazing these days, warm and comforting, like summer smelled as a child. And even as I write this, the wind has picked up carrying a summer storm. The air is electric and my skin is tingling with anticipation. Maybe Taranis has heard my call.

Dandelion gone to seed, another reminder that summer brings death.

Dandelion gone to seed, another reminder that summer brings death. (Photo taken with my iPhone).

High Day Preparation

August 1st is fast approaching, and with it the High Day of Lughnasadh, the first of the three Harvest Festivals. Many Pagan’s have a favourite holiday, but I often find that being so attuned with the seasons leaves me favouring the one I’m currently preparing for, and ultimately celebrating. The world is perfectly attuning for this High Day, with ripe fruit, bright flowers, golden grass, and warm summer evenings. I am also attuning for Lughnasadh, my skin turning darker from hours beneath the sun and freckles emerging across my nose and shoulders. I have always marked this day with a feast of summer produce, but I am looking into the traditions of my Hearth Culture to see if there other ways to honor the harvest.

Trance Work & Meditation

I haven’t been keeping a regular routine, but find that I am meditating most days and am drawing strength and insight from it. I’ve found that with the fleeting nature of my ability to concentrate, letting the mood strike me works better than forcing myself to sit quietly and still the mind when I’m captivated by some artistic whim. I’m having a lot of success with using a background mediation track and being outside. In fact, unless I use meditation to purposefully ease myself into a deep sleep, I always go outside to meditate. Beneath a tree is always preferable, but mostly I sit on my balcony, on my special meditation mat, with the gentle summer breezes swirling around me and the smell of my garden, which never fails to help transport me to wherever I wish to go.

ADF Studies

This is not the right time of year for me to be indoors writing of virtues and reading of the seasons. I keep a notebook with me at all times and write reflections down as I have them, but will not commit any of my insights to ADF essay form until the fall. Like nature, the summer is for experiencing and growing, and winter is for reflecting. I’m sure I’ve said that before, and I know I will say that again. It’s a point, that for me, is worth repeating. I used to feel guilty at how unreliable I am in the summer, and embarrassed at how predictable I am in the winter, but c’est la vie. This is why I bought a cell phone, after all.

Sunset through the trees. (Photo taken with my iPhone).

Sunset through the trees. (Photo taken with my iPhone).

 

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May Your Fires Burn Bright – Beltane Ritual

This was my first ADF ritual, and maybe more importantly, my first High Day celebration with a Druidic twist. I didn’t find myself nervous like I did when I was building up to my first Wiccan High Day, which let me relax and focus more on the experience and less on the formalities. Part of the DP training requires the student to write a short essay on their experiences at each of the High Days, and while this post will definitely be that, I also want to include some thoughts on the lead up to Beltane. 

The Triple Hallows

In my Hearth Culture, the Cosmos are thought of as Three Realms: Sky, Land, and Sea. The Sky is where the Shining Ones dwell and is represented by the Fire Hallow. The Land is where we dwell and is represented by the Sacred Tree. The Sea is the Underworld where the dead journey to reach the afterlife, and is represented by the Well. Together the Triple Hallows form the Sacred Center, which is opened during ritual to connect us with those beyond the veil.

So,when preparing for Beltane, I created my Triple Hallows.

On Making Holy Water

The Well is essential to Druidic ritual. During the ritual the Well is filled with Holy Water and is used to anoint those in attendance as well as the shrine, much in the way Holy Water is used in other religions. There are many different methods, thoughts, practices, etc… that people go by to create Holy Water, which really is just water blessed by or sacred to the user.

I gave this process a lot of thought, as I didn’t want to just fill up my Well with tap water. I chose to honor the Three Realms dually by filling my Well with waters collected from three different sources.

For Land, I chose a mountain spring. This water runs from deep within the roots of the Coastal Mountains and is as clean and pure as water can get.

Mountain Spring, Lynn Valley Headwaters. Taken with my iPhone.

Mountain Spring, Lynn Valley Headwaters. Taken with my iPhone.

For the Sea I went up a ways up the inlet to where the water is unpolluted by urban industry. The sun was setting on Beltane Eve and the experience was nothing short of moving. I kicked off my shoes and stood in the cool waters of high tide and felt the glow of dusk settle around the harbor.

Sunset at Cates Park. Photo taken on my iPhone.

Sunset at Cates Park. Photo taken on my iPhone.

For the Sky, I wanted to collect rain water. The irony wasn’t lost on me that the moment I decided to do this, the clouds parted and the sun came out. So, I gathered the next best thing: fresh glacial run-off and snow melt from high in the mountains. Unfortunately, I left my phone in the car and was unable to take a picture.

The Ritual

My shrine. I've been collecting more branches for my Sacred Tree, which now has Rowan, Oak, Apple, Willow, and Maple. While Maple is not one of the sacred Druidic trees, it is sacred to Canada and felt my own homeland spirits should be honored.

My shrine. I’ve been collecting more branches for my Sacred Tree, which now has Rowan, Oak, Apple, Willow, and Maple. While Maple is not one of the sacred Druidic trees, it is sacred to Canada and felt my own homeland spirits should be honored.

I started the ritual with ringing my little brass bell 9 times and working through the Two Powers meditation. Next came Purification and I opted to use my favourite stanza from my favourite poem by Percy Shelley. I have always felt that it has a strong tie to Paganism, despite that not being the author’s intent:

I am the daughter

Of Earth and Water

And nurseling of the Sky

I pass through the pores

Of the Ocean and the Shores

I change, but I cannot die

I honored the Earth Mother with an offering of honey and corn meal.

Offerings to the Earth Mother.

Offerings to the Earth Mother.

During the Earth Mother offering I was overcome by an emotion I don’t fully understand. Tears started running down my cheeks and despite my warm apartment, I started to shiver. It wasn’t a negative feeling in the slightest, but I wouldn’t describe it as overwhelmingly positive either. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully understand it, but I plan on meditating on the emotion to see if I can learn anything new.

I honored Cernunnos as the Gatekeeper, and offered him sage leaves and olive oil, which I burned in the cast iron firepot which serves as my Fire Hallow. I’ve never honored Him as anyone other than the God of a ceremony, but I think we were both happy with Him in this role. I always felt Cernunnos was introverted and observant, so I think He enjoyed being included but not in the spotlight.

I made sacrifices to the Ancestors, Spirits, and Gods and Goddesses in the form of fresh rosemary from my garden, which I burned in my firepot, and hot tea sweetened with honey. The tea was a blend of hibiscus petals, rose hips, orange peel, blackberry leaves, and ginger root. I think the combination of the vibrant fuchsia colour and intense summer flavours was a perfect offering for Beltane. 

My Beings of Occasion were Blodeuwedd and the Sidhe. I wrote them each a short poem and read them during the ritual. I gave them both some of my Beltane tea as well as lavender flowers for Blodeuwedd and a dogwood flower for the Sidhe.

Quert, or Apple, Ogham Stave. This stave comes from my set that is made from each corresponding wood type by a Coven in England.

Quert, or Apple, Ogham Stave. This stave comes from my set that is made from each corresponding wood type by a Coven in England.

After the offerings and blessing requests, I spread my handmade casting cloth and drew one Ogham stave. I drew Quert – the Apple Tree, which speaks of Choice and Mental Healing. Mentally, I have been healing from past traumas which have had a significant impact on my life. I feel that for the first time since childhood I’ve been free to make decisions that aren’t centered around my mental state. I’m taking this as an omen that the Goddesses and Gods are standing with me, encouraging me, and above all telling me that I’m (finally) on the right path. This Ogham also talks about mental discipline and focusing ones energies. Could this be about my recent move to ADF and Druidry? Could this be them agreeing that this is the right place for me? Finally, Quert can be a sign to make a choice. This may be the first time in my life that I don’t feel I’m at a crossroads, so I’m not entirely sure what choice it’s speaking of. Maybe the choice correspondence isn’t relevant to me, and I drew this stave because of the mental healing and academic discipline meanings. Time will tell, I’d imagine. Regardless, I believe this was an wonderful sign that my offerings were accepted and blessings were bestowed.

After the omen, I gave my thanks and closed the gates.

Reflections…

Throughout the entire ritual, I felt centered and empowered. I opted to move my shrine indoors, which I initially thought would take away from my connection to the Earth, but it wasn’t too much of a hindrance. (I have a nosy neighbour who likes to look around the privacy divider between our balconies whenever she hears me outside.) I loved the flow of the ritual, the pacing, and the atmosphere. The burning herbs mixed with the oak shavings and cedar incense, the sweet herbal tea and the water from my three sources… it was indeed magickal. I will admit that in the past I never really felted moved at rituals, I felt like I was going through the steps, more so focused on fancy words written by others than on the actual spirituality. This was different; I truly felt connected. 

I hope this post finds you spiritually sated and in the after-glow of your own Beltane experiences,
Eira Silversage.

Beltane – High Day Essay

Beltane is the 2nd cross-quarter day of the Neopagan calendar, known as the Wheel of the Year or individually as High Days. While some cultures celebrate Beltane Eve based on the lunar calendar, the vast majority of Pagan’s celebrate Beltane on April 30th-May 1st. At its heart, Beltane is a fire fertility festival which marks the beginning of the summer months, it’s opposite being Samhain (October 31st –November 1st.)

Beltane Grove by Mickie Mueller

Beltane Grove by Mickie Mueller

The lore talks of a thawed earth, fertile and abundant with new life. The Gods and Goddesses mirror this fertility in their own story with the Great Marriage and the impregnation of the Goddess, who carries the new God until his birth at Yule. So when we speak of Beltane being a fertility festival, we speak not only of sex, but of the land which grows our food and the maturing of livestock, and the conception of intellectual ideas and an overall abundance. The time between Beltane and Midsummer is the time to grow, to nurture new ideas and see them carefully cared for and blessed. We ask the Shining Ones to join us in these acts, as their guidance and blessings can help seal our success.

Beltane Reunion by Emily Balivet

Beltane Reunion by Emily Balivet

There are many cultural influences in modern Beltane rituals stemming from different ancient Pagan cultures. The name Beltane comes from the Celts, so named after the God Bel (Belenus). Germanic cultures celebrate May 1st as Walpurgis Night, while the Roman’s honored the Festival of Flora. Despite many different cultures customs, the heart of the High Day remains the same. Today, we celebrate with burning bale fires, which can be jumped over or walked around to bring luck. Maypoles are erected and danced around, baskets and garlands of flowers are given and worn, hand fasting ceremonies are held, and seasonal foods and drink are shared amongst Pagan communities. Some also choose to honor Beltane by mirroring the union between the God and Goddess (but only consenting adults, please!)

The Council of Cernunnos - Beltane Rites by Emily Balivet

The Council of Cernunnos – Beltane Rites by Emily Balivet

Beltane is a celebration of life and the beauty of Mother Earth. We share in Her abundance and give freely of our own. We ask for the protection and inspiration of the Gods and Goddesses to help guide us through the impending months of hard work, and pray that we are rewarded with bountiful crops and the fruition of our ideas.

May Your Fires Burn Bright,
Beltane Blessings!

Further Down The Path (Week 3)

For the week of April 22nd to 28th.

April is coming to a close and Beltane is less than two days away. I’ve spent most of my spare time preparing for this High Day, which also happens to be my first ADF ritual. I always feel a touch of sadness around the High Days as a solitary; I’d love to dance around a maypole with ribbons in my hair and feast on Spring delicacies as part of a Grove. It’s hard to walk the Wheel of the Year alone, this year more than most it seems.

Meditation and Trance Work

I’ve been working with the Two Powers meditation in preparation for the Beltane ritual. I’m getting much more fluid with it, finding it easier to hold the imagery and ignore distractions. I’ve found that it’s easier for me to focus on the experience when I have music playing, not only because it blocks out auditory distractions but because it can really help set the mood. I pick a track that fits with the meditation I’m working with or the goal I want to achieve and just let my mind go. It’s such a simple addition, but it’s increased my meditative focus and stamina like you wouldn’t believe.

Musings on Hearth Cultures

I’ve always viewed the Pagan Gods and Goddesses as representations of the whole, not in the Wiccan duotheistic sense, but more so in a general all-encompassing sense. I believe that everything is connected by and through Spirit, and Gods and Goddesses exist as figureheads, archetypes, and even physical manifestations of the divine; that when you pray to one Goddess, you are praying to them all.

Enter Ár nDraíocht Féin. ADF views things a little differently, mostly because those who design ADF rituals are “hard polytheists” and see each deity as a completely separate entity. I don’t see this as clashing with my take on polytheism necessarily, if anything it just feels more evolved and defined. The Core Order of Ritual exists to give form and function, as well as the specific ADF flavour, to rituals, both publicly and privately. Beyond that there is zero doctrine that states what you can and cannot believe as an individual. If I personally see Don and Danu as the same Goddess, who is to say I am wrong? All ADF is asking is that I pick one to work with during a ritual if I want to call it an ADF ritual. If anything, I think this will help me focus my understanding and relationships with the Gods and Goddesses I already know, and will encourage me to work with one I don’t.

However, my relationships with the Celtic deities doesn’t fit well with the ADF COoR. So I’ve spent the better part of the last two days trying to work with what I practice at my hearth into something malleable enough to suit an ADF Beltane ritual. It’s been tough. I have no Celtic version of the Earth Mother; Ceridwen has always been my go-to Goddess Mama. The only God I really have a relationship with is Cernunnos. They are from different Celtic pantheons. So how do I work an ADF ritual without deviating too far from my own practices? It feel like a spiritual Jenga puzzle; everything teetering and wobbling and ultimately requiring the utmost care and forethought. Eventually, sometime late this evening, I surrendered to the conflict and decided to just go with it.

Ian Corrigan recently said “I tend to see belief trailing ritual. One does the rituals, gets results, then builds opinion on that.” So, with that in mind, I am going to go forth as open as I can be to new experiences and let the work shape my Hearth Culture. It’s a little scary, as it feels like I’m spiritually free-falling. I’m not sure the Celtic pantheon will still be my Hearth Culture by the end of my DP, but it’s such an important evolution that needs to happen organically and with as little conscious influence as possible.

Beltane Preparations

Keeping in mind my spiritual dilemmas discussed above, I’ve made my selection of deities that I will be working with for Beltane. For now, I will continue calling the Earth Mother by her generic, all-encompassing name, which I feel is perfectly acceptable. I have always seen the Earth Mother as a primal element; something older than the Goddesses created by humanity, something not to be fucked with. Cernunnos will be my Gatekeeper. I’ve decided that the Beings of Occasion will be Blodeuwedd, with a little love sent to the Sidhe. I went with Blodeuwedd because of her sexuality and her passion; she-of-the-flowers with her eternal message of self-rebirth and independence screams of the wild and unrestrained celebration of Beltane. The Sidhe are being recognized because this is their time of year. As I child I was told that every blossom was tended by a Fae, that they were the shepherds of Spring.

I have also been in the process of creating Holy Water, which I will write about at length soon, as well as collecting the various items needed for the ritual. Oak, Rowan, Willow, and Hazel boughs, daffodil petals, fiddlehead ferns, etc… are all coming together, carefully selected and carried home in my lovely little white wicker basket; a proverbial flower girl indeed. Tomorrow, I just need to finish my ritual writing (which I will probably share on Wednesday) and prepare for a May 1st dawn Beltane ritual. I’m beyond twitterpated!