A turning of the Wheel…

I have had a lot of cats in my lifetime, more specifically my adult lifetime. When I was a young girl, my mother allowed a cat “experiment” one time only, when my grandmother’s sister sent a cat home with us following a visit to her farm.  I am sorry to report the experiment ended when that cat gave birth to a litter of kittens in a pile of laundry at the bottom of the laundry chute. We were exclusively a “one dog only” family after that.

I have always been interested in the dynamics that occur each time a new kitten is added, or an old cat passes, within my home.  My cats are not allowed outside, but do share quite a large, cat-friendly space inside, with many high perches, low hiding places and sunny window sills. It would seem likely that they all get along nicely within the well-established rhythm of an orderly, yet loving, home. It would SEEM so, — but unfortunately, this is the reality of No Cat Owner Ever.

I have two females among my clowder, who have spit, hissed and growled at each other for years.  They were both equally cared for by an elderly gentleman cat, who faithfully groomed them and soothed them to sleep, each in turn, without malice or prejudice to either.  When he crossed the rainbow bridge several years ago, there was no peace between these two spays.   I had an idea that they needed something to do — there is a great deal of  research supporting the idea that a troubled dog responds well if given a “job” — so I jumped at the chance to adopt two young toms, for each to “mother”!

No.  Simply, no; I saw right away that wasn’t going to happen.  The young males were quickly neutered and delivered, motherless, into the clowder, and soon, I had a house FULL of pouting, pissed-off pusses! And, here’s where my story begins…

No one was more put out than the eldest of the glaring.  Puck, for his entire (younger) life, was the sweetest cat I have ever known.  He got along equally well with people, cats and dogs; but now, at age 16 or 17, just wants to be left alone (a concept a young kitten cannot grasp).  The more he complained, the more they bothered him.  He sought out privacy in the highest places they could not access, which only increased their determinism to follow. I feared for his safety, as he slept so soundly he often fell from these great heights. Once they mastered the climb, they lay beside him, determined to win his heart.

He is now too weak to make the jumps he used to do so easily, so has taken to lie in the sunny windowsill of my bedroom.  He stays there from early morning until late night, rarely leaving his perch, — only for food, water or litter box.  He has lost so much weight that every bone can easily be seen.  His skin is as delicate as brittle paper, and his rarely-groomed fur is falling out in clumps.

I walked into the bedroom yesterday, and this is what I found.  One of the kittens was sitting next to Puck on the windowsill, gently grooming my sweet, old boy, who lay, contently, purring.

 

The Wheel is turning, gently, ceaselessly.  The Old give in to the Young, who eventually take their turn to nurture, to comfort, to patiently wait with them until they can no longer stay. There is much love today in my home and in my heart.

I wish you blessings.

This Business of Prayer

I’ve been noticing a trend on Social Media lately.  When someone posts about a sick or lost pet, or a dying family member, or some urgent emotional need, the friend responses are (often) rather predictable, watered down commitments of support.  “I’ll send positive thoughts.”  “Sending healing energies of light and love.” “Sending good vibes and thinking happy thoughts!

“I will pray for you.”

This once common sentiment seems to have fallen a bit in usage, but why?  Isn’t this what the Social Media Friends are trying to say?  Not certain at all, I looked up the definition of ‘prayer’.

Oops!  Careful, there!  The first site I hit was (no surprise) an evangelical Christian site, which stated,

Prayer can be audible or silent, private or public, formal or informal. All prayer must be offered in faith (James 1:6), in the name of the Lord Jesus (John 16:23), and in the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26).

Really?? So, Jews don’t pray.  Muslims don’t pray.  Pagans don’t pray??

As witches, we know that it is all about intention.  As a Catholic, I knew that lighting a prayer candle insured that my prayer would extend and still be ongoing, as long as the candle was lit.  Witches do the same thing. We light vigil candles to honor our deities, and offer prayers to them, or to the universe, or Source, or whomever or whatever we believe might answer our prayers.

Can Atheists pray?  Sure, why not?  If an Atheist, recognizing their own limitations to bring about a desired outcome, states aloud or silently a wish or a plea (to the universe, or whoever may be listening) for this outcome to occur, it is a prayer.

To be clear, the above quote may well define Christian prayer.  But, look in any dictionary and you will find another meaning: a prayer is an earnest hope or wish.  “I earnestly hope you will recover.” “I hope with all my heart that you find your beloved lost cat.”  “I will pray for you.”

I wish you blessings.

Heartfelt Offerings at Ostara

It often amazes me how little time seems to pass between each pause on the Great Wheel.  It’s hard to believe it is Ostara, again, so soon!  But, the older I get, the happier I am to greet each Sabbat’s return.  I recognize the familiar face of my old friend, but I am forever surprised by the new personality I meet upon this friend’s arrival.

Ostara always brings hope and joy upon the arrival of Spring.  We eagerly plant the seeds in the warming soil and delight in our expectations of what will be born from the renewed Earth.  I have been anticipating the coming of Spring more than ever, this year, as I hoped for it to herald the much-needed new beginning in my life, — the end of failure, poverty and despair.

But, then, I noticed this little tree.

We planted this lemon tree about this time last year.  I believe we hoped it to eventually take the place of another which, to our delight, has thrived many years past its estimated life expectancy.  One year later, this new little tree, by most, would have to be called a failure.  The green leaves turned yellow very soon after it was planted, most eventually falling off.  We tried a few fixes — suggested by the folks at the local garden center — but nothing seemed to work.  We eventually gave up. We gave up trying to save the tree, we gave up noticing the tree.  We gave up caring about the tree.  To our surprise, it eventually produced a small crop of lemons, but most were so small in size they seemed unworthy of picking.  The grass, then the weeds, crept closer and soon engulfed the base of the weak, stunted, failed little tree.

“Why can’t we grow a simple lemon tree?” I asked my husband one day.  Frustrated, I pointed over the fence to my neighbor’s bountiful garden.

“Maria can grow anything!  She pushes a stick into the the ground, turns the hose on it, and a flowering hedge of roses appears.  Look at her little tree!  Didn’t she plant it only about a year before ours?”

The moment I looked to her tree, I could note the difference.  How many times had she mentioned, when leaving something for someone to pick up, or when someone was dropping something off for her, to “Leave it by my little tree.”?  How many times had we noticed the animal figures, the potted plants, the bouquets of flowers lying on the ground beneath her tree, or the bags of fruit adorning the branches?

Her tree was an Offering Tree.

————-

I have taken my journey into the Wild Wood tarot, and this Ostara I turn my eyes toward the Six of Bows.  By patiently attending to what I have sown, I will receive the blessings of the new growth.  The promise was made to me at Imbolc; all that was asked of me was my patience and endurance.  I will enjoy the plentiful bounty that is to come, which will bring much healing and joy.  But, for now, I wait.

I have spent the last months asking for what I need, praying to receive the gifts I desire.  Because of this, I have felt the anguish that haunts an empty hand and an empty heart.  All has not been lost; for all I need is not what I have left to receive.  What I truly need is to give, — to share what I have, already.  My hands are not empty; they will only be free to receive when I share freely what I already hold.

This Ostara, I will walk the path of The Ancestor, following with new eyes and a joyful heart.  My own inner Ancestor is strong and patient and wise. Trusting Her, I will share the bounty that I have already received, my own abundance, no matter how meager it seems.  The gifts I will bring my own garden will feed the spirits of the Ancients, and the joy of sharing will bring the new sense of inner peace that I require.

This Ostara, I give thanks and accept all the blessings of change that continue to occur along the Wheel as I commune with the Wild Wood.

 

 

Unveiling the Mysteries at Imbolc

As I pause on the Wheel to welcome the returning light and the stirrings of new life, I can’t help but to wonder what this season of renewal will bring.  I have laid the preparations, cleaned my home and cleared my mind.  Each day, I work on opening my heart to what lies in store for me.

I love this time of year!  Traditionally, Imbolc is the time to honor the pagan Goddess Brighid (sometimes referred to as St. Bridget in the Christian Church).  She is a Goddess of healing, poetry and smithcraft, — of Fire, the Sun and the Hearth.  Now in her Maiden aspect, She brings fertility to the land and to us, her people.  We welcome her as we witness the passing of winter and the beginning of a new agricultural year, with the first sprouting of young leaves and flowers.

Winter came and hit us pretty hard this year, at least by southern California standards.  We had an usually cold and wet November and December, which continued well into the beginning of January.  One of the few warm days, I was lamenting on the fact that I had no winter garden, to speak of, this year.  As I looked upon one particularly long, bare, border bed, I decided to scatter some random seeds and see what I got.  I admit that I didn’t hold a lot of hope that anything would come of this random planting, especially since the days to follow brought both high winds and enough rain to flood most of the garden.

But, the Maiden has kept her promise.  The photo, above, shows the first few sprouts that have broken through the Earth, now warmed by the returning Sun.  Spring is returning, and bringing new life, just as we were sure it would.  I can’t be sure, yet, what this new life will look like.  But, I know the harsh Winter is ending and, — just like these young sprouts, I will grow and thrive within the protected circle of the Elements, to a place where Spirit leads me.

I wish you blessings.

 

 

Skipping Christmas

Yes, I know.  Here it is, nearly Imbolc on the calendar, and I am just now sharing my ponderings of the Yule season.  If you have been following me on YouTube, you know that I haven’t actually skipped it.  In fact, I have had a very full several months of observance and celebration.  But, what has it all meant to me and, perhaps most importantly, what place does Yule hold on the Wheel of the Year?

[Please note: the above title, “Skipping Christmas”, is a reference to a novel by John Grisham, and you probably already know that it wasn’t skipped then, either.]

This is a very special time of the year, as it holds significance to so many people of different paths, which must include the Christian holiday of Christmas and the Jewish Hanukkah.  For each of us, it is a celebration of light, — the Christians welcome the light called the Son of God, the Jews celebrate an eight-day Festival of Lights, and pagans witness the rebirth of the light half of the year.

The actual word “Yule” comes from the Norse Viking winter holiday, Jól, which is actually a plural word (indicating that this pagan celebration took place over a period of several days and nights).  The 1st century Norwegian king, Haakon the Good (a Christian) actually legislated that the beginnings of both Yule and Christmas had to occur on the same day. It is interesting to note that, aside from the excessive amounts of feasting and drinking that occurred during Jól, the swearing of oaths (unbreakable pacts) was the most important part of their celebration.  Was this the beginnings of our own modern New Year’s custom of making resolutions?

Regardless, I am most interested in the fact that, to each of us, this time of year is definitely celebrated as a season.  For our Christian and Jewish brothers and sisters, this seems quite reasonable, considering the significance it holds for them.  But, for pagans?  Can we merely anticipate the return of longer periods of daylight in our days for an entire season?

I look to our pagan ancestors for guidance of what to include in my Yule season celebration.  As many were farmers, and unable to tend crops during the winter, they spent these long, dark days preparing for the next growing season.  They cleaned and repaired their tools, and laid their plans for the season to come.  Their weapons were also sharpened and made ready, should their use be required.

Many modern-day pagans use this time of year to do shadow work, — to work on the parts of our own personalities that we often hide or deny, to bring them into the light of awareness.   I find that there is no better therapy for depression, no better way to overcome crippling habits than to re-direct my energy toward the planning of a new project I am excited about.  This holds especially true for me during this time in my life when I’m facing the end of my family business and uncertain future.

So, I’m spending the remaining days of the Yule season laying a strong foundation for what is to come.  I have cleaned and sharpened my tools — of both mind and matter.  My altars are renewed, my cupboard well-stocked.  I have taken care to protect my home and my loved ones inside, by any manner of means, by my hand.   And, I am laying plans for my future.  I am holding both fear and depression at bay, not unlike a Viking warrior, with one hand on my shield and my eye to the horizon.

My resolution is my word; my word is my oath.  So mote it be.

I wish you blessings.

 

Samhain or Halloween?

Which is it: Samhain or Halloween?  Is there a difference?

I’ve always loved Halloween.  But, as a witch, I love Samhain even more. Are they the same?  Not at all.  Are they different?  Not completely.

It is true that both are celebrated on or around the same day, and both have roots in the ancient pagan end-of-harvest celebrations.  But, Halloween is a secular folk holiday where adults and children engage in the realm of make-believe and fantasy through costumes, parties, or trick-or-treating.  Samhain, on the other hand, has a religious focus for many pagans and marks the beginning of the spiritual new year.

But, to many witches, to try and separate Halloween and Samhain would probably feel the same, to many Christians, as attempting to separate Santa Claus from Christmas.

In the ancient Celtic world, Samhain marked the end of summer and the growing season.  Any crops left in the field would be killed by frost; Death was in the air at this time!  This led to the belief that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its thinnest, and contact and communication with the spirits at this time was possible.

It was not such a far leap to wonder, then, — What, or who, was lurking in the shadows?

As a young girl, I loved Halloween.  None of us wore purchased costumes; it was up to us (with only minimal parental involvement) to come up with our own disguises, usually out of the dress-up box, — we were gypsies or old men or old ladies or hobos, sometimes with makeup but always with at least a half-mask over our eyes.  Yes, that was the idea! To change your look enough that your neighbors would not recognize you and your friends as you went door to door searching for treats.  No candy at this house?  Throw corn against the windows and run away before the porch light came on and you were seen!  No one at home at this house? Soap the windows!  Next year, they’ll remember to be home to pass out candy.

I remember walking along darkened streets (the ‘rule’ was, you had to wait until dark before going out) in a gang of children (no adults for trick-or-treating — they had to stay home to pass out the candy), going only as far across town as promised, and only to houses with the porch light on (the gang of children always did have a few secrets to keep on this score).  Some years, it was bitter cold or raining, — so careful planning was required when selecting a suitable costume.  Some years, and it was usually the year you chose to wear the old rubber full-face clown mask from the bottom of the dress-up box, it was unseasonably warm and the sweat stung your eyes and made it difficult to see.  Some years, you remembered to bring along a flashlight, but more often you tried your best not to trip on uneven sidewalks or over the root of an old tree, while running to keep up with the older kids at the front of the gang.

I remember walking through piles of crisp leaves, hiding behind bushes until the porch light went out from the house we had just “corned”, running past the old graveyard behind the church and dumping out my pillowcase full of treats when I returned home to see what I was given. Those were great memories, of course.  But, what I remember FEELING was something in the air, — something that sometimes made the hair on my arms stand up, something that made the whole gang of us take off running, for no particular reason and without comment.  This was something that sat in the shadow under the Yandrick’s tree, or behind the hedges across the road from the school path, — that was never there if you looked.  This was something that was so quiet that it felt like it was taking noise right out of the air!

As a young girl, this was my Halloween.  Do I miss it?  Not at all.  Because now I know it as Samhain.  The veil between the worlds is thin and the spirits and souls of my loved ones are welcomed home.  I honor them and this time, where past and present come together to mark the occasion of what is yet to come.

I wish you blessings.

The Apple, the Tree and Me

As a Crone, I am a believer in old proverbs that I heard many times over the years.  I used to think they were silly, but I have come to understand the beauty of their practical wisdom, expressed in a simple way, much like a well-written Country Music lyric.

One of my favorites has been, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, — whether because I love apples, or I thought it easy to understand – I can’t be sure exactly why.  The meaning always seemed straight forward enough; children may be forever “tied” to their childhood home, at least emotionally, is the most literal meaning.  But, it usually refers to the idea that children inherit both physical and behavioral characteristics from their parents, the latter often referring to a negative connotation (e.g. the son of a drunkard ends up as a drunkard).

But, my increasing-every-day Super Crone Wisdom sees so much more!  You see, while I may share some physical characteristics from my ancestors, I am one apple that didn’t fall from the tree, — rather, I flung myself from that old tree!  Small Town East Coast to Big City West Coast; Obedient Protestant Daughter to Rebellious Catholic Wife, and then, onto Crazy Wackadoo Pagan Witch.

———

Apples are always on my mind at this time of year!  I have so many great memories involving apples from my childhood in Pennsylvania:

  • gallon jugs of freshly-pressed apple cider on the porch
  • going to the fort every year during Fort Ligonier Days to see my grandmother and other ladies of the Eastern Star (each dressed in 18th century costume), attend a giant cauldron of applebutter over an open fire
  • gallons of freshly made applesauce – smooth as silk!
  • warm apple pies,
  • and my father’s favorite dessert, Apple Brown Betty (which, my mother claimed, he had never actually eaten!)

———

It is the apple that triggers my longing to return to the Tree.  The apple holds the reflection of my mother’s hands, working with practiced efficiency and her favorite paring knife, peel and quarter an apple for my after-school snack (an “approved snack” that would not “spoil my dinner”).  I can smell the freshly baked pie, — tucked safely into my grandmother’s pie basket under her neatly pressed and carefully folded apron, — as she climbed the stairs into our kitchen for Sunday supper.

My applehead spirit dolls epitomize the energies of the Crone Goddess in a very special way.  The shriveling face recalls the last stage of life, when the body is at its weakest, BUT the psychic and magickal powers at the strongest.  The Crone is the Transformer, breaking down our old forms to make change and rebirth possible.  At the center, — at the core — of the shriveled apple, remain the seeds of the rebirth.

The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.  It is still connected, over the miles and beyond the years, by heartstrings – strong enough to bind forever, yet gentle enough to strum the sweetest of songs.

I wish you blessings.

Mabon: the Harvest of Second Chances

There has been much joy in this year’s garden.  We have been blessed with a bountiful harvest of fruits and vegetables — the reward of my husband’s labor — combined with the riches that our chickens add to our ever-growing compost pile.  But, the sight of the dry, dead vine that once was this summer’s green bean crop leaves little doubt that the summer’s bounty is swiftly coming to an end.   Soon, all that is left of the sweet tastes of summer will be what has been captured and stored on pantry shelves lined with my grandmother’s canning jars, and in our generously-sized freezer.

Mabon, one of the four Quarter festivals in some pagan traditions, coincides with the autumnal equinox.  It is sometimes referred to as the second harvest, and an excellent time to identify those things in your personal life that may be out of balance, the time to take steps to re-align and re-ground yourself.  It is a good time to stop and relax and enjoy the fruits of our personal harvests, whether they be from toiling in our gardens, working at our jobs, raising our families, or just coping with everyday life.

I like to think of Mabon as the “second chance” harvest.  As I carefully gather and preserve the seeds from this year’s garden, I ensure that I have the chance of an even better and bigger harvest next year.  Any disappointments lingering from this year — caused by uneven watering, hungry pests, waiting too long to pick them, etc. — can be overcome during the next season, as long as I have a strong, viable seed to plant.

Unfortunately, while our garden thrived this summer, we experienced more than our share of disappointments in our personal life.  Specifically, our family business has not weathered as well as as our vegetable patch, and we believe it is time to change direction.  It is time to harvest what we have grown, save the viable seeds, and re-plant in another location.  It is not failure that we harvest from this experience; it is opportunity — to build something stronger and better than that we leave behind.  Because we have a strong foundation on which to build, we are optimistic that our new venture will succeed where the old one did not.  We will embrace the darkness, knowing it only to be a period of regeneration — from which will come rebirth.

I wish you blessings.

 

 

Bringing in the Sheaves: a Joyful Harvest

Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves;
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;
By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

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This Protestant hymn was one of my favorites growing up.  Of course, as a child, I didn’t fully grasp the liturgical message of the lyric, especially in the (omitted) third verse*.  But, I did enjoy the idea of celebrating at labor’s end. — Rejoice in the harvest; reap that which has been sown.

Lammas (also called Lughnassadh) is the great festival of Lugh, the Celtic Sun god, in honor of his foster mother, Tailtiu.  The first of three harvest festivals, it is a time for gathering in and giving thanks for abundance. Our hard work will help feed us through the winter, as well as provide the seed for next year’s rebirth, regeneration and harvest.

I do like to use this time of the year to look back to the intentions I had at Imbolc and see how far I may have come in order to achieve my goals. Since I am a Great Procrastinator, I usually find that I have somewhat fallen short.  But, this harvest holds at its heart the seed of all future harvests.  For me, the celebration lies in the fact that I always have another chance to succeed, as long as the seeds of my desires live on.  As I carefully save the seeds from the fruits gathered from my garden, I am reminded to hold onto my dreams and tend them until they do reach fruition.

But, underlying this celebration is the knowledge that, as the Sun wanes, it is a time of change.  The darker days of winter are around the corner. It is time for me to take stock of the preparations I have made.  I may have a bountiful harvest from my garden to enjoy in the dark of winter, but do I have more preparations to make to realize the personal goals I may have set for myself?  So often, we have our “eye on the prize” — and risk falling, — tripping over bumps we do not see in the road.

I’m thinking of my favorite image of The Fool in my Hoi Polloi tarot deck. Like him, I see a new adventure in front of me, every day.  But, also like him, I risk falling if I am not prepared for what may lie ahead.  One step at a time, one day at a time, one harvest at a time.

I wish you blessings.

————

*Did I make you Google?

Litha. It’s good for what ails you.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  Virginia Beach, Virginia.  Nags Head, North Carolina.  Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  New Smyrna Beach, Florida.  Every summer of my baby boomer childhood, my family took a two-week vacation to Some Atlantic Beach City, USA.  Most often, I grumbled as I took my place in the backseat of my dad’s Chevy, for I knew it would mean spending hours and hours sticking to hot, vinyl car seats, fighting carsickness and vying for bits of space not already occupied by my older brother’s ever-growing long legs.

My mother would disregard the grumbling, offer salty snacks to quiet our angry stomachs, suggest word games to play or license plates to look for — anything to keep us from distracting my father from his driving tasks.  I admit that my grumbles more than once grew into full-blown sobbing fits.  I was certainly missing everything happening at home while I was gone. My summer would be ruined!

“Nonsense,” my mother assured me.  “It will be good for what ails you.”

Continue reading “Litha. It’s good for what ails you.”