Candles for an Uncertain Spring

I am an American.

I am also Polytheist and queer. My queer roommate is here in the US on asylum. My sister, who also lives with me, has a Hispanic last name. Of the two children in our house, one of them is disabled. Two of the above-listed people are trans.

We are 11 days into the Trump presidency, and while I am American I am also scared.

The dawn of this year’s Imbolc illuminates what is for many of us an uncertain spring. It’s challenging, I think, to appreciate the growing light when so much appears so, so dark.

sunrise

Sorry, I couldn’t find a picture as apocalyptic as my Facebook feed.

Maybe it’s just me, but Imbolc feels more poignant than it usually does. I find that I desperately need candles, and torches, and even bonfires to beat back the dark. I need purification and renewal, illumination and inspiration.

So I will take my inspiration from the following and let it define my Imbolc ritual:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” ~Frank Herbert, Dune

Soon I will take a long cleansing shower, washing away the tension I’ve held since November. I will then go to my altar, and light candles, and invite the Powers to attend.

After that, I will stop compartmentalizing and burying my sorrow and fear. I will instead sit with them, and honor them, and then let them pass away. I will acknowledge that I could have maybe done more, and done better, but I will also recognize that the time for regrets is done now. It’s time to look ahead. Despair and hopelessness are luxuries that we can ill afford. I will do my best to leave them behind in this passing winter as I step into the coming spring refreshed and renewed.

And when I light a candle to honor a new dawn, I will do it with purpose. I will take the energies of this Imbolc and become a candle. I will commit to holding my small, fragile flame against the coming darkness. I will pay attention, and speak out, and help my neighbor as best I can, because only by combining all of our candles together will our light be bright enough to show a better path.

I will do these things. I Will these things. I WILL.

So mote it be.

Clytie and Solstice Reflections

I think it’s appropriate that, on the day of Solstice, I taught the myth of Clytie to an 8-year-old. As with all myths there are several versions, some much less kind than others, but this is the one we talked about:

Clytie was a beautiful water nymph with golden hair and big brown eyes. One day she walked outside, looked up, and was utterly captivated by Apollo as He drove the sun chariot across the sky.

For nine days she stood on a rock, not moving or eating, and simply stared at Apollo as He traversed the heavens. She was so obsessed that her only sustenance was dewdrops. She didn’t even rest at night – she simply stood there waiting for Apollo’s return, so she could watch the sun move across the sky again.

Her adoration was absolute, but she suffered for it. Her health and beauty faded. She grew weak, and pale, and wan. Yet still she did not move, so captivated was she.

On the tenth day the Gods looked down and saw Clytie, still standing, still mesmerized, still wasting away. They were touched by her selfless adoration, but concerned for her too. This was no life for a woman or a nymph.

So, taking pity on her, They turned her into a sunflower.

clytie

Modern versions of the myth say the flower was a sunflower, but originally the flower was a heliotrope. Just FYI.

Now her health and beauty are enhanced by the sun, instead of destroyed. She is nourished and sustained by the ground on which she stands, instead of weakened. And to this day the Sunflower is free to stare at the sun to her heart’s content.

Last night, while at my altar, this myth resonated with me on a deep level. First, of course, is the sun aspect and how that relates to Solstice. But it goes deeper than that.

Clytie was so obsessed with the sun she couldn’t function in the rest of her life. That wasn’t healthy, and the Gods knew that. But They also knew that turning her away from the sun completely – by, say, blinding her – would have been equally damaging. They came up with an unorthodox compromise that maintained her health while letting her heart go where it willed.

I found myself focusing on Clytie’s need for balance.

My life has been tumultuous this year. My Lady is the Lady of Change, and I have been living in Her realm since May. I have moved several times. I went from being a single woman working a full-time job to sharing a house with four other people, co-parenting two children, and homeschooling six days a week.

I’ve been so busy adjusting to all the changes and trying to keep my head above water that my spiritual life took a backseat for a bit. And I was so focused on all the day-to-day craziness that I didn’t realize until very recently that the lack of time at my altar – and by extension with the Powers – was affecting me as deeply as it was. It wasn’t just my spiritual life that suffered. Everything else did too.

In a way, I’ve been doing what Clytie did. I’ve neglected essential things I need to be healthy and happy in favor of the things at the forefront of my attention.

I need to learn from Clytie’s story and get some of my own balance back. It’s up to me to restore that which I lost, though. No Gods are stepping in to turn me into a flower!

I took the need for balance to my altar, along with the beginnings of a plan to fix it, and asked the Powers for help. My Lady has been patiently waiting for me to see the problem and step it the fuck up. Now that I have, She’s of course totally willing to help. She always is, but requires a request – and my very best good faith effort – to act. And even then She’s careful not to overstep. How will I learn if I simply go where I’m led?

I don’t yet know what being totally balanced looks like in this new situation, with all the new things going on now and coming up in 2017 (oh yes I have plans!), but after spending some one-on-one time with Her last night I know where to start. That’s the best Solstice gift I could ask for.

It’s the Most Uncomfortable Time of the Year*

Out of all the holidays, Beltane is by far the weirdest for me personally. Over the last few years I have developed my own way of conceptualizing it that works for me, and if I’m going solo or running a group ritual with that in mind it’s fine.

However, this year I’m attending a group ritual run by someone much more traditional, and I’m honestly kind of dreading it. Not because I don’t enjoy ritual, or even this person’s rituals, but because Beltane itself is all kinds of awkward for me. It kinda feels like I’m back in Christian church.

I am well aware that’s not a common response, especially to this holiday in particular, so I figured an explanation might be handy.

First off, what’s Beltane?

Beltane, or May 1st, is the absolute favorite holiday of a ton of people. Traditionally it’s the day when flocks and herds were returned to the fields after being cooped up all winter, and that aspect of things does play a part in the season. However, these days Beltane is more commonly considered the day the Goddess and God get together, or the day the Holly King fights the Oak King for the Goddess’s hand. The emphasis is heavy on sex, fertility, and marriage.

This type of image sums it up nicely, doesn’t it?

This type of image sums it up nicely.

Sure, there are other associations too – protection, community engagement, sensuality and self-appreciation – but most public rituals bypass them in favor of the sex/fertility/marriage triad. Makes sense, really, as it’s so easy to work with that in a ritual setting. It’s also a way of declaring, loud and proud, that sex is a holy thing and not something to freak out about in the dark. For many of us from more puritanical backgrounds that kind of reminder is incredibly welcome.

Like I said, it’s all perfectly understandable. I simply don’t really relate to it.

Why not?

I promise this isn’t just me being difficult. There are some pretty fundamental disconnects between me and the way Beltane is commonly celebrated.

Sex

The sexual focus of Beltane is fairly lost on me. *shrug* I’m asexual.

“Asexual” means I am rarely if ever sexually attracted to someone. I can appreciate pretty people, but it’s like appreciating a sunset or a piece of music. I have no visceral “damn I’d like to bang that!” going on. That doesn’t mean I’m celibate – orientation is based on attraction and not action, which is why a gay man having sex with a woman while fantasizing that he’s banging Channing Tatum is still a gay man – but it does mean that who I choose to have sex with is based on other factors. (Usually, for me, it’s either because I’ve seen them have sex with someone else and thought that looked like a good time or because they’re awesome people and I like their skin on mine.)

While sex is fun, it’s by no means required for my health and happiness. Roller coasters are fun too, and I don’t see many rituals devoted to those. Sex is the same way. Awesome if I can get it, but if not? Eh. Not exactly a crisis.

Touch my damn wifi, though, and we'll have issues! *growl*

Touch my damn wifi, though, and we’ll have issues! *growl*

A whole ritual focused on something I can take or leave honestly isn’t all that meaningful to me.

Fertility

The fertility of people and the land has been important for the entirety of human history. I absolutely get that. And I can appreciate the latter – it’s part of my own observance.

However, I am personally childfree. Militantly so. I have no children, I have no desire for children, and I find my life perfectly fulfilling without that. The idea of being pregnant makes me physically ill. I know I’m in the minority with this, and that’s fine, but just thinking about it is horrifying. I am unspeakably grateful, every day, that I am infertile (thanks PCOS!).

While I realize that fertility in all areas is part of this holiday, and that “all areas” includes things like my creativity, the ritual emphasis is almost always on physical fertility. Even if it’s not, that is still the metaphor most rituals run with. In order to relate to that personally I have to do a whole Cirque du Soleil routine in my head, mentally overcoming my revulsion at the idea of physical pregnancy and then substituting that idea with something I actually want fertile.

How many ways do I have to contort my brain to make these ideas relevant?

How many ways do I have to contort my brain to make these ideas relevant?

That, frankly, is a lot of damn work.

Marriage

Marriage and handfasting, the romantic union of self with another, is a large component of the traditional Beltane. And, again, this isn’t really my thing. I’m aromantic.

“Aromantic” means I have no desire for a romantic partner. None. I have close friendships, and I’ve had some cohousing situations where queerplatonic dynamics ruled the day, but no matter how intimate those friendships get they’re never romantic in nature.

That is wonderful when it comes to my spirituality and my creative projects. As I’ve discussed before, there are only so many hours in the day. All the time I’m not spending with a partner – and that is a lot of time – I can instead spend on other priorities. I can fall into a project for an entire weekend, as I am wont to do, and that’s fine. If someone calls me and needs my counsel I can take whatever time they need without short-changing the other people in my life. I can travel on a moment’s notice, and as long as I’m meeting my work obligations I don’t need to check in with anyone else about it.

I’m not saying that this is the best thing for everyone, because it’s not. But it is absolutely better for me.

There isn’t a lot of room for this viewpoint in a traditional Beltane ritual, though, and that’s a problem.

Observance vs. Ritual

So far I’ve covered how the three main ritual focuses of Beltane – sex, fertility, and marriage – are just not for me. But how those things are focused on is an issue too.

The “observance vs ritual” concept just came to my attention as that pretty recently. It figures in to all the sabbats I celebrate with more traditional Pagan people, and the issues I already have with Beltane just make it worse.

I approach each sabbat as an observance, and Beltane is no exception. For me Beltane is all about the Land. I invite the local land spirits (and anyone else who wants to honor Them) to attend a meal in Their honor, as an act of appreciation and connection, and that’s as far as it goes. If other people are present conversation stays focused on the land, on the seasons, on the physicality of our lives. The spoken invitation to the Land at the beginning of things and my farewell at the end are as formal as it gets.

Not exactly crying out for heels and a ballgown here.

Not exactly crying out for heels and a ballgown here.

That’s quite intentional on my part. I am a purpose-driven person, and I don’t often do something if there’s not a clear reason for it. That’s why nothing I do for a sabbat resembles a typical Pagan ritual. I’m not doing magick or raising energy because that’s not what I’m there for, so it doesn’t happen. Casting Circles and calling Quarters is completely superfluous, so I don’t do it. Beltane is not about honoring the Gods or the Ancestors (They have Their own days), so there are no invocations for Them (although my Lady is always welcome where I am, of course). My altar rarely has the traditional altar tools on it, and never has all of them, because they’re not being used. Since the entire thing is a picnic with offerings, Cakes and Ale has no point. Add that in with my complete lack of focus on sex and marriage, and fertility only being referenced as a seasonal energy increase for the land, and the disconnect between what I do and a more traditional Pagan ritual becomes blindingly obvious.

That’s why I find attending a Pagan Beltane to many times feel like attending a Christian church. I attend, I say the things, I do my best to engage, but it feels very “not me” when I do it almost all of the time. That’s what makes it uncomfortable. Of course, a traditional Pagan is likely to be just as uncomfortable attending my observance as I am attending their ritual. *shrug*

I’ll be doing both my personal observance and a much more traditional group ritual this year. After which this day passes for another year, and I can turn my focus to Midsummer – much more comfortable all around.

*For those who were wondering – yes, I sang the title. I’m not even a little bit shamed, either. *grin*

Solstice Vigil, 2014

I’m currently curled up in my desk chair, sipping icy water and nibbling on dark chocolate while Pandora plays softly in the background. Recovery from this year’s Solstice ritual – like all the other years I’ve done it – is a stone bitch.

I do the same ritual every year, an all-night vigil from dusk to dawn, and over the years a holiday I used to despise has become one of my absolute favorites. It’s quiet, and introspective, and forces us to follow a schedule set by something more meaningful than a clock.

The heart of my vigil is individual meditation. For me Solstice – the longest night of the year, ending in a brilliant dawn – is all about bringing light to our own inner darkness, spelunking in our inner depths and discovering things within ourselves we didn’t even know were there. Solstice is also a quiet period allowing us to really open up to the Powers. Enough time and focus can help even the most resistant of us hear the whispers carried by silence, and it’s a wonderful time to reconnect.

A lot of internal illumination can occur during the course of a 15-hour-long night.

I went into this ritual with my private ritual of Origination still bouncing around my head. I knew this year would lead to some changes and challenges, and while some I suspected were confirmed others came out of left field. I thought I’d share a bit of it here.

1) This year’s focus will be getting my physical world in order. I’m tackling my finances, getting healthier, embracing a more environmentally-sustainable life, and (as soon as I get transportation) opening myself to new relationships with corporeal people. My Hermit-like retreat will draw to a close soon, and it’s probably a good thing.

2) The Ancestors and especially the Land Spirits deserve more from me than They’ve been getting. I’m ashamed to admit it, but there’s no denying it. This year will see some serious deepening of my devotional practice in those areas, including but not limited to increased offerings and more work in social justice and environmental arenas.

3) I work with 8 deities in addition to my Lady, all at Her direction. I knew going into those relationships that they were temporary, and this year some of them will be coming to a close. The lessons I needed to learn from them are learned and it’s time to move on. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this yet. I also don’t know if I’ll be welcoming an equal number of new deities to my practice or not. We shall see.

4) In the same vein it looks like my prohibition against honoring Gods has been relaxed a bit – for the last 15 years I’ve exclusively worked with Goddesses, with the only exception being Loki. I still don’t work with Anyone my Lady hasn’t cleared, and I need to do some work with this, but I am feeling a very strong pull towards a specific God I’ve not worked with before. That will be interesting all around.

5) I have several projects on the burner – developing my own Tarot deck, producing a divination system I’ve already developed, and revising the curriculum I use with students for possible publication among others. All of those are now officially slated for completion in by Samhain of 2015. *deep breath*

6) Several topics came to light that I’ve avoided dealing with as completely as I should have. That’s being addressed. Yay.

For now I’m enjoying the calm that comes with the next two weeks, as everything slows a bit until January, and I’m already a bit excited about what I’ll discover during Solstice of 2015.

Blessings of the season to you and yours!

Origination 2011

And so the Wheel turns round and round…

… and brings us to Origination again.

Yule will be in 9 days. So many changes over the last year, and a lengthy list of current and future changes, leave me uncertain as to where this year is going. I am – once again – in uncharted territory without a compass. *amused* I’m getting so used to change and moving around that some stability would probably come as an unwelcome shock!

The holiday insanity that has apparently become traditional is all around me, and I’m thankful to find myself fairly well insulated from it. I don’t celebrate the season with presents. Perhaps even more importantly, I don’t have children to buy for! And since my family is all on the other side of the country, the whole family-get-together thing isn’t in the cards either. I do honor the Solstice, but even when I celebrate with others it is a very quiet and more introspective affair.

As we come upon Solstice we also approach the anniversary of my mother’s death. I waffle between a vague contempt and a matter-of-fact acceptance when it comes to my feelings for her, but every Solstice I light a candle anyway and wish her spirit well. I find real comfort in the concept of reincarnation – there’s always hope that the deceased can do it right next time. The idea that she might go to a Christian Heaven or Hell for a game-over just upsets me, but a do-over seems about right, considering.

My Lady has told me many things She wants from me in the coming year. This blog is one of them. I’m comfortable talking to complete strangers about pretty much everything else but this, and now is apparently the time to get over that last hesitation. I’m a bit nervous, but I’m game to try. I just hope that it is as helpful to readers as it should be for me!