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At Imbolc, Winter is waning and the season turns toward Spring. The groundhog is said to be a predictor of the arrival of Spring. If the groundhog sees its shadow, off it goes back into its hole, informing us that Winter won’t be letting go soon. If it doesn’t see its shadow, Spring is on its way.
This shadow dance is familiar to us humans. As the shifting light and warming days coax the groundhog from its den in search of the quickening signs of Spring, so does our hunger for the spring of new beginnings coax us to leave behind the refuge of what we know and sniff the air for signs of shifting possibilities. What we seek draws us into the light of greater consciousness, and where there is light there is shadow.
Shadow in our human psyche is the depository of the repressed, denied and vilified parts of our personal lives and human society: our pain, dysfunction and unpalatable, uncontrollable instincts and emotions. When we encounter our personal or collective shadow, our first impulse, like the groundhog, is to retreat into the blinders and comforts of our old ways and their winter-like grip of stagnation and stasis.
We forget, in our fear and projections, that the shadow realm also holds the raw materials of our deeper potential. And that the things we repress, deny and vilify just might be exactly what we need — secret truths, hidden gifts and latent powers — to heal, grow and flourish.
In our forgetting, we act out from our repressed and denied places, and doom ourselves and our world to be ruled by that which we refuse to face and claim as a part of our human experience.
In our forgetting, we become half-human, shut off from essential parts of our nature and selfhood, and truncated in our self-knowing, expression and evolution.
Imbolc is a between time, of Winter thawing into Spring, and of the dark giving way to the light. We are not separate from these natural energies and their life-seeking drives. Nor can we leave our shadow behind as we reach out to the springtime call of new possibilities, personal growth and societal change. Rather than giving into our instinct to retreat from our shadow, transformative change comes when we have the courage and compassion to reach out our hand and heart to our shadow, and to step together into the returning powers of light and life.
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Posted on:  Nov 2, 2017 @ 10:29 Posted in:  Sabbats
We gather in a heritage hall on my island home for our Samhain ritual. Warm bodies squeeze close together to form a circle of pagan and non-pagan folks, grownups and children, and even a couple of dogs, with the room filled to capacity.
It’s been a hard, heartbreaking year for our community. The Ancestors altar is covered with photographs and mementos of those that have passed. There have been many deaths, and the tragic loss of two precious youth in one September weekend that shook this island to its core. I feel this collective grief in my own heart, and in this gathering. Samhain is the time when we honor and name those we’ve lost this year, and commune with our Beloved Dead.
Yet there’s more than grief and loss in the room. At the opposite end of the cycle of life are the youth, our children, and the souls waiting to be born. These beings we honor on the Descendants altar, and through the naming of the newborns this year.
I stand beside the Ancestors altar with another priestess. Across the circle from us, two priestesses stay by the Descendants altar. The four us will be calling in the Ancestors and Descendants, and then shifting into paired partners of Deep Witness and Tender.
The Deep Witnesses don’t actively participate in the ritual. They sit — veiled, empty and silent — acting as anchors and observers of the deep dream of our magic. I’m one of the Tenders. Our priestess role is to support and protect our Deep Witness, and to stay by her side for the duration of the ritual.
As the ritual begins, I notice that I feel different than my usual, high-intensity magical engagement. I’m somber, watchful and empty present — a guardian and observer of the Deep Witness and our community as we enter the powerful, mysterious and mournful experience of Samhain.
Together we create sacred space. The circle is cast. We ground. The Elements are called in through song. Goddesses and other Mysteries are invoked. Our priestess group calls in the Ancestors and Descendants.
I listen from the edge of the circle, attuned to the movements of bodies, weaving of energy, and quality of presence, more than the individual words and actions. I step forward to do my calling in task, and then settle into my role as Tender.
I notice the seamless sharing of leadership, power and space — the many priestesses working together to co-create this magical experience for our community. The talent and expertise in this room are immense, diverse, breathtaking, yet I don’t sense inflated egos, jealousy or competition.
We move on to the reading of the names of the dead who have passed this year — what is remembered lives. And the dead come, slipping past the veil that separates us, to drink of our grief, our love, and our honoring.
I notice how natural this is, how right for us to be with our honored dead in these ways. They move among us, touching the faces of their beloved kin with their hands of light, soothing the broken hearts of those left behind, letting us know that they are still with us, just a thought, a name, a song away.
Two priestesses begin to trace a path in the center of the circle, one drumming and together weaving a hauntingly beautiful guided trance to the Isle of Apples, the Pagan Land of the Dead. Everyone settles into a comfortable position, and makes their way to the blessed Isle to commune with their Beloved Dead.
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Ritual Credit: This Samhain ritual practice arises out of the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft.
Photo Credit: Janko Ferlič on Unsplash
Posted on:  Oct 27, 2017 @ 10:31 Posted in:  Sabbats
The natural world and our human psyches turn toward the mysteries of death at Samhain. Cold and darkness descend upon the land, and the wild world shifts into decay and a death-like sleep. In many cultures, this time of year is marked by offerings and rituals to honor the dead, our beloved ancestors.
Usually we don’t like to think about death. Most of us run as fast as we can from the frightening specter that decline and death conjure in us. It is the ultimate irony that the moment we are born into life, with our very first breath, we are also born into death. And we must live every moment, every breath, knowing that we will die, and that everything around us, all that we love and cherish, will eventually come to decay, to death, to dust.
Samhain teaches us that there is no hiding from death. It comes in the falling of leaves, the lengthening darkness and the cold grip of Winter. It comes in our remembrances of our beloved ancestors that have passed on. It comes in the wrenching of our heart as we witness a dear one slip from this world into the next. It comes with the graying at our temples, the sagging of our flesh and the unstoppable march toward our last breath.
And death comes with gifts in hand if we have the courage to show up raw and naked to our pain, losses and fears.
that every breath is a miracle not to be wasted;
that each person, each creature and life form, is worthy, precious, sacred;
that life is oh so hard and oh so exquisite;
that pain and loss help us remember what we cherish most;
and that love, at the end of all things, is what remains.
Love is death’s most precious gift to us. Love, not money, possessions, career, social esteem and the many other alluring outer trappings of life, is the balm that soothes us in the face of death. Love is what connects us to those who have passed on. Love calls us to reach out and hold each other in our grief. Love is what joins us heart to heart and soul to soul to another. Love is our best offering from our Deep Self to the world.
Samhain is a time to contemplate the mysteries of death, not from a place of fear and resistance, but from an acceptance of death as a teacher and guide for the living. Yes we are born into life and born into death, and it is this very, inescapable fact that makes every moment so precious, fragile and bittersweet beautiful.
Death isn’t a summons to fear, it is an invitation to love, deeply, wildly, joyfully. And when death seeks us out at the end of our days, let our last breath be a prayer to love.
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Posted on:  Sep 21, 2017 @ 15:00 Posted in:  Sabbats
The path of spiritual growth and evolution first leads us into the dark. The lost parts of our selfhood and humanity — hidden treasures obscured amongst the shattered fragments of our pain and wounding, mysteries long repressed and forgotten in the waking world, secret stories that can set us free, wondrous possibilities not yet imaginable — await us in the sacred dark.
It’s the cusp of the Fall Equinox. I’m at a secluded Buddhist retreat center. The focus of our dharma talk is love. The teacher rings the bell to start our meditation. Within a few breaths, a vision comes to me. The wooden floor gapes open and reveals a stairway. A man is standing on the stairs, his hand extended to me. I can sense him more than see him. He emanates a powerful elixir of animal magnetism and ethereal beauty, as if he is equally woven of flesh and of light.
“Come,” he says, “it’s time for your awakening.”
I take his hand and descend into the waiting darkness.
So began a new cycle on my journey of soul, one that returned a precious missing part of my humanity and womanhood to me — my beloved — God, man, husband, father, brother, son and my own inner masculine. The promised awakening was one that led me over and over again to lost pieces of my Self and life story that held both my beauty and wounding, and the light and dark of my greater maturity and wholeness.
For the next several years, this soul work of reclaiming my beloved became the central theme of my dreaming, magical workings and personal healing, mending a tear in my soul that I’d carried since my early childhood, and lifetimes before. In the end, I came to the infinite grace and communion of love, with myself, with God and with the men and boys who blessed my life.Persephone’s Tale
This vision isn’t unique to me. As the wheel of the year turns to the Fall Equinox — a moment of balance between the light and the dark, before the land retreats from the sunlit world of Summer into the cold sleep of Winter — a portal opens to the Underworld and the Goddess Persephone makes Her mythic descent into the sacred dark.
Persephone is a stunning Goddess maiden, full of the juice and joy of Her worldly powers and nature. But She is incomplete in the sunlit realm of Her Mother Demeter. The Underworld calls Her to seek out the missing parts of Her nature in the sacred dark. Persephone descends and walks among the dead and the rich mysteries of the Underworld, drinking in bitter tears and hidden magic. And She grows and matures through Her trials and sorrows.
In Spring, the powers of life call to Persephone once more. She stirs in Her Underworld travels, turning Her awareness to the rustling of green grass, freshening winds, and the life-inducing heat of sunshine on the waking landscape. She returns to the sunlit realm, no longer a maiden, but a Goddess transformed into Her full maturity and wholeness, Queen of the Underworld and Goddess of Springtime Growth. As Her feet touch the living Earth, flowers bloom in Her path, for Hers are the powers of transformation and rebirth.
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Photo Credit: Photo by Will Fuller on Unsplash
Posted on:  Jul 30, 2017 @ 22:53 Posted in:  Sabbats
Though the heat of Summer still burns bright and strong, the sunlit hours wane with every passing day. Now is the time of Lammas, the pagan Sabbat of the early harvest. Lugh, the Celtic God of light, waits for you on the summit of a hill, ready to guide you in the mysteries of life and rebirth held within the living land and your living body.
The sun has begun is downward arc toward the horizon, and a panoramic view of golden fields, ripe for the early harvest, spreads out before you.
“Behold the great exchange of life,” Lugh says, “the mysteries of sunlight turned into grain to feed the hungry bellies of this world. But there is a price for this miracle: something must die to nourish the living, and for something new to be born. Everything has its season. One cycle ends so another can begin.”
With a wave of His hand, the scene shifts, revealing the elemental forces that underlie the golden fields. All is not well. The earth is parched and barren. The air is filled with contaminants. The fire heat of the sun is too harsh. The water in the nearby stream is clouded with murky sludge.
“Like the turning of Nature’s cycle of light and life at Lammas, humanity is also coming to the end of a cycle,” Lugh says, “For too long, your kind has forgotten the ways and rhythms of the Mother Earth. You have taken, and taken, and taken, despoiling the air, water and land that sustain you. This imbalance has come to an end point, and a reckoning is upon you.”
Lugh is grave and silent, leaving you to consider the import of His words. The stark evidence of humanity’s environmental excesses and disregard surrounds you. The Mother Earth is weighted down and weary, with Her fragile, precious systems stressed and failing.
“I don’t share these things to burden you with a vision of despair,” Lugh continues, “Look to Nature as your guide, with its Lammas teaching of the miracle of the harvest. Within everything is the seed of a new season, with its promise of a fresh beginning and future harvest.
“You too have come to the end of a cycle,” Lugh says, “and your personal healing and evolution are intimately intertwined with that of humanity and the Earth.
“The imbalance you see before you is also inside of you, side by side with your personal imbalances and discontent, and those of your human society. And the seeds of the new are there as well, within your living body and life story. With these seeds, you can mend and renew your life and this world.
“But there is a price to be paid for this miracle. Something must die, must be sacrificed, for something new to be reborn. You must be willing to change in profound ways.”
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Photo by Emma Van Sant on Unsplash