Ostara, Easter, Beltane, Overwhelm

Originally posted on Pagan Bloggers.

Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. -Rainer Maria RilkeOne of the hardest parts of starting from scratch is having to evaluate absolutely everything to decide if we want to include it or not.

Holidays are complex and mysterious things for me. Left to my own devices, almost everything creeps up on me without giving me a chance to get much planning done, even for holidays I enjoy like Halloween and holidays that I have off work like Thanksgiving. If I was on my own, I’d probably just enjoy the quiet day off a national holiday offers. However, holidays are important to my spouse, and I want my kid to grow up enjoying them if possible, so I continue to think about it.

There are going to be holidays no matter what- the ones we already celebrate, yes, but also the secular and dominant-faith-narrative holidays. Some things are outside of our control. Bug goes to a secular daycare, but that means there’s Christmas and Easter celebrations at school… and Christmas in particular is hard to avoid. The Universalist Unitarian church we attend has an Easter egg hunt every year as well.

Good holidays require planning. Lent and Advent were great for that when I was a kid (plus, let’s be honest, my mom did all the work) and I think it might be nice to bring some of that sense of anticipation in. Adapting an Advent calendar would go over well, I think, as well as stuff like “looking at lights” and “engaging in service opportunities” that put one in mind of it being an important time. I’ve actually got a full twelve days of Yule that I’ve been doing in a religious sense for several years now, as well as my other two New Years, but almost none of that translates well to celebrating with a toddler.

This year, Ostara came so far ahead of Easter that it wasn’t even on my radar until I started seeing posts from other pagans about it. Ostara is a great holiday, and one that really ought to be celebrated for Mara, thematically. But it didn’t happen. I let it go and resolved to do a bit more with Easter instead, to make up for it.

Lent is harder than Advent since the dates don’t like up well at all, but something like that would not be inappropriate for that time of year… Ostara is Mara’s emergence from the Woods. We thank and celebrate Brhenti’s aid through the winter at Imbolc, but while the ground has thawed, there’s not much in the way of fresh fruit between Imbolc and Ostara (unless your grocery store is importing it from Mexico). It’s a time of reflecting on what strength we’ve left to carry us out of the winter.

We did manage some Easter for Bug. It was very basic, mostly an egg hunt on Easter morning. It was hard because Easter was the same weekend as her birthday, so there was already plenty of excitement to go around. (I’m honestly not sure if she understood where ‘party for her’ ended and ‘party about bunnies’ began.) In fact, this would have been an ideal year to celebrate Ostara instead… but of course that didn’t happen. No use crying over spilt Cadbury eggs.

Beltane… well, we did sort of celebrate Beltane, though it was largely by accident. May is when the city we’ve moved into starts coming alive for the summer, so the first weekend included a First Friday celebration with local businesses, musicians and artists, a Mayfair at the local Waldorf school, and the First Market on Sunday. We went out after work on Friday to look at the sights, and on Saturday spent some time at Mayfair until Bug got tired. I brought home flowers from First Market for my spouse, who immediately placed them on the new altar.

Ah yes, the new altar. I’m working on a project for my spouse the next two months, and this kicked off with repeating the ritual for Juno I did last year. I had some pokes from Star Wars day and some pokes from Juno and I ended up with the sketched outline of a syncretization of Juno-Leia I’m calling the Juno of Alderaan.

And then I ended up with a felted doll of her, because that’s what happens when you’re me. One of the ways I understand things is through craft, so I spent the hours shaping the body form, choosing the colors, studying Leia’s hair styles to decide what I wanted to do…

I’m very pleased with the result, actually.

Mostly I’m trying to get my head on straight. I’ve been making my offerings to the local spirits and to Mara every day, and I’m hoping to try some more organized magical work for the household in June. Summer is full of festivals and holidays and at the same time they feel much less formal, less set in stone. There will be a pilgrimage to the ocean, there will be fairs and fiber festivals, there will be the tracking of which foods come and go at the farmers’ market. All of these things matter, but the precise dates matter less than knowing when they happen in relation to each other.

I’ve got my rough shape. Some of the work to be done is hammering in details; some needs to happen when it happens. All of it will come in time.

New Moon

there is incense and honey and wine
there is the figure on the altar
glass eyes catching the candleflame
there is music pounding out
the beat while I chant

there is a headbutt against my ankles
warmth, humming thanks
the sense of her in my lap
weight on my legs, claws digging casually
into my calves and I reach out of habit
to scritch and touch nothing
then I understand how long it’s been
since she was actually here

there are arms around my shoulders
heavy, muttering nothings
quiet like she always was, waiting
for me to talk and me not knowing
what to say but it
doesn’t matter anymore
maybe it didn’t then either

doesn’t she look like Blackie
Blackie died when I was a toddler
I don’t remember her but I agree
the weight in my lap readies itself,
jumps higher than she had in years,
is caught by insubstantial arms

I’m so glad you called and
I’m proud of you and too soon
well I’d better be letting you go
I don’t want to let go
but there’s a different hand
on my shoulder now, black marble,
linen-draped, and it’s time

the offerings go to the crossroad
the rain has stopped for the moment
her presence is solid when I begin
and by the end I am alone
I leave her altar bare in the dark

Creating Traditions

We hadn’t actually made plans for Mabon.

In and of itself, fall equinox isn’t a big holiday for either of us. However, the fiber show that falls on this weekend is one we’ve attended every year since we first moved up here. It was the very first one we attended together, in fact.

To the toddler, we extolled the virtues of looking at sheep, at rabbits, at llamas. She enjoyed the livestock at an earlier event this summer, and was looking forward to it. The rabbits ended up being a hard sell, but she loved the sheep and the llamas.

Coming out of the livestock barn, I spotted a gentleman working on something in one of the booths. I pointed him out to my wife, and when we got there they wanted to look in. The booth was full of handmade brooms, and as we walked by he completed one.

My spouse already has a ritual broom, and I asked if they needed a new one.

They didn’t, but we both noticed that the baby was quite taken with the brooms. My spouse noticed that there were a number of half-size brooms likned up, so they asked the baby which she liked.

The baby tried two or three before settling on the next one almost from the moment it was in her hands. She eagerly swept at the surface of the grass as I paid, and then carried the broom herself for quite a while, sweeping or twirling it in her hands.

I think the best traditions and holidays tend to arise organically. This was already a tradition, and adding a first broom only adds to it. The baby has a ritual tool she can grow into. And this holiday will be a little more special going forward.

Beltane, Belatedly

In my post about Walpurgisnacht, I talked about accepting my emptiness. I have been mulling the idea of seeing myself as full of something, even if that something is nothingness. I have identified myself with shadows and voids before in my life, and as goth as it sounds, that association is still a comfortable one for me.

The day after, my family got up and went to church at the UU, where a friend from local druid and pagan groups was in charge of a service celebrating Beltane and discussing the important of embodiment. Despite years of dance and martial arts classes, I’ve never quite felt at home in my body. Dissociation and body dysphoria are both recurring issues, and while I’ve made progress with everything from shape-shifting meditation to strength training to hormone therapy and surgery, there are still plenty of bad days to go around.

Embodiment is shadow work for me. I can sit with my darkness far more easily than I can sit still in my skin. Jung talks about being stuck in a stage of melancholia when the shadow is brought forth to engage with the ego, and compares this to the alchemical stage of nigredo or tenebrositas. I wonder if the process of transitioning is bound up in this psychological process?

I’ve certainly felt rather stuck in a year-long dark night of the soul. I get the feeling that internal work overlaps with what Hekate wants to see from me. After all, Jung also talked about the nekiya and katabasis, descents into the underworld, and while he meant it metaphorically, Hekate did nudge me toward Persephone and thence Hades.

I’m still a little boggled by the whole Greek… thing? I guess? One Greek deity was one thing, but I’m getting dangerously close to this being a whole thing and I’m trying to make it clear that I’m not interested in doing a recon route and am not comfortable touching the idea of miasma with a twenty foot pole due to my OCD issues. Hopefully that’s acceptable; if it’s not, I’m willing to opt out, because I don’t want to play chicken with scrupulosity.

And while it feels a bit odd to be doing shadow work as the summer comes on, well, the brightest light casts the darkest shadows, and my shadow work is a bit inside-out anyway.

Walpurgisnacht

I remember being nineteen, standing with my then-best friend in the dark of a glass campus walkway on a new moon night, looking at our reflections and seeing someone else in mine. It was terrifying but also exciting, proof to my mind that this was real and that I wasn’t wasting my time on other realms and the supernatural. I used to do a lot of stupid magical things to get that thrill of realness, to see if I could and to see what would happen.

It’s not that I would recommend that kind of reckless thrillseeking to somebody new to magic; actions have consequences, and yes, some of them I’m still living with. But I used to take risks, all kinds of risks, considered risks and desperate risks and insane risks. I’m not sure when that changed.

I mean, a few years ago I quit my job and my significant other and I sold everything we couldn’t fit in the car and moved to the Pacific Northwest with no plan. It worked out, obviously. But since then, perhaps because of the OCD and the anxiety, I’ve struggled with even reasonable risks.

“What do you want from me?” I ask Hekate.

“Magic,” she says.

And I don’t know how to answer that. You’d think it would be easy, given how much stupid magical shit I’ve done, but somewhere along the way I lost my confidence. Everything I do feels empty, and that emptiness isn’t suited to magic. In the thin dark of Walpurgisnacht I confess my emptiness.

I have made progress. Asking for Mars’s energy has inspired discipline. I’ve meditated, written, made progress on chores. But the emptiness only recedes temporarily, because whatever I am given seems always on the verge of slipping away. When I close my eyes I feel the ragged edges of a hole in my chest. I’m not sure what it is, whether it’s depression or an energy body issue or just my nature. At one point I thought maybe the cancer was a product or a representation, and the double mastectomy would remove it or something, but you can’t remove a hole. You can only patch it or fill it, and if you don’t tend to it, your bucket drains away no matter what you do.

I suppose that leaves two choices. I can find a way to patch the bucket, and look to be refilled, or I can accept that an empty bucket is still full, just of something else entirely.

It hurts to look at myself when I am empty and self-destructive and desperate for that realness, especially since I’m not nineteen anymore and I have people who rely on me. But I’m not doing them a whole lot of good the way I am right now anyway, and I can push myself and work with that emptiness without doing things that only sound like a good idea if you want to be a protagonist in a horror novel.

Sometimes the Dark comes with a warm blanket, and sometimes she comes with stompy boots. I need stompy boots, and strong hands that don’t let me flinch away from the mirror. I hate looking at myself, but I have to see myself. Since last fall, really, I’ve been treading water. I spent March caught in a riptide, and April giving in to drowning grief.

I’m tired. I’m ready to crawl onto the shore and let the seawater drain away and confront the emptiness. To find fullness in the void, if that’s what it takes. If I’m going to be thrown into the fucking abyss, I might as well cross it, right? There’s no point in going back to the other side of the sea. Hekate is known as a guide in dark places. I used to know how to trust the Dark. I don’t know when I forgot that.

Teach me, Lady. Teach me, Lady. Teach me, Lady.

Emptying My Pockets

I don’t have a lot of new years rituals, and out of the three new years I celebrate, this is probably the one with the least spiritual significance for me. My anniversary is in here, and a lot of fraught family feelings (especially this year) so it’s not a good time for resolutions and big new projects.

But this year my notebook is almost full, so I’m switching to a new one on the first. For the first time in a long time, I love my system and my type of notebook enough that I just bought another of the same kind of notebook, and I’m moving only because I’m nearly out of pages. It makes me really happy to have something that’s working.

Since I’m going to be starting the year with a fresh notebook, I was thinking about clearing other things that have been overwhelming me, too.

I love Pocket. I love Evernote. I love having a place to put things I want to read so I don’t have to read them right now, and I love having a place to put things I want to reference later so I no longer have to maintain an extensively tagged del.icio.us account or dozens of folders for my fiction. But it’s also easy to let things get away from me. On Sunday I noted I had seventy five or so things sitting in Pocket, waiting for me to read them, and at least that many things in my intake folder on Evernote, waiting for me to read them and sort them.

Well, I’m reading them.

I’ve whittled Pocket down to about fifteen things so far, finishing fanfics, taking notes on articles, and shifting things I want to keep for reference into Evernote. The Evernote sorting goes a little more quickly, as there are fewer decisions to make and less reading required, just sorting.

None of this is going to change my life, probably. But the timing is a good reminder to make it a priority. Putting a few things in order as I come out of a very busy season cuts down on my overall level of overwhelm, and right now anything that does that is a good thing.

First New Year Time Again

First New Year was an interesting one this year.

I had to work on the 31st, so I wasn’t there for trick or treating. Nonetheless we read a board book about the Great Pumpkin and my child left her candy out as a sacrifice to the Pumpkin, who brought her Duplos instead.

Since I didn’t have time to cook this year, on the 31st I laid out a feast of tiny doll food for the ancestors, and yesterday night I did actually have real food to leave out for them. The Hunt got offerings as well.

image

Sunday night I did the most formal ritual I have done in probably years, certainly since the baby was born. I’m still chewing on the results I got. The most difficult part is that I was told not to do any divination for myself or ask for any to be done for me before Yule.

This is an entirely reasonable request. I have a real problem with using divination as a checking behavior, continuing to ask questions when it’s useless. Hopefully this will help me unlearn that.

I signed up for NaNoWriMo out of habit this year. I’m not going to make any write-ins and I probably won’t make 50k but I’m going to write a bunch and count all the words and just… see how that goes.

Hopefully this will result in more posts here! I wasn’t intending to go radio silent – I have a couple of posts in draft stage, even. Life just got away from me a bit and I haven’t quite got it back yet. Life is good like that.

Kick the Dust Up

The pub was loud and busy, and while she had become very comfortable with the modern languages spoken outside of her homeland, Ausrine still found herself overwhelmed by noise when she had nothing in particular to listen to. She was waiting for Darja to stop talking to some young man on the other side of the room, but they were much too far away for her to hope to make out their conversation.

Her thoughts drifted back to what was troubling her. Ausrine had thought, somehow, that she would have made more progress by now. Here it was the last harvest festival and she was still sleeping in Darja’s guest room. It wasn’t that she disliked Darja’s company; the two had become lovers recently, and Ausrine did not regret it in the slightest. She only wished she had a bit more direction.

“Well that was interesting,” Darja said as she sat down. “You’re getting a reputation, my dear. That gentleman just invited us to another harvest festival.”

Ausrine sighed. The harvest festivals seemed so dry and perfunctory to her, despite Darja’s assurances that continuing to make contacts would only help.

“Oh, don’t make that face,” Darja interrupted her thoughts. “Besides which, he said it’s a more pastoral tradition, so perhaps you’ll like this one.”
Read more

The Spring Festival

Ausrine swallowed hard as she watched the festival procession go by. At home, she knew, they would be celebrating the early spring by praising Mara’s lifegiving aspects and begging her wintery face to turn away for another year. Somehow out here it had become something altogether different.

“Then the Mariam throws the ice witch in the fire,” her host was explaining, “though I heard in some places they throw her in a river. It’s said that allows spring to come for another year. Do you suppose it was originally about your Mara?”

She knew what the woman meant; she wanted to know if the Mariam’s role had originally been played by the spirit. But all Ausrine could see when she watched was that the spirit that had saved her life was being mocked and burnt.

“At home,” she began, and then she looked around and lowered her voice, for it was still dangerous even with the army moved west, “at home we celebrate the thaw, and offer the first flowers to Mara.”

“Is there an ice witch?”

“Mara is…” Ausrine took a deep breath. “You have this romantic ideal of what the gods are, of what it meant to live here and belong to this land and to its spirits. But the spirits we know, and that you knew, were not so simple as you want them to be. So I will tell you how the new year is welcomed in the spring.”

Her voice had grown loud again, despite her best efforts, and some of the other people in the crowd were turning to look at her and listen.

“In the summer Mara is the giving earth, generous and fertile, good to plow and good to rest on. But the earth is all things in all seasons, and after we harvest the last of her gifts she grows lonely and empty. We keep our stores full and our hearthfires warm to remind ourselves that the Mara of the Summer is always watching over us.

“But the earth is not here for our pleasure, and in the winter Mara takes down her plaited hair and sheds her cloth garments. She runs wild in furs, or even naked in the snows, as it pleases her. Even the Sun flees from her in fear, and by the Longest Night we must remind the Sun to return with our bonfires. In winter Mara reminds us that she is not ours, but that we are hers, to do with as she will. Sometimes that means we don’t see the spring, but eventually everyone will have a last winter.

“When we die we go into the earth. She welcomes us there. She takes our bodies apart as hers was taken apart once, and she does us the honor of making our bodies part of her.

“But in the spring, when the ground thaws and with it her heart, when the flowers begin to push through like hope, we celebrate that we are still here, and we remind Mara that we are grateful for all she gives us, and bid her to wash the blood from her face and plait her hair again and be the fertile fields once more. We light fires to welcome her in from the cold, and we feast to show her how well we have portioned out the gifts she gave us last year, and we tell stories of her blessings and make offerings that the hospitality will beg reciprocation from her. And she comes back to us, our Daughter of the Earth, and we open the markets in the spring in her name. But she was the icy face of the frozen earth too.”

Ausrine shook her head, feeling as if she were waking from a trance. She looked around, seeing the size of the crowd she’d attracted. Some of them were interested, but some were angry. Her host’s face was ashen.

“We should go,” her host said, and Ausrine followed quickly out of the mass of people.