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Imbolc Musings

Aradia and I actually put up our Imbolc altar almost three weeks ago, as a part of the ritual of “putting Christmas away.”

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We kept it simple: white candles, red cloth, and the images of our household gods and spirits.

And then we wondered … what does Imbolc mean, really?

The internet is a strange journal, but at times an effective one.  Looking back over my Imbolc posts here on the blog and the “memories” offered up to me by the Book of Faces, it becomes clear that deep depression in January has been a part of my life for at least as long as I was in school.  Every year, when I have written anything at all, I have written about the dream of returning warmth, of waiting for Beltane, and the struggle to maintain my practice and relationships despite my internal Abyss.

The weather grows stranger every year and, here in Kansas City, this year’s Imbolc marks a (brief) return to cold, rather than a desperate hope for warmer weather.  I have to specify Kansas City, though, because last night Aradia and I watched the weatherman describe the movement of the blizzard currently threatening Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa, but Missouri as if brushed away by the hand of some local god, leaving KC all but untouched and pounding St. Louis with yet another round of torrential rain.  (To whatever KC witch, wizard, magician, or sorcerer is responsible for the repeated deflection of major storms: mad props to you, Mx., and if you’ll agree to meet me in person and talk tech, I’ll buy you dinner and drinks and swear on the River Styx to never reveal your identity.)

This year’s depression, by contrast, has been much, much stronger.  It is the warmth of joy that I pray for this Imbolc, not just the warmth of the Sun.

But… still … what does Imbolc mean?

More than any other Sabbat, I see this question asked and tentatively answered around the Pagan circles of the Book of Faces.  I particularly like Shauna Aura Knight’s answers about creativity and work (article the first, article the second), which is why I have spent the last two days working on blog posts and this coming HPF’s rituals with particular fervor, and updating my photography portfolio (shameless plug).  I intend to spend this afternoon updating this very blog, cleaning up links to dead blogs and making things prettier.

As I light the fires on the altar, I strive to re-light the fires within.

 

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Beltane 2015

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Public Samhain Ritual 20

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Preparation

Costumes – wear as much black as possible

Altar – altar table, bones, black candles, saturn plaque, seasonal swag, sickle, salt, punch bowl for libations, pomegranate, incense, altar cloth

Opening

Cleanse space with banishing pentagrams in the four directions (Cross & Pentagram rite if feeling ambitions)

Cast the circle with HSA ritual knife and salt water thrown to the quarters.

Quarter-Calls

Keeper of Air – “O Air, breath and thought! O Powers of Air, bright and cold! I ask you, come to my circle as friend, guardian, and witness!”

Keeper of Fire –  “O Fire, primal light of creation! O Powers of Fire, keepers of the light! I ask you, come to my circle as friend, guardian, and witness!”

Keeper of Water – “O Water, dark keeper of mystery! O Powers of Water, silent guides! I ask you, come to my circle as friend, guardian, and witness!”

Keeper of Earth – “O Earth, sustainer of life and flesh! O Powers of Earth, guardians and mothers! I ask you, come to my circle as friend, guardian, and witness!”

Goddes-touched – “The Circle is cast!  We call upon you, Mother of All Witches, be here with us!  Let your wisdom and your power fill this place!  Bear witness!  Accept our offerings and libations.  We call upon you for your power, your presence, and your protection.”

God-touched – “We call upon you, Father of all Witches, be here with us!  Let your wisdom and your power fill this place!  Bear witness!  Accept our offerings and libations.  We call upon you for your power, your presence, and your protection.”

Invocation of Saturninan Powers for Opening of the West Gate

God-toched – “O you powers of Saturn, powers of perfection and decrease, we call upon you to open the Gates in the West.”

Goddess-touched – “We call upon you in the name of the Witchmother, the Crone.”

God-touched – “We call upon you in the name of the Witchfather, the Horned One.”

Goddess-toched – “We call upon you by these signs and seals: let our ancestors come forth, those mighty dead whence we spring, and accept our libations.  These festivities are held in their honor.  Let them be present with us tonight.”

God-touched – “We call upon you to hold fast these walls, that the dead not wander and become lost.”

Goddess-touched – “O you powers of Saturn, powers of perfection and decrease, we call upon you to open the Gates in the West.”

God-touched (call and responce):

ΑΩΘ ΑΒΡΑΩΘ ΒΑΣΥΜ ΙΣΑΚ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΙΑΩ

AOT ABRAOT BASUM ISAK SABAOT IAO

Party With Ghosts

The dead are formally invited to join the party and stay for the duration

God-touched – “Come forth, O ye mighty dead, our ancestors and our progenetors!”

Come forth, O Margot Adler

…. [declaim list]

These festivities are held in your honor.  Be present with us tonight and accept these offerings.

Closing

God-touched – “Oh you Powers of Saturn, as you have brought the dead to us, by these mighty names and signs and seals, lead them back beyond the West.  As you have opened the Gates of the West, seal them again now, that nothing may pass through uninvited.”

Goddess-touched – “Witchmother, Witchfather, you who draw us to and guide us upon the path.  We thank you for your presence, your power, your guidance, and your protection.”

Release Quarters

Keeper of Earth – “Thank you, O Powers of Earth, for bearing witness to our rite.  We release you.”

Keeper of Water – “Thank you, O Powers of Water, for bearing witness to our rite.  We release you.”

Keeper of Fire – “Thank you, O Powers of Fire, for bearing witness to our rite.  We release you.”

Keeper of Air – “Thank you, O Powers of Air, for bearing witness to our rite.  We release you.”

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Personal Practice: Imbolc

Imbolc is a holiday generally associated with the coming of the spring, the lactating ewes, germinating seeds, and the waxing year.  It’s a fire-festival honoring the goddess (or saint) Brigid (however you prefer to spell her name), overlapping a little with the simultaneous holiday Candlemas.  Of course, all these things are rooted in the climate and culture of England, where Wicca and modern Neopagan witchcraft were born.  I do not live in England.

I live in the Midwestern United States.  I can’t speak to what the ewes are doing, but there is no germination going on here, no coming spring.  Growing up in Kansas as I did, I’m accustomed to Beltane festivities being interrupted by snowstorms every once in a while: the second of February isn’t the end of winter, it’s her darkest heart.  And, unlike last year, it even feels like it.

Further, I don’t live and die by the agricultural calendar, like my ancestors did.  Nor do I romanticize it in quite the same way as many of my Neopagan peers.  No …. I live and die by the academic calendar, by which measure Imbolc isn’t the beginning or end of anything in particular.  This year it happens, coincidentally, to be the first Saturday of the month and the end of the third week of classes.

So I celebrated small.  Offerings of beer and wine the night before.  That morning, I bolstered my usual weekend offerings with an inordinate amount of candles.  Then, the night of, I made more offerings of wine and mead before I went out drinking with a few close friends.  We celebrated the hope that it might someday again be warm.  I had two bottles left of the Imbolc mead that was bottled last year, made from Pasiphae’s blackberries, and I brought one of them to share.  Those who partook enjoyed it immensely.

Blessed Imbolc to those of my readers who celebrate it.  May your hearth be warm, your beer frothy, and your belly full.

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a View of the Sunrise Temple

I rebuilt my altar at the Full Moon.  It actually took the whole weekend before I was completely satisfied with the setup.

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Behold: the magical engine of the Sunrise Temple.  The main altar is on the left, which you have seen several incarnations of before now.  To the immediate right of it are my jugs of mead, happily fermenting by the heater.  Beside that is a shelf of candles, stones, incense, and other supplies that don’t live in the kitchen cabinets.  Behind and above the shelves and mead are the maps which represent either my actual area of influence—that is, the places I have lived and where I still have friends and family—and the world I wish to influence with my political enchantments.  And finally, furthest right, is my newly erected seasonal altar; that table housed my chaos altar before it was pointed out to me that an altar dedicated to Chaos Magick is … almost oxymoronic.

IMG_5568Having taken down the Chaos altar, the Baphomet mask now lives atop my altar with Dionysus, Hephaestus, Rhea, and Athena.  ZG and SKM now share an alcove, and Sue—the spirit I work with more than any other—has one to herself.  The cubes on the side have been rearranged so that my money-drawing spell—which will soon be upgraded to a Jupiter cahsbox, a la Strategic Sorcery(1)—can have it’s own space.  The cube across from it is being converted into a home for all my sexual enchantments—the vast majority of which are targeted at staying child- and STI-free.  Below the financial altar are the ever-evolving house wards, and below the sex are my Tarot cards, visionary mask and pipe, and my black mirror.  My various planetary talismans have been relocated to the center base, with my God and Goddess figures elevated above them, along with my World Tree.  The flat workbench area is largely unaltered.

IMG_5567The first stirrings of my Samhain altar are very simple.  My death mask and sickle/knife, a picture of my dead grandmother and tokens of lost friends and loved ones.  I want to add gourds and pomegranates, but first I need to take care of my fruit fly problem.  Also poverty.

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Continuing Experiments: Sigils, Talismans, and the Stele of Jeu

While I haven’t had much time to write clever blog posts since finals week started gearing up (then ended, with all the unanticipated post-semester and graduation-related madness), I have managed to make time to actually do the magic.  I have performed the Stele of Jeu twice, fired off a shoal of sexy sigils, and made two new talismans based on what I learned of talisman-making from the Jupiter Election.

the Stele of Jeu

The Stele of Jeu the Hieroglyphist  is becoming an increasingly integral part of my practice.  Interestingly, though, the more often I perform it the more subtle the effects seem to be.  I performed the rite at the last Dark Moon, on the Day and Hour of the Sun, and as a part of my Beltane celebrations in the woods behind my school.

In the first case—as seems to often happen—I was struck by the sense that something was watching me as I performed my rite.  That sensation faded, though, as I performed the ritual.  By half way through, actually, it had faded to the point where I decided to try out something I’d read somewhere and repeated the central portion of the ritual until I got the feeling of rising power:

Holy Headless One, deliver him, NN, from the daimon which restrains him, / ῥουρβριαω μαρι ὠδαμ βααβναβαωθ ασς ἀδωναι ἀφνιαω ἰθωληθ ἀβρασαξ ἀηωωυ / mighty Headless One, deliver him, NN, from the daimon which restrains him. / μαβαρραιω ἰοηλ κοθα ἀθορηβαλω ἀβραωθ / deliver him, NN ἀωθ ἀβραωθ βασυμ ἰσακ σαβαωθ ιαω

That definitely had an effect, though I would be hard pressed to actually describe what it was.  I sat in the salt circle and meditated for a while, basking in the magical afterglow.

I performed the ritual again at Beltane, under the nearly-full moon.  My outdoor festivities with Sannafrid were actually a couple days late, on account of the rain on the 1st and 2nd.  Being in the woods, I skipped the salt circle—salting the earth is not my idea of a good time.  On the one hand, the effects were much less profound than I had hoped/feared/anticipated; on the other hand, they were very interesting.  The woods suddenly felt more alive.  Sannafrid and I could sense spirits everywhere—not like I had conjured them, but more as if I had suddenly tuned in to the layer of reality where they already lived.

I think they were just the spirits of the wood, and while they may or may not have been aware of our presence, I honestly don’t think they could have cared less.  It was a very powerful experience, if just a little surreal.  I think that’s an important lesson for all magicians, but for witches and nature-worshipers in particular: to keep in mind that most of the spirit world, like most of the natural world, doesn’t care one way or the other about humans.  We’re doing our thing; they’re doing theirs.

a Sigil Shoal for More and Better Sex

The way I count the Moons, the third day of the Dark Moon is also the first day of the waxing phase.  After performing the stele of Jeu, once the hour had passed from Sun to Venus, I fired off a shoal of sigils for more and better sex.  The effects of this shoal were even more awesome—and, importantly, longer lasting—than the first one.  The shoal included five sigils (the specific phrasing of which is apparently in the stack of notes that didn’t make it back to Kansas City with me), all aimed at improving my sex life.  The majority of the sigils were aimed helping my body keep up with my libido—and, more importantly, with Sannafrid’s.

The results were fucking spectacular.  (Yeah, I went there.  How could I resist?)  At risk of crossing into the realm of Way Too Much Information: not only was I able to manage 2-3 times in a day (a little difficult at 31 on a mediocre diet), I was able to keep that up almost every day for a ten day stretch of the two-and-a-half weeks between when I fired the sigils and when they faded about a week ago.

So … waxing Moon, day of the Sun, hour of Venus is damn good astrological timing for sex magic.  I would have thought the Full Moon, day and hour of Venus would have been as good … but it was also the 3rd day of the Full, so technically a waning Moon, which may have had an impact.  Further confounding factors here include the sigils themselves, the way they were phrased, single versus shoal, and the fact that I was still tingling from the Stele of Jeu.

a Talisman of Venus

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Anticipating Venus’ recent retrograde movement, I made a talisman of Venus based on the Jupiter Talisman I made at the recent election.  I used Christopher Warnock’s Venus image on one side (I really need to buy his Picatrix translation and star producing my own images based on the descriptions); the Agrippan characters of Venus, my Glyph of the Moon, and a pair of sigils (empowering myself with the Favor of Kings) on the other.  I performed the rite at the Day and Hour of Venus, using a slightly altered version of the Orphic Hymn to Venus—I added a line at the end asking to be endowed with the Favor of Kings—burning incense of my own making, and anointing the talisman with Abramelin oil—and using the various Venusian symbols I keep on my altar rather than a formal Triangle of Art.  For a more general Venusian boost, I also took a bit of my Venusian incense and started an infusion like I do for my essential oil production.  I left both projects on my altar to marinade essentially until I packed everything up for the trip.

My understanding is that, so close to the retrograde, even the otherwise auspicious arrangement of planetary forces on that Day and Hour of Venus with a waxing Moon was less than ideal.  Still, I felt that it would be a good idea to shore up Venusian in my sphere given the complexity of my love life at the moment (that’s a post in and of itself, and one which is particularly delicate since all parties involved read the blog.  I’m glad that I did: the talisman and the infusion-in-the-making are both radiating good, clean, Venusian power.

Safe-Travel Talismans

My final magical project in the Sunrise Temple, before leaving for the summer, was to produce safe-travel talismans for Sannafrid and myself.  She is spending the month in China as part of an ethnography program through our school—a sort of “victory lap”, as they call it here.  I was going to be making a drive across three states with a number of the things most dear to me in my back seat.

Using essentially the same methodology as I did for my Jupiter and Venus talismans, I made a pair of Mercury talismans for Sannafrid and myself.  The most interesting differences between the rites was that these were made at the day and hour of Mercury, outside in the woods during our Beltane celebrations, and that I used a lock of her hair mixed in with the Mercury blend between the two sheets of cardstock and had her write her own Names to create the link to her, where I used my Glyph of the Moon for my own talisman.

The results were again spectacular.  If I do say so, myself, I’m getting pretty good at making paper talismans.  I’m looking forward to teaching myself some metal-etching skills so that I can use similar techniques in more permanent mediums.

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Beltane Altar 2012

It’s officially Beltane.  My altar isn’t very fancy this season—I don’t really have any appropriate gewgaws or money with which to acquire them, and I sort of have this pervasive fear that if I go too far out with Beltane I’ll wind up with an unexpectedly pregnant partner—but it’s actually been up for a couple weeks.

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Having given up on the Golden Dawn flavored ceremonialism of Penczak’s High Temple altogether, I’ve also rearranged my altar surface just a little.  One more it reflects my utter disinterest in maintaining the traditional elemental quarters over working with the space I actually have.  The offering bowl is a new addition, reflecting how integral a part of my practice that’s becoming; to the left you can see my box-of-active-sigils, and catch a peak of the Jupiter talisman on the shelf above it.

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For the first time in my academic career, Beltane falls after my finals rather than before or in the midst of, so I will actually be celebrating on Tuesday night.  For those who will be doing the “weekend before” celebration, however, I wanted to share a tradition Aradia and I started last year and which I will be continuing with this year: “Fuck You Beltane”.

I have traditionally used Samhain/my birthday to mark my personal “New Year”, but as a full-time student … well, post-finals celebrations of Beltane is really much more of a stopping point.  And while I’m not hip-deep in shit like I was this time last year, but there’s still a lot of lingering angst and madness that I’d like to be rid of before I start the next cycle of my magical year.

So here’s a ritual suggestion for those of you who, like me, are in need of a bit of a purge.  Get yourself some whole cloves and a mortar and pestle.  Build a bonfire.  Pound the clove to powder, chanting the names of those people/things you wished to be purged of, and throw the dust into the fire yelling “Fuck you (whoever/whatever)!”  Simple, but cathartic and effective.

Then drink.  And dance.  And celebrate the other kind of fucking, if that’s your speed.  (Y’all know it’s mine.)

[Edited for idiot typos.]

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Dedication

Sometimes you have to need to provide context before you can tell a story.  Sometimes, it’s best to tell a story first and dig into the context afterward.  This is the story of how I came to perform my re-Dedication as a part of my Beltane festivities in 2009 … I’ll get to the context in a little bit.

It was my second Beltane after my failed life in St. Louis, the first with Aradia.  It may almost go without saying tat we were at Camp Gaea, with my massive tent set up in Dava Wood.  I had big plans for the weekend, aimed at jump-starting my magical career* in preparation for the re-Dedication I intended to perform at some point over the summer, and we were partying with the KU Cauldron.  It’s tempting to break this into three different stories which coincidentally took place over the course of a single evening, but … I’m not so sure that they’re unrelated.

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Ostara Altar

It’s sad, but this is the first seasonal altar I’ve done since I took down Yule.  It’s also atypically early for me.  (“What,” you ask, “a whole four days before the Equinox is early?”  Yeah.  I suck.)  IMG_5099

The basil is left over from Yule, but it’s pretty.  The flowers are from trees around campus and the neighborhood.  The purple egg is from an Ostara celebration with the proto-coven, the blue is a rattle from HPF 2011, and the condom is “protection from the rabbit spirit” from HPF 2009 so that no body gets the wrong impression.  The basalt with the Yin-Yang has been with me since I was 16, as has the boline.  The Japanese perfume jar with the nut-“ivory” dragon on top are an old spell of mine—a receptacle for ill-timed lust, which seemed appropriate given the way this spring has gone so far—that I mostly keep around for sentimental reasons, as I haven’t used it in years *.

I’ve talked before about my slightly uncomfortable relationship with the Wiccan “Celtic” Wheel of the Year.  It’s pretty well known at this point that the scholarship that went into its construction was, if not spurious, at least largely debunked in the year since.  It also bears little resemblance to the actual seasonal cycle of the part of the world in which I live.  Imbolc is not the last frost in the Midwest of the US—it’s usually the fucking coldest part of winter.  Ostara is not generally the first bloom—as often as not, there’s still snow on the ground.  Beltane, while often warm enough (if just barely) to celebrate propperly by fucking like monkeys out in the woods, is often hindered by cold rains and usually gets cold enough at night that there’s frost instead of dew in the morning.  The Summer Solstice is the beginning of summer, not the middle.

This strange year, it is the first bloom.  I really do feel like spring is in the air.  (Both in a romantic, positive way, and in the sense of holy fuck my goddamn allergies are going crazy … although, at least with my immune system in overdrive, the headcold has been overthrown.)  I full anticipate that, although I probably won’t be able to celebrate Beltane with the vigor it deserves on the First of May**, it will definitely be warm enough to celebrate propperly, and Lake Onessa will be beautifully warm by Heartland.  We’ll see how the rest of the Wheel goes.

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I also took a day of cleaning as an opportunity to redo the altar as a whole, and to add a mirror I found in the school’s Free Box.  (People keep throwing away things I need where I can find them.  I fucking love it.)  Most of the tools have been moved off the altar itself to make room for icons and active spellwork.

 

* Of course, I’ve also had a full-time partner for the last four years running, so that hasn’t been the issue it once was.

** For several reasons including but not limited to FINALS WEEK, but which will get a post all their own one of these days.

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Imbolc 2012 (Insert Clever Title Here)–Also Blackberry Mead

Imbolc—the Witches’ Sabbat where we huddle together in our cold, cramped apartments, relight our sacred fires, pray for the sun to come back soon and quietly acknowledge how glad we are that we’re not actually bound to the agricultural cycle anymore.  (Except for those of who are actually suffering from food shortage, but that’s a post for a social justice blog.)  Wait.  What’s that you say?  What the fuck?  It was fifty-fucking-four degrees Fahrenheit outside today.  How do you celebrate the desperate hope for the return of Spring when it feels like Beltaine outside?

Well, if you’re me, you duck off into the woods and celebrate like it is Beltaine.  Because why not?  Hooray, hooray!  Who needs to wait for the First of May?

Monday, I bottled my Imbolc mead, made from Pasiphae’s beautiful home-grown blackberries.  She gave me so many that, by the time I was done, I had somehow ended up with two gallons of mead.  I kept one and left the other with Aradia.  It turned out beautifully, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone at the local meat-up tomorrow.

Unfortunately, I can’t really share the recipe: it was too seat-of-my pants.  With the fruit-to-honey ratio I ended up with, it might be more accurately described as “blackberry wine”.  Also, I seem to have lost my notes.  If I were going to do it over again, this is how I would do it:

4 lbs honey

1 gallon ziplock of blackberries (with another waiting in the freezer)

Lavlin 1118 Champaign yeast

Yeast nutrient, pectic enzyme, &C.

Start by sanitizing the must using Campden tablets or the equivalent in your primary fermentation bucket, then add the yeast.  Because of the fruit, you’ll want to let this one sit longer than usual.

When you’re ready to rack, break out the second bag of blackberries, let them thaw, and throw them into your secondary fermenter (if you’re lucky, that’s a 2-gallon carboy; if you’re me, that’s dividing them between two 1-gallon jugs), and rack the mead onto them.  Again, leave them in there a little longer than usual.  Repeat as many times as you have blackberries.

Bottle in time for the festivities.

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