Tag Archives: seasons

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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Manic March

April showers bring May flowers.  That’s what they taught me as a child, anyway.  It’s a gross oversimplification of course, but still …

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I took this picture two weeks ago, just before harvesting a few flowers for my Ostara Altar.  The flowers—star magnolia, Ginko tells me—have finished blooming and fallen to the ground and  been replaced by leaves.  Although the middle of last week was seasonably cool—there was even a threat of frost Monday night—the fact is that Spring has come a solid six weeks early.

We’re into April, now, but … I have been bouncing off the fucking walls for a solid month.  Fuck, it’s 2.30am as I type this, and I should have been asleep hours ago.

Partly this is just me pinging from stress. I always get frantic in the Spring Semester.

Part of this is the unseasonable warmth, and the off-and-on thunderstorm.  A good, solid rain helps me sleep.   But this … the tension in the air has me buzzing

A lot of it is the very nature of witchcraft—one of the major purposes of the rituals we do is to attune ourselves to the natural cycles of the land, and part of it may an unanticipated side effect of some of the magic I did to establish myself here in Indiana: I made a point of putting down roots, binding myself to the land. 

The land is alive and awake.

And I am alive and awake.

A lot of the time it’s awesome.  Right now, though, it kind of sucks.

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St. Patrick’s Day, Liberalia, and a Modern Neo-Pagan’s Ritual Calendar

In the ancient world—in the early modern world, as well, in fact, and to this very day in some places—the liturgical calendar was managed by the state.  That is, in fact, a large part of why we have the records we do.  Although this was not theocracy in any sense, this was not mere public piety, either: in addition to stimulating the economy—food stalls, sacrifices, costume, and the like—state-sponsored religious rituals helped form and maintain community bonds.

Today, in the United States, we don’t quite have state-sponsored religious rituals.  We have “bank holidays” which are not formal religious (or even nationalist) observances, though they “coincidentally” lean strongly in that direction, which are set aside by law so that employees of local, state, and federal governments have a paid day off, and bank employees do as well.  Christmas, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Labor Day.  We also have a number of “unofficial” holidays—that is, days when no one can count on a paid holiday, but which local authorities bend over backwards to facilitate.

The most recent of these is St. Patrick’s day.  I’ve heard so many different versions of the history, I’m not even entirely certain which ones to believe.  One thing I am certain of is that the snakes-as-pagans version plays into the historical oppression narrative that we’re a little too fond of—see the Burning Times—and on closer examination, doesn’t fit what I know of Christian myth without being viewed through that lens.  Another thing I’m certain of is that, regardless of its roots, its modern manifestation is harmful only in terms of liver damage and drunk driving.  Not being a fan of the whole “pinching (or punching) people for failing to wear green” thing, and being somewhat terrified of the amateur drunk drivers who come out of the woodwork on St.P’s and New Years.

My attitude about that sort of thing has changed over the last couple years.  For one, I’ve just flat-out loosened up a lot.  When I was younger, I found bars to be painfully over-stimulating on a regular Saturday; these days, I enjoy a little hyper-stimulation from time to time.

Then, late Friday night, I learned, about the festival of Liberalia through one of the above links.  Liber Pater, to the best of my knowledge, is not a god of wine and harvest “like Bacchus”, as the Wikipedia asserts, but one of Dionysus’ Roman cult titles.  Although the Roman reconstructionist source I find emphasize the part where of the festival at which a Roman youth was acknowledged as an adult man, Ovid memorializes it as a festival of fertility and protection under the auspices of Bacchus and formless Numina, of whom I previously had not heard and will need to do some research.

Now, as some of you may know, I count Dionysus among my patron divinities.  He and his representatives have helped me a few times, first at my initiation and during subsequent explorations of the Underworld.  But, other than offering him tastes of every batch of homebrew I make (every time I sample it myself during the racking process), and of most of my bottles of “recreational” wine and mead, we haven’t really worked out a devotional relationship yet.  I don’t know what he wants from me … if anything.

The coincidence of St. Patrick’s day—one of the great US drinking holidays—and a day sacred to Dionysus is too interesting to ignore.  And it seems like a good place to start.  So I made offerings at midnight when I discovered the fact, in the morning, and upon returning from the bar after my revelries.  He seemed to like them, but I (so far) haven’t gotten very … tactile responses for any of the offerings I make—from the gifts I give to Tsu, to the offerings I make to my Kouros and Cyclades figures, or to any of the other gods on my altar.

Besides, I need holidays more frequent than every six weeks.  Liberalia is now officially on my own personal calendar.

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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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A Dark Time of the Year

According to the Wheel of the Year, Imbolc is the time when we can begin looking forward of spring.  We have passed the depth of the darkness with Yule, and entered the Waxing Year.  Fires are lit, beer is brewed, and Brigit – however you choose to spell Her Name – is invoked for her blessings of warmth, health, fertility, and artifice.

In Kansas City, however, early February is the coldest, darkest part of the year.  This year more so than usual, with an straight-from-the-ice-of-Hel blizzard starting the evening of Monday 1 February and lasting through Wednesday 3 February.  The roads had barely even been cleared after the first round of foot-deep snow.  Aradia had to put off a business trip for two days, waiting for them to clear the I-70 corridor; I lost another two and a half days of classes.

Somehow, Aradia and I just weren’t feeling that Imbolc Fire.  We sat around the house watching bad TV and trying not to think about how cold it was outside.  We still haven’t changed over our altar from Yule, and I haven’t yet started the Imbolc batch of mead.

For the last week I’ve been living on leftovers and takeout.  The house gets dirtier.  My mind gets more and more scattered.  I didn’t really sleep last night.  I should be doing more homework, using the snow days to ahead in my classes; working harder on my admission essays, due the first of March; and studying for my ACT, which is this coming Saturday.  I’m keeping up with my classes, and working again, and making progress on the essays … but the ACT scares me so bad that it hurts – an almost physical pain – to think about it.  It’s hard to say which of these things is “cause” and which are “effect”.

Aradia comes back from St.Louis tomorrow, and I need to get the house clean enough for us to change out the altar and celebrate Imbolc.  Hell, I need to get the house clean enough that I don’t feel like a fucking bum.  I need to get my head screwed on straight so I can sleep and get done what I need to get done. The ritual will make me feel better.  Having another gallon of mead bubbling away under the altar will make me feel better.  Having my shit together will make me feel better, and feeling better will make it easier to keep my shit together.

This semester could easily define me for the rest of my life.  I need to not fuck it up.

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Yule Altar 2010

Aradia and I finally got around to setting up the Yule altar.  Last year, we focused a lot on the sun and the rebirth.  With the full moon coinciding this year, we decided to do a lot more balance.

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The centerpiece, which you can’t quite see in the photo, is a mask I made last year for the Summer and Winter solstices: black on one side and yellow on the other, with a solar disk on the brow and golden horns at the corners.  The seemingly out-of-place jug under the tree is honey destined for the Yule mead.

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the Full Moon, a Feast, and My Decision to Buy a Besom

Aradia and I celebrated the full moon two nights ago, and had our early Samhain feast last night.  Neither of these would be as significant, except that we’ve rather “fallen off the wagon” with both our magical practices and our social lives.  So we decided it was time to have a party.

The story actually starts last weekend, getting the house ready for an old friend of Aradia’s to visit from St. Louis.  Reflecting our mental and emotional states as I creep up on six months of unemployement and we both struggle with classes, our house was something of a disaster.  Our house altar had been almost untouched since our practice group stopped meeting shortly after the Summer Solstice.  It took us most of the week, but the house was clean (if not cleansed) and the altar prepared for Samhain less than half an hour before Firebird & Crew arrived.

Firebird brought three friends with her : two fellow spinners/manipulators, A and C, and A’s ladyfriend N, who invited herself along despite not having any actual interest in the entire affair.  MagicCat didn’t like them at all, which turned out to be a red flag.  Firebird was good fun, but her friends should have just stayed in St.L.  By the time they left, Aradia, myself, and our house were all toxic.  So we cast a circle and cleansed the house like we should have done before they got there.

Suddenly, everything was beautiful again.  The Circle snapped into place as soon as we lit the Air candle, like we’d never left off.  We went room-to-room with a burning wand of white sage and a lavender oil mister.  We even did the porch.

Living with another witch for the last year has really changed my mind on a lot of things.  Aradia and I went to the KC Renaissance Festival a month or so ago, and one of the vendors we passed by specialized in ornate “decorative” brooms.  For the first time, I found myself seriously thinking about owning and using a besom.  Given my absurdly macho, psuedo-ceremonial roots, this is not a tool that most of the things I’ve done or studied put any emphasis on.  I’ve only used a besom once, in fact, when I helped make one for a workshop out at Heartland this last May.  When we went back to the Faire last weekend with Firebird & Crew, we passed the same vendor and I found myself thinking – not “is this a tool I need?” but “which of these would be best for me?”.  Apparently I had made my decision sometime in between … probably while pushing the broom.

Fast forward a week.  The house is actually still clean, though in need of some work.  We’re both still in a fantastic mood, despite the stress.

I originally had plans for Friday night, but they were canceled when the gremlins in Aradia’s car threw a party to remind everyone they were still there.  I don’t remember exactly what she said about her own plans for the evening, but my response …

“It’s the full moon?”

When I say fell off the wagon, I’m not fucking joking.

We went over to Aradia’s family’s house to help them with the annual brush-burn and to incinerate a few things that that should have been disposed of long ago.  We took our drums and tranced out for a while before doing our full moon tarot readings.  It wasn’t formal, structured, or intense, but it was what we needed.  We need to work our way back up to intense, and we’ve got about seven days.  (Samhain’s totally going to kick my ass.)

Saturday came, and with it our pre-Samhain pumpkin party.  We didn’t know what anyone’s plans for the actual weekend would be, or if there would be a ritual at all, so we decided to host a feast and carve jak-o-lanterns.  The invitations went out almost a month ago.

I helped Aradia make pumpkin soup out of the five kuri pumpkins (the green-and-orange ones) you saw on the altar, and Aradia made a loaf of amazing tasty bread.  We drank tasty pumpkin beer.  My parents brought an amazing autumn stew.  Our neighbor, K, brought pumpkin-filled doughnuts.  Our friends Pasiphae and Aiden brought a feast all by themselves: pumpkin-banana bread, pumpkin-cheesecake pie, and Halloween-themed jell-o-snacks.  (They also brought their munchkins – the MagicCat was not amused.) 

We all had so much fun that we never got to the pumpkin carving part.

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Samhain Altar


This weekend, Aradia and I put up our Samhain altar. It will probably see some revisions over the course of the season, but I think it’s a really good start.

At the top you’ll see my Sun King mask wearing the Crown of the Waning Year. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that we didn’t change out the crowns until just now – our practice fell off somewhat over the summer, due to various and sundry dramas, and we’re only now getting back up on the wagon. We must not be doing too badly, though, because when we did our house-cleansing the Circle popped into place as soon as we lit the first candle.

The centerpiece is the Death Mask I made last Samhain. I’m actually a little startled how much power it has acquired over the year its spent in my altar. “It’s watching me,” Aradia said when we set it up. Then: “You do that a lot.” (Do what? I ask innocently.) “Creating entities.” I guess I do. It’s kind of the nature of masks, but they’re not the first. That would be Tsu*.

Dionysos and the Water-bearer serve as our God and Goddess images for the moment. A candle for the sun and moon sit beside them, and the horns I made for Aradia’s Princess of Pentacles photoshoot in between. A Ganesha incense burner, a brass gong, Aradia’s ritual knife, and our house chalice also share the upper tier, all in front of a Zodiac poster older than I am to represent the wheel of the year. There’s also a five-pointed gourd we picked up at the farmer’s market that day … it called to me.

The lower level has our four elemental candles and various associated symbols: a rock and a fallen leaf; incense burner and a smudge stick; my cauldron, a candleholder and an ash tray; a seashell box. The pumpkins are for our pre-Samhain feast, and the candelabra in the middle also holds our Brigid candles from Imbolc. There are, of course, a few assorted tools and crystals for one thing or another, and the altar-box below.

 

*Another story, for another day. It’s long and not actually as interesting as it sounds.

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