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Posts Tagged ‘Northern Rivers’

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In preparation for the upcoming Spring Equinox gathering next month, I’m experimenting with making paper mâché eggs for an egg hunt the little ones can enjoy. I would rather do something a little more sustainable than using cheap plastic eggs.

The Spring Equinox is a strange high day for me. It’s historically not very Celtic, but the authenticity of Norse traditions are also a bit contentious. My Protogrove uses it as a time to wake up and honor the Nature Spirits, with an emphasis on new life. For this reason, we do as the dominant culture and decorate with eggs. They are a symbol of spring and new life, so it works for us for now.

Making eggs and thinking about spring is a fun way to pass the time on a snowy February day…

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The Three Hallows in the center of Northern Rivers Protogrove’s Spring Equinox ritual.

Spring Equinox 2014 | Northern Rivers Protogrove, ADF.

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Brighid crosses and mini mantles made by Northern Rivers Protogrove at our recent Imbolc ritual. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

As a pre-ritual workshop this Imbolc, Northern Rivers Protogrove made Brighid crosses and, also, mini Brighid mantles.  In Ireland, it’s traditional to put out a bit of cloth (the brat or Brighid’s mantle), on Imbolc eve for it is believed that Brighid is visiting.  She imbues her blessings upon the cloth and thus it becomes a healing tool.  I thought it would be fun to make some “mini mantles” as a pre-ritual craft along with the crosses.  Furthermore, although we didn’t have any children besides Bee at this celebration, I came up with the activity specifically with kids in mind.

Materials:

fabric (we used a poly-cotton blend because that’s what I had, but pure cotton or linen would work well too)
fabric markers (preferably of a non-toxic nature for the kiddos involved)*
scissors or a rotary cutter
an iron
cutting board (optional)
a square ruler (optional)

I decided that white fabric would be best since people would be drawing on them with a variety of colors.  Ahead of time, I ironed the fabric so that it would be flat and ready for cutting.  Then I dug out my handy quilting tools.  I used a 1×5″ omnigrid ruler to make perfect little squares, but you needn’t be a perfectionist or create such small pieces.  I thought the size would be nice for little hands, but the completely adult group was just as happy with them!

Everyone shared fabric markers and drew whatever they felt was appropriate for Brighid, Imbolc, their spiritual path, and healing in general.  There were many flames and representations of water.  Several people tried their hand at triquetras too. The workshop went well and everyone seemed to enjoy it.  Best of all, it’s an activity young and old can engage in with minimal mess!

Holda working on her mini mantle. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

* Prior to putting outside, treat the fabric according to the directions of your fabric markers. Most suggest ironing and washing to set. When I put my mantles out, I tie them to tough plants who give me permission, or under a rock.

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“Chillin'” probably isn’t the right word since the North Country, only just recently recovering from a huge snow storm, is experiencing a bit of a heatwave.  It was a rainy day, but several people from Northern Rivers took advantage of the break in winter weather and met up at a coffee house in Clayton, NY.  We had a fabulous time chatting about ADF liturgy and planning our Imbolc rite.  We even had a new person show up which was delightful!

After that, Weretoad, Bee, and I took a short walk along the St. Lawrence River.  Higher temperatures aside, the river is still pretty frozen in places.  We saw a remarkable crack running along a huge chunk of it.  It would have made a fantastic photo had we brought our cameras.  Oh well!  Some things are better experienced than photographed, I guess.  It felt wonderful to see the river again.  It’s always like a homecoming.  The air feels so clear…

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Although well into the New Year, I wanted to take a moment and conclude writing about my experience with Three Crane Grove’s Yule Along.

My family spent some time honoring our Goddess of the hearth, Brighid, and the Shining Ones. I became a little mixed up at the end.  Three Cranes said they had miscounted or something, and I, in Typical Ditzy Druid fashion, didn’t notice.  I also think the business of the holidays in general threw me off and we somehow missed the day associated with the boar and warriors.  Funnily enough, with regards to my twelve card divination for the new year, it was framed by the boar.  I drew the boar for January and December!  I generally interpret this card as associated with the warrior, a hunt, challenges, possible danger, and even leadership.  This year I intend to refer to the results of the readings at the end of each month and reflect on how close they were.  I should also check going into each month to be on the lookout for the blessings or challenges in store…

New Year’s Eve was spent cleaning the home as best as we could to ensure that we could bring as much cleanliness as possible into 2014.  No easy task with a little one to look after!  While I’m proud of what we accomplished, I’m also proud of myself for just embracing the reality of the situation.  Having a baby who is just starting to crawl will not lend itself to the spotless home of my fantasies.  And really, being a creative person, I doubt I’ll ever have a spotless home.  By coming to terms with that, I let a nagging stress go.  There’s nothing wrong with aiming for cleanliness but to overshoot moderation and delve into a realm of constant self-critique is not healthy.  Goodbye nagging stress, hello acceptance*!

We also had a couple grovies over to ring in the New Year.  A military family, they were away from loved ones and that saddened them.  We welcomed them into our home for a super casual hang out.  One of them, Holda**, is from Germany and wanted to share some of her German New Year’s traditions with us.  We watched a black and white comedy sketch called “Dinner for One” which, apparently, plays non-stop in Germany at that time of year.  She also introduced us to molybdomancy which involves heating lead, pouring it into a container of water, and interpreting the resulting shapes as signs for the New Year.  This method of divination was new to me, and I really enjoyed experiencing it!

We melted the lead in a spoon held over the candle flame. Photo by Weretoad, 2013.

We poured the molten lead into a pot of water then removed it. We used a flashlight to see what shapes we saw and used them to predict 2014. We thought this looked like a ship. Photo by Weretoad, 2013.

The next day, Weretoad and I spent some time putting away our Winter Solstice decorations.  We put the evergreens outside and then I purified the home with some juniper incense.

Overall, observing the 12 Days of Yule was a very rewarding experience.  While not a traditionally Celtic thing to do, it helped me engage with the season in a new and meaningful way that extended beyond and blended nicely with the significance of the Winter Solstice.  It also helped to bridge my celebration with my Christian family’s Christmas by setting aside a day to celebrate the spirit of generosity on the 25th of December.  My husband participated in the rituals and that was really special to me.  I would like to do it again in 2014 but pay better attention to the number of days.

* Dear husband, no you may not use this to get out of helping me clean before we have guests! 😉

** Her Pagan pseudonym.

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On Saturday night, Northern Rivers Protogrove gathered to celebrate Samhain and honor the Ancestors. We decided to have the rite indoors as the rain and cold were quite intense. We are aiming to be more family-friendly and we wanted the little ones to be safe and comfortable.  I used to look down my nose at “fair weather Pagans,” but my tune is changing.  I’m all for communing with Nature in the rain and snow, and there’s definitely a time and place for that, but when you practice a tribal religion, the needs of the many must come first.  Although
I missed the stone circle, we set up a beautiful altar inside the Kripalu Yoga Center.

We called to An Morrigan as the gatekeeper. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

We also set up a special shrine for the visiting Ancestors.  Guests brought photographs, skulls, and other mementos.  I happened to see an announcement that this Samhain marked ADF’s 30th year, so I grabbed the copy of Oak Leaves that eulogizes our late founder, Isaac Bonewits.  He’s definitely an ancestor of the heart for many an ADF grove and protogrove!

We made offerings to the Ancestors and made a special temporary shrine for them. Here you see just one of many mementos brought – a photo of ADF’s late founder, Isaac Bonewits. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

My friend Tara lead the rite and she did a fantastic job.  She even made some wonderful favors for guests in the form of little skulls painted on stones she gathered from a lake.  This Samhain Northern Rivers Protogrove met another milestone in that we have been having our High Day rituals at the Kripalu Yoga and Wellness Center for an entire year!  It’s been a beautiful partnership and I’m so grateful for their hospitality.  Between the growth in ritual attendees and the outstanding participation and leadership of fellow members, I am so proud of us.  On a personal note, since I wasn’t leading the rite, I took the opportunity to write and memorize an invocation to the Ancestors.  I was told I did a wonderful job, and people were moved by my delivery.  It’s always good to hear!  My favorite part of every Samhain, however, is the spiritual and emotional release that comes with honoring our beloved dead and accepting the beauty and inevitably of death as well as the promise of life’s renewal.

Here’s to a new liturgical year full of new and wonderful developments with Northern Rivers Protogrove!

We paid special reverence to the new Ancestors, those who passed away this year. Using a tradition I learned from Muin Mound Grove, everyone announced the name of a new Ancestor while placing a clove into an apple. We invited them to “come to the light” so that they could join the other Ancestors and cross over to the Otherworld. As always, it was very moving. Photo, Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

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I keep seeing or hearing people discuss how they feel Samhain and/or  Halloween should be celebrated.  Some say it’s too scary; others that it isn’t scary enough.  Some call for more reverence for the ancestors; others feel the holiday has become too somber in Pagan culture.  Those later folk embrace the carnival nature that secular Halloween has come to embody.  And of course, there are those who turn their nose up at modern Halloween because it’s too disrespectful to the cultures it came from and  too materialistic.

Honestly, I find truth in all of those thoughts.  Here are my thoughts, but know they are merely my thoughts and not my recipe for Samhain goodness that you must follow or else!

Halloween can be too scary.  I remember running out of haunted houses when I was younger and I still dislike most horror films.  And I enjoy more whimsical costumes myself.  Fairies, historical figures, animals…

Halloween, and Samhain especially, can be too watered down.  These traditions originate from the Celts, and it wasn’t just the ancestors who could cross over the veil – it was all of the sidhe realm! Every fairy, goblin, and bump-in-the-night came out.  Not all fairies are nice happy things as some modern folk seem to think.  That said, not all ancestors are nice either!  Nobody wants the unhappy ancestors to visit…  And yet, the belief in these Otherworld denizens fueled many of our traditions.  Some have suggested that carving turnips or pumpkins into faces could scare away nasty boos.  Dressing up in costumes is believed to confuse spirits.  People who value and respect the sprits and the Otherworld should feel a sense of fear about Samhain.  It adds to the fun but, also, it is good practice to be careful.  I know, this time of year, I often look over my shoulder in case the Pooka is about…

There should be more reverence for the ancestors on Samhain.  They are part of the reason for the season, if I may borrow that phrase.  To completely ignore them feels disrespectful to me.  In my belief system, the ancestors come back to visit us and hospitality – towards living and dead – is incredibly important. (At the same time, to only pay them attention on Samhain is equally disrespectful in my point of view).  

Samhain can be too somber, and that can make the holiday almost unbearable for some which is a shame when it’s such a sacred time.  Sarah Lawless found a way to embrace the carnival nature of the day while also honoring the spookiness and the dead.  And it shouldn’t be all sadness, no matter how scary and painful death can be.  Joy and fun are the ways we come to terms with death. We remember the good times.  Pagan rituals that don’t allow anyone to dress up feel backwards to me.  Dr. Jenny Butler recently did an interview on Transceltic and explained many of the fun Samhain traditions, including dressing up in costume on this day. “It is a playful time,” she says, “when it is acceptable to have a subversive appearance, so people can chose to dress as they wish, whether that is as something scary or outlandish.”  Trust me, it’s possible to dress in a costume and still feel the fullness of the event.  Although I agree that some costume choices are much more appropriate for ritual settings than others!  

People have lost touch with Halloween’s roots.  Many probably wouldn’t care because they celebrate the secular holiday, and that is fine and well.  However, many who embrace Paganism in one of its forms can also forget.  It’s a Celtic holiday.  It was a time to honor the Ancestors, light bonfires, and engage with the Otherworld.  We can get lost in the plastic world of imported costume accessories, racist costume stereotypes, and sugar highs without regard to human dignity, Nature Spirits, of the Earth Mother herself.

So what’s a Gaelic polytheist ditzy Druid in modern America to do?

I find harmony in the blend of Halloween and Samhain.  

At least, that’s what I try to do.

Halloween can be too scary.  Clowns, for example, are horribly frightening to me.  I had a negative experience with one as a child and it left an imprint.  However, I can’t try to censor Halloween and tell others not to dress as clowns any more than I can tell someone not to dress as other peoples’ worst nightmares*.  I can’t stomach most horror films because they are too gory.  I do, however, adore a good ghost story.  Halloween should be a little scary.  It’s in its DNA!  As they say in The Nightmare Before Christmas, “life’s no fun without a good scare.”  And it’s true.  Sometimes it reminds us what is so precious about life.  And that’s why it shouldn’t be all scary.  We care tenderly for our beloved dead, for one, and should create a home that is welcoming and warm for them.  Bring out the good table settings!  And if some people would rather dress as fuzzy rabbits or cute princesses – why not?!  Let people have fun on their own terms because, as discussed above, there’s no set costume in Samhain tradition!  Get in touch with your inner bard and let your costume tell the story you want!

I have great reverence for the Ancestors, and I could honestly be a lot better about honoring them all year, but I do try.  Samhain is a special day, though, when it is believed our beloved dead can return to us.  I feel them as the veil thins.  They are in my thoughts, my dreams, and sometimes in the corner of my eye.  It is not depressing to me, but it feels good to know they want to come see me, check on me, and maybe bestow some kind of blessing.  I know I would want to do the same for my loved ones after death.  Why not set out a nice spread and be hospitable about it?  Why not show that respect while having a good time with the living?

And it needn’t be somber.  My experience with ADFers has taught me how to find a good balance between the deep reverence and joviality.  Samhain, more than any other High Day, moves me in a way that is almost ineffable.  It is one of the few rites where I seem to laugh and cry every time.  Even if I haven’t lost someone that year, the sorrow from others impacts me deeply.  Again, it reminds me just how precious life and our time with other loved ones is.  And so we laugh as well because we remember those good times and enjoy new ones with those around us.  To me, you must have both to fully experience Samhain’s mystery.  

Finally, in my household, Samhain is deeply Celtic.  The holiday came from Celtic cultures, Halloween traditions were brought over by Irish immigrants, and those are deeply respected under my roof.  If you should stop by, expect to hear some Irish music playing.  Expect to see carved turnips.  If you come to a Northern River’s ritual on Samhain, expect to see us honoring the ancestors as well as the Tuatha de Dannan.  In my opinion, to have a ritual with any other cultural focus but Celtic (a specific culture or pan if you must), is just nonsensical since the holiday has Celtic roots and, chances are, the other culture you wish to honor already has a holiday with similar traditions.  If you must celebrate using different cultural symbols, why not just research that culture and use the name they would have instead of one originating from Celtic languages?  And although I will be embracing the Celtic traditions to the best of my ability, I’m still a modern American of mixed cultural background.  You will hear modern Halloween songs playing along with the traditional and folk.  You’ll see big orange and white pumpkins along with the turnips.  You’ll see me handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, although, this year, I’m doing my best to give out more eco-friendly varieties**.

But that is just in my sphere of influence!  

If I visit your household or your spiritual circle and find you doing differently than I, I will respect you as a human being.  I understand we aren’t all cut from the same spiritual or cultural cloth.  I know some of us find value and purpose in celebrating differently.  It’s not my place to throw my weight around. Several years ago, I tried to argue with folks who wanted to do a completely Hellenic rite while calling it Samhain and it didn’t end well.  I’ve grown up since then and realize that is not the way to conduct myself.  I may not do things the same way or agree with you, but I would rather work on finding my own harmony with Samhain than insist on how you should find yours.  

On that note, no matter how you celebrate, I hope you are just as excited to celebrate Samhain!  Wishing you a blessed Samhain my lovely readers!

* There is, of course, a time and place for some costumes.  We all have our boundaries and we must respect the wishes of hosts and hostesses.  In other words, if you show up to my home as a clown, I may punch you in the face! 😛

** Even if you can’t afford organic candies, at least try to avoid chocolate that isn’t fair-trade.  Human dignity and preserving the world’s biodiversity are worth more to me than an affordable chocolate fix!

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