Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Celebrating Imbolc (Candlemas) February 1st

The fire festival of Imbolc brings the first thaw of winter. It is a time of rebirth, fertility and nurturing under the auspices of the Virgin Goddess.

Imbolc brings the very first whisperings of spring. Early spring flowers peep up through the cold earth and the tiniest buds begin to form on the trees. Winter is by no means over--in fact the worst is often still to come--but there is a glimmer of hope. Candles are lit to represent the return of the Sun and the divine spark of creativity.

The Virgin Goddess

In the Celtic Triple Goddess tradition, the Crone of winter is reborn as the virgin at Imbolc. Known to the Celts as Brigid, she was a fire goddess and one of her main aspects was as a healer.
The Celtic image of a virgin was of inherent sexuality and fertility. As the thoughts and ideas incubated over winter emerge at this time., it is necessary to heal old, outmoded ways to allow new ideas to be born.

Imbolc in the Modern World

The Pagan fire festival of Imbolc is still present in the modern world. At the beginning of February, the returning light is celebrated by the Christian church as Candlemas. Traditionally, the candles are blessed and taken home to use in times of trouble. The festival also recognizes the Purification of the Virgin Mary, when she went to the temple for 40 days after giving birth to Jesus.

Weather Forecast

Old country lore claims that the weather at Candlemas forecasts the climate for the next six weeks; if the day is sunny the remainder of the winter will be stormy, but if it rains, the next six weeks will be mild. This aspect has been taken up in North America where the emergence, or not, of the hibernating groundhog is believed to be a spring weather predictor. This is known as Groundhog Day.

Imbolc Celebrations

Celebrate the lengthening of days and the warming of the earth at Imbolc, with rituals of purification, fertility and renewal.

A Purifying Bath

The Romans named the month of February after a word signifying purification, as this was the time when ritual cleansing would prepare a person for a fresh start. So take a ritual bath at Imbolc in your own homemade "healing well".

**Collect some early spring flowers (in the U.K., snowdrops are often used) and then set the scene in your bathroom with lit candles around the bath tub to signify the burning away of old ideas as well as the coming of the light. Choose white candles for purity and green to recall and welcome the spring.

**Burn juniper oil and put a drop or two in the bathwater. This oil is chosen because it is a very powerful auric cleanser.

**Summon the goddess Brigid by scattering flower petals in the bath.

**Relax in the water, using an apple green soap.

Planting Seeds

Just as the seeds are germinating in the earth, Imbolc is a time when you should imagine your thoughts and ideas starting to warm up after leaving them to hibernate through the winter. Combine the correspondences of new life and light to perform this simple ritual for Imbolc.

1. Choose a quiet spot outdoors, in your garden or a local park, perhaps beneath your favorite type of tree or bush.

2. Plant a seed or bulb in the ground to make this place more special to you, choose the seed of your preferred plant or perhaps one associated with your Zodiac sign.

3. Now, light a small, white candle (to represent the Virgin Goddess's purity), sit and watch it burn down. As you do so, imagine that the seed you have planted represents the thoughts and ideas you have sown in hope for the year ahead.

A Brigid's Cross

At Imbolc, it was traditional to make a Brigid's Cross to welcome the goddess into the home. These were hung over doors or windows for the year, then burned and replaced at next Imbolc. You can make your own Brigid's Cross:

-> Bind two sticks of equal length to form a cross

-> Imagine your cross is made of four sticks and number them 1-4, from the top counting clockwise

-> Tie a silver ribbon around stick 1, close to the center of the cross, then take it to the right of stick 2 and wrap it around the back. From the left of stick 2, take the ribbon round to the right of stick 3 and wrap it around the back; take it from the left of stick 3 to the right of stick 4, and so on. Continue weaving in this way.

-> When it's complete, adorn your cross with other decorative items.

(My Simple Brigid's Cross, made with incense sticks and ribbon)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Pagan Prayer Beads

I purchased a book from this site, titled "Pagan Prayer Beads: Magic and Meditation with Pagan Rosaries". This book is written by John Michael Greer and Clare Vaughn.

This is an excellent book to use when making your own prayer beads to use in ritual. The idea of making prayer beads for use in meditation began in India, where Hindus use a mala ( a string of 108 identical beads , usually made from the seeds of sacred plants) to help focus their minds while chanting mantras, the sacred syllables of power. Buddhist monks borrowed the concept and spread the use of the mala throughout Asia. As Christianity and Islam grew, they borrowed the idea of a mala, and adapted it to their own symbolism ( Muslim rosaries have 99 beads representing the 99 names of God, plus one large bead representing the deity himself). Most of us who have been raised in a Christian background are at least familiar with the Catholic rosary, where repetitions of "Hail Marys" and "Our Fathers" are chanted during worship services and petitions for absolution of sin.

So, what good would it do for Pagans to adopt the use of these rosaries and prayer beads? Well, for one thing, it serves as a good reminder for the order of ritual worship, from casting a circle, to calling the Quarters, to invoking the Lord and Lady. There were a few times in my early practice where I failed to remember which way was "deosil" and what element came after "fire". It would have been nice to have something to hold on to as a physical reminder of what comes next, and also to add to the mood of the experience. Somehow, just having a change of clothes and a change of jewelry sets the physical mind up for the spiritual experience of holding a ritual for Sabbat observance, or to focus on a change that needs to happen.

I have owned this book for months, but just recently dived in to making prayer beads in the last two weeks. I have made over 50 pieces in 10 days, using the examples in the book, with step by step instructions. Then, I got more brave and developed my own interpretations and my own style. Here are some of the examples of the pieces I have made:

Thirteen Moons Rosary

Triple Goddess W/ Tree and Moon Goddess charm

A Triple Goddess Rosary

A Triple Goddess Witches' Ladder Style Rosary

A Triple Goddess Rosary

An Elemental Rosary

An Elemental Rosary

An Elemental Rosary with Hematite, Russian Jade, Sodalite, Tiger Eye and Amber

Tribute to Hecate Rosary (Sold)

A Quarter Call Rosary (Sold)

Five Element w/ Tree and Fertility Goddess

Quarter Calling Rosary with Spiral Goddess Beads

It was really fun to do these (and addictive too, be warned!) I have listed these and others up for sale on Etsy.com, and in a shameless bit of self-promotion, (what good is a personal blog, if you can't brag about yourself once in a while?) I am inviting my readers to stop by and see all of my pieces, get a feel for what they are used for, and make sure you get a copy of this book if you want to try to make your own. I've had a really good experience making these, and I am working on making some for my fellow S.C.I.P.A. members, so we can do those rituals properly and regularly.

I have also been working on making one specifically for a Wiccaning ceremony that I will be performing in a couple of months. I think I'd like to make ones for specific needs, I'm especially interested in making ancestor rosaries just to keep those memories alive and well.

Anyway, that's some more of my personal life. Back to your regular program...

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Birch Moon: December 24th - January 20th

The Celtic calendar begins with the month of the Birch Moon, a time of new beginnings and making plans for the future.

The first of the 13 months of the Celtic calendar is the month of the Birch Moon. It begins just after Yuletide and runs through most of January.

Starting just after the Winter Solstice---the shortest day of the year---the month of the Birch Moon marks the period of the year when the hours of daylight start to increase over the hours of darkness. Its associated color is flame red; from this comes the red candles that we burn at Yuletide.

New Year's Resolutions

The month of the Birch Moon falls into the "quiet time" during the bleakest period of winter. None of the eight major witchcraft festivals occur in this month. There is little to do but wait for warmer weather.

This month is therefore primarily a time of contemplation, of looking to the future and starting to make plans for the year ahead--hence the tradition of making New Year's resolutions.

The Lady of the Woods

The silvery bark that covers the trunk of the birch tree resembles the silver of the moonlight, wich it reflects at night giving it a magical look.

With its long, slender branches that stretch up to the sky, the birch symbolizes the female aspects of nature and isoften known as "the Lady of the Woods." Growing up to 100 feet high, it has also been thought of as a ladder that shamans can climb to reach the gods.

Cleanse your home during the month of the Birch Moon by lighting a red candle or by burning rose potpourri.

Birch Moon Magic

The month of the Birch Moon is the ideal time to weave magic focusing on new beginnings and purification, or to cast spells for support, shielding and cleansing.

Resolution Blessing Spell

The birch is the first tree to grow back after a forest has been cut down or razed, reinforcing its association with new beginnings. It is a tree of extreme hardiness, thriving in places where the oak cannot. When you make a New Year's resolution, increase your chances of sticking to your guns by performing this blessing spell.

You will need:

*Red Candle
*Red Ribbon
*Birch Wand
*Frankincense, rose and benzoin essential oil

1. Go for a walk in your local park and collect a birch twig no more than 12 inches long. As birch is a very common tree, you should be able to find one easily, even in urban areas and parks.

2. Mix a few drops of rose, frankincense and benzoin essential oil into the palm of your hand and rub the mixture into a red candle.

3. Light the candle, and stand in front of it for a few moments visualizing your resolution. If you are planning to learn to play guitar, for instance, visualize yourself happily strumming your favorite song. You may want to state your intent aloud, saying, "I will learn to play guitar."

4. Holding your birch twig at one end, pass it through the candle's flame. Then turn around, counterclockwise, holding the twig in front of you to draw a circle around youself.

5. Repeat the incantation, "I manifest new chances for good fortune, clarity and insight, I open myself to new experience and allow change to manifest in my life."

6. Now sit down for a few minutes and quietly contemplate your wish. When you have finished. Blow out the candle.

( To bind your spell, draw a magic circle around yourself with your birch wand.)

Purification and Cleansing

The silver color of the birch's bark is associated with purity and cleansing. Criminals and naughty schoolboys were often beaten with birch twigs- "birched"- in order to purify them and drive out any evil influences.

This is a good time to cleanse your mind of negative thoughts or attitudes , such as anger and jealousy, or addictive behavior, such as smoking. a full Moon that falls within the month of the Birch Moon is called the Cold Moon; you can strengthen your intent by performing the following ritual at this time.

A Simple Cold Moon Ritual:

* Light a white candle beside a small bowl of natural spring or rain water.

* Stand over the water and pray for the strength to let go of your vice.

* Write down you negative behavior nine times on a piece of paper.

* Fold up the paper, place it inside a freezer bag, and pour in some of the prayer water.

* Place the bag inside your freezer to "freeze" your bad habits--putting them behind you forever.

Birch throughout the Year

--Birch is used for purification, exorcism and protection. A red ribbon tied to a birch twig will help ward off the evil eye.

--Witches' brooms are made of birch twigs tied around an ash branch with strips of willow. The purifying birch sweeps away evil spirits, as well as dirt.

--At Beltane (May Day), birch twigs are used to light the fires that signal the beginning of the new season.