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Posts Tagged ‘Samhain’

In preparation for my year of Druid candidate training, I have been trying to get into the habit of meditating. So far, I’ve only been working on color breathing and training my concentration, using the suggested meditation target (from John Michael Greer‘s Druidry Handbook):

Meditation Target

The process has been fascinating and enlightening. Although I find my mind wandering behind my back, slipping away for me only to realize it a few minutes later, I’m always able to round up my thoughts and walk back along the path that took me to where I found them, and bring my conscious mind back to the Moon-target where I can simply be. I realize that the aim here is to develop concentration in preparation for discursive meditation later on (which I want to be able to begin right away with Samhainn), but the effortless effort spent being completely present to the image I am concentrating on is nevertheless very zenlike, and I find myself having the same sort of physical and mental sensations (a sort of trancelike, not-unpleasant feeling of fraying at the edges of my existence) as I did with zen meditation back when I was giving that a go.

Also, it’s amazing how good I feel after meditating–positively euphoric. Fifteen quick minutes leaves me completely energized and focused, and it goes a long way to calming the anxiety and depression that my own personal brand of crazy inflicts on me. I’m looking forward to learning and practicing discursive meditation, but I think I will ultimately want to mix in something more zenlike, and maybe explore Indian techniques like Kunalindi yoga to supplement my Western, Druidic approach.

I’m interested in exploring moving meditation, specifically trying to achieve a meditative state while running. Usually while I run I either listen to heavy metal at unsafe volumes on my headphones (which is not necessarily not conducive to a calm state of mind…) or I just let my mind completely wander, but i have an intuition that a kind of physical meditation should be workable. I’m just not necessarily sure how I would go about it.

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In my last post, I hinted cryptically at something new in the works for me, spiritually speaking. The quick and dirty version is that a week from tomorrow my family will celebrate Samhainn and I will, in honor of the new year of the ancient Celts, officially begin my candidate year with the Ancient Order of Druids in America. I not only plan on pursuing the First-Degree Curriculum on my own, but actually joining the Order and becoming as active as is practical in it (although since the Order is small right now, that just might mean no more than stepping up my participation in the Yahoo group). That’s as big of a bite as I am willing to take at the moment, but I intend for it to only be a beginning. I fully intend to ultimately join and study with Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids within the next few years. In other words, I have decided to become a Druid (or at least a neo-Druid, which I will say for the first and last time for the benefit of the unreasonably rigid who demand that such a distinction be made).

A massive amount of thought has gone into this (you may remember that I have been toying with the idea of Druidry for an awfully long time, especially now that I have finally come to terms with my pagan identity), but despite Druidry’s constant presence in my spiritual orbit, I have been pretty much consistently unable to actually do anything with it, even to commit mentally to the idea.

Since the Hellenic gods reached out to me, I have had a kind of internal tension with traditional Hellenic polytheistic religion, i.e. Hellenismos. Belief in the reality of the gods of ancient Greece does not necessarily imply the need to worship them in the fashion of the ancient Greeks, but I have this pro-dogma reflex that I think I inherited from Mormonism. Even though I have known from the beginning that Hellenismos was not going to work for me, i have kept trying to make it work for me, and although I have made some important spiritual inroads and have developed meaningful relationships with the gods, I have never felt like “this is it; this is my spiritual identity.”

Don’t be confused here, though. I am in no sense whatsoever talking about abandoning my faith in or worship of the Hellenic gods. I have felt these gods, I have been blessed by them, I have had incredible experiences with them. These gods reached out to me, and I would say that I claim them as my gods, but it really makes more sense to say that they claimed me as their own. I will continue to worship these gods to me–the gods that are, in my experience, the real gods.

I am also not saying that I will abandon traditional Hellenic worship forms, either. It makes sense and it to worship the Greek gods in a Greek way. I also think it pleases them to be worshipped in a way that is traditional. I will continue to draw on ancient practices and forms of worship in my spiritual life as I have done for the past year. But I’m not going to stress out about “doing it right” or feel nervous, inadequate, or impious when I fail to perform my religion according human-created specifications, as ancient and valuable as they may be. Ultimately I’m concerned with what the gods think, not with what ancient Greeks would have thought, or what Hellenic polytheists on the internet think.

What I am saying here is that my religion is not “Hellenismos.” Though I worship the Hellenic gods and often do so in Hellenic ways, I will not keep trying to fit my religious life into a wrong-sized hole. My relationship with the gods is not the only component of my spirituality, and I see no reason why it should be. I believe in my gods, not in a religion.

But I am embracing Druidry because it is the only place I know of that will allow me to fully explore all of the aspects of my spirituality–Hellenic polytheism included–that cry out to be explored. The modern Druid tradition embraces absolutely everything that is important to me spiritually (except for badass muscle cars; those really just don’t fit which is too bad for Druidry, really), and provides a framework for finding or building the connections between them. And more importantly, I am embracing Druidry because I feel pain when I am cut off from the natural world, and because I feel dead inside when I am alienated from nature’s cycles. Druidry is the only spiritual path I am aware of–and I have done no small amount of looking around–that comes even close to punching all of the buttons that I need to have punched.

So here I go; into the breach. I’ve been sort of warming up, practicing meditation and the Druid grove ceremony, and I’ve been talking to my beautiful and sexy wife a bit about what I’ll be doing and what parts of it we can do together. I’m excited about this. Being willing to say “I am committed” in a spiritual context is a huge step for me, as even a quick perusal of my blog archives will show you. This is a big deal.

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Back in April when I first started to come out as a Pagan, I mentioned that one of my goals was to figure out some good ways to celebrate the Wheel of the Year.  Although my emphasis is typically on the Hellenic gods, and my personal practice draws more from reconstructionism than anywhere else, I do not necessarily self-identify as a hard reconstructionist.  I’m suspicious about extensive New Age influence in Neopaganism, and I am cranky about eclecticism generally, at the same time I feel drawn to multiple strands of pagan worship and theology.  To make a long story short, I feel drawn to celebrate the eightfold Wheel of the Year (solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days) despite the fact that as a whole it is a recent phenomenon.  As John Michael Greer is fond of pointing out, the validity of a spiritual practice comes from whether or not it works, not whether or not it is ancient.

One of my earliest specific pagan epiphanies was with the Wheel of the Year.  As a teen, I was immensely interested in mythology and pagan religion (ancient and neo-), but was often nervous about telling other people about it, so I did a lot of reading and research in secret.  One day I was sixteen or seventeen or so, I was looking at a calendar with the eight pagan holidays on it, and I was calmly and peacefully but intensely struck by the rightness of it.  It was particularly significant to me because that kind of spiritual reaction was the kind of thing I had always been raised to believe would be the Holy Ghost’s witness of the truth of Mormonism.  And there I was having it over a pagan calendar.  I called up my best friend John (maybe he’s reading this?), and told him about it.  It was really the beginning of my secret adolescent religious rebellion.

Anyway, since I have felt comfortable ebracing my Pagan identity, I have let three of the eight major holidays pass by without doing anything about them, because I don’t know what to do.  I don’t really have a group of fellow-believers to practice my religion with, so most of my spiritual expression winds up being in a personal or family context.  Luckily, my beautiful and sexy Christian wife is more than willing to be supportive and take part, but since it is my thing, I really have to take the lead.

I like holidays and festivities a lot, and that’s what I am looking for here.  Not rituals, but traditions, the things that make the day and the season feel festive and special: decorations, meals, traditions, things to think about.  The eightfold year is a cycle, so it lends itself well to that kind of thing, but it can be hard to find resources about it.  Most of what is available on the internet is either too generally stated to be useful, or it is presented in ritual form, which is definitely not what I am loking for.  While ultimately I do plan on engaging in seasonal religious ritual as part of my Wheel of the Year celebration, I really want to also lay a festive foundation for said ritual.  Maybe I’m going about it backwards, but this is the way it makes sense to me, and it is the best way to share with friends and family.  Over time, I expect my religious and ritual explorations would influence and affect the festive traditions.  But I want something to start with.

The other consideration I have is the similarities between some of the holidays on the pagan calendar and Christian and civic holidays.  Christmas is similar to Yule, Samhain matches Halloween, the Spring Equinox parallels Easter, etc.  For most pagans, this is not a problem: they give rpesents on Yule instead of christmas, and they decorate eggs and such on the Equinox instead of Easter (shoot, the Easter Bunny actually makes a lot more sense as a part of a pagan holiday than a Christian one).  But my family is interfaith, which means we’re celebrating both sets.  So I don’t want two Easters.  I want to figure out how to celebrate Easter and the Spring Equinox, etc., in a way that makes them both not only enjoyable but also sufficiently distinct.

I finally sat down about a week ago to start hammering all of this out.  I showed it to my wife, and she thought it all seemed interesting and fun, but she also pointed out that the problem for her was that it was not always clear what all of these traditions actually mean.  It’s a fair question, and one that I can’t easily answer.  This list is really something I have cobbled together from a lot of different sources, whatever sounded good to me, and from things I intuited on my own.  Unfortunately, my own personal theology is still in development, so it is not easy to weave my own meanings into these traditions.  That gets us back to the long view: as my spirituality develops, I imagine I (we) will tinker with these holidays and alter or replace traditions that do not make sense in my own pagan context, and emphasizing those that do.

So without further ado, here is my Official Wheel of the Year Resource.  Feel free to add your comments, suggestions, insights, questions, whatever.

Beltaine
Date:
May 1.
Description: A time to light bonfires and revel, to celebrate fertility and sexuality.
Traditions: Most importantly… hot sex. Possibly sex outside if practical. Hot sex and huge bonfires, lit on a hilltop (toss juniper sprigs in the fire, and leap through it for good luck)..
Holiday Food: Rabbit, Strawberries (strawberry pie or strawberry shortcake), Mead
Decorations: Flame, wildflowers, rowan crosses, may boughs hung over doors and windows.

Midsummer
Date:
June 21
Description: A second bonfire—bonfires on the water (the ashes bring good luck), and active holiday where the sun is at maximum power and energy is strongest.
Traditions: The veil between the otherworld (or the un/subconscious) and the waking world is thin, it is a good time for resolutions, and for putting plans into effect. Keep vigil through the shortest night, waiting for the rising sun. It is also a good time to gether fresh herbs.
Holiday Food: Lamb, fresh produce, lemon merangue pie.
Decorations: Wheels, sun symbols, St. John’s Wort.

Lughnasa
Date:
August 1.
Description: The first harvest festival, Lughnasa is a time for being outside, for celebrating the physical world with games and physical activity. It’s a time for dancing and bonfires, for blessing the fields. And it’s a good time for marriages.
Traditions: Bread is baked in the shape of a man and eaten to represent the Dying God (Cernunnos, Dionysus, Odin, Osiris, Jesus, Arthur, the Green Man).
Holiday Food: Bread, beer, watermelon, barbecue.
Decorations: The Green Man, a flaming wheel.

Autumn Equinox
Date: September 21
Description: The second harvest festival—the harvest of fruit—a time of thanksgiving and recollection, the in-gathering of experience.
Traditions: Make and burn a straw or wicker man, to represent the burning of the Harvest Lord.
Holiday Food: Corncakes, Nuts, Berries, Fruit Pies (not apple), Wine.
Decorations: Pinecones, acorns, gourds, gold, red, orange, and brown.

Samhain
Date:
November 1
Description: A night when the borders between the living and the dead are the thinnest, the last harvest. Time is abolished and the spirits of the dead walk free. A time for remembering those who have gone before. The time of year when livestock were slaughtered.
Traditions: Leave an extra place at the dinner table for dead ancestors. A perfect time for divination. The day after Samhain is a day forcleaning and getting rid of old things.
Holiday Food: Pork Roast, Apples, Apple Pie, Cider, Hazelnuts, Pumpkin Bread
Decorations: Leave a candle burning in a western window to guide the spirits of the dead.

Yule
Date: December 21
Description: The shortest day of the year, this is a time to celebrate the rebirth of the sun. It is a time of rebirth and stillness, a time to celebrate intuition. There is a lot of symbolism between intuition, the Pole Star, the Great Bear, and King Arthur.
Traditions: A Yule log is burned for ten days (Yuletide lasts from December 20 to December 31), and then the ashes are strewn on the plantings in the spring. The wood from the log is yept to light the yule log the next year. Give libations to the fruit trees.
Holiday Food: Baked goods in sun shapes, and mulled wine.
Decorations: Sun wheels, decorated trees, candles, wreaths of mistletoe, holly, and ivy.

Imbolc
Date: February 1
Description: The holiday of the lambing, or childbirth (it is no accident that Imbolc is exactly nine months after Beltaine…). It is a time for initiations, and purification. It is a good time for meditation.
Traditions: Write and read poetry. Share it, have a poetry competition.  Leave a white cloth out a window for the goddess to bless, and when the first light of the sun touches it, it gains healing properties throughout the year. Candlemaking.
Holiday Food: Milk, honey, dairy foods (a massive cheese smorgasbord).
Decorations: Hundreds of candles, and pools of water.

Spring Equinox
Date:
March 21
Description: A time to celebrate planting and prepare for the gifts of the summer, and to recognize the power and presence of spring. A time of emergence, fertility, and balance. A time that is sacred to Persephone, to celebrate her return from the Underworld and her reunion with her mother Demeter.
Traditions: Decorate eggs.
Holiday Food: Twisted bread, honey cakes, eggs, carrots.
Decorations: Flowers (honeysuckle, iris, peony, violet, lily, daffodil), in baskets or garlands.

FOLLOW-UP: I have put up a new post about trying to piece together the ritual and religious aspects of the Wheel of the Year, specifically from a Hellenic polytheist perspective.

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