Friday, April 29, 2011

Conjuring Summer In

"Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But--we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you news by word of mouth-
Good news for cattle and corn--
Now is the Sun come up from the South,
With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!"
~Rudyard Kipling



What a magical time of year it is...In the Northern Hemisphere we come upon Beltane, the time when the God and Goddess are united, while in the Southern Hemisphere the veil is thinning at Samhain. The world is at opposites-the beginning of Summer in the North( although on our calendar it won't officially happen until June 21, the Solstice) and the end of the Summer in the Southernland. Throw in the Festival of Walpurgisnacht, and it's a wonderfully witchy weekend!
 
 
Engraving by Johann Heinreich Ramberg

Walpurgisnacht/April30

Walpurgisnacht-Witches Night- is a combination of May Day with a touch of All Hallows Eve.The festival features bonfires, dancing and lots of drinking, with distinctive celebrations throughout Northern and Central Europe. According to German folklore, it's the night that witches fly to the Brocken, the highest peak of the Harz Mountains, to revel with the Devil.

If you look closely at the engraving to the left, you can see witches engaged in the usual broomstick flying,surrounded by black cats and bats-typical 'witchiness'- and the Horned One enveloped in glowing light, a phenomenon  known as the 'Brocken Spectre'. It's an optical illusion owing to the fact that he mountain is shrouded in mist and fog 300 days a year and is caused by the light rays bending in a spooky prism effect. The scene Night on Bald Mountain in Disney's classic movie Fantasia is actually a depiction of Walpurgisnacht, and not Hallowe'en as most assume. Most of the naughty witchiness takes place on the Hexentanplatz, a overlook on the Brocken, where it's said the witches dance the last night of Winter away. Today, the summit of the Brocken is home to a weather station and transmitting towers and is
The Brocken (highest peak) circa 1800's
(pun intended) just a ghost of it's mystical past.


 Most Walpurgisnacht festivities outside of Germany have little to do with witches. It's the eve of the anniversary of the canonization of Walpurgia, a companion of St. Boniface. Enroute to join her friend on a mission trip, the ship that carried them was caught in a ferocious storm; prayers attributed to Walpurgia quieted the seas. Because of this, sailors consider St. Walpurgia as their patron to protect them in storms on the high seas.

 As with most Roman Catholic saints, Walpurgia is often pictured with symbols attributed to her ministry. Here she's pictured with a nimbus of light around her head to show her holiness, and a sheaf of grain. Scholars have noted that this means she was originally a local goddess, a protector of the grain, and in fact refer to her as Grain Mother. Records show that peasants fashioned her image into a corn dolly at harvest time and told stories where her spirit was present in a sheaf of grain. Other depictions of her holding a palm are erroneous, as she was not a martyr, but she is sometimes shown wearing a crown and holding an elaborate bottle, which may hold sea water. And for reasons I haven't been able to discover, she's also a protector against rabies...I wonder if rabies and ergot poisoning haven't some how been confused, because a quick trip to Merrick's Medical Dictionary confirm that the symptoms of the two are similar.


Beltane in the Northern Hemisphere-Samhain in the Southernland

Those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere are about to celebrate Beltane ( Beltaine, Beltain), Bel being  a loose translation meaning Lord, as it is applied to many sun gods worshipped this time of year. It is God's Time, when the young God unites with the Goddess and brings fertility to the land and animals and prosperity to the people through the summer months of agricultural abundance. Beltane is traditionally the time of handfastings for that reason-either for a year and a day, or a more permanent marriage. It's a time of bonfire and merriment after the long Winter, a time to kick up our heals and celebrate.

For those of us in the Southern Hemisphere ( what my Aussie friends call The Southernland), Summer is winding down and the harvest has begun...it's Samhain., and the veil to the other side is thin. It's time to connect with the ancestors, much the same as Pagans do here.

Unlike America, Hallowe'en is not a part of the Samhain celebration in the Southernland. In fact, Hallowe'en, being brought to the US by Irish and Scottish immigrants, is not a national holiday in Australia and surrounding areas in that part of the world, and for those who do keep the tradition, it is still held on October 31...on Beltane. Although growing in popularity among descendants of the Irish and Scots in that land, much of the tradition of Hallowe'en comes from Americans who have moved there.

That is not to say that Samhain down under is a solemn event- it is celebrated much as we do Beltane, with bonfires, dancing and drinking. It's not unusual to have fireworks and sparklers as part of the evenings entertainment.  Wreathes containing native  eucalyptus , rosemary spikes and leaves are hung on the door of homes to announce that the occupants are Pagans.

The Merry Month of May

Morris Dancers from A Yearbook of Customs
My first assignment as a minister was at a cathedral which had a lovely, musty old library. Occasionally the librarian would cull the books, and I would johnny-on-the-spot to have first pick...not that anyone wanted the books I got anyway. One of my absolute favorites, which has turned out to be a genuine treasure is A Yearbook of Customs, written by Christine Chaundler ( now out of print). This little volume truly is a gem because it describes mostly very old and discontinued traditions in the British Isles. Although written only 50 plus years ago, the wealth of information on ancient holidays and contains charming engravings.

One of this quaint customs is called May Singing, when groups went around the countryside singing out the Winter. The singing went on for a few of the last days of April and had to be finished by May 1. Unlike Wasailing at Christmas time, the singers did not seek alms; the purpose of May Singing was to bring good helth and fortune to the inhabitans of the houses visited. Here are the verses of one song:

All in this pleasant evening, together come are we,
For the Summer springs forth so fresh,green and gay,
We tell you of the blossom and buds on every tree,
Drawing near to the merry month of May.

God bless this house and harbour, your riches and your store,
For the Summer springs so fresh, green and gay,
We hope the Lord will prosper you, both now and evermore,
Drawing near to the merry month of May.

May Day mirth is seeing a ressurection by those reluctant to see all the old traditions go by the way side. Once again people are getting up at dawn to gather flowers and wash their faces in dew, and making garlands and Maypoles. A old rhyme ( which sounds like a spell to me) says:

"The maiden who,
On the first of May,
Goes to the fields
At the break of day,
And washes in dew 
From the hawthorn tree
Shall ever afterwards
Beautiful be."

Every house hung a bunch of greenery over the front door: this was the first thing done when the flower-gatherers returned fromt he fields. Afterwards, there would eb processions in the streets with people carrying staves decorated with flowers and decorated with cowslip balls.

Chimney-Sweeps dance with Jack in the middle.
I had no idea how to make a cowslip ball. I found this information on Botanical.com:
"The umbels are picked off close to the top of the main flowerstalk and about fifty to sixty are hung across a string which may be stretched for convenience between the backs of two chairs. The flowers are then pressed carefully together and the string tied tightly so as to collect them into a ball. Care must be taken to choose only such heads or umbels in which all the flowers are open, as otherwise the surface of the ball will be uneven." 

Another charming event held during May Day festivities was the Chimney Sweeps Dance. The book gave no reason for it, but I suspect it's because one of the central characters was hidden inside a framework of flowers and called Jack-in-the Green. The other Sweeps clothing was trimmed in brightly colored strips of cloth ( flowers?). The group would dance around town banging their brushes and pans and being a general nuisance until someone threw them a few coins to go away. May Day was also occasion for fairs and other public gatherings where townspeople would get together to share a meal or hoist a pint or two to the bright prospect of warmer nights and longer, sunny days.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wind Spirit

Since so many places have been affected by the wind , maybe now is the time to share a little background on the subject.

In meteorological terms, wind is the flow of gasses around the Earth's atmosphere affected by temperature-the difference between the heat of the equator and the arctic poles-and the rotation of the planet.Terrain is also a factor-mountains or valleys and large bodies such as oceans.There are a variety of names for the energetic quality (strength) of the wind: gusts, squalls,gale, hurricane,monsoon,typhoon, tornado, breeze among them. The character of these strengths are what make the wind friend or foe: the breeze of a gentle rain storm is much less threatening than, say, a severe thunderstorm.

The Hebrew word the Bible so often uses to describe the wind is ruach, which not only means wind, but breath and spirit as well. When Jehovah breathed life into Adam, His was the gift of ruach-breath and spirit.



Since most of Nature was personified by the ancients, the wind as god or goddess had many names: Vayu, Zephyrus,Boreas,Oya, Njord, Kamikaze, Miracha and Mariah. The Elemental spirit of Air called in the sacred circle is often known as a Zephyr. 

Whatever you call it, the wind has movement and sound-a literal windsong, and it can be as soft as a lullaby or as harsh as a banshee's scream. It can heal or destroy, sooth and purify or disturb and unhinge. Uncontrolled and unpredictable...Such is it's power.

Wind magic includes capturing its storm-driven energy by tying knots in a thread to save for later releasing ( to amplify the power of a spell), listening to the voice of the wind through the ringing of a simple bell hung in a window ( or better yet, a windchime), and writing your intention on a piece of cloth ( yellow in some traditions) to be hung outside and allowing the intention to be carried by the wind. Tibetan prayer flags are an example of this type of magick.

The highlight of a trip to Hawaii of a very good friend of mine was going to a mountain top on Maui and leaning over a cliff into the wind to allow the local  'aumakua or wind deity, to blow away all of his worry and depression as a sort of rite of purification. It was a powerful yet simple act of faith...and it was effective because he returned home happier and healthier than he had been in years. 

Pagan friends here in North Carolina who appealed to the spirits of the wind during the devastating  tornadoes of  the week before Easter swear their prayers helped spare their homes from destruction. I can speak  in  this regard because during the stages of storm warnings and tornado watches, Pagan (non-Pagan) friends from  all over the country kept track of the storms on Facebook with me and sent protective energies....and our house was not effected. We only had a few leaves and small broken branches.Downtown Raleigh within walking distance looked like a war zone, trees fell on the street where we live, wires came down all around us....and we never lost power or sustained any damage. I have to believe-and give thanks- to an Immanent Divinity who I believe heard those supplications and showed mercy.

Wind of Land and Sea,
Spirit with a thousand songs
You lift your Voice
And sing sacred songs.

Mysterious One,
Blowing across water and earth,
Sing a blessing for us
Upon All Relations.

Blow your breath into us;
Renewing and giving Life.
Allow your Spirit to remain
Upon this place now Holy.




Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Few Personal Thoughts on National Pagan Coming Out Day

If you've been following this blog, you know that I developed my personal  practice of earth-centered spirituality when I was still a teenager, that I was raised as a Roman Catholic and was once a member of the Christian ministry. Even while I was actively an Episcopal chaplain, I continued to privately follow what was essentially a Pagan path.

I'm not a disgruntled former Christian. I have been upset with particular individuals personally who just happen to be Christian , and I have even been angry with God a time or two, but my religion had nothing to do with it. I know others have not been as fortunate, and that there are people who have left particular denominations and even Christianity (or Islam or the Jewish faith or whatever) altogether who are so wounded emotionally that they bleed every time the subject comes up. There are those so wounded that they hemorrhage their very souls and it manifests as anger or pain.  It's different for me. My understanding of 'God' expanded-gradually. It changed over the years as I continued to search, study and explore my own spirituality.  'God' -as I understand the Divine- is Immanent Male and Female. I can no longer pay homage to Him without Her, and as a woman, it is She whom I resonate with most closely. I choose to personalize the Universal Source so I may better It and understand my own inherent divinity. My training in Jungian psychology introduced me to the concept of aspects-which when applied spiritually- opened my psyche to see the Divine as having the characteristics of many gods and goddesses. 'God' for me continually changes, and  what I need from the Universe comes to me whether or not I realize it at the time.

I left the Christian Church under the best possible circumstances, and maybe that's why I've never felt the need to be deeply in the broom closet. I am cautious, but that comes from generally developing trust in someone I do not know than being fearful. That's not to gallantly say it was easy to leave Christianity-it wasn't a clean severance.There were angry words and tears; people I loved and who genuinely loved me are no longer in my life because of my chosen spiritual path-they have left by choice or by mutual agreement. On the whole, however,there has been scant little drama about my no longer being a Christian within my family of friends- they've either understood and been supportive or are respectfully at odds with me over religion. There are people whom I have cast out of my moral universe forever with no regret, and several whose departure still makes my heart ache. I suspect that's because I have always tried to be plain-spoken and honest throughout my life- so that no matter what the subject is- you know where I stand...and I have not always been the shinning example of diplomacy in that regard. I am anything but a typical Pisces. I've represented myself genuinely and as authentically as I could.

There have only been a couple instances where I have felt discriminated against because of my chosen spiritual path.The one that comes to mind so vividly was after I was sexually assaulted and a police officer, having found my pentacle bracelet at the scene, returned it-holding it out in front of him by two fingers as if it were something vile and nasty. I thanked him politely, looked him straight in the eye and said, " I'm Wiccan. This is sacred to me." Although I said it quietly, there was just a hint of 'fuck with me about it' in my tone, with just the right amount of, " I know my rights-and the number of the ACLU" added. He looked away nervously as I took it from him. It may not have been the right thing to do, but it was right for the moment.

I am not an in-your-face Pagan: I don't shout it from the roof tops to let everyone know. Not because I'm afraid or ashamed, it's just that I don't feel I have a personal need to broadcast my faith to everyone.There's no need to cause drama and I don't have an ax to grind. Going around with a big fat Pagan chip on your shoulder is a manipulation that doesn't speak about the individuals religious need as much as his or her narcissistic one.  There are people I have deliberately made a point of telling -like  the UU congregation where  I occasionally preach from a uniquely Pagan perspective-because I feel things needed placing within proper context.All of my friends know...and frankly it's no one elses business. There are occasions when I am publicly Pagan (as a minister and sometimes specifically a witch) and others when I am just another person on the street, and I am comfortable with both.

I do wear Occult and Pagan themed jewelry everyday, and most people probably assume it's just my style...no big deal. Yes, there have actually been little old Jewish ladies with bad eyesight who have complimented me  on my 'Star of David', and I have just smiled because it would have been self-righteous and disrespectful to correct them.  Most folks really do mean well, and I've had sincere inquiries about particular pieces from the curious which have provided me with a few minutes of low-key education. I have never tucked my pentagram pendant into my shirt to hide it, although I have worn it beneath a shirt when it was not visible-because I chose to. Faith is a private matter-sometimes more so in particular circumstances and  places...as I believe it should be for everyone.

Why is it important for Pagans to be 'out'? Because seeing us going about our business as a part of the neighborhood makes us good citizens-and it's good public relations. It shows we are a productive part of society. It's a sign of  individuality and diversity. It dispels fear and provides an opportunity to connect on a strictly human level. It provides opportunity to educate (not pontificate or attempt to convert). It improves our image-to ourselves and others- and boosts our own self-esteem. It makes us feel a part of the larger scheme of things in Life. And yes, damn it, it does make us appear normal-why is that such a bad thing?

Most importantly it makes us visible...and make no mistake, in the big picture of reality, it is important we are seen because it shows our numbers, it puts a face on us,making us tangible and real...and it makes us a little less likely to be feared or kicked around and bullied. Others will take us seriously when they see who we really are. We need to do this for each other- and for our children.

Perhaps that's why I embrace being a Pagan so easily and fully. I don't believe in living in fear, and I cannot live in fear because it is so diametrically opposed to everything else I believe in. In order to do that, I have had to discern which sacrifices I needed to make, and where I needed consensus.

The deciding factor for my participation in National Pagan Coming Out Day came from two insightful and passionately written articles by T. Thorn Coyle, and from Phadrea Boniwitts' blog in which she says,"Still, in my own heart, I do not believe that living a lie is any nobler than speaking one. A deception is just that. Secrets are seldom safe, and living in fear of discovery is its own kind of hell."

So those who feel they can...please be present and seen. For those not quite ready, for whatever reason-the way is being paved for you today so you can join us tomorrow.

 T.Thorn Coyle links:
http://www.thorncoyle.com/2011/04/why-come-out-for-tempest-smith/
http://www.thorncoyle.com/2011/04/paganism-some-questions/ 
Phaedra Bonewits link:
http://neopagan.net/blog/2011/04/26/ipcod_2011/

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Can You Live At The Level Of Your Soul?



It is so easy to become lost these days because there are so many distractions. When I have a monstrous list of things to do and no time-or no desire to do them-I know it's time to fall back and  re-group. Life, it's sometimes said, is a journey and a battle...so true...but there are days when I no longer have the energy to keep fighting and just simply want to be. Just be. I don't want to have to be clever or entertaining or intelligent. I just want quiet existence.

The character played by Greta Garbo in the great movie classic Grand Hotel has been erroneously quoted as saying," I want to be alone." What she actually said is, " I want to be let alone." Big difference, and I can identify.

There are days I want to spend by myself, just to drink iced tea and become thoroughly immersed in a book.Not sweet tea, sorry. Even though I live in the South now ( and I was actually born here), sweet tea and vinegar barbecue are two things I can't quite assimilate. But I love this time of year before the heat becomes oppressive and it's still a bit tangy and chilly at night because the days are lazy and just right for reading. Other days, I want to simply 'handle my stuff'-literally. I drag out the belongings I have packed away and change out a few nick-knacks and freshen up the room that has become my world. I surround myself with me, which is important, because I live in a house that is devoid of anything spiritual or otherwise personal. It's a lovely house, and I appreciate having a roof over my head, but it just exists because the homeowner is not only an atheist, she is all about not being attached to anything to the point of not having any pride of ownership.Which can be interpreted as being very Buddhist,or very self centered....whatever it is, that's not something that resonates in me.

When you have no depth or no desire to look deeply within, it's difficult to manage that which is at the surface of your everyday life. I don't think that just living is enough and I don't think that it's honestly something you  decide to do, because I believe in formation. It's possible to live simply, but for me simply living is my idea of hell. Without appreciation for your surroundings, with out acknowledging your history, I don't believe you can live at the level of your soul.

It's a double bind at best.You don't start living as who you truly are until you've had some experience under your belt, and you don't get experience until you have lived. It's impossible to have lived without gathering moss, because it's the moss that lends character to the stone. The rolling stone that gathers no moss is just another stone. I think that saying," Not now because I've had enough," takes courage. Saying NO is not a sign of weakness-quite the opposite. It's recognition of  being at service to that deeper level of your being. It comes from knowing yourself and who you are not, rather than from conditioning. The 'stiff upper lip' is a fraud.

On those days when I curl up with a good book or take care of my little space, I am living true to my inner being and caring for myself. I do the same thing during personal devotions. I am never more Me than when I am surrounded by those things I perceive as holy. It's my choice to light the incense and candles and focus on diety images or read a book of prayers or just sink into the place of Deep Indwelling. It is connection. The opposite drains my energy and chips away at the spirit I have carefully nurtured and the person I have  artfully developed. I cannot live at the level of my soul when I am preoccupied being who others want me to be, and I will tell you now that I am becoming less and less tolerant of the demands of others upon my life and resentful of their intrusion. If I have not invited you in, you have no place in the same space with me, because I have only so much of myself I'm willing to give away and I am determined not to have that small part taken from me ever again.

Who you are is the totality of your existence. It is not only oneness with yourself, but with everything else in the Universe. For me, that is fulfillment and satisfaction. It is comfort. How I think, feel and experience my surroundings is the major component of who I am. The indoctrination of what sets the tone of my psyche-beliefs, convictions, philosophies- only contributes to who I am and doesn't define me. I am more intuitive than that, more open to gut feeling and the abstract, more deeply rooted to my sense of self.

The everyday corporate world seems to align with a more superficial level of understanding which runs the world and  pushes these things aside so we can blend and become a part of the cosmic cake mix...and I rail against this probably more than is wise for my own good. Socialization and individual evolution allow these things to come together, but it is less than a perfect fit for me. I want the level of my soul to be more luminous.  I have an allegiance to a deeper part of me, and because of this I have happily forfitted many of the trappings that spell sucess in our culture. I can have a higher level of measurable wealth and the trappings that go with that at a job  that demands all my attention but sucks the desire to live out of me ( and I have), or I can choose what makes me happy and adjust to a little less money... but have inmeasurable wealth...it's all perception.

I choose spiritual transformation, because it is what makes me happiest. I has taken me a long time to know that I would rather be happy than rich, that although the money will buy things, it does not buy the things that I need to be fulfilled and at peace. There was a point in my life when I totally succumbed to the stress and chaos of a major life transition... and everything collasped because I couldn't keep up.  I beat myself up a lot and bought into what others told me was failure.I know now that the truth is  I didn't want to keep up appearances because it wasn't me, it took me off my path.

Right now I'm still literally in-between lives. The foundations of the old life has fallen away, but the new life hasn't totally emerged yet. It's still transforming and uncertain. And although I don't like the feeling of uncertainty, I know it's coming soon...I can feel it. I'm hopeful and excited, because I have seen the level of my own soul.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Beltane Giveaway on The Secret Life An American Working Witch Blog

It's my pleasure to announce a great opportunity to win a  wonderful gift package! The Secret Life An American Working Witch blog is consistently one of the best blogs out there. Kallan's writing is insightful and magickal while covering timely topics with humor and grace. Take a look and enter her contest-I did!

Interested in participating?  Here's what you need to do... 1 entry for each of the following:

1. Be or become a follower of her blog. Be sure to post a comment letting her know you're participating.
2. Blog about this give-away. (make sure you post a comment with a link to your blog post!)
3. Tweet about this and comment on her site that you did.
4. Join
Pagan Stuff Cheap  Fan page on Facebook and comment on her page that you did.


Remember: make each one a separate entry so you have more chances to win.
Each qualified comment will be considered an entry. She's printing  them up, put them in her witchy hat and will have a family member draw two winners.


Drawing and announcement of winners will take place on Wednesday, April 27.




Use the link below or the button on my home page.




http://mypaganworld.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Robert's Butter Creams

My biological father, Robert Dennis, became a confectioner after his stint as a cook in the Army ( not be confused with my grandfather, 'Pop',who graduated from Cooks and Bakers School at Fort Dix and was a mess Sargent for 11 years, raised me after my parents divorced, and taught me to cook.) On Daddy's infrequent visits-four times a year-4th of July, Christmas, Easter and the birthday we shared- we'd make candy. After the Korean war, he found a job at Reynold's Candies and became one of their candy makers. I learned to use the delicate plastic and heavy industrial metal molds to make everything from Easter Bunnies and stand-up Santas to how to enrobe candy centers. This blog is about the latter.

True butter cream centers are a type of cooked fondant, which takes a lot of time and effort. That's how we used to make the centers before dipping them in melted chocolate which required shaving just the right balance of paraffin wax in to the mix to make it temper and set (yes, the same stuff used to seal Grandma's jelly jars!). This is real work, and I do urge you to take the time to learn how properly-someday. http://www.yankeemagazine.com/recipes/search/onerecipe.php?number=12572

What I'm going to teach you is a 'cheater' method that I learned years later, because, frankly, I got lazy. It works equally as well, and I think it tastes just as good. It requires making a nice butter cream frosting, then adding additional powdered sugar to make the frosting  into a dough. Butter cream frosting isn't difficult to make-it's a knob of unsalted butter the size of an egg,powdered confectioner's 10X sugar, and a splash of evaporated milk. Add a half teaspoon of vanilla or whatever flavor extract you choose, or a spoon of peanut butter. Cream the sugar into the butter and milk until you have a frosting of a smooth consistency-then add just enough additional powdered sugar to make a soft dough. If you want a fruit or nut center, add the diced candied fruit or chopped nuts now. Coconut is traditional, and you can make any combination of fruits and nuts you wish.Too much powdered sugar will make the centers dry and tough.

To really cheat: use a good quality canned frosting and a tiny bit of butter, then  work powdered sugar and the extras into it. Chocolate fudge frosting makes the best centers.

Once  the dough is made, roll  into a log, and slice off pieces about 1 inch thick, then cut the slice into quarters. Coat your hands in powdered sugar, and gently roll the quarters of dough into balls, set on a buttered cookie sheet, or use greased waxed paper. Allow the fondant balls to 'cure' an hour if you're going to dip them in melted chocolate later.The centers will look a bit dry when cured-that's okay. If they're plunged into hot coating before curing, they'll melt away.I like to air dry mine, but you can put the tray into the fridge for an hour.

Truffles are basically candy centers that have not been enrobed and are melt-in-your-mouth creamy and soft. If you're going to make truffles out of them, then roll the balls in flaked coconut, chopped nuts, powdered coca or cinnamon, or fancy sugar immediately before allowing to cure.

Dipping chocolate/candy coating is available at most arts and crafts stores in the same section as cake decorating supplies.Wilton makes acceptable candy coating, I like dark chocolate better than milk chocolate, but that's a personal preference. The chocolate comes in pellets and already has the wax in it . 'White' candy coating is made out of what used to be called confectionery coating-white 'chocolate' made from the coco butter (natural oil in cocoa beans) and byproducts from extracting the cocoa for chocolate. It comes in various colors and sometimes flavors. Mint flavored is truly delicious.

Buy the best you can find- you get what you pay for. A lesser quality can be purchased at the grocery store, but some of it tastes a bit off or cheap to me, except the Baker's brand dipping chocolate used for fresh fruit. The coating can be melted in the microwave ( less mess than stove top in a double boiler) Be very careful timing the coating and stirring it. Stirring it too much makes it stiffen because it introduces air into the mix and cools it rapidly. Too much time in the microwave makes the candy coating 'cook' and get hard and flaky...it's ruined because it's usually beyond help then. If it gets a bit stiff during dipping, you can add a tiny-and I do mean tiny-amount of Crisco to rejuvenate it. Or, you can add a bit of peanut butter, which will reconstitute it, but it will of course taste like peanuts (it's good to use as a 'bark'-spread out on waxed paper and sprinkled with peanuts, crushed mints, etc, and broken when it's hard.) Never use water, milk or oil. And be careful to dry your hands after washing because introducing moisture into the chocolate ruins it.

Be aware that adding anything to the coating will disturb the balance of the temper, and it will be soft and dull looking. The candy will taste good, but it won't have that pretty shine and snap when you bite into it. Place the enrobed piece of candy on the tray or paper. Professionals make a dot of chocolate on the tray or paper to set the piece on to be sure the bottom is sealed. If there are any bald spots on the pieces, you can always re-dip them after they dry ( realize the coating will be thicker).

There are all sorts of fancy 'dipping lopes and spoons on the market- I use a fork. Confectioners spread the hot coating on a piece of candy marble-which is exactly what it sounds like - and hand dip the candy centers, which is technically called enrobing.If you own a shiny marble pizza stone, this is good to use. Enrobing candy by hand is fun, but it's very easy to burn your fingers ( the coating is sticky and hot). Keep a bowl of ice water near by for an emergency and plunge you fingers in to the water right away if you get any coating on you because it can cause a second degree burn that will blister and peel!(You only have to get seriously burned once to be mindful...and for heaven's sake, don't stick your fingers into your mouth with hot coating on them because it will also stick to and burn your tongue.) Nothing like melted chocolate the temperature of molten lava stuck to your very tender tongue...

Yes, I AM the voice of experience in this regard. 

Easter Eggs are just larger pieces of fondant dough made slightly oval. You can make them any size, up to 1 lb, to slice. Decorate Easter eggs with royal icing, or store bought flowers. Cake frosting is too soft to use unless you're going to eat the candy with in a day or two.


When the chocolate has set, carefully remove the pieces and box them or drop into candy papers. You can set the tray of prepared chocolates into the freezer for a few minutes, but freezing tempered chocolate causes it to bloom-what happens when you see  white spots on dark and milk chocolate. The coco butter has come to the surface of the chocolate.

Want candied cherries? Use store bought candied cherries and enrobe them just like the centers. You can press the cherries into a candy center and then enrobe it, too. They're addicting-and fun to make.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

From My Personal Grimorie: All-Heal Oil

This is from my personal grimorie; feel free to copy the recipe for your own personal use. Kindly give me credit as the creator-Thanks.~ © AmethJera, 2011


I made this healing oil the other evening to anoint candles for a friend; I placed 3 drops of it on a tea light candle and used it in my Buddha candle holder. I've done 3X3 days applying the oil to a tea light and focusing on the individual for 15 minutes. He has reported a marked improvement in his mood and some pain relief; his physical appearance has improved as well, but I attribute this to a change in the level of his depression. he also has bottle of this oil and is using a dab of it on his wrists while meditating and reports that the fragrance is very calming to him.

ALL-HEAL OIL

1 drop orange oil......................Physical energy
3 drops cinnamon oil................Psychic awareness
9 drops sandalwood oil............Protection,healing,spirituality,exorcism
3 drops patchouli oil.................Magickal boost
1 drop eucalyptus oil................Health, purification,healing
3 drops lemon oil.....................Physical energy, healing ,cleansing,purification,binding

I used an eyedropper to add the oils to a dark brown bottle and added a sprig of sweet grass for 3 days; after the 3 days, I strained the oils and rebottled it, again in a dark browwn bottle.
© AmethJera, 2011

Greek Easter Bread

One of the best cookbooks I ever owned was The Complete Greek Cookbook by Theresa Karas Yianilos. The recipes are outstanding, but it's also a great read, covering ancient historical practices and humorous stories.

My copy has since fallen apart and I've lose parts of it during several recent move. A recent search for a replacement on Amazon left my head spinning: the book I bought twenty-five years ago for $15 is now topping out at $175! It's going to be awhile before I replace it, LOL.

At lot of the recipes I used around Easter came from this book, including the one for Challah below. Challah is more popularly known as Jewish Egg Bread- heavy, fragrant and a pastel yellow-but the first recipe I had for it was from Yianilos' Greek-themed book. It takes a long time to make, but it's worth it. I've also used this recipe to make Hot Cross Buns. If there's any left after a few days ( which is rare), make either bread pudding or french toast out of it-in either case you'll have to soak the bread in the egg batter overnight because the texture of it is very dense.

Yianilos' book pointed out that the Orthodox Greek Church puts a boiled egg dyed bright red in the middle of the loaf at Easter to represent the sacrifice of Christ. It's a nice gesture, and I have done it- but I don't think the egg will be edible after being boiled and baked (Yuck). I have also made this as a plain round loaf and drawn a spiral or cross on it in glaze to decorate it. This is a slightly sweet bread, so it's good for breakfast toast.

1/2 teaspoon each: anise,cardamon ans dill-tied in a cloth "teabag"
1 cup warm milk (no hotter than 110 degrees)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
1 cup sugar (or less, to taste) or substitute 1/2 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 packages active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
2 eggs + 1 egg, at room temperature, beaten
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup golden raisins


Prior to putting the ingredients together,soak "teabag of herbs in warm milk for 1 hour or over night.

Add butter, sugar and salt to scalded milk. Stir to combine and let cool to lukewarm (110 degrees).

Place yeast and warm water (110 degrees) in the bowl of a stand mixer or large bowl. With the paddle attachment, mix until dissolved. Add lukewarm milk mixture and 2 eggs, and combine.

Add flour and continue to mix until smooth, 3 to 5 minutes. Add raisins and thoroughly combine. The dough will be sticky.

Transfer dough to a clean, greased bowl. Turn dough over to grease the top and cover bowl with a dish towel. Place in a warm, draft-free place and let rise until double, about 1 hour.( I use the oven. Don't heat it, just put it in).
When dough has risen, punch it down and turn out onto lightly floured board. The less flour you work into the dough, the better the bread will be.

At this point you can make a braided loaf or a spiral loaf like the one pictured. The spiral is just one long, skinny length of dough coiled around.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Let the bread rise, loosely covered with a dish towel, until double in volume, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Brush lightly with remaining beaten egg.This will make it glossy. Painting it with water or butter will make the crust crunchy and tough.

Bake 30 minutes or until instant-read thermometer registers 190 degrees when placed in the middle of the loaf....or you can do what your grandma used to do...thump it with your fingers. If it sounds hollow, it's done.

Friday, April 15, 2011

You Might Be A Demon If...


Father Jose Francisco Syquia
 Friends pointed me to a long story about an exorcist in the Philippines on Yahoo News today. It was interesting and made me consider a few things, since this has been a week to think about how people and actions are perceived. This is not an article meant to bash any religious group, but it is going to explore the actions of a single man under particular circumstances who has encouragement to do what he's doing from none other than the Vicar of Rome.

 Father Jose Francisco Syquia is a Roman Catholic priest in charge of the Manila Archdiocese's Office of Exorcism. He's been quite busy lately, and was quoted as saying "There is a great dramatic increase of possessions right now," said the 44-year-old priest. "More and more the demons are gaining a foothold into this society."

Demons? According to Fr. Syquia, he has hundreds of cases on video  in his files. Hundreds. He runs the only place where there is such a specialized ministry in the country. Fr.Syquia was ordained only 11 years ago, after he had already obtained a degree in psychology at one of the Philippines' Catholic universities. He claims he's
always been fascinated by paranormal activities and "devoured entire books on the subject". His career began when he identified a member of his congregation as being "possesed", and sought the guidance of a local bishop- who promply gave him permission to perform an exorcism due to his knowledge of psychology.

Houston, we have a problem.

First of all,why is there suddenly, to quote the good Father,"... a great dramatic increase of possessions right now". Why now? Why not a year or two ago? Or ten? or twenty? The rite of Exorcism has always been a controversial one in the Catholic Church.

An exorcist is a person who is specially trained in liturgics to cast out evil spirits in possession of a person's mind and body, or a location. The position exists in many different traditions and  is usually performed by a specially trained lay person, minister or priest in mainstream religions and by a shaman or healer in others. Ceremonial magickans are also able to call up demons and control them. An in magickal theory, so can witches.
 Syquia suggested there has been a conspiracy of silence that permeated the church in the past among the leadership, who didn't want to appear old fashioned because modern science was beginning to understand that many identified as possessed actually had mental health conditions such as bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia.It's interesting to me that a priest with a psychology degree is placed in charge of an office that strictly deals with a subject the rest of the modern world believes is a combination of mental illnesses but he believes is demonic posession.

The exact word he used was medieval. He didn't want the Church to appear medieval because of the upsurge of exorcisms being performed by it's priests...okay, maybe just him.


Rite of Exorcism in Latin
 Let's review this again. A priest-trained as a psychologist- runs the only ministry in the area specifically dealing with demonic possession in a country where superstition is high and the people are poor is saying there has been an increase in demonic activity in his area and as proof, he has hundreds of video tapes of exorcisms he's performed.

I don't know about you, but I smell the beginning of a potential witch hunt in the Philippines.

Fr.Syquia cites the case of a doctor who was "befriended" by demons in the guise of dwarfs that brought her good luck and money. She had left the Church, but upon returning things changed. The dwarfs were so friendly, and it was determined ( by Fr. Syquia, no doubt) that she had been consorting with the Devil's minions.
I guess the money dried up right around the time she decided to made a significant contribution to Fr.Syquia's parish. Damn dwarfs will pack up their lucky charms and skedaddle every time just when things are getting good. Do tell. About another demoniac, the priest was quoted as saying, "She would have levitated had she not been restrained." The whole thing is on tape and is used to train impressionable seminarians. He recounted that the woman cried out" It's very painful" as she was held tight by his assistants.


Scene from 1983 The Exorcist
 I wish they'd allowed her to float up to the ceiling, I'd like to have seen that- because I've been involved in a couple of exorcisms and they were pretty boring, exactly. No one channeled Regan MacNeil, and no green pea soup was spewed on us.  Granted the rituals were done at the insistence of people who had long term  and certifiable mental health issues, but the attention and prayer circle seemed to help... right up until the Resperdal and Thorazine kicked in and then the "fun" was over.

I'm not saying there is no such thing as demonic possession,because having studied and worked in the realm of magick for many, many years, anything is possible.  I am suggesting as a trained counselor in the medical field that it's more than likely the individual in question was suffering from some form of psychosis. I seriously doubt that visitations from lower entities who actually take over humans happen all that frequently...and I do believe they exist, and I certainly do think they are attracted to some of the things we do as occult practitioners. Most of us aren't necromancers, even if we work with the ancestors. We don't do extensive, intense high ceremonial magick that would bring demons poking around to see what we were up to, especially if we take proper precautions to protect ourselves from having an paranormal "Oh shit" moment...You just don't call up what you can't put down, and not many of us are that adventuresome or stupid.

Speaking in strange tongues, writhing around on the floor, screaming like a wild animal and trying to get free from two burly guys holding you down doesn't necessarily mean you're in contact with Old Scratch or any of his friends...because accusation isn't proof, as the folks running the anti-witch hunts campaign over at Touchstone Advocacy would say.

But the story about Fr. Jose Francisco Syquia does cause me to wonder what exactly is happening in the Philippines in regard to the alleged increase of possessions and the supposed need for spiritual intervention...Are the Philippines actually a hotbed of demonic activity? I think it depends on who and what you believe demonic to be and who the Devil is in this case. Could Fr. Syquia be attracting these demons through something he's doing during the ritual that attracts them? It's possible to do both innocently and on purpose. Or is he being well meaning but essentially harmless? Again, that could be the case...or he's gearing up for the next round of spiritual warfare against innocent persons...in the same vein of the witch hunts in Africa. Because you just never know for sure.





Link to original article on Yahoo:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110414/lf_afp/philippinesreligioncatholicexorcism#mwpphu-post-form

Link from Roman Catholic news agency on  the new language of the Rite of Exorcism, with commentary:
http://www.ewtn.com/library/Liturgy/ZEXOR.HTM

Link to text of the Rite of Exorcism, provided for educational purposes only:
http://www.durenmar.de/articles/exorcism.html

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Are Pagans Any Better At Diversity Than The Religions We Left?

Is the Pagan community (being used here as an umbrella term) really as tolerant of diversity as we would like to think we are? Or are we just fooling ourselves?

It's a question to ponder after the recent ugly flair-up concerning-you guessed it- Christian Day. If you're not familiar with the gentleman in question-and frankly, I wasn't- until the last free-for-all blowout of a couple of months ago. He's a necromantic practitioner who is the proprietor of the Hex and Omen occult shops in Salem, Massachusetts. Oh, and he's a warlock. Which was the subject of the first community bonfire and continues to fuel this newest one. That and the fact that he and a few fellow witches performed a binding/healing ritual for attention whore actor Charlie Sheen. Sheen is battling what appears to be a serious mental illness and is sure to be the next Hollywood train wreck. Christian Day was disturbed by Sheen's malignment of warlocks in the press (which Sheen has now recanted), and decided that the situation required magickal intervention...which, by the way, is his perogative. The Pagan community only gets to agree or disagree on that point. The man says his religion was insulted by Sheen's announcement that he was a "Vatican Assasin Warlock", and it's right to get pissed off about it, even if Sheen was incoheriently shooting his mouth off. Personally, I wish there would have been an opportunity for teaching and describing the ritual, but TMZ only deals in video clips and short sound bytes.

Admittedly, to some, Christian Day is a character; that is to say he has the reputation of being over-the-top in manner and dress. For one thing, he wears eyeliner and black clothing, not your everyday ensemble commonly worn by the Stepford Wife drones in big business. So he stands out in a crowd. And he is unabashedly bombastic in a P.T. Barnum kind of way due to his mastery of public relations manipulation; after all, he does have a PR background. He knows about 'branding' and how to promote himself and from what I have heard from those visiting Salem, his shops are fairly successful. In today's economy, you have to give him credit for keeping two businesses alive, particularly because they are focused on a targeted audience.

So, we have a rather noticeable, flamboyant individual going about the streets of Salem, Massachusetts in heavy eyeliner and flowing, witch clothing...a witch dressed as the public stereotype of a witch...in Salem...hummmmm...and people are whispering about it. Given the reputation of the place and it's carnival atmosphere ,and the fact that there are literally dozens of people who dress that way walking the streets ( not to mention tourists), the surprise here for me is that anyone can pick Christian Day out of the crowd.

A few years ago, you could have substituted the name Laurie Cabot for Christian Day in that respect, she of the wild, flowing Cruella deVille hair, heavy eyeliner and  flowing black robes. 'Oh. My. God. She looks like a witch!' A lot of poo-poo went down about her appearance, too, until she was named the Honorary Witch of Salem, and even that sparked a controversy. Her appearance at first overshadowed her founding of the Witches Defamation League and The Cabot Tradition of the Science of Witchcraft. I think that both of those entities-one political and the other spiritual-have contributed greatly to the acceptance of the Craft in the mainstream. Laurie Cabot dressed like a stereotypical witch in public to bring attention to the fact that she was in actuality a real practitioner of the Craft and in doing so she helped to reclaim the word witch in the public eye more than anyone.The curious were educated, and  the legacy she created  is that she's now  a  well-respected representative of the Craft in both our own community and the larger world. And even recognizing that with a nod, if you check nearly any mainstream dictionary for the word witch, it's going to more than likely include the words 'evil' or 'wicked' in the definition.

Oh, and by the way...Oberon Zell-Ravenheart obliged photographers from the notorious Daily Mail tabloid by grocery shopping in full wizard's robes including a pointed hat a couple of weeks ago. Apart from a few snarky remarks from people who were obviously negative complainers by vocation, the event was largely forgotten in our community. Compare the definitions in mainstream dictionaries for the word wizard, and it's probably going to mention 'sorcery' in a negative light. Moving right along...

Some things in the perception of the general public just don't change quickly, and other's don't change at all. It took centuries before the Protestant Christian Church stopped thinking of Roman Catholics as cannibals due to the transmogrification of the mundane elements into the body and blood of Christ during the ritual of the Eucharist. They called them baby eaters, among a few other choice untruths. And they accused them of being ceremonial magicians, which is uncomfortably more truthful than most Pagans would like to admit.

It's all laid down to personal perspective...all of the above. And that perspective is colored by intolerance of diversity, the lack there of which is prejudice.

So what's the deal with Christian Day? Is it because he's out of the closet as both a gay man and a Pagan? Because he wears eyeliner? Is it because he's a necromancer? His personality? The fact that he's getting the public attention a few in our community secretly wish they'd gotten but haven't figured out how? Is it really his appearance? Or is it that he's self-identifying as a warlock?

Let's be brutally honest: it's a bit of all of the above. Christian Day is different:he disturbs the staus quo. That makes a lot of people uncomfortable. 

And I know this because it's human nature to fear and reject what is different and what we do not understand. We are made uncomfortable by "the other", or more to the point, because  religious orientation for many of us comes out of a system where the different, the abnormal, the dark, "the other" is considered wrong, vile, and sacrilegious...and as hard as most of us work to overcome those feelings, they are so deeply ingrained in our collective psyche that we are hypersensitive to those feelings because they claw at our very core as an individual.They continue to undermine who we think we are. We are wounded and bleeding from this attack on our very foundation of being...and then someone like Christian Day comes along and whatever he represents to us, whatever perception we assign to what we see in him and project on him,  picks at our scabs.



I understand all of that, but it doesn't excuse all the vitriolic behavior and threats of violence some have aimed at him. In a community where "Harm None" is a mandate and not just a catch phrase, we need to do better, not just for ourselves and but for our public image as well. It 's just so much bullshit that we don't care how we are perceived by the public or by those in mainstream religions. It's cavalier and self-deluding. We do care if we are blown off as a bunch of loonies who dress up in Halloween costumes 365 days a year, or that we are evil, or simply mentally disturbed. We don't like being pushed out to the margins to reside with the lunatic fringe...in fact, collectively we fear it more than anything.No one likes to be negated or dismissed.


I had to ask myself," Are pagans any better at accepting diversity than the religons we left?


The answer is a resounding, "No."

We are no different than other religions in that we fear diversity, and lack tolerance ...but we need to admit it, first to ourselves and then to others. We need to swallow a very large slice of humble pie we have served ourselves so we can learn discernment and drop our propensity to be judgemental and fearful. We need to transcend human nature, and if we succeed, that will be quite a bit of magick in and of its self....and we will have to keep learning these lessons because our human nature will fight it and we will forget...the proof being that history ( no matter whose )  continues to repeat its self .

Singling out one individual to bash and cat-call is a waste of energy because we have given over our power to everything surrounding that situation that is negative. It has nothing to do with the individual and what he/she represents to us, but it has everything to do with what we make of ourselves and the negativity we create for ourselves.

Grace and Peace to you...Blessed Be.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Some Confusing Pagan Origins of Easter,Part 2

" He's mad as a March hare!"

How many of you have heard the expression but don't know exactly what it means? The hare-a member of the genius Lepus-come in many varieties.Unlike rabbits which birth their young in burrows underground, the hare constructs a shallow depression in the ground and lines it with soft material such as grass and fur. Usually a shy critter, the majority of European species are nocturnal until breeding season, when they are hyperactive during the day and run about wildly, the theory being that they are showing off to attract a mate. They breed from February to September, and unreceptive females use their forepaws to repel unwanted male attention by "boxing" them.
The rejected lovers are understandably frustrated and act erratically do to hormonal shifts; essentially they have 'bunny blue balls' which drive them,well....mad.

The phrase," Mad as a March hare" was first used in English literature by Sir Thomas More in a religious tract. It became firmly rooted in the public consciousness when a rather ditsy March Hare character appeared as the Mad Hatter's s tea party co-host in Lewis Carrol's popular " Adventures of Alice in Wonderland" in 1865. The modern tale of the Easter Bunny has it's origins in the March hare; in Germany children would put out handmade grass nests ( much in the manner of hanging a Christmas stocking for Santa) for the Easter Bunny to fill with treats-but only if they'd been good. Later the grass and eggs were placed in a decorative basket for display purposes in the home.

Our history harkens back to the time when we were an agricultural society that lived off the land. People provided their own larder from livestock and grain harvest during the winter months, but by the return of warm weather, those reserves were getting scarce. They supplemented their nutritional needs by hunting for wild bird eggs-easily found in the Spring of the year as many birds were nesting. The eggs were a source of much needed protein, and their colorful shells-pastel yellows,greens and blues and tan, with spots and other markings- are the influence for the dying of Easter Eggs. The egg as a symbol of birth( and re-birth) and the beginning of life came to popular culture.

The Teutonic goddess Eostre, whose festival is held during the early Spring is said to have taken pity on a wounded hare and transformed him into a bird so he could survive...a legend which, I think, is as good an association between bunnies and eggs as anyone has come up with yet. I love exploring how our myths and legends form and change within society to explain the unexplained. All of our stories of origin are supernatural myths conceived to show how uniquely made we humans are, even the ones with humble beginnings.

Spring flowers have always been associated with Eastertide, none more prominently than the white lily. The lily is a perennial plant which dies completely down each year: there are over 100 species of lily throughout the world, mostly concentrated in the warm northern climates. Some parts are edible in particular species and the pollen is used for food in others. Because the plant grows new each year, coming forth from the ground after 'dying', it's appearance is likened to the Resurrection of Christ. The white lily, as a symbol of purity in art, is often seen with the Virgin Mary. Gabriel, the angel who announced the miraculous birth of Jesus to Mary in the Bible, is often depicted giving her a white lily in recognition of her innocence, its trumpet-like flower  heralding  the coming event. The Easter lily is often seen in Christian Churches at Passiontide for those reasons-purity in spirit and announcing the return of the Hebrew God to earth in human form, and again being reborn in Christian mythos. The Fleur de lis ('fleu' is flower and 'lis' is lily in French) in art is a stylized lily and is seen frequently decorating Gothic churches, most especially in Lady Chapels dedicated to Mary the Virgin.

Lambs are born in the early part of the year. Ewes are in the fields ready to give birth. The name of the Pagan Sabat of Imbolc literally means, " in the belly", and recognizes this time. The white wool of lambs,their assumed innocence(they are born guileless and malleable)and the fact they were frequently used as a sacrifice in the Abrahamic religions-have been used to symbolize Christ for centuries. The Bible often refers to Jesus as " the Lamb of God", who's sacrificial death on the cross, " takes away the sin of the world". The idea of a god being sacrificed for the salvation of the people  is found in many world cultures, not just Christian. Mithras is one that comes instantly to mind. There are numerous gods sacrificed in Hindu religions...Celtic, Roman, Greek..nearly every religion in every region of the ancient world can claim this legend.

Many everyday things that were a part of ancient Pagan life have found new meaning in Easter traditions, and these have been just a few. The last 'symbol' is an action- wearing new clothing on Easter day. Ancient people wore their garments until they were threadbare and worn out, seldom having a second robe to change into. The weaving and spinning fabric were favored activities during the long winter months: by Spring the fabric was made into new clothing. The Christian tradition of 'putting on a new garment' upon becoming a believer was backed by the ancient wisdom of not putting new wine in old wine skins, lest the new wine spoil. So too the new, or reborn person dedicating him or herself to the teachings of Jesus, should cloth themselves in new clothing.

And so, we have spent quite awhile learning about some of the arcane origins of Easter-some based in factual Pagan history, some coming from myth. I hope these blogs have inspired you to research the fascinating origins of holiday traditions for yourself.

Blessed Be.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Some Confusing Pagan Origins of Easter, Part 1



There seems to be a mistaken notion that everything in Christianity has Pagan origins; while that's true in some cases, it can't be made as a blanket statement. There's a Pagan version of urban legend-style stuff getting confused with the actual scholarship that's difficult to sort out. There's a lot of information being passed around just because words sound similar, but without the faintest linguistic connection. The words Astarte and Easter, for instance,sound similar, but have no real connection. At least linking Eostre with Easter makes more sense, since there is a feast for her taking place around the Vernal Equinox. The connection is a stretch, but its there. Some Pagans would like to believe that everything Christian was once "ours" because it gives them the same sense of smug satisfaction that fundamentalist Christians have in thinking that they have the only way to the Divine Immanence.I don't believe there is an "us" and "them", but that symbols and implements exist within their own context. It's a little like understanding the concept of music: there are only so many notes to write all the songs in the Universe. Just because some of those notes coincidentally appear in the same order in different songs doesn't mean that the songwriter is plagiarizing someone elses material. The same is true of art: themes aren't copyrighted. A still life can have all the same elements as another. What makes it unique is the composition. Symbols are a form of art, and themes repeat throughout cultures and societies. I don't deny that some of what we think of as Christian symbols of the season were purposely devised to mislead the masses, I'm saying that many symbols are Universal in their meaning and appear in multiple cultures and religions.



The Hebrew word for Passover is פֶּסַח written (pesach), which comes from the verb פָּסַח (pasach) which means "to pass over". In the Old Testament story of the Exodus of the people of Israel escaping slavery in Egypt, there is the sub-story of the 10 plagues; the tenth and worst of the plagues being the slaughter of the first-born. The Israelites were instructed (by God) to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb and, upon seeing this, the Angel of Death ignored or passed over these homes. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek, the word pasach  was basically unchanged becoming the Greek πάσχα (pascha). In some English Bibles, however, this is erroneously translated Easter, and other times correctly as Passover, but it’s the same event. Most other languages have the same word for both- e.g. Latin Pascha. When the Bible was first translated into German in 1545, Martin Luther used the words Osterfest (combining the events of the pass over and the resurrection adding to the confusion. The famous Last Supper of Jesus and the Apostles is believed to be a Seder, that is, a meal to commemorate the event of the Israelite children being saved from the Angel of Death ) and Osterlamm ( Passover lamb). Notice the similar sounding words?

When John Wycliffe produced the very first English Bible in 1382, he translated directly from the Latin and left the word pascha untranslated.)William Tyndal was responsible for introducing the word 'Easter' into the English Bible ( from the Greek) for the first time, and his version of the Bible was the first to take advantage of the mass production of copies via the printing press. When Tyndale translated the Old Testament, he thought that it was wrong to use the word Easter for the Jewish feast. This is because the word Easter relates directly to the resurrection (rising facing East), which didn't happen until later. Tyndale went back to the root of pesach, i.e. pasach, meaning ‘to pass over’, and coined the new term Passover.

Bit of trivia here: Tyndal was later burned at the stake as a heretic.

All this transliteration is exactly why there are so many versions of the Bible-the scholars kept disagreeing on the verbage and complicating matters further by inventing new words in a attempt at clarity...and missing the mark most of the time. My personal take on it is that the Bible is a record of the experience and essence of the God of the Hebrews and the sect founded by Jesus of Nazareth, later known as Christians. It is historical, mythical and sacred because it tells the stories of those people and their relationship with their god. Want to get a real feel for the Bible? Read The Bible designed to be read as living literature as written in 1936 by Ernest Sutherland Bates http://www.amazon.com/Bible-Designed-Literature-Testaments-Version/dp/0671879596

I suspect that none of them were actually thinking about either a Phoenician or Teutonic Goddess at the time. The myth of Eostre and Easter is quaint, but more than likely an assumption...kind of like the story of how the Easter Bunny was a shape-shifting bird that didn't quite make the change and continued to lay eggs. It's a lovely sentiment, but it's folklore.

And while we're debunking myths of the season, let's examine the origin of Good Friday. I think that most of us realize the word good is a synonym for the word God- whose name was considered too holy to be spoken.( I can only surmise the reasoning behind this as," Our god is so much more powerful that we can't even say his name, unlike all the other gods who came before.", which makes it an ancient form of one-upmanship.) In the early Christian Church, all Fridays were set apart as a particular day of devotion, and before that it was designated as the first day of the Jewish Sabbath. Further back than that, however, and we find it was a day dedicated to the goddess Frigga.

Since all but the very conservative Christian churches have lost the traditions associated with celebrating every Friday as a day of particular devotion,Good Friday-the day of Jesus' crucifixion stands on it's own. The Jews, however, still celebrate it as the first day of their Sabbath after sundown.

The way Jews mark time needs to be explained here: while the rest of us think of a complete 24 hour period as a single day, the Jews think of any part of that 24 hours as 'a day'...so therefore, the Sabbath is two days-sunset Friday until the first three stars are seen in the sky on Saturday evening. The times differ from place to place; a day in Jewish parlance is sundown to sundown, not sunrise to sunrise. If we followed this thinking literally, then the Resurrection of Jesus (after three days in the grave) would not take place on Sunday, and Easter would not occur until Monday. Talk about artistic license.

Want to be further confused? The date of Easter changes every year, which makes the event at once suspect.

Easter is the first Sunday after the 14th day of the lunar month that falls on or after the vernal equinox for most of Christianity as determined by the Gregorian Calendar. Eastern Orthodox Christians calculate the date according to the Julian Calendar. The method to do this is termed Computus; the modern day church has come up with the phase Golden Number as a simplification of the Computus, which, if you try to understand the method make your eyeballs bleed and your head explode.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computus

I've never gotten a straight answer as to why Easter isn't celebrated on the same date every year: they don't know when Jesus was born, either, and they managed to designate a date. Moving along...

The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ ( Christ being his job title and not his last name, so he is more properly Jesus the Christ) is recorded in the Books of  the Apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, popularly known collectively as the Gospel. In theory, these are the guys who also tell the story of the birth of Jesus...which is spotty and disjointed also. It's often overlooked that the four Gospels weren't all written in the same time period and much of the information was gathered from recollection and heresay in some cases hundred of years after the fact; it's now widely accepted that not all of the books were actually written by the people to which they are attributed, but by later followers. The Crucifixion and Resurrection are treated the same as the Nativity, no one particular matched details with the others.

Many years later, Thomas Jefferson sought to remedy this problem by extracting doctrine from the Gospels and cutting out passages that contained what he thought were supernatural events and misunderstanding of the original Gospel writers. The Jefferson Bible ( actually titled," The Life and Morals of Jesus Christ") is a stark, bare bones re-telling of the story of Jesus. In Jefferson's version, Mary Magdalene arrives to find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Jefferson doesn't tell anyone what to believe, he just gives the facts. There are no angels and no conversations about Jesus' whereabouts with heavenly messengers. The stone is simply rolled away, the tomb is empty, and the rest of the story is up to you and your faith...or imagination.

This blew me away the first time I encountered it in seminary. Just the facts about Jesus' ministry-names, places, events. No miracles. No hyperbole about supernatural powers. Just things that could be logically and rationally proven...edited by the man who helped frame our US Constitution. My respect and admiration for Jefferson skyrocketed ( There is a controversy in the Unitarian Universalist Association about Jefferson being a slave holder. I don't agree in any way with slavery, but I will say Thomas Jefferson was no different than any other wealthy  Caucasian business man of European descent  of that period in our history.  That he was indeed; unlike many slave holders, he made sure his slaves were educated and their basic needs looked after. I have never read where he mistreated any of them. It's a matter of public record that he father children by some of the females.I'm not here to judge his actions, motivations or morals.For the record, Jefferson was not a UU, he was a Dietist. ) Jefferson's treatment of the Holy Scripture is a fascinating read with all the supernatural elements stripped away.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Taking A Minute to Heal The Earth.

There is a picture of the Japanese characters for healing energy included with this blog. You can enlarge, print and cut it out if it will help you focus. As you meditate, visualize these characters over the land, the water and the people.
If you would rather pray, I'm including a prayer here. Feel free to use it or create your own.

May the earth be still,
The waters be pure,
And the air be sweet.

May there be healing,
Comfort,
And regeneration of all the Earth.

We gather as One:
We send healing energy
From the deepest place of Being.

We call upon all the elemental powers
All relations,
From every direction
To regenerate in their own way.

We call upon the Immanent Power of the Universe
To lay it's protective mantle upon Earth.
For the well-being of it's people,
and of the Earth herself.

Lay peace upon the hearts and minds of all people,
And over all of the Earth this day.
Give us the grace to pray for kindness
Toward one another every day and always.

And so it may be.

I'm a believer in using tools to aid personal devotion. They are outward signs of inner grace. Feel free to add any to this ritual or none at all, as you wish.

Candles serve the purpose of aiding in focus during meditation.A small pink candle would be nice, but any candle you have around the house will work-even a tea light or one of those chunky white emergency candles. You may wish to  anoint the candle with any consecrated or healing oil you have on hand, a little holy water, or use it as is-it's the intention that counts. Anointing the candle allows you to imbue it with your intention in a tangible way, but it will work no matter what you do.

Lighting a cone or stick of incense during your meditation time will allow you to more fully opened to the process, and it's believed in some traditions that the smoke rising from incense carries prayer closer to the Divine.A light floral scent or something cleansing like eucalyptus will do to add a sensual reminder to the unconscious.

A small bowl of water with a pinch of sea salt will aid in the purification of the meditation area. You may wish to sprinkle a bit of the water around the meditation area, or simply leave the bowl nearby on a table near the candle and incense.

A tiny vase of flowers. Flowers represent life. A few sprigs of cherry blossom, forsythia, dogwood or some wild violets would be lovely, but any flower will do, even a single bud.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ah...Spring!

I've resisted posting a true paeon to Spring long enough. It's been several weeks now since Ostara and the Vernal equinox. Flowers are blooming in earnest ( they're blooming in Raleigh and Durham,too...okay, that pun is proof of why vaudeville is dead) and the budding trees have just blossomed....but that's not enough to signal spring to me.

It's truly Springtime because The Dollar Tree, Michael's and Toys R Us have turned themselves inside out offering 'Everything Easter': plastic eggs, bags of generic jelly beans,headbands with bunny ears,egg coloring kits,cellophane grass, candy bunnies, chicks and crosses of dubious ingredients, and Easter baskets painted with clashing bands of color made in China. Ah....Spring! The little envelopes of vegetable and flower seeds are selling 4 for a $1.. and contain.mostly things that grow on vines that will take over the yard like Kudzu...speaking of which, they also offer an array of things to kill Kudzu and other invasive weeds...vile, toxic mixtures in cans and bottles that have little cartoons of  weeds in death throes on the label, or some ad exec's idea of a weedless lawn in middle-America. There are things that twirl, spin and chime to entertain us and scare the birds and squirrels away. Buckets of yellow wax with huge wicks in the center rumored to be scented with Citronella.

Citronella is such an elusive fragrance to me; Is it supposed to smell like citron, or something else? It always makes my eyes water. And it's marked explicitly that it should not be used in confined spaces with little ventilation, yet most of the packaging used for items containing it are made to sample-smell...and it's there right next to the rest of the jar candles we love to sniff at Yankee Candle.No one has said why it shouldn't be used indoors. (I know, but it's a secret..until now:http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/biopesticides/ingredients/factsheets/factsheet_021901.htm).

And then... there's the main attraction of Easter...No,  not Him.....*HIM*, the soft furry Lepus variety, not the dying god type. East R Bunny. Or Billy Bunny. Or Baby Bunny...whatever the people who brand things are calling the currently popular bunny item this year. Easter Bunnies come in an astounding variety of forms.  The chocolate ones carry golf clubs, fly airplanes or drive for NASCAR. You rarely see one painting eggs, and you never see them laying an Easter egg. Last year I saw one in a Star Fleet uniform, which I guess is okay now that Captain Kirk is working for Priceline and hosting his own talk show ( Let's not forget that William Shatner also played the indomitable Denny Crane, patriarch of Boston Legal. I love him, and I love James Spader, who is hip, smart and still a hottie...I digress.)

Oh,yeah....we were talking about signs of Spring. Another sign of Spring is  that the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses are out in full bloom, attempting to spread their version of goodwill and eternal salvation door to door. They pollinate the neighborhood with pulp religious tracts, hoping that some curious soul will call and inquire about their beliefs. Do you know anyone who has actually ever done this? Me neither.

Egg hunts are popular in this area; most of the large churches and many of the local parks have them. They normally consist of dozens of two part plastic eggs that contain a treat. When I was a kid they were real eggs! We still got the candy-and occasionally a coin or two- but I was thrilled with the boiled eggs, and I would  trade my candy for as many as I could get because I took them home to my grandmother who made deviled eggs out of them to go with Easter Dinner (I was marching to a different drummer, even then.) Hey, hunting Easter eggs dressed in layers of  stiff pastel organza and prickly crinoline that stuck to your white tights was tough... not getting grass stains on the white tights was a major accomplishment in itself. As was getting into the white tights themselves.

Springtime....the lawn of my childhood home was filled with tulips and wild onions. My grandfather kept moving the tulip beds, and he'd forget where he planted them,so we never got all of them out of the ground. We'd miss a few, and they would suddenly appear out in the lawn like a lone red sentinel. One of my grandfather's favorite ways of keeping me busy and out of mischief was assigning me to pull all the wild onions out of the lawn, not that I minded...but I couldn't tell the difference between a wild onion and the afore mentioned orphaned tulips, so I was always getting in trouble for yanking up the wrong long, green thingies from the lawn. They all looked the same to me, except, as Pop would point out loud enough for the rest of the neighborhood to hear, " The f*cking onions don't come from Holland! They're free!" The memory is funny now. We get selective experience amnesia as adults.

My Pagan life experience of Spring is much different than the Easter of my childhood. I'm more aware of the gradual awakening of the Earth because I'm more attuned to the seasons. I'm looking for signs of Spring-I notice the shift in the air and the way it smells, I see how the clouds change with the temperature. Spring is more pronounced in the South than the Mid-Atlantic states. There is a period when trees and growing things bud before blooming, you can see the gestation of the plants. The soil warms and a wet, musky fragrance waifs up from it if you crumble a bit in your hand. My circle blesses packages of seeds, ties pretty ribbons around them and gives them away. At our last Ostara event we blessed a huge pot of soil and everyone took turns burying their hands in it, wiggling their fingers deep under the surface and allowing it to stain their fingernails. We sang Dave Mallet's Garden Song... and passed my stuffed white bunny Harvey from person to person down a giggling, rawkus conga line as we sang The Bunny Hop. Everyone got a raw egg to take home: you could use it to feed yourself, or put it out for the wild animals, or bury it in your yard among the plants. The idea was that it was a  symbol of fertility and nourishment, and you were creating renewal by using it as a tool of transformation. We gave out seedlings planted in colored egg shell 'cups' which you could pop in the ground as a unit-plant, soil and fertilizer all in one, and handmade candle 'eggs'-cleaned out egg shell halves with a wick surrounded by white and yellow wax yolks made from recycled candle stubs ( very pretty when made out of brown egg shells, you can tea-dye them if you don't have natural brown shells).

Ah...Spring... the time of new beginnings. My Pagan lent has ended, and I am enjoying being renewed as a part of the seasonal awakening.



And now, a view from the other side...a very good article, written by a devoted Christian man discerning Easter traditions for himself. He gives everyone else their due. I think it's charming.
http://www.talk2action.org/story/2011/4/4/115323/1128/Front_Page/Extreme_Over_Easter_AFA_Declares_War_On_Ohio_Town_s_Spring_Egg_Hunt_