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Posts Tagged ‘neopaganism’

Lammas/Lughnasadh/Freyfaxi is the holiday celebrated on or around August 1st in the Wheel of the Year, and can have many different meanings depending on the particular culture your variety of Paganism celebrates (hence the many different names). Generally speaking, this is the first of the harvest festivals in the Wheel of the Year and is the celebration of the grain harvest.

Lammas is the Anglo-Saxon celebration of “loaf-mass”, when the first loaf of bread made from the new year’s wheat is blessed, and then used for magic, usually to protect the rest of the grain crop. In the Anglo-Saxon chronicle it is referred to as the “Feast of first fruits”, which is mirrored in the modern Pagan celebrations of this time as the first harvest. This time also marks the end of the hay harvest, and the beginning of the harvest of grains.

Lughnasadh is the Celtic celebration of the first harvest, as well as the commemoration of the god Lugh for his foster mother Tailtiu, who died after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture (usually celebrated with games and sport and feasting). This was one of the Celtic “Fire festivals” and was often celebrated with bonfires and the visiting of holy wells. Ashes from Lughnasadh bonfires would be used to bless fields and livestock (A tradition that continues in Christianized Ireland, where priests frequently bless fields on this day). This was also traditionally a time of handfasting.

Freyfaxi may be a type of Norse festival of sacrificing horses to Freyr, who is the God of the harvest cycle in that culture. Unfortunately it seems to be named for a horse who was dedicated to Frey, but was stolen by a traitor priest who then defiled Frey’s holy stead, so I’m not really sure why there is a celebration in honor of it. (However, it is possible that there were horses sacrificed to Frey, it’s more the name that is concerning). In modern times it is seen as a sort of parallel to Lammas (which comes out of the Anglo-Saxon tradition). Some modern Norse traditions celebrate this time as one of community and sport, as it was the time of the annual All-Thing in late July and early August.

In modern Paganism, this is the time of the sacrifice of the Grain God, who lays down his life (as the grain is the “sacrifice”) only to rise again with the next year. This is commonly retold in the story of John Barleycorn, who dies and is reborn the next year. Many traditions practice offering up sacrifices in order to continue the turning of the seasons, in a mirror of the sacrifice of the God, who must die for the fields to be replenished the next year. The Goddess is pregnant at this time with the God who will be born again at Yule, to be sacrificed at Lammas the next year. Often this is celebrated with sacrifices of bread and other grains, and magic that centers around reaping the fruits of hard labors. Similarly to the Anglo-Saxon tradition, a loaf of bread is often baked and then ritually “sacrificed” to represent the sacrifice of the Grain God.

I usually celebrate this time of year by clearing out my garden in preparation for the fall planting season. It feels appropriate to be cutting down the old plants and starting the plot anew, with offerings of compost and manure. It’s still too hot to plant anything yet, but I try to start the “sacrifice” of the old plants that get tilled into the earth to renew the garden and bless the upcoming harvest (that will be ready in November or so). I also try to make freshly baked bread (usually cornbread, since I can’t eat gluten, so I don’t keep wheat in the house) to add to the sacrifices that are made at this time of year. This year, since I have just discovered the tradition of using that first, blessed loaf as a magical ward, I’ll be baking the bread, giving it as an offering, and then placing quarters of the loaf around the outside of my house.

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I’ve always been intrigued by the various methods of “grounding and centering” found in Neopaganism. For one thing, they frequently involve digging your “roots” deep into the earth, to either draw up or send down energy, to find balance (if you are an ADF Druid, they also include sending your “branches” up into the sky, to draw down the energy of the sky power). Fundamentally they are all about creating a balance of energies from which to do magic.

One thing that stuck to me from a book I read, though, was a different sort of method of centering and grounding. It’s a different kind of visualization, and one that I’ve always found interesting. The book is one of Mercedes Lackey’s Heralds of Valdemar series – though I don’t remember which book. Basically, instead of doing the typical Neopagan “ground, and then center” – the character in Lackey’s book “Centers, and then grounds”. You draw yourself – all the versions of yourself, your external self, the self you portray at work, the self you portray to your family, all the different “yous” that exist, into one solid, concrete, centered SELF, and THEN you connect to the ground, and use that grounding to root yourself and sustain the unified you-ness.

It’s a different sort of way to think about grounding and centering, but the visualization has always helped me when I feel really scattered and out of sorts. Things at my job are very unstable right now, so I’m finding myself with a lot of anxiety and a lot of general frazzledness. I like this “center and then ground” method a lot when I’m feeling that way, because it forces me to address that multi-tasking takes its toll.

In addition, I’ve ramped up my focused meditations to Freyr, in preparation for Lammas (which I’ve decided I will celebrate in honor of Freyr specifically, and then honor the Vanir Pantheon in general for the Fall Equinox, which is the second harvest festival). For what it’s worth? He still prefers Sandalwood incense. I guess that’s just going to have to be my connector to Him.

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Midsummer is coming up at the end of this week (or Litha, or the Summer Solstice, however you’d prefer).  Here are a few things you can do on the Summer Solstice/Midsummer to keep that Druidic spirit alive – without necessarily doing a formal ritual:

  • Get up before sunrise and go somewhere to watch the sun come up. Then, stay up until sunset and watch the sun go down. It’s the longest day of the year – so honor the WHOLE day. (Yes, that means getting up at the ass crack of dawn. It won’t hurt for one day.) If you can do this at your home, lighting incense to mark the passage of the sun is a nice touch.
  • Grill something! Especially since a lot of places frown on outdoor bonfires, a grill is a good substitute, and you can make incense offerings to the coals.
  • Eat fresh, local, seasonal produce. Depending on where you are, this will vary widely. Here in the Swamp, that means sweet corn, tomatoes, beans, and squash, but berries are on their way out of season here already, as it’s getting quite hot. We’re just starting to get good peaches here too, but they really need another month. Watermelons, however, are in their prime.
  • Charge water with the power of the sun – place water in a bowl (covered lightly to keep out flies – I use a white flour sack towel) and let it sit in the sunlight all day (you’ll have to move it). Then use this water in rituals where you need a little extra oomph – I like to use Sun Water in my well, since I’m not close to natural fresh water that’s acceptable to use in my Well without endangering my cats! (It’s all mucky brackish stuff around here)
  • Make a Sun Wreath (or bouquet) – gather as many sunny flowers as you can, fresh, dried or silk all work, and arrange them as decoration in your home. I like to keep a very brightly colored yellow and orange wreath on my front door during this season. This is also appropriate altar decor, especially if you’re doing a ritual to honor Sunna or Sol.
  • Cook with fresh, summery herbs – basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and sage are all thriving at this time of year. In some places parsley and cilantro are in season as well. Cooking with fresh, summery herbs always helps me connect to the season. I especially like making a salad with fresh basil and fresh ripe tomatoes, with a little olive oil and salt. Yum!
  • Make Sun Cookies! These are regular sugar cookies (of whatever recipe you like) cut out with a sun-shaped cookie cutter. Or just in big rounds with yellow frosting. These can be shared with the office for a special treat, and everyone will love you for bringing them sugar.
  • Wear sunny colors – on purpose and with purpose. Your wardrobe doesn’t have to be part of your special celebrations, but if (like me) you’ll be in a cubicle for most of the Solstice day, wearing something sunny – and getting outside at lunch for a few minutes – can help keep me in a good frame of mind.

Any and all of these things can be done without anyone looking twice at what you’re doing, but they all honor the strength of the sun at this time of year, and help keep you in the spirit of the Solstice. I’ll be doing a number of these, along with my actual celebrated Solstice ritual, and will probably spread them out over a few days to remember that this is as much a season as it is a specific date.

Blessed Midsummer!

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The Summer Solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere) occurs on or around June 21 every year, and marks the astronomical point at which the sun has reached its highest altitude in the sky. This produces the longest day/shortest night of the year, and the holy day of Midsummer or the Summer Solstice is celebrated at this time. This holiday is often referred to as Litha among various branches of neopaganism, a reference to Bede’s naming of the months of the summer.*

Historically this holiday was celebrated in most of Northern Europe, especially the British Isles, Scandinavia, and the Germanic lands, where celebrations included bonfires and the picking of golden-flowered plants, supposed to have miraculous healing powers. In the Scandinavia, where the sun sets very late and rises very early resulting in extremely long days, the Sun is the central figure, as well as the lit bonfires and celebrations of community. People frequently danced around (and through!) bonfires as a ritual of protection, as well as driving cattle through the fires to protect them. The strength of the Sun makes the crops grow, and there is a great deal of promised bounty as people tend the crops and prepare for the upcoming harvest.

In the Neopagan myth, this is the time of the second battle between the Holly King and the Oak King, where the Holly King defeats the Oak King (who has reigned since Yule) and will then rule until December when the two will battle again. This begins the “Dark” half of the year, where the Sun’s power wanes and the days grow shorter again until the cycle begins anew at Yule.

Bonfires are a very common method of celebrating this high day, often accompanied by all night vigils. This seems to be both an honoring of fire and a warding against wildfires, which are at their most dangerous during the hot dry summer months. The spirits of the land are also important at this time. Most central, however, is honoring the Sun at her (or his) strongest point in the year. I usually make a special point to watch both the sunrise and the sunset on Midsummer, and always have a “bonfire” in my charcoal grill, where I make offerings to Sunna, who is at her brightest (and most destructive!) at this time. As a tropical Pagan, my relationship with Sunna is one of deep respect as well as joy, for while it is sunny here most of the year, and I love basking in her warmth, it is very dangerous to underestimate the power of Sunna in summer, especially on exposed skin.

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I finished reading Alaric Albertsson’s Travels through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan last night, and I have to say, I am highly intrigued. This is an easy read, and a charming book, with solid information about the Anglo Saxon path (with common sense advice mixed in) as well as how to take that information and turn it into a modern practice. Albertsson is a member of ADF, so I shouldn’t be surprised to find the ritual structure is familiar, but the book just felt *right* while I was reading it.

This is, of course, especially interesting considering that while I do not have any (known) Norse direct ancestors (I have Germanic ones by marriage), I have ancestors in Britain – and with the usual speculation of how hard it is to date things back that far – to pre-Norman Britain. Granted those might have been Christian ancestors, I have no idea and no real way to tell – I didn’t do the research myself, but it’s likely that their names and records came from church record keeping, so it’s certainly likely.

Still, I felt a real connection to what I was reading. It’s very close to what I’ve already been working with in the Norse hearth (and I don’t know that I’d abandon that entirely), but I may add some Anglo-Saxon flavor into my ADF workings and see what happens. With Midsummer approaching, I’ve plenty of time to work in a ritual that would make sense.

On the other hand, I don’t know how hard a polytheist I am about it – the Gods of the Anglo-Saxons are certainly familiar to someone who has studied the Norse hearth. Do I think Woden and Odin, or Thunor and Thor, or Ing and Freyr, or Freyja and Freo are the same gods or different gods? They have both similarities and differences. The lack of knowledge about the Anglo Saxon culture also seems to lead to a good bit of borrowing from the Germanic myths, just so that there’s enough information to fill out a practice. In that light, I’ve ordered a copy of Brian Branston’s Lost Gods of England to see if I can fill out my knowledge a bit. It’s another approved ADF DP book, so its probably not a waste of time to read. Since it’s out of print, it’ll be a bit before it gets here (the best price for best quality book I could find is being sold by a bookseller in London, so it’s got a trip to make!).

In the meantime I think I’m going to read Albertsson’s other book Wyrdworking, and possibly Diana Paxston’s Trance-portation. (Both of which arrived yesterday! Yay books!) I’ve got a lot to learn, and I tend to read a lot in the summer – it’s quite hot, and I enjoy sitting in the sun with a book and a cool, tasty drink in the afternoons. Bonus points if I drive down to the beach to do it.

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From Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary:

 : continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition : the action or condition or an instance of persevering : steadfastness

From Our Own Druidry (82)

Drive; the motivation to pursue goals even when that pursuit becomes difficult

This is a virtue that I struggle with sometimes. Many things in my life have come easily (like academic study) and so when I am met with a challenge that I can’t think my way through, solve by thinking, or quickly figure out, I tend to get frustrated and give up. I also struggle with mental illness that can make motivation a very fickle trait. I am working more toward both of these definitions, though I especially like the word “steadfastness” as a synonym. This isn’t about completing tasks, or even (or especially) about succeeding at them – it’s about sticking with things, even when they get tough or annoying or boring, because you know that they have value. As a virtue of Druidry, it’s about getting your butt on a cushion and meditating, even when you don’t feel much like it, or even when you’re anxious or worried or distracted, because you have decided this path has value, and so you’re going to do it.

In some ways, perseverance can even make a task easier – there is some level of value in something truly fought for, something you really have to put your blood sweat and tears into. I made a lot of very good grades in college, but the A I earned in my second semester of Latin is one of the grades I am most proud of, because I poured my entire being into that class, with a professor who averaged two A’s a semester. I knew it would be tough, but I knew I wanted that A, and I was going to work for it even when I felt like stabbing myself in the eyeball with a pencil because of the complicated translations. Without that drive, I would easily have settled for a lower grade.

I think Wisdom needs to temper Perseverance as well. Much like anything, it is good to know when you should stick it out and try to finish something, and when you should count your losses and move on. It is both “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” and “Choose the hill you’re going to die on” – choosing the things that are most important to you, and then really sticking to them, with integrity and courage.

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