Friday, August 22, 2014

Pagan Blog Project – week 34 – Q#2 – Queen of the May

Pagan Blog Project – week 34 – Q#2 – Queen of the May

My eclectic ritual group actually has very few traditions, but one that we adore is our Beltane ritual.  Since we take turns hosting, writing, and facilitating rituals, no two events are ever the same, with the exception of our May Day celebration.

Our first Beltane was a very small gathering in 2010, and it’s pretty much been the same ritual for five years, with a few variations.  I have hosted all of our Beltane rituals with the exception for one, and the ritual has elements in it that trickle into the next year and into the next year and into the next year, with the potential to spiral on and on and on.  People seem to like the ritual, though, and I’m a lazy person, so this format has worked so far.

I have always loved the idea of having a May Queen.  I know I like to feel special, and I assume others like to feel special, too.  So crowning the Queen of the May can be a nice way to make someone feel good about themselves without putting too much attention on them and making them feel weird.  My alma mater coven incorporated a circle-casting structure that invoked the Maiden, Mother, and Crone, and I included these elements for my May Day ritual in an attempt to make more people feel a little more special, too.

So, for Beltane, the facilitator plays the part of the Fool, who has a special relationship with the Green Man/Consort/Hand-Maiden.  (This part has been called all three of these names over the years, depending on the attendance and needs of the group.  Basically, this part is the person who “serves” the Queen and group in some way.)  The group agrees on all of the other parts as part of the ritual.  This is done before the circle is cast because each part plays a special role in the ritual.

“If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now; it's just a spring clean for the May Queen. Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there's still time to change the road you're on.”

The former Queen/new Crone  crowns the new Queen.  The former Maiden/new Queen crowns the Maiden, and the Maiden crowns the Crone/former Queen.  When the crowning takes place, the person bestowing the crown (a floral wreathe, circlet, and witch’s hat) are free to offer their own blessing, with words, silence, or energy.  After this brief ceremony, the Fool blesses all others in attendance as the “Red People”, and this is usually done with a gratuitous amount of red glitter. 

“Your head is humming and it won't go, in case you don't know, the piper's calling you to join him. Dear Lady, can you hear the wind blow, and did you know your stairway lies on the whispering wind?”

We go into the ritual with a pretty good idea of who will have each part (because if you were Queen last year you’re going to be Crone this year), but we still like to make a show of it and “vote”.  But what is decided new every year is the Maiden.  I think we all secretly want to be the Maiden but are too afraid to speak up (or maybe that’s just me).  But being the Maiden is fun because you get to wear a crown of flowers and you have no responsibilities – at first.  Because eventually, as is the cycle, the Maiden will mature into motherly energy, and the next year she will be Queen.

“And as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our soul, there walks a lady we all know who shines white light and wants to show how everything still turns to gold. And if you listen very hard the tune will come to you at last when all are one and one is all!”

After five years of this ritual, I’ve noticed some interesting trends about the Queen of the May.  The women who have been crowned as the Queen have quit their jobs, gotten engaged, embarked on their dreams, traveled the world, gotten married, been initiated, and almost always taken more responsibility in their lives and in the craft, in one way or another.  So what I’ve come to realize about this ritual is that it’s not just wearing a fun crown for the ritual and into the night as we drink and dance and laugh.  An exchange of energy happens, and that archetype of Maiden/Mother/Crone begins to work in the lives of these women in a very powerful way.  I’ve seen Crones settle down and buy homes, get promoted at work, and grow in wisdom.  I’ve seen Maidens laugh and party and get taught harsh and challenging life lessons.  But these cycles spiral and change, to be repeated again with a new Maiden, Mother, or Crone the following year.

“The wheel turns. Without ceasing. The Wheel turns. And turns again.”

This was the first year that I didn’t facilitate our Beltane ritual.  And since this was the first year that I wasn’t in charge (as much as a Fool can be in charge), this was the first year that I was eligible to enter the cycle of Maiden/Mother/Crone.  This year my group chose me to be their Maiden, which means next year I will be the Queen.  It’s a responsibility I have avoided for five years, and next year it will be my honor to take my place beside my crowned sisters as Queen of the May.

What are your favorite Beltane celebrations?  Do you or does your group crown a Queen of the May?  Do you incorporate the Maiden/Mother/Crone archetypes into your rituals in any way?  What archetype have you been avoiding in your life?  Don’t you just love the song Stairway to Heaven?  Please leave some thoughts and comments below, because I’ve love to hear from you!  And in the meantime, clear skies, and all hail the Queen of the May!

Credit to Led Zeppelin and Uncle Buck for years of ritual inspiration and scripts.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: Dionysos – Exciter to Frenzy by Vikki Bramshaw

Review: Dionysos – Exciter to Frenzy by Vikki Bramshaw

This past winter I took a short online class that focused on how to build a devotional relationship with Dionysus.  It was a pretty good class, facilitated by a pretty well-known Dionysian, Sannion from the House of Vines.  While taking the class I read a lot of books I had on Dionysus that I had been meaning to get to for years.

When I first downloaded the book, I actually hadn’t been too excited about Dionysos: Exciter to Frenzy.  I had been pretty convinced that the book had been self-published and I’ve read some really ridiculous self-published books (the one I’m reading now, Spirituality from the Stars, is a doozy).  But I found out later that Exciter to Frenzy is published through Avalonia books, an independent publisher that looks like it has a few cool titles.  

from Dionysos: Exciter to Frenzy
And I'm sorry if it's mean but some of the sketches that are included in Exciter to Frenzy are a bit goofy looking.  I was really expecting a shitty book that was full of UPGs and shenanigans.  But Exciter to Frenzy had recently been published (December 2013) and it was generating some buzz in some of my on-line stomping grounds, so I figured I’d give it a chance. 

I wasn’t too impressed with the introduction.  I didn’t want to read a book about someone’s experience with Dionysus when there are five billion blogs out there I already follow who all talk about the same thing.  But as I got into the book, I was so glad that I had given it a chance!  All of my initial misgivings were unfounded, and Dionysos: Exciter to Frenzy, ended up being the perfect book to compliment my other Dionysus studies and round out my knowledge of the God.

from Dionysos: Exciter to Frenzy
Vikki Bramshaw tells a thorough story of Dionysus, including his ancient origins, animal and food associations, cults, myths, names, birth, life, death, family, and even calendar and holidays.  Each chapter includes a wealth of quotes and information from ancient source materials, and her bibliography is quite extensive and impressive.  She pretty much does a huge survey of Dionysus in Ancient Greece, and she manages to present the wealth of information in a useful linear narrative. 

This book took me a while to get through, probably because it was so dense.  But it was easy to read a chapter here and there, which extended my time with the book but really gave time for me to sit with the material.  I hadn’t been looking for something to drastically change my devotional practices, and this book gave me exactly what I wanted without me even realizing that sit was exactly what I needed.  I know so much more about Dionysus and the people who worshiped him.  I have a much better idea about the ways that he was worshiped.  I understand his names and associations so much better than I did before, and most of all, I really appreciate Bramshaw’s use of source materials for this book.
So, overall, this book was excellent and useful, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to deeper their knowledge and understanding of this enigmatic deity  Vikki Bramshaw is a true scholar who pays attention to detail but still approaches Deity with respect and reverence.  I can't wait to check out some of her other books, especially her piece on Hecate!

Be sure to check out my other Dionysus-themed book reviews!

The Story of Bacchus by Andrew Dalby

Friday, August 15, 2014

Pagan Blog Project – week 33 – Q#1– Quartz

Pagan Blog Project – week 33 – Q#1 – Quartz

For a long time I hated quartz.

I mean, not hate hate.  I just didn’t like it.  I was utterly underwhelmed.  I’m an April baby, which means that my birthstone is the diamond (though sometimes it’s listed as cubic zirconia or quartz.)  That means all of my birthstone jewelry is clear.  That means all of my birthstone jewelry is ugly.  This is especially when compared to beautiful stones like July’s ruby, September’s sapphire, or even November’s topaz. 

Diamonds and quartz and cubic zirconia are just boring.  So when I first started to collect stones I’d reach for the pretty ones – amethyst (of course), fluorite, and citrine.  And then I began to move onto the colorful ones like labradorite, jasper, and moonstone.

As I’ve grown with my relationship with crystals, I’ve come to appreciate them all, including (or especially) the ugly or boring ones.  Sure, I typically still enjoy something shiny and pretty like pyrite or a highly polished geode, but over the years I’ve come to appreciate stones and crystals as not just adornments, but as magical tools.  I can wear a hematite pendant when I want a little extra protection, and no one is going to notice it like they would if I wore an elaborate amulet.  I can slip on a cute onyx ring and no one is going to look at it and know that I’m in need of some grounding and stability in my life.

I’m still not the biggest fan of diamonds (a lot of my issues with diamonds are ethical ones coming from the diamond industry and the wedding-industrial complex) and cubic zirconia (I’m still trying to reconcile my relationship with man-made stones)  But I’ve started to appreciate and even enjoy quartz.

According to Wikipedia, it’s the “second most abundant mineral in the Earth's continental crust.”  This has become abundantly clear when browsing crystals online or in stores or shopping for other magical tools.  Quartz is everywhere.  I’ve also come to realize that many of my more prized crystals are really just different types of quartz, including citrine and amethyst.  Quartz is also found in other stones, like agate, onyx, carnelian, and jasper.  So, it’s pretty hard to get away from it.

But not only is it abundant and permeating, quartz is powerful, too.  I’ve read many places over the years that say that if you don’t have a certain gemstone quartz can stand in for anything that you might need.  It’s an energy amplifier, and pairs well with pretty much everything.  It’s commonly used in the tips of wands or staffs, and it can be a great addition to an altar or other special area as a way to increase the vibrations of that space.  Some special quartz also retains energy, emotions, memories, and data, and these can be accessed through meditations and visualizations.

I’ve also come to realize that quartz is actually very beautiful.  I have a few clear quartz pieces I’ve managed to collect over the years, and I display them proudly with my flashier chunks of pyrite, amethyst, and citrine.  I use them in charms and rituals, and I have a few placed strategically around the house where I think they might enjoy themselves and also direct the energy in a way that is beneficial for everyone.

Just because a crystal isn’t flashy (like labradorite) or pretty (like moonstone) or really cool looking (like jasper) or found in every single new age store across the globe (amethyst), I'm glad I gave quartz a chance.  I stumbled upon a stone that became a favorite, as well as being a versatile, powerhouse of energy.

So, do you have any favorite crystals or gemstones?  What are your least favorite crystals or gemstones?  Do you have anything that it took you a while to work with but once you did you were happy with the results?  Please share your thoughts in the comments!  I’m always trying to learn more things about crystals, and I’d love to hear from you!  In the meantime, clear skies!

Other crystals I've written about:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Blessed Dead: Margot Adler

My undergraduate degree is in journalism.  I’d like to say that I studied journalism because I was inspired by Margot Adler, but that wouldn't be true.  I studied journalism because I grew up watching way too many movies that had intrepid war-correspondent-journalists as side characters, and I also wanted to be April O’Neil from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. 

But my explorations in Paganism came at the same time I was exploring journalism, and I remember this time fondly.  I remember sitting beneath a tree after class, trying the exercises from The Spiral Dance by Starhawk.  I remember sitting in my Principles of Journalism class with my brand-new tote-bag featuring a lovely spiral Goddess, and I’ll never forget the confusion of my well-meaning classmates asking me “is that a chili pepper?  I remember sitting in the library drawing spirals around the words “I am a witch. I am a witch. I am a witch” because I read somewhere that if you wrote these words or said them three times, then they was true.  After doing this, I remember praying to Odin and Gunlod for inspiration, words, and strength as I walked over to the student newspaper offices to write my first article for the college campus.  I told him that if he could help me get through my anxiety that I’d write to honor Him and other Gods and Goddesses, and these prayers to Odin for inspiration, words, and strength are ones that have never left me and this is the same prayer and promise that I offer to this day.

So as a Pagan and a professional, I’ve always deeply respected Margot Adler.  Wasn't it so cool that she was a Pagan and a Journalist at the same time?  Being a journalist-Witch in West Texas wasn’t very easy, and even though the city paper never ran my story on local Paganism and my classmates thought I just really liked chili-peppers, I managed to survive.  If Margot Adler could survive this world, so could I.

Drawing Down the Moon is a book that is commonly referenced in other Pagan books, and the Pagan book club I’m part of picked it up a few years ago when we decided to read all of those Pagan books that are referenced in other Pagan books.  Clearly it’s an important title if everyone has read it and references it.  Upon finding out that this prolific Pagan writer was also an NPR correspondent, I was in awe.  Though my background is in print journalism, not broadcast, I still have a deep love and appreciation for NPR.  NPR correspondents in my mind are all cool, hip professionals out there in the trenches getting all the best scoops and presenting them from all of the important angles.  I’ve always been deeply impressed with Margot Adler’s professionalism.  I feel like so many Big Name Pagans look like bone fide nutjobs to the rest of the world, but not Margot Adler.  She was a professional.  She worked for NPR.  She wrote a bookWoah.

I just loved hearing her stories on the radio.  I’d think “she’s like me!  She’s a journalist… and a witch!”  And I’m not sure if it was her intention, but in my mind she was a real role model, an example that yes, Pagans are just regular people.  Yes, we have jobs and we have hobbies and we have pretty normal lives.  (Well, pretty normal lives that can also be fantastically beautiful and magically spectacular!)  But she didn't own an occult shop or try to run a church or a temple and she didn't make money doing tarot card readings or selling fancy oils or herbs.  She was a journalist.

When I got word that Margot Adler had passed, I was deeply devastated.  Just a few weeks before, one of my study groups had talked about the recent deaths of so many beloved Pagan elders and vanguards.  Margot Adler was someone who I loved and respected very much, so I took a moment to light a candle, offer a prayer, and to cry. 

This blog post is just a tiny, insignificant gesture when compared to the impact and power of Margot Adler's work over the years, both as a Pagan and as a journalist.  So many people have shared loving memorials and memories, and this little post isn't going to do her any justice.  But I can continue to try and live my life as she did – as a proud Pagan, as a talented writer, and as a professional.

Endless blessings to you, Margot Adler, and may your memory continue to inspire in this life and in the next.

Thank you, shining lady. )O(

This is an email shared from one of Margot’s NPR colleagues, Ken Barcus:

Many of you have asked about ways to honor Margot’s memory. After discussions with a few of her closest friends, it’s been decided that collecting donations toward buying a memorial bench in her name in Central Park is the best plan. It’s something she spoke of in her final days. As you know, she lived on the edge of the park nearly her entire life and walked through it daily. She bought a bench for her husband John, when he passed away, and one for her mother years earlier. Both are situated in the park, close to her condo. The cost of doing this through the Central Park Conservancy is $7,000. If we raise more than that, the excess will be put toward planting a tree in Central Park in her name. If anyone wants to donate toward this, I’ll be collecting the money and then forwarding it to the conservancy. Checks should be made out to: Margot Adler Memorial Fund and mailed to this address:

Ken Barcus NPR
3109 Mayfield Rd. #207
Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118

Margot traveled in so many different circles, that I’m sure I’ve left many people off this email who would like to know about this effort. Please feel free to forward along this note to them.

Thanks - Ken

Friday, August 8, 2014

Pagan Blog Project – week 32 – P#2 – A Simple Prosperity Spell

Pagan Blog Project – week 32 – P#2 – A Simple Prosperity Spell

Disclaimer – I understand that there are concerns regarding the safety and ethics of doing prosperity or money spells and charms.  While I think such a discussion is worthwhile and important, that will have to be for another blog post and another day.  However, if you have thoughts or comments concerning prosperity charms and spells, please feel free to leave a message!  I’d love to hear from you!

This is a little prosperity/money spell that I’ve done a few times over the years.  It is based off of a new money/new job charm that is found in The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries by Z. Budapest.  I have had good luck with it since the first time I used it to help me get an internship at a newspaper back in 2006.  The results have been pretty consistent in regards to jobs, internships, college acceptance letters, and having a little something extra in the bank account. 

There is a lot of room for specialization and customization, too.  This spell can also be modified to bring other things into your life - health, luck, rest, etc.  Spell craft can sometimes be super complex, but that’s not always necessary!  Sometimes simple is effective, too.  So please feel free to modify, shift, change, and alter this spell to suit your needs.  If you do change this spell in any way, please share your modifications in the comments!  I’d love to hear about your own personal and magical touch! 

a really super easy Pagan 101 prosperity spell: A Spell for Bringing in Prosperity

You will need:

  •  A green candle
  • Money drawing incense, new money incense, cinnamon incense, or another scent that you enjoy that reminds you of prosperity (stick, cone, or lose)
  • Money drawing oil, new money oil, cinnamon oil (be very careful!), or another oil that reminds you of prosperity (if you don’t have a specific oil, olive oil that has been blessed will work, too)
  • An altar space
  • A bowl of sand or soil for burning the charcoal, or, if this will be disruptive, sprinkle the incense around the work area as a dust (unless your incense is a stick or cone)
  • A bowl of sand or soil for the candle, or, if you have one, a tiny candle holder. Something safe that won’t break
  • A knife, nail, or other point for carving in wax
  • Pen and paper to make a list of the blessings you’d like to bring into your life (green pen and/or paper is best, but not absolutely needed)
  • Any other altar decorations – green or gold stones or crystals, glitter, dollar bills or coins – items that make you think of prosperity, money, fertility, or growth
  • Any other candles or magical items you’d like to use for the ritual
  • Optional cakes and ale for offering and for self (use something high quality, healthy, and wholesome)
  • Sage for cleansing
  • Matches or a lighter

To Do:

  • Do this spell when you have time to be alone and will not be interrupted. 
  • Take a shower or a bath. While cleansing yourself, try to imagine concerns and worries going down the drain with the dirty water.
  • Once you are ready, set up an altar/working space. This can be done in any way that works best for you. Be sure to include all of the items you will be needing for the ritual. 
  • Light some sage and clean yourself and the area with some light smoke cleansing.
  • Burn the incense on the charcoal, or, if that doesn’t work, sprinkle the incense like a dust upon your working surface.  If you are using a stick or cone, light the incense.
  • Sit a few moments at the altar. Breathe deeply. Connect with the elements and with Deity. Ground and center in the way that works best for you.
  • Once your mind is clear, cast a circle any way that works best for you.
  • After casting the circle, call the elements in any way that works best for you.
  • After calling the elements, invoke Deity (God, Goddess, Lord, Lady, etc) in any way that work best. Call generic archetypes, or call specific deities.  
  • With the pen and paper, write a list of the blessings you’d like to bring into your life. These will be the same blessings that you will soon carve into the candle and that you will focus your intentions on while “dressing” the candle. Do this with intention. Be specific!  Speak your wishes out loud.  You might even include a statement such as “if it is for my highest well-being” or “for my highest good.”
  • For the spell, use a knife, nail, fingernail, or some type of sharp point to carve into the candle. Carve anything that you want. These are symbols that invoke your desires – prosperity, money, fertility, wealth, luck, etc. You can carve words or symbols, anything you want that calls these things to your mind. While you are carving, focus hard on intent.  Imagine that thing you are calling to you in your life.  Imagine your life with that thing.  Tangible and specific is very good.  
  • After the candle is carved, now it is time to anoint it with oil. If you have sensitive skin, be very careful!  (You can read some essential oil basics here.)  You can drizzle the oil onto the candle, or dab it on with your fingertip or a cloth. The goal is to cover the candle and the wick with as much oil as you can. The best way to do this is to put oil on the candle and start at the center of the candle. Rub to the right in twisting motions, covering the candle. Rub to the left in twisting motions, covering the candle. Start in the center and work your way out. While doing this, chant or visualize the things you want to come to your life. The goal is to raise some energy. Speak your wishes out loud or in your heart. Do not break the candle.  Remember, be specific, and be sure to ask Deity to take into consideration your highest well-being.
  • Once you are done dressing the candle, thank the powers that have helped. Thank Deity, thank the elements. Thank them in any way that seems appropriate to you.
  • Once the candle is “dressed” it is ready to be burned. Burn it as soon as you want, right away or wait until later. (It is recommended to do this on a full moon or on a Wednesday.  It can also be burned before a job interview or other important financial meeting.). Place the candle holder on top of the piece of paper with your list of blessings (if your candleholder is safe and won’t catch the paper on fire). As the candle burns, it will release the energy, wishes, and intentions into the cosmos.  Of you intend to leave the candle burning, make sure it’s in a safe space or monitored.  If you want to burn it for short periods of time, do not blow out the candle. Snuff it with a snuffer or with another item (a knife or other flat, fireproof surface).
  • If you are partaking of cakes in ale, do so here. Give an offering to the Powers that Be in any way that seems appropriate for you, or wait until after the ritual (after you wash your hands)
  • Close the circle in any way that seems best to you.
  • Once the ritual is over, wash your hands very well. Have a small snack or meal and drink lots of water to replenish your energy. This is very important.
  • If you are so inclined, offer cakes and ale (a food item and a drink item) during the ritual once the magic is finished, or, save this for once the circle is closed. You do not have to do this, but if you want to, leave food or offering or a libation on your altar, or pour them outside as an offering. Be thankful when you give your offering. Say a little prayer. Feel a moment of gratitude.
  • When cleaning the altar, place the incense, charcoal and candle wax in a special spot outside. Bury the piece of paper, burn it, carry it in your purse or put it on your altar. (What really works best is throwing it into fresh, running water, like a creek or a river. Some people feel bad about this because of littering, so do what feels best for you.) Do so mindfully. If you have other items that you included for the charm, keep them on your altar, or carry them in your purse or wallet. If you want to reuse them, run them under running water, bury them, or soak them in salt water to cleanse them
  • If something comes to you during this ritual that you feel like you should do, do it! If something seems wrong, then don’t do it. Follow your instinct and don’t be afraid of deviating or adding. Be open to messages from the universe.
  • Be aware that sometimes God and Goddess have blessings for us that we might not expect or realize at the time. Be prepared for the unexpected! Be prepared for abundance!

And as you will it, so mote it be!
Blessed be and clear skies!