Come for a walk between the worlds this Halloween, or Celtic Samhain (sow-en).
Halloween, the Wiccan sabbat known as Samhain, marks the end of harvest and limits possibility. The growing world is dying. Withered leaves scratch a death knell as the wind drives them over rough pavement. This is the season of the crone, the witch, the woman who lives on the boundaries of the ordinary world and communes with the spirits. I love the witch and want to claim her in myself. She is a woman who has lived long enough to know love and loss, victory and defeat, and how to find meaning within herself. Our society shuns the crone like it shuns death. Yet at Halloween, the Goddess as Hag, she who measures out time and cuts the thread of life calls out, “Here I come, ready or not.”
Daylight savings time lingers this year until November 5, to give trick-or-treaters the safety of twilight as they rush from house to house with their adults sedately in tow. I hug memories of Halloween in the 1950s and 60s to my heart. We waited for the dark. Darkness was essential to the fun of roaming the neighborhood with bands of other children passing on word of ghosts and ghoulish scares in near-by houses. Older kids looked out for younger ones, and adults for the most part took up their stations in doorways passing out cookies, apples, and candy. Halloween with its heady freedom of nighttime of treats and make-believe surpassed all other holidays in the annals of my childhood.
In the ancient Celtic world, October 31 was an intercalary day in a 12 month, 30-day solar calendar. It was a day outside of time. The boundaries that seal the year were opened. Time could be tricked, and fairies traverse the earth and abduct anyone foolish enough to linger outside after dark. Few today believe that malevolent spirits walk the night to create mischief on Halloween, but many are frightened by news stories of freak accidents, abductions, and razor blade laced apples, as well as by suspicious looking neighbors.
Do we overprotect our kids? And maybe ourselves? While the hag, our lady of the yard stick, drops the curtain of darkness earlier and earlier on the denizens of the northern hemisphere, I call on crones to grab a flashlight and go boldly into the darkness to shine light on collective ignorance and to enlarge our understanding of others whose language and culture are different from our own. I do not want to live my life behind walls of self-righteous certitude and mistrust of others. I know that we cannot wall out the alien, the other, who is always the secret sharer cuddled within like an infant at the breast. I would rather be the outsider than pay the price of colluding with those in power to be sheltered within walls of spurious safety.
Beam me up, Scottie. Impart to me a vision in which the walls that divide us turn to dust, and I see all humanity as small pinpoints of light pulsing in time with the heartbeat of Mother Gaia. When one light flickers out, in this world of expanding population, two more are lit. Minute by minute we are all here together. A pastor I know, told me to look for Jesus when I die. A witty friend inquired, “Does that mean I’m supposed to look for a transgendered dude in a long white dress?” Who knows?
Maybe the spirits that walk among us on Halloween do, but they’re not saying. In my mind, the spirit realm has no form. It is up to us in the here and now to be the eyes, ears, mouth, and hands of Jesus and other wisdom teachers, as we reach out to help one another. After death, I hope to encounter an energy field of love strong enough to wash away the sins of my own flawed nature and leave my soul lighter than the feather against which the Egyptian goddess Ma’at weighed the hearts of the dead in her scales of justice.
In the meantime, on this Halloween, let us the living, welcome our dear departed ones to share their presence with us here on earth. Leave a candle burning in a jack-o-lantern or on an altar, set a place for departed loved ones at the dinner table. Let us remember them and ourselves as we once were in Halloweens past as we create memories for Halloweens to come.
Halloween is a great time for divination as the lines outside the local psychic shops in Salem, MA seem to attest. Engage in some form of spirit play. Consult a favorite tarot deck, a set of runes, or a Ouija board. Cleanse your space with sage, incense, or water. Then create sacred space by calling the directions, lighting a chalice, or lighting a candle for the goddess or other spirit presence you wish to invoke. On a clean surface, lay out the tools of your spirit play. See what message comes through from the Other World. When I did my own tarot reading, my spirit guides were most insistent that I exercise caution, but not hold a grudge, when dealing with a certain relative. Hurting another is hurting oneself. In play, the spirits share their wisdom.
Abundant Fall Blessings
Happy homecoming! At fall equinox, we celebrate the return to school, work, church, and community connections, as earth comes into balance in its journey around the sun. The harvest is well underway and farmers’ markets are overflowing. However, this year at summer’s end, we humans in North America are roiling in the wake of Mother Gaia’s anger. In the face of our hubris driven assault on the earth, she has thrown up hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires to prove our fragility in the face of her fury. She seems ready to wash or burn away the pesky humans that disturb her equilibrium.
A dark spasm of worry churns in my gut like a Cat 5 hurricane. But if I am honest with myself, my worry is not just about the planet; it is more personal. What is my truth at this equinox? I feel the pull of death. I do not fear it, but find that it shapes my understanding of life. I no longer live just with an awareness of life, but also with an awareness of death. More and more of the people who have been important in my life have died. I crave more space and time to ponder the impenetrable mystery. Much of my adult life has been goal oriented, and the hours of my days measured out in accomplishments. Now, working too hard feels like a distraction that keeps me from exploring the deeper meaning of life. I wonder if other crones feel the same.
Crickets’ chirping swells September nights, fall’s counterpoint to spring morning birdsong. My husband loved the sound of crickets. He died five years ago at the height of their season. My daughter has tattooed the number 27 on her arm, the day of the month of her birth and of her father’s death. For me, the equinox is a tug of war between life and death when both sides are equally matched. In this moment they meet, and I exist.
Long years of experience have brought us to this harvest season once again. What is sweet and what is bitter in our lives? Inevitably, there is some of both. I find myself more able to feel gratitude for the good if I acknowledge my failures and losses too, ultimately seeking something more enduring than the round of planting and harvesting, happiness and disappointment.
Recently while in a trance state induced by the steady beat of a drum, a practice known as shamanic journeying, I found my spirit body in a large cavernous room deep in the belly of the earth. Carrying a torch, with a snowy owl perched on my shoulder, I explored this dark, dank, deeply secret place. I notice a low, narrow opening leading to a side room. With the blessing of my helping spirit, the owl, I wriggled into this tiny, stone chamber on my belly. Inside I sat in the dark tomb/womb of the mother in complete darkness. I flashed on an image of being in my own mother’s womb, first growing into the body I think of as mine. Then I saw myself as I am now a woman in my late 60s gradually growing older and frailer until my body disintegrates into dust. I stood outside of time observing my own beginning and ending. Then a radiant, golden light appeared before me. This luminescence and I sat together in silence. Just as I was about to speak, it merged into my body. As one, we rose out of that confined space.
The light within does not waver, nor does it wax or wane, although our awareness of it might. Our egos are volatile and subject to feelings of self-gratification or humiliation, but when we are rooted in the very ground of our being and allow the winds of heaven to free us from the temporal things, we find a center of calm. From this place, we can feel gratitude for life with its ups and downs, and joy in the sweet fragrant world of autumn, so full of life, so intimate with death.
May the light of each of our spirits shine brightly to ease the burdens of our lives and help us maintain balance and lightness of being in the face of the encroaching dark.
In love and peace,
Ritual with Pomegranate
Find a pomegranate, Persephone’s fruit that connects us to the yoni, the female portal into life and death. (An apple will do as a substitute.) Place two candles, one white and one black, dark blue, or purple on a table or altar along with fruits of the harvest. Light the candles and invoke the divine presence. Place three pomegranate seeds before the light candle naming three things for which you are grateful. Place three more seeds before the dark candle naming three things which challenge you. Give thanks to the goddess of life, death, and rebirth for the totality of your experience. Enter a meditative state by focusing on your breath to still your mind, bring your body into balance, and allow the spirit of loving kindness and self-acceptance to fill your heart.
Heat! The fully stoked engines of the sun are charging full steam ahead into harvest. We are at summer’s midpoint, and while the heat is at its most intense, the hours of daylight begin to visibly decline. Vegetables, grains, and fruits ripen in the fields and orchards. For those of us who live in cities, this means hours tending our own gardens from backyard tomato plants to shares of community garden land and everything in between as well as trips to the local farmers’ markets.
August is also a time for vacation. We walk barefoot in the grass or the sand; the sun’s heat means fewer clothes and fewer demands on our time. As we float in the cool silky waters of a pond, explore exotic sites, or hike up a local mountain, the fire in the belly of the goddess is bearing fruit.
Will there be enough rain, enough sun? Sometimes crops fail and instead of celebrations of plenty we sit in mourning while the specter of famine walks the land. Food scarcity is not part of our immediate experience in the West, but even here the poor suffer from food insecurity, and in places where drought and war ravage the land–in Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Somalia–crops do fail and people are starving.
During my recent travels through the Midwestern United States, I stopped in southern Illinois to fill up my car with gas. I asked the woman behind the counter if those were soybeans growing in the field across the road. Yes, she said, and began to talk about rain. The plants had gotten a good start, but they were dry now. What was idle curiosity for me, was her livelihood.
According to ancient Irish legend, the holiday Lughnasah (LOO-nə-sə) was first declared by the Celtic god Lugh (LOO), in honor of his mother Tailtiu (tāl-tū), a goddess who embodied the land. In Celtic countries, this is the season for agricultural fairs which were held on hill tops which represented the pregnant belly of Mother Earth. This tradition continued until the 20th century when it became too difficult for motorized vehicles to get up the hills and fair grounds were moved to more level ground. Fairs brought people together to sign on workers for the harvest to come, and celebrate the first fruits of nature’s bounty. Lammas (loaf mass) was a time to bring freshly baked loaves of bread made from the newly harvested grain into the church to be blessed. It is important to honor the divine forces that oversee the harvest no matter how one might envision them.
In many regions of the world traditional practices honor the spirit of the crops being harvested. For example, John Matthews, in his book The Summer Solstice, discusses the practices of the rice-growing Malay and Dyak people of Indonesia who view the vital life-giving spark in the rice plants as kin to the human soul. The life cycle of the rice plant from seedling, to mature plant, to death at harvest is parallel to the human life cycle. Rice plants are treated with the same deference accorded to pregnant women. Rice farmers go about their work in the fields in reverent silence in order not to frighten the soul of the rice and cause it to miscarry. They even feed the rice plants with the same foods pregnant women like to eat. When young rice ears have formed, the women themselves go into the fields to feed the plants with rice pap as if each plant were a human baby. The farmers use a special language to talk to the rice. When it is time to harvest the plants, workers keep the small knives they will use to cut off the head of the rice hidden in their sleeves until the last minute in order not to frighten the spirit of the rice. The cut is made quickly to cause as little trauma possible to the plant. In all of these actions the Malays and Dyaks acknowledge their bond of interdependence with the rice.
The earth is our mother and all things that grow and die upon it are her children. Let us pause in this season of relaxation and plenty to give thanks for the many blessings of our lives and to find ways to honor the spirit of the plants on whom our lives depend. May we consider our interconnection with all beings and share our plenty with those who suffer privation.
Warm, sun-soaked blessings,
Honoring the Plants
Musings from a Beach House
Halloo to summer! Wild roses and daisies festoon sandy paths that meander near the ocean’s edge and carry me down from my cottage to the beach. I want to explode in joy as I play tag with the incoming tide and watch tiny translucent beach hoppers jump about the sand and feast on disoriented gypsy moth caterpillars that have landed too near the tide. Life and death are intertwined.
Today, we shout hurrah for light in the northern hemisphere, while in the southern hemisphere, day dims to early twilight. There is no life without death. The solstice is a boundary from which life slowly recedes toward the dark, until death’s boundary says no more, and then life and light edge back to explode in heat and the passionate pounding of the surf.
One afternoon a humpback whale patrolled the waters just off our stretch of beach. All the cottagers rushed out to see and shout their approval when the whale raised its head out of the water. We land creatures were mesmerized by our mammalian cousin from the deep. Two worlds touch on this band of sand that shrinks and swells with the tide. Above, sentinel dunes rise to warn land creatures that here the sea rules.
As I sit at the kitchen table in my beach cottage looking out over a vast expanse of ocean that is in constant motion, I am reminded of my smallness. The houses atop the eroding dunes are only here on borrowed time until a fierce nor’easter gale whips in and pulls the sand out from under their moorings. I met one woman who commutes from Truro to Wellfleet to sit on her deck–all that remains of her cottage by the sea. The transient nature of reality is tangible here.
Luxuriating in my eastern view over the ocean, I stayed up to watch the moon slowly arc into fullness the first night I was there. On two following nights, I watched the ruddy rise of the moon’s narrowing lemon drop shape, but then her cycle of light no longer synced with mine. But even when invisible she remains mistress of the endless roll and suspiration of the sea.
Once, I woke up early enough for the pre-summer solstice sunrise. When I silenced my 4:55 AM alarm, birds already were atwitter and the windows light. In robe and slippers, I padded out onto the porch to be greeted by a flight of salmon clouds fanning out to the north. On the horizon, a small band of luminescent red quivered and slowly became an orb emerging from its night’s slumber—a liminal moment repeated over and over round the globe, but magical to behold.
The longer I lingered by the sea, the more my hectic city life receded. I read more, thought more, wrote more because cell service was spotty, there was no internet access, no television, and I didn’t think to bring a radio. I created my own news desert, quite a luxury in these hey days of the Trumpian circus. This is how I want to grow old, slowly reclaiming my life from the world of commitments and having more time to call my own. I long to just be. My precious life is a vanishing resource soon to be reclaimed by the sea.
I feel like a peeled orange. My thick layer is ripped off. I am more sensitive to touch, smell, sensation—a thin membrane exists between the embodied world and the realm of spirit. I feel my crone sun of inward knowing pulsing with the force of a dark inner sun at solstice. Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes in Gift from the Sea, “I must try to be alone for part of each year, even a week or a few days; and for part of each day, even for an hour or a few minutes in order to keep my core, my center, my island quality” (58).
I want time to dive into the waves of my unconscious and return like a humpback whale with a mouth full of krill and plankton. I do not swallow it but spew it forth onto the deck of my conscious mind to sort. I dive again and spew, again and spew. Slowly from the sea’s detritus patterns emerge. To be my deepest, truest self, I need space and time to call my own, to open my soul and sift through its contents and shape them into my gift to the world.
Every woman, every crone, needs time in quiet, alone, to pray, contemplate, listen to music, read, study or work. “It can be physical or intellectual or artistic, any creative life proceeding from oneself,” Lindbergh writes (56). Even if our creations are washed away with the next tide, still the act of creating even simple things connects us with the inner core of our being.
Wishing you joy,
On this the longest day of the year, take an hour, or two, just for yourself alone to tap the wellsprings of your creativity. Be still within to listen for the guiding whisper of the goddess, “This way, O, my Soul.” Sing, dance, lie in the sun, walk in nature, work in your garden, paint a picture, write a poem, story or journal entry–immerse yourself in you.
Save the date:
Do you want to connect with other crones? The Crones Council is holding a gathering in Salt Lake City, Oct 4-8, 2017. https://www.cronescounsel.org/
Welcome Merry May! Juicy, open-wombed May beckons to Jack-in-the-Green, “Come hither my love.” May Eve invites us to stay awake all night to witness the first bird calls of dawn. The world is created anew, year after year, as if for the first time.
When last I wrote, the lawn beneath my window was dotted with clumps of melting snow. Today dandelions sprout there like yellow stars in a green firmament. The lusty month of May is upon us. The ancient Celts welcomed this growing season with bonfires and celebrations for the returning sun, venerated as the god Belenus, whose name is preserved in Beltane, the Gaelic word for this cross quarter holiday. Throughout Britain and Ireland even today, people build bonfires and dance around beribboned May poles to bring in the May.
One legend says that if a young woman bathes her face in the dew on May Day morning before sunrise, her beauty will never fade. I think I missed that opportunity, for I have begun to grow old. What beauty is left comes from an inner grace rather than the elasticity of youthful skin. Yet, the earth’s outpouring of new growth quickens my spirit. I begin to imagine the possibilities of the decade of my seventies, a decade that was hidden from my younger eyes. What once seemed desiccated and moldering, now seems verdant and alive.
As we welcome the merry month of May, there are questions for us crones to ponder. As the time before us shortens, what choices are ours to make? What responsibilities to ourselves and others do we still need to fulfill? Within the fertile ground of our souls, what seeds must we tend and encourage to blossom? What sweet or pungent fragrance are we called to contribute to life’s bouquet? The deeper our roots grow toward death, the sweeter the blossoms sent forth by our old branches to perfume the May.
In late April, I spent a day in retreat to commemorate my wedding anniversary. It was raining, but I set out for a walk anyway. My mind was occupied with its ordinary buzz of thoughts when from the corner of my eye, I saw the flash of a heron’s great gray wing disappearing over a pond. Ah, I thought, that is my husband’s spirit reminding me to be present in the moment.
I stand—along with a lone horse in a paddock—to bear witness with gratitude and joy to this day. I can feel the energy of the trees rising deep from within their roots and inching their branches toward heaven. Mesmerized, I watch rain drops queue up for take-off from the tips of pine needles. Overhead birds are filled with purpose. Crows are feeding their fledglings on mice, and robins feeding theirs on worms. Nearby, the bells of Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey ring the call to vespers. In this moment, time is kissed by eternity.
The Maypole brings together not only earth and sky, male and female, life and death, but also the inner and outer dimensions of our being. We weave the pole as a community. Who do we include in the dance? Our ribbons are of many colors. Is that diversity reflected in the skin hues and political views of the dancers? Let us dance together, one people, our souls radiating divine love. May this love plant seeds of peace in our hearts.
Happy spring! When I look at the windswept landscape outside my window with its hillocks of dirty snow slowly melting into patches of green dotted with egg shaped pelts of ice, I see the butt end of winter. To aid my faltering imagination, I head to Trader Joe’s to buy daffodils flown over from England, to grace my dining room table and shore up my hopes of blossoms to come.
In the Near East spring equinox has been an important ceremonial time for millennia from ancient Sumeria to modern day Iran, where Nowruz the Persian New Year, a Zoroastrian celebration of the renewed power of the sun, is still celebrated today. Pagans have named this holiday, Ostara, which roughly derives from Eostre, the Anglo Saxon goddess of the dawn. The Christian period of Lent is ongoing at this time and suggests the wisdom of taking time for self-examination and reflection. Lent in fact comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten which means spring.
Equinox brings to mind a time of balance with its days of equal light and dark. If we combine the ideas of balance and self-reflection, we might ask where balance lies in our lives. Even as my days continue to be overcommitted, I dream of solitude. I retired from a full time job nine years ago, but not from working. My work life if anything has become richer with the freedom to take on various part time jobs and learn new things. But, I’m growing ill at ease with striving as I traverse the downward slope of my 60s. My soul like Whitman’s spider is launching filament after filament out of itself, gossamer threads seeking an anchor hold in eternity. I long for the spaciousness of solitude with time to listen, to clear spaces within to make room for spirit, and build a virtual altar to the goddess. I don’t want to grow old without growing wise. My aging body is a visual reminder of life’s term limits, and I don’t want to use up all my strength in work. I want to leave hours of each day open for the pursuit of joy.
Lent is a time of cleansing and purification to create space for new growth, just as spring equinox is a time to clean up the garden and remove the detritus of last year’s growing season to prepare for the planting ahead. As spring rolls around, I do not want to squander its precious life force, but use it to nurture what is most precious to me.
My intention this spring is to plant a seed of hope that my dream of solitude can manifest itself in my life in the coming year. Thomas Merton writes that the ears that can hear the words of divinity are hidden within our hearts, “and these ears do not hear anything unless they are favored with a certain solitude” (Thoughts on Solitude, xi). Goddess, lead me into the silence for a while so that I can hear your voice and dance to your rhythms.
We hold a collective yearning for rebirth, for spring. What will help each of us bring forth new life? What is now hidden beneath the surface of our psyches that is pushing its way into the light of consciousness? How can we each use this returning life force for our personal growth? And beyond that, how can we combine our efforts with those of others to face the dark, fear-mongering, rhetoric of our politicians? A political landscape that seemed solidly progressive has been shaken to its core. Daily news has become an addictive reality show that keeps us on the edge of terror.
While visiting the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, I was shown a humble well in the middle of a cow pasture. Two other women and I cleared the well which was clogged with debris, blessed the spontaneous flow of water that bubbled up from the ground, and made an offering to the goddess Brighid. No sooner had the water begun to flow again than the cows began to move toward the well, and we made a hasty retreat. Our hands had become Brighid’s hands as we made her water available to her creatures. How can our actions clear a spring from which others can drink?
We need to work together, and open our hearts to the deep transformative and regenerative energy of the goddess in both her light and dark aspects to sustain life and resist tyranny. We are each one voice in a large circle of humanity; may the song we bring to its chorus be as pure and true as the bird song that will soon rise to hail the dawn.
Take some time this day to do something that brings you joy, so that you may store up beauty to feed your soul to make it dance like Wordsworth’s daffodils and create bliss for your solitude.
Variegated daffodils for all the many colored springs that have come before and enriched our lives.
At midwinter in the northern hemisphere, hints of life appear as the frozen dark gives way to returning light. February 2 has many names. Ground Hog’s Day, Candlemas, St. Bridget’s Day, and Imbolc (IM-bulk) the ancient Celtic holiday that marked the birthing of lambs and the return of the goddess Bridget. The flower of this season is the humble snowdrop, the harbinger of the flowers of spring to come. For many of us, visions of the future are not blooming but dark. The forces of chaos seem to have been unleashed in our government. As we welcome the spirit of Bridget, we turn to her for guidance and comfort. What wise woman ways are available to help us navigate these turbulent political times?
Bridget is the goddess of healing, poetry and goldsmithing. Her wells are sources of life and renewal where people go to pray in times of sickness and turmoil. May she bring healing to us now. She imparts brilliance in those who create with words. May she inspire satirists to bring politicians to task and journalists to speak truth to power. As the keeper of the fire that transforms gold into objects of beauty, may her acts of charity and compassion become the gold standard of human behavior and her perpetual flame, tended by the Brigidine Sisters in Kildare, Ireland, burn as a beacon of hope, justice and peace.
Those qualities seem in short supply in the world today. Last Sunday, I rode the commuter rail into Boston. On the train, there were many people carrying signs, some parents with young children in tow, on their way to the Anti-Hate, Pro-Immigration rally in Copley Square. While I ate lunch at Au Bon Pain in Central Square in Cambridge indications of the furor caused by Trump’s sudden immigration ban were everywhere. At a table near mine, I observed three young women, two wearing head scarves making signs one of which said, “No human being is illegal.” Standing at another tall table in the center of the room, a white, young professional couple, probably headed to the march, were carrying on an audible conversation with a middle-aged, local, white man, who was a supporter of the ban. The sign-making girls kept a wary eye on him at first. For about a quarter of an hour it was hard to tune out his somewhat heated defense of a hard-line immigration policy.
When he said America should be helping its own first, like the homeless — hard not to notice them in this neighborhood where many hang out only feet away from the restaurant — the couple asked him what he did to help. He said he volunteered to help fix dinner for the homeless once a week at a local shelter. The discussion continued, but it became harder to overhear as it grew more conversational in tone. The three people were still talking earnestly a half hour later when I left.
What strikes many of us as insanity in the White House is having one positive effect. It’s bringing people out onto the street to exercise their civil rights to protest and fostering conversations like the one I overheard. We need to keep talking, not only to make our voices heard, but to enter into dialogue with others who may view the world differently from us. We each need to find true north on our interior moral compass. We need to fight for what we believe, but also remember to honor the worth and dignity of everyone, and listen to others with respect, not contempt.
In Celtic society in times of extreme deprivation when the survival of the people was at stake, all the residents of a village and its surrounding land would build a need fire. First, every light had to be extinguished. With their hearth fires cold, every able-bodied cottager carried an unlit torch to the center of the village. There a new fire was kindled and dedicated to Bridget and other deities, in whose mercy the villagers placed themselves, for the situation was more dire than they could hope to handle alone. Every household lit a torch from this need fire and carried the new flame back to their homes where they rekindled their hearth fires.
At this turning point of winter, when we see the first signs that the earth will quicken to life again, we call out to Bridget or to the Source of all Being by whatever name moves our hearts. We seek her/his guidance and direction. May she wrap us, all together, all of her people, under the mantle of her love and protection.
Three Candles Ritual
Extinguish all the lights in your home, turn off the power strips to which all your electronic devices are connected, turn down the thermostat, unplug the refrigerator, and, turn off your phone. Sit in the silence and the dark. Allow your breath to deepen, give your soul time to call out its need, its prayer. When you are ready, strike a match and light three candles, one at a time. As you light the first candle, ask that things which have been fractured may return to wholeness. As you light the second, ask for help in creating beauty, hope, and love in the world. As you light the third, ask for help in making visible your true self which is a reflection of the Great Mystery. Be still and listen. What seeks to be born in the silence? When you are ready, rise, turn on the lights, the power strips, the appliances, and reconnect. May your dot on the grid shine a bit brighter supported by divine love.
Photo: Bridget’s flame and cross. Check out the website for the Solas Bhride Centre run by the Brigidine Sisters in Kildare Town, County Kildare, Ireland. http://solasbhride.ie
The winter solstice marks the boundary of darkness. This far it may go, but no farther. This time of short days and long nights draws us indoors to be cozy and warm in our own houses, but also reminds us to lend a helping hand to those who lack the basics of food and warmth needed to survive the cold. Winter solstice, or Yule, is also a time for celebration, driven by a solar energy we seem to store within and unleash at this time of the year.
One of my most beloved winter solstice rituals is unpacking the ornaments for my Christmas tree. These small objects rekindle in me nostalgia for old certainties that next year will surely be better than this one and free from the worries that haunt me now. My own favorite ornaments are ethereal: angels, wizards, suns, moons, stars, and snowflakes. Winter solstice night is a portal to another world where the fairies dance. It is a pause for a sacred breath and a prayer that all will be well.
Although this season has its special delights for each of us, darkness weighs heavily upon the world this year. Our hearts break for the destruction of Aleppo and the brutal deaths of civilians and freedom fighters there. We collectively hold our breath to see what changes the new political administration in Washington will unleash. I recently moved to the site in Salem, MA where Parker Brothers once made board games including Monopoly. After I mastered the principles behind the game and could win, it lost its appeal for me. The new leadership in Washington doesn’t seem to share my distaste for amassing money and wielding power over others.
On the other hand, there is good news from Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota where Water Protectors have at least won a reprieve from the installation of a gas pipe line on their land. Charles Eisenstein writes that the Sioux elders have counseled a prayerful, non-violent resistance to law enforcement. While being arrested, one woman began singing a native prayer song and those around her joined in. Everyone, including the sheriff and other officers, was moved by the sacred cadences that touched some deep connection they shared with the land and each other. The arrests were made but police were made uncomfortable by their own actions. The song cut through the boundaries between good and bad, unlawful protestor and legal protector, and united everyone as human beings. Gandhi advocated non-violent protest as a way of calling forth the goodness in others and allowing them to shift out of their roles as oppressors.
As elders ourselves, perhaps we too are called to counsel prayerful and peaceful resistance to the injustices of the world and to the leaders who use hate and fear to divide people and turn them against one another. In Lt. General Michael Flynn’s book The Field of Fight, he argues that we must understand the tactics and beliefs of radical Islamists to defeat them because they are evil. Although hardly unique to Flynn, I find this point of view chilling. Good and evil live side by side in each of us. It is not possible to destroy evil with violence. White Buffalo Calf Woman came to the Sioux, teaching them to teach the pathways to peace. Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Let our own actions of peaceful resistance, cooperation, and solidarity be inspired by the spiritual teachings that admonish us to love one another and treat others as we want to be treated ourselves.
May the fires of love burn bright in our hearts to light our way in this season of darkness. We are all in this together for better or worse. “One planet is turning on its path around the sun” (Charlie Murphy). Let us sing carols that unite us and raise awareness of our shared humanity.
Winter Solstice Ritual
Take a walk out doors in the woods, by the sea, or in a park. Bring your full attention to the natural world through which you move. Notice how the land is preparing for winter. Notice the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of the season. What wildlife do you see or hear? What wisdom seeps into your heart as you walk in silence? Return home, and if possible kindle a fire, or at least light a candle. Look into the flame and see there an image, a dream, a wish, to warm you through the cold of winter and well into the new year.
This light house on Winter Island in Salem, MA is decked out for the season.
“Scary, scary, Halloween! Am I the scariest thing you’ve ever seen?” so go the opening lines of one of my children’s favorite picture books. As a crone, I am more interested in the hallowedness of this season than its fear factor. Halloween derives from the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain (SOW-in), “summer’s end.” For the ancient Celts, October 31 was a day outside of ordinary time. It was the extra day built into the thirty day, twelve-month Celtic calendar and marked a pause between the end of one annual cycle and the beginning of the next. The Celts believed that on this day, the spirits of the dead could walk among the living. Sometimes these other worldly presences got up to mischief. Placing jack-o-lanterns in the window helps to discourage supernatural trickery.
At Samhain, we remember those with whom our lives have been deeply intertwined and who have died before us. As crones, we are particularly called to remember past generations and to tell their stories to the young. We are the gatekeepers of time—time remembered and time to come.
In the present-day goddess tradition, Samhain is also associated with Hekate, the Greek and Roman triple goddess of the crossroads and the new moon. Like Samhain the new moon, or dark of the moon, is a day between cycles, a pause at the end of one lunar cycle before the beginning of the next. Hekate is a goddess of liminal, or in-between spaces. She is associated with ghosts and magic. She stands between the worlds and can influence both the world within and the world outside of space and time. Offerings of food were left for her at the crossroads at the new moon. This was a gesture to ward off malign spirits and to seek her blessing during the coming cycle.
My own life is betwixt and between. I have sold my house and am living in an apartment while I determine where I will settle next. At this moment, my bed is an explosion of bubble wrap and half emptied boxes because I could not write about Samhain without my Hekate statue in view. She calls me to the crossroads of life and death. There I must leave behind the smashed crockery of my efforts to mold life into my own image of perfection and accept the sweetness of life as it is. As I said farewell to the house of my marriage and active years of motherhood, the last yellow rose was in bloom. October’s roses have the sweetest scent. They are an affirmation of life amid fallen leaves.
This year at Samhain we come to a double pause in both the lunar and solar cycles with a new moon on October 30 followed by Halloween on the 31st. We pause for a day or two between the worlds to acknowledge that life and death are equally formidable forces directing our fate. Their eternal coupledom creates the boundaries of our existence. At Samhain, the infinite expansiveness of the universe enters our hearts in the guise of our beloved dead, and we walk heart to heart with those who have passed beyond the veil.
Help us Hekate. We come to you with our failings and our longings. We bring them all to your crossroads this night. We are grateful to have arrived at this crone stage of life where we can serve as a bridge between the worlds. We know that each cycle brings us closer to our own death but are grateful for whatever suffering we can relieve, love we can share, and order and beauty we can bring into the world throughout the duration of our precious lives.
Give us the courage to take up the staff of life, our crone staff, and usher a new cycle into being as we sow seeds for tomorrow with hope and blessing. We come not only to an end this night, but also, feeling the tide of life in motion deep beneath our feet, to a new beginning.
With love and blessings,
Place pictures of your beloved departed, human and/or animal on an altar or table. Invoke the divine presence in whatever form it calls to you. Light a candle and call the names of each of your beloved dead and invite them to share some time with you on the evening of Oct 31. Remember something you love about each of them, and something they gave to you. Honor their lives and express gratitude for their love. When you are ready bid them farewell and release their spirits once again into the ether with love. Give thanks for your own life and feel the power of your connections with others both in physical form and spirit essence.
Equinox is a time of abundance and hope: harvest in one hemisphere and planting in the other. For a brief time, day and night are equal. But how quickly the balance tips. In the northern hemisphere harvest must be gathered in before the frost; in a trice autumn will pull us deep into the dark.
At harvest the continuation of life hangs in the balance. Will the bounty be enough to sustain us through the winter? In New England the land is parched by drought. Parts of Louisiana have been inundated by water. In both cases a severe imbalance hinders growth. Privation replaces abundance. Worry replaces joy. What do we need to do to bring our lives and our world into better balance?
In northern Europe farmers traditionally made corn dollies to celebrate the end of the harvest. The last sheaf of wheat was cut with ceremony to honor the life-giving force that makes the grain grow. In Peru each life-giving crop was believed to be animated by a divine being who caused growth. Maize Mother, Quinoa Mother, Coca Mother, and Potato Mother were honored with effigies made from sheaves and leaves of the harvested crop and elaborately dressed in women’s clothes. In ancient Greece, Demeter, the goddess who caused the grain to grow, initiated mortals into the secrets of immortality through the Eleusinian Mysteries. The goddess represents the life force that is far greater than our individual lives. She holds all living beings within her capacious self, nurturing them through the cycle of life and death and rebirth.
Last weekend as hordes of strangers poked and prodded their way through my house. I left it to its own devices, to choose as it would the next family to create a home within these walls, and I went for a walk in the woods. As I stood alone on a knoll overlooking a bend in the Charles River, I observed two trees. The taller one was a black oak firmly rooted and stretching almost beyond sight into the air out over the river. Nestled next to it was an ash whose lower branches were bare. They reached around the oak and seemed to me to be a spirit tree growing in tandem with the living one. As my gaze widened to take in the river, my Soul Self expanded. I felt connected to a deeper, wider, stream of Being. I was filled with Grace from a source beyond my understanding. I felt deeply loved and companioned on my journey through and beyond time as if a spirit form held me as the ash held the oak.
It is not easy to accept that one is growing old and is subject to the ravages of time and mortality. But I want to claim my role as an old woman in this cosmic dance of life. We crones play an important role in the cycle. When we honor the life force as goddess, we honor her in ourselves. Our aging bodies are beautiful. Through us younger people are connected to the past and the continuity of the generations. We see with a vision that crosses generational boundaries. We hold memories of a time when the ancestors were alive.
As a crone, with my personal life cycle well beyond its mid-point, I ask the goddess what is still within me to be harvested? What life wisdom needs to flow through me to nurture others? I want to tune my ear to a suffering world, and do what needs to be done, by me, now, before it is too late.
Honoring Loss: Grief, Healing, and the Wise Woman Path
Wednesday November 2, 2016 – 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM
Join two of the authors of “Becoming Women of Wisdom,” Melody Lee and Karen Edwards, for a day long retreat. The program is designed to help us cope with loss. This can be the loss of a loved one, a job, mobility, or any loss in which it feels that a part of our identity has been ripped away. We will explore the grieving process and the gradual movement toward inner growth. We will walk a labyrinth to facilitate our journey within. There are two lovely outdoor labyrinths on the grounds and also an inside labyrinth available as needed.
Rolling Ridge Retreat and Conference Center located at 660 Great Pond Road in North Andover, MA 01845. Register online or by calling 978-682-8815. Early registration: $65, after 10/11/16: $85
Experiencing Light and Dark
Take a walk outdoors on a sunny day and feel the heat of the sun on your skin. Take time to be fully present. Open yourself to the sun, its warmth, its strength, and its glare. Notice how being outdoors in the sun makes you feel. Next, at night seek out a dark place, perhaps a room where you can extinguish all sources of light. Sit alone in the dark. Open yourself. Notice how your senses react and how you feel in the dark. Sit there long enough to allow the dark to gather into its own luminosity. Write or draw about these experiences in your journal. How often do we actually experience the dark in our 24/7 technologically connected world? How can darkness bring balance to our lives? How can acts of kindness brighten the dark of another person’s day?