Monthly Archives: June 2014

Gods and Mascots

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Kumamon, mascot for Kumamoto Prefecture and one of the most successful regional mascots in Japan

 Mascots are ubiquitous in modern society. There’s no shortage of sports teams, companies, governmental campaigns and other organisations and projects that are represented by some form of cartoon person or anthropmorphisised  animal or object. [Read more…]

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Hen Party in the Faversham Countryside

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Me frolicking in the woods!

This weekend I went to a very close and long-time friend’s Hen Do at the beautiful Heel Barn in Faversham. We had an absolutely amazing time, and one of the many highlights for me was going for a walk in the woods in the morning, just after it had rained. The woods were beautiful and had that lovely warm, damp, “green” scent that you only get after summer showers in the woods. The forest floor was covered in moss, ferns and toadstools, adding to the magickal atmosphere. At one point, myself and another good friend of mine who’s Pagan came across a ring of three moss-covered coppiced trees with twisting branches that to me looked like some kind of natural altar to the Triple Goddess. The natural beauty and fresh forest air made us all feel very calm and invigorated – exactly what we needed after a late night of drinking!

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Japanese Touches to an English Wedding

cranes

What you can see in the picture there is 1,000 paper cranes, each individually folded by my colleague and good friend as a decoration for her wedding which was held earlier this month. Like me, she is not Japanese but Japan has been a very important part of her life, so she incorporated little bits of Japanese culture into her otherwise very English wedding (held in an old barn that the couple had renovated and decorated themselves in the heart of the beautiful Huntingdon countryside). The decoration isn’t just stunning, but also carries great significance for a wedding – folding 1,000 cranes in Japan supposedly grants happiness, good health, longevity and peace. This is because cranes have been regarded as sacred and magickal animals in Japan for possibly thousands of years, beginning with their worship by the Ainu (the tribe who inhabited the northern island of Japan, Hokkaido, before the people now known as the “Japanese” settled there).

weddingttbIn keeping with the Japanese touches to my friend’s wedding, I gave her money as  a wedding gift in a special envelope called oshugi-bukuro, which is what you would do in a Japanese wedding. Traditionally, you should always give the couple clean, crisp notes fresh form the bank to symbolise their new life, but this is actually hard to do in the UK – none of my local bank branches had fresh notes in stock! I guess there’s not much demand for it. But in Japan, which is both highly cash-orientated and where cleanliness and newness is literally next to godliness (both concepts are highly valued in Shinto), you can get new notes quite easily; hotels, where Japanese weddings are often held, always seem to have them in stock.

I also made the couple a pair of teru-teru bozu, like I did for my Hen Party, to pray for good weather on their special day (and I decorated them as a bride and groom). I was delighted to see they actually displayed the teru-teru bozu in the barn at the wedding itself! They seemed to work – although it was overcast, and although there had apparently been a downpour a few miles away, there wasn’t a drop of rain and the sun even came out towards the evening. And before I left, I splashed a little champagne on the teru-teru bozu to thank them.

It was a beautiful and extremely joyful wedding reception, all down to the bride and groom’s amazing preparations. I only hope mine will be as enjoyable for everyone!

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Litha Ritual with Medway Pagans

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This evening I celebrated Litha together with Medway Pagans. As always, it was a very beautiful, warm and serene experience.

The altar was set out with offerings and decorations appropriate to Litha – a yellow tablecloth, summer flowers and summer fruits, and as you can see in the picture above, it looked gorgeous. As with Beltane, the centre of the ritual was a fire, into which we placed offerings and charms (I think I was less of a wuss this time round when it came to approaching the roaring flames to place my offering of rosemary and incense!). Following this and our incantations to the Great Goddess, we shared a cup of ale and ate some of the fruit from the altar.

I really enjoyed the ritual and it gave me a great sense of inner peace and belonging, as well as a feeling of connection with the natural world and the others celebrating with me. It hit home just how much more I feel I can relax when I am performing a ritual with fellow pagans rather than outside by myself with the neighbours potentially watching! Another great part of communal rituals is that it also gives me a chance to talk to other pagans about their particular paths and learn from them, which is very beneficial to someone new to paganism like myself.

This month, I felt compelled to ask two members of the group why they never join us in the circle, and only stand and observe. I’d always seen them do this and was curious why, but always felt too shy to ask until today. Their reason was very interesting. Both follow what some may call a “left hand path” – one worships Lilith, the other Loki – and they feel that their deities may have upset the ritual if they had participated! What’s more, they see themselves, as “outsiders,” as a key part in the ritual even though they do not participate: they represent the darker aspects that are absent during the celebrations of light such as Beltane and Litha. However, they assured me that come Samhain, they’d be leaping right in!

Finally, when I got home (a new member of the group very kindly gave me a lift back!), who should be waiting for me in our driveway but three of our local foxes – it looked like a mother and her cubs 🙂 A wonderful way to end a lovely, magickal evening.

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“Goth Zodiac” Art Series: Cancer

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The fourth in my “Goth Zodiac” series – Cancer. I see Cancer ias both a strong lunar and water sign, hence I used a silver colour scheme and a “pirate” theme (the only water-related Goth look, perhaps?)

You can view the whole series and my other art here.

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Midsummer 2014

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Merry Midsummer! And what a beautiful day it was. I had to work for most of the day, but when I got home I performed a ritual to honour the occasion.

Above is the altar I set for my simple Litha ritual, which I dedicated to the Gods and Goddesses of the Sun and Summer – Helios, Apollo, Ra, Amaterasu Omikami, Aine and Juno. I lit a smaller candle for each deity from the God/Goddess candle on the candlesticks (I wanted to use tall black and white candles for this but as is usually the case with outdoor rituals, it was too windy) and made various offerings. I performed this in the early evening so it was still light, which I never find ideal for outdoor rituals because there are more people around and more distractions. However, it went well and although I didn’t see foxes this time (too early in the evening for them), some cawing crows flew over me as I performed the rite. This was a good sign for me – not only do I like them as a Goth, but crows are considered solar animals in some traditions. As always, I ended the ritual with a dedication to Inari Okamisama; not inappropriate either, as the solstice is considered important in Shinto as well.

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Why be an Eclectic Pagan?

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My personal symbol of Eclectic Paganism, incorporating several magickal symbols – pentacles, the triple goddess, the “grail cross”

I am proud to be an Eclectic Pagan, i.e. a pagan who draws from many different traditions, rather than following only one path. Beliefs and rituals that I have incorporated into my own spirituality include Shinto, Wicca, Hellenism, Asatru, Celtic Paganism, and plenty of other traditions as well. I find this suits me better than following a single path, and here’s why:

1. I am new to paganism. Therefore, I think it’s important for me at this stage to be as open-minded as possible, and research into the many different forms of paganism as much as I can, instead of committing myself to one path without fully exploring all options. I can see how some new pagans may prefer to stick to one path for the added structure this provides (and if they’re being mentored or practising paganism mainly within a coven then they may have to do this anyway), but as a mainly solitary pagan, eclecticism suits me better.

2. I strongly lean towards Shinto, which is a highly syncretic religion and is rarely practised in isolation in Japan. To the Japanese, mixing religions is a natural part of daily life – your average Japanese may have a Shinto christening, a Christian-style church wedding, and a Buddhist funeral, and see nothing at all wrong with this. As someone who has lived in Japan for an extended period, I’ve come to model my own spiritual approach on the Japanese way of thinking.

3. I suspect that our ancestors took a more eclectic approach to religion – there’s plenty of evidence for this, such as the abundance of pagan trappings in Christian rituals and symbols. And even in pre-Christian Europe I’m sure plenty of mixing and matching went on, especially as so little was written down; the Romans, for example, were quite keen on syncretism, which is why there is so much overlap between Roman and Celtic deities, not to mention the integration of Egyptian deities such as Isis into Roman beliefs.

4. More fundamentally, I believe that paganism is at the heart of all religions. It is like a spider’s web, with all beliefs woven and connected strand by strand. I recommend (as always) reading Frazer’s Golden Bough for elaboration, but the way I see it, paganism is religion at its most basic level, and so all paths are essentially the same thing.

5. Eclectic paganism allows you to easily adapt to your local environment. For example, where I live we have so many foxes that to venerate the Shinto fox-deity Inari seems very appropriate. Then there’s my local coven, Medway Pagans. Their practices are based mainly on Wicca, and so even though magick does not interest me as much as the more religious side of paganism, I nevertheless honour many Wiccan traditions because that is what the coven follows, and therefore what I am familiar with.

6. To me, eclecticism is a more progressive form of religion, one in which the idea that you follow any spirituality is more important than what those beliefs actually are. This allows for more acceptance of the beliefs of others, less dogmatism, and more opportunities for spiritual growth by embracing new ideas.

7. To quote Azeem from that rather cheesy movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, “Allah loves wondrous variety.”

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Father’s Day at The Lost Village of Dode

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I’m getting married next month at the impossibly beautiful  church at The Lost Village of Dode, which is possibly Kent’s best kept secret. Its current owner, Doug Chapman, restored it in the 90s and has furnished it with straw floors, sheepskin-covered pews, drapings and more candles than you can count, capturing how the church may have appeared in the 12th century. And now, its used for civil weddings – as well as handfastings, which are held by Doug himself. In fact, it was our decision to have a handfasting there which was the turning point for me to go from being someone merely interested in paganism to a fully-practising pagan.

On Father’s Day, Doug invited my husband-to-be James and myself to have rehearsal and run through the day (which was really generous of him). To make something of an occasion of it, my parents and my sister (and our photographer Blue Dan of Kent Street Photography who’s also a friend of the family). We’ll be having our handfasting after the legal registry process, outside the church in a ring of standing stones. I won’t write too much about what we plan to do, because in a month’s time I’ll hopefully be able to share photos 🙂 Doug was absolutely wonderful and really made me feel both relaxed and excited about the whole thing!

After this we all took my Dad out for a Father’s Day meal, and in the evening I decided to perform a short ritual to commemorate Father’s Day and honour my Dad, my ancestral fathers and all the fathers close to me. I made offerings to various incarnations of the Great God who I associate with fatherhood – Saturn (father of the gods), Odin (the All-Father) and Izanagi-no-Mikoto (father of creation in Shinto). I prayed to them to bless my father and the other fathers in my life with a long life, good health, strength and wisdom.

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June Full Moon Ritual 2014 – and an extraordinary encounter

Juno

Friday night saw a rare occurrence – a Full Moon on Friday 13th, and more so, a “Honey Moon” (a slightly more yellowy moon than normal). Like many Goths, I actually like Friday 13th – while some may see it as unlucky, others may see it as simply a time that the darker energies are heightened. For this reason, I again thought it would be fitting to honour the dark goddess Hecate once again. Additionally it also seemed very appropriate to pay tribute to the goddess Juno: June is her month, and the following day was a friend’s wedding (not to mention that next month is my own wedding!), and Juno is seen as a goddess of marriage. I prayed to Hecate for general protection and good health, as well as honouring the spirit of Gerald Gardner, father of modern witchcraft who additionally was born on June 13th. To Juno, I prayed for happiness and good luck with both my friend’s and my own marriage. As always, I followed my ritual with a prayer to Inari Okamisama, who may also be seen as a good omen for weddings due to the duality of her fox messengers, her symbolism as a deity of prosperity, and the role of foxes in Japanese folklore about marriage (they say that rain falling on a sunny day means a vixen is getting married).

Once again, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat spiritually detached during the ritual – as usual, there were so many distractions outside, such as rowdy people walking home from the nearby pub and the neighbours parking in the driveway. What’s more, the buildings surrounding my house and its orientation meant that I couldn’t see the Full Moon again. But then, something incredibly magickal happened that really gave the ritual incredible significance.

When I was returning from placing offerings of garlic (for Hecate) and honey (for Juno) at the nearby crossroads, I saw a fox on the road before me, look at me straight in the eye, and then vanish into the undergrowth. And then, as a drew nearer, a second, larger fox emerged. He looked straight at me, and then just sat down on a wall beside the road, very calm and peaceful, as if enjoying this auspicious night himself. Quietly, I sat down on a low wall just opposite him, very close by. He looked up at me every now and then, acknowledging my presence yet seeming totally unphased by me. We shared this silent moment together in the night for some time, watching each other, while I mentally thanked him for gracing me with his presence in his territory and letting me enjoy his company like this. When some more noisy people from the pub approached he disappeared, so I returned to the house, but I kept on watching from the window and I soon saw both the foxes emerge from the undergrowth and go about their lives.

As a follower of Inari, I find any encounter with foxes to be special, but this was particularly magickal due to the timing and nature of our encounter. I find it even more wonderful that we have a pair of foxes living by us – just like a mirror of the pair of fox statues I have on my Inari shrine. Whenever I see them, I cannot help but feel protected and uplifted by the spirit of Inari Okamisama.

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Declaring myself “Pagan”

 

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Pentacle pendant, which you can buy from my Dad’s shop! http://www.spiral.org.uk

The other day, I had to go to my local walk-in clinic (nothing serious, so don’t worry!) As it was the first time I’d been there, I had to register and give lots of personal details. And when I got asked whether or not I follow a religion, I said, “Pagan.”

This was the first time I’d ever declared myself as Pagan to anyone other than a friend or fellow Pagan, and it filled me with lots of different emotions. I certainly felt proud to declare myself Pagan. But on the other hand, I couldn’t help but feel a little weird too. As a long-lapsed Catholic, I haven’t affiliated myself with any religions in a long, long time, and it felt so strange to be declaring myself as religious now.

But overall I’m pleased I did declare my religion. I think the more open Pagans are about their faith, the more we will be taken seriously as a religion and, I hope, the less ridicule and intolerance we will face from the media (such as this horribly-worded piece from The Metro, for example…)

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