Monthly Archives: September 2014

Thoughts on the Mt Ontake Eruption

"Ontakesan from kohideyama 2002 10 30" by Alpsdake - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Ontakesan from kohideyama 2002 10 30” by Alpsdake – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

More than 30 people are thought to have died since Mt Ontake in Japan erupted without warning on Saturday. It is a huge tragedy, and yet another startling reminder of the power of nature.

Some might say, how can one worship the spirits of nature when they can be so cruel? Why do the kami punish innocent people like this?

Nature is just nature. It is simply a volcano’s nature to erupt. There is no cruelty or punishment involved; the volcano would have erupted if there were 30,000 people on it, or none at all. Humans are a part of nature, and we are very much the same – most of us do not want to inflict pain or suffering on other living things, but it is an inevitable part of how we survive.

The Japanese are well aware of this. For thousands of years, they have lived on a group of islands that are subject to the earth’s most deadly forces – volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunami. But the same volcanic activity that brings about these disasters also makes Japan’s earth rich and fertile, which is no doubt part of the reason for Japan’s prosperity throughout history. It is a “high-risk, high-reward” existence.

Mt Ontake is considered sacred in Japan, and even after this tragedy, it will continue to be viewed with reverence and respect.

May the victims of the eruption Rest In Peace, and may all our thoughts be with their families and their communities at this most painful time.

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Covering my Witches’ Datebook

WitchesDatebookI recently bought Llewellyns 2015 Witches Datebook, as we’re already planning our schedule for next year at work so I need a diary for 2015 – and I thought I may as well get one that has all the important Pagan dates already listed in it!

However, I don’t feel comfortable using such an obviously Pagan item at work – mainly because in Britain, overt displays of any religion (not just Paganism) are viewed with a slight air of suspicion, especially in an office environment. I don’t want people I’ve just met on a work basis to judge me on the basis of my religion. It’s a bit of a stereotype that Pagans are laid-back, weird cloudcuckoolanders, so I don’t want people to think that I won’t be professional or good at what I do just because I’m also a Pagan. Additionally, it’s called the “Witches’ Datebook” and there’s still lots of people out there who think witches sacrifice goats and worship the forces of evil (I don’t really consider myself a “witch” anyway because magic forms only a minor part of my path).

So I decided to cover my Datebook so it’s less obvious what it is. I used an old T-shirt that I don’t really like wearing any more but don’t want to get rid of because it was a gift from my Mum from her trip to Las Vegas so it has sentimental value. Plus I do quite like the design, which is a pattern of angel wings on the front and back with faded writing and sequins. So I thought it would be great to up-cycle this t-shirt to cover my new Datebook.

I did a really rough job on it, but I’m happy with the result – it does the trick.

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Japan Matsuri 2014

The O-Mikoshi at a previous Japan Matsuri, near the London Eye (from Japan Matsuri's Facebook page)

The O-Mikoshi at a previous Japan Matsuri, near the London Eye (from Japan Matsuri’s Facebook page) – photo by Megumi Walers

Yesterday was London’s Japan Matsuri – a huge Japan-themed outdoor festival that currently takes place at Trafalgar Square. I work for a Japanese cultural institution that promotes international relations, so was there as part of work, giving information about learning more about Japanese language and culture.

As anyone who’s been to Japan knows, there are several key features without which no Japanese festival (matsuri) is complete – plenty of good food, games to play, performances of music and dance, and people dressed in traditional yukata or other amazing costumes (matsuri are often a chance for members of subcultures in Japan such as Lolita to don their more spectacular outfits).  But perhaps at the heart of every big matsuri is spirituality, as matsuri are traditionally days where the local kami are venerated. In fact, the word “matsuri” itself literally means “worship.” At most Japanese matsuri, the essence of the kami is transported out into the local streets on an o-mikoshi, a portable shrine resembling a palanquin that is carried by locals.

London’s Japan Matsuri is actually pretty authentic in many of these aspects. It’s an opportunity for all the local Japanese businesses to exhibit ans sell their wares, which always means there’s plenty of Japanese food – and just like a matsuri in Japan, there’s also plenty of long queues! There’s also stage performances throughout the day – this year had some particularly good performers, including thundering taiko drums, Okinawan eisa dancing from the local Japanese nursery school, and the beautiful, haunting music of the traditional Japanese music group Hibiki Ensemble.

But perhaps what delights me most about Japan Matsuri is that its Shinto origins are still honoured. At the beginning of the festival, there is a procession of an o-mikoshi, carried by young men wearing traditional happi jackets and hachimaki headbands. Just as the o-mikoshi bearers in Japan do, they bounce the o-mikoshi up and down and lunge in a zig-zag motion all over the path, crying “wasshoi!” These actions are said to please the kami in the o-mikoshi. I have no idea what kami is enshrined in the o-mikoshi – there aren’t any jinja (large Japanese shrines) in London so perhaps it’s one venerated at a private shrine. I’d love to find out.

I think that the authenticity of Japan Matsuri, right down to the religious aspects, is what makes it so successful – I think it attracts far more Japanese people than any other Japan-themed event in London. I am so glad that such a festival, which helps to both strengthen Anglo-Japanese relations and to give Japanese residents in the UK to express their cultural identity, has continued to grow, and I am very proud to be a part of it as an exhibitor.

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Reflections on “The Magicians,” Lev Grossman

TheMagiciansAs I’ve already reviewed one fiction book of Pagan interest, I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to review another fiction book that might be of interest to those who work with magic – The Magicians by Lev Grossman. [You can find the rest of this review here]

 

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Hina Matsuri Figurine Make-over

Dosojin-BandAThe third figurine make-over I performed was on two little figures that someone gave me when I lived in Japan for Hina Matsuri. Hina Matsuri, sometimes called “Girl’s Festival” or “Doll’s Festival” in English, takes place on March 3rd in Japan, and traditionally one displays dolls representing the Emperor and Empress around this date.

I actually have two Hina Matsuri doll collections – the one which I transformed above, made of clay, and another set made from sea shells (which I used for a Tanabata ritual). The clay set is pretty cute, but I’ve never actually displayed them and since I have another set, I decided it might be better to put them to different use – as representatives of the Great God and Great Goddess on my altar during rituals. However, displaying Hina Matsuri dolls when it isn’t the festival is considered unlucky in Japan, so I thought it would be best to transform them so they no longer so strongly resembled Hina Matsuri dolls. I also wanted them to look more “generic,” so they not only represent Japanese symbols of the masculine and feminine but any God/Goddess pair from any religion.

I therefore gave them the same “stone effect” paint job that I gave my recent faerie figurine. This technique works really well on clay, and clay has so much texture already and lacks the shininess of resin so I didn’t have to stipple the final paint layer in order to get a nice, even stony effect.

I think the final result looks delightfully like the dosojin Jo and Uba – the kami couple who protect travellers and also have links with fertility. This seems very apt for a generic Great God and Great Goddess representation. I look forward to displaying them in my next ritual!

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Mabon Moot with Medway Pagans

MPMabon

The Mabon Altar

(How’s that for an alliterative title?)

Tonight saw Medway Pagan’s Mabon Moot. There was a big group of us (more than twenty); it would appear Medway Pagans is getting bigger and bigger all the time. Which is great!

The ritual took place completely indoors for the first time since Ostara. It began with the lighting of candles for each of the Four Quarters. With all of us together in a circle around the flickering candles, it created a really warm and congenial atmosphere – perfect for the spirit of autumn. We then shared cut apple pieces (each displaying their natural pentagram within) and took a bite, and shared a communal chalice of (really nice) cider. It was a simple yet very cheerful ritual.

Then came the part we’d all been looking particularly forward to – home-made soup, very kindly and generously prepared by one of Medway Pagans’ founders! It was absolutely delicious and there was plenty for everyone. We all ate the soup from bowls and plates we’d brought ourselves (quite a few of us brought bread too) and sat and chatted. I noticed just how much everyone seemed to be enjoying each other’s company – it’s amazing how sharing food brings people together in such a natural way. I think we all came away afterwards having formed deeper friendships than before.

As always, it was a lovely night and the perfect way to welcome in the darker seasons ahead!

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“Goth Zodiac” Art Series: Libra

zodiac-libra

The latest in my Goth Zodiac series – Libra!

I see Libra as being a very “airy” sign, so associations with faeries, angels and the colour white seem appropriate.

You can view the whole series and my other artwork here: http://trellia.deviantart.com

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Mabon Altar for Inari

altar-autumn

Mabon Blessings everyone!

On Sunday, the weather was lovely so I decided to go for a little walk in my local park. Going for walks in the autumn to view the beautiful red leaves is a tradition in Japan, known as “momiji-gari.” The term “momiji-gari” can be translated as “collecting autumn leaves,” so I decided to take this a little more literally and gathered some leaves (the oak leaves in particular looked lovely), pine cones, acorns and conkers with the intention of decorating my Inari altar for Mabon; the Autumn Equinox is also a significant day in Japan too.

I’ve been trying to make sure I do a bit of litter picking when I go out to enjoy nature, so I did that too. I very easily filled two plastic bags with rubbish. Some of it was disgusting – it’s shocking what some people just chuck in the bushes without caring on its impact on the environment and the people who might also want to enjoy the park. But I still enjoyed being out and seeing my favourite trees, such as the big oak tree near the tennis court and the yew tree that’s hidden away in the undergrowth. These trees are beginning to feel like old friends when I go and visit them.

When I got back I put the leaves and other items on the altar, and also gave all the items and the fox statues a clean before putting them back and placing offerings. As an early celebration of Mabon, I mixed some acorns and some enoki mushrooms I bought the other day in London with the rice offering. I hope Inari-sama enjoys it!

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Faerie Figurine Makeover

Faerie-BandA

Having really enjoyed re-painting an Easter Bunny figurine to give it a more antique, rustic appearance using Ozark Pagan Mother’s technique, I decided to use the same method to transform a rather twee and tacky faerie figurine.

I got the faerie from an Age Concern charity shop for 99p. I went for darker, stony tones this time. When I sponged on the top, lighter layer, the paint looked a little uneven so I stippled it with a coarse brush.

The result looks nicely dark and Gothic, quite a change from the original! I’m rather pleased with it.

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The Importance of Altars

Kamidana, or Shinto household altar. "Sacred straw rope at New Year's,shimenawa,katori-city,japan" by katorisi - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sacred_straw_rope_at_New_Year%27s,shimenawa,katori-city,japan.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Sacred_straw_rope_at_New_Year%27s,shimenawa,katori-city,japan.jpg

Kamidana, or Shinto household altar, decorated for O-Shogatsu (New Year). “Sacred straw rope at New Year’s,shimenawa,katori-city,japan” by katorisi – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Up to now, I do not have a permanent altar or kamidana (Shinto altar) in my house. There are several reasons for this. One is that my altar to my patron deity Inari Okami is located outside my house, because I put it there specifically to honour our local foxes (an indoor altar would therefore be inappropriate because that isn’t where the foxes live!). Another reason is that we have limited space in my house, and as my husband isn’t Pagan I don’t want him to feel like all the Pagan stuff in my life is taking over the house. Thirdly, I try to perform all my rituals outside, as I believe that this puts me more in touch with the spirits of nature than a ritual performed in my living room. And finally, a permanent altar can be quite a big commitment in terms of time and money; this is especially true of a kamidana. In Shinto tradition, a kamidana needs to be set up just right, with the correct items in their correct places, and be regularly  and properly maintained or one risks upsetting the kami (according to one of my Japanese friends, this is especially true of Inari-sama). Additionally, the centrepiece of a true kamidana should be the ofuda – a paper charm instilled with the spirit of the kami – which is not only rather pricey but also not the easiest thing to obtain outside of Japan. This is compounded by the fact that in Shinto tradition, an ofuda should be replaced with a new one every year.

However, the other day I watched this video made by the author of the A Fox of Inari blog, of the author’s own personal kamidana to Inari-sama. The kamidana is so beautiful and even on film, it radiates a kind of spiritual power. I could almost smell the wax of the glowing candles and the aroma of the incense and it made me feel very warm and serene just to watch it. It made me yearn for some kind of indoor altar of my own – and that’s when I realised that altars are not only important to honour the deities, but also to us devotees ourselves.

The video made me understand that altars function as a kind of spiritual retreat, a place where we can spend quality time with our deities and achieve a tranquil and meditative mindset that’s perfect for reaching out to the spirits and listening to what they might have to say. I would love to have a little spot in my house where I can go at any time to feel at peace and contemplate the spiritual world.

At the moment, my outside altar to Inari-sama doesn’t really hold this function for me. While I do like to be at my altar, I don’t always feel so serene there, because I feel very exposed to all the neighbours (lots of windows overlook our courtyard), and the area itself isn’t that pretty – it’s just a bit of concrete patio filled with junk. It’s pretty hard to make the altar look nicer – because it’s outdoors, it’s at the full mercy of rain, wind, slugs and cats, so anything I put out to decorate the altar gets grubby or knocked over or broken pretty quickly. While I do have some plans to improve the outdoor altar by taking inspiration from hokora, I know that it will never make me feel at complete ease while it remains  under the public eye and exposed to the elements.

I would therefore like to try setting up some kind of inside altar – perhaps not to Inari-sama, but perhaps one to another deity I feel drawn to such as Hecate, or maybe even just a generalist Eclectic Pagan shrine to all the various incarnations of the deities. It’ll mean taking up some space but overall, I would like to have a place that can give me the same feeling of spiritual peace that A Fox of Inari’s kamidana gives me.

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