Monthly Archives: March 2015

Ancient Wisdom: The Astronomer who Fell in the Well

astronomer

“Tenniel Astrologer” by John Tenniel(Life time: 1820-1914) – Original publication: Aesop’s FablesImmediate source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/38299630@N05/4914473657/sizes/l/in/photostream. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tenniel_Astrologer.jpg#/media/File:Tenniel_Astrologer.jpg

When one is following a spiritual path, it can be easy to lose focus or our sense of perspective on worldly matters. This ancient tale, one which appears in Aesop’s Fables, warns us of the repercussions of getting our priorities wrong.

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An Astronomer used to go out at night to observe the stars. One evening, as he wandered through the suburbs with his whole attention fixed on the sky, he fell accidentally into a deep well. While he lamented and bewailed his sores and bruises, and cried loudly for help, a neighbour ran to the well, and learning what had happened said: “Hark ye, old fellow, why, in striving to pry into what is in heaven, do you not manage to see what is on earth?’

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The “HI FU MI” Norito – A Shinto prayer for beginners

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The HI FU MI Norito can be found in “Shinto Norito: A Book of Prayers.”

An important part of Shinto worship within the home is the offering of Shinto prayers, or norito, to the kami. But this can be tricky for non-Japanese Shintoists, as norito are, naturally, written in Japanese. Moreover, the norito use rather archaic and poetic Japanese that’s even trickier, and they’re also intoned in a particular rhythmic, sing-song style that can be hard to imitate, even for proficient Japanese speakers. [Read more]

 

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Charity Shops – A step towards a greener economy?

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One of my many charity shop buys (re-painted), which is now a feature on my altar!

It’s recently been reported that charity shops are doing really, really well  in Britain at the moment – in fact, more people prefer to buy certain goods from charity shops than online. I’m certainly a huge fan; an awful lot of things on my Pagan altar are charity shop finds.

Unfortunately, not everyone’s a winner in this success story. Because they get tax breaks and incur less purchasing and running costs than commercial retail outlets, small businesses have accused the charity sector of taking over the high street through unfair competition.

My own family used to be one of those small, high street retailers, until we had to close down the shop as it wasn’t making enough money to keep it open (but it’s still continuing online at http://www.spiral.org.uk). So I do have an understanding of the immense difficulties faced by shop proprietors, and a lot of sympathy.

But on the other hand, I think that the rise of the charity shops is a very positive thing overall. Not only do they demonstrate that people want to help others when they spend money, but they’re also prepared to re-use and recycle. People don’t want to buy certain goods brand new from the factory – they’re quite happy to get second-hand items that someone else no longer wants.

This has tremendous environmental benefits –  reusing items is far more environmentally sound than creating them from scratch, and what’s more issues surrounding fair trade are partially nullified. Charity shops give people far greater means to readily obtain essential items that are also environmentally and ethically sourced – something that’s rather tricky in today’s Britain. As a Pagan striving to live a life more in tune with nature and existing while “harming none” as per the Rede, I am really grateful to charity shops for giving me this opportunity.

I’m not sure exactly how to solve the problem of struggling independent retailers competing with the charity shop giants. Perhaps charity shops could pledge to sell only genuinely second-hand items (I’ve noticed increasing numbers of charity shops selling brand new items made especially for the shop), or tax breaks given to small, family-owned shops struggling to survive in increasingly corporately-dominated high streets.

But ultimately, it is consumer choice that decides the fate of the high street. And for a variety of reasons, consumers are currently choosing the greener option. Perhaps we are seeing the emergence of a new kind of retail economy, one that relies more on re-selling goods rather than making them from scratch. Indeed, the rise of second-hand retail is not limited to charity shops – there are plenty of commercial operations making money from pre-owned goods, from junk shops to antique boutiques to those selling pre-owned games and movies. For those dreaming of a world where prosperity and the environment can find a way to go hand-in-hand, this is a big encouragement.

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Reflections on “A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook,” Patricia Telesco

kitchenwitchWhy did I choose to read this book?

It was a lucky find! I saw it in a charity shop for £1.50 and had to get it.

In a nutshell, what it is it about?

It does what it says on the cover! A collection of recipes selected for the magical significance of their ingredients, preparation method, appearance or cultural associations. There’s over 300 recipes in here, including main meals, snacks, desserts and drinks. Additionally, there’s quite a lot of explanation how to bring magic into one’s cooking, as well a large collection of appendices and lists of the magical properties of particular foods and items.

What did I particularly like about it?

Admittedly, I haven’t actually tried any of the recipes in here yet (I am a *very*  reluctant cook), so all my opinions are based entirely on the writing and not on the tasting! But judging on the writing alone, I thought this was a very good book on magical cuisine. Written with that friendly, engaging tone that can be found in many Llewellyn publications, it’s very easy to follow and, appropriately enough, digestible. And the concept of “kitchen magic” is fantastic; as Telesco puts it, “Magic is no longer just for the Circle; it is no longer the occasional book read or spell performed – herein, magic becomes part of everyday experiences and expressions, specifically those involving food.”

I also loved the level of detail in A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook; the additional explanations about kitchen magic and other pointers, right down to the presentation of the food and dining table, are almost as long as the main recipe sections themselves.

Speaking of the recipes, I liked that they were a good mix of both more complicated dishes and those with very basic recipes, such as for making pesto. The inclusion of really simple dishes put me, as a complete novice, a lot more at ease. I also liked how varied from there, drawn from many different cultures’ cuisines. Some were really creative as well, such as the idea of making chips out of sliced bagel – what a great idea!

Finally, I liked the overall presentation. The book is peppered with nice illustrations and quotes about food and cooking from famous people, adding to its appeal.

Was there anything I didn’t like about it?

Just a few nitpicks, really. I thought it would have benefited from a proper index, including an index of recipes based on particular sabbats and festivals as I’d find this particularly useful. I was also a little surprised that, among the huge variety of different recipes from different cultures, there were a few notable absences – there was no recipe for Samhain Soul Cakes, for example. Finally, while I liked the illustrations, most of them weren’t of the actual dishes described. Having a few pictures of the dishes themselves would have been helpful.

How has it helped my spiritual development?

A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook has reinforced for me the idea of bringing magic and Pagan ritual into everyday activities, and emphasised the importance of home cooking within the Pagan lifestyle. I only hope I can get over my fear of cooking and actually put some of the recipes to the test!

Would I recommend this book to others?

Yes – and despite the title, I think this book is just as suitable for Pagans who do not practise magic as those that do. I also think that the broad range of dishes means that the book would appeal both to Pagans with a lot of experience of magical and ritual cooking, as well as Pagans such as myself who are less confident about cooking and need something to gently encourage them!

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Tokonoma – Japan’s “secular altars”

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“Kannonin Tottori16s4470” by 663highland – 663highland. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kannonin_Tottori16s4470.jpg#/media/File:Kannonin_Tottori16s4470.jpg

There are generally considered to be two main types of household altar in Japan. One is the kamidana, a Shinto altar that enables communion with kami. The other is the butsudan, a Buddhist altar that is used to honour the Buddha as well as deceased relatives. Out of the two, the butsudan would seem to be the most common in Japanese homes.

There is a third type of feature that can be found in Japanese homes, tea houses, traditional inns and restaurants that could also be considered a kind of altar. [Read more]

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“Goth Zodiac” Art Series: Ophiuchus

zodiac-orphiuchus

A series exploring how the qualities associated with the signs of the zodiac can manifest in Goths!

After finishing the series with Pisces, I decided to do one more to represent Ophiuchus, for all those who follow the 13-sign zodiac (although I’ve never met anyone who actually does). I enjoyed the opportunity to use some more colours and try and draw something Japanese-inspired, anyway!

Now, do I include Cetus as well??

You can view the rest of the series so far and my other artwork here:http://trellia.deviantart.com

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Ostara and Solar Eclipse 2015

A very British eclipse at Grain!

A very British eclipse at Grain!

I’d had big plans for Ostara this year. It being the Spring Equinox, a time of celebrating rebirth, the beginning of the new cycle of the Zodiac (Ostara falls on the final day of the final sign, Pisces), and about 1 year since I started on the Pagan path, and a partial eclipse, it seemed to me to be a very auspicious time. I’d planned to find myself somewhere private and quiet out in nature at the moment of the eclipse (signifying the emergence into the light from darkness, the union of the Goddess and the God) and perform a Self Initiation ceremony formally dedicating myself to the Gods and Goddesses. I even took a full day off work to celebrate it. It was going to be a very spiritual day.

Instead, it turned out not to be so spiritual in the conventional sense – but perhaps more meaningful considering what Ostara is all about.

As my sister is off work on maternity leave, I instead decided to watch the eclipse with her and her two sons. We went to Grain, a small and fairly isolated beach, where the Mid-Kent Astronomical Society were there with special telescopes and other equipment for observing the eclipse. But, it being Britain, it was completely overcast and we couldn’t see the Sun at all, telescope or no! At the height of the eclipse, it was perhaps slightly darker, but overall it was a bit of an anti-climax. I did feel for all the members of Mid-Kent Astronomical Society as this was a pretty big event for them and they’d done so much to try and make the experience a fun and educational one for the general public – but all in vain.

Despite all this, we had a lovely time. My older nephew and I enjoyed playing by the sea and finding interesting rocks and shells. And then afterwards, when my older nephew went to pre-school, I looked after my younger nephew (4 months) for an hour while she went to a work meeting, and then spent time playing with my older nephew when he got back from pre-school.

Ostara is all about the young. Eggs, chicks and lambs, all Ostara symbols, remind us that Ostara is about celebrating the miracle of new life, including our own children. Therefore, spending this time with the youngest members of my family was in so many ways more meaningful than holding a ritual all by myself. It reminded me that all time I have to spend with my family is so precious. And in fact, I’ve often found that simply spending time with my family or other people I love can be a more meaningful experience than any ritual. I think there’s a lesson to be had there.

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Neopaganism v. Shinto: Attitudes towards Death and Darkness

altar-skull

The use of skulls and other symbols of death and darkness is not uncommon in Neopagan altars. By Malcolm Lidbury (aka Pinkpasty) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Continuing with my exploration of some of the key differences between Western Neopaganism and Shinto in Japan, I thought I’d look at the attitudes towards the “darker” aspects of existence, especially death, in both religions. [Read more]

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Ostara Moot 2015 with Medway Pagans

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Last night was Medway Pagans’ Ostara moot. It was quite a special one for me, as it signified one year of being a Medway Pagans member!

This month, we had two altars – one central altar decorated with rabbits and other Ostara symbols (as you can see), and one covered with greenery. Forming a circle around the central altar, we began with some Ostara blessings, and then followed this with something a little different. We all performed a recital of the story of Persephone and her capture by Hades and the pact she makes to spend six months in the underworld, and six months on the surface; the story of the changing seasons. I was delighted to be Persephone! Although I was a little nervous having a reading to perform in the circle for the first time. The lines were written in beautiful verse, and I noticed that in performing the play and acting out the parts of the gods and goddesses, the atmosphere of the circle changed slightly. There’s often moments of quiet comments or little jokes in the circle, but this time everyone was strangely quiet, as if under the spell of the little play we were performing. I think that acting out the Greek myth transported us all to another place and time, helping us to connect more strongly with the deities. At the end of the recital, we all ate a pomegranate seed, just as Persephone had done.

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The chick and egg gifts and pomegranate seeds

This was followed by a grounding caked and ale (really welcome after the nervous excitement of reading out loud), and then another surprise; the leader of the ritual had made us all little gifts of eggs with a chick, chocolate mini eggs and seeds inside! I was really happy to receive this as I don’t have any chicks on my Ostara altar, so my gift went straight up there as soon as I got home!

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There is hope…

Inari Okami is associated both with nature and with prosperity. By Jakub Hałun (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Inari Okami is associated both with nature and with prosperity. By Jakub Hałun (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Because Paganism holds that nature is sacred, the majority of Pagans are also environmentalists. Unfortunately, environmentalism can be frustrating and depressing a lot of the time – it can feel like no matter how much you’re trying to do your bit, it’ll never help because corporations and governments are doing the majority of the damage, and you can feel powerless to do anything about this.

But there are occasionally stories that show us that, despite living in an increasingly industrialised world, there may be some hope on the horizon. IFL Science has reported that last year the global economy grew but carbon dioxide emissions did not – the first time this has ever happened. This has been attributed to countries such as China switching to alternative energy sources.

Reports such as these are a huge encouragement. They demonstrate that yes, it is worth striving for a cleaner, greener world, and it is even possible to do this and still prosper. Rather than letting this news make us complacent, I hope this news helps to spur on people to continue making changes to their lives in order to play there part in the efforts to clean up our planet.

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