Monthly Archives: April 2015

Beltane Moot 2015 with Medway Pagans

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Phoenix Rose, Abi Normal and myself wearing our home-made Green Man masks in front of the Beltane fire! I like how the different colours of our masks seem to represent the transition from winter to summer…

Yesterday was Medway Pagans’ Beltane Moot. I think out of all the Sabbats, Beltane is my favourite, so I’d been looking forward to this one a lot!

The weather that day had been pretty cold and rainy so I was worried that it would put a real dampener on the ritual, which would be our first outdoor one of the year and, like last year, would be centred around a fire. Fortunately, just a few hours before the moot, the clouds disappeared and the sun came out – the King and Queen of the May must have been smiling down on us!

The spirit of the Green Man must have been with us as well – funnily enough, two other members (the founding members Abi Normal and Phoenix Rose) had decided to make their own Green Man masks as well, so all three of us wore them for the ritual.

The ritual took place as the sun was setting and the moon rising – a perfectly magical time. We stood in a circle around the fire, with Abi (who was leading the ritual) standing before the altar. Seen through the smoke and hazy flames, in her robe and horned Green Man mask, she really did remind me of the scenes with Herne the Hunter emerging from the mist in the old Robin of Sherwood series – very fitting! It’s amazing how masks can transform both the wearer and those around them, adding to the drama of the ritual.

We called the quarters in rhyming couplets, and honoured the Great God and Goddess. Two of our married members acted out the chasing of the May Queen, running in and out of the circle before the God of the Forest “caught” his bride.

As with last year, we made offerings to the flames, and of course ended with cakes and ale (the “ale” this time being mead served in a suitably phallic horn).

I think all of else felt really energised by the ritual – there was a lot of chatting and laughing afterwards, and for me, the “buzz” lasted right through to today – all day at work I felt uplifted and happy by the memory of last night’s moot! It’s really set me up for the rest of my Beltane celebrations, starting tomorrow with May Day, then the three days of the Rochester Sweeps Festival, and ending with Kodomo no Hi on Tuesday. I can’t wait!

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Beltane Anzac Biscuits

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My offering of Anzac Biscuits on my altar

April 25th was Anzac Day, Australia and New Zealand’s equivalent of Remembrance Day. One way to commemorate this is to make and eat “Anzac biscuits,” a really simple kind of biscuit using oats, golden syrup and, that ubiquitous New Zealand ingredient, coconut.  In fact, the recipe resembles some of the oatcake recipes you see for Beltane, so it seeing as Anzac Day is close to Beltane and my husband is from New Zealand, I thought it would be appropriate to make Anzac biscuits to bring along to the Beltane moot with Medway Pagans tomorrow.

You can find a recipe for New Zealand Anzac biscuits here.

It’s really fun to mix traditions from different celebrations together 🙂

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“Choice” verses “Preference” (and spiritual freedom)

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Apollo, one of several Greco-Roman gods with bisexual tendencies.

Let’s say someone brings in a box of doughnuts into my office all in different flavours. As a real chocoholic, I would naturally be drawn to the double chocolate one, and would stare at it greedily as I waited my turn to get one. But then, someone else comes along and takes that double chocolate doughnut before I can get it. I’d have to choose something else less appealing to me, like a plain one – I’d probably still enjoy it, but not so much as that double chocolate one I’d been craving. That double chocolate one would still be in my mind, and I’d feel disappointed about not being able to get it. That disappointment doesn’t help me, in fact it’s a hindrance because it lessens my enjoyment of the plain doughnut, but still I cannot help how I feel.

This illustrates the difference between two concepts that we tend to confuse when discussing freedom of lifestyle – that of “choice,” and that of “preference.” I think that understanding the distinction between the two can help make a better case for freedom of all lifestyles, be they sexual, aesthetic or spiritual.

Sexuality is one aspect of life that it’s often asserted that we cannot choose. In other words, we are born straight, gay, bisexual, asexual or something else, and we are unable to change this.

The idea that one cannot “choose” their sexuality is sometimes contrasted with other so-called lifestyle “choices,” such as religion. Many people seem to have the perception that while one cannot choose their sexuality, they can choose whether or not to follow a particular spiritual path.

I would argue that one cannot choose one’s spiritual path just as one cannot choose their sexuality – both of these are uncontrollable to a certain extent.

That extent reflects the degree to which we can suppress our desires, be they sexual or spiritual – and this is where I see the distinction between “choice” and “preference” comes in. If we are forced, we can choose not to act upon our desires. I myself am a bisexual, and fortunate enough to live in a society where sexual behaviour with members of the same sex is not illegal. This means that I can act on my bisexual desires without any fear of punishment by the state or social exclusion (or at least I could until I got married and chose to commit to a monogamous lifestyle). But if I were to live in a less progressive country, say Britain 50 years ago, I would probably not act upon any bisexual feelings at all. I would probably have repressed any feelings I had towards members of the same sex and stuck to members of the opposite sex. In effect, I would have made a “choice,” but my “preference” would be unaltered. Deep down, I would still be attracted to women as well as men.

I feel the same way about my spirituality. Members of the Pagan and LGBT community are united by the fact that their practises are seen as distasteful by some and downright evil by others, and for this reason many members of both communities are rather secretive about their lifestyles. And for both communities, their lifestyle is not really a “choice.” Pagans cannot help the way their spiritual life makes them feel. We cannot help that we have a deep sense of awe for the natural world and an innate desire to venerate it. We cannot help the fact that taking part in Pagan rituals gives us an incomparable sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. We cannot help that we have certain beliefs and worldviews about the nature of reality. We can certainly choose not to act on these feelings if we are oppressed, but this will not change how we feel inside – it’ll simply make us feel unhappy for not being able to express who we are and live the life we want. Deep down, our “preference” would be the same. Deep down, we would still be Pagans.

This is why freedom of religious expression is so important to me, and why I feel saddened by the fact that so many Pagans feel the need to hide away their beliefs from others. Our lifestyle may seem like a “choice” to outsiders, but for us, it is simply the way we are.

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People as Gods

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Statues of O-Jizo-sama, the Japanese divinity of compassion and kindness. By Vanvelthem Cédric (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Worshipping forces of nature comes naturally to Pagans, as does worshipping plants and animals. But what does Paganism say about how we should treat other human beings?

I believe the clear answer is that Pagans should be just as respectful towards people as they should be towards any other part of nature. Just as other animals are seen by some Pagans as divine, so we should see human beings as sacred.

In Japan, there is the phrase “okyaku-sama wa kami-sama” – “The customer is a god.” Although on the surface it simply means that customers should be treated with the utmost respect (compare with the American phrase “the customer is always right”), I think there is a slightly more literal interpretation of this. For merchants, customers provide money, which in turn provides food, and therefore customers are life-givers. Conversely, when they do not buy items, this gives them the power to take life-giving food away. In this way, customers really are “god-like” from a merchant’s perspective.

In my daily life, I try to extend this thinking not only to the people I serve at work, but to all human beings – especially those to whom I am grateful. I owe my happiness, health and indeed my life to my family and friends, as well as others in my community who have a positive impact in my life – doctors, teachers, cleaners, bank tellers, shop keepers, postmen, street sweepers….and many hundreds more. I’m sure that I am in fact completely unaware of many people’s positive effects on my life.

For these reasons, I try to treat people in my life with respect, as I would a deity. Just as I give my deities thanks for their blessings and offer them physical tributes in their honour, in the same way, I try to remember to always show gratitude to people around me and to do nice things for them, which sometimes means presenting them with a gift as I would a deity. I don’t always succeed as this, and I know I can be neglectful of other people, but I ask my deities to help me to remember my duties to other people and to show kindness always and gratitude whenever due.

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A Pagan Blessing for St George’s Day 2015

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My altar with my newly-made Green Man mask

On this St. George’s Day, I honour the land that has nourished me, the ancestors whose blood runs through my veins, and the Genii Locii who protect this land – Ancasta, Herne, the Green Man, the May King and May Queen, Sulis.

I thank the Gods and Goddesses for their protection and blessings upon my country, and ask especially for their guidance and protection as we approach the General Election.

Please let us all see that it is our responsibility to play a part in shaping this country’s destiny.

Please give our leaders the wisdom to care for the natural environment of this country, and the compassion to care for our most vulnerable.

Please continue your blessings and protection as we face uncertain times within our government.

So Mote It Be!

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Making a Green Man Mask

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Just in time for Earth Day and St George’s Day, I’ve made a Green Mask, using an old party mask that I’ve never worn and leaves made from recycled Amazon envelopes (my husband and I order a lot of books!) Here’s how I made it…[Read more]

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Preparing for Kodomo no Hi 2015

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The koi-nobori I’ve bought for my nephews for Kodomo no Hi from the Japan Centre

With the approach to May, I’m not only preparing for Beltane but also for the Japanese festival Kodomo no Hi – “Children’s Day” or  “Boy’s Day.”

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My own koi-nobori

Just as Hina Matsuri in Japan is a time to wish for good health for young girls, Kodomo no Hi is a time to pray for the healthy growth of boys. As I have two young nephews, it seems very appropriate for me to observe Kodomo no Hi. This year, I’ve bought little koi-nobori (windsock shaped like koi carp, representing growth) which I’m looking forward to giving my nephews – I’m really glad this one has two koi on it rather than the usual one or three, as it represents my two nephews very well.

I’ve also hung up my own koi-nobori again outside my house. Unlike last year, I haven’t hung it near my Inari altar as last year it kept blowing into the altar and knocking things over! I don’t have a suitable pole to hang it on, so it’s just hanging from the outside lamp. I hope it doesn’t blow away…

You can read more about Kodomo no Hi (and its similarities to nearby Beltane) on my post from last year here.

narcissusWhile I was putting up the koi-nobori, I noticed that I have two narcissus flowers blooming in a tiny patch of earth outside. They’re late bloomers (probably because they don’t get a lot of sun where they are), but they’re very pretty. What’s strange about them is that they’re “double headed,” with two flowers on each stalk. This “doubleness,” coupled with their white/orange-red colour scheme, does remind me a little of Inari Okami’s fox guardians. A positive sign!

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Do we embody our gods?

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Sun mask with facial features of August II (the Strong) as Apollo, the Sun God. Johann Melchior Dinglinger [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When considering the relationship we have with our deities, I’ve been wondering to what extent we embody the deities we follow. Many Pagans have a Pantheistic outlook, and they would say that the whole of the universe, including ourselves, can itself be understood as a deity, so of course we embody them. Many Wiccans also seem to hold the view that the God and the Goddess are within us all. But how about Pagans such as myself who have a patron deity? Because I venerate Inari Okami, does this mean that I, to some extent, embody Inari Okami? [Read more]

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Reflections on “The Gospel of Loki,” Joanne M Harris

GospelLokiWhy did I choose to read this book?

Another charity shop find! Although Asatru is not a large part of my path, I do have an interest in Norse mythology, and especially Loki (like so many other fans of the Norse gods!). At first I was dubious – I’ve read a few modernised tales featuring Loki before and not found them fantastic – but then I noticed that this one is written by the best-selling author of Chocolat (another novel with some Pagan overtones), which reassured me enough to spend £1 on The Gospel of Loki

In a nutshell, what it is it about?

It’s very simply a collection of some of the most famous of the Norse legends from the Eddas, told from the perspective of Loki, the Trickster. Told through Loki’s witty, teasing narration, all the favourite stories are here, from the beginning of the Nine Worlds (and Loki’s “birth” from Chaos) to the golden days of Asgard, to its eventual downfall at Ragnarok.

What did I particularly like about it?

First and foremost, I loved how close the re-tellings of the stories are to their originals. There’s no wild deviations or attempts to gild the lily – Harris has retold the tales very faithfully, but also very appealingly, from the point of view of the Trickster God. She captures the real essence and emotion of the stories, including their epic scope and bawdy wit. Harris is at her strongest when dealing with the more humorous tales – some of episodes, and the characters’ reactions to turns of events, are laugh-out-loud funny. Harris polishes and displays the original tales of the Norse gods in such a way that their cleverness and excitement really shines through. I especially loved her account of the origin of the eight-legged horse Sleipnir and the adventures of Loki and Thor in Utgard – although I already knew the stories very well, I still enjoyed experiencing them again through Harris’ lively writing and looked forward to all their twists and turns.

I also liked the ingenious way in which, by making Loki the focal point of the stories, Harris weaves all the various Norse tales into a continuous, flowing narrative – which really enhances the stories and stresses their epic nature. Rather than simply ending, the ending of one story will lead directly to the beginning of another, and the actions of one character will prove to be an important motivation for another character’s actions later. This also allows for a real shift of tone – we go from laughing during the heyday of the gods, to feeling genuinely sad when it all comes to an end.

Was there anything I didn’t like about it?

Surprisingly, I found the depiction of Loki a little derivative and perhaps not as interesting as he could have been. Loki is an archetypal bad boy, using (occasionally jarring) modern American slang to demonstrate his rebel nature (he even uses the phrase Your Humble Narrator just like Alex in A Clockwork Orange). There’s nothing really new and original to his character – we’ve all seen this Loki before in the Thor movies. That’s not to say that Harris’ Loki has no appeal – you’ll end up liking him regardless – but I was hoping for something perhaps a little more developed. On the other hand, the mysterious Odin, with his obscure motivations and complex relationship with Loki, is a very interesting character indeed. Perhaps Harris could have explored the Loki/Odin relationship a little more? Perhaps they could have had some final, revealing words during their last hours at Ragnarok? But perhaps Harris deliberately kept her characters symbol to be more in keeping with the spirit of the Eddas, and to avoid eclipsing the stories themselves.

How has it helped my spiritual development?

It certainly got me interested in reading up a little more about the Eddas and about Asatru in general, as well as filling in some of my knowledge gaps on Norse mythology. I feel after reading The Gospel of Loki, I understand the nature of the Norse Gods, the Nine Worlds and the magic of the runes a little more.

Would I recommend this book to others?

Definitely to those interested in Norse mythology! Veterans will really appreciate how close the stories are to the originals, while newcomers will enjoy The Gospel of Loki as an easy to read and highly entertaining introduction to some of the wittiest tales and appealing characters in the world of ancient mythology.

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Another stroll in Gravesend cemetery

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Perhaps my favourite place in Gravesend is the cemetery – in fact, I wrote about it in my first ever blog entry. Today was such a lovely day today that I decided to pay it a visit – and to see if the bluebells were out yet.

There were only a few bluebells out, but I really enjoyed my time there. The cemetery is a truly magical place – I find it very hard to put into words exactly how I feel when I go there. I find it full of an energy that’s powerful, yet serene at the same time. Of course, the beauty and nature of cemetery is certainly part of it. It is very well looked after with lots of trees and flowers, and I saw quite a lot of wildlife there – including a robin, crows and a peacock butterfly, all animals that have been associated with departed spirits. I also heard a woodpecker; the first I’ve heard this year.

I felt so spiritual there that I decided to meditate for a short while in a secluded part of the cemetery. As I hadn’t brought an offering this time (I hadn’t made it my intention to go to the cemetery when I’d set off for a walk so I hadn’t been prepared), I decided to do a little bit of litter-picking this time. Although, the place is so well cared for that there was little to pick up!

I can see how cemeteries (especially those like this one which are not located next to a specific place of worship) could be considered very Pagan places. After all, they combine two of the most basic principals behind most forms of Paganism – veneration of nature, and veneration of ancestral spirits. In fact, Gravesend cemetery has become something of a Pagan place of worship for me. I plan to visit it as often as I can during the good weather, when I need somewhere to go for quiet, spiritual contemplation.

Here’s a few other pictures I took at the cemetery today:

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Can you see the skull-like face in this tree stump at the cemetery?

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