Monthly Archives: September 2015
Last night was a particularly special Esbat. It was the Japanese Moon Viewing festival of O-tsukimi, a “Super Moon,” and a “Blood Moon” eclipse. On top of this, it was the first Full Moon ritual I have performed at my new house.
In preparation for o-tsukimi, I had collected grasses from our garden (we have a garden now!) to display on my Inari altar. I also changed the altar cloth to one depicting a traditional o-tsukimi design of rabbits making mochi (that is what the Japanese believe they can see in the patterns on the moon’s surface).
I couldn’t have wished for better weather for an outdoors ritual – it was a mild, dry, still evening and the sky was very clear. The supermoon shone almost dazzlingly bright. I performed the ritual on the deck in front of my lawn, and it became clear to me that my garden is in many ways much better than the courtyard in our old flat. It’s much quieter, and the moon was directly overhead, which never happened during my rituals in the old place. The only disadvantages are that it’s a little more exposed (several other houses directly overlook the garden and we also have neighbouring gardens to consider) meaning that I’m more likely to be seen by the neighbours, and I no longer get to see the foxes who lived by our old flat. But I did see a bat flutter overhead!
We don’t yet have any garden furniture, so I used a rolled mat on the floor instead which actually worked quite well. I started the ritual by chanting the names of Goddesses of the Moon (Artemis, Ceridwen, Diana, Hecate, Luna, Melinoe, Phoebe, Selene) and, because the Japanese kami of the Moon is male and O-tsukimi is a Japanese festival, Gods of the Moon (Aphroditus, Khonsu, Thoth, Tsukuyomi). I offered a mochi rice cake, which seemed appropriate because mochi look rather moon-like as well as their association with the moon-rabbits, and sake, which is a traditional o-tsukimi offering. I asked for the Moon deities to give healing to my relatives who need it, and since the Blood Moon is associated with conflict, prayed for peace. I spent a few moments meditating in the moonlight before partaking in the simple feast of half the mochi and a sip of sake.
I went inside and said prayers at my Inari altar, making an offering of the other half of the mochi. I was delighted to see that the moon was shining through the window.
I did stay up until gone 1am to try and catch a sight of the Blood Moon eclipse, but there wasn’t really much to see so early. I would’ve done better to have woken up at 3 to see it at its height! But to be honest, I was just happy to see the supermoon shining in her full glory.
On Wednesday I celebrated Mabon with my Medway Pagans moot. It was one of the rare occasions when our monthly moots fell on the actual day of a Sabbat, which made it extra special!
The weather had been quite warm recently and hadn’t really felt particularly autumnal. But as I walked up to the social club where we hold our moots, under the light of the waxing moon, I could see the first signs of autumn creeping in. A few leaves had begun to fall, and I could smell burning where people with fireplaces had just begun to light them (sometimes, we forget how much people add to the changing seasonal landscape). I also spotted a fox, which of course I was happy about. You don’t tend to see as many foxes when the colder weather comes, so it was nice to see one before they go and hide themselves for winter.
It was a mild, dry evening, which was great as it meant we could hold the ritual outside, and have a fire! We’d all brought an apple as an offering, which we places behind us to form a Circle. In the ritual, we welcomed the Goddess in Her aspect of the Crone, and said farewell to the God as he goes to his rest and awaits rebirth. We also took the time to silently express gratitude for the blessings we have received this year. I feel particularly blessed this year, what with us successfully buying a new house!
What I love about autumn is how sensuous it is, and I really felt that during the ritual. The scent of the burning wood on the fire mixed with the damp aroma of earth, creating a real autumnal feeling. And the food we ate too – wholemeal bread, followed by the apple – very much evoked the taste of autumn. I may not have been feeling particularly seasonal at the start of the ritual, but by the end of it, I did feel that autumn was well and truly with us.
I’ve recently been involved in Medway Inter-Faith Action (MIFA), a local group that promotes dialogue and understanding between people of different faiths. On Sunday they held a “Pilgrimage” throughout Medway, visiting different places of worship and and holding multifaith prayers on the streets.
Open Air Prayers with ISKCON
The day started with visits to Rochester Cathedral, the Quaker’s Meeting House and St Peter’s Church in Rochester, but as I live just outside Medway and had had a pretty exhausting day yesterday working at this year’s Japan Matsuri, I decided to join the pilgrimage slightly later, outside the ISKCON (Hare Krishna) charity shop Closet Krishna on Rochester High Street. We started by singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” together, followed by one of my friends from Medway Pagans singing a song from Disney’s Brother Bear, and finally the Hare Krishnas invited us to join in chanting and dancing. I really enjoyed it! I’ve always loved singing and dancing as a form of religious worship, so I was in my element.
We then went to the Unitarian Church in Chatham. I’d passed that church so many times as a child and never knew it was Unitarian – I’d always assumed it was Christian. Although we didn’t observe a Unitarian service, we did have the opportunity to read a little about Unitarianism and have some tea and snacks!
Open Air Prayers in Chatham High Street
We proceeded on to Chatham High Street, and held some different multi-faith prayers there. I was really pleased that the Chair of MIFA asked me to read a prayer, and he happened to have a Shinto one, which was as follows:
“Although the people living across the ocean surrounding us, I believe, are all our brothers and sisters, why are there constant troubles in this world? Why do winds and waves rise in the ocean surrounding us? I only earnestly wish that the wind will soon puff away all the clouds which are hanging over the tops of the mountains.”
It reminds me of some of the correspondence that politicians in Japan used to send to Britain during our early days of trade and diplomatic relations with each other.
We then took a fairly long, uphill walk to Gillingham Mosque. The walk took us through a nice park that I’d never been before in Chatham and I really enjoyed the little trek!
Gillingham Mosque has been through some difficult times of late. It’s a small building that struggles to fill the needs of Medway’s Muslim community due to its limited capacity, and so they’d recently had an application approved to build a new, larger Mosque. This has sparked opposition from far-right, anti-Muslim groups, who have been subjecting the Mosque and its users to abuse and have even committed acts of vandalism against the current Mosque. It’s really sad to consider the abuse that a place of family and community has faced due to ignorance and fear.
But all these troubles were put aside for our visit, and we were welcomed with open arms. We were invited to watch the prayers taking place, which I’d never seen before. The atmosphere in the prayer room is very quiet and austere – there’s little ornamentation in the room itself, and the only sound is the Imam directing the prayers as the devotees prostrate themselves.
Following the prayers, we had a chance to mingle and eat samosas that the Mosque had kindly prepared for us, and one of the Muslim members of MIFA and an Imam gave a talk on Islam, explaining some of the basics of the Muslim faith.
Hindu Sabha Mandir
A very short distance from Gillingham Mosque is the Hindu Sabha Mandir temple, the last place of worship we entered on our pilgrimage. We’d arrived on a good day, as it was both the 21st birthday of one of the members, and also the Ganesha Chaturthi festival in honour of Lord Ganesha. As such, there was a real party atmosphere – the temple was lit with flashing lights, and at the far end was a large shrine to various Hindu deities, including two statues of Ganesha, with generous offerings of fruit before them. The large congregation was seated on the floor before the shrine, and as you might find at a Mosque, the men and women sat on different sides of the room – but what was very interesting was that the women took up most of the room and were seated more centrally, with the men sitting at the sidelines. The service involved songs and chants lead by the elder women (who all had beautiful voices), and there was even some dancing – myself and some of the other “pilgrims” were invited to get up and dance as well, which was fun! The bright lights and colours, singing and dancing, clapping and strong aroma of incense all lent themselves to a very hypnotic, almost ecstatic atmosphere. The noisy, exuberant, female-led service was quite a contrast to the sober silence of the male-led Mosque service.
We were then served a small Indian meal – food was a common theme at all the places we visited! It was touching that everywhere we went was so welcoming, and wanted to make us feel welcome by sharing their food – to “break bread” together, as a sign of friendship.
Open Air Prayers at Gillingham High Street with St Mark’s Church
The final part of the pilgrimage I attended were the prayers with members of St Mark’s Church on Gillingham High Street. This is an evangelical Anglican church, and the prayers we said were in the form of song, including one to the tune of “One Love One Heart.” It was a lovely way to end; there was a celebration planned at the Sunlight Centre but I decided to end it there.
Reflections on the Pilgrimage
- First of all, I am so glad to have participated in this pilgrimage! It was a truly wonderful day and I learnt so much. Although I’ve always been interested in other religions, I’d never been to a Mosque or Hindu temple, simply because I wasn’t sure about whether it’s OK just to drop into these places, and because I didn’t know what kind of etiquette and protocol to follow. So thanks to this day, I do know now! For example, I didn’t know what to do regarding headscarves in a Mosque. Do non-Muslims need to wear one? If so, does the Mosque provide them for visitors? I didn’t bring one and it turns out that generally you should bring one to a mosque, particularly if you’re going to be present at the prayers (fortunately someone kindly lent me theirs so I could observe the prayers). Thanks to the pilgrimage, now I know the rules and the next time I visit I’ll be better prepared. It’s all a part of building intercultural competence – in other words, “fluency” in the practises and customs of the different groups within my local community.
- I also really enjoyed the opportunity to meet other like-minded people – not simply other people who live a spiritual life, but those who are, like myself, curious about other religions. I cannot overstate how important this is. When we are curious about something, we are open to it, we want to ask questions, and we want to get to know it better – the first steps towards initiating friendship. I think everyone at today’s pilgrimage had the same mindset. I chose to wear my largest pentagram pendant for the pilgrimage – if there’s any time to proudly display one’s religious affiliation, it would be a multifaith celebration, I reasoned. And I was glad I did because it prompted lots of interesting conversations with curious people. Several people mistook it for the Star of David, which surprised me somewhat as I thought the pentagram was fairly well-known; an indicator that perhaps I’ve been living in a bit of a Pagan bubble! So this gave me the opportunity to explain the difference between the pentagram and the Star of David (also called the hexagram or Solomon’s Seal), and to mention that the hexagram is also a sacred symbol to many Pagans as well. One young man I met at the Hindu temple was really fascinated by Paganism. “I really want to go to a Pagan place of worship, because I really want to see a statue of Odin! He’s awesome!” he said. It both amused me and made me feel rather wistful; I wish Pagan “places of worship” (not that there are many such fixed places in the UK) did have the huge statues of deities, as you would see in a Hindu place of worship.
- Another aspect of the pilgrimage that I really liked was that it made me realise that it’s not simply spiritual beliefs that we have in common – Medway itself was an important thing that united us. On our journey between stops on the pilgrimage, we had plenty of time to chat and get to know each other better. And I realised that we all had many stories to share with each other simply about life in Medway. We’d all grown up going to the same places and doing similar things, and we all had fond memories of Medway’s local landmarks and goings-on. So the pilgrimage really strengthened our sense of community – not only because it gave us the opportunity to visit the various places of worship in Medway, but also because we were able to realise that despite our differences in faith, we are all united as Medway citizens.
- Seeing members of different religions in action gave me lots of food for thought about my own religion. I could see lots of things in common between the various different religions and my own practises. Hare Krishnas believe that chanting is a form of worship and self-realisation, a belief shared by many Pagans. Unitarians try to explore what common aspects unite all faiths, just as Pagans are often on a journey to find the “root belief” underpinning all religions. The austere Mosque, with its silent congregation bowing towards no visible item of worship, reminded me of the inner sanctum of Shinto shrines, which are also minimalist, quiet and devoid of much imagery. The Hindu temple reminded me most of all of Paganism, with its joyful celebration of the many gods, represented by beautiful statues and offerings of fruit, and the insistence that we eat after the celebrations, just like the “cakes and ale” at the end of a Pagan ritual. In fact, there was a lot about the Hindu temple that I wouldn’t mind seeing integrated in to Pagan ritual. I would welcome a lot more singing and dancing, as well as more shrines and offerings – like the Hindus, I think we should be bold and exuberant in our devotions. I realise that there are branches of Paganism, such as Feri, that do emphasise more ecstatic forms of worship, and I wonder how I could try an integrate this into our rituals at Medway Pagans.
- I now really want to get Medway Pagans involved in next year’s Inter Faith Pilgrimage – I think we could easily hold a group ritual outdoors that could be inclusive of all faiths while giving a taste of Paganism at the same time. I’ll see if I can try to get our group included next year!
As mentioned in a recent entry, I have decided to start commemorating the New Moon by offering extra dedications to Inari Okami, and to ask Him and the other kami for help with specific things (as the New Moon is associated with wishing in Japan). And tonight I did so by practising chinkon-gyo meditation for the first time before my altar. Chinkon gyo is a form of Shinto meditation that involves both chants of norito (prayers) and gestures as a form of purification and a way of honouring the kami.
I followed the instructions for chinkon-gyo in Shinto Norito. I have to admit that looking up the instructions (and then looking up the corresponding norito) meant that I could not fully immerse myself in the spirituality of the experience, but it was my first time. I know now from previous experience that the first times you hold a new ritual or say a new prayer, you never quite feel spiritually “in tune” – it takes considerable practise before you are comfortable enough with the ritual in order to let yourself be absorbed by it, rather than focussing on simply getting it right. I therefore felt really pleased to be starting something new, and the New Moon seemed to be the perfect time to do it!
In the period of silent meditation that closes the ritual, I offered my prayers and wishes to Inari Okami. I asked Her to heal and watch over particular members of my family who are suffering health problems, as well as to aid and protect the many, many refugees and migrants who are experiencing such difficult times throughout Europe and the Middle East at the moment. I also asked Him to grant our leaders the wisdom to give appropriate help, and to give me such wisdom too.
After my prayers to Inari-sama were over, I took the opportunity to offer some incense to my statue of Hypnos, who sits atop a wardrobe in my bedroom to promote peaceful sleep. Both my husband and I have had some troubles sleeping lately, so I asked Hypnos to make us sleep better so we could awaken refreshed the next day. The incense I offered was “Opium” scented, which seems appropriate as the classical deities related to sleep are associated with poppies.
I hope my wishes and prayers will be granted!
I was very excited to receive my Pagan Federation membership pack in the post the other day! It includes details of the organisation, a directory of moots (Medway Pagans is in there!), my membership card, a bookmark and the Lammas edition of Pagan Dawn! I’m particularly excited by the last item, as my husband is a big Alan Moore fan so there’s something for him to enjoy in there too.
I haven’t read through it all yet but look forward to doing so!
One day at work, I happened to be checking alternative readings for the kanji character 望. This fairly common character, which students of Japanese language will come across at about intermediate level, is usually read “nozomi” or “bou,” and is usually translated as “wish” or “aspiration.” But then I discovered that it also means “Full Moon.”
I was really surprised that this kanji could have two such different and beautiful meanings. I asked my Japanese colleague about it, and she confirmed that it is a fairly common way to signify the Full Moon (the even more common way to write “full moon” in Japanese is 満月, pronounced “mangetsu”). She even pointed out a Japanese calendar hanging up behind her desk, in which all the days of the Full Moon were marked with 望.
So I asked her, seeing as 望 also means “wish,” do Japanese people make wishes at the Full Moon?
Her answer really surprised me. She told me that actually, the best time to make wishes is at the New Moon. This is because the night is so still and the sky so clear that your wishes are more likely to reach the heavens at the New Moon than at the Full Moon.
I’d never heard of this before. While I try to make an occasion of the Full Moon (I try to hold a solo ritual for the Esbats), I do nothing to commemorate the New Moon. But now I’ve heard that the Japanese associated the New Moon with making wishes, I’ve now decided to use the New Moon to make extra prayers and offerings to Inari Okami and the other Shinto kami. So the Full Moon will be the time I devote most to the Western Pagan deities, and the New Moon will be for the Shinto ones.
The next New Moon will be on Sunday. I’ll see how my plan goes!
(Incidentally, the character for “New Moon” is 朔, pronounced “saku.” It’s made up of the characters meaning “moon” 月 and “inverse” 屰. I really like the idea of the New Moon being an “inverted” moon!”)
It was another of the slightly cheaper items on my extensive wishlist of Shinto-related books. Plus I liked both the idea of Shinto-based meditation, and was hoping this book would give me more ideas about how to meditate Shinto-style.
In a nutshell, what it is it about?
It is a very, very slim volume that includes a sparse overview of Shinto as an earth-based religion, some suggested group rituals involving “Shinto” prayer, and a little information on misogi purification, and some anecdotes by the author.
What did I particularly like about it?
It’s quite nicely presented, with a pretty layout and typeface.
Was there anything I didn’t like about it?
Unfortunately, I found the entire book to be a disappointment. For those who already know the basics of Shinto, it offers nothing new in its brief summary of what Shinto is, and is more concerned with interpreting Shinto for Western readers and as an environmental movement than exploring what Shinto means the Japanese. Rankin does something similar in Shinto: A Celebration of Life, but does so far more successfully.
Then there are the “meditations,” the part that I was most looking forward to. These “meditations” actually seem to resemble group rituals (they are scripted as such), and I couldn’t see how they were really connected specifically with Shinto, as opposed to generic earth-worship. The “meditations” are all based on different elements such as earth and rivers and stones, but in fact, aside from a few small changes, they are all very much alike, copying the same wording over and over again. I have never seen so much repetition in a collection of rituals, and in such a small volume (let’s not forget it costs £11.99 from Amazon), to fill up most of the pages with repetition is unforgivable.
As for the content of the rituals themselves, they are unremarkable. There’s nothing apart from dialogue – no interactions between participants, no visualisations, no gestures or movements, and the wording is also rather dull.
The section on misogi at the end was slightly more interesting and more detailed, but this information can be found elsewhere. The final words on Shinto in North America are again disappointing – I didn’t find that I learned very much at all about the history of Shinto in America or the fascinating and important Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America.
If you want to read a book on authentic Shinto prayers and ritual, I would recommend Llewellyn Evans’ Shinto Norito: A Book of Shinto Prayers. It’s much, much better.
How has it helped my spiritual development?
In all honesty, it didn’t. It simply taught me that when it comes to books on Shinto, you very often get what you pay for.
Would I recommend this book to others?
I was really excited to learn that Spiral Music, a small, independent record company in the UK that made some really unique New Age/Gothic/Celtic music in the late 80s and early 90s, has decided to re-release four of its most popular pieces on CD! I still prefer owning physical CDs to files, so I was especially pleased to hear this.
I have grown up with Spiral Music (you could find the CDs in shops like the famous Star Child in Glastonbury) and even today, I use it for meditation and rituals (as well as just listening to it for pleasure because they’re really beautiful). They’re from very much a lost era of music – back when producing commercial electronic music was pretty hard work, and when musicians often saw electronic music as being a low-cost “substitute” for hiring real instruments, rather than being treated as an instrument in its own sake. Philip Le Breton, the producer behind the re-released CDs, certainly seems to have seen it this way – he’s tried to make lots of the electronic sounds as “natural” as possible (for example, electronic choral pieces stay within human vocal ranges), and indeed he mixes lots of real instruments into the work as well.
So I thought I’d take the opportunity of this re-release to share my thoughts on these wonderful musical works, in the hope that Spiral gets a bit more recognition!
This was Spiral’s first releases, and it’s a firm favourite among fans – it’s also one of my favourites as well. Inspired by Celtic legends, it’s designed to evoke images of ancient standing stones and mystic lakes. There’s a lovely pathworking text included to aid with meditation to this music.
Reflecting its early origins (like all of Philip Le Breton’s works for Spiral, it started out as a cassette first), it has two tracks – “Side 1” and “Side 2.” My favourite of these has to be Side 1 – it’s really Gothic-sounding with a bell tolling throughout the beginning. You can hear a bit of Track 1 on the Spiral Music website. The sounds of the bell and choir are coupled with birdsong, creating an atmosphere that’s both eerie and serene at the same time.
Track 2 is nice as well – the sound of running water coupled with mystical sounds, and I really like the finale, which has a dreamlike smallpipe solo.
Spiral’s second release, A Knight’s Destiny, is one of the less popular releases, possibly because it’s one of the weirder ones. But that’s why I really like it! Based on the Arthurian legends, the music is really strange and dreamy. Listening to it feels like going on a strange, spiritual journey (a Grail Quest, even!), starting with the gloomy, atmospheric opening of “A Wounded Traveller” and going on to the more mystical-sounding “Merlin” and “The Unborn Child Galahad,” finally ending with wild “Dragon.” It’s accompanied by a pathworking text that’s as strange and mystical as the music, evoking both the mysticism and the tragedy of the knights of the round table. Definitely one of the more challenging CDs, but recommended for this very reason.
Special bonus – both “Magical Encounters” and “A Knight’s Destiny” have specially-commissioned artwork by renowned Celtic artist Courtney David on the cover, which is pretty special for any fans of modern Celtic art.
By the time The Green Man was released, New Age music had become a pretty big industry. Reflecting this, The Green Man is a little more commercial in sound, attempting to incorporate some of the same sounds that lots of other popular New Age artists were using – pan-pipes, drumming and twinkly bells. The first track is pretty standard-sounding New Age music to me – nice, pretty, but not so distinct. However, the second track is really special – it includes an amazing drumming sequence accompanied by a dramatic bagpipe solo that I always look forward to every time I listen to it. I also really like the pathworking text in this one – it explores the possible “character” of the Green Man and has a nice environmental message. Oh, and you’ve probably seen the cover before – this painting by Aaron Gadd of the Green Man has become iconic.
In this CD, Philip Le Breton departs away from Celtic folklore and into the legend of Atlantis. Both Atlantis and whale song were popular New Age motifs at the time, and this music incorporates both. The first track (which is the more “oceany” one) features lots of natural Humpback Whale song. I’ve listened to a lot of music incorporating whale song, and what I really like about this one is that it doesn’t stray into the over-sentimental or schmaltzy background music that you get with lots of other music featuring whales; it’s mysterious, mystical and has a “lonely” quality that really evokes the ocean depths. If you like the strange, eerie music from the old Ecco the Dolphin games, you’ll probably like this. The second track doesn’t have any whale song, but I really like it because it really seems to evoke the ancient myths of the magical Greek city of Atlantis. It has some nice, ghostly seagull calls as well. I find Atlantis the most relaxing of these four CDs, and really enjoy it.
If you want to listen to some really unique, atmospheric, magical and beautiful music from the proto-New Age era, I really recommend getting some of these CDs. Whether you want to use them for rituals or simply want to listen to them to chill out, I’m sure you’ll enjoy them if you have an appreciation for early British electronica as well as all things Celtic and mystical!
You can find out more about these CDs, listen to some sample tracks, and of course buy them at http://spiralmusic.com. Just bear in mind the Spiral won’t be making any more copies of these CDs once they’re all sold out, so get in quick!
My local Goth/Pagan/Alternative community has been excited by the launch of a new Goth/Alt lifestyle and fashion shop, Impact, in one of our prime shopping centres.
Located on the top floor of the Pentagon shopping centre in Chatham, Impact opened its doors on Saturday – on the Full Moon, which is a very auspicious time to launch! It’s one of the first shops of its kind to launch in Medway for years, and its first day was met with much interests both from the local alternative community and the mainstream press and public alike.
It’s also run by two very passionate people who really live and breathe this lifestyle, and have a deep understanding of the needs of our community. Even in these very early days, they’ve done a great job of covering all bases of the alternative spectrum, with a diverse range of clothes, jewellery and trinkets from all facets of the alternative lifestyle spectrum.
I was really pleased to visit on the opening day, where I bought a lovely, silky soft Green Man scarf to go in the cellar of our new house (which is my unofficial “altar room”), and an awesome strappy, zippy top that looks like it’s come of straight off the streets of Harajuku for only £25.00. I also got a S.O.P.H.I.E wristband – the Sophie Lancaster Foundation is a cause that Impact strongly supports.
While Camden, traditionally London’s hub for all things punk and alternative, begins to fade into touristy monotony, it’s very good to see new shops, run by and for members of the alternative community, start up in Medway – I’ve long maintained that retail very much exists in a symbiotic relationship with subculture; one cannot exist without the other, something I explored in my contribution to the book Schillderndes Dunkel, a collection of essays on Goth culture, several years back. I deeply wish Impact a long and prosperous future, and look forward to supporting them by buying lots of goodies again soon!