Tag Archives: esbat

Moon Gazing At Tsukimi: Japan’s Autumn Festival

tsukimi

It is a beautiful autumn evening. As the cool breeze sweeps over rivers and mountains, a woman creates an altar outdoors in honour of the Full Moon. Offerings of autumn’s bounty – chestnuts, pumpkin, wine, potatoes, and home-made sweets – are carefully stacked upon a raised platform, and beside it is placed a vase of autumn greenery. The woman gazes at the Moon, drinking in its beauty and its mysterious power, and she may even be inspired to write poetry about the scene. Once her contemplation of the Moon is over, she and her family eat the offerings together, thankful for the gifts that Nature provides.

This may sound like a typical Full Moon ritual performed by Neopagans all over the world. But this isn’t a Neopagan ritual. This is a ritual for Tsukimi – Japan’s annual Moon Gazing Festival. [Read more…]

Leave a comment

Filed under Shinto / Japanese Religion

October 2015 Full Moon Esbat and Medway Pagans Samhain Moot

WP_20151027_22_18_44_Pro

My shrine to the gods of death

October Full Moon Esbat

Tuesday was the last Full Moon before Samhain. As Samhain falls on a Saturday this year, I suspect I will be out and about for the day and the evening so I decided to hold a Samhain ritual on this day instead.

It was raining, and so for the first time, I held the ritual in the “altar room” of our new house. I lit a large number of candles and turned off the lights, so the room was entirely candle-lit (the altar room is below ground level so there are no windows). I also burned some “opium” incense and played suitably Pagan music (Eye of the Aeon by Silver on the Tree, a very rare album). This generated an atmosphere that was both mystical and soothing, which was perfect as I was actually a little nervous about conducting a ritual alone in the dark cellar – it is quite creepy, and the season of Samhain is the time when the veil between this world and the Otherworld is at its thinnest, so anything can happen.

I intoned the names of various deities of death, and thanked them for being a companion to my departed friends and family when they pass over to the other side. I made offerings of sake and a miniature pumpkin and an apple to them in my “Death Shrine.”

I then focussed on the spirits of my departed friends and family, starting with our two family dogs whose deaths were recent quite close to each other (the second died in January this year). I thanked them for the many years of love and affection they gave us, and left an offering of water and dog treats at my main altar.

Next, I focussed on my relatives who had died long ago, but within my lifetime. I remembered each one in turn, and offered a chalice of sherry in their honour (I think most of the relatives I remembered enjoyed a tipple of sherry).

Finally, I gave my thoughts to my ancestors whom I have never met, but whose blood runs in my veins and whose life my own came from. I asked them to guide me to help me bring pride to their name.

I then had a brief period of meditation in which I invited these friends and relatives into my memories. I remembered what it was like to play with my dogs, and I could imagine them coming up to me and poking their noses under my arm like they often did when I sat on the floor. I remembered the way my maternal grandfather would give usually me a kiss while forcing a pound coin or five pound note into my hand when we said goodbye after visiting. I remembered how my paternal grandfather would smile and joke exactly the way my Dad does, and I remembered how grandmother would make incredible knitted toys for my sister and I (she was really skilled with her hands). I also had a “vision” of my grandfather and grandmother as a young couple, dancing together. It was really nice and I even teared up a little.

I was surprised at how emotional this ritual turned out to be. I thought it went much better than my solo ritual last Samhain, which felt rather hollow in comparison. Clearly, the steps I made to create the ritual space, and the focus on my family as well as the deities, worked well for me.

Medway Pagans Samhain Moot

The following day was the Samhain Moot with Medway Pagans, led by one of our members who identifies as a “Left Hand Practitioner.” The ritual turned out to be an intensely personal one, and for this reason, I do not feel it is appropriate for me to share the specifics here. It’s something I think that’s best left in the memories of those who were there, rather than shared with the world (which is different to how I feel about other Medway Pagan rituals, which are far more communal in nature). But I will share some photos of the altar, which I thought looked especially beautiful.

WP_20151028_20_08_44_Pro

WP_20151028_20_09_25_Pro

Leave a comment

Filed under Rituals & Festivals

September 2015 Full Moon Esbat (O-tsukimi, Blood Supermoon Eclipse)

tsukimi4

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!

tsukimi3

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Rituals & Festivals, Shinto / Japanese Religion

The Full Moon and New Moon in Japan

nozomuOne 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!”)

3 Comments

Filed under Shinto / Japanese Religion

July Full Moon Esbat / Tanabata 2015

FullMoon

Last night we were blessed with a very warm, still night and a beautiful yellow Full Moon. I performed what will definitely be the last ever Full Moon Esbat ritual at our current address, as we now know that we will be moving house in a couple of weeks.

Tonight’s ritual was one of many thanks. As it is soon our anniversary, I prayed to the seven deities who we invoked at our handfasting – Diana, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and Apollo – and thanked them for blessing us for such a wonderful first year of marriage filled with love and happiness. I also thanked Inari Okami for being my watchful patron and for keeping myself, my family and my house safe for so long, and asked her to keep on blessing not only ourselves, but also the local foxes and the next people who will come to live in our flat.

It’s also close to the Tanabata Star Festival (July 7th), and this combined with the previous night’s alignment between Venus and Mars made it seem like a perfect time to commemorate this festival. I gave thanks to the kami associated with Tanabata and hung some tanzaku with wishes for a happy life, healthy family, environmental healing and world peace upon the vines growing outside our house.

Towards the end of the ritual, I heard the foxes calling. I will miss them when we move into our new house.

The next Full Moon ritual will probably take place in the garden of our new house – I wonder what it will be like…

2 Comments

Filed under Rituals & Festivals

June Full Moon Esbat 2015

esbat06-15

Last night I performed what’s likely to be the last Esbat ritual at my current home, as very soon my husband and I will be moving to our first own property. It seemed very appropriate to dedicate this Esbat to Juno – not only because June is her month, but also because she is associated with the home, and with marriage (it’s our 1st year anniversary next month).

I began the ritual with my usual prayers and offerings to Inari Okami. Because I will soon be packing away my Inari altar for the move, I took the opportunity to say an extra norito, and offer some matcha green tea, to say an extra special thank you for keeping my husband and I safe and happy in our current home, and to pray for good fortune during our move.

I then made offerings to Juno – pomegranate, poppy seed bread and wine – and gave her thanks for our successful marriage and happy home, and to help heal some of my relatives who are currently unwell. It was quite a short and simple ritual.

During the ritual, I was momentarily interrupted by some guests of the neighbours visiting next door (the yard in front of our flat is fairly secluded, but not entirely hidden from next door). But this didn’t really faze me – I remembered that in some traditions, one should always treat outsiders who come upon your ritual as incarnations of the deities, as who knows, they may just be the deities themselves! (We all know stories about gods taking human form in order to test the kindness and respect of mortal men). So I politely said hello, and that was that. I think that taking this view of accepting and welcoming outsiders who accidentally stumble upon you at ritual work is a really nice ethos to take. And of course, animals should be included in this too (I’ve certainly had cats appear during ritual work).

Although it’s not much to look out, I’ve grown quite fond of my secluded ritual area outside my flat and I’ll miss it when we leave. But our next house does have a proper back garden, so I’m looking forward to that!

Leave a comment

Filed under Rituals & Festivals

May Full Moon Esbat 2015

My May Esbat altar, including the koi-nobori I blessed for my nephews

My May Esbat altar, including the koi-nobori I blessed for my nephews

Despite what I said yesterday, I did end up going to the Sweeps Festival again today (this time to hang out with my family) – I only took a few pictures, which I’ll probably share tomorrow as I’ll be going again for the final day of Sweeps.

As tonight was the Full Moon, as usual I performed an Esbat ritual. My April ritual was focused on the Goddess (as I consider the festivals of March and April to be “feminine”), and this time I focussed on the God, as both Beltane and Kodomo no Hi have quite a masculine focus.

I also focussed on symbolism of Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day). I spread a two cloths on my altar – one depicting a koi carp and the other an Asian dragon. The koi carp is one of the most important symbols of Kodomo no Hi, as it symbolises masculine energy and personal development – it is said that if it completes its journey upstream, it changes into a dragon. I made an offering of sake to Ryuujin, the Japanese Dragon God, and asked him to bless my nephews.

Although I saw my nephews today, I’d actually forgotten to bring the koi-nobori I’d bought for them. I took this as a sign that I should use the Esbat as an occasion to bless it, which I did in the name of Ryuujin and the four elements. I hope its energies pass on to my nephews and make them grow strong and healthy!

1 Comment

Filed under Rituals & Festivals, Shinto / Japanese Religion

April 2015 Full Moon Esbat (Easter Saturday)

Esbat-15-04

My April 2015 Esbat altar, decorated in colours associated with Spring in Japan (pink, green and white)

Last night was rather cloudy, so it was difficult to see when the Full Moon rose. But while I was waiting, I saw two foxes outside our house – a very powerful sign of Inari Okami. I took it as a signal that Inari-sama was calling me to hold the Esbat ritual.

It was warm and dry enough to hold the ritual outside, so I did the Full Moon ritual outside for the first time this year. Sure enough, when I went outside and looked at the sky, I could finally see the Moon through the clouds.

After making prayers and offerings to Inari-sama, I held the ritual. Unusually for me, I didn’t call on a specific deity, but rather the all-encompassing Goddess as I see Ostara/Easter as Her time. I intoned the names of a number of Goddesses (especially those associated with fertility, which seems suitable for Easter) and thanked Her for her blessings. I then held another healing spell (I know a lot of people in need of healing at the moment!), asking the Goddess in her incarnations of the healing deities to help me.

Towards the end of the ritual, I heard the foxes calling. I’m so glad that now the warm weather is here, I get to see and hear more of the foxes. I always feel like they’re a part of my rituals!

Leave a comment

Filed under Rituals & Festivals

March Full Moon Esbat 2015

OstaraAltar2015

Offerings on my March Esbat altar

Tonight the Full Moon was very yellow, with a strong yellow halo – it reminded me of the Sun. I thought this was a good omen, as I had decided to honour Amaterasu Omikami, the Shinto Sun Goddess, among the three Goddesses I offered prayers to tonight. Unfortunately, by the time it came to me performing the ritual I could no longer see the Moon.

It being close to Ostara, I first made prayers and offerings of a hot cross bun and chocolate eggs to the Goddess Ostara herself. I honoured her as the Maiden, and asked her to bless the new plants and young animals appearing in the coming of Spring.

I then honoured Amaterasu Omikami as embodying the Mother (she is mother of all people in Shinto legends). It being the time of Hina Matsuri, the Girls’ Festival, I asked her to bless all the women in my family – especially the women younger than myself, and my mother for Mother’s Day – with a long and happy life I offered her sake and a nectarine; I wanted to offer a peach, which is a Hina Matsuri symbol, but nectarines were all that were available.

Finally, I honoured Ceridwen as the Crone for St David’s Day, and asked her to watch over my Welsh family and again my mum (who is Welsh).

I like the fact that these three Goddesses are not only relevant to the seasonal festivals and easily fit the Maid, Mother, Crone Triple Goddess, but they also suggest the three types of heavenly bodies – the Moon (Ceridwen), the Sun (Amaterasu) and the stars (O-STAR-a).

At the end of the ritual, I performed a healing spell again, asking the Goddesses to help me.

Once I finished the ritual, I took down my Hina Matsuri dolls from the altar, as it is considered bad luck to leave them out too long after March 3rd.

Leave a comment

Filed under Rituals & Festivals

Imbolc/Setsubun/February Full Moon 2015

Imbolc2015-1

I lit all the candles in the house in honour of Brighid

Although Imbolc was on Monday, the following day was both Setsubun (the Shinto equivalent of Imbolc) and a Full Moon, so it seemed to make more sense to me to celebrate it on February 3rd.

I began by celebrating the Setsubun part first. After making prayers to Inari Okami, I scattered roasted beans outside the house calling “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi” (Demons Out, Fortune In), to drive away bad energy and welcome good energy in.

Imbolc2015-2

My Imbolc/Setsubun altar, all lit up

Back inside the house, I lit all the candles I had and made offerings to three Goddesses: Brighid (Goddess associated with Imbolc), Uzume (Goddess associated with Setsubun), and Diana. The third Goddess seemed appropriate not only because tonight is the Full Moon, but also because I wanted to offer my prayers for the spirits of my family dog who recently died, and the three foxes killed a couple of days ago near my house, as well as ask for her protection over the surviving foxes in my neighbourhood. As Diana is associated with dogs, she seemed like a logical choice of Goddess to ask this.

I then asked for the candles’ light and energy for a healing spell on certain members of my family who are having health problems, similar to one I performed back in December.

Finally, I ate a simple feast of cheese (for Imbolc) and beans (for Setsubun), and then left some milk, cheese and beans out for Brighid beside our spare bed, together with clothes for her to bless. This is an old Imbolc tradition, and both James and I chose out best business suits that we use for important business occasions like job interviews. I really hope Brighid’s blessings will give us both some good luck at work!

1 Comment

Filed under Rituals & Festivals, Shinto / Japanese Religion