Tag Archives: full moon

Moon Gazing At Tsukimi: Japan’s Autumn Festival

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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…]

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October 2015 Full Moon Esbat and Medway Pagans Samhain Moot

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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.

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10 things you should do in autumn (according to the Japanese)

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Offerings for the Moon Viewing Festival in Japan. By katorisi (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Many people in Japan love autumn out of all the seasons. The weather is generally pleasant, and the autumn landscapes are very beautiful as the leaves turn vivid red, orange and gold. Autumn is a variety of different activities in Japan, many of which sound like they would appeal to people in other countries as well, including western Pagans. So if you’re looking for ways to celebrate autumn, here’s some ideas from Japan [Read more]

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

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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!

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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.

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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!”)

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Lammas Moot with Medway Pagans 2015 (My first group ritual!)

Lammas2015 Last night, I had the honour of leading my first ever group ritual for Lammas/Lughnasadh with Medway Pagans. It was such a hugely significant event for me and I’m so glad I did it!

Preparation

As with all rituals, it began with writing it. I’d never written my own group ritual before (my handfasting one was a combination of the one pre-written by Dode with additions from my friend Phoenix Rose), so I felt intimidated the task at first and it took me a long time to actually get down to writing anything! But after reading up on rites for Lammas in my books and online, I got an idea in mind for what to do. I decided to focus on the Golden Bough-esque theme of the Corn Spirit sacrificing himself for our food, and additionally I adapted an old Anglo-Saxon spell in which the Lammas loaf was cut into quarters and each quarter placed at the four corners of a barn to protect the grain. I also incorporated the words from the song “Corn King” by Inkubus Sukkubus and the poem “John Barleycorn” by Robert Burns!

While writing the ritual, it occurred to me that Lammas was a really suitable Sabbat for me to hold my first ever group rite. I was assigned Lammas because it’s perceived as fairly “minor” by several members and it’d therefore be a good one for a beginner, but I actually thought it was perfect for me for several other reasons:

  • It’s the Sabbat closest to my anniversary, which is a very spiritually significant event for me
  • It’s a festival of grain, a key attribute of my patron deity Inari Okami
  • An awful lot of the Lammas concepts, such as the sacredness of bread, and the idea of the God sacrificing himself (and “eating the God” in the form of bread), are shared in Catholicism – and I’m a former Catholic. Indeed, Lammas is one of those Sabbats that is syncretic between Paganism and Christianity.

In fact, once I’d finished writing it, I was struck with how similar so many of the elements of my ritual happened to resemble those of a Catholic mass. One day I shall have to write a post exploring the similarities between Catholicism and Paganism – despite their history of antagonism, there’s a lot they have in common.

I found myself in two minds about whether to begin the ritual with the HI-FU-MI Shinto norito, which is generally what I do at the beginning of my own solo rituals these days. On the one hand, I felt that I wanted to share Shinto with other members…but on the other, the Shinto norito is quite removed from anything in Western Paganism that I thought it might be a little weird, or that people would think I was trying to push Shinto too much. Because I was so undecided about it, I decided to leave it off the ritual script that I printed for participants.

Before leaving for the moot, I did offer norito to Inari-sama at the shrine I’ve now set up for him in the new house (I’ll do a post about this sometime soon). I asked her for guidance and to give me confidence. It also seemed appropriate as I’d included him under the many deities to be invoked at the ritual.

The Ritual

On the day of the moot itself, I was predictably pretty nervous. I had hoped to hold it outside, but the news had forecast rain so rather than take the risk I thought we’d have it inside (actually it turned out to be a very clear night, but never mind!). I had asked everyone to bring something as an offering from the altar, and was overwhelmed by everyone’s enthusiasm and generosity. People brought bread, home-made cakes, biscuits, fruit and flowers, to name but a few. The photo above shows just a small portion of what people brought. It made for a very impressive altar to the Gods and Goddesses!

I’d said on previous occasions that if I ever led a Medway Pagans ritual, I would incorporate a little Shinto somewhere. So people were a little surprised that the altar I’d set up was very traditionally Western Pagan with not much in the way of Japanese things. I took this as an indication that people would be be open to me beginning the ritual with the Shinto norito, so I did!

And I’m really glad I did. Not only was it really well-received, but I think it actually did help to build up the right kind of atmosphere – it certainly helped me to calm my nerves and to feel more in tune with the ritual’s energies, and I hope it made other people feel that way. I do think that norito, when chanted well, really does exert a strange kind of power.

The rest of the ritual went pretty well for my first time – largely thanks to everyone’s support. I’d picked four members to play the roles of North, South, East and West, as they were integral to the Lammas loaf spell, and they were really good at their role. Moreover, Abi Normal (one of the founding members), who has many years’ experience doing this, was really supportive and helped the ritual along by carefully directing people where necessary and reminding me of things I might have forgotten!

After the Lammas ritual, Abi Normal also held a cleansing-charging spell, as the energies of the upcoming Blue Moon made it the perfect occasion for this. In a similar way to our cleansing ritual last year, we purified our crystals, wands, talismans and other tools (I took the opportunity to cleanse my athame) in Earth, Water, Fire, Air (incense) and anointing oils, ready to set out before the Full Moon.

We ended by closing our circle as usual! Everyone was so nice afterwards and gave me some really nice comments on how the ritual went.

After the Ritual

It’s become something of a tradition that when we hold indoor rituals, we take a little of the cakes and ale outside to offer to the trees (there’s some lovely oak trees outside the club). When we went out this time, something amazing happened – we spotted a fox! This is the first time I have ever seen a fox by the club post-ritual and it was incredible – not only are foxes the messengers of my patron Inari-sama, but we had specifically called upon Inari-sama during the ritual. This fox was really bold, and watched us with an unusual intent; he was sat bolt upright on his haunches, rather like a cat. This is in fact the post that many fox statues at Inari shrines take. I took this as a very significant sign that Inari-sama was happy with how the ritual went and was pleased that I had included the norito and mentioned her.

Once we all went indoors, there followed the rather long task of dismantling the altar and tidying up.

Reflections

As I said, I was so, so happy to have led a ritual for the first time. It’s really hard work – holding a ritual, including research, writing, getting materials, setting up the altar, and tidying up, takes hours. But it was so rewarding, I would very gladly do it again. Yes it was nerve-wracking, and it’s certainly much calmer and more relaxed to have someone else take the lead, but I am so proud to have done it. And it certainly made me appreciate the level of dedication and enthusiasm that other people put into their rituals – I realise now that they only made it look easy, when in fact it’s not so easy at all! When the circle closes around you and you’re the centre of attention beside your altar, it’s easy to get stage-fright. It’s also made me realised the importance of a kind, supportive and enthusiastic group – without everyone’s encouragement and guidance, it definitely wouldn’t have been as successful.I have learned a lot from the experience and I can’t wait to do lead my next one!

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July Full Moon Esbat / Tanabata 2015

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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…

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June Full Moon Esbat 2015

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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!

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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!

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April 2015 Full Moon Esbat (Easter Saturday)

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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!

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