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A Group Lammas Ritual

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In this post, I would like to share the first group ritual I ever wrote and performed. It was for Lammas last year with my local moot [Read more…]

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Yule Moot 2015 with Medway Pagans

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Last night was was the final Medway Pagans moot of 2015 – but our first moot in a brand new venue, where we’ve moved for various reasons. We were all a bit nervous at first of moving somewhere new, but it turned out to be fantastic  – very friendly, with a great space for ritual.

The moot began with a lovely ritual by Phoenix, welcoming the birth of the Sun God, in which each of us received a candle to welcome in the light. We also sang a Pagan version of Silent Night, beginning with a solo by Phoenix which she sang really beautifully (she’s in a choir!). I think all of us singing together really heightened our emotions – as the ritual ended, I felt really moved. A lot of others felt the same way.

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After the ritual, our Yule dinner was served. And just like last year, it was delicious! I opted for the vegetarian courses this year, despite not being veggie – partly for a bit of a change, and partly because I am trying to cut down on meat (I used to be vegetarian for several years as a teenagers). I’m really glad I chose the veggie option – yummy soup followed by amazing mushroom patties.

Between courses we did Secret Santa. My husband (he always tries to come to the Yule meal even though he isn’t a Pagan, which means a lot to me) received some patchouli incense and a beautiful glass pyramid with a pentacle inside (he plans to put it on his desk at work), and I got a really interesting-looking book about candle magic, which may well prove useful when I hold the Imbolc moot in February. I’ll probably end up reviewing the book on this blog at some point!

I took the opportunity of the moot to film some of our members talk about their views on Paganism and feminism/women’s rights/gender equality, which I plan to use at the discussion I’m leading with Medway Inter Faith Action. I was delighted to hear so many views articulated so well by our members. Although everyone’s views on the subject varied, one theme that kept coming through was the idea of balance – that there must be equal Masculine and Feminine energies, and so both sexes should be treated equally. This is very useful for my presentation, as it takes a historical look at the relationship between Paganism and feminism, which at times could be rather one-sided towards the Feminine, so it is interesting to hear how ideas and attitudes have moved on in the 21st century to reinforce the notion of balance more than the idea of a primarily Goddess-centred belief system.

It’s also interesting how the ritual we performed right at the beginning of the moot had this theme of balance too – to directly quote from the wording of the ritual, “Darkness cannot exist with out the light, as the Goddess cannot exist without the God. They are in an eternal balance.”

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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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Mabon with Medway Pagans 2015

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Our apple offerings

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.

mabon2015-02It 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!

mabon2015-03What 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.

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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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Litha Ritual 2015 with Medway Pagans

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One of our members brought in a Litha-themed pentagram to decorate our meeting space

Last night was Medway Pagans’ Litha Moot. I had to walk there for the first time (about 2 miles and all uphill), which was actually quite nice because I was in a bit of a bad mood before the Moot, and the long walk helped me to think things through and calm down. And as the weather’s so nice and the evenings are so long (thank you Sun King!), it was a pretty pleasant walk. I might do it again just for the fun of it!

After the usual socialising, the ritual started. We welcomed the summer Sun as a candle was anointed, representing the sun’s light. The “cakes and ale” included ginger biscuits, one of which I had – it was a lot spicer than I expected and its heat seemed quite symbolic of the summer Sun’s energy!

After the ritual, some of us went out to make offerings to the oak trees which surround the club where we hold our moots. It was a beautiful evening, very warm and peaceful and just perfect for celebrating Litha.

Apparently an atmospheric phenomenon meant that the Aurora Borealis was supposed to be visible yesterday evening, but I don’t think any of us spotted it…but as we were leaving, I did spot a fox cross the road outside the club, which is always a very good omen for me!

Next Moot, Lammas, I will be holding the ritual for the very first time. It’s a real honour but I’m pretty nervous! Wish me luck…

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The very green Litha altar

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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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The significance of “Pagan Standard Time”

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Chronos, the God of Time.

It’s something of a joke within Paganism that Pagans run on “Pagan Standard Time.” In other words, if a ritual is scheduled to start at 7pm, you can almost guarantee it won’t start at 7pm. It’ll start at 7:30pm. Or 8:00pm. Or even later. The stereotype is that Pagans are such laid-back, dreamy types that they don’t like to be constricted by time, and so they’re always running late for things.

While Pagan Standard Time is mostly a joke, it does have some interesting implications. [Read more…]

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April 1st Moot 2015 with Medway Pagans

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The “Labyrinth Walk” created by Kevin Groves

Medway Pagans had its monthly moot on April 1st, and this month we did something a little different – a public night of tarot readings and spiritual healing. I’ve never actually had any sort of reading or healing performed before so it was quite a new experience for me!

The evening started with a very simple ritual, calling upon the quarters and asking the deities to protect us and bless us with insight. Then we could move on to the readings.

First I had a tarot reading with my very old friend, Phoenix Rose. She knows me pretty well so it was quite funny having a reading with her, as she could guess what many of the signs indicated alluded to in my life – for example, the male figure in my life providing strength and support could be none other than my husband! She then told me that sudden, unexpected change was on the horizon – something that ultimately would be positive, but for which I would require the support of my friends and family.

The second tarot reading I had seemed to confirm a lot of what I had heard from Phoenix – the main theme was going “out with the old, and in with the new.” So change would seem to be on the books!

I then had a rune reading with Kevin Groves, a Kemetic Pagan who practises a number of different spiritual readings and healings. Unfortunately, the runes didn’t seem to like me as much as the cards – the runes refused to reveal anything on the first two attempts, and on the third attempt one of the unluckiest runes leapt out of the pile straight at me as they were dropped! Kevin recommended taking some magical protective precautions against any misfortune. On the fourth attempt we finally got something – an indication of an anxious day occurring in the future, but that everything would turn out for the best eventually. This did seem to fit with something upcoming in my family life.

I then tried Kevin’s “Labyrinth Walk,” in which one walks around a spiritually-charged labyrinth made from ropes laid on the ground, the idea being to try to find answers to questions in one’s mind, or simply enter a meditative state. I decided not to have a question in mind for the labyrinth (since trying to have a question in mind for the rune reading didn’t seem to work!) and let it take me on its own journey. It reminded me of Zentsuji Temple in Shikoku, Japan, which features a long maze-like path underneath it is completely pitch black; one must keep one hand against the wall in order to follow the path in the darkness. Again, the idea is that walking this path puts one into a meditative state.

Finally I had a combined crystal/tarot reading from one of the ladies at Woodland Magick in Gilligham. I first picked out three gemstones that I was drawn to, and then had a reading from a “Crystal Tarot” deck. This proved to be really insightful – even thought we’d never met before, everything that she told me about my past and present was spot on, and when suggesting what could happen in the future, she gave me some answers to questions I’d had at the back of my mind.

At the end of the evening, we said farewell and thanks to the quarters and deities for their presence.

It was a really enjoyable evening and I’m so glad I managed to have so many different spiritual experiences!

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Ostara Moot 2015 with Medway Pagans

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

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

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The chick and egg gifts and pomegranate seeds

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

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