Tag Archives: ritual

A Group Lammas Ritual

Lammas2015

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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Reflections on “Shinto Meditations for Revering the Earth,” Stuart D.B. Picken

ShintoMeditationsWhy did I choose to read this book?

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?

No. If you want a book on Shinto ritual, read Shinto NoritoIf you want a book on Western and environmental perspectives on Shinto, read Shinto: A Celebration of Life.

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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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An Impromptu Wassail

Wassailtree

An apple tree sapling hung with wassail toast. By Andy Dingley (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Tonight when I went to visit some friends at my sister’s house, something very unexpected happened – my non-Pagan family suddenly decided to hold the very Pagan tradition of wassailing!

My brother-in-law had just planted some new apple and pear trees, and had heard about the Yule tradition of wassailing in orchards to ensure healthy growth. So he decided to hold a little wassailing ceremony with my Dad, his best friend and myself, based on the information he found on wassailing on Wikipedia.

My brother-in-law poured out the wassail drink (spiced cider) into a large wooden chalice handmade by his uncle, which certainly looked the part. We then dipped some toast in the wassail and, as I was the only woman taking part, I was selected as the Wassail Queen to hang the toast on the tree, while the others intoned the traditional wassail song. My Dad sprinkled both the young and old fruit trees with wassail, and finally we all shared the remaining wassail together (I suggested saying “May you never thirst” when offering the wassail to each other, as we do in ceremonies at Medway Pagans).

I was really very surprised to see my otherwise non-Pagan family hold such a ceremony, even if it was held just for a bit of fun. I’d really love to encourage them to hold more Pagan rituals in the future…perhaps I can?!

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Why Paganism isn’t necessarily a matter of faith

Stonehenge

Druids in action at Stonehenge. By sandyraidy (Stonehenge – Druids-2) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the many things that western Pagans have in common with Japanese Shintoists is that both religions are far more religions of action – ritual, magic, and general lifestyle – than religions of philosophy or teachings. This makes sense considering some of the other shared characteristics of the two religions, as both can be considered folk religions that developed among the general populace rather than a priesthood (to an extent), and neither have a “true” holy text (the Kojiki is about the closest thing that Shinto has, but it’s more of a collection of myths rather than a “guide” to the Shinto religion and is hardly complete; Inari, one of the most important Shinto deities, isn’t even mentioned by name).

In fact, I would say that the idea of “faith” or even “belief” is not as important in Paganism or Shinto when compared with more organised religions that do have a more set doctrine. If you ask a moot of twenty Pagans the question, “What do Pagans believe,” you’ll invariably get twenty different answers. Or, you’ll get the deceptively vague answer, “I don’t really know.”

Actually, I think there is a lot of power behind the statement, “I don’t really know.” I think it’s perfectly OK not to know exactly what it is you believe – acknowledging that you don’t understand the nature of the spiritual forces around us, or that you don’t know whether or not they’e even there, doesn’t mean you’re any less committed as a Pagan. It simply shows humility – an admission that no human being truly understands the forces at work in nature. Performing rituals because it just feels like the right thing to do or it makes you feel good, without over-thinking the beliefs that may lie behind these rituals, seems a perfectly valid form of Paganism to me. I know there are some Pagans who really do have a deep belief in their gods and magic, which is fine too, but I believe that it is action, rather than belief, that really makes Pagans Pagan. That’s why pretty much all Pagans are environmentalists – if there is a belief that all Pagans agree on, it is that the earth is sacred, and that we need to act to protect nature within our daily lives.

So if you find emotional and spiritual fulfilment in praying at an altar, or making offerings to Gods and Goddesses, or singing and dancing out in nature, I don’t think it matters at all if you’re not sure why you’re doing it – just keep on doing it, and you may well find that within these actions themselves, you’ll actually start discovering more and more about your own beliefs.

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Mabon Moot with Medway Pagans

MPMabon

The Mabon Altar

(How’s that for an alliterative title?)

Tonight saw Medway Pagan’s Mabon Moot. There was a big group of us (more than twenty); it would appear Medway Pagans is getting bigger and bigger all the time. Which is great!

The ritual took place completely indoors for the first time since Ostara. It began with the lighting of candles for each of the Four Quarters. With all of us together in a circle around the flickering candles, it created a really warm and congenial atmosphere – perfect for the spirit of autumn. We then shared cut apple pieces (each displaying their natural pentagram within) and took a bite, and shared a communal chalice of (really nice) cider. It was a simple yet very cheerful ritual.

Then came the part we’d all been looking particularly forward to – home-made soup, very kindly and generously prepared by one of Medway Pagans’ founders! It was absolutely delicious and there was plenty for everyone. We all ate the soup from bowls and plates we’d brought ourselves (quite a few of us brought bread too) and sat and chatted. I noticed just how much everyone seemed to be enjoying each other’s company – it’s amazing how sharing food brings people together in such a natural way. I think we all came away afterwards having formed deeper friendships than before.

As always, it was a lovely night and the perfect way to welcome in the darker seasons ahead!

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Can ritual aid public speaking?

mercury

Mercury, God of Eloquence. “Mercurybyhendrickgoltzius” by Hendrik Goltzius – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

When I first starting performing Pagan rituals, I felt very awkward and unsure of myself. I had to write down everything, even the words for calling the quarters, and I felt very self-conscious saying parts of the ritual out loud and “performing,” even when I was indoors and there was no-one else to see me.

But as I’ve performed more and more rituals, I’ve felt increasingly at ease. I am much better at memorising certain parts of the ritual, and I don’t feel anywhere near as embarrassed performing ritual. This means that the ritual is a far more enjoyable and meaningful action for me, and I feel that my connection to the world of the spirits is deepening as a result.

But performing ritual has had another, unexpected effect, which I only discovered last week when I was scheduled to hold a presentation at a convention as part my work. As I usually do with presentations I’ve never given before, I practised it at home the night before, to an empty room.

Now normally, I hate doing this – I feel so unnatural performing without an audience. But this time, I felt strangely calm and confident when I practised. I think I even managed to enjoy it! I think I have to put this down to all those rituals I’ve performed on my own. It’s helped me to be comfortable with myself, and to get into the part I have to play without feeling self-conscious. Yes, both Pagan ritual and public speaking are performance arts, and I think practising one regularly helps the other. Yet another example of how Paganism has had surprising benefits on the more mundane aspects of my life!

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Reflections on “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner,” Scott Cunningham

wiccaCunninghamThis seems to be one of the most popular books for novice Wiccans out there – indeed, it’s one of first books I read when I decided to become a Pagan, and it’s where I got the idea of creating this “Mirror Book” blog of my thoughts and feelings on my religion (although I’m sort of going against Cunningham’s suggestions by making it public rather than private).

I can see why it’s often recommended to beginners – it’s a light and easy read (you can read it in one sitting), yet there’s a surprising amount of information in there. One of the book’s strongest points is its inclusion of plenty of rituals and spells that can be performed very simply, even for an inexperienced Wiccans with few tools. In fact, when you include the author’s Book of Shadows which makes up about half the book, I would say that most the book consists of ritual and spellwork. Which is great, as so many new Wiccans are keen to leap straight in and practice their religion, rather than just read about them.

Plenty of the content has inspired my own rituals (especially altar layout, ideas for esbats and ritual structure), and there’s lots of other rituals in there that I’m keen to try at some point, including a self-initiation (after I’ve been practising for a year). I also liked the inclusion of music and dance into the rituals, as these are simple but very effective ways of heightening emotional awareness in rituals. The directory of herbs, flowers etc. at the back is very handy too, although it’s certainly not unique to this book.

Wiccans looking for the practical magic side of Wicca won’t be disappointed – there are plenty of spells in here, as well as a very interesting section on visualisation techniques for working magick. Actually, practising magic is of quite minor interest to me, but there’s plenty of other ideas in here for connecting with the God and the Goddess.

It’s a nice, concise read, and well deserves its reputation as a great book for new Wiccans.

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Bright Moon Ritual

Last night was May’s full moon, variously known as Bright Moon, Hare Moon, Flower Moon etc, and I performed my second Full Moon ritual.

Recently I’ve felt very drawn to the Goddess Hecate, and seeing as she is considered a moon goddess, it seemed appropriate to dedicate tonight’s ritual to her.

As with my previous Full Moon ritual, I performed the rite outside.  I started by giving some fresh offerings to Inari Okamisama, and making a prayer to her (I always try to include Inari in all my rituals, as my patron deity). I then called upon the elements and made my prayers to Hecate, asking her to bless particular people in my life who I know are going through difficult times. I made offerings of wine and garlic, which are both considered appropriate for Hecate.

I followed this with an attempt at Fire Scrying. As May is the Beltane month, associated with fire, and as Hecate is also considered a fire Goddess, it seemed a fitting occasion! I surrounded the altar candles with reflective crystals and gazed at the flickering light to see what messages might appear there, all while intoning the “Goddess Chant” (Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Kali, Innana) in order to get into a more meditative state. All I could see were leering, grinning faces reflected in the crystal; no other imagery seemed clear.

However, throughout the ritual, I heard the foxes nearby calling to each other, which I always take to be a positive sign!

Finally, as Hecate is the Goddess of Crossroads, I decided to place my offerings of wine and garlic at the crossroad near my house.

While I did find the ritual fulfilling and calming, it wasn’t perfect. As mentioned in a previous post, although I think rituals should take place outdoors where possible, I always feel paranoid about the neighbours seeing what I’m up to. If they see me whispering strange incantations before an altar of candles, an athame and pentacles, they might get the wrong idea about what I’m doing! This meant I cut the Fire Scrying short because I kept getting disturbed by the neighbours turning on and off lights in their rooms, and thought they might spot me through the window. What’s more, I couldn’t actually see the Full Moon from ground level, which was a shame.

But after I finished the ritual and came back indoors, I could actually see the moon from my living room window. And as I gazed upon it, a fox suddenly appeared in the street, looked in my direction, looked up as if looking at the moon, and walked off! For a follower of Inari, this was quite a wonderful end to the Full Moon rite.

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Science and Paganism

Prometheus watches as Athena endows man with reason

In today’s world, we tend to think in terms of “science verses religion,” as if they are antagonistic and opposite from each other. But back in the day, this wasn’t really the case; there are plenty of historical examples where science and religion met eye-to-eye, from Christian monks who made and recorded important scientific discoveries, to scientific principles described in the Quran, to the numerous scientists and mathematicians who were also members of the Freemasons, a society in which belief in a Supreme Being is more or less mandatory. Whereas nowadays, many people seem to think that one cannot hold religion to be true if one also holds science to be true. How can one know that the Moon is a vast, lifeless lump of rock orbiting the Earth, and also believe it is the embodiment of a goddess?

So how can we resolve this problem in a rational and scientific world?

Myself, I LOVE science. I love learning how the universe works and how it came to be. If I had been better at maths, I probably would have done a science at university (I also think maths is beautiful and wonderful, but I just can’t do it!). For me, science does not de-mystify nature; on the contrary, science reminds us over and over again that the truth is usually far more interesting and stranger than anything human beings can imagine.

But despite my respect for science, I also leave offerings to nature spirits and bow down to fox statues.

I no longer feel conflicted in doing this. I used to, definitely, which is one of the reasons I didn’t practice Paganism for years despite having a keen interest, but now I feel quite resolved in my feelings towards science and Paganism. And this is why:

1. Science is the way in which we get to know our gods. As a Pagan, I worship things quite literally – the trees, the earth and the animals themselves are sacred and part of the spirit world. One of the best definitions I’ve found of Paganism was a random comment on the internet, which is, “Pagans worship what they can actually see.” By learning about how the natural world works, we deepen our knowledge, and therefore our connection, with the spirits of Earth, the ocean, the air and the stars.

2. I enjoy being a Pagan, which is the number 1 reason why I am a Pagan. And if I feel content and fulfilled by doing something that has no particular drawbacks, there’s no reason not to do it. Which seems pretty rational.

3. As mentioned in a previous post, I place a huge amount on emphasis on the act of ritual itself, moreso than its potential outcomes or the beliefs behind it. Ritual affects how we feel about things – for me, it inspires a profound awe for nature and reminds me to treat our earth with respect and dignity. Because I place less emphasis on profound faith than I do in ritual, I don’t feel I need to worry about how compatible my religion is with my knowledge of science.

4. There’s a little bit of doublethink involved in this one, but I believe that as far as an individual is concerned, there are two realities. There is the shared reality, a.k.a the real reality, as in the world that exists around us and upon which all science is based. Then there is the reality that we actually perceive ourselves, a reality that is private to us in our minds, coloured with emotion, memory, dreams and imagination. To us humans, limited by how we interpret our senses, both realities are just as real (in fact, the “inner” reality is somehow more real to us). So inner world of the psyche, in which reality can be anything we want, can be considered just as valid. In which case, it is quite easy to both see existence as a product of scientific reason, and as a realm in which gods, goddesses, spirits and faeries all exist. It’s all a matter of which “reality” we choose to see.

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