Tag Archives: sabbat

Celebrating the Neopagan Wheel of the Year in Japan

WotY-Japan

This Monday July 18th is a public holiday in Japan known as Umi no Hi, or “Ocean Day.” It’s one of 16 public holidays in Japan, which is quite a large number compared with many other countries (on the flip-side, few Japanese take annual leave from work for a variety of reasons). Fortunately for Neopagans living in Japan, not only do many of these public holidays fall on or close to the eight Sabbats of the Wheel of the Year, but several lend themselves to Pagan celebrations in their own right.
So let’s look at how Neopagans in Japan can work their Wheel of the Year around Japan’s own calendar…[Read more]

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Salt Dough Otafuku Mask for Setsubun

otafuku

My salt dough Otafuku mask

Now that the Winter Solstice has passed, I’m already thinking forward to the next Sabbat – Imbolc in February!

As a Shintoist, I plan on celebrating Imbolc together with the Japanese equivalent, Setsubun. Celebrated at the same time as Imbolc, Setsubun celebrates the coming of spring. Setsubun is associated with a lot of activities and symbols, but perhaps the most well-known ritual is to scatter soy beans outside houses while crying out “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi” (literally, “Demons out, fortune in.”) It’s a type of purification ritual, meant to drive out harmful spirits.

It’s interesting that both Imbolc and Setsubun are strongly associated with a particular goddess. The Celtic fire goddess Brighid is usually venerated by Pagans at Imbolc, while Setsubun is closely associated with an obscure female character known as Otafuku, who personifies luck and joy.

Although Otafuku is commonly regarded as a comical figure, I agree with John Dougill of Green Shinto that she is probably an aspect of Uzume no mikoto, a central figure in one of Shinto’s most important myths. Uzume is said to be the goddess of passion and mirth whose comical yet sensual dancing lured the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami out of the cave from which she was hiding from her frightening brother. It seems very likely to me that a figure attributed with leading the sun goddess out of a cave would have close ties with the coming of spring – a time when the sun emerges after being hidden in darkness during the winter.

I also suspect that Otafuku is also a symbol of fertility. Depending on how it is depicted, her face is often yonic or phallic in nature. Again, this would tie in with her connection to Uzume (identified as a goddess of love), as well as the coming of spring.

Because I’d like to celebrate both Imbolc and Setsubun together, I decided to make a miniature mask of Otafuku to put on my altar in the run up to the festivals. I made her out of salt dough painted in acrylic. Now all I need is something to represent Brighid…

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Samhain 2014

SoulCakes

My first ever Soul Cakes

Samhain Blessings everyone! I managed to fill much of my day with Halloween/Samhain activities for my first ever Samhain as a Pagan.

Things kicked off with making Soul Cakes in the morning. I used a simplified version of this recipe, which appealed to me because of the cinnamon and nutmeg involved! I’m really not much of a baker at all, but getting into Paganism has slowly gotten me more interested in cooking, and these Soul Cakes turned out pretty well!

I went to work in the afternoon, and took some Soul Cakes with me to give to colleagues. Only one person made a comment on the “satanic” pentagrams I scored on the cakes, but of course I told him that the pentagram is a universal symbol of magic that can be found in practically every culture, even Japan.

My husband picked me up after work and we went to the Curzon Mondrian cinema to see a special preview of the New Zealand vampire comedy What We Do In The Shadows. It’s a hilarious mockumentary that any vampire fan will love and it was perfect for Halloween.

We got back home pretty late, and it was time for me to perform a Samhain ritual.

This was more difficult than other rituals I’ve performed recently. For one thing, I was feeling pretty worn out and not hugely in the ritual mood – however, as usually happens, I found myself getting more and more energised as the ritual progressed.

The other problem was that I hadn’t really prepared for this ritual as thoroughly as I usually do. I wasn’t anticipating doing a solo Samhain ritual at all as I originally planned to do it with my moot Medway Pagans, but my brother-in-law suddenly planned a birthday meal for my sister the same day so I had to skip it. This meant that I hadn’t had time to write out a script for the ritual, which is what I usually do. Although it was quite interesting to attempt a ritual without writing it out beforehand, I think it was less successful because I left out a lot of things that afterwards I felt I should have included, and I didn’t feel it was as special as it could have been – it just felt very much like a regular Esbat.

In the spirit of Samhain, the Feast of the Dead, I called the quarters widdershins and orientated my altar West rather than East as I usually do. Offering some of the Soul Cakes and wine, I called upon the Great God and Great Goddess as their incarnations as Gods and Goddesses of Death, and also offered blessings to my ancestors and to friends and family who have passed on. Finally, as I often do, I took a Soul Cake and the wine and left it as an offering to Hecate (and other wandering spirits) by the local crossroads.

I was disappointed not to see the local foxes out (it being Halloween the streets are a bit noisier than usual), but as I said farewell to the Western quarter, a black and white cat appeared from behind the garden wall and looked me straight in the eyes, which was quite an intense moment and a very good omen for Samhain!

I hope everyone else’s Samhain was magical, spiritual and blessed!

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Some thoughts on my first Samhain

inaripumpkin

My shrine to Inari Okami, with a seasonal offering of a munchkin pumpkin

This year will be my first time to celebrate Samhain as a Pagan. From what I can gather, Samhain seems to be a particularly significant Sabbat. In fact, it seems to me that more Pagans place a particular emphasis on Samhain, maybe even more than Beltane. So I thought I’d write down my current thoughts on this festival.

From what I can tell, out of all the eight Sabbats, Samhain is the only one that isn’t all joy and happiness – it has a dark, sombre side too. It’s very much a time for remembering the dead – both our ancestors who have long passed, and those who we have known and loved in our lives who are no longer with us. Some Pagans also recognise Samhain as the death of the Great God, until his re-birth at Yule. This gives Samhain a particularly strong feeling of solemnity and gravity that isn’t so apparent in the other seven Sabbats.

But this doesn’t mean that Samhain is only a time of mourning and sorrow. Like the other Sabbats, Samhain is a celebration – a celebration of our departed friends and family, of the changing of the seasons, and of the thinning of the veil between this world and the spirit world.

What’s more, Samhain is now more familiar to modern Brits as Halloween – a time associated with parties, costumes, eating sweets and enjoying spooky and horror-themed festivities of all kinds. And from my experience, Pagans still enjoy this more frivolous side to Halloween as well. I don’t think many Pagans have problems in celebrating both the dignified, spiritual side of Samhain together with the fun and festivities of Halloween. Certainly I don’t! Although I wasn’t able to attend my moot Medway Pagans’ Samhain festival (it coincided with my sister’s birthday meal), I do plan to hold some sort of ritual for Samhain in order to honour the spirits, my ancestors and departed friends and family. But as well as this, my husband and I have just returned from 2.8 Hours Later, an entertaining “zombie survival” experience (not bad but Zed Event’s “Shopping Mall” zombie experience was way better value for money in my opinion!), and we’re also planning on going to see the new vampire comedy What We Do In The Shadows tomorrow. So I think we’ll get the mix of Samhain spirituality with Halloween horror-fun down pretty well!

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Float to commemorate the dead at the Shoro-Nagashi (Nagasaki’s O-bon festival)

This mixture of deep spirituality and light-hearted fun surrounding Samhain reminds me very much of the similar Buddhist O-bon festival in Japan. Celebrated in summer, O-bon festivals vary from place to place in Japan, but where I lived in Japan (Nagasaki), it was a pretty big event, the climax being the “Shoro Nagashi” or “Spirit Boat Parade.” At sunset, families all over Nagasaki would carry enormous boat-shaped floats covered with lanterns through the town, all the while throwing firecrackers as a way of welcoming the spirits of the dead. The whole occasion is held very much like any other Japanese festival, with plenty of stalls selling great food, games to play, and people dressed in bright yukata robes. It’s considered a fun festival, yet at the same time it is tinged with sadness, as it’s the time for families to remember their departed members.

In fact, while the idea of mixing both grief with joy when remembering the dead is rather strange in predominately Christian cultures like Britain, it’s fairly widespread elsewhere. Just think of the Mexican Day of the Dead, with its bright, garish colours.

I think that it’s great that the modern Pagan interpretation of Samhain can be celebrated both with solemnity and frivolity at the same time. It’s yet another wise Pagan reminder that all change, even the most difficult change, can still be celebrated in its own way, and that the darker sides to life do not need to be faced with dread.

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Dealing with Change in Paganism

Vertumnus, the Roman god of seasonal change. "G. Banazza" by Никита Полещук

Vertumnus, the Roman god of seasonal change.
“G. Banazza” by Никита Полещук

This weekend, I noticed that leaves on the trees were beginning to turn brown and fall, while the wind had grown a little colder – and I was reminded that now Lammas has passed, autumn is on its way. [Read more]

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Reflections on “Goth Rosary” Scents

GothRosaryAntiSally of the website Goth Rosary creates all-natural fragrances with darker, Gothic leanings. You can purchase them at www.gothrosary.com. I decided to treat myself to a sampler set of all 21 scents, and spent a wonderful couple of weeks wearing a different one every day. I found all of them unique, interesting and really appealing, especially to one of Gothic sensibilities! Moreover, I found them very kind to my skin; I’m allergic to alcohol-based scents, and found these oils gave me no reactions at all!

I’ve started wearing these perfumes to moots, festivals and for Pagan rituals; their scents really help to evoke particular emotions, images and energies. Being oils, they also seem suitable for ritual anointing. Pagans may also find it useful to know that these scents can be purchased as incense as well.

Below I’ve listed my Goth Rosary recommendations for particular times of year – not according to season, as would be traditional, but according to the eight Sabbats!

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Reflections on “A Ceremony for Every Occasion: The Pagan Wheel of the Year and Rites of Passage,” Siusaidh Ceanadach

ceremonyI picked up this little book in the renowned Atlantis Bookshop in London (which fortunately for me is only 10 minutes walk from my office!). It had a section on Handfastings, so I decided to buy it as part of my research in to my own Handfasting; but I was pleasantly surprised at how much else I got out of it.

It’s worth comparing this book to the other book on Handfastings I wrote about recently, Magickal Weddings: Pagan Handfasting Tradition for Your Sacred Union by Joy Ferguson. There’s quite a few differences. For one thing, I have to say that Magickal Weddings is a much slicker presentation. Whereas Magickal Weddings is quite professionally written and printed, A Ceremony for Every Occasion feels like a bit of an amateur job; I did wince at the number of spelling and grammatical errors I spotted. What’s more, the copy I bought was really rather badly printed and bound – one of the pages had even been bound the wrong way round.

And yet, despite all this, I actually preferred this book to Magickal Weddings. It has a very personal touch and warmth and I felt Magickal Weddings lacked. What’s more, I somehow found its single chapter on Handfasting to be more useful and a better source of inspiration than the entirety of Magickal Weddings. Perhaps because I read it in the context of the other ceremonies in the book, all of which were beautifully and clearly written, in addition to their explanations. And there’s plenty in there too – not only the eight Sabbats, but also baby naming ceremonies and memorial ceremonies. I really loved the way each ceremony was written (in script form rather than prose), and the actual content of the ceremonies themselves, which all feature a lot of roles for coven/moot taking part and some lovely blessings.

I found I learned a lot about Paganism  from reading this, even though it’s more of a collection of ceremonies rather than an explanatory book on the beliefs of Paganism itself. If you can get passed its rather rough-around-the-edges presentation, I think it’s worth reading.

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