Tag Archives: wedding

Action Needed! Help Save Dark Angel

darkangel

The Dark Angel Design Co, who specialise in Gothic and Fantasy wear and are a favourite among UK Pagans, is one of many businesses who now face permanent closure due to damage caused by the recent floods in the North of England.

This is the company that made my Wedding and Handfasting dress  (their stunning Avalon dress) and my husband’s Groom’s jacket (this velvet jacket). They are a wonderful, unique company and mean a lot to us.

Here are some ways you can help them:

 

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First Anniversary at Dode

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The stone circle at Dode where we were handfasted (and where we renewed our vows this year). You can see both the church and the retreat in the background

It’s been a long time since I’ve been around, due to moving house (at last!) and my laptop getting sent away to be fixed. However, the laptop’s now with me again and we’ve settled into our new place (which I’ll probably write about later), so I thought it would be a good time to talk about our recent get-away to Dode, the “Lost Village” where my husband and I got married and handfasted, in order to celebrate our first anniversary together.

There’s a beautiful little rustic retreat beside the church at Dode, and although we did stay the night there for our wedding, we didn’t feel as if we had a proper stay there as we had to be up early the next day and leave (we also didn’t get to explore much of the surrounding area). So going to Dode for our anniversary seemed perfect for having a break away together.

We arrived on Friday evening and had some quality time checking out the retreat where we stayed. It’s a beautiful little cottage designed by Doug, the man who was also responsible for the rebuilding of Dode church.

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These little cups were above the sink. One was filled with salt, which I suspect (given Doug’s Pagan leanings!) was intended as an offering / purification

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There was also a little bowl of dried lavender

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This walking stick was apparently made by Doug or his wife for ramblers to use…

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….There was even a sheet explaining how it was made and its significance!

The next day (a beautiful summer’s day), I spent the morning exploring the grounds of Dode I love so well. I actually felt quite overwhelmed to stand at the top of the mound and look down towards the fields – it’s such a beautiful place with so many amazing memories that I was almost moved to tears. I spent some time walking among the standing stones and even sat down and meditated for a while.

And in the afternoon, we were joined by my sister, brother-in-law and my nephews and we had a picnic outside the church! In the evening, we went out for dinner with my parents.

Returning in the evening, it was still so warm and lovely that I went out to the stones again. Again I sat down and meditated, chanting the “Hi-fu-mi” norito as both a means of getting into a meditative state and a way of expressing my gratitude and awe to the spirits of the place.

The next day was our anniversary itself. We spent the day walking the countryside around Dode. Here’s some of the things we saw…

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When the sun set, we performed a simple ceremony among the standing stones to renew our vows. It was incredibly atmospheric – owls were hooting and bats were flying overhead as we stood there! We gave thanks to the spirits of Dode and the seven deities whom we called upon at our handfasting for their blessings, and asked them to continue to bless us. We also pledged to keep upholding the seven vows made one year ago, and ended by feeding each other “cakes and ale” (this was actually bread and a letftover bottle of Cava from our wedding!)

It was an absolutely wonderful way to spend our anniversary, especially as the day we returned we also had to start our house moving! A fantastic “calm before the storm” – we’re already thinking about returning next year!

If you want to visit Dode (and I think you must certainly do so if you find yourself in Kent), their website is here.

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Venus-Jupiter Convergence, June 30th 2015

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Jupiter and Venus depicted on a 330BC Greek vessel. By Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup from Centennial, CO, USA (Getty Villa – Collection Uploaded by Marcus Cyron) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Last night I went out to see the convergence of the planets Venus and Jupiter. It’s a shame I couldn’t get any pictures – it was really beautiful. We couldn’t see the whole spectacle as there were some dodgy people up on the hill where we were which made us nervous, but I’m so glad I managed to see it.

The convergence of Venus and Jupiter is quite significant. It’s a union between the Masculine and Feminine. I’ve seen several articles in the press mention that the biblical Star of Bethlehem may have resulted from Venus and Jupiter converging, which I find interesting – not so much because it might be true, but again because of the symbolism. The Star of Bethlehem is sometimes conflated with the Star of David or Hexagram, ✡ ,which also represents a union between Masculine and Feminine – it is a combination of an upward-pointing triangle (male) with a downward-pointing triangle (female).

The date of this event is also highly significant. It’s on the same week as Tanabata, the Japanese festival which, coincidentally, celebrates the union of two stars, Altair (personified as Hikoboshi the Cowherd Prince) and Vega (Orihime the Weaver Princess). Although the stars are not Venus and Jupiter, it is very interesting that Altair and Vega too are seen as Masculine and Feminine.

I will be commemorating Tanabata at my Full Moon Esbat tonight. I will also be taking the opportunity to commemorate our upcoming anniversary of our wedding and handfasting – another union of Masculine and Feminine!

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Handmade Felt Brighid

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My friend who made an offering at Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine on my behalf was kind enough to bring back a little “Make your own felt penguin” set from a hundred yen shop. I’ve never made felt before so I was reluctant to open the pack and have a go for ages – until I had an idea to use the contents to make a felt Brighid for Imbolc! Imbolc is associated with lambs, so it seemed more than appropriate to make a representation of the goddess out of felt wool to put on my Imbolc altar.

It turns out you make felt by repeatedly stabbing wool with a sharp needle – you need a lot of patience and very thick skin as you will end up pricking yourself on multiple occasions! I didn’t really know what I was doing (and I’m not at all patient) but I managed to make a sort of head and body, with blond felt hair.

Brighid is sometimes known as “Bride,” and indeed she is sometimes associated with brides. It therefore seemed appropriate to dress her in some of the leftover material cut from my wedding dress when it was altered (white is also a common Imbolc colour). I folded the material around Brighid in the shape of a lily (more commonly associated with Ostara, but it’s still a Goddess flower and not wholly inappropriate), tied it off, added a little paper rose for colour (red is another Imbolc colour) and left it as finished!

She’s fairly delicate (the felt’s not particularly tightly bound) so I hope she lasts until Imbolc!

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Using ritual items post-wedding

cordsIt actually feels a little sad when your wedding is all over and there’s no more of that nervous excitement that you’ve been feeling for so many months running up to the big day (although ultimately I feel so happy to be married!). But one good thing is that we have lots of mementos left, which bring back all the lovely memories.

One of the most important mementos for us is our collection of seven ribbons we used for our handfasting, each one blessed by a member of our family invoking a particular deity and wound around our hands to bind us. I was thinking about how I could display these key parts from our wedding, and in the end I decided to entwine them on the pentagram I use in rituals, which is made from woven twigs. They hang down at the bottom of the pentagram like a tail, which makes it look like a shooting star – appropriate considering how close our wedding was to Tanabata!

By the way, the item hanging next to the pentagram in the photo is a lovespoon. This is a traditional item given in Wales to someone you love (usually, but not necessarily, romantic love). Being half-Welsh myself, it’s perhaps not surprising that I now own three lovespoons – one from my Welsh grandparents from my Christening, one from my parents to celebrate when my husband and I first moved in together, and finally another from my grandmother to both my husband and I to celebrate our wedding. The one in the picture is the one from my parents (it would probably be more appropriate to hang the wedding one here next to our handfasting cords, but its in a really nice presentation box and I don’t want to open it…)

weddingflowersAdditionally, we also took home the incredible flowers that our florist put together for the wedding (I really recommend her – her name is Marina, she’s really nice and amazingly talented, and you can find our more about her services here). Her most impressive work was probably the two enormous stone vases in Dode church, which she filled with some beautiful hedgerow flowers as well as flowers with particular significance to my husband and I – Baccara roses, ferns, yew (from my parents’ own yew tree) and ivy. They were so stunning that we decided to take the flowers home afterwards, and I’m so glad we did – we put them outside our house either side of the front door, and they looked amazing; a wonderful reminder of our incredible day.

Now, a week later, most of the flowers were looking rather tired, so it was with a heavy heart that I decided to throw most of them away. However, some of them, such as the ivy and the yew, were still pretty green, so instead I decided to offer them on my shrine to Inari Okamisama. Below is the result. It’s really quite a lot of greenery for a Shinto shrine, but for a Western pagan this emphasis on greenery, especially that with such a special meaning to us, seems an appropriate offering to a deity.

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Our Wedding and Handfasting (July 12th 2014)

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The interior of Dode Church

It’s now been four days since our wedding and handfasting on July 12th (which incidentally was a Full Moon), held at the Lost Village of Dode. It was the happiest day of our lives, but it’s surprising how emotional I felt afterwards (even just looking at the photos from the wedding would make me well up!) so only now do I feel ready to write about it without bursting into happy tears at the memory! (this might seem weird to anyone who hasn’t been married before, but it really does make you very emotional).

As I mentioned previously, our wedding/handfasting was held at Dode Church, a rebuild of a structure that has been at Dode for 800 years or so. The church is not consecrated, and is no longer used for Christian worship, and inside it has decorated to resemble what it might have looked at those 800 years ago – straw on the floor, sheepskin-covered pews, bunches of dried herbs and roses, wall drapings and dozens and dozens of candles.

The legal part of our ceremony took place in the church. Pagan handfastings or other Pagan wedding rituals are not recognised by English law, which means that the legal marriage itself had to be 100% secular, i.e. no religious content in the readings, vows or music. But after the legal parts, we went outside for our handfasting.

Our handfasting altar

Our handfasting altar

The handfasting was conducted by Doug Chapman, the owner of Dode Church. He makes handfastings an option to anyone who gets married at Dode, regardless of their beliefs. I think this is wonderful – it is because of the option to have a handfasting that I went from being someone merely interested in paganism to a fully-fledged practising pagan. Doug provided a basic script for the ritual, but after consulting with a very good friend of mine who’s also a long-time pagan (and co-founder of the Medway Pagans moot), we decided to personalise it a little.

The ritual was held at the bottom of the mound upon which Dode Church stands, where Doug has erected a ring of standing stones including one central stone where the altar was placed. Doug conducted the ritual in a full robe (which must have been hot – we had exceedingly good weather, perhaps thanks to the teru-teru bozu and Tanabata wishes I made!) , and equipped with a staff – he did look very much look the part of a Druid priest. One of the alterations we made to the ritual was that we had seven members of our family present a ribbon of a particular colour (silver, red, blue, purple, pink, green and gold) corresponding with a particular deity (Diana, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and Apollo) and read a blessing appropriate to that diety. Some may say that our choice of gods and goddesses wasn’t really appropriate to a handfasting (why Mars and not Juno?!), but the fact is, as most of our congregation were not pagan, we wanted to stick with the deities most familiar to non-Pagans, i.e. those of the planets, the sun and the moon.

Doug then made further blessings and bound our hands with the ribbons as we made seven vows (we also wrote these ourselves). We then drank some mead from a shared chalice, and finally jumped a broom and a sword (the addition of the sword was my pagan friend’s suggestion and I like it – it give a more masculine/feminine balance than the broom alone, I think).

The handfasting was followed by a hog roast feast in Dode Church (delicious!), followed by a larger party at Gravesend Rugby Club. It all went by too fast and was quite a blur to say the least, so I am really glad about one particular thing Doug did at the beginning of the handfasting – he asked us all to take a few seconds to just stop and contemplate the moment and its significance, as it is all too easy to lose this in the wedding frenzy. It was a wonderful suggestion and a great way for us to ground ourselves.

I can 100% recommend that anyone, pagan or non-pagan, strongly consider having their own handfasting with Doug at Dode Church! It was a deeply spiritual and deeply emotional experience for us both.

We were delighted that one of our guests (not pagan!) presented us  with a traditional handfasting basket, containing 13 items that each bestow a particular blessing on the couple. I knew about the tradition but didn’t think we would get a basket as we had a mainly non-pagan congregation, so we were really touched by this. You can read all about this tradition here (although be aware that there are lots of variations as to what goes in the basket).

Finally, I’d like to add a few more photos from our wedding/handfasting.

Blessed be our marriage and all our guests!

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Dried hops and herbs in Dode Church

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The stone circle outside Dode Church

Dode Church

Dode Church

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The groom’s buttonhole. The ferns represent the Groom’s New Zealand heritage, and the rose represents my English heritage (plus I love Baccara roses!)

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Close up of the altar. The chalice, which belongs to Doug, looks like it has Elvish on it, which seems appropriate seeing as my husband is from New Zealand where Lord of the Rings was filmed!

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Our rings, resting in an abalone shell, which is one of New Zealand’s many treasured symbols (my little nephew was Ring Bearer and carried them up the aisle in the shell). The gold ring is mine and was originally my husband’s mother’s. The black ring is my husband’s and is ceramic. They were tied on to the shell using New Zealand flax.

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Bride and Groom leaving the church! My dress and the groom’s jacket were from http://www.thedarkangel.co.uk

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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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Tanabata Ritual 2014

tanabata2Happy Tanabata! For those who are new to Shinto, Tanabata (七夕, “Evening of Seven”), also known as the “Star Festival,” is a Japanese festival held on the Seventh Day of the Seventh Month (July 7th). It is based on an old Chinese legend of Orihime (the “Weaver Star,” called Vega in English) and Hikoboshi (the “Cowherd Star,” known as Altair), who were lovers. Unfortunately, their love distracted them from their duties, so the Emperor of Heaven, Tentei, separated them on either side of the Milky Way (Called “Amanogawa,” the Heavenly River, in Japanese). However, every July 7th, Tentei sends magpies to build a bridge across the Milky Way so that Orihime and Hikoboshi can meet. But if it’s rainy, it’s said that the magpies won’t come, so the lovers have to wait another year before they can be together again.

In Japan, Tanabata is usually celebrated by decorating bamboo with colourful decorations (in groups of 7, reflecting the 7/7 theme), as well as paper with wishes (tanzaku) written on them. Traditionally you are supposed to wish for good weather so that Orihime and Hikoboshi can meet, but these days, people generally wish for anything they like in their life. It really is Wishing on a Star!

As my marriage is less than a week away now, Tanabata has special significance for me. I see it as a celebration of enduring love, with Orihime and Hikoboshi representing the Great God and the Great Goddess, and as an opportunity to wish both for a happy and loving marriage, as well as good weather for the occasion (as we are having an outdoor Handfasting, this is particularly important to us!)

The centre of my Tanabata altar, with figures symbolising Orihime and Hikoboshi

The centre of my Tanabata altar, with figures symbolising Orihime and Hikoboshi

On my altar, in addition to the usual four elements and offerings to the deities, I placed two little handmade pictures of a Japanese Prince and Princess made of beautiful painted shells that a friend gave to me in Japan. These are actually designed for another Japanese festival, Hina Matsuri, but they seem to work well as symbolise both Orihime and Hikoboshi, as well as the Great God and the Great Goddess. At the beginning of the ritual, I put them on either side of a central pentagram, symbolising their separation by the Milky Way. I then made prayers to a number of deities – three Japanese deities that seemed suitable to the occasion (Tentei, Amatsu Mikaboshi the Star God, and Inari Okamisama), three deities of love and marriage (Juno, Cupid and Aine), and the seven deities upon whom we shall call on our Handfasting (Diana, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and Apollo). After praying for blessings on our marriage, I united the figures of Orihime and Hikoboshi on top of the pentagram.

tanabata3After this, I purified seven tanzaku wishes that James and I had written earlier. We don’t have any bamboo in our courtyard; the best I could do was hang them on a tree just outside our house which is covered all over in vines (it looks a bit like Jack-In-The-Green!). Finally, I then hung a Teru-Teru Bozu I’d made under the vines in order to pray for good weather for our wedding. As you can see in the picture, he seems quite happy under his canopy of vines!

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Phallus Worship: Still Standing

1st Century Statue of Priapus; the top half of the statue can be removed to reveal a phallus

1st Century Statue of Priapus; the top half of the statue can be removed to reveal a phallus

The veneration of the phallus as a symbol of the male generative force, the Divine Masculine, has probably existed  in some form in every single culture on the planet.  The ancient Greeks and Romans venerated Priapus, whose most distinctive characteristic is his oversized penis (hence the medical term “priapism”). The Romans had Fascinus and Mutunus Tutunus, whose entire head and sometimes body is a phallus. Elsewhere, we have the phallic “lingam” statues of Hinduism, the Native American deity Kokopelli who is often depicted with his penis shown, the phallic Norse God Freyr, numerous fertility deities all over the world in the form of phallic creatures such as snakes and eels, and of course our familiar Maypoles at Beltane. Shinto is certainly no exception – there are “penis festivals” all over Japan, the most well-known being the Kanamara Matsuri in Kawasaki Prefecture where an enormous statue of a penis is paraded in full ceremonial fashion, and the revellers celebrate by eating phallic food and wearing phallic images. And in the UK, a form of phallus worship is still practiced, albeit in a rather surprising setting – Hen Parties.

Among the bewildering range of commercial products available for Hen Parties, penises seem to be a dominant theme, and the Hen Party I went to recently was no exception. We drank alcohol using penis-shaped straws. We played a game of “stick the penis on the man,” a variation of the children’s party favourite, “pin the tail on the donkey.” We wore amusing comedy spectacles that incorporated a stubby penis where the nose should be. And we posed for photos with a gigantic inflatable penis (which when pointing upward looked very much like a Maypole).

Of course, we weren’t exactly treating the phallus as something sacred at the Hen Night – all those willies were a source of bawdy amusement rather than anything else. But I like to think that all phallus worship, including those practised by the ancients, has this element of humour in them. Certainly, attendees to Japan’s penis festivals find the whole thing hilarious. Priapus was most definitely a comedy figure as well as a figure of worship in Greek/Roman mythology. And then there’s those “penis tree” pictures in Medieval manuscripts, which are almost certainly designed to be amusing as well as a symbol of fertility. At the end of the day, phallic veneration is a mixture both of sincere worship and light-hearted hilarity.

I believe that in some ways, the modern Hen Party with its comedy penises is an incarnation of ancient phallus worship. Underneath the humour, I believe that we are genuinely celebrating the joys of sex and sensuality during Hen Parties, and perhaps even subconsciously using a form of “sympathetic magick” to encourage love and fertility, in our use of phallic symbols. It is so interesting to see such ancient Pagan ideals present themselves in what is otherwise considered a very modern tradition.

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Reflections on “Magickal Weddings: Pagan Handfasting Tradition for Your Sacred Union,” Joy Ferguson

ImageAs I’m a new Pagan and have never seen a handfasting before, when I decided that I wanted to incorporate a handfasting at my wedding, I bought several books on the subject to try and educate myself. I thought I’d share my thoughts on some of these books.

Magickal Weddings is certainly a detailed book for anyone interested in handfastings. It includes a lengthy history of handfastings (somewhat romanticised I suspect, but I don’t really mind that!), how to plan some of the less magickal aspects of the handfasting (such as the legalities and practical things like venue etc), an explanation of tools used in paganism/wicca ritual, and even a huge section on picking the perfect date and time.

Despite being such a detailed account, I have to admit that I didn’t find this book so useful when planning my own handfasting. Much of the content seemed a bit irrelevant for me, but that could well be because my handfasting will be held in conjunction with a legal wedding, so I’ve been using other sources to research the more practical aspects. What’s more, some of the practicalities of the wedding made entire chapters of this book redundant; because we had to pick the date/time of the wedding entirely on the availability of the venue and guests, the whole section on choosing the best day/time according to the lunar/solar cycles had no meaning for me.

Additionally, some parts of the book seemed to veer off the handfasting theme just a little too much. There are sections on creating essential oils for massaging, divination and birth stones: not only are these not really related to handfasting, but I’d seen this kind of information in plenty of other texts about Paganism/Wicca so they seemed unnecessary here. The part I was most interested in – the final chapter, entitled “The Ceremony: Your Vows and Ritual” – was extremely slim compared to the rest of the book, even though this actually contained what I wanted to know (i.e. what a handfasting actually looks like). What’s more, I found the style a little unfriendly as a guidebook; the sample handfasting ritual featured was written entirely in full sentences and paragraphs; a “script style” would probably have suited this better.

As part of my overall research into handfasting, this book certainly did play a part, but to be honest, I found it less useful than some of the other books on handfasting out there.

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