Spring Equinox: The Time of Balancing

A Sensitive Plant in a garden grew,
And the young winds fed it with silver dew,
And it opened its fan-like leaves to the light.
And closed them beneath the kisses of Night.

And the Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.

The Sensitive Plant by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

As the sun moves into the sign of Libra, it gathers in strength and makes its way across the equator to warm the southern part of the earth.  Nature echoes the increasing warmth as blossoms burst forth and new growth makes its presence felt.  As the sun’s strength increases, so do the visible signs of activity upon the earth’s surface.  It is as if, were you to close your eyes for a moment, you would miss the experience of another aspect of creation being reborn all over again.

In areas where the ground was still too cold to plant seeds at Imbolc, or the weather too uncertain, by the Spring Equinox (taking place on 22 September this year), both the soil and weather offer a perfect environment for seed planting.

The hours of darkness and light are equal now.  Life appears with great vigour and abundance.  There is an urgency in the air, as if life were both trying to make up for the months of delay during winter, and getting all the plants fully established before the heat of summer arrives.  Here in South Australia, we can experience extremes in climate with both cold winters on the one hand and stifling hot summers on the other. These Summers can arrive as early as October and last until the end of March – there can be some six months of baking the ground.

Echoing what is occurring in nature around him, the young God increases not only his strength but also his knowledge of the role he plays within the sacred Wheel of Life.  He realises his potential, his masculine power and he ventures out into the world, ready to establish his rule and prove his manhood.  He is now mastering his own Mysteries, that of the Divine Masculine.  His rough-and-tumble childhood games serve little purpose as he matures into the Hunter/Warrior.  Eager to impress, to make a statement and to announce his arrival, he bounds forth with great exertion – that is until he is distracted by the sight of his beloved Goddess.

Under his nose she has blossomed into a creature of exquisite beauty, shyly toying with him to gain his attention.  However, she is not as naïve as she may first appear to be.  She too has been schooled in the Mysteries and knows only too well the cycle of life and the roles that she and her beloved God will play within them.

The Goddess is ready to fulfil her role, to become pregnant in order for life to continue, while the God is holding the potent seed of life itself.  The pace quickens. Their eyes meet like in a classic Hollywood romantic movie and the game commences.  Both are aware of their own sexuality and their role within the Wheel of Creation.

Source: Dancing the Sacred Wheel by Frances Billinghurst

Brighid’s Cross at Imbolc

Brighid’s Cross was a symbol derived from ancient solar symbols known from early times in Europe. There were several regional forms but none resemble the classic Christian cross.  The crosses were made from straw, sheaves of grain, rushes, or grass, depending on the region of origin. They were hung in the house and farm buildings as protection against illness and other misfortune.

In the Scottish Highlands, women also made Brighid crosses before a wedding and placed one in the mattress of the marriage bed to ensure fertility.

Making the crosses themselves was a ritual. The exact procedure varied and in some places the crosses were made ahead of time to be distributed as part of the bríde óg procession. But in most places in Ireland, they weaving material was ceremonially brought into the house and laid under the table where the feasting would occur. After the meal, the household created the crosses. A farmer might also make circlets to hang round the necks of lambs as they were born. Any leftover materials were used to create a bed for Brigid or sprinkled in the byre for good luck. The crosses were hung the next day.

To make a Brighid’s Cross, you will need about 28 reed, each approximately 30 cms in length.

Position two reeds across each other so that they make a “+” sign.  Turn the weave 90 degrees and fold the vertical reed down over the top of itself.  Turn the weave 90 degrees again to repeat with the now vertical reed. 
Turn the reeds again 90 degrees and add the third reed, placing it to the right of the vertical folded reed and under the horizontal folded reed.  Fold thee added reed, turning the weave once again to add the fourth and final reed to this round in the same fashion.

Continue to add folded reed.  Avoid letting them bunch up or lie on top of those in a previous round. Build the weave outward, resting the reeds side by side. At first, you may find it difficult to hold the arms together and at right angles, but as the weave gains substance, this will prove easier.  Just remember to watch for gaps and fill them by repositioning and tightening the reeds as necessary.

When all 28 reeds have been incorporated, tie each arm off about 6cms from the centre of the design. Trim the ends of the reeeds and threads.
As the reeds dry, the cross will become loose.  To remedy this, untie the ends, pull the reeds tight again before retying.

Brat Bríde The brat or cloak or mantle of Brigid was a ribbon, piece of cloth, or an article of clothing. They were left outside on the evening before the feast of Imbolc to receive the blessing of Brigid as she passed through the household. After wards, the cloths and ribbons were used as talismans of protection and healing, particularly aiding childbirth. Ribbons and strips of cloth were sewn into clothing or carried in a pocket. Articles of clothing were worn in times of stress and need; for example, a woman might wear a man’s vest while giving birth. Shawls that had been blessed might be laid on ailing human or animal while a prayer of healing was recited.

Críos Bríde The críos or girdle of Brigid was a rope of plaited straw or rope three or four meters long and formed into a circle held vertically aloft while those gathered ritually passed through, reciting a charm. The ceremony appears to have symbolized regeneration.

Imbolc: Awakening the Spirit

Imbolc is taken from the Irish-Gaelic which is translated as “in the belly” (of the mother) and falls around 8 August in the Southern Hemisphere (when the sun moves into 15 degrees Leo).  It represents the quickening of light and life and around us we begin to notice the first stirrings of spring as the first flowers begin to appear.  These seeds have lain dormant within the earth over the cold winter months now begin to stir with life. All around us there is evidence of the earth’s slow awakening to the growing power of the sun, and we may find in ourselves this awakening as we venture more and more outdoors.

Being a festival of fire, Imbolc celebrates the light of spring piercing the darkness of winter.  As new life flows through the world of nature, we celebrate the waking of the soul as our spirits begin to quicken.  Now is the time look toward the future.

In contemporary witchcraft lore, at Imbolc the Goddess awakes from her slumber in the Underground and emerges youthful, bright eyed and virginal again.  She is the Flower Maiden and while there is an air of innocence about Her, this is coupled with a degree of knowing, similar to retaining knowledge of a past life.  She is aware of Her powers of potential and is unrestrained and full of the energy of youth.  There is an air of innocent about Her, however She is not naive.  It is the young God who tends to be the naive one, as He begins to understand His sacred purpose and is initiated into the mysteries of His sex.

Imbolc is a good time to contemplate what needs to take root and grow in our life, and what to be swept away in order to make room for our new plans.  In doing this, it is a good idea to sit down and ponder on some searching questions, to get in touch with what is seeking the light of day within us and to be prepared to let go of anything outworn.  However, it is best to proceed cautiously for it is a time to design and plan, to dig foundations rather than to build.  Imbolc is the glimmering of the year’s increase, but only the first glimmering for, as in nature, the weather can still change and nip new life in the bud.

Imbolc is a good time also to cleanse ritual tools, consecrate items we have not consecrated yet, and even rearrange the altar.  Add a small vase of spring flowers or a fresh white candle to capture the essence of Imbolc.

Source: Dancing the Sacred Wheel by Frances Billinghurst (TDM Publishing)

Welcoming Back the Child of Promise

As the Wheel of the Year turns, we find ourselves now at the Winter Solstice.  The sun is at its northern most point during its yearly migration across the sky which means that whilst the Northern Hemisphere is basking in its warmth, for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere, the warming rays are a distant memory.  

It is with this longing that we create our rituals that focus around the return of the Child of Promise, the Invincible Sun, or as it was known to the Romans, the Sol Invicus, the Unconquerable Sun.

The Winter Solstice is also the time of the never-ending battle between the Holly King and his twin, the Oak King.  Twice a year (usually at the solstices) they meet and battle for the hand of the Goddess. 

At the time of the Summer Solstice, Oak King is at the height of his strength, while the Holly King is at his weakest.  However, the Holly King begins to regain his power, and at the Autumn Equinox, the tables finally turn in the Holly King’s favour for at the Winter Solstice, he vanquishes the Oak King. Robert Graves, in his poetic work The White Goddess, identified a number of paired hero-figures which he believes are variants of this myth, including Lleu Llaw Gyffes and Gronw Pebr; Gwyn and Gwythr; Lugh and Balor; Balan and Balin; Gawain and the Green Knight; the robin and the wren; and even Jesus and John the Baptist.

The Goddess reminds us not to take things for granted for the worse of the Winter storms are yet to come as the Night Hag, the Bone Mother of Winter still stalks the land.

Within the darkness, we ask ourselves:
“To die and be reborn, the Wheel is turning,
What must we lose to the night?”

We release our fears and inhibitations in order to expose that fragile light deep within our selves that has been stiffled or hidden.  And as we light our candles to honour the returning light that the Child of Promise will bring, we also encourge this light to shine forth.

Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere

The timing of the winter solstice is marked when the sun reaches its furthest north position in the sky and starts to move back towards the south.  As it does, it marks one of the main turning points in the year, the others being the equinoxes as well as the summer solstice (that occurs in December).  The timing for the winter solstice this year will fall on Saturday, 22 June at 1:24 am (Adelaide time).  From this moment onwards, days start becoming longer and night times shorter.  however with the worse of the winter weather yet to arrive, this thought is not often the first that comes to mind.

In ancient Europe the winter solstice (the timing of which in the Northern Hemisphere takes place in December) was seen as a time of celebration.  The Romans had a week-long celebration called Saturnalia during which all wars had to stop and courts did not try criminals.  Later this festival became Dies Natalis of Sol Invicti or the Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun celebrated on 25 December each year.

Within modern Paganism practices, the winter solstice is the time that marks the rebirth of the sun/son, the divine Child of the Goddess who emerges from her dark womb. 

The following “Solstice Prayer” by Thorn Coyle reflects the anticipation of waiting for the first rays of the sun to appear over the horizon:

We wait in the dark for the light to appear,
Mother, give birth to our brother the Sun.
We wait in the dark for the light to appear,
Mother, give birth to our brother the Sun!
We wait. We watch.
Out of the cold comes the promise of newness.
We wait. We watch.
Out of the cold comes the promise of day!

The Child of Promise is the new sun, which is small and weak at this time of the year, but will grow stronger as the sacred Wheel of the Year turns.  As such, the Winter Solstice is a time for celebrating new beginnings and to focus on what you wish to bring into your life.

A Candle for our Ancestors at Samhain

As the sun moves north of the equator on its way up to the Tropic of Cancer, the days continue to grow shorter and the nights longer.  This is the time of the An Ghrian Mór or “small sun” to the ancient Celts, that marks the commencement of the dark half of the year.  Now is the festival of Samhain for those of us south of the equator.

The word “Samhain” is said to come from the Scots Gaelic samhainn and the Irish Gaelic samain or samfuin, both meaning “summer’s end” (at least from an etymological perspective) with sam meaning “summer” and fuin meaning “sunset” or “end”.  Within the Irish medieval myth mentioned earlier, Tochmarc Emire, Samhain is the first of the four quarter days mentioned by Emer to the Ulster hero Cu Chulainn: “Samhain, when the summer goes to its rest, ” records Ronald Hutton in his book, Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain.

In Ireland and Scotland, a festival referred to as Feile na Marbh (the Festival of the Dead) was believed to have taken place; or in modern language, Oíche Shamhna (Irish) and Scots Gaelic, Oidhche Shamhna where the custom was (and in some places today still is) to set a place for the dead at the Samhain feast, and to tell tales of the ancestors on that night.

Originally, the “Feast of the Dead” was celebrated in Celtic countries by leaving food offerings on altars and doorsteps for the “wandering dead”, or a single candle was left lit in the window to help guide the spirits of ancestors home.  Ancestors can fall into three categories – blood relatives, lineage (spiritual or otherwise), and those who are not related to us but who have inspired/enabled us to make life changing decisions (often for the better).

Samhain is a time of introspection. It is a time to heal the source of our deepest wounds, and those we have inflicted upon others around us. It is a time when we can learn to see things more clearly. We use this time to remove all falsehoods that we have built up throughout the year. We also can use this time of the year to remove those aspects of our life, which we have grown out of or no longer need.

Entering the Time of Transformation at Samhain

The sacred Wheel of the Year has turned and here south of the equator we find ourselves at Samhain and awaiting the veils between the world of the living and the realm of the dead to open before us.

At this rather sombre time of the year, we remember those who have left this world as the thinning of the veil makes it easier for us to contact our ancestors, as well as other spirits.  Ancestors need not only be those of our blood line, those people who we have known in this life – they can also anyone who has helped shaped us into the people we are today, who have inspired us to follow a path closer to the calling of our own True Will, in order to reach our highest ideals. 

During the stillness of Samhain night, light a candle and give thanks to those who have gone before you, regardless of your relationship with or memory of them.  

As the ecstatic Lord of the Wine makes his descent in to the Underworld where he will take up the mantle of the Dread Lord of Shadows, the comforter of souls, the Goddess too transforms into a slightly all of aspect that refuses to be confirmed to the typical “Maiden Mother Crone” aspect.  This is the time of the Dark Goddess, the shape shifter as she slips between the worlds, the unpredictable one who merges in and out the shadows, as well as merging in and out of the modern stereotypes of the Goddess – sometimes she is depicted as an old Crone, other times she is the Maiden, and yet she can also appear as the terrifying Mother who devours her children.  It is only through this “devouring”, that we fully understand the Mysteries which surround us.

The Underworld into which the God has entered is the place of initiation where he must pass through in order to be reborn at the Winter Solstice.  Yet, until he is joined with his initiator, the Goddess who is the great teacher of all life’s mysteries, he rules alone for the Goddess still has her own fires to light and cauldron to stir in our world before she departs to join her beloved.  

Samhain is a time for introspection, as we too draw our energy within and prepare for the colder Winter months. And as we do, it will be wise to remember what happened to Gwion Bach, in the Welsh myth of Taliesin the Bard, should you happen to come across an old woman (Ceridwen) asking you to stir a cauldron in which a sacred brew is being prepared.

Win a copy of Dancing the Sacred Wheel

I am delighted to announce that the third edition of Dancing the Sacred Wheel is nearing completed due to the need to change publishing platforms.

Dancing the Sacred Wheel is a journey through the traditional eight seasonal festivals (sabbats) and how they relate to the Southern Hemisphere. Incorporating history and traditional Pagan lore with personal experience and ritual insights, invaluable pointers are included as to how to incorporate the localised elements into something that also provides a “traditional” feel.

While the focus of Dancing the Sacred Wheel is for the Southern Hemispheric practitioner, a challenge is set to the reader, regardless of which hemisphere they reside, to draw inspiration from their local environment, and to create a “Wheel of the Year” that is completely unique for them.

To win your own copy of Dancing the Sacred Wheel (3rd edition) simply like and share the post found on the TDM Publishing Facebook pageh.

The winner will be announced at the end of April 2019.

It is the Autumn Equinox and NOT “Mabon”

It is that time of the year again that despite the ever lingering daylight savings, a definite change can be felt as the earth’s wobbling rotation pulls away from the sun here in the Southern Hemisphere.  The mornings are distinctively darker and the sun lingers longer below the horizon, and there is an ever slight chill in the air.  Yes, the time of the Autumn Equinox draws near (21st of March to be exact for this year).

As such, it appears time again to point out an erroneous association that first appeared in the 1970s and which, despite numerous attempts to rectify over the years, still perpetuates itself within modern Paganism – that being the usage of the term “Mabon” as an alleged alternative name for the Autumn Equinox.

Reflection on Your Harvest

As the sacred Wheel of the Year is turning towards Lughnasadh and beyond in the Southern Hemisphere, now is the time for bringing in your harvest, for giving thanks for or acknowledging what you have received (whether expecting or not). Sometimes the reasoning behind what we have received is not always clear to us at the time – we need to have “faith” as the underlying meaning will make itself known when the “time is right”. This meaning may even call for an action or direction that we have not been expecting.