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Beltane..because I am weary of the other

The clergy team came together last weekend and plotted the Beltane ritual for Mother Grove Goddess Temple. We'll be in a new park this year--ah, new to us: it's a seasoned public park.

I've been pondering and writing about the Recent Awfulness with Klein and the Frosts over at my personal blog and I can't really manage to dredge up anything else about that that hasn't been said by a hundred other people who have far more Important and Serious things to say about it than I.

So I am turning my thoughts to Earth Day and to Beltane.

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A Dubious Balance

For most of us on the East Coast, this has been a long, wintry season to be sure. And I’m certain we are not done with weather yet, March having come in like a wee lamb. We are ready–more than ready!–for spring to arrive in the hills and the hollow places.

I follow a path that teaches me that spring arrives with the snowdrops, in the dark drear beginnings of February. I have learned that spring is still a terribly changeable beast and filled with chaos and longing. When I observe the Vernal Equinox, it will be as mid-spring–just as the Winter Solstice is mid-winter–and I will know I am halfway to Summer, at Beltane.

Most likely, I will balance an egg tomorrow, for fun. And I have a funny package ready to send to my daughter and her beau, to celebrate the season. As you can see from the photo above, the hellebores that are commonly called Lenten roses are blooming in the yard. The daffodils are blindingly yellow this year and the crocus are larger and lusher than in years past. Some things need a long cold rest to do their best work.

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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Thanks, wild woman.
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Just the words I needed to hear today.

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March Begins the Travel Time

I'm home from Sacred Space Conference where I had the very best intentions of blogging it day-by-day. But here's what happened--I was so busy teaching and seeing old friends and having an excellent time, that I simply didn't do that. I'm going to try to encapsulate some of the juiciness of this good conference over the next few days, as I unpack and do laundry and prepare for some new workshops in the Asheville area and prepare to go out on the road again in about a month, when I visit the Gulf coast.

This was my third time at Sacred Space and I will say that the third time was the charm for this conference. I was a featured teacher the first two times I went up but this time I was a regular old teacher, doing two classes and participating in a panel discussion of Appalachian folk magic.

But I am tired now and looking forward to my own bed.

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Deep White and Silent World

We were lucky this time, here in the southern highlands of Appalachia.  The punishing winds and the ice and the sleet passed us by, as surely as if we had daubed the doorjamb with lamb's blood.  What we got was a lazy eighteen-hour snowfall.

From the snug window, we watched the small light flakes pepper the landscape, relentless, implacable. There were separate periods of light or no snow and then the snow-globe world would return. The streetlight reflecting on the snow made the front room almost as bright as day.

We were lucky because the hysterical weather people warned us of this impending snowpocalypse, this snowmaggedon.  Most folks around here got their beer/milk/bread/eggs frenzy early so that my trip to the grocery store the day before the actual event was calm and easy. The store manager allowed as how there hadn't been a single loaf of bread in the place at the end of the previous day.

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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Yeah, you know...the usual. I am loving the Resilient Gardener, by the way, and hope to be able to pick your brain for the Women's
  • Diotima
    Diotima says #
    Yawn...is it really time to wake up? Oh, right. I have to plan the garden. They say food prices are going to go way up this year.
Down to the Wire--Imbolc Eve Activities

So much to do tonight and wanted to share some of the prep--traditional and otherwise--as Imbolc rolls in.

In my world, tonight is Imbolc Eve (some of you may celebrate that tomorrow).  There's still tons to do to really celebrate, so here's a partial list.  I'm sure you'll find all sorts of things to add to it.

--Leave a treat out tonight for Herself and Her Cow as they go travelling through the world, imparting Their blessing. I usually leave a drop of whiskey for Herself and a small bowl of oats for the Cow.

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Prayers for Imbolc: Beloved Brigid

 

In preparation for Imbolc, I pored through the Carmichael material in the Carmina Gadelica and adapted some prayers for the season.  Here they are--

Brigid Dark and Bright

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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Now, that's an idea...in my copious free time. Thanks, Diotima.
  • Diotima
    Diotima says #
    You should probably just re-write the whole damned C.G. from a goddess centered perspective and be done with it. Yours is a big im
  • Christopher Blackwell
    Christopher Blackwell says #
    The Druid author Morgan Daimler already has done that in her book By Land, Sea and Sky. http://tinyurl.com/mjykmk4 I have intervi
But what am I to do with all this fury, all this rage?

As you know, I am a woman of a particular place, a woman who is from and of the southern highlands of the Appalachian mountains. From my west-facing window, I look out on the third oldest river in the world, framed by the oldest mountains.

The energy is deep here, hoary, implacable. If you are brave and crazy enough to connect your energy to this land, there can be no turning back from it. And no turning your back on it, not for long, not if you value sleep and quiet thought.  This land will haunt you and you need only ask those whose families left here for greener pastures and died longing for a remote and drafty cabin set on a rolling hillside.  Those who still think of themselves as mountain folk--though they have lived in the flatlands for a long, long time.

For almost a week now, word has been coming out of West Virginia about a chemical leak into the old Elk River. Bits and pieces, then the full horror. But little on the mainstream media, not surprising.  All about the Olympics and Christie and the president of France's girl friend.  Was there some problem with the drinking water in West Virginia?  Was there some weird incidence of corporate incompetence and toxic materials lightly tended and rarely monitored?

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  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    Blessings on your land. May those of us who live far away sit up and take notice.
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Good rant! The Progressive/Liberal campaign to kill energy production in the US has fallen hard on the people of West Virginia an

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A Cold Night and a New Dawn

Dramatic weather here and elsewhere--yesterday I watched an enormous weather front come up from the South in the form of a dark gray shelf cloud. It was a scene out of Hollywood: surely a mothership of some sort was lurking there or it was the precursor, the warning of some King novel.  I got back into my car and drove home to my old house that was under the edge of that shelf of doom.

And by the time I'd parked the car and looked up, the front had moved backwards, retreated back the way it had so ominously come, ragged now, undramatic, ordinary.

That's how life feels right now for so many people. Ominous, oppressive, heavy. All those Happy New Year greetings felt a bit strained and the emotional bubbly didn't last. There's a sense that we're in for drama--whether weather or spirituality or political. Drama and more drama.

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Postponing the Return of the Light

I'm simply not ready for the dark to be over. So I've decided to put off welcoming the Sun back until a few days before Imbolc.

If then.

I've written here before on the importance of diving into the deep darkness at this most appropriate seasonal time. Go to your Ancestors, I've solemnly intoned. Listen to their soft voices, their wise counsel. Don't fear the deep work of the Dark Goddesses.  Embrace it. Find out what you're made of. Test your mettle.

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Unchurched

Though my people are Methodists on one side and Baptists on the other, I was not raised in either church. I got formal religious training from a parochial Lutheran elementary school and my own intellectual curiosity. Friends and neighbors invited me to visit their churches with them and I sometimes did--giving me an interesting smattering of all kinds of ceremonies and observances.  My grandmother sang in the choir of a small Methodist church and I sometimes went to church with her and my grandfather. I sat in the second row between him and a former mayor of our little town and I was very well-behaved. Of course.

I have never been christened or baptized because I grew up "unchurched," as we say in the South. One of the best parts of that sort of upbringing is that I don't carry around a load of anger or fear or resentment for my treatment at the hands of a monolithic institution like The Church. And I got to make macaroni picture frames in vacation bible school and I was a sure winner at the Sword Drill.

Can I get a Blessed Be?

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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Obviously so.
  • David Polllard
    David Polllard says #
    There are some Pagan traditions which come closer to the social aspects of churches, like the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, or if yo

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It Gets Easier. Trust Me on This One.

This morning I packed a basket with Goddesses and Wiccan tools and headed out to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Swannanoa Valley.  I was invited to talk to the young people's RE (religious education) class--they are doing the section on Neighboring Faiths. I sometimes do the sermon at this sweet church and always enjoy the time I spend there.

I began by asking them all how well they'd scored in the Great Pumpkin Candy Berserker Night celebration. Most of the kids know me so it was pretty comfortable for them to talk--since I'm not technically a stranger.  I then read part of the Charge of the Goddess and we launched into an hour's worth of discussion on the Wheel of the Year, European tribes, tools of the trade and the nature of the Divines.  We finished with casting a circle.

It was fun and the kids were attentive and curious. The little red-head who was sitting beside me had even been to Newgrange and whispered to me that it was "awesome."

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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Thanks. Everything seems best when simplest these days.
  • Shauna Aura Knight
    Shauna Aura Knight says #
    Great post. I really agree with the part about finding your practice getting simpler and deeper.

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The Ancestor Vigil

We've been doing the Ancestor Vigil here for about 20 years and every year it is a little different but the intention is always the same. It is not a Samhain ritual, it is not a celebration of Hallowe'en, it does not glom onto the trendy love of Dia de los Muertes. It is a ritual commemoration of the Recent Dead, the Beloved Long Dead and the Mighty Dead.

We set up a central altar, a candle-lighting station and a place to get more info on Mother Grove Goddess Temple and to leave your food donations for the food pantry. People are invited to place mementos on the altar and there is a place in the ritual where we speak the names of the dead that are closest to us.

I keep a Samhain list every year and I read that aloud, too.  There is a section of the ritual devoted to victims of religious persecution and a segment there on the European Inquisitions.

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Tending the Tales of Grief

Every so often, I offer a workshop or discussion on Ancestor veneration. I hadn't done one in several years, but felt the urge to do it this year.  Last night was the chosen evening and we drew in together at Mother Grove's little chapel to talk about the Dead and our Dead.

It was informal--more of a conversation than a class.  I started out with some general information about honoring our Beloved Dead through altars or memorial displays. We went on to discuss the layers of the Dead that we may choose to honor--family and friends who have died,  all those folks we find on Ancestrydotcom and those intentionally selected heroes and inspirations who have no blood or cultural tie to us but who have inspired us through their story.

We talked about some artifacts that may be employed in our commemorative process--including memorial candles like the one above.

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  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Beautiful words.
Tidying Up and Baking Cornbread for Themselves

Readying for Samhain is a long and delightful process around here. Last week, I tidied the Ancestor Altar at Mother Grove Goddess Temple and poured some wine into the silver chalice on the third shelf.  This morning--in spite of the distinct possibility that we have some temple mice--I added some bread to the little feast.

It's the alarm clock that we usually use to wake them up. That isn't necessary now--as I've written here before, the Veil is so thin these days as to be non-existent. It is a loving, albeit symbolic, gesture.

My home Ancestor altar stays up year-round, too.  I gave it a good cleaning just after Harvest Home and added some corn liquor, and a fresh piece of chocolate.  My morning meditations include a nod and a shout-out to my great-grandmother whose dinner bell sets there, near her daughter's (my grandmother's) clip-on sunglasses.  It brings them all so close, as the world and the days grow darker.

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Do you Hoodoo? or, Rootwork Amongst the Edamame

I returned from the West Kentucky Hoodoo Rootworker Heritage Festival last evening. The festival site was set in farm country in western Kentucky and vast fields of soybeans formed a crescent around the encampment.  A rooster crowed up the Sun each morning and coyotes yipped through the long, cool nights. We had one wet night and one cold night and days filled with one of the most diverse groups I've seen in my (admittedly limited) Pagan festival experience.

There were workshops, rituals, classes and plenty of networking with colleagues from as far away as Toronto. The food was good, the company cheerful and remarkably even-tempered. Lots of nice vendors tempted us all with their pretty wares and I can't even complain about the late-night karaoke simply because the folks doing it were having so much fun.

I presented three workshops--one of them was "Willful Bane," a workshop I've been giving for a number of years on the ethics, history and techniques of hexes and cursing. It's got some surprising ideas contained in it, ideas that are sometimes difficult for modern Pagans to swallow.  It was fun to present it to a group who didn't feel particularly challenged by the idea of hexing as an extreme healing modality and understood the concept of justice that permeates some aspects of this work.

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  • Celeste Jackson
    Celeste Jackson says #
    Absolutely! Bryan, Jack and I would be delighted to assist you. I would also LOVE to introduce you to Dr. Erika Brady. Dr Montell
  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Too funny. Yes, it was nice meeting you, too, at long last and nice to meet Bryan. I am considering a limited tour of Kentucky and
  • Celeste Jackson
    Celeste Jackson says #
    I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you and reading your book(yes, I did finish it- I could not put it down) and had one heck of a time e

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Face To Face with Neglected Ancestors

And they are kind of cranky.  Let me give you the backstory, if I may.

About once a month, a small group of us get together for some trance work.  Sometimes we hold trance postures, sometimes we dance.  We crank up the "tunes" and turn off the lights.  Some of us cover our eyes.  We have a separate room where we can sit it out for a bit--or write what's coming in for us.  Then we can choose to return or not.  When we are all in the separate room and sitting quietly for a bit, someone will ask if we've all returned and we do a self-check to make sure we're fully present.

Fairly standard for this sort of thing.

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Hard Work as Sacrament

It is harvest-time here in the southern Highlands of the Appalachian mountains. The green beans have been blanched and frozen. The blessed elderberry harvest has been frozen and juiced and tinctured for winter healings. The apples are in now and I have spent many and many an hour cutting off the bruised parts and cutting out the wormy bits and chopping them up. Some have gone into bags to be future pies and apple cake. Others have become applesauce and many of them have been crushed for their juice and amended with yeast and honey to be hard cider in the cold months to come.

If I sound like the busy Ant from the fable that is appropriate. There are "fun" things that I have declined attending because the harvest is in and there is food to process. Not so much fun now but imagine pesto from my own basil, thawed in the depths of January. And I hold fast the notion of a crisp cold hard cider as the perfect celebration of the the Midwinter Solstice.

Many--possibly most--modern Pagans have a spiritual or intellectual understanding of the concepts of "harvest" because their world is one in which food comes from a store or farmers' market and not from the back yard. I make no judgement here, friends. Our lives are as they are. But I wish for them the chance to break the ground gently in the early spring, to pull a row and plant seeds that were saved from last year's crops and watch for the tiny bright green shoots that sing out "germination!"

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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    I love that poem--thank you for posting it. Marge Piercy certainly gets it, doesn't she? green beans...
  • Diotima
    Diotima says #
    Your lovely post made me think of this, one of my very favorite poems. The poem, and the fact that I still have that bag of beans

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Home is Where the Harvest is

As you know, I have been travelling. I was in Britain for three weeks, returned home for five days and then set off for New York for almost a week.

All of this at harvest time. Sadness. The grapes were neglected and went to feed the possums and raccoons. There was a huge elderberry harvest but I did very little of it. Because we have two apple trees that bear fruit at different times, the apple harvest has been prolonged.  We filled our little freezer with apples destined for the cider fermenter and there are more in the refrigerator in the vegetable drawers.

Green beans have been plentiful and tomatoes trickle in--perfect, warm globes of brightness. 

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There is Something About Fire

Many of us divide the agricultural year into quarters (Solstices and Equinoxes) and then again into eighths (the Cross-quarter days). Eight convenient notches that mark the movement of the year from resting and fallow times to planting, then on to tending and finally harvest.

We think these cross-quarters are based on old Irish celebrations that we have come to call "Celtic Fire Festivals." We're in one now--Lughnasadh.

Lots of Pagan-folk (or whatever you choose to call yourselves these days) love a lot of fire, and I confess to being awfully fond of bonfires and brazier-fires myself. Elementally speaking, I lean more towards Earth and Water, but there is something about fire, isn't there?

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By the Waters of Avalon

As you may remember from an earlier post, I have come to the Glastonbury Goddess Conference to present my workshop on Deep Grounding. It's a fun workshop and has all that stuff that modern Pagans seem to love--some learning, some technique, some meditation, some toning and some dance. Frosted with a short ritual.

Bazinga, as they say.

I checked out the space this afternoon and it is a pretty little room that doubles as a gallery in a place called the Glastonbury Experience. It's the Miracles Room.

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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    You're welcome.
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

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