There is nothing like the overwhelming opportunities for renewal and reflection that New Year's Eve celebrations can bring.
Last night I bid 2014 farewell by sharing a few beers on the beach with a good friend, and we had a good view of the 'kids' fireworks that were at 9pm. We were alone on the beach to watch the sun set, but as 8.30 rolled around local residents started strolling down to the beach to get a view of the light show that was being held in town. There was so much cheer - people bidding "Happy New Year" to strangers, kids covered in glow-stick jewelry jumping out of the skins with anticipation, and just a lot of general positive feeling.
It's a unique moment as the celebration is secular, without any political trappings. It's simply the turnover of the calendar year that we work by, but as a pagan I still feel like the moment is significant - the atmosphere simply buzzes and the unified energy of people ready to let go of one period of time and summon in the next can't be denied. We danced up a storm in the shallow waters as the fireworks went off, feeling childlike and free, and just sharing in the joy of the moment. Life can be simply joyous if you let it.
I was all tucked up in bed, warm with contentment, by the time the midnight fireworks announced a new beginning. This is a fresh opportunity available to everyone. What a great time to do some goal setting or spring cleaning. I've bombed out on New Year's Resolutions with the best of them - and I sadly recalled my failure to realise some of the goals I had in 2014 - but you bet I will be recasting some of those and I really look forward to seeing what adventures, laughter and learning there is ahead!
Happy New Year! May 2015 bless you with opportunities to grow in positive directions and may you share it with the energies, souls and deities that you hold dear.
This is the fourth in my series of posts on how I connect to the elements in the Southern Hemisphere, living on the western coast of Australia. This time, I turn to the South where I contemplate the element of Earth. Previously, I called on Air, in the East; Fire, in the North; and Water, in the West.
Standing in the South urges one to contemplate a deep, dark and quiet part of the self. To the South lies the lush forests populated by the majestic Karri, Jarrah, Tingle and Tuart trees which don't grow anywhere else in the world, and green fields used for farming and vineyards. This makes it a tourist destination and to go "Down South" in Western Australia means you are escaping the suburbs for peace and tranquility. Even further south lies Antarctica and the South Pole, and weather patterns from the Southern Ocean bring the cold fronts in Winter that hit the coast line sometimes with a great deal of power.
To stand in the South literally grounds you, and it urges me to dig my toes deep into the earth and feel the gentle thrum of the solidity beneath. In the Earth there is deep wisdom and consolidation, a foundational trust in forces such as gravity, an anchoring that pulls you deep and reminds you of the here and now.
This element corresponds to Winter in my tradition, but Winter for me holds a very different meaning to the dominant narrative of the Celtic-centric neo-pagan Wheel of the Year. Winter is not a barren time, it is instead a lush season, of germination as the rains arrive and the ground cools enough to be hospitable to life. At this time of year animals are attracted to watering holes, and the tips of eucalypts surge forward with new growth after the ground is finally being replenished as the ground springs to life with winter grasses and plants. The earth has such a pleasant scent when rain enriches it, and becomes a place of fertility and activity. Fields spring to life and baby stock animals distract you with their cuteness when driving down a country road. The nights are chillier, but not too cold as the weather in a Perth winter is more akin to a Celtic summer at any rate. This has interesting implications for 'flipping the wheel' and the interrelationships between Northern and Southern Hemisphere traditions... but I digress.
It's a different sort of hibernation, as there is still less daylight, and the turning inward still occurs, but in a different way - perhaps on a more personal level. There is a steady wisdom found in the element of Earth that is at once simple and ancient. It is the same wisdom we associate with getting enough exercise, with eating nourishing food, with caring for our surroundings, and caring for eachother. It is a stillness in being present and opening up to the senses as they touch on the material realm - Earth is tangible. It can be seen, touched, tasted, smelled, heard. Pagans are often called 'Earth worshippers' or it is said that their practice is 'Earth based'. This is sometimes oversimplified into worshipping the planet herself as Gaia or hugging trees, however I think there is more merit and depth to the notion. To worship the earth means to worship the element of Earth - the reminder that divinity is not something that is out of sight, to be philosophised about, to speculate upon. Divinity is here and now - a stone is divine, animals and plants are divine, and if that is the case, we need to be responsible for the actions in this life rather than concerning ourselves with fear of consequences on another side that we can never prove to exist. This might be a contentious point to some (and I have no problem with that), but it is at the heart of what being a pagan means to me.
There are moments when I have felt deeply connected to the Earth, and those times are when I am either surrounded by stone, concrete and glass in urban environments and everything just feels solid and heavy - and then there are those times I have visited caves and travelled underground. There are several caves running underneath this locality in a network of limestone, where the other elements have gradually eaten away the minerals and left wonderous places of beauty and awe. Some of these caves are accessible to tourists, and the quiet is almost deafening. An amazing elemental journey and a profound spiritual experience, if you ever get the chance to journey into a cave and stop for a moment of quiet contemplation, I highly recommend it.
Pictured above is a photo I have taken of the entrance to Lake Cave in Western Australia.
I call to you, O Element of Earth. Hail and Welcome!
This is the third of a series of posts about how I relate to the elements in the Southern Hemisphere living on the western coast of Australia; this time, we are going To Dare and explore the element of Water. Previously, I called in Fire, in the North.
I've always wanted to be a mermaid. There was just something so appealing about it. I never actually watched The Little Mermaid as a child, weirdly enough as a kid who grew up in the 1980s and 90s, that boat sailed right by me. However I have always been enchanted by the 'seaside', and I have lived within a short drive or a short walk away from the beach my whole life. I am lucky enough to be on the doorstep of the Indian Ocean, and have ready access to some of the world's most beautiful beaches. I used to run down to the beach in the hot summers as a lanky 14 year old with my body board in tow and the waves I used to catch when I was by myself makes me shake my head with bewilderment today. Somewhere I found my fear as an adult; perhaps it was one too many times getting dumped by the waves into the harsh sandbar.
I've not always been the most competent swimmer, however. It is typical for most kids in this part of the world to be competent swimmers, but out of all the things I excelled at as a child, swimming certainly wasn't one of them. I struggled to breathe out underwater and we didn't own a pool like a lot of other families did to practice their freestyle in. Today, I am an average swimme and I can stay afloat and dive, but I still have a small fear of deep water. You won't catch me scuba diving or going for a ride in a submarine, as the majesty and beauty that is hidden in the depths is something I find a little frightening. Sharks do make a snack of the odd surfer off the coast here and there are sometimes stinging jellyfish in the water, especially at dusk.
Water is a fascinating element as it holds a lot of unknowns - it is the last great frontier of exploration on Earth, as there is still so much we don't know about what is going on in our deepest oceans. Getting stuck in the creepy "giant squid videos" part of YouTube is enough to teach you that!
But what does this all mean for localised pagan practice? Activism plays a part, as building estates creep up on beaches to get the million dollar views at the expense of sand dunes that are critical to preventing erosion. Canal developments are given the green light underneath board room tables despite locals protesting against the damage they cause to previous estuarian marine environments. The oceans are overfished causing an imbalance in an ecosystem that we don't know everything about. Oceans are giant temperature regulators for our atmosphere, and global warming and climate change can cause apocalyptic ripples in our weather patterns than can potentially cause disasterous watery scenarios for future generations - or even my own! There is a great deal of power in Water, an element that is sometimes taken for granted. When Wiccans, witches and pagans of the eclectic bent call in the quarters in Western Australia, Water is summoned from the west with reverence and ready reference as we look to the Indian Ocean, where the sun sets and adventure beckons.
Water brings an energy of cleansing and healing, but it also corresponds to the magical axiom 'To Dare'. To Dare speaks of courage, and mastery of our emotions. Daring is not reckless abandon, but being able to select one’s emotional response to a situation, and take charge of the decisions we have made via the other axioms of Air and Fire, To Know and To Will. It’s knowing what your decision is, willing a solution, and having the gumption to proceed. Regardless of our fears, of our hangovers, of our grudges. Regardless of temptations. Regardless of old habits which often, die hard.
Emotions can be volatile and can be restrictive if we allow it. It is easy to allow a particular emotion to dominate and I often find myself sometimes sitting in an emotion and letting it dictate my decisions. I often find it hard to make phone calls, to take actions which require personal responsibility, in favour of doing nothing despite knowing and willing myself to do otherwise. To observe and release are two ways we can work with these emotions and the Water element in a way condusive to effective magical practice. Consider the way Water manifests in our lives. There is a lot of healing that can come from contemplation of Water: the still lake, the ebb and flow of the ocean, and patter of rain on the roof. Peace is found in observation. The release comes from the nature that water has of dilution and the currents that flow within watery bodies. To release something with water does not mean that we banish it, but that we allow the larger forces to take the emotion and disperse it in a way that neutralises the effects but also allows the memory to be recalled, if required.
While these notions seem passive, to let something go and release it, or to observe it rather that to engage in it aggressively or indulgently, takes a great deal of Daring. It is not doing nothing, but rather allowing the mysteries of Water to deliver wisdom that allows us to flow rather than stagnate.
Water is an effective cleansing tool and this too, requires a certain degree of Daring. To wash away the masks we wear to allow new growth to emerge is essential in order to flow towards truth.
To Dare requires faith. Faith that the source will provide, faith in our own Will, faith in others, faith and trust in trajectories we cannot perceive with our mundane senses. It is hard to measure or quantify. It is outside the comfort zone of dry land. So it can be seen that Water is anything but wishy-washy!
I call to you, element of Water. Hail and Welcome!
Some of the content of this post was taken from a blog post over at my other blog, The Chaos Witch.
This is the second of my series of posts on how I connect to the elements from a Southern Hemisphere perspective living on the western coast of Australia. Previously, I called in Air, in the East.
I now turn to the North, and call in passion, creation, desire, heat: I call to you, o Fire! Standing in the circle, we have already established a sense of presence in the breath of life, the whisper is on the winds, the intention is set, the inspiration has arrived. Fire is called next as it now has the Air to breathe, to ignite a sense of drive into what we do in this space, a flurry of sparks: let's turn that whisper into a roar.
When calling in Fire, I can hear the sound of a match being lit. I can feel the warmth spread from my hands, spreading across my chest and then catching on to the circle behind me. And fire is catching. To the far north of this place lies the red hot Pilbara region, where the dirt is red and the land expands for hundreds and hundreds of kilometres like a Martian landscape. There is no where else like it on Earth. If the elemental creatures of myth such as the salamanders had a home, you can easily imagine them being conjured from such a place. When you are up North, the red dirt gets into everything: your car is covered, the washing on your line is tinted, sometimes it even feels like your lungs are coated in red dust.
The lizards of the outback are fascinating creatures. Resourceful and cheeky, one of my favourites is the thorny devil, also known as moloch horridus. Such cute!
The geranium, with its hardiness and flowers that come in a multitude of colours (but my favourite is the deep reds) suits Fire workings well, as does pepper and citrus, and resins such as dragon's blood and benzoin. For ritual food offerings, plenty of chilli and garlic as well as curries are involved, and healing tonics such as fire cider can be concocted to cure ails that crop up during the winter.
In the circle, Fire represents courage and the drive in your engine that gets things going, the spark that can move and shake things all around. In Fire we celebrate with dance, drums and ecstasy, Fire imparts a sense of celebration and merriment and accepts challenges with gusto and endless energy. Fire gives us passion and can feed desires, we feel this element closely when we move in rhythm whether in a circle or in bed with a lover, when we burn with rage at a protest or when we stay up all night researching injustices. In Fire we can find healing as it burns away the past, but in Fire we can find destruction. Fire does not discriminate, and the cleansing that war can bring is not something to be taken lightly and is important to remember when dealing with Fire workings; everything can burn.
At the same time if your inner flame is guttering, it is important to look to the other elements. Flames require tending and so does our inner spark. Learn what your Fire needs to keep it healthy and in control lest it burn through you, or burn out. Temperence is key.
I call you, element of Fire. Hail and Welcome!
The elements feature heavily in my magical practice and since my interpretation of the elements is heavily influenced by my sense of place, I thought I would do a series of posts that illustrate how I connect with each of the four directional elements both locationally and spiritually. Let's begin with Air.
Air is the breath of life, the song of spirit, the inspiration that comes on the winds. When I cast circle, I stand in the East, where the sun rises above the Darling ranges and the golden light spills over the country each morning. The hot winds that come from the east contribute to Air being a solar energy in my practice. Secrets can be carried on the Easterly wind, which is never a breeze and more of a torrent that scrapes the land barren and carries with it summer seeds.
Even if I lived on the Eastern coast, where some Australians instead choose to call in Water, I would still call to this direction for the element of Air. The rising sun and the currents of the planet speak to me in a way that denominate this quarter as definitively Air, but each to their own.
The Eastern Quarter, and Air, is a place of invocation and great potential. The animals of the East are the birds that fill the air with song; the magpie is my favourite creature at all these winged friends! Magpies are incredibly intelligent and I love to watch them interact with each other. They seem to group in small clans and they come together to warble intricate songs that fill my heart with hope, inspiration and passion. They kindle something special that I have also felt connected to ever since I was small. They are beautiful birds. They hang out on an electricity pole outside my house and communicate deeply to each other at length. It does not seem to me to be a mating call or anything similar, but simply a congenial conversation amongst friends! The magpie reminds me to be filled with mirth, to be thankful for my family and my friends, to be selective and discerning, and the carefully evaluate that which I protect.
For plant correspondencies, Air is associated with the everlasting daisy (sometimes known as the strawflower or paper daisies) which comes in many varieties and colours, including white, yellow and pink. The flowers pop up in proliferation in the Spring. Due to their everlasting nature, they are perfect flowers for altar and shrine adornment and they speak of eternal beauty and steadfast loyalty. I always feel so inspired when I come across a crop of everlastings.
Ritual food and offerings for this element include the humble egg, fresh herb-filled salads, freshly picked beans and peas from the vegetable garden, and sprouts - lots of sprouts! My coven places a lot of emphasis on preparing seasonal food suitable to each direction and Air calls for foods that pack a lot of nutritional potential into a small space.
Most of all, Air dominates the realm of communication and the tenet that knowledge is power. The domain that is covered by the computer, the pen and the paintbrush, three realms where I spend a lot of creative time, is ruled by Air and Air magics. While the passion, drive and content for these creative endeavours may come from other elements, it is the power of Air that initiates and proliferates these domains and breaths into them life.
I call to you, element of Air. Hail and Welcome!
The longer I spend online browsing blogs, lurking in discussion forums and generally talking to other witches and pagans, the more often I see the comment that many people do not celebrate the Wheel of the Year as they have decided the dates as they are traditionally understood in contemporary practice as simply not being a fit any more for their own practice.
This is a perfectly reasonable sentiment. The fact that someone is able to evaluate an idea that is arguably part of the privileged ‘Wiccanate’ set of practices and put it to one side is applaudable. It shows reflection, adaptation and growth.
Of course, as paganism diversifies, more and more individuals and groups will be on the scene who do not celebrate seasonal practices at all, in favour of devotional observations and other practices that may be fixed on a calendar, or may not be. For these pagans, the Wheel of the Year never entered the equation to begin with. This has led to a lot of interesting debate but also a refreshing variety of celebration and ritual throughout the pagan year that goes beyond eight dates more or less evenly spread across a year.
I myself have undergone my own series of upheavals and dismissals of the Wheel of the Year. Living in the Southern Hemisphere brings its own set of challenges and anyone living in a climate that does not comfortably squish into the Western notions of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter will struggle with the Wheel in some form or another if they celebrate it, no matter what hemisphere they live in.
After a year off here and there I’ve re-embraced the Wheel wholeheartedly, and it’s looking a little different, especially in terms of how it ‘feels’ compared to how I first approached it. I feel the Wheel has its merits in many ways so here I’d like to plead for the case of sticking with the Wheel – you can take it or leave it!
One of the biggest arguments against using the neo-pagan Wheel of the Year is the names of the various sabbats. I’ve never quite liked the names Mabon, Imbolc and Lughnassad / Lammas and have happily done away with them in my own practice as the resonation with the terminology just hasn’t been there. It is easier to connect with some of the ‘bigger’ sabbat names such as Samhain and Yule as their egregore is vast and transcends many cultural paradigms. It is simple enough to turf these names and create your own or adapt others to fit better.
Another element that chafes people about the Wheel is the oh-so-very binary God/Goddess mythology underpinning the Wheel. The underlying narrative that is sometimes used employing the God as both Son and Consort is somewhat icky for some people, and others simply just don’t want a fertility based sentiment woven throughout their practice - especially if they are not Wiccan.
The number of sabbats – eight – is also not a fixed amount. There are many degrees in a circle and there is not a need to stick to this number. If you use six or ten, twenty four or four, you can still populate the nodes of a circular symbol. Fit your own markers to your Wheel, if the need is there.
The Wheel itself and the ideas the symbolism of the wheel can unlock a lot of interesting wisdom that is suitable for meditation both within the frame of regular ritual, and within pagan practice in general. The Wheel of Fortune, one of the more enigmatic cards in the Tarot, invites the querent or the reader to reflect on the notions of cyclic engagement with the universe and gives rise to questions of destiny, fate and power of the individual in the great spokes of life. It also evokes meanings of the woven web as reflected in nature, the orbs of the sun, moon and planets, as well as the planet we live in. The notion of a wheel being an invention that was pivotal for civilisation and its ability to enable motion and progress is also interesting. The presence of the Wheel in astrology and alchemy also makes for in depth and fascinating study.
If you work within a circle construct within your practice at all, the Wheel has strong microcosmic/macrocosmic resonations within this context. The larger Wheel of the Year reflects the quarters and cross quarters within a magical circle, giving a beautiful resonance to ‘As Above, So Below, As Within, So Without’.
The Quarters of the Wheel – the two equinoxes and two solstices – are fixed points on the calendar that no matter what is happening in your local climate, the simple fact that the sun and the Earth are both doing their thing can not be changed. The shortest night, and the longest day, the feeling of equilibrium that an equinox brings – this is something that can be palpably observed by all.
To add cross points in between these four make for eight evenly spaced rituals throughout a year, whether you believe the veil is at its thinnest at two of them, or not.
If your practice is Earth-based, or if it is firmly embedded in nature, using the seasonal changes throughout the year is of course a valid, relevant and important element to be included in ritual. Not all paganism is earth-based - but if it is, and you're not incorporating seasonal reflection, what are you doing?
Of course observation and connection with nature can be done via other means, but the Wheel of the Year is most certainly a useful one. It gives you an opportunity to reflect on the changes, both small and large, that can be observed within nature on a cylical basis, and gives us an opportunity to observe any impact climate change is having on our planet and the patterns of weather.
What’s more, I’ve always felt that humankind is not outside of the definition of what constitutes as ‘nature’. As a culture we add our own events to the calendar which can have a correlation to celebrations marked within the Wheel of the Year; some are seasonally borne, and others are not.
‘Earth based’ does not simply mean based in the idealised notion of ‘Mother Nature’, it can mean any sort of practice that is concerned with material world, the here and now, the stuff that we are made from and day to day living.
If you choose to practice in a group, with a coven, or if you decide to hold regular public rituals of any kind, the eight sabbats on the Wheel of the Year are a practical basis for herding cats. Sometimes lunar esbats come around too quickly, whereas the eight seasonal festivals are spaced just right for regular gatherings from an organisational perspective. It gives you a chance to breathe, to reset, to live your own life, and get ready to organise the next shindig.
So, those are six valid reasons... do you have some of your own? Do you celebrate the Wheel of the Year, and if you do, how have you changed it so suit your own beliefs and ideas?