Friday, April 30, 2010

Beltane Kicks Off The Merry, Merry, Merry Month of FEY!

Beginning at sundown tonight through sundown tomorrow most Wiccans and Neo-Pagans will celebrate one of the oldest, bawdiest and most controversial nature-based holidays of the year: Beltane, commonly called May Day.

May represents the rebirth of the Earth in the saga that Wiccans celebrate through the Wheel of the Year (calendar.) The wheel has turned from Winter to Spring, and the God who was reborn at December’s Yule is now Jack-in-the-Green, the Green Man, or the Oak King – a young man stepping into manhood. The Great Goddess is now transforming herself from Maiden to Mother, preparing to conceive.

(In fact, celebration and acknowledgment of the union of the God and Goddess to conceive the sun-child takes place on this holiday – regardless of the tradition or path of Neo-Paganism followed.)

So, celebrate life, love and your sexuality, since it all began as a very ancient fertility celebration. It is also a time when Wiccans perform “magick” toward the success of plans and projects, the achievements of goals, prosperity, and of course, the conception and birth of healthy children.

But, modern Beltane is not just about orgies and sexual depravity. It is primarily a glad celebration and welcoming of the return of the Sun, of Spring, and the Summer to come with all the gifts nature provides during this time of green abundance.

It is one of the four "Fire Festivals" or "Greater Sabbats." Originally, all Neo-Pagan Sabbats (holidays) was celebrated from dusk one day to dusk the following, similar to some other religions.

Although the holiday may use features of the Gaelic Bealtaine (Beltaine), such as the bonfire, it bears more resemblance to the Germanic May Day festival, both in its significance (focusing on fertility) and its rituals (such as maypole dancing).

Some Wiccans still celebrate 'High Beltaine' by enthusiastically enacting a ritual sexual union of the May Lord and Lady during outdoor coven meets. Generally, such a union involved the High Priest and Priestess of the coven. Some Solitary Practitioners also enact sexual celebrations on this holiday, but privately either inside or outside under the moon and stars.

Beltane is believed to have been named after the Celtic God, Bel, a fire God of fertility, love and passion, but the holiday eventually dissolved into folk custom and was renamed May Day.

Even some of the folk traditions which are still followed today can find their roots in the ancient celebration of love, sex and fertility. In fact, the maypole was originally designed for Beltane to celebrate the abundance of spring.

It was also on May Eve that the Tuatha Dé Danann (Tribe of the Goddess Danu) is believed to have arrived in Ireland. They are masters of enchantment, and in May their magic is the strongest. Brigid (Brighid), known in Ireland as the Goddess of fire and inspiration, also represents THE GREAT GODDESS, Danu. Brigid is also known as Queen of the Faeries.

Thus, Beltane begins the season of faerie magic, and the Faerie Queen (an aspect of the Goddess) is represented by the May Queen in many modern celebrations and festivities across the globe. Faeries are spirits of nature, also referred to by Neo-Pagans as Elementals. They are believed to reside in rocks and trees, flowers, meadows, every natural formation! Beltane is one of the three "spirit-nights" of the year when it is believed that these faeries can be seen. At dusk, it is suggested to twist a rowan sprig into a ring and look through it – celebrants might very well see them.

Like Samhain (Halloween,) this is a night when witches, faeries and ghosts wander freely because it is believed that veil between this world and the otherworld is unusually thin.

Legend maintains that the Queen of the Faeries rides out on a snow-white horse, looking for mortals to lure away to Faerieland for seven years. Folklore says that if you sit beneath a tree tonight, you will see Her or hear the sound of Her horse's bells as She rides by. If you hide your face, She will pass you by but if you look directly at Her, She may choose you.

To celebrate Beltane with the Fey Spirits, say:

Star light, star bright,
I call the faeries forth tonight,
Come and celebrate with me,
Dance and sing, so mote it be.

Beltane is the one holiday most discouraged by the Christians, who didn't even use it as a point for a holiday of their own because the type of natural power it raises. Still, even in Christianized Ireland the May Day dance of the maypole remained, as did the giving of flowers to those you love or care for as friends.

The maypole itself is a symbol of the union of the God and Goddess to create life, the pole a phallic symbol while the dancers and their streamers, ribbons or vines of flowers represent the fertile womb of the goddess as it takes in the Phallus of the god and his seed. The pole is planted in Mother Earth to represent balance to evoke fertility and prosperity during the coming summer.

Samhain (Halloween) is primarily a festival of death, a time for letting go and of mourning. May Day, on the opposite side of the Wheel of the Year, is about life, about falling in love and frolicking in the woods. As such, it is the start of the "light" half of the year. Death is an ending but also a beginning. Falling in love is a beginning which is also a death. It is believed, “the Goddess who manifests herself at May Day calls you out of yourself and you may never return, at least to the same world you knew.”

When the Druids and their successors raised the “Beltaine” fires on hilltops throughout the British Isles on May Eve, they were performing a real act of magic, for the fires were lit in order to bring the sun’s light down to earth. In Scotland, every fire in the household was extinguished, and the great fires were lit from the need-fire that was kindled three times by three men (underscoring the sacred and magickal number three) using wood from the nine sacred trees of Paganism. When the wood burst into flames, it proclaimed the triumph of the light over the dark half of the year.

When that was done, the entire hillside came alive as people thrust branches into the newly roaring flames and whirled them about their heads in imitation of the circling of the sun.

If any man in attendance was planning a long journey or dangerous undertaking, he leaped backwards and forwards three times through the fire for luck. As the fire sank low, the girls jumped across it to procure good husbands; pregnant women stepped through it to ensure an easy birth; and children were also carried across the smoldering ashes. When the fire died down, the embers were thrown among the sprouting crops to protect them, while each household carried some back to kindle a new fire in their hearth. When the sun rose that coming dawn, those who had stayed up to watch it might see it whirl three times upon the horizon before leaping up in all its summer glory.

Thus, it became Beltane and a time of fertility and unbridled merrymaking, when young and old would spend the night making love in the Greenwood. In the morning, they would return to the village bearing huge budding boughs of hawthorn (the tree associated with May), and other spring flowers used to decorate themselves, their families, and their homes.

As they slowly returned home, they stopped at each house on their way and left leave flowers, while they enjoyed the best of food and drink that the homeowner’s hospitality had to offer. In every village, the maypole – usually fashioned from a birch or ash tree – was raised, and dancing and feasting began anew.

Festivities were led by the May Queen and her “consort” representing the King (again representing Jack-in-the-Green, the Green Man, or the Oak King), the old god of the wildwood. They were borne in state through the village in a cart covered with flowers and enthroned in a leafy arbor as the “divine” couple whose unity symbolized the sacred marriage of earth and sun.

At Beltane, today’s followers open to the God and Goddess of Youth. However old, Spring makes us feel young again, and at Beltane celebrants jump over the fires of vitality and youth and allow that vitality to enliven and heal them. When young celebrants might use this time as an opportunity to connect to their sensuality in a positive creative way, and when older the mating sought might well be one of the feminine and masculine sides of everyone’s nature. Integration of the male and female aspects of the Self has long been seen as one of the prime goals of spiritual and psychotherapeutic work, and Beltane represents the time when celebrants can open to this work fully, allowing the natural union of polarities that occurs in nature at this time the opportunity to help them in their work – a work that is essentially alchemical.

In addition to a maypole, often a bonfire is present, and members of the group are encouraged to jump the flames for luck and their own fertility. Food, drink and love are the order of the evening. In most covens the celebration of unions of love are enacted. Beltane is the time of many marriages/handfastings in the pagan community (in some it is the point where one chooses to begin and end relationships of a physical nature).

Clothing is optional in some coven get-togethers on this holiday, as some do celebrate naked, referred to as “Skyclad” by Wiccans. Regardless, it is a sensual and colorful celebration. Even those coven that are prudish about things tend to accept the rules of the holiday, as it is the holiday of free love. It is said that a child conceived on this day will grow up to wield great power and knowledge and to be healthier than upon any other.

The month’s sacred tree is oak, known as “duir” to the ancient Celts, to whom it represented great strength, survival and to overcome the challenges placed before us. It is interesting to note that Druids were originally called that because they held the Oak Tree as sacred.


The following terrific, in depth account of Beltane, “A Celebration of May Day,” was published in 2005 by Mike Nichols, and is reprinted here in full with permission from the author:

“Perhaps it’s just as well that you won’t be here...
to be offended by the sight of our May Day celebrations.”
— Lord Summerisle to Sgt. Howie from The Wicker Man

There are four great festivals of the Pagan Celtic year and the modern Wiccan (Witches’) calendar, as well. The two greatest of these are Halloween (the beginning of winter) and May Day (the beginning of summer). Being opposite each other on the Wheel of the Year, they separate the year into halves. Halloween (also called Samhain) is the Celtic New Year and is generally considered the more important of the two, though May Day runs a close second. Indeed, in some areas – notably Wales – it is considered “The Great Holiday.”

By Celtic reckoning, the actual Beltane celebration begins on sundown of the preceding day, April 30, because the Celts always figured their days from sundown to sundown. And sundown was the proper time for Druids to kindle the great Belfires on the tops of the nearest beacon hill (such as Tara Hill, County Meath, in Ireland). These “need-fires” had healing properties, and skyclad (nude) Witches would jump through the flames to ensure protection.

Sgt. Howie (shocked): "But they are naked!"
Lord Summerisle: "Naturally. It's much too dangerous
to jump through the fire with your clothes on!"
—from The Wicker Man

Frequently, cattle would be driven between two such bonfires (oak wood was the favorite fuel for them) and, on the morrow, they would be taken to their summer pastures.

Other May Day customs include: walking the circuit of one’s property (“beating the bounds”), repairing fences and boundary markers, processions of chimney sweeps and milkmaids, archery tournaments, morris dances, sword dances, feasting, music, drinking, and maidens bathing their faces in the dew of May morning to retain their youthful beauty.

In the words of Witchcraft writers Janet and Stewart Farrar, the Beltane celebration was principally a time of “unashamed human sexuality and fertility.” Such associations include the obvious phallic symbolism of the May Pole and riding the hobbyhorse. Even a seemingly innocent children’s nursery rhyme “Ride a cock horse to Banburry Cross…” retains such memories. And the next line, “to see a fine Lady on a white horse,” is a reference to the annual ride of Lady Godiva through Coventry. Every year for nearly three centuries, a skyclad village maiden (elected “Queen of the May”) enacted this Pagan rite, until the Puritans put an end to the custom.

The Puritans, in fact, reacted with pious horror to most of the May Day rites, even making Maypoles illegal in 1644. They especially attempted to suppress the “greenwood marriages” of young men and women who spent the entire night in the forest, staying out to greet the May sunrise, and bringing back boughs of flowers and garlands to decorate the village the next morning. One angry Puritan wrote that men “doe use commonly to runne into woodes in the night time, amongst maidens, to set bowes, in so muche, as I have hearde of tenne maidens whiche went to set May, and nine of them came home with childe.” And another Puritan complained that, “Of forty, threescore or a hundred maids going to the wood over night, there have scarcely the third part of them returned home again undefiled.”

Long after the Christian form of marriage (with its insistence on sexual monogamy) had replaced the older Pagan handfasting, the rules of strict fidelity were always relaxed for the May Eve rites. Names such as Robin Hood, Maid Marion, and Little John played an important part in May Day folklore, often used as titles for the dramatis personae of the celebrations. And modern surnames such as Robinson, Hodson, Johnson, and Godkin may attest to some distant May Eve spent in the woods.

These wildwood antics have inspired writers such as Rudyard Kipling:

Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!

And Lerner and Lowe:

It's May! It's May!
The lusty month of May!...
Those dreary vows that ev'ryone takes,
Ev'ryone breaks.
Ev'ryone makes divine mistakes!
The lusty month of May!

It is certainly no accident that Queen Guinevere’s ‘abduction’ by Meliagrance occurs on May 1 when she and the court have gone a-Maying, or that the usually efficient Queen’s guard, on this occasion, rode unarmed.

Some of these customs seem virtually identical to the old Roman feast of flowers, the Floralia, three days of unrestrained sexuality that began at sundown April 28 and reached a crescendo on May 1.

There are other, even older, associations with May 1 in Celtic mythology. According to the ancient Irish Book of Invasions, the first settler of Ireland, Partholan, arrived on May 1, and it was on May 1 that the plague came that destroyed his people.

Years later, the Milesians conquered the Tuatha Dé Danann on May Day. In Welsh myth, the perennial battle between Gwythur and Gwyn for the love of Creiddyled took place each May Day, and it was on May Eve that Teirnyon lost his colts and found Pryderi. May Eve was also the occasion of a fearful scream that was heard each year throughout Wales, one of the three curses of the Coranians lifted by the skill of Lludd and Llevelys.

By the way, due to various calendrical changes down through the centuries, the traditional date of Beltane is not the same as its astrological date. This date, like all astronomically determined dates, may vary by a day or two depending on the year. However, it may be calculated easily enough by determining the date on which the sun is at fifteen degrees Taurus (usually around May 5). British Witches often refer to this date as Old Beltane, and folklorists call it Beltane O.S. (Old Style). Some covens prefer to celebrate on the old date and, at the very least, it gives one options. If a coven is operating on ‘Pagan Standard Time’ and misses May 1 altogether, it can still throw a viable Beltane bash as long as it’s before May 5. This may also be a consideration for covens that need to organize activities around the weekend.

This date has long been considered a “power point” of the zodiac, and is symbolized by the Bull, one of the tetramorph figures featured on the tarot cards, the World and the Wheel of Fortune. (The other three symbols are the Lion, the Eagle, and the Spirit.) Astrologers know these four figures as the symbols of the four “fixed” signs of the zodiac (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius), and these naturally align with the four Great Sabbats of Witchcraft. Christians have adopted the same iconography to represent the four Gospel writers.

But for most, it is May 1 that is the great holiday of flowers, Maypoles, and greenwood frivolity. It is no wonder that, as recently as 1977, Ian Anderson could pen the following lyrics for the (classic rock) band Jethro Tull:

For the May Day is the great day,
Sung along the old straight track.
And those who ancient lines did ley
Will heed this song that calls them back.


The Flower Maiden

Sir Thomas Malory wrote the following about the potent effect of May and the customs of King Arthur's court in La Morte d'Arthur:

It was the month of May, the month when the foliage of herbs and trees is most freshly green, when buds ripened and blossoms appear in their fragrance and loveliness. And the month when lovers, subject to the same force which reawakens the plants, feel their hearts open again, recall past trysts and past vows, and moments of tenderness, and yearn for a renewal of the magical awareness which is love.

Early one morning in May, Queen Gwynevere commanded ten of her knights to prepare to ride with her a-Maying. Each knight was to be accompanied by a lady, a squire and two yeomen, and all were to be decked in silk or other cloth of the freshest green, and decorated with moss, flowers and herbs. They were to ride into the fields and woods of Westminster and to return to King Arthur at the court at ten o'clock.

It was customary for the queen to ride forth only in a large company of knights, know as the Queen's knights – knights who were most young, lusty and eager to win fame, who wore plain white shields. Knights who were killed were replaced at the next Pentecost. Chief of them all, of course, was Sir Launcelot.

But this particular May Day, Launcelot is absent and Gwynevere is kidnapped by Sir Mellyagraunce, from whose clutches she must be rescued by Launcelot.


The following are some fun chants/poems to be used on Beltane:


Here we come a piping,
In Springtime and in May;
Green fruit aripening,
And Winter fled away.

The Queen she sits upon the strand,
Fair as lily, white as wand;
Seven billows on the sea,
Horses riding fast and free,
And bells beyond the sand.

Doreen Valiente: "Witchcraft for Tomorrow"; Phoenix Publishing 1985


Oh, do not tell the Priest of our Art,
Or he would call it sin;
But we shall be out in the woods all night,
A conjuring summer in!

And we bring you news by word of mouth
For women, cattle and corn
Now is the dun come up from the South
With Oak, and Ash and Thorn!

Janet and Stewart Farrar: "Eight Sabbats For Witches"; Robert Hale 1983

Stag Call

The men gather around the bon fire, next to their partners, and they repeat in unison:

I am the stag of seven tines;
I am a wide flood on the plain;
I am a wind on the deep waters;
I am a shining tear of the sun;
I am a hawk on a cliff;
I am fair among flowers;
I am a god who sets the head afire with smoke.

Robert Graves; "The White Goddess": Farrar 1970

A Modern Poem

A Meeting. Nighttime

Two people, separated by the waves
Without bodies
Minds linked by a keyboard
Neither knowing what to expect

They communicate
The screens tell their story
A connection
Not expected
But gladly welcomed
Time and space forgotten
They exchange pictures
Instant recognition
Past memories resurface
Past lives remembered

The ancient ones smile on the meeting
Two paths crossing once more
Past, present, and future fixed on this moment
Two people
One soul
Reunited under the light of Awen.

by Sionnach 1998


Suggestions To Celebrate Beltane

Arise at dawn and wash in the morning dew: the woman who washes her face in it will be beautiful; the man who washes his hands will be skilled with knots and nets.

If you live near water, make a garland or posy of spring flowers and cast it into stream, lake or river to bless the water spirits.

Prepare a May basket by filling it with flowers and goodwill, then give it to one in need of caring, such as an elderly friend.

Make a wish as you jump a bonfire or candle flame for good luck – but make sure you tie up long skirts, pants first!

Make a May bowl – wine or punch in which the flowers of sweet woodruff or other fragrant blossoms are soaked – and drink with the one you love.

Creating Your Own Bower
Writter Waverly Fitzgerald suggests:

Bring the May into your life by bringing home green branches, flowers and branches of flowering trees. Transform your house into a bower. Make a wreath to hang on the door or to crown your version of the Goddess.

This is a time for giving gifts. Gather flowers with special messages for friends and relatives. Make up your own explanation of the meaning of each flower and give it along with the bouquet. For friends at a distance, send pressed flowers or May Day cards or packets of flower seeds. Barbara Walker in Women's Rituals suggests other appropriate gifts including perfume, incense, candied flower petals, herbs, sachets and artificial flowers.

If you can, stay up all night, preferably outdoors. At least go for a walk in the night on April 30th and listen for the bells that herald the approach of the Fairy Queen. And you can run around, under cover of darkness, leaving May baskets of flowers on doorsteps.

On the first of May, wear your most colorful clothes or dress all in green (the color of the fairies). Consider wearing a flower in your hair. If festivals were associated with decades, Ma Day would definitely be the 1960's because of its association with sensuality and free love, sweet smells and Nature, flowers and bells.

Make May wine by flavoring wine with herbs, berries, fruits or flowers. The traditional May wine is white wine flavored with sweet woodruff (soak the sprigs of woodruff in the wine for only 15 minutes or so to flavor the wine). If you don't drink alcohol, use the same technique to flavor milk or apple juice. Drink a toast to the glory of May. You might want to use this in a love ritual.


If you choose to celebrate or acknowledge this powerful holiday in any way, I bid you joy, love and that the beloved God and Goddess bestows prosperity, abundance, fruitfulness, health and well-being.

— Danu’s Daughter

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Sacred Cycle of Life = Turns Along the Wheel of the Year

To truly understand Neo-Paganism, the best place to begin is to appreciate how followers perceive everyday life.

For Wiccans and Neo-Pagans, life provides constant opportunities to “remember the Divinity within ourselves and all things; to manifest our God and Goddess all the time, every day, every moment; to love as They love, to give as They give; to serve Them in perfect trust; and thus bring Their grace more fully into the world; to understand that we are the embodiment of the Divine love and nurture, and to express that love in the world; to walk as God and Goddess,” says Dianne Sylvan in The Circle Within.

To Wiccans, anything and everything is possible. Wiccans try to look at the world with the eyes of a child, fully open to wonder and the magic that is all around. Yet, they also believe in taking responsibility for choices that are made along the path without judgment, and learning from them.

They see existence as presenting a cosmic cause and effect relationship, believing that everything that exists, including themselves, is comprised of energy from the Divine. Many Wiccans, and some other Neo-Pagans, seek to work with this sacred energy to improve their lives and also to return energy back to the sacred Earth. Practitioners call this important work, “magick.”

To them, walking with the Goddess and God daily means that these Deities are actually and truly present. One important way for Wiccans and other Neo-Pagans to celebrate this vital connection is to reflect on the changes of the seasons, to watch the days “turn” until life ages and turns to death, and death gives way and turns to rebirth.

As a result, they have developed the Wheel of the Year, a term for the annual cycle of the Earth's seasons. It consists of eight festivals, spaced at approximately even intervals throughout the year. These festivals are referred by Wiccans as Sabbats.

In many forms of Neo-Paganism, natural processes are seen as following this continuous cycle. The passing of time is also seen as cyclical, and is represented by a circle or wheel. The progression of birth, life, decline and death, as experienced in human lives, is echoed in the progression of the seasons. Wiccans also see this cycle as echoing the life, death and rebirth of their Horned God and the fertility of their Goddess.

While most of the Sabbat names derive from historical Celtic and Germanic festivals, the non-traditional names Litha and Mabon, which have become popular in North American Wicca, were introduced by Aidan Kelly in the 1970s. The word "sabbat" itself comes from the witches' sabbath or sabbat attested to in Early Modern witch trials.

All of the Sabbats are agrarian, four relate more to plants (planting, harvest, etc.) and four relate more to animal husbandry (cycles of fertility).

Among most Wiccans, the common Wheel of the Year narrative is that of the God/Goddess duality. In this cycle, the God is born from the Goddess at Yule, grows in power at Vernal Equinox (along with the Goddess who has now returned to her maiden aspect), courts and impregnates the Goddess at Beltane, wanes in power at Lammas, passes into the underworld at Samhain, then is once again born from Her mother/crone aspect at Yule.

The Goddess, in turn, ages and rejuvenates endlessly with the seasons, being courted by and giving birth to the Horned God. Versions of this myth vary from coven to coven, shifting the birth, conception, or death of the God to different sabbats.

Another, more solar, narrative is of the Holly King and the Oak King, with one ruling the winter, the other the summer. These two figures battle with each other endlessly as the seasons turn. At Midsummer the Oak King is at the height of his strength, while the Holly King is at his weakest. The Holly King begins to regain his power, and at the Autumn Equinox, the tables finally turn in the Holly King's favor; he vanquishes the Oak King at Yule. Then over the next months, as the sun waxes in power, the Oak King slowly regains his strength; at the Spring Equinox he begins to triumph until he once again defeats the Holly King at Midsummer.

Wicca and the Wheel of the Year

The following details the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. Four of the Sabbats, the cross-quarter days, are referred to as the Greater Sabbats, coinciding with Celtic fire festivals, and these were initially the only four sabbats. The other four are known as Lesser Sabbats, and comprise of the solstices and the equinoxes, and were only adopted in 1958 by the Bricket Wood coven. The names of these holidays are often taken from Germanic pagan and Celtic polytheistic holidays. However, the festivals are not reconstructive in nature nor do they often resemble their historical counterparts, instead exhibiting a form of universalism. Ritual observations may display cultural influence from the holidays from which they take their name as well as influence from other unrelated cultures. The eight sabbats, beginning with Samhain, which has long been thought of as Celtic new year:

• Samhain – Greater Sabbat of the Dead (Oct. 31, Nov. 1)
The first festival is known as Samhain is celebrated on October 31st. This is also known as Witch's New Year. This festival celebrates the death of the God and waiting for his rebirth at Yule. Usually, this is a festival of remembering your loved ones who have gone on. According to Celtic tradition the New Year began at sunset on this day. This holiday is also known as the Feast of the dead. Divination magic is said to be strongest on this day as the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest.

• Yule – Lesser Sabbat, the Winter Solstice (Dec. 21 or Dec. 22)
This celebration is for the birth of the God. It is usually a celebration with family and friends. Candles are a huge part of this festival as the god is associated with light and the sun.

• Imbolc (Candlemas) – Greater Sabbat (Feb. 02)
The God is now a child growing and playing. The celebration is also to acknowledge the returning sunlight to the Earth. The first seeds are usually planted at this time. Some people light candles to honor this and others still wake up in the dead of night and stay up and watch the sunrise.

• Ostara – Lesser Sabbat, the Spring Equinox (March 20-23)
Ostara celebrates the beginning courtship between the God and Goddess. The Christian tradition of decorating Easter eggs was borrowed from this holiday. This is celebrated on the vernal equinox where daylight and night are equal. This festival is another planting holiday. The eggs symbolize fertility and it is said by decorating the eggs with desires for the upcoming year and burying them in the ground will help bring these desires to fruition.

• Beltane or May Eve – Greater Sabbat (May 01)
This is a significant celebration as the union of the God and the Goddess is made known. Large bale fires are usually lit and this is a well-known and practiced fertility ritual.

• Litha – Lesser Sabbat, the Summer Solstice (June 21)
Also known as Midsummer Night's Eve. This holiday is usually celebrated on the summer solstice; the longest day of the year. This festival is also fertility holiday. Many men would jump bonfires to aid in the fertility of the land and their livestock. This is a favorite time to perform hand-fasting, meaning commitment or pagan wedding ceremonies.

• Lughnasadh, or Lammas – Greater Sabbat of the Harvest (Aug. 01)
This is the first dedication to the god and goddess of the harvest. Traditionally, bread is baked and served at the celebrations as wheat is a harvest symbol. It is a time to give thanks for the start of a bountiful harvest season.

• Mabon – Lesser Sabbat, the Autumn Equinox (Sept. 23)
It is another harvest holiday. Usually vegetables make a star appearance at this festival. It is the waning of the god's years as the goddess starts to prepare to give rebirth to the god at Yule. This is a time for preparation for the winter and giving thanks again to the god and goddess for a good harvest season.

Wiccan founder Gerald Gardner made use of the English names of these holidays; "The four great Sabbats are Candlemass, May Eve, Lammas, and Halloween; the equinoxes and solstices are celebrated also," but the other names are now also commonly found.

Most of the holidays of the Wheel of the Year are named after Christian, Pre-Christian Celtic and Pre-Christian Germanic religious festivals, but depart largely in form and meaning from the traditional observances of those festivals. Historian Ronald Hutton ascribes this to the influence of turn of the century romanticism as well as the eclectic elements introduced by Wicca. The similarities between these holidays generally end at the shared names, as Wicca makes no effort to reconstruct the ancient practices. Hutton has described the merging of culturally diverse festivals into a unified set of eight as a form of universalism not corroborated by any historical continuity.

There is no region in Europe where all eight festivals have been observed as a set, and the complete eightfold Wheel of the Year was unknown prior to modern Wicca. In early forms of Wicca only the cross-quarter days were observed. However, in 1958 the members of Bricket Wood Coven added the solstices and equinoxes to their original calendar, as they desired more frequent celebrations. Their High Priest was Gardner who was away visiting the Isle of Man at the time. He did not object when he returned, since they were now more in line with the Neo-druidism of Ross Nichols, a friend of Gardner's who founded of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.

In Wicca and similar Pagan faiths, each full moon and sometimes its phases are also celebrated. These are called Esbats and are different from Sabbats. While Sabbats generally honor the life of the God, Esbats are dedicated to the Goddess.

Generally, there are 13 Esbats every years. Actually, any moon phase can be used for an Esbat. They are considered to many as important as the Sabbats. An Esbat is an excellent time to honor the Goddess – a natural connection considering the female manifestation of the Moon, although the God is often honored as well.

It is often a time of gathering for members of a coven, but can effectively be kept by followers who are Solitary Practitioners.

Most try to celebrate outside if possible to allow the Moon to drench them with its cooling, soothing and inspiring rays. But, Esbats are often held inside too, providing opportunities to share energy with each other and the universe, or to do so alone.

During an Esbat, participants honor the Goddess, in whatever form they choose, in ritual forms. They thank her for her presence in their lives, and for the guidance she provides. To some, it is also a time to perform structured rituals and to cast “spells” according to the phase of the moon.

The Full Moon is the time in the lunar cycle when the moon is complete. This happens for three days in succession – the day before the astrological Full Moon, the astrological Full Moon itself, and the day after the astrological Full Moon. Participants believe it is then that all the magickal qualities of the Moon are their peak, thus is the time of greatest power.

A common practice during the Esbat is to “Draw Down the Moon.” This can be done as a group or as an individual. When this is done, participants call upon the moon’s magical powers to fill them with its power and inspiration. The energy gathered is used either in spells or to send back out to the universe to heal, while any that is unused is returned to Mother Earth as the ritual ends.

To each Lunar month, ancestral follower’s of Paganism assigned an Esbat name in accordance with the nature of the activity that took place at that time. Depending upon the path followed, these names often differ. Thus, the Full Moons have been named by many cultures, and can also be known by tree names, astrological names, American Indian names – the list is virtually endless. This blog will be using the most common names for the Esbat Moons, which appear below along with their matching Celtic tree correspondences:

• January – Wolf Moon or Snow Moon (Alder)
Amid the zero cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages. It was also known as the Old Moon or the “Moon After Yule.” In some tribes this was the Full Snow Moon; most applied that name to the next Moon.

• February – Storm Moon or Death Moon (Willow)
It occurs at a time of long nights and dark days, making it a good time of year to do magick for accepting challenges and perseverance.

• March – Chaste Moon (Ash)
This moon occurs at the beginning of spring, a time of purity and newness, making it the perfect time to do magick for planting the seeds for success and hope.

• April – Seed Moon (Hawthorn)
The energies around this moon are ones of fertility, growth and inner wisdom. Followers are encouraged to be bold at this time; to take action.

• May – Hare Moon or Flower Moon (Oak)
The energies around this moon are ones of health, romance, love and wisdom. Followers are encouraged to begin to take action on the things we’ve recently been planning.

• June – Dyad (Pair) Moon or Lover’s Moon (Holly)
The energies around this moon are ones of love, marriage and success. It is a time to acknowledge and celebrate our “garden” – our life, loved ones and accomplishments.

• July – Mead Moon or Blessing Moon (Hazel)
The energies around this moon surround success, appreciation of what’s been worked hard to achieve, reaping the first harvests and celebrating all successes. Followers are encouraged to appreciate accomplishments, and to begin to put new energies into building on them.

• August – Wyrt (Green Plant) Moon or Corn Moon (Vine)
The energies around this moon are abundance, in all areas of life and marriage. Followers work to begin harvesting and collecting herbs that will be used over the next year, and storing them. Magic done at this time of year can be help themselves or someone else (who has asked for help) to reap the benefits of hard work done.

• September – Barley Moon or Corn Moon (Ivy)
Named for the corn harvest and the threshing of ripened barley. For native Americans, it has been the Nut (Cherokee), Mulberry (Choctaw) and Moon When the Calves Grow Hair (Dakota Sioux). It's the last Full Moon before the autumnal equinox. The full light allows harvest chores to go into the night.

• October – Blood Moon or Hunter’s Moon (Reed)
With the leaves falling and the deer fattened, it is time to hunt (symbolically.) Since the fields have been reaped, hunters can ride over the stubble, and can more easily see the fox, also other animals that have come out to glean and can be caught for a thanksgiving banquet after the harvest. Thus, it is a time to give thanks for the hunt, all food, regardless of type. Participants give thanks for all they’ve received: body, mind and spiritual sustenance.

• November – Snow Moon or Beaver Moon (Birch)
This was the time to set beaver traps before the swamps froze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Another interpretation suggests that the name comes from the fact that the beavers are now actively preparing for winter. Rituals generally focus on preparation in body, mind and spirit as Mother earth is now at peace, she has given all food and warmth during the past year and now needs to rest under a blanket of whitest snow. Participants should take time to finish projects, and since nights are longer, to spend more time in the house and we should be preparing for the coldest months.

• December – Oak Moon or Cold Moon (Rowan)
Though we think of December as a dark month, it is also the time of the returning of the sun. A very special month in many ways, participants are asked to remember all they have as well as those who have less. They might organize a meal with loved ones, or for those less fortunate. To spend time alone or with loved ones reflecting on the year’s end in gratitude.

• Blue Moon – Variable (Second Full Moon in a Month)
When two full moons occur in a single month, the second full moon is called a "Blue Moon." Another definition of the blue moon is the third full moon that occurs in a season of the year which has four full moons (usually each season has only three full moons.) Because of its rarity, it is considered a very powerful Full Moon and should be used for important goals.

— Danu’s Daughter

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Your God, Part II

This is the second part of an introduction to basic Neopaganism. In Part I, I discussed an overview of what constitutes a Neopagan faith path, and the incredible variation of these religions. In this section, beliefs/ethics are discussed.

First, let restate that Paganism refers to an old and ancient number of religions predating Christianity for thousands of years that have not survived in their original form. Neo-paganism refers to a group of modern revivalist religions and religious practices based on those ancient faiths that include Druidism, Wicca, Santeria, Voudun, Christo-Paganism, Dianic Wicca, and many others.

As with almost everything related to these faith paths, Neo-Pagan ethics can also vary substantially. But most and believe in living an active, rather than passive life, and treading lightly on each other and the planet. To most Neo-Pagans, they believe that they can effect the energies around them to better themselves, and improve our world.

In Wicca, followers have no central doctrine, except the fundamental principle that they express as: “An ye harm none, do as ye will.” This means that a Wiccan can do as he or she pleases, provided it does no harm to themselves or others. This honors the freedom of individual, while stressing the responsibility for choices and actions made willingly. Being individuals, each Wiccan decides for him or herself what exactly 'harm' means. As a consequence, Wiccans have very different opinions when it comes to many issues, including abortion, war, vegetarianism, and capital punishment.

In general, Neo-Pagans do not worship Satan, nor do they believe that an "Evil" entity even exists. Most Neo-Pagans see evil as imbalance, and the result of people making mistakes and choices that lead to their suffering, and the suffering of others.

Wrongdoing occurs when people forget, or sever, their connection with the universal spirit, most Neo-Pagans believe.

Wicca is an official religion in the U.S., just like Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Islamic faiths.

Specifically, Wicca is an earth-based Neo-Pagan religion. Like its African counterparts, Wicca incorporates a magical (not necessarily supernatural) system into its beliefs, but performing magic is not a requirement.

In general, magic refers to “ceremonial” or non-religious acts, also including slight of hand or other stage productions. Magick, on the other hand, has to do with rituals performed by practitioners in a religious context to move or effect energy.

In Wicca, magick has a very specific role: to improve member’s lives, develop a relationship with the Goddess and the God, and to return energy to the earth, which sustains all life. The ways in which this can be accomplished are many and varied, and each practitioner interprets these purposes for themselves.

Wicca is one of the newest religions, and is currently the fastest growing religion in the world. Its origin was in the late 1930's and was begun by Gerald Gardner (1884 – 1964). Gardner, a retired British civil servant, launched Wicca shortly after the end of World War II, and went public with his coven following the repeal of England’s Witchcraft Laws in the early 1950’s.

He claimed that the religion, of which he was an initiate, was a modern survival of an old witchcraft religion, which had existed in secret for hundreds of years, originating in the pre-Christian Paganism of Europe. Wicca is thus sometimes referred to as the Old Religion. The veracity of Gardner's claims cannot be independently proven, and it is thought that Wiccan theology began to be compiled no earlier than the 1920’s.

Various related Wiccan traditions have since evolved or been adapted from the form established by Gardner, which came to be called Gardnerian Wicca. These other traditions of Wicca each have distinctive beliefs, rituals, and practices. Many traditions of Wicca remain secretive and require that members be initiated. There is also a movement of Eclectic Wiccans who do not believe that any doctrine or traditional initiation is necessary in order to practice Wicca.

There is a good deal of debate within the Wiccan community as to whether the Gardnerian path is the only “true” Wiccan tradition, but the point remains that it was certainly the first. Gardnerian covens require initiation, and work on a degree system. As a result, much of their information is initiatory and oathbound, which means it can never be shared with those outside the coven.

Since then, it has branched out into a wide range of beliefs and practices. Solitary Practitioners, who belong to no organized group, also comprise a vibrant, active branch of Wiccan faithful across the globe.

The most neutral definition of Wicca that I could find comes from the official printing of the Army Chaplain's Handbook, which describes the religion as follows:

Wiccans worship the sacred as immanent in Nature, often personified as Mother Earth and Father Sky. As polytheists, they may use many other names for Deity. Individuals will often choose Goddesses or Gods from any of the world's pantheons whose stories are particularly inspiring and use those Deities as a focus for personal devotions. Similarly, covens will use particular Deity names as a group focus, and the groups often hold these secret.

It is very important to be aware that Wiccans do not in any way worship or believe in "Satan," "the Devil," or any similar entities. They point out that "Satan" is a symbol of rebellion against and inversion of the Christian and Jewish traditions. Wiccans do not revile the Bible. They simply regard it as one among many of the world's mythic systems, less applicable than some to their core values, but still deserving just as much respect as any of the others.

Most Wiccan groups also practice magic, by which they mean the direction and use of "psychic energy," those natural but invisible forces which surround all living things. Some members spell the word "magick," to distinguish it from sleight of hand entertainment.

Wiccans employ such means as dance, chant, creative visualization and hypnosis to focus and direct psychic energy for the purpose of healing, protecting and aiding members in various endeavors. Such assistance is also extended to nonmembers upon request.

Many, but not all, Wiccans believe in reincarnation. Some take this as a literal description of what happens to people when they die. For others, it is a symbolic model that helps them deal with the cycles and changes within this life. Neither Reincarnation nor any other literal belief can be used as a test of an individual's validity as a member of the Old Religion.

Most groups have a handwritten collection of rituals and lore, known as a Book of Shadows. Part of the religious education of a new member will be to hand copy this book for him or herself. Over they years, as inspiration provides, new material will be added. Normally, access to these books is limited to the initiated members of the religion.

Doreen Valiente: (1922-1999), born Doreen Edith Dominy, became one of the first of Gardner’s initiates, and eventually his High Priestess. In this role she was able to influence many of the writings that became the bedrock for modern Witchcraft. Her most well-known writing is, “The Charge of the Goddess,” which is still widely used by many covens and Solitary Practitioners today.

Gardner was an educated folklorist and occultist, and claimed to have been initiated himself into a coven of New Forest witches by a woman named Dorothy Clutterbuck, whom some have claimed was a fabrication. When England repealed the last of its witchcraft laws in 1951, Gardner went public with his coven, much to the consternation of many other witches in England. His active courting of publicity led to a rift between him and Valiente. Gardner formed a series of covens throughout England prior to his death in 1964.

Thus, Wiccan spiritual practices are a combination of ancient and modern techniques to shift states of consciousness at will in order to achieve many different, positive ends. Sometimes these techniques are used for purposes such as divination, blessing, healing, and other uses that involve the raising of energy. The specific techniques are many and varied. It takes a lot of practice, study, patience, and faith to be successful in performing these rituals. Wiccans may perform spiritual work for others, such as healing or divination, but only with their expressed and informed consent.

In general, all Neo-Pagans value and support religious freedom; have a deep reverence for nature and the planet; honor equality between people regardless of race, ethnicity, religious belief, gender or sexual orientation; favor openness to forms of sexuality; and believe that the religion should be celebrated with profound emotional joy.

At the core of Neo-Paganism are four basic tenants that most paths share:

• The Divine manifests through many deities in different places and at different times. No one deity can express the totality of the Divine. (Generally, this is referred to as polytheism – many different Gods; while monotheism refers to a single God.)

• The Divine is present in Nature, and is also in each one of us. (Generally, this is referred to as pantheism – the Divine is everywhere.)

• The Divine is represented as both female and male. In Wicca, the two primary aspects of the Divine are the Goddess and the God, although the Divine is beyond limitations of gender.

• Neopagans share the same basic ethical precept to do no harm, also referred to as The Pagan Ethic.

• There are many paths to God, among which Neopaganism is only one. As a result, those following Pagan paths do not seek to convert others – EVER. A Norse priestess known as “Sigrid the Proud” explained to the Christian missionaries who tried to convince her to renounce her Pagan path: “I must not depart from the faith which I have held and my ancestors before me; on the other hand, I shall make no objection to your believing in the God that pleases you best.”

Wiccan morality is ruled according to the Wiccan Rede, which states in part: "An it harm none, do what thou wilt." ("An" in this instance represents an archaic word meaning "if.")

Others follow the slightly adapted Rede of: "An it harm none, do what ye will; if harm it does, do what ye must." Either way, the Rede is central to the understanding that personal responsibility, rather than a religious authority, is where moral structure resides.

One of the major differences between Wiccans and other types of witchcraft is the Rede. Many "traditional" witches or witches that follow other paths, do not believe in the Rede. This is a major topic of controversy within the Wiccan and Pagan communities, the so-called white or black art practitioners.

As previously mentioned, most Wiccans also believe that no spiritual work can be performed on any other person without that person's direct permission (excepting pets and young children who can be protected by parents and owners). Sometimes when permission is expected but not yet attained magical energy will be placed on the astral plane for the receiver to gather if and when he/she is ready.

Many Wiccans also promote the Law of Threefold Return, or the idea that anything that one does may be returned to them, but three times as strong. Similar to karma, but in this belief good deeds are magnified back to the doer, as are harmful deeds. The Threefold Law is sometimes referred as:

Ever Mind The Rule Of Three,
Three Times Your Acts Return To Thee.
This Lesson Well, Thou Must Learn,
Thou Only Gets What Thee Dost Earn.

A few Wiccans also follow, or at least consider, a set of 161 Laws often referred to as Lady Sheba's Laws. They are based in large part on Gerald Gardner's Old Laws, which he attributed to his New Forest coven and first came to light in 1957.

Some Wiccans find these rules to be outdated and counterproductive. One Wiccan has said, "I find much of this document, regardless of origins, to be outdated and unnecessary. It is at points sexist and ageist, and it is saturated with the paranoia associated with the myth of the Burning Times."

Most Wiccans also seek to cultivate the Eight Wiccan Virtues. These may have been derived from earlier Virtue ethics, but were first formulated by Valiente in her aforementioned The Charge of the Goddess. They are Mirth, Reverence, Honor, Humility, Strength, Beauty, Power, and Compassion. They are represented in paired opposites, which are perceived as providing balance to each other.

Wicca has a close association with feminism, and many women Wiccans say they are attracted to Wicca in large part because of its emphasis on female equality, divinity and power. In addition to the emphasis on the Goddess, an attractive aspect of Wicca for feminists is the ability to identify with powerful women from history, sadly who were persecuted by the male-dominated Christian church.

Dianic Wicca is the most feminist-oriented tradition of Wicca, in that it emphasizes the Goddess Diana alone and excludes men from covens. Other traditions, however, believe that this approach is improper and interferes with the balance of masculine and feminine in nature, so men are just as welcome to practice as women.

Throughout most of Wicca and Neopaganism, all sexual orientations are considered healthy and positive, provided that individual sexual relationships are healthy and loving. Sexual orientation is therefore not considered an issue. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are almost always welcomed in individual communities, covens, glens, study groups, and circles. Many homosexual Neopagans were initially attracted to Neopagan religions because of this inclusion, in which their relationships are seen on an equal footing with heterosexual, or traditional couples.

In support of this philosophy, many Neopagans cite the The Charge of the Goddess, which says in part, "All acts of Love and Pleasure are Her rituals." Therefore all forms and expressions of sexuality, as long as they are otherwise healthy, generally between adults, and consensual, are accepted. Thus, many Wiccans believe that sexuality is a direct expression of the divine.

Most traditional Wiccans worship the God and Goddess. Traditional Wiccan covens aspire to having equal numbers of men and women, to embody their belief in the importance of balance between the male and female (which extends sexually). This, and the imbalance of female and male practitioners, can sometimes be a practical obstacle to homosexuals and women who wish to join traditional circles, an obstacle often shared by single people. The actual sexual orientation of the individual is not an issue.

Kemetic Ethics are based in the Egyptian concept of Ma'at, which is truth, justice, order, and "that which is right." In addition, Kemetics look to ancient Egyptian law texts such as the Declaration of Innocence (also called the "Negative Confessions"), which contain a list of 42 sins a deceased person claims not to have done, and the Wisdom Texts, which are pieces of advice written by Ancient Egyptians.

The Declaration of Innocence includes such sins as murder, muddying the rivers of the Nile river, adultery, theft, eavesdropping, and sexual perversion. This last sin is often translated in older texts as committing homosexuality, but Kemetic Reconstructionists consider this a mistranslation and are open to homosexual members. A common theory is that the prohibition refers to child prostitution.

Neo-Pagans, primarily Wiccans, often follow a specific pantheon such as Celtic, Norse, Greek, etc. Some Neo-Pagans worship the whole pantheon while others choose to direct their worship to a few or even one of the deities. Some Neo-Pagans consider the deities to be aspects of reality or universal personality, which helps them to focus on improving their own lives and behavior. Other Neo-Pagans consider the deities to be external beings who embody certain traits like strength, learning, or love. Neo-Pagans have very personal relationships with the deities, so their perceptions of them are equally personal and individualistic.

Like the rituals in most non-Pagan religions, Neo-Pagan rituals mark changes and events in human life: Birth, death, marriage – but also chronicle the change of the seasons. Ritual can be a ceremony of celebration (as in the holy days) or a way of honoring the Gods and Goddesses and thanking them for their blessings. Offerings made to the Gods and Goddesses often include natural things of beauty, flowers, art, stones, crystals, or items created by the practitioner including, poems, songs, and dance. These offerings demonstrate the level of dedication and devotion of Neo-Pagan worshipers.

The following is a great article by Vivianne Crowley describing Neo-Paganism:

“Pagan religion is based on teachings handed down through myth and sage over thousands of years. Some Pagans worship the Gods of their ancestors or of the land in which they live. Still others worship the Gods and Goddesses that resonate with them, whether or not they have a tie to the particular area of the world those Gods and Goddesses originally appeared. Many people all over the world are drawn to the Egyptian deities, for example. Some Pagans draw on a number of different religious traditions. Many worship the Great Mother Goddess, seeing all the different forms in which She has been worshiped as a number of aspects of Her – that all are in fact Her. There are many traditions within Paganism. Paganism is an umbrella term that encompasses several Earth-based religions, including Wicca, Druidry, followers of Odin, Asatru, Native American religion, and others.

Pagans believe that spiritual knowledge unfolds from within ourselves. Pagans believe that there is a collective human memory. It has been shown that animals have a collective memory – when elephants are born, they have "memories" of up to 1,000 species of plants that are eaten to cure different illnesses. Pagans believe that humans, with training, can access that deeper layer of the mind that contains the full repository of all human knowledge – past, present, and future. The psychologist Carl Jung has called this the "collective unconscious." This can explain why scientists in different areas of the world will come to the same realization at the same time.”

(Next: Your God, Part III Wicca and More Magick)

— Danu’s Daughter

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day is 40 Today — Now Global, it All Began Above a Diner

Why a post about Earth Day on a blog devoted to Paganism? Because many Pagans, including myself, revere Mother Earth and view our planet as truly sacred.

It’s difficult to put this into words. I practice a nature-based Pagan path, viewing all life as connected through it’s very creation. So, taking care of the planet that gives all of us life just follows.

So many people first experience a real sense of divine through nature. As a Pagan, that awe inspiring sense of deity continues to draw me to it as I mindfully watch the seasons change.

In general, earth-based religions view the planet (and nature as a whole) as the source of universal consciousness and energy. Some Wiccans, and others who practice natural magick, work to utilize this energy in an attempt to improve their lives.

I have attached an article from the Washington Post that contains a history of Earth Day. Read it her, or directly on its website:

By David A. Fahrenthold And Juliet Eilperin
The Washington Post
Updated: 04/22/2010

WASHINGTON – Before Earth Day became what it is – an international ritual halfway between a street party and a guilt trip – it was a bunch of 20-somethings working in an office over a diner.

It was 1970. They worked 15-hour days. They stuffed a lot of envelopes.

And, at first, they didn't like the name.

"Who in the hell do they think we are, the Grange?" Stephen Cotton recalled about reading the name an advertising agency had proposed for their national protest. Earth Day sounded like an event for farmers. "But it grew on us."

Earth Day turns 40 (today), making its founders 60-somethings. To this group of about 20, both the day and the country look very different now.

In those four decades, the angrier, more ambitious environmental movement that sprang out of Earth Day made vast changes in Washington. New federal laws took on dirty air and poisoned water – and won.

But today, American environmentalism is struggling in a new kind of fight.

The problems are more slippery: pollutants like greenhouse-gas emissions, which don't stink or sting the eyes. And current activists, by their own admission, rarely muster the kind of collar-grabbing immediacy that the first Earth Day gave to environmental causes.

"I don't think we've come up with a good way in the conservation movement of making it real for people," said Arturo Sandoval, who was 22 when he organized activities across the West on the first Earth Day. "Global warming, to most people, is an abstract issue."

Earth Day's 40th anniversary will be celebrated across the globe (today): There will be children studying pollution in Baltimore Harbor, a coral-reef cleanup in the Virgin Islands, a concert in Rome. And on Sunday, a climate-focused rally on the National Mall will include performances by Sting, John Legend and the Roots.

The day's beginnings were much humbler, but not that far away. The first Earth Day was organized from an office that smelled like hamburger grease and teemed with flies.

"Every so often, someone would go berserk and dash from room to room" swinging a fly swatter at the swarms drawn by the oily fumes rising from the diner downstairs, said Cotton, then 23, who was the press director for the group. "Since we were budding ecologists, we had an unspoken rule against using bug spray."

He and the other young people were working on an idea from then-Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Wisc., who died in 2005. In August 1969, Nelson had visited a huge oil spill off Santa Barbara, Calif. He wondered: Why not hold a "teach-in" – like the campus discussions that focused on the Vietnam War – on the environment?

Nelson hired Denis Hayes, 25, a graduate student at Harvard and a former student-body president at Stanford. The rest came from a variety of other liberal causes: a veteran of Robert F. Kennedy's presidential campaign, an organizer of antiwar protests in Mississippi, an anti-hunger activist.

At the time, the Potomac River was choked with pollution-fueled algae blooms. Cleveland's Cuyahoga River had recently caught fire. Smog was so bad that, in 1966, a vast cloud of it was blamed for killing more than 150 people in New York City. And even the bald eagle's population had fallen below 1,000 nesting pairs in the continental United States, ravaged by the pesticide DDT.

The group mailed out suggested Earth Day activities, called college campuses to set up events, talked to dozens of newspaper and TV reporters.

It worked: On Earth Day itself, there was a "human jam" that filled New York City's Fifth Avenue, a rally near the Washington Monument, a march against a foul-smelling sewage plant in Albuquerque, N.M. There were events at college campuses and in classrooms around the country: By one estimate, one in 10 Americans participated.

In the four years afterward, the Environmental Protection Agency was founded and Congress passed a series of landmark laws. The Clean Air Act amendments of 1970 set new limits on pollutants. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 provided new protections for vulnerable animals. And the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 set new restrictions on what could come out of taps.

Today, EPA estimates that the Clean Air Act – amended in 1990 to crack down on acid rain -- has prevented more than 220,000 premature deaths from air pollution. Other legislation led to pollution cuts that have made both the Cuyahoga and the Potomac run cleaner.

And, with DDT banned, there are now more than 9,700 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the Lower 48.

"We won the argument that the environment needs to be protected," said Michael Brune, the modern-day executive director of the Sierra Club. "The conversation is now about at what pace do we need to reform, what are the most effective policy solutions we need to put in place, what the costs are going to be."

The group of organizers disbanded after that first Earth Day and went on to careers in law firms, foundations, environmental groups, state government. But since then, they and other observers have seen the American environmental movement struggle to rebuild its momentum. With rare exceptions, like in the 2006 defeat of then-House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif., the environment rarely serves as the defining issue in national campaigns.

Public opinion polls show that, while Americans care about the environment, they generally rank it behind other priorities like jobs, terrorism and health care. And, on climate change – the environmental movement's defining issue now – polls show Americans seeming less concerned, not more, than in previous years.

"I don't think the environmental movement is deep enough, broad enough, to have the impact we want," said Bill Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society, who, like many of today's most prominent environmental leaders, took part in Earth Day events in 1970. "We're a strong interest group, but we have yet to have the kind of political clout you really need in today's political world."

So, what might be a good way to personally celebrate Earth Day and get an idea about Paganism? Meditate – outside if you can. Almost everyone has the ability to stand or stroll in the outside environment. It doesn’t even matter what environment it is. It only matters that you do so alone, and seriously try to hear what the planet has to say. That’s right – hear the planet. Hear the bugs buzzing, birds singing and pay special attention to listening to the heartbeat of the sacred trees.

It may seem ridiculous, but I assure you, it is not. Every element, rock, tree, creature of nature has the same creative spark that we all carry. On this Earth Day, it would be very appropriate to try to connect to that continuous stream, flow, of sacred energy. It would be wonderful to give thanks, or to speak out loud, or silently in your heart, anything that comes to mind as you commune. I promise you if you do so honestly and with an open heart it will add positive energy to the whole planet and bring you to an appreciation of what it’s like to be an every-day Pagan.

(Note: Fire up Google today and you'll be greeted by the Google logo as a lush forest – the web giant's nod to and celebration of Earth Day. This so-called Google Doodle appears to depict a collection of six parrots, which may be a reference that 2010 is also the International Year of Biodiversity, which will be marked May 22. It is the image that appears at the top of this post.

This isn't the first time Google has given over its logo for Earth Day. Last year, it ran an illustration of a waterfall and a rainbow of marine life, in 2008 it depicted the logo as a pile of rocks with vegetation growing on it, and in 2007 depicted the Google logo as melting polar ice – that summer the loss of Arctic ice had left experts "stunned.")

— Danu’s Daughter

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Your God, Part I

“You will meet the God you know.”

I never believed that there was only one path to deity, but as many as there are people who seek with an open heart. What I have found is that unless the spiritual path you have chosen is the right one for you, there is little chance that you will find deity, God, Allah, Jesus, Buddha, or whatever name you apply to the Creator.

I have always been a spiritual seeker. I love theology and studying comparative religions across the globe. Ironically, I had not been looking for a new faith path when I first read about Paganism. But, as soon as I processed the information, that’s exactly what happened. It was the first time that everything fit, made sense in profound ways that are still difficult to explain. It was the first time that I met the God that I know – I was home.

After I became Pagan, I realized just how precious the U.S. protection of religious freedom is. Before then, I didn’t understand the fear of religious persecution in a truly personal way. But, as a Pagan, I know that had I lived in another era, or country, my life could easily have been forfeit because of my beliefs. Thankfully, I live in a time and in a country that I am free to practice my religion and to freely discuss it without fear.

In launching this blog, I wanted to begin by a providing a brief overview of Paganism. In later posts, I will delve much deeper into other Pagan paths. Each of these are so rich that there is just no way to go into much depth in an introductory post.

Basically, Neopagans are a community of faiths bringing ancient Pagan and magickal traditions to the modern age – including mostly Wicca but also Druidism, Hellenics, Asatru, Shamanism, neo-Native American, and even more. Neopagan is an umbrella term for the various and diverse beliefs with many elements in common.

Many Neopagans, especially Wiccans, strive to revive authentic pantheons and rituals of ancient cultures, though often in deliberately eclectic and reconstructionist ways, and by embracing particularly contemplative and celebratory attitudes.

Generally, Paganism is any religious path not under the Abrahamic umbrella: Judeo-Christian-Islamic. Thus, in addition to Wicca, etc., Buddhism and Hinduism are also examples of Pagan paths. While many of these are founded upon earth-based beliefs, not all center around "Mother Earth." Pagan History predates Christianity by thousands of years.

Interestingly, it is important to note that some Neopagans find no incongruency practicing Neopaganism along with adherence to another faith, such as Christianity or Judaism.

Neopaganism is not an organized religion and has no official doctrine. Pagans follow a wide variety of paths and often have a variety of beliefs regarding the divine, human nature, and the afterlife. However, there are some common beliefs that are held by most Neopagans.

Neopaganism is characterized by its revival of ancient polytheistic religions. Pagans are especially interested in the pantheons of northern Europe (Norse) and Britain (Celtic) but also may incorporate gods and beliefs of ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian paganism.

Some Pagans regard one particular god (or the God and Goddess pair) as the Supreme Principle, worshiping that divinity above all others. Some regard all gods as aspects of the Great God and all goddesses as aspects of the Great Goddess. But nearly all Neopagans recognize the existence and true divinity of other gods; a very few Neopagans are monotheists.

In addition to gods and goddesses, Neopagans usually honor ancestral and locational spirits. These might include deceased relatives (honored especially at Samhain, known by non-pagans as Halloween), local and national heroes, Elves, the Spirit of the Hearth, and more.

In additon to some commonly-held beliefs, Neopagans who follow a particular path usually have their own distinctive religious beliefs. Most revere a Goddess as more primary than the God, partly in response to the male-dominated religions of the past millennium.

Perhaps the most fundamental belief of most Neopagans is the recognition of the divine in nature. Most Pagans honor the cycle of the seasons and all of nature as a direct expression of the divine, and a model for spiritual growth and renewal. The Earth herself is regarded as sacred by many Pagans, and deep ecological concerns are characteristic by most followers.

Different deities are often connected with different times of the year and worshiped in seasonal festivals, and practices like astrology and divination are rooted in the belief in nature's divinity. The Neopagan seasonal cycle, called the Wheel of the Year, consists of eight Sabbats. These Sabbats are joyous occasions of celebration and communion.

The eight Wiccan Sabbats are spaced roughly about 45 days apart throughout the year. There are four major and four minor Sabbats. The major Sabbats occur approximately midway between the minor Sabbats, typically at the end of a month.

Different Wiccan traditions have various names and dates for these festivals. The most common names for the major Sabbats are Celtic in origin and they are: Samhain (Oct. 31), Imbolc (Feb. 1), Beltane (May 1), and Lammas (Aug. 1).

The four minor Sabbats consist of the two equinoxes in March and September when day and night are balanced, and the two solstices in December (the longest night of the year) and June (the longest day of the year). The exact date for each of these Sabbats varies from year to year occurring on or between the 19th to the 22nd of the month.

It is believed that the Sabbats originated from the cycles that were associated with farming, hunting and fertility. Like Jewish Shabbats, Neopagan Sabbats begin at sunset the day before the holiday.

The phases of the moon, including the 13 full moons in every year, are also celebrated. These monthly celebrations are called Esbats. Magickal work and more solemn rituals are normally done on the Esbats. (Much more about Magick in the next post.)

The most important Esbat is on the full moon, but some groups also recognize Esbats of the new moon and the two quarters. Magickal power is believed to be especially strong on the night of a full moon, which is why important rituals are undertaken on such nights.

While Esbats involve rituals or ceremonies dedicated to the Moon, and the Goddess, Sabbats involve rituals and ceremonies dedicated to the Sun, the seasons, and the God. Sabbats trace the birth, life, death, and rebirth of the God as symbolized through the changing seasons.

To Be Continued...Next: Beliefs and Magick

— Danu’s Daughter