Tuesday, May 31, 2011

June and the Joyous Summer Soltice of Litha

One of the most enjoyable holidays in the pagan calendar is the Summer Solstice, or Litha, which is a time for celebration of the abundance of the Earth, and is also a time to prepare for the darkening months to come.

June will also mark a Solar AND Lunar Eclipse, so rejoice in the unique qualities of this season.

Litha is one of the four solar festivals (the two solstices, and the two equinoxes) or sabbats, observed by many Wiccan and Pagan traditions, based on the Celtic year. In folklore, these are referred to as the four 'quarter-days' of the year, and modern Wiccan and Witches call them the four 'Lesser Sabbats', or the four 'Low Holidays.' The Summer Solstice is one of them.

Litha is also known as Midsummer, occurring when the sun is at its apex on June 21 in the Northern Hemisphere. In Celtic lore, the Summer Solstice is one of two times each year that the battle between the Holly and Oak Kings occurs.

This folk tradition is a tale of the seasons, in which the light half of the year, represented by the Oak King, and the dark half, represented by the Holly King, wage war against each other in a natural magick bid for supremacy. This epic battle takes place at the summer and winter solstices.

The Oak King is seen as the ruler of the year between the Winter and Summer Solstices, while the Holly King rules from the Summer to Winter Solstices. It is the Oak King’s victory that is celebrated at Litha. But while the Oak King may be in charge of things at the beginning of June, by the end of Midsummer he has been defeated by the Holly King who will begin to bring about the dark half of the year, to shorten the length of daylight and replace the current warmth with a growing cold. Thus it is that the holly (tinne) is the sacred tree of June.

I love the symbolism that Wiccans understand from this amazing battle, that in every darkness there is an element of light, and in every light there is an element of darkness. Understanding this basic teaching of the Wheel of the Year better prepares those who follow this path to handle the ups and downs of existence as a natural part of life.

The famous, fabulous witch Marie Bruce of England, has written a wonderful Grass is Greener Spell that underscores this wisdom. Light a white candle then say:

"Discontent I will not feel
For satisfaction I will strive
Greener grass is never real
I am happy with my life!
So mote it be."

Allow the candle to burn for 15 minutes, then snuff it out. Repeat it daily until you feel more content with your life.

Humanity has been celebrating the triumph of light over the darkness since ancient times. On the Wheel of the Year, Litha lies directly across from Yule, the shortest day of the calendar year. This battle between the seasons is so significant that in many Pagan circles it is even acted out in some Litha celebrations.

It addition is at Litha, like Samhain (Halloween,) that the veils between the worlds are wondrously thin, that the portals between "the fields we know" and the worlds beyond stand enticingly open. As a result, it is an excellent time for rites of divination, and is also the strongest time to work all types of faery magick.

The most famous bard of them all, William Shakespeare, associated Midsummer with witchcraft in at least three of his plays. A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, and The Tempest all contain references to the special magick on the night of the Summer Solstice.

Even though Litha and Yule are classified as low or lesser sabbats (holidays,) they are generally celebrated with more reveling, zeal and merriment than any other holidays on the wheel, except perhaps Samhain (Halloween).

The joyous rituals of Litha celebrate the verdant Earth in high summer; abundance, fertility, and all the riches of Nature in full bloom. This is a madcap time of strong magic and empowerment, traditionally the time for handfasting (weddings) and for communication with the spirits of Nature. One fairly common custom in covens/groves is for women to walk skyclad (naked) through gardens to ensure continued fertility.

Those who celebrated Litha in the past did so wearing garlands or crowns of flowers, and of course, their millinery always included the yellow blossoms of St. John's Wort. The Litha rites of the ancients were boisterous communal festivities that included dancing, singing, storytelling, pageantry and feasting occurring by the village bonfire, and a torch-lit procession through the village after dark.

The Litha Sabbat is a time to celebrate both work and leisure, it is a time for children and childlike play. It is a time to celebrate the ending of the waxing year and the beginning of the waning year, in preparation for the harvest to come. Midsummer is a time to absorb the Sun's warming rays and is also another fertility Sabbat, not only for humans, but also for crops and animals. Wiccans consider the Goddess to be heavy with pregnancy from the mating at Beltane – and much honor is given to Her. The Sun God is also celebrated as the Sun is at its peak in the sky. Wiccans celebrate His approaching fatherhood – honor is also given to Him.

The faeries abound at this time and it is customary to leave offerings – such as food or herbs – for them in the evening.

Although Litha may seem at first glance to be a masculine observance and one which focuses on Lugh, the day is also dedicated to the Goddess, and Her flowers are the white blossoms of the elder. [FYI: In Irish mythology Lugh was a divine hero who led the Tuatha Dé Danann – who became the fey – against the Fomorians who were led by his grandfather Balor. Lugh killed Balor by shooting a stone into his giant eye.]

Here are just a few other names Litha is also known as: Summer Solstice, Alban Hefin; Sun Blessing; Gathering Day; Feill-Sheathain; Whit Sunday; Whitsuntide; Vestalia; Thing-tide; and St. John's Day.

Wiccan celebrants are commonly associated with Litha, but the holiday is celebrated by ancient religions around the world on every continent who believe in gods and goddesses of fertility and magick. It is thought the word, Litha, may have come from the Saxon tradition.

As mentioned, Shakespeare's romantic comedy, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" has drawn attention to this time of year and captivated audiences since about 1596. Pagans believe that midsummer dreams are more lucid during this time, and as has been said, believe it is a good time to commune with all sprites and faeries.

Litha takes place after the crops have been planted and before the harvest has begun. Pagans believe that Litha is the right time to harvest magical, healing herbs and to make love potions. As a result, Litha became associated with the ideal time for weddings, scheduled between the planting and harvesting. Traditional June weddings still occur around this time.

Litha also celebrates fertility and strength. Foods with fresh vegetables, drinks made with herbs and flowers and incense of different types such as lemon, myrrh and pine, are used in many Litha celebrations.

Edain McCoy explains this magickal season from her book, Celtic Myth and Magick:

"Midsummer is the time when the sun reaches the peak of its power, the earth is green and holds the promise of a bountiful harvest. The Mother Goddess is viewed as heavily pregnant, and the God is at the apex of his manhood and is honored in his guise as the supreme sun.

But don't overlook the Celtic Sun Goddesses in your celebration. The Celts are one of several cultures known to also have female deities to reperesent the power of the sun. The Celtic languages are some of the very few in which the names for the "sun" are feminine nouns, which attests to the one-time prominence of these Goddesses. A number of the myths surrounding these ladies of light have been preserved. Among the most well-known are Sul (Anglo-Celtic), Dia Griene (Scottish), the Princess of the Sun (Breton), and Grian and Brid (Irish).

Just as the Holly and Oak Kings battles for supremacy at Yule, this ever-repeating fight is reenacted at Midsummer, this time with the Holly King, as king of the waning year, victorious."

Litha has been a source of contention among modern Neo-Pagan and Wiccan groups because it has not been established whether Midsummer was celebrated by the ancients. While there's scholarly evidence to indicate that it was indeed observed, Wicca founder Gerald B. Gardner wrote that the solar festivals (the solstices and equinoxes) were actually added later and were imported from the Middle East. Regardless, most Wiccans and Neo-Pagans celebrate Litha.

Nearly every agricultural society has marked the high point of summer in some way. It is at this time that the sun reaches its zenith. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Summer Solstice occurs in December. It is the longest day of the year, and the point at which the sun seems to just hang in the sky without moving – in fact, the word "solstice" is from the Latin word solstitium, which literally translates "sun stands still." In ancient days the progression of the sun was marked and recorded. Stone circles like Stonehenge were actually oriented to highlight the rising of the sun on the precise day of the Summer Solstice.

Litha Legends

Because Litha is a celebration that has been observed for centuries in one form or another it is no surprise that there are numerous myths and legends associated with it.

It is believed in parts of England that if you stay up all night on Midsummer's Eve, sitting in the middle of a stone circle, you will see the Fey. But be careful – carry a bit of rue in your pocket to keep them from harassing you, or turn your jacket inside out to confuse them. If you have to escape the Fae, follow a ley line, and it will lead you to safety.

[FYI: Rue has a long history of use in both medicine and magick, and is considered a protective herb in both disciplines. The hardy evergreen shrub with yellow flowers is mentioned by writers from Pliny to Shakespeare and beyond, as an herb of remembrance, of warding and of healing. Early physicians considered rue an excellent protection against plagues and pestilence, and used it to ward off poisons and fleas. A Modern Herbal refers to the plant's 'disagreeable odor and flavor,' but in truth, the bitterness of the leaves is only evident in large doses. In smaller amounts, it imparts a pleasant, musky flavor to cream cheeses and light meats. Rue was once believed to improve the eyesight and creativity, and no less personages than Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci regularly at the small, trefoil leaves to increase their own. The legend of rue lives on in playing cards, where the symbol for the suit of clubs is said to be modeled on a leaf of rue. There are concerns that rue is poisonous and can cause violent gastric reactions when taken in large doses. In addition, some people are highly sensitive to the plant's oils and can develop a severe rash when they are exposed to it and then the sun.]

Ley Lines

Ley lines were first suggested to the general public by an amateur archaeologist named Alfred Watkins in the early 1920’s. Watkins was out wandering around one day in Herefordshire and noticed that many of the local footpaths connected the surrounding hilltops in a straight line. After looking a map, he saw a pattern of alignment. He posited that in ancient times, Britain had been crossed by a network of straight travel routes, using various hilltops and other physical features as landmarks, needed in order to navigate the once densely-forested countryside.

Watkins' ideas weren't completely new. Some fifty years before Watkins, an archaeologist named William Henry Black suggested that geometric lines connected monuments all over western Europe.

The idea of ley lines as magical, mystical alignments is a fairly modern one. One school of thought believes that these lines carry positive or negative energy. It is also believed that where two or more lines converge, you have a place of great power and energy. It is believed that many well-known sacred sites, such as Stonehenge, Glastonbury Tor, Sedona and Machu Picchu sit at the convergence of several lines.

There are a number of academics who dismiss the concept of ley lines, pointing out that geographic alignment doesn’t necessarily make the connection magical. After all, the shortest distance between two points is always a straight line, so it would make sense for some of these places to be connected by a straight path. On the other hand, when our ancestors were navigating over rivers, around forests, and up hills, a straight line might not have actually been the best path to follow. It is also possible that because of the sheer number of ancient sites in Britain, that the "alignments" are simply chance coincidence. Ri-ight!

Litha Fires

People believed that the Litha fires possessed great power, and that prosperity and protection for oneself and one's clan (family) could be earned merely by jumping over the Litha bonfire. It was also common for courting couples to join hands and jump over the embers of the Litha fire three times to ensure a long and happy marriage, financial prosperity and many children. Even the charred embers from the Litha bonfire were believed to have possessed protective powers – they were charms against injury and bad weather in harvest time. The embers were commonly placed around fields of grain and orchards to protect the crops and ensure an abundant reaping. Other Litha customs included carrying an ember of the Litha fire home and placing it on one's hearth and decking one's home with birch, fennel, St. John's Wort, orpin, and white lilies for blessing and protection.

In England, rural villagers built a big bonfire on Midsummer's Eve. This was called "setting the watch," and it was known that the fire would keep evil spirits out of the town. Some farmers would light a fire on their land, and people would wander about, holding torches and lanterns, from one bonfire to another. If you jumped over a bonfire – presumably without lighting your pants on fire – you were guaranteed to have good luck for the coming year.

After your Litha fire has burned out and the ashes gone cold, use them to make a protective amulet. You can do this by carrying them in a small pouch, or kneading them into some soft clay and forming a talisman. In some traditions of Wicca, it is believed that the Midsummer ashes will protect you from misfortune. You can also sow the ashes from your bonfire into your garden, and your crops will be bountiful for the rest of the summer growing season.

In addition:

— Residents of some areas of Ireland say that if you have something you wish to happen, you "give it to the pebble." Carry a stone in your hand as you circle the Litha bonfire, and whisper your request to the stone – "heal my mother" or "help me be more courageous," for example. After your third turn around the fire, toss the stone into the flames.
— Sunwheels were used to celebrate Midsummer in some early Pagan cultures. A wheel – or sometimes a really big ball of straw – was lit on fire and rolled down a hill into a river. The burned remnants were taken to the local temple and put on display. In Wales, it was believed that if the fire went out before the wheel hit the water, a good crop was guaranteed for the season.
— In Egypt, the Midsummer season was associated with the flooding of the Nile River delta. In South America, paper boats are filled with flowers, and then set on fire. They are then sailed down the river, carrying prayers to the gods. In some traditions of modern Paganism, you can get rid of problems by writing them on a piece of paper and dropping them into a moving body of water on Litha.

Gods and Goddesses

For contemporary Wiccans and Pagans, this is a day of inner power and brightness. Find a quiet spot and meditate on the darkness and the light both in the world and in your personal life. Celebrate the turning of the Wheel of the Year with fire and water, night and day, and other symbols of the triumph of light over darkness.

Litha is a great time to celebrate outdoors especially if you have children. Take them swimming or just turn on the sprinkler to run through, and then have a bonfire or barbeque at the end of the day. Let them stay up late to say goodnight to the sun, and celebrate nightfall with sparklers, fire flies, storytelling, and music.

Here is a sampling of the Gods and Goddesses from around the world associated with the Summer Solstice:

Amaterasu (Shinto): This solar goddess is both the sister of the moon deity, and the storm god of Japan. She is known as the goddess "from which all light comes." She is much loved, and is known for her warmth and compassion. Every year in July, she is honored with public celebrations throughout Japan.

Aten (Egypt): Known an aspect of Ra, Aten was not depicted as an anthropomorphic being (like most of the other ancient Egyptian gods), but is represented by the disc of the sun, with rays of light emanating outward.

Apollo (Greek): The son of Zeus by Leto, Apollo is a multi-faceted god. In addition to being the god of the sun, he also presides over music, medicine and healing. He is also identified with Helios. As his worship spread throughout the Roman empire and into the British Isles, he took on many of the aspects of the Celtic deities, and is seen as a god of the sun and of healing.

Hestia (Greek): This goddess watches over domesticity, the home and the family. She was given the first offering at any sacrifice made in the home. Publicly, local town halls were shrines for her – and when new settlements were formed, a flame from their public hearths were taken to new villages from the old ones in her honor.

Horus (Egyptian): Horus was one of the solar deities of the ancient Egyptians. He was honored as rising and setting daily, and is also associated with Nut, the sky god. Horus later became associated with the more famous sun god, Ra.

Huitzilopochtli (Aztec): This warrior god of the ancient Aztecs was a sun god and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan. He battled with Nanahuatzin, an earlier solar god. Huitzilopochtli fought against darkness, and required his worshipers to make regular sacrifices to ensure the sun's survival over the next fifty-two years, which is coincides with the sacred number recorded in Mesoamerican myths.

Juno (Roman): She is also called Juno Luna and blesses women with menstruation. The month of June was named for her. She is the patroness of marriage, and her month remains an ever-popular time for handfastings (weddings.)

Lugh (Celtic): Similar to the Roman god Mercury, Lugh was known as a god of both skill and the distribution of talent. He is sometimes associated with Midsummer because of his role as a harvest god, and during the Summer Solstice when the crops are flourishing and are waiting to be plucked from the ground at Lughnasadh.

Sulis Minerva (Celtic, Roman): When the Romans occupied the British Isles, they took the aspects of the Celtic sun goddess, Sulis, and merged her with their own goddess of wisdom, Minerva. The resulting combination was Sulis Minerva, who watched over the hot springs and sacred waters in the town of Bath.

Sunna or Sol (Germanic): Little is known about this Norse goddess of the sun, but she appears in the poetic eddas as the sister of the moon god.

The following chants and prayers celebrate the different aspects of Litha. Feel free to modify them to suit the needs of your own tradition:

Prayer for the Garden
By Patti Wigington

Small plants, leaves and buds,
growing in the soil.
O fiery sun, may your rays of
light and warmth
bless us with abundance,
and allow these plants to blossom
with life.

A Prayer for the Beach
By Patti Wigington

O mother ocean, welcome me in your arms,
bathe me in your waves,
and keep me safe
so that I may return to land once more.

Your tides move with the pull of the moon,
as do my own cycles.
I am drawn to you,
and honor you under the sun's fiery gaze.

Prayer to the Sun at Litha
By Patti Wigington

The sun is high above us
shining down upon the land and sea,
making things grow and bloom.

Great and powerful sun,
we honor you this day
and thank you for your gifts.

Ra, Helios, Sol Invictus, Aten, Svarog,
you are known by many names.

You are the light over the crops,
the heat that warms the earth,
the hope that springs eternal,
the bringer of life.

We welcome you, and we honor you this day,
celebrating your light,
as we begin our journey once more
into the darkness.

A Fourth of July Prayer
By Patti Wigington

Gods of liberty, goddesses of justice,
watch over those who would fight for our freedoms.
May freedom be given to all people,
around the world,
no matter what their faith.

Keep our soldiers safe from harm,
and protect them in your light,
so that they may return to their families
and their homes.

Goddesses of liberty, gods of justice,
hear our call, and light the sky,
your torch shining in the night,
that we may find our way back to you,
and bring people together, in unity.

Blessing Besom

Litha is the season of great solar energy. A great project is to put together a blessing besom, especially since sweeping is one of the best ways to make a space sacred and clean. After making it, use it to physically cleanse your home, then hang it up to keep positive energy flowing.

To make a blessing besom, you'll need the following: A broom – either make your own, or purchase one at a craft store; ivy or vines; flowers and herbs; ribbons; and small bells.

Wrap the ribbons and ivy loosely (allow some pliance) around the handle of the broom. Next, add sprigs of herbs and flowers beneath the ribbons as desired. Once done, tie a few small bells onto the broom, so that it makes a pleasant sound when used. In many cultures, bells are used as noisemakers to frighten away evil spirits or negative energies.

If you like, you may consecrate the blessing besom the same as any other magical tool. Use it to sweep around your home, starting near a window or a door, and working in a deosil (clockwise) direction. As you do so, you may wish to chant something like this:

Sweeping, sweeping, 'round the room,
Blessings from this cleansing broom.
From floor to ceiling, and all between,
May this space be fresh and clean.
Sweeping good energy here to me,
As I will, so it shall be.


Here are just a few magickal correspondences (items that amplify specific natural energies) associated with Litha:

Purpose : Rededication to the Lord and Lady, beginning of the harvest, honoring the Sun God, honoring the pregnant Goddess.

Dynamics/Meaning: Crowning of the Sun God, death of the Oak King, assumption of the Holly King, end the ordeal of the Green Man.

Tools, Symbols and Decorations: The sun, oak, birch and fir branches, sun flowers, lilies, red/maize/yellow or gold flower, love amulets, seashells, summer fruits and flowers, feather/flower door wreath, sun wheel, fire, circles of stone, sun dials and swords/blades, bird feathers, and the Witches' Ladder. (FYI: A Witches’ Ladder is similar to a prayer bracelet or Rosary in other faiths. It is generally a string comprised of 40 beads, or a cord of 40 knots, which some Wiccans or witches use for magick. The beads or knots enable a practitioner to concentrate on repeated chants or incantations without having to keep count, thus enabling the practitioner to focus all his or her attention or will on the desired goal.)

Colors: Blue, green, gold, yellow and red.

Customs: Bonfires, processions, all night vigils; singing, feasting, celebrating with others; cutting or gathering divining rods, dowsing rods and wands; herb gathering; handfastings (weddings); Druidic gathering to collect mistletoe in oak groves; needfires, leaping between two; women walking naked through gardens to ensure continued fertility; honorign the Mother's fullness, richness and abundance; placing garlands of St. John’s Wort placed over doors/ windows and a sprig in the car for protection.

Goddesses: Mother Earth, Mother Nature; Venus, Aphrodite, Yemaya, Astarte, Freya, Hathor, Ishtar; all Goddesses of love, passion, beauty and the sea, and pregnant, lusty Goddesses; Green Forest Mother; Great One of the Stars; and Goddess of the Wells.

Gods: Father Sun/Sky; Oak King, Holly King; King Arthur; all Gods at peak power and strength.

Rituals/Magicks: Nature spirit/fey communion, planet healing, divination, love and protection magicks. The battle between the Oak King – God of the waxing year – and the Holly King – God of the waning year, which can be acted out in a ritual play, or scenes from the Bard’s (an incarnation of Merlin) "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," rededication of faith, and rites of inspiration.

Astrologically, the sun is entering Cancer, which is a water sign. Midsummer is not only a time of fire magick, but of water as well. Now is a good time to work magick involving sacred streams and holy wells. If you visit one, be sure to go just before sunrise on Litha, and approach the water from the east, with the rising sun. Circle the well or spring three times, walking deosil, and then make an offering of silver coins or pins.

Animals/Mythical Beings: Wren, robin, horses, cattle, satyrs, faeries, firebird, dragon, and thunderbird.

Gemstones: Lapis lazuli, diamond, tiger’s eye; and all green gemstones, especially emerald and jade.

Herbs: Anise, mugwort, chamomile, rose, wild rose, oak blossoms, lily, cinquefoil, lavender, fennel, elder, mistletoe, hemp, thyme, larkspur, nettle, wisteria, vervain ( verbena), St. John’s Wort, heartsease, rue, fern, wormwood, pine, heather, yarrow, oak and holly trees.

Incense/Oil: Heliotrope, saffron, orange, frankincense and myrrh, wisteria, cinnamon, mint, rose, lemon, lavender, sandalwood, and pine.

Foods: Honey, fresh vegetables, lemons, oranges, summer fruits, summer squash, pumpernickel bread, ale and mead, and carrot drinks.

Sun worship is a custom that has gone on nearly as long as mankind itself. In North America, the tribes of the Great Plains saw the sun as a manifestation of the Great Spirit. For centuries, the Sun Dance has been performed as a way to not only honor the sun, but also to bring the dancers visions. Traditionally, the Sun Dance was performed by young warriors.

According to historians, Sun Dance preparation among most of the Plains peoples involved a lot of prayer, followed by the ceremonial felling of a tree, which was then painted and erected at the dancing ground. All of this was done under the supervision of the tribe's shaman. Offerings were made to show respect to the Great Spirit.

The Sun Dance itself lasted for several days, during which time the dancers abstained from food. On the first day, prior to beginning the dance, participants often spent some time in a sweat lodge, and the painted their bodies with a variety of colors. Dancers circled the pole to the beat of drums, bells, and sacred chants.

The Sun Dance was not held solely to honor the sun – but was also a way of testing the stamina of the tribe's young, unblooded warriors. Among a few tribes, such as the Mandan, dancers suspended themselves from the pole with ropes attached to pins that pierced the skin. The young men of some tribes lacerated their skin in ritualized patterns. Dancers kept going until they lost consciousness, and sometimes this could go on for three to four days. Dancers often reported having a vision or a spirit walk during the celebration. Once it was over, they were fed, bathed, and – with great ceremony – smoked a sacred pipe in honor of the Great Spirit's manifestation as the sun.

However you choose to celebrate the Summer Solstice, as a Litha Rite or some other Midsummer holiday, make it joyous. Try to celebrate outside in the open air if possible, with good company. Feast, dance, sing and enjoy the abundance of nature. Drinks to share at Litha include honey mead, elderflower wine or a cordial. Decorate your home or an outdoor celebration with blue and red ribbons, holly, oak leaves, reeds, wild roses and cultivated red roses, along with any yellow or red flowers.

Whatever you do, be sure to remember to cleave to your partner with love and the sexual abandon that only this time of wild magick inspires!

Here are June's Correspondences in Overview:

Herb of the Month - Mugwort
Stone of the Month - Moonstone
Rune of the Month - Wunjo
Tarot Card of the Month - The Lovers
Correspondence of the Month - Elements
Spell of the Month - Protection

Important June Dates:

June 1, 5:03 p.m. - New Moon, 5:16 p.m. Solar Eclipse

We may all be eager to feel the light, airy energy of the New Moon in Gemini at 11 degrees, which happens on June 1. Also happening is a power-boost of a Solar Eclipse (which occurs during the New Moon phase). A sacred gateway of energy is opening up for those willing to tune in.

The sacred gateway, signified by a Solar Eclipse as an opening, is similar to a fresh chapter in a journal or book. This doorway is for you to venture onto new adventures - to be open and curious about life. There is much to write or new things to read and understand. It can be an interesting, energizing and exciting time, as this Solar Eclipse in Gemini is brimming with new beginnings. We may just want to talk about experience of living life - things that really matter and are of value, not just skimming the headlines and partaking in useless gossip. We must take a look around our lives and realize we must use our power to make proper, healthy choices so we can create long-lasting happiness.

Saturn in Libra is making a harmonious aspect to the Sun and Moon in Gemini now. Tangible manifestations and the ability to create and justify ideas are possible. We are more focused on completing our actions rather than how we present them to other people. Saturn in Libra offers a steadfast supportive energy to this Solar Eclipse and New Moon in Gemini. If you do have planets situated in your natal chart within 9-14 degrees in Airs signs: Gemini, Libra, Aquarius - you may feel super good and possibly productive. We will enjoy variety in life now or engage in friendly conversations with interesting people. Things may happen quick and fast now and anything is possible. It may feel like a wild ride with life swirling and magick happening. Solar Eclipses tend to symbolize outer world changes while Lunar Eclipses electrify the inner world, which will happen on June 15.

All other signs can appreciate the themes and issues coming up. Everyone can partake in creating a sacred space and clear intention around the sector of life where the Eclipse takes place. Saturn and Pluto make a wide yet tense connection during this Solar Eclipse/New Moon in Gemini, reminding us to get serious and be the responsible party in bringing change to long-standing issues in relationships and perhaps even in the professional sector of life. Move past old limitations and know that you can and will overcome the adversity.

Birthday Surprises!

For those whose Birthdays land on June 1, know that you can have a powerfully charged up year ahead to learn, share and network.

The Solar Eclipse and New Moon in Gemini invites us to lighten the mood, be open, curious and embrace the variety in life.

June 15, 4:12 p.m. - Lunar Eclipse, 4:14 p.m. - Full Moon

The Moon of Aradia

This Sagittarius Full Moon is also a total lunar eclipse. Eclipses open up conduits of magickal and spiritual energy. Some believe that souls enter and exit through the shadows of eclipses. Eclipses can stir up other kinds of energies and events, some quite inconvenient. Under pressing circumstances, the practitioner must learn to "think like a Witch."

Aradia, Queen of the Witches, has powers to share and teach this special kind of thinking. Witches don't panic! They react in magickal ways that transform circumstances through will and intent. The sacred ciccle and true name are anchors that help put on the witchy thinking cap, and the singing sword of focused intent puts thoughts into motion.

If the solitary practitioner is confronting difficulties under this Full Moon, take time to review the people and elements of the situation. Put on the witchy thinking cap, pick apart the problem, and look carefully at all the pieces. What kind of spells, charms, and devotional prayers, and rituals are potential magickal solutions? Covens can post these questions as a group. Eclipses are good for changing and banishing troubling circumstances.

~ Elizabeth Hazel in Llewellyn's 2011 Witches' Datebook

June 19 - Father's Day

You Taught Me How to Love You

You taught me how to love you by
The way that you loved me;
And by your unseen sustenance,
To see what you could see.

You gave to me through who you were
The gift of what I am.
Your pride in me is now my pride;
Your faith, my caravan.

Your life does not conclude with death,
Nor will it end with mine,
For all the lives I touch, you touch,
And so on through all time.

~ Nicholas Gordon

June 21 - Midsummer/Litha/Summer Solstice

Litha Correspondences in More Detail:

Element/Gender - Fire/male.

Threshold - Evening/dawn.

Herb of the Month: Mugwort (Air/Venus, Gender - Feminine)

Parts Used: The whole herb
Magickal Properties: Travelers Protection
Divination, Uses: Harvested at the Full Moon, this is carried for protection when traveling long journeys, used as a tea to enhance psychic powers or rub the leaves on the forehead and on the divination tool to increase clairvoyance.

Stone of the Month: Moonstone

Great for divination. Many people keep a moonstone with their tarot cards for increased psychic ability. It is helpful in dieting and maintaining a youthful appearance. The moonstone is love drawing and helpful for reconciliation. Moonstone is a gently protective stone, and is extremely useful in protection while traveling by water.

Rune of the Month: Wunjo (W or V is equated with joy, comfort, and pleasure.)

Wunjo stands for fellowship, harmony, prosperity; ecstasy, glory, spiritual reward, but is also associated with the the possibility of going "over the top." However, if restrained, the meaning is generally success and the recognition of worth.

Wunjo Reversed or Merkstave is equated with stultification, sorrow, strife, alienation, delirium, intoxication, possession by higher forces, impractical enthusiasm, and even raging frenzy, or berzerker.

Tarot Card of the Month: The Lovers

The Lovers represent a new breath of life. They symbolize love, devotion and spiritual friendship. Positively associated with desire, a new lover, relationships, physical attraction, love, sex, and commitment. Negatively associated with lust, moral lapse, temptation, indecision, separation, failed love affair, and emotional loss of control.

Correspondence of the Month: Elements

Earth - Earth is the element that rules the north and that is most stable and dependable. It represents abundance, prosperity, and wealth, and is creative but in a practical, physical manner. Earth is that which sustains all life and on which the other elements rest. Types of magick: gardening, grounding, magnet, image, stone, tree, knot, binding. These types of spells should be preformed when the moon is in one of the astrological signs governed by this element: Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn.

Air - The element of Air rules the east and is associated with mental processes and the mind. It is creative and is that which causes magickal intentions to manifest. It is also associated with higher consciousness and wisdom, divination, and purification. Types of magick: divination, concentration, prophecy, visualization, wind magick, karma. These types of spells should be performed when the moon is in one of the astrological signs governed by this element: Gemini, Libra, Aquarius.

Fire - The element of Fire rules the south and is associated with change and passion. It is both physical and spiritual, being related to sexuality and to divinity. Fire magick is quickly manifested and filled with primal energy. Types of magick: candle, storm, time. These types of spells should be performed when the moon is in one of the astrological signs governed by this element: Aries, Leo, Sagittarius.

Water - The element of Water rules the west and is associated with the subconscious mind, intuition, and emotions. As the primal substance of life, it is symbolized by the womb and is related to fertility. Types of magick: magick involving the sea, snow or ice, mirror, magnet, rain, cleansing and purification. These types of spells should be performed when the moon is in one of the astrological signs governed by this element: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces.

Spell of the Month: Protection

What you need:

White candle
Protection incense
Photo or respresentation of your loved one(s)

Light the incense. Place the candle on top of your photo(s) and light it. Envision a protective white light surrounding your loved ones and say:

"O Goddess, protect my loved ones every day, as they sleep and as they play,
Help them to always smile bright, and keep them safe in Your loving light.
Protect them from harm and from all they fear,
For they are the ones that I hold dear.
I thank the Goddess for helping me,
I trust in Her aid,
So mote it be."

Let the candle and incense burn down.

— Danu’s Daughter

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mr. Wolf is Huffing and Puffing and Well — You Know the Rest

My life has never been the same since first meeting Mr. Wolf more than a decade ago.

Sadly, he became so fond of me that he decided to move in without an invitation, and I have been woefully unable to evict him since, despite my very best efforts.

I have Lupus, which I refer to as “Mr. Wolf,” because lupus is the Latin word for wolf, and boy has he been snapping his big teeth at me of late.

I have the most serious form of the disease, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (pronounced: er-uh-thee-muh-toe-sus), also called SLE, which is an autoimmune disease. As such, it is characterized by a malfunction of the immune system. In these types of diseases, the immune system cannot distinguish between the body’s own cells and tissues and that of ‘foreign’ matter. So, rather than simply producing antibodies to attack invading viruses, bacteria or other similar foreign substances, my immune system creates auto-antibodies that attack my body’s own cells and/or tissues.

Like the last of the Three Little Pigs, I've learned long ago to build my house's foundation soundly against his attacks. I have built it upon the concepts of spirituality (Wicca), love (bisexual), hard work, honesty and a willingness to play (the last has been the hardest part for me.) Nonetheless, the truth is that my house is about to come down around my ears.

The past few months have been bleak. Mr. Wolf has been feasting virtually at will — and sister, does he have a lot of will. During the current onslaught, I went to the doctor and was told what I already knew — Mr. Wolf is coming closer and closer to achieving his goal.

Last year, I had a horrible realization: I can no longer remember what it felt like to be well. Oh, I have memories of being very active, unabashedly athletic and whole, but they are no longer sense memories. It’s as if that part of my life was so insubstantial that it has been absorbed into the unreality of dream.

When I was first diagnosed more than 15 years ago, I was consumed with knowing why my own body was trying to destroy me. At first, I found myself looking deeply into the mirror: Who was this stranger that had taken over my body? And, even more importantly, how could I ever learn to live with her?

I fell into a deep-as-the-deepest ravine depression. There was nothing left of the person I once was. Nothing, absolutely nothing, remained. Or so I thought then. I had been wrong. Very wrong. A tiny, itty-bitty, bright even luminous speck of something had survived.

Was it my soul? I still don’t know, but I think so. I also came to believe it was the divine spark of creation housed within all beings; that indescribable “something” that connects us all to each other regardless of race, gender, age, creed, religion or geography. Whatever it was, I felt it. Visceral.

But for the past few months, nothing. It had been a long process, but I had finally begun to believe again that I had a body, that I was a woman, not simply a lump of flesh that temporarily housed my brain until my ever-approaching death. Unfortunately, almost imperceptibly, I had become a “thing” again.

I had thought that once I had found my “soul,” that knowledge — that sense of self, would be mine forever. It has been sobering indeed to realize that self-knowledge, even hard-fought, can be forgotten in the face of relentless disease and worsening disability. So, once again I stood on the very brink. I had managed to take a step back once before, but did I have the ability, or even the will, to do it again?

For days, I once again stared at the pill bottle, my “stash” I had hoarded for years that would bring on the ultimate darkness. If I gave in to its seduction and the sweet oblivion it promised, I would finally rest. And, I was so very, very tired.

I thought back, what had I done before? What was it that had caused me to give a damn whether I met the next dawn? Slowly, I remembered – it was that little zing of life. That shooting feeling that you are, indeed, alive. Even muted by illness it was still there, still calling me unceasingly back from suicide: Sensation.

I sighed and put the pill bottle away— again. I know now that I will not improve, or may never even stabilize again. The truce, the peaceful co-existence, the political accord that I had hammered out with him before is gone.

I must once again work to reclaim my body, make her a part of me again. Integration in a literal sense. I have been kind, nurturing, drawing her back — but that is no longer enough.

Before, it was my honest sexuality that was the key. I had worked to feel arousal again, slowly, gradually working to feel even a nano flash of sexual interest. Once I had done that, I almost immediately remembered the long-lost feeling of my “soul.”

When I was having sex, I was no longer disabled. The pain that has always been Mr. Wolf’s hallmark transcended into pleasure. Touch and intimacy has been my link to the divine for as long as I can remember. In those moments, I was my true self again. Not a disabled person on her way out, but a living, vibrant woman who was put on this planet for some purpose beyond my finite understanding.

It seems significant that I have to relearn this simple message yet again — but this time without my usual coping mechanism. My sexuality continues to elude me now, so I have to figure something else out. Perhaps I failed to appreciate that my real sense of self, my soul, cannot be wooed from the outside, but must be found within. Even though I had connected to her through my physical senses and the practice of a Divine sexuality, she is not really connected to my body at all. She exists in everything, in everyone. Even me — still.

Thus, I have decided to move forward knowing that my deterioration simply is. Mr. Wolf is real, and I can't pretend that he's just some euphemism I created to represent my disease. I need to find new ways to hang on, to continue breathing. I was given the gift of life, and it remains a gift still.

I also hereby re-dedicate my efforts to re-establish my intimate life. I want the most satisfying sex possible. For me, sex doesn’t just promote overall health, it has always meant the very breath of creation. Despite needing to learn a different way to remain connected, I refuse to give up hope that physical intimacy is lost to me now.

— Danu's Daughter

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Eat, Drink and be Merry, for on May 21 We Die!

OK, so what's with this end of the world stuff, anyway?

Most people have heard the “theory” that the world is going to end in 2012, according to the Mayan calendar, but recently billboards have started popping up across the country "revealing" the world’s literal last day will be on May 21 this year, allegedly based on the Hebrew Calendar.

Christian Evangelical Radio host Harold Camping and his followers have calculated this date CERTAIN of Christ's "Second Coming" (something that Born Again and other Evangelical Christians refer to as, 'The Rapture') after using a series of insanely complicated and suspiciously bogus calculations.

"It's going to be a horror story that we absolutely cannot conceive of. Millions of people will die on that day and everyday thereafter," Camping said.

According to Camping, who is the founder of the Family Radio Network, Judgment Day will begin with earthquakes — at 6 p.m. local time.

Camping's followers have been traveling around the world, spreading the word about the forthcoming day. "We see people that give us the thumb. They say, 'Thumbs up.' We also see people that, unfortunately, give us the other finger," said one devotee, Darryl Keats.

Camping's doomsday scenario has given the late-night talk show hosts grist for their comedy mills, but sadly a lot of regular people have admitted to being terrified as the date fast approaches, according to recent news accounts.

Look, I'm not a Christian anymore, but if it makes those of you who are feel any better, here are two New Testament verses apropos, from the King James version:

"For ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh," (Matthew, Chapter 25, verse 13); and, "Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come," (Matthew, Chapter 24, verse 42.)

Let's talk a bit here about death. As an anonymous philosophical wit once observed, "None of us is getting out of here alive."

It is vital that we come to grips with the very reality of the very real end of our lives — whether it's in two weeks or two decades, or longer.

I have Lupus, S.E., a worsening auto-immune disease that will eventually kill me if nothing else does. Since I learned my diagnosis, I have become progressively sicker, and just last week found out that I am deteriorating at quite a disgusting pace.

I was pretty bummed, but I do know the real truth; that it doesn't matter how many days or years you live, but what you do with them. (Brother, I certainly am filled with cliches today!) I don't mean how much money you make, or how "important" you are, but how many people you've touched, and how many people you've allowed into your heart.

As a sex-positive, bisexual Wiccan, I believe that life and its many pleasures are to be thoroughly explored and enjoyed; that our physical couplings should be as frequent and fun as possible, but also sometimes seen as sacred; and that the divine exists within each and every being on this wonderfully diverse and rich planet.

My faith isn't based on fear, threats, and always looking toward an uncertain hereafter, but rather what we've done in the here-and-now.

So, if the gig is up for the whole of Mother Earth, why not celebrate the life you've had every day until then, and if it's not, why not celebrate every day after?

Meanwhile, the Florida Atheists and Secular Humanists have posted their own billboard advertising a recruitment party at Tiki Bar on May 21. "The upcoming rapture that's predicted for May 21 obviously is nonsense," said Ken Loukinen of the Florida Atheists. "We're just drawing attention, poking a little fun."

Mainstream Evangelical Christians have avoided the topic despite Camping's insistence that Judgment Day is soon to come. "This is not something where there's a tiny, tiny, tiny chance it might happen. It is going to happen," said Camping.

Oh yes, quite an important uh...end note: Camping’s findings should be taken with tons and tons of salt, as people have been predicting the end of the world, unsuccessfully of course, since 1260. Camping himself “miscalculated” in 1994. In 1860 there was even a “Great Disappointment” when people were warned about the Second Coming. Much more recently, who can forget the doomsayers who predicted the end of the world at the change of the millennium, the so-called Y2K disaster that turned out to be just another glorious day!

— Danu's Daughter

Thursday, May 5, 2011

May 05 – Cinco de Mayo

As a Solitary Practitioner of Wicca, I believe it's extremely important to be respectful of other cultures, practices, faiths and beliefs – but also to learn about them whenever and wherever you can.

In America, our relationship with Mexico is strained right now, especially in border states, because of the issue of illegal immigration.

My viewpoint about that issue is unimportant to relate here. What is important, is to stress tolerance, acceptance and love, to all – regardless of where your home is located.

So, I salute Mexico, Mexican Americans and Chicanos today on their beloved Cinco de Mayo!
Today is the anniversary of an extremely historic, and vital event for those communities. It was on May 5th in 1862 that 2,000 poorly trained Mexican peasants, under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza, fiercely fought and won the Battle at Puebla against a regiment of 6,000 French soldiers under the command of Napoleon III.

This observance of the Cinco de Mayo victory is a special symbol for all Mexican people and their descendants who celebrate their rights of freedom and liberty, honoring those who fought and won against greater odds.

Although the Mexican army was eventually defeated, the "Batalla de Puebla" has come to represent a symbol of Mexican unity and patriotism.

With this single victory, Mexico demonstrated to the world that Mexico and all of Latin America were willing to defend themselves against any foreign intervention. Especially those from imperialist states bent on world conquest.

In modern times on the Fifth of May, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated by native Mexican (and frequently American) people everywhere. In Mexico, several towns elaborately reenact the Battle of Puebla in a day-long dramatization that includes acting and speeches.

In America, Cinco de Mayo is an opportunity to celebrate Chicano culture in general, and is celebrated with huge fairs that include Mexican singing, dancing, feasting, costumes, sports activities, fireworks, and entertainment.

You can find the stereotypical Mariachi bands playing, while dancers perform native Mexican dances such as the Mexican Hat Dance and the Raspa.

Speeches and parades also encompass a large part of these celebrations too. But, you can also find more realistic cultural experiences of the rich history of these incredible people if you make the effort.

Participating in, and honoring, these events is a real way to celebrate and renew the friendship between the U.S. and Mexico. Viva Cinco de Mayo!

— Danu's Daughter

Monday, May 2, 2011

Let There Be Peace — Not Hatred

Late last night, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed in his Pakistani compound following a daring nighttime raid by Navy Seals.

The Seals rappelled over barbed wire fencing, entering the compound and searching bedrooms for the mastermind of the worst terror attacks in U.S. history. Those Sept. 11, 2001 attacks have changed this country forever.

Finding him, they ordered, "Surrender! Surrender!" When he refused to do so, he was shot twice in the head.

Last night around midnight, President Obama announced the raid and Bin Laden's death, saying, "Justice was done." Today during an afternoon press conference, Obama declared, "is a good day for America."

I am a Solitary Practitioner of Wicca. As such, I believe that all life is sacred — not just the good people, but the bad ones too. I am profoundly grateful to the Seals who risked their lives in the raid, but also that they gave this international criminal an opportunity to surrender.

Our country is founded on the democratic concepts of due process, and equal treatment under the law. We base those laws on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, not the Sectarian Law that is confined to the dogmatic limits of a specific religious sect or denomination.

Thus, the U.S. does not practice "an eye-for-an-eye," if we did, we would be no better than the terrorists we fight. I also oppose the death penalty.

Bin Laden was buried at sea, following Islamic Law. I would imagine that choice was also made so that there would be no grave to become a shrine for other terrorist-religious extremists to visit, thus making Bin Laden a martyr to their cause.

To those in Americans who celebrated the death, I urge you to be more reflective. Every person carries a spark of the Goddess within, so rejoicing in the killing of anyone may have unintended Karmic consequences. It is also a tenant of Wicca to respect all faiths.

We should also remember the thousands of Muslims that have died as a direct result of Bin Laden's outrages, not to mention everyone who had died since in the armed conflicts.

As a Wiccan, my faith can be summed up as:

"Bide the Wiccan laws ye must, in perfect love and perfect trust...Mind the Threefold Law ye should – three times bad and three times good...Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill – an it harm none, do what ye will."

I hope this will be another turning point in this country: Toward peace.

I pray it is the beginning of the end of the longest war in this country's history, as well as the on-going war in Afghanistan, which has been the stronghold of al-Qaida.

I also hope that we will begin to overcome religious hatred toward Muslims, finally understanding that it was not the faith that killed thousands and continues to threaten to reign mass destruction on the U.S. and our allies, but radical extremists/fanatics who work outside their own religion's precepts.

On a very personal note: I had the honor to be working with the New Jersey state law enforcement agency on that fateful Sept. 11 morning — which was brilliantly sunny and cloud free. In its aftermath, my agency provided backup assistance to New York City police and fire companies, and also to families and friends who lost loved ones in the cowardly attacks.

State police escorted me to Ground Zero about two weeks after the attacks, before it was reopened to civilians. We went over in a small boat. As we crossed New York Harbor from New Jersey, the Statue of Liberty on my right, I saw the burning face of the new skyline directly before me. Lady Liberty almost directly opposite that shameless brutality.

Recovery efforts were still underway, and the Twin Towers were still burning. I met exhausted first-responders, and aid workers who had come from around the world to help.

I talked to one New York police officer who refused to stop working. She was sleeping in one of the burned out buildings adjacent to the site. The triage centers had set up areas for workers to shower, worried about the contamination that we now know caused even more deaths in the months and years that have followed. Someone had donated the use of a large ship which was docked nearby, to allow workers to eat en masse, and also to rest.

The statuesque woman appeared to be in her 20's, with striking red hair, and hollow eyes. She told me that she was a fourth-generation New York City beat cop.

She had been on patrol that horrific morning near the Twin Towers, and saw the planes hit. Without a thought, she ran at full speed TOWARD the devastation — rather than away from it. She managed to pull some people out before she was beaten back by flames and ever-worsening smoke.

"They attacked my precinct," she said, then repeated it over-and-over-again, until she gradually fell silent.

I exchanged glances with a few other officers who were also her friends. Her post-traumatic shock was so palpable that it was excruciating to see. They shook their heads, silently telling me that they could not convince her to leave, or to get help.

When I got to the actual site, I saw workers in full-gear collapsed in exhaustion, many working 18-hour shifts hoping they still might find a miracle survivor. One firefighter described the work to me. He was from Australia, which had sent a full contingency to help!

Eventually, I went to the edge of the crater caused by the Towers' collapse into the underground. I spent some time in silent prayer before returning to my group.

Afterward, I went to the center my agency had established in New Jersey to help the victims' families and friends. Most had the same hollowed eyes that I had seen on the face of the female officer.

At the center, family and friends posted collages-memorials of their loved ones. Eventually, those were carefully preserved, and will end up in a 9/11 museum.

Later, we all learned that the thick dust that clung to everything and everyone at the attack site was pulverized cement, combined with the ashes of the dead.

I see the faces of those I met often, as well as what the devastation looked, sounded and even smelled like in detail. I will carry them until I am dust. Nonetheless, I still believe in due process and not simply retribution. We are not a cruel, angry, vicious mob — we are America!

— Danu's Daughter

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pronouncement: Beloved John Paul II!

Pope Benedict XVI beatified Pope John Paul II before an estimated 2 million faithful in St. Peter's Square and surrounding streets this morning, moving the beloved former pontiff one step closer to probable sainthood in one of the largest turnouts ever for a Vatican Mass.

I am a devout Pagan, a faith-filled Solitary Practitioner of Wicca and have been for many years. Why then am I blogging about this "Catholic/Christian" event? Because I loved this man — enough to have gotten up at 4 a.m., E.S.T., to watch the Mass live.

Today's Mass occurred on Divine Mercy Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter. Pope Benedict wore the chasuble and mitre frequently worn by Pope John Paul II during his 26-year pontificate, which spanned from Oct. 22 1978, to April 2 2005.

I am a former Catholic, converting I realized later largely because of Pope John Paul II's magnetic, amazingly angelic-like personality. Had he not been Pope, I am sure that I would never have traveled down that faith path. Nonetheless, he remains my Pope, my beloved "Papa," and will until I am also dust.

The first-ever Polish Pope, traveled to 109 nations during his papacy. Each time he disembarked, he knelt and kissed the tarmac as a moving sign of respect for each country/nation that he visited, and also in humility. Later, when his health was ravaged by Parkinson's Disease and he was unable to kneel, his aides would bring a dish of native soil up to him to kiss.

It is interesting to note that a French nun, Sister Marie Simone-Pierre, who also suffered from Parkinson's Disease, prayed to the pontiff a week after his death, and received a complete cure. It was her experience that the Vatican investigated and confirmed as a "miracle," a necessary step toward Beatification.

When he died in 2005, the faithful had gathered exactly where today's ceremony was held. Then, the overflow crowd spontaneously erupted, chanting: "Santo Subito!" — meaning "Sainthood Now!" or "Sainthood Immediately!" They chanted it over and over again, unexpectedly stopping the Resurrection Mass for several moments. Their voices rang out through the square, filling it and echoing off the ancient Basilica with an indescribable intensity and yes, love. I truly felt chills watching it on TV thousands of miles away.

During today joyous Mass, an enormous tapestry of John Paul II based on a 1995 photograph by his then official photographer, Arturo Mari, was unveiled from the balcony of Saint Peter’s. It showed the pontiff with a twinkle in his eye, and a slightly wry smile.

[Note: The tapestry is depicted at the top of this post.]

To begin today's Beatification rite, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, vicar general of the Rome Diocese, and Mgr Slawomir Oder, the postulator of the Cause, approached Pope Benedict. In Latin, Cardinal Vallini formally requested, "the Beatification of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II."

In a short biography of the late Pontiff, who was born born Karol Józef Wojtyła on May 18 1920, the cardinal said the characteristic of John Paul II’s Faith and Pontificate were a devotion to God, and his complete, almost childlike trust in "Our Lady," the Virgin Mary. It was also mentioned that today was appropriate for the Beatification because it is the first of May, or to the faithful, first Sunday of "the Month of Mary." To me, it is appropriate because it is Wicca's Beltane — a celebration of life's renewal and wonder.

He went on to talk about John Paul’s missionary zeal and his love of young people for whom he established World Youth Day, which raised a loud cheer from young pilgrims in Rome for the Beatification.

Pope Benedict, of whom I am not fond, then declared that John Paul II's "name will forever be Blessed." It now remains for one more miracle to be reported and confirmed for him to be Canonized as a Saint.

"He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope," Benedict said in his homily.

In John Paul's native country, tens of thousands of people gathered in rain in a major sanctuary in Krakow and in Wadowice, where the pontiff was born. Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his wife Malgorzata watched the ceremony together with Wadowice residents.

"I wonder what we would have been like and what would not have happened if we had not had our pope," Minister Tusk was quoted as saying. "All that good that we all have received is still working."

Blessed John Paul II, or John Paul the Great, was also given a formal "Feast Day," upon which he will be celebrated annually. His day is Oct. 22, which was the date of his first public Mass in 1978 as Pope, during which he repeated what was to become his mantra: "Do Not Be Afraid."

I am still shocked at how strongly I respond to him. I am liberal and disagreed with almost every stance he ever took on church policy. For some reason, none of that matters. What matters is how I felt when I saw him, and still feel when I remember him, or even look at a photograph.

John Paul’s was a papacy of milestones. In 1978, as Cardinal Wojtyla of Krakow, he became the first non-Italian to become pope in four centuries. Under him, the church issued its first new catechism in nearly 500 years. In 2000, he asked pardon for the church’s sins against Jews, women, heretics (like me) and minorities. He was also the first pope to visit a Muslim mosque, and a Jewish synagogue.

He survived an assassination attempt by a Turkish gunman in 1981, a still-hazy chapter in Cold War history. He later visited the gunman in prison and forgave him. The man later said the Pontiff's visit changed his life.

When he was shot, I was not a Catholic at the time. Nonetheless, I sent my first and only Western Union telegram directly to the Vatican, telling him that he was in the prayers of those other than his own faith.

Blessed John Paul's closed coffin was exhumed from a crypt beneath the Basilica, and was placed at the center aisle during the ceremony. Pope Benedict kissed it reverently. He was followed by scores of cardinals who did the same. The simple wooden casket will be placed in a side chapel next to Michelangelo’s “Pietà,” allowing it to be viewed for the first time since his funeral.
During the Mass, Benedict received a silver reliquary holding a vial of blood taken from John Paul during his final hospitalization. The relic, a key feature of beatification ceremonies, will be available for the faithful to venerate.

It was presented to him by Sister Tobiana, the Polish nun who tended to John Paul throughout his pontificate, and Sister Marie Simone-Pierre.

Thousands of pilgrims, many of them from John Paul's native Poland, spent the night in sleeping bags on bridges and in piazzas around town, and then packed St. Peter's as soon as the barricades opened over an hour in advance because the crowds were too great.

They stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the main boulevard leading to the Vatican, Via della Conciliazione, as well as on side streets around it and the bridges crossing the Tiber leading to St. Peter's waving flags from Argentina, Germany, Great Britain and Lebanon.

It's the fastest beatification on record, coming just six years after John Paul died and beating out the beatification of Mother Teresa by a few days. It was also the first time a sitting Pope beatified his predecessor.

[Note above photo: The reliquary containing the blood of Pope John Paul II was placed on a pedestal during the beatification ceremony by Sister Marie Simon Pierre, right, who says she was cured of Parkinson's Disease after praying to John Paul II; and Sister Tobiana, who is also a nurse who cared for the late Pope.]

— Danu's Daughter