The Circles of Peace
At Yule, I often do a ritual of peace. This year (2020), when even families were split and at odds, a call for peace seems completely appropriate. I made 3 rings of candles on the altar: an outer circle, an inner circle and a center circle. The outer rings had five candles in a pentacle shape. The center circle had 3 for the 3 faces of the Goddess.
For each candle in the first ring, we called for peace in a region of the world, ending in the US. For each candle in the inner ring, we asked for tolerance and kindness within families, among friends, in the public arena, and among strangers. The last candle in this circle was for unity among people.
For the center candle, we asked for peace within ourselves and for our own relationships and peace with our own minds and bodies.
We added the power of song to the power of light. We raised the power and sent it out to the world to bring peace wherever it touched.
These are my blogs describing our rituals over the years. I intend to start up the blogging again, but here's the old stuff.
I have decided to blog about our rituals as we celebrate each holiday. They have great significance and I think, power.
Imbolc - We Become Makers
Posted on February 5, 2017 at 3:25 PM
Last night was our Imbolc “makers” ritual. We celebrated Imbolc by honoring Bridget as the patron of smiths. In her honor, we created wands and became like smiths of the past, makers.. makers of objects and makers of magic.
We had 2 newcomers at the ritual – a longtime friend, who has an amazingly open heart and she brought a friend, who is a charmingly down-to-earth sort and a drummer! I am not much of a musician but the addition of a drummer to the other musicians and good singers who come to my rituals, brings a blessing to the circle.
We created beautiful wands, using clay, feathers, ribbon and crystals. I am sorry I didn’t get a picture before everyone left, but they were quite unique and evocative of each person’s personality.
In the ritual, we drummed and filled the room with the energy of the vibrations of the universe. That energy was used to empower the wands. We also sent energy out to the world for anyone who needs it and can accept it.
I neglected to get photos of the wands before folks left, but I have my own and my husband’s. After the ritual, I was looking at them and realized that they really did reflect our personalities. His dominant element is air and his wand includes a feather. My dominant element is earth and my wand has a snake.
The Journey to Spring
Posted on March 27, 2017 at 11:30 AM
Well, Ostara has come… at least here in NJ, spring is getting underway after a late winter snowstorm and a cold snap colder than any this winter. We celebrated the warming of the earth and the lengthening of the day over the week with a ritual of symbols.
The ritual included a lot of singing… three songs because Ostara is a time of celebration!
This ritual was the journey to spring… through the cold and dark to the warm, sunlit springtime. The ritual was all about the symbols of spring replacing the symbols of winter. The journey was symbolized by a small boat carrying the symbols of winter at the start of the ritual. A fan represented the winter winds. A globe of blue light represented the cold light of winter. A blue bowl was full of snow and a small vase of bare branches represented winter water and the winter earth.
We set the boat afloat on a small sea made of a small tub of water. We docked our little boat on the east side of the tub of water, where we honor air. We exchanged the fan of the winter winds for a nested bird. This was a symbolic trade of the sounds of the harsh winter winds for the beauty of birdsong. We had a box of the symbols of winter and the fan was placed in the box.
Our boat moved to the south side of the tiny sea. South represents fire. Spring brings us longer days and yellow sunshine. We celebrated that by changing the globe of cold blue light. It was turned off and replaced by a globe of golden, warm light. The blue globe was placed in the box of winter.
Now, the boat floated to the west side and we considered the change of water when the spring comes. The ice and snow melt and the rivers run and dance in the warmth. We remove the top of the bowl of snow and sprinkle water to represent rain bringing snowmelt. The top of the bowl went in the winter box.
The brightening of the sun, the gentle winds, and the melting snow bring us to the north where the spirit of the earth is honored. The bare branches in the vase on the boat were removed and replaced by flowering branches to celebrate the greening of the earth. The winter box received last symbol of winter. Tiny seed packages were removed from the winter box and the boat resumed its journey around the sea to bring a seed package to each of the participants.
The ritual ended with raising the power and more singing and poetry.
A Ritual for Mature Witches
I decided to go with a ritual honoring age and wisdom, since we are all over 55 now.
My circle includes folks no longer able to dance around a maypole… but this also means that they are old enough to be considered elders of the community and as such, sages. For Beltane, we did a ritual where we discovered our sagehood and honored our status.
This ritual is ideal for handicapped folks. Not only is it non-active, but factors that might cause issues for some older people have been minimized. We sat around a pool of water (made from horse watering trough). You could use a firepit for this, but we have a member with lung issues, for whom fire is a problem. This is a substitution that you could use in other rituals if you anticipate participants with asthma or allergies, particularly for Beltane or Lammas, when there is a lot of pollen in the air. I also used electronic candles for the corners to minimize irritants.
Some folks thought “perhaps I have not achieved wisdom… I keep making mistakes and sometimes the same mistakes... this is not an appropriate ritual for me.” I think we have all achieved some wisdom. We have figured out, to some extent, what works for us. We have found a spiritual path to walk. We have learned whose ideas make sense to us and whose ideas don’t. And we have made it this far in life. Just that is an accomplishment!
We told each other what behavior or idea we were changing as a result of becoming sages. Not to stop being angry, but to channel that anger into action on behalf of civil injustice, for example. Not to look backwards with regret, but forwards with joy. Not to count what was lost as we grew older, but to rejoice in what was gained. For each idea we abandoned, we threw a sage leaf in the water. For each idea we took on, we tucked a leaf into a small fabric bag.
We each received a “staff of sagehood”, a walking stick to symbolize our new status. Together we blessed the staves and honored ourselves. And walked the walk of the sage.
A Mandala at the Shore
Here’s an update on our recent Litha or Midsummer ritual. Last year, we did a ritual during which we created a mandala of flowers. It was well-liked, but due to the date, we had a poor turnout. I wanted to do something like that this year for Litha. I like the idea of a circle to represent Litha. I like a ritual centered on activity, but one that also includes meditation. And I like the idea of something beautiful for high summer. So, the mandala was a perfect choice.
A member of our circle has a house at the Jersey Shore, which she offered as a setting for the ritual. Most of the New Jersey Shore line is composed of barrier islands. This means that the ocean is on one side of the island, with a white sand shore and the bay is on the other side of the island, with a marshy shore. This is a beautiful setting for a ritual. Just being there is like a ritual.
The location made me think of seashells as a material for the mandala. I bought a lot of seashells of varying sizes and brought a black tablecloth with me. The ritual was beautiful and moving. We created our mandala and did a meditation.
As we ended the ritual and opened the circle, a tremendous clap of thunder was heard and a summer storm pounded the island. It ended and cleared off in time for us to walk to the bay and watch the sun set over the water
The Spirit of Corn
We celebrated Lammas Saturday with a corn ceremony. Lammas is the festival of the first harvest, traditionally grains. In fact, the word Lammas is a short form of a Saxon name for the celebration “loaf-mass” when the first loaves of bread from the new wheat were presented and blessed in a harvest ceremony.
We decided to have a corn ritual, since we are new world people and we honor the original people of this continent, along with the riches this side of the world brings us. It is worth reading what Michael Pollan has to say about corn. Two of his salient points inspired this ceremony: 1. We are corn people because it is so much of what we each and 2. The interdependence of corn and people.
Pollan talks about corn’s domestication of the human race. It cannot grow on its’ own and must be planted, and at least in this hemisphere, people could not have existed without it. The history of people and corn is completely intertwined. It is the most planted and most eaten grain in the world. Even if you do not eat corn on the cob, corn is in almost everything produced, from the old-fashioned corn syrup in candy to corn meal on the bottom of the pizza. Pigs fed the corn cobs. Farm-grown salmon is fed corn pellets. The protein in our bodies can be analyzed to show that we eat a lot of corn.
For this reason, we decided to honor corn. We took roles as the Corn Maiden, Corn Mother, Corn Sage or the Spirit of Corn. In turn, the Corn Maiden celebrated the seed corn with a symbolic planting. The Corn Mother cut corn from an ear of corn and offered it as food to all the participants. The Corn Sage prepared the batter from corn bread, which was baked and eaten with dinner after the ritual. The Spirit of the Corn created a corn dolly, which we all dressed in a skirt, a hat, a sash and a corsage.
We raised the power over the corn and set it out for healing. We finished with a wonderful poem about the corn and sunflowers from Amy Lowell.
I don’t have a picture of the altar (I so often forget in the excitement of the ritual), but I do have a picture of the Corn Dolly.
A Farewell to Colors
Yesterday, we celebrated the Autumnal Equinox with “A Farewell to Color”. While these weeks of fall are arguably the most colorful weeks of the year, those colors are the bright farewell from nature as we move into a time of greys and browns and then to the white and black of winter.
To celebrate the change and to honor the gifts of the sun, including the gift of color, we formally said farewell to the colors of nature last night. I created a flag for each color of the rainbow so we could honor the each one separately. This change may make us sad, so the idea of the ritual was to create a memory of color to keep in mind though the dark and colorless days of winter.
We honored not only the colors, but the natural things of color - the red raspberries, the orange daylilies, yellow sweet corn, green leaves, blue skies, indigo blueberries and violet eggplants. We also look forward to the spring blooms – the redbud trees, the poppies, the dandelions, the hellebores, the bluebells, the irises and the violets. This will keep our hearts light during the days of white snow and bare, black trees.
One by one, each flag was taken down in honor and folded. Once it was honored, it was placed in a wooden box and we celebrated the next color by taking down its flag. Once all 7 flags were in the box, we raised the power and empowered the box. The priestess tied a bow around the box and the box was set aside for the winter. When Spring arrives, we will open the box and welcome the colors back into our lives.
Drawing Down the Moon
We celebrated Samhain on Saturday, the 4th, which was also a full moon. This co-occurrence inspired me to reproduce the traditional ritual of drawing down the moon. However, I decided on a self-empowering ritual in a more egalitarian ritual. Rather than have the priest draw down the moon into the priestess, we would each draw down the moon into ourselves. As already empowered beings, we can bring to ourselves the power of the moon.
The power of the moon brings us the understanding of the night. It brings us the wisdom of the hidden, the arcane. We become aware that we are just the dancers in the moonlight, but the moonlight itself.
You can’t see so well in the photo, but the Moon is an exact model of the moon. As above, so below! We first captured the moon in a cup to understand the levels of image and reality. Then we used the traditional invocation of the Goddess, attributed to Doreen Valiente, to bring the power and light of the moon to us
I call upon She who unveils the mystery,
Ancient Crone, Hecate, who reign
as darkness falls upon the unlit sky
Queen of Heaven, Earth and the Underworld.
Hecate, this is your time,
Eternal Goddess, Lady of the Night.
I have prepared this sacred Circle for you,
O Wise One,
Come now into us, who honor you,
Fill us with your presence
O gracious Queen of Witches
As we do perform this Rite in your honor
It was a powerful and enlightening ritual.
Well, here is it, the middle of January and I have not blogged about our Yule celebration. I can only plead illness... a long, long bout of the common cold and a shorter run-in with a rota virus.
Yule was one of the prettiest rituals we have done. The idea of ritual is to move the participant to a different place. A visual display can move folks to that place and that is what we tried to do. Music is also moving and I am blessed in that (apart from me) my circle includes some wonderful singers.
First, about the music. We sang several traditional Christmas songs, with the words updated, when necessary, to make them more Pagan. Some songs predate the Christian Christmas and we lean toward those songs, but familiar carols make the singer feel as though the singer is "coming home" and part of the Yule spirit.
The theme of the ritual was "Yule Wishes". I set up a small Yule tree. The one I purchased was of wire twisted and bent into curlicues. I chose this because it seems symbolic of the idea of "tree". It was also like the tree of life as depicted in old Celtic art. And it would allow the ornaments to stand out.
The ornaments were clear glass. We drew symbols on them and wrote words on them to express our wishes for ourselves, our families or the world. We dropped a tiny light into each on after turning it on before hanging it on the tree. If I were to do this ritual again, I think I would break it into 2 parts, one for creating the ornaments and then one for hanging them. This would allow the ink to dry. We had some smearing issues, which didn't affect the overall look of the tree, but would have been tidier.
Once all the ornaments were hung, we added a string of tiny tree lights and star shaped tinsel. We raised the power and send it out to all who could use it and who could accept it.
And of course, ended with a last carol, because, after all, it was Yule.
Welcoming back the Colors on Ostara
Last week we celebrated Ostara by welcoming back the colors of spring. As fall progresses, the green leaves change from green to red to brown. The grass changes to green to brown to white as it becomes covered with snow. The trees lose their green leaves and become grey and black silhouettes against the snow. Brown and black, grey and white... all neutrals, nothing bright and colorful. During last Mabon's ritual, we took down colorful flags, one for each color, and ceremonially packed them away, one-by-one, into a box. They rested in that box all winter. A single white flag stayed on the altar all winter.
Now, as the winter is finally receding...slowly this year...and we begin to see robins, snowdrops and crocuses. Tiny pale pink and green leaves are unfolding. Bright yellow flowers bloom on the witchhazels and the forsythia.
To honor this change, we ceremonially opened the box from last fall. Inside we found the bright flags of each color. We honored each color, one at a time, and welcomed them back. One-by-one, we unfolded them and flew them on their flagpoles. First was the violet flag, the color of violets and crocus. Then the indigo flag, for the starry nights of spring and the blue flag, for the bluebells and blue robin's eggs. Next we re-flew the most symbolic color of spring, green, to represent the greening earth and the yellow flag for the brightening sun of spring. Finally, we re-introduced the warm colors, the orange of primroses and the red of the warming earth, sky and sea.
We also did a meditation on the beauty of the earth and raised power to heal her. At the very end, we took down the flag of winter and welcomes spring. It was all inspiring and uplifting.
A Tour of the Solar System
Our Beltane ritual was the tour of the solar system that we postponed from Imbolc when we were all under the weather. The ritual involved science, mythology and Jungian architypes.
We started in the Kuiper belt, waving to Pluto and the other larger Kuiper objects. We then encountered each of the plants, discussing the planet’s structure, history and the god it is named for. We started with Neptune, an icy giant plant, named for the god of the sea. From Neptune, we seek to understand the changes and tides in our own lives
We moved to Uranus, a sky god, also an icy giant. From the god of the daylight and the night sky, we seek to bring balance into our lives
Saturn is next. Saturn is a gas giant plant. The god Saturn is associated with good fortune. While our lives are not perfect, we live in a time when we do not have war being waged in our backyards, when we have enough to eat and a place to sleep out of the weather. We are the fortunate in terms of history and geography.
Jupiter, the largest planet, is also a gas giant, named for the most powerful god. We contemplate what powers we have and how we can make the best use of it
We moved to the inner planets, Mars, Venus and Mercury. These are designated rocky planets. Mars, named for the war god, due to its reddish appearance. Can we take on the courage of a warrior? Venus, the bright star of the morning and evening, is named for the goddess of beauty and love. We each recognize and acknowledge our own beauty and lovability. Mercury is the messenger of the gods, moving quickly through the heavens. May we not be controlled by the endless communications bombarding us.
And the power of this system? What sets it in motion… our own star, Sol. The sun gives so many things to us: warmth, light, food, color and so much more. Let us share our own gifts in the same generous way.
Finally, we fly home…. To our own precious blue-green planet, Earth. We call it Mother Earth, because it gives us the all things we need. We think about living on earth and the perfection of the environment it provides. We send out our healing energy to the earth. We meditate on the perfection of the system and know that we too are made of star-stuff and the energy of the universe.
The Seashell Mandala - Again
This Litha, we repeated last year’s ritual of the seashell mandala, since last year, one of our circle was not able to participate in it. It was again beautiful and powerful. When you use things of beauty as the base of your ritual, the ritual is raised to an even higher level.
We were indoors for a number of reasons -- mobility issues for some, heat issues for others and mosquito issues for all. The mosquitoes are not called NJ’s air force for nothing.
Last year, someone blew a conch shell to start the ceremony, but we didn’t have the right kind of couch shell, so we used a windchime.
What struck me was how similar the 2 creations are. Almost as though the mandalas were designing themselves using our hands.
Lammas – The Great Alchemy, Four Elements Create the Harvest
This was a ritual to honor the first harvest, the grain festival. I decided to use four of the North American foods most representative of this time of year. I wanted to celebrate nature as she skillfully conjures food from wind, sun, rain and soil.
This ritual is subtitled “Four Elements Create the Harvest.” It's a moment to stop and consider how the foods we eat are created by the magic combination of air, sun, water and the good earth under our feet.
The altar had a small dish of cooked corn (from a fresh ear), a cut up tomato, some cubes of watermelon and a cooked potato also cut into cubes. One by one, the food is honored and shared. It was one of those rituals when the symbolic elements fell together into a perfect representation of the idea of harvest.
Equinox - Accepting Change
Autumnal equinox is here, although in our part of the woods, the weather is summer-like and the trees have barely taken on any color except green. There are so many traditions and symbols for this day, that it is hard to pick one as a basis for a ritual.
For example, it’s a harvest festival, so thanks to the Earth for her bounty would be in order. Celebrating the change of seasons would be another idea, as would be a farewell to the sun. A ritual based on the idea of balance and unity would work, too. And traditionally, this is Mabon’s day, so celebrating this Celtic hero might be in order. And we have done rituals based on all of those things.
But here is what we decided to do this year. I love all the images and symbolism of the holiday but I think there is a sadness in the day… a feeling of loss of the summer warmth and joy. So, this year, we are doing a ritual based on accepting change. Life and change go hand in hand. And yet, most of us find change difficult, even changes that may be beneficial in the long run. And changes that cause grief and displacement may seem unbearable. So, on Saturday, we will be doing a ritual where we carve symbols of our feelings into potatoes and then bury the potatoes, hopefully releasing our negative feelings into the cleansing earth.
We hope we will then be able revel in what autumn brings – the wonder of the harvest's gifts to us; the blessing of weather that is neither too hot nor too cold; the beauty of rain that does not have the violence of summer thunder, or winter blizzards.
Past into Future
We had a delayed Samhain ritual last weekend. Everyone was going to Halloween parties the previous weekend, so we thought we would postpone our ritual. We did a memory-based ritual where we meditated on our ancestors and what they had handed down, both genetically and behaviorally. Our ancestors, our grandparents and parents may no longer be here, they live on, very truly, not just in our hearts, but in our very selves. I wanted to honor the “handing down” from generation to generation. For each thing we thought of, we added a marble to an individual bowl of water.
Since the past should not be the only things in our lives, once we had meditated on the ancestors, we used the sparkling bowls of water to scry for the future. We tried to imagine what might happen. When the scrying was down, we took those bowls of water and emptied them, with the marbles into a large bowl of water, which represented the universal spirit of all. This symbolized our unity with all beings, past, present and future.
It was very emotionally charged and some of us cried thinking about our forebears, particularly parents or grandparents who we were close to.
I finished with the rite of the Apple and Pomegranate, since that is calming and more universal than personal.
With all the unhappiness and strife in the country today, I thought a Yule ritual for peace would be appropriate. We long for peace within ourselves and also among the people of the country and the peoples of the world. We want to make peace with the Earth and provide for our children a safe and livable world.
We decided to create a symbol of peace and interdependence to bring our hearts to a peaceful place. We filled our hearts with peace and then send that peace out to those who can open their hearts to it.
That symbol started as a large circular frame. During the ritual, we interwove ribbons of many colors within the circle it, symbolizing the interdependence of all people and the need for a framework of peace to bring the world to a better place. We added a 5-pointed star to the center of the weaving to bring the spirits of intelligence, strength of will, emotional stability and wisdom to the work for peace. The 5th point brings the spirit of the peoples of the world – their striving for peace and freedom.
We sang of peace: “The Peace of the River” and “Let there be Peace on Earth”. We read poems and personal statements. We ended with Chief Seattle’s observation that “Whatever befalls the Earth - befalls the sons of the Earth. Man did not weave the web of life - He is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
In this season when we celebrate “Peace on Earth and Good Will to All”, may all our hearts be calm and may we go forward as peaceful warriors bearing the banner of Freedom and Justice for All.