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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Midsummer in transition

 So the summer solstice was on Wednesday and this year I found myself feeling very challenged on how to celebrate. I have only just decided to refocus my spiritual practice, well more accurately my religious structure, and I was actually at a bit of a loss as to what to do. I'm still feeling my way slowly into what works best for me but its also very important that my children have a sense of the holiday and get to enjoy it. I also had a very bad experience with a Midsummer ritual last year that I am still working to overcome, so this holiday is especially challenging for me on a personal level - which is probably why it ended up being the first one to come along after my major shift of focus. Life is anything but subtle sometimes when we need to face our issues....
   We have had a family tradition of baking cakes on the solstices for many years. At the summer solstice we bake the cake for the daoine sidhe and Aine, who may be a fairy queen or may be a goddess; and at the winter solstice we bake a cake for the Sun's birthday. In previous years with a more recon based approach we would bake the summer cake and leave pieces as offerings but otherwise we didn't do too much to mark the day. From an eclectic Wiccan perspective I would have done a full circle to the Lord and Lady of summer, the God and Goddess of the Greenwood. Last year I did a public ritual in a more neo-pagan/Wiccan style that honored the fairies, spirits of the land, and Lord and Lady - this ritual will go down in infamy for the disapproval that resulted from some people* so I may be a little gun shy about jumping right in to do something similar again, despite its overall success.
  In the end I settled on a hybrid compromise, which is, perhaps, the best approach anyway. Combining holiday fun with necessity I gave the gift of new summer shoes to the girls (and my husband) something I might keep as a tradition in the future. We baked a vanilla cake with butter cream frosting and the girls decorated it with candy sprinkles from the store.  The cake came out very nicely, and after dinner when everything was ready we sang a Jana Runnall's song called "Graine" that I learned from Kellianna; then I cut a piece of cake for the fairies and another for Aine. The cake was left outside by our little Hawthorn tree and then we went back in and enjoyed some cake ourselves. I read the girls a book about the Summer Solstice by Ellen Jackson that includes folklore and traditions from around the world.
  Later that night I had my own ritual, more along the lines of a Wiccan circle. Perhaps next year I can find an even better way to celebrate everything together; maybe I will finally get over my feelings of Midsummer inadequacy. But this year went well anyway, it was fun, the girls enjoyed it, and the fairies got their cake.

Cake recipe:
  1 cup white sugar 1/2 cup butter 2 eggs 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Grease and flour a 9x9 inch pan....
In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder, add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Finally stir in the milk until batter is smooth. Pour or spoon batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes in the preheated oven

Frosting recipe:
 1/2 cup butter, softened, 4-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 5 tablespoons whole milk
In a large bowl, cream butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the confectioners' sugar, vanilla and enough milk to achieve desired consistency.

 * Long, messy backstory. Shortest possible version is that what one person feels is an acceptable offering may not be seen as such by others. Also I am a tangental ritual leader and not everyone likes my style of ritual. Lesson learned the hard way.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer Introspection

  I am not a summer person. While everyone else might be out at the beach, at barbecues, hiking, or otherwise enjoying the outdoors I'm avoiding the bright sunlight and heat by holing up inside. I've always been like this; I was the kid in high school who spent my summers staying up until 4 a.m. reading and watching re-runs of classic tv shows and bad b-movies. Each year I dread the returning heat, the oppressive humidity, the bugs and glaring sunshine. Winter is my season, my time to get out and explore the world and enjoy nature - summer is something to be endured. However I have always tried to force myself to go along with the general expectations, the wider view of summer and the season's energies. People talk about summer as a time for planting and growing, and despite my own desire to do the opposite for many years I pushed against my inclinations. I planted when I wanted to harvest. I nurtured and grew when I wanted to withdraw and contemplate.
  I've been thinking about this a lot the past two days as I celebrated Midsummer and as my area experiences a heat wave that has rendered the outdoor atmosphere into something reminiscent of an oven. Online people are talking about the time of year as a time of activity and exploration, in contrast to winter as a time of introspection and withdrawal. What I've come to realize is that for myself these cycles are reversed;   to me summer is a time of introspection, when the pace of everything slows down and I look within to sort through what to keep and what to let go of. Fall is a time for returning to the world, for setting new goals as I wait for the leaves to turn and seek the scent of woodsmoke in the air. Winter is when I get out the most, walking, hiking, exploring; a time to begin new projects and add effort to old ones. And spring is when things begin to slow down, although there is a rush to finish up what's been begun.
   I'm moving into that time of introspection now, assessing and reviewing my life, trying to decide what is worth keeping and what needs to be let go of. One thing I've already come to realize - no surprise to anyone who has been reading my recent blogs - is that I need to start appreciating and honoring my own cycles and patterns instead of trying to fit myself into other people's preconceived cycles. What works for other people may not work for me, but there is no reason I can't find value in my own natural rhythms and learn to appreciate what does work for me. As I move back into an American Wiccan framework I can appreciate the larger concepts of the accepted cycles of the year while simultaneously honoring my own energetic cycles. 
  I am not a summer person, and that's okay. I will spend the next few months in introspection and emerge in the fall ready to move forward with renewed energy and purpose.

original pencil drawing, M. Daimler, copyright 1999

Friday, June 1, 2012

recommended reading

  Well I finished writing my newest book and am back to blogging. There are several pagan recommended reading lists floating around including one at Patheos and another at Huffington Post so I thought I'd offer my own suggestions here, but I'm limiting it to 10 each to keep myself from going totally overboard:

Heathen Recommended Reading List
1) Essential Asatru by Diana Paxson - a good introduction to the basics of belief and practice, particularly useful for those coming from a neopagan background
2) The Prose Edda - I suggest reading multiple translations to get the best understanding of the material
3) The Poetic Edda - multiple translations are your friend
4) Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland - Modern language retellings of the Eddic myths
5) The Road to Hel by H.R. Ellis Davidson - an essential look at beliefs about the dead and afterlife
6) The Well and the Tree by Bauschatz - discusses cosmology from a heathen persepctive
7) Our Troth, volumes 1 and 2 - a very thorough look at everything from belief to practice, and a wonderful reference to have on hand
8) Elves, Wights, and Trolls by K. Gundarsson - a look at the heathen belief in Otherworldly spirits, often not emphasized in american Heathenry but very important to understsnd
9) Living Asatru by Greg Shelter - short but useful look at living modern asatru
10) We Are Our Deeds  by Eric Wodening - a very in depth look at modern heathen ethics

Irish Reconstruction Reading List
1) the CR FAQs - the best basic start to understanding recon from a Celtic viewpoint
2) the Sacred Isle by O'hOgain - discusses Irish religion from pre-christian times through conversion.
3) Festival of Lughnasa by Maire McNeill - an in-depth look at the historic and modern celebration of Lughnasa, including a good deal of folklore and mythology
4) The Lebor Gabala Erenn - the story of the invasions of Ireland by the Gods and spirits and eventually humans.
5) Cath Maige Tuired - the story of the battle of the Tuatha de Danann with the Fomorians.
6) the Year in Ireland by K. Danaher - an overview of holidays and folk practices throughout the year.
7) The Silver Bough (all four volumes) by F. MacNeil - Scottish but extremely useful for understanding folk practices and beliefs
8) Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry by Yeats - a look at folklore and belief
9) Lady with a Mead Cup by Enright - useful look at ritual structure and society in both Celtic and Norse cultures
10) Celtic Gods and Heroes by Sjoestedt - discusses both the gods and tidbits of folklore and mythology

What books would you recommend?