Pagan

Imbolc 2021: Creativity

Here at Tangleroot, we’ve long called Imbolc “the art and cheese holiday.” Cheese because, etymologically, “Imbolc” comes either from Old Irish i mbolc, “in the belly,” referring to the farm animals, especially ewes, that are often pregnant at this time of year in warmer climes, or oimelc, meaning “ewe milk.” Here in Minnesota, it’s early for lambing, but we will never pass up an opportunity to celebrate all things dairy.

Art because Imbolc is traditionally a celebration of the Celtic goddess Brigid. I’m as non-deistic as they come, but I have a long and complex relationship with Brigid, and it seems fitting to adopt one of her attributes (goddess of inspiration) as part of our Imbolc celebrations.

Imbolc is, for me, also a Sabbat about keeping promises. After Winter Solstice, we know, both scientifically and from past experience, that the days are getting longer. But around here, it takes a while for that to be apparent to our senses. Based on my schedule, around Imbolc is when I really start to see that increase in light. Imbolc keeps the promise that Winter Solstice made. So I want my Imbolc celebrations to be about keeping promises that past me made and my executively dysfunctional ass then promptly forgot.

So we set our sacred space. We made delicious flatbread pizzas, and while they cooked, we talked about promises that we’d made to each other that we hadn’t delivered on yet. We also talked about new promises looking toward Spring Equinox. We ate pizza and drank honey-cardamom steamers (so. good.), and then we worked on our current craft projects while we watched Walking Shadow Theatre’s stream of their 2013 production of Sleepy Hollow.

To be honest, it wasn’t that different from a lot of Saturday night date nights Chez Tangleroot. But by doing it with real intention and mindfulness, and attention to what’s going on in the world around us, we made it a truly sacred night to honor and connect to the season. It may sound cheesy, but that’s what I crave most from my Sabbat arts. Promise.

Pagan

Winter Solstice 2020: Interdependence

One thing I don’t hear talked about much in Pagan circles is that sometimes you can plan the best ritual, and then it just… falls flat, either for you or for others attending. It’s seldom your fault (or at least, it’s seldom entirely your fault), but it still sucks.

And it’s okay anyway.

I’d been looking forward to Leora and my Winter Solstice ritual for weeks. The concept was simple: for 24 hours (from just before sunset Sunday to just after sunset Monday), we would have a ritual retreat day of rest and reflection. It called back to the spiritual retreat days that Leora and I used to do several times a year back in the day, and gave us a time to honor the quiet contemplativeness of the longest night of the year.

That is exactly what we did. And I was miserable.

Continue reading “Winter Solstice 2020: Interdependence”
image by Ri Butov
Pagan

The Dreidel Song

Since September, I’ve been reteaching1 myself how to play the soprano recorder. I’m enjoying it immensely; I hadn’t realized how much I’ve missed playing an instrument. It’s become an important part of my meditative and spiritual practice as the cooling weather and lengthening darkness have kept me increasingly inside.

My beginner’s method book is full of holiday songs. Makes sense: a lot of them have very simple, repetitive melodies, and they’re very familiar, so I know instantly if I’ve made a mistake. I’m learning a few to share with you, to bring some extra holiday spirit to you this very weird holiday season.

Am I good? Heavens, no. Squeaks abound! But I’m having a lot of fun, and maybe you could use a little fun today?

Let’s get rolling with “The Dreidel Song,” because Hanukkah starts tonight. Chag urim sameach!

1. By which I mean I spent a few weeks learning how to coax something like music out of an instrument much like this in fourth grade. Which was a long time ago.

Other posts in this series:

Photo by Ri Butov via Pixaby

photo by me
deathwork, Pagan

Samhain 2020: Wholeness

As a Pagan in Minnesota, one of the first lessons I learned—and continue to relearn—is how to adapt rituals on the fly, especially those planned for outside. Spending an hour toasting the Ancestors in the cemetery where Leora’s grandmother is buried seemed like a great idea as I planned these rituals in August when it was humid and in the upper 80s (F). It seemed like a crummy idea when the actual day arrived with a predicted high of 31 (0 C) and a windchill of 24 (-4 C).

We adapted. We set up a small altar in our living room and settled on the couch. We drank apple cider mulled with cinnamon, cardamom, and orange peel and traded memories of our beloved dead, beginning with the most recent (Kiara Madison-Cook. What is remembered, lives) and then meandering generally backward to our hazy earliest losses. We shared the memories however they came and let ourselves remember the difficult times as well as the good. Although we missed being at Nanny’s grave, this felt intimate and moving in a way that standing more formally in the cemetery might not have.

Once we’d said everything we needed to, we sang the marvelous “Bone by Bone” to honor and remember all the lives and deaths that have shaped us, spoken and unspoken, known and unknown. We wrote a few words or drew symbols representing characteristics of our beloved dead that we want to embody more in the months ahead. One of the most profound ways the dead live on is through us; if we admire something about the way they lived their lives, why not endeavor to bring that quality into our own lives? Those papers will sit on our main altar until at least Imbolc, to remind us of the work we’re carrying forward.

We bundled up and made our way to the back yard. We each cut a lock of hair and and buried it, speaking the words of the Earth-Dweller’s Creed:

To Earth all life returns;
From Earth all life rises up.

We don’t believe in a personal afterlife, but we believe—we know—that when we die, the Earth will take our bodies back and make new forms from them. It is a promise we all receive, and one we make in return (and the main reason I’m so adamant about green burial). It is the most sacred rebirth I can imagine. We give a bit back now, to remind ourselves of the greater return to come.

And that was the end of the ritual proper.

We’re revisiting our Equinox list to make sure we’re making progress on preparing for Winter. And I’ll be revising one of my end-of-life planning documents, in the spirit of the season (Leora gets a pass this year, because grad school). I like my rituals to have after-work.

So why “wholeness”? Why is that the value I chose to associate with a holiday so often focused on death, grief, and loss? Precisely because of that focus. I’m a deathworker. I’ve seen far too many times the impacts of rampant overcultural death denial and truncated and disenfranchised grief on our lives and communities, especially those of us of marginalized identities. To be whole, I believe we must accept all aspects of life, even its end. We don’t have to like it, but we do have to acknowledge and accept it. The more we show up for death, the more we can show up in life.

Pagan

The Winter Confluence

For the past several years, I’ve been adamant about not celebrating Christmas or Chanukah. “Not my religions; not my holidays” was my standard response when someone asked about my plans.

I did this for because, one, it’s fun to watch people’s faces when I tell them that I don’t celebrate the world’s biggest consumerist holiday, even glancingly. Two (and more important personally), despite having been a practicing Pagan since 2001, the only consistent Winter Solstice practice I’d developed was staying up all night, which becomes increasingly inaccessible as I get older. I needed to step back and develop celebrations that neither appropriated an oppressed religion nor kowtowed to an oppressive one.

I needed that time away. It’s done me a world of good as a Pagan.

The December event of the Minnesota Threshold Network was called “Facing Holidays After the Death of a Loved One.” As I sat in that circle, talking about holiday traditions and honoring loved ones who have died, I thought about how, although I don’t celebrate Christmas or Chanukah, I once did, and my Ancestors have, for many generations. By choosing not to engage with these holidays, I’ve cut myself off from them, from using shared practices to thank, honor, connect with, and grieve for those who have gone before me.

So this year, I chose one action to acknowledge each holiday. Not a full celebration, since they’re still not my religions or my holidays. One act to connect me to Ancestors recent and distant who celebrated these holidays. To remind them, and myself, that though we walk different spiritual paths, they are welcome here.

  • Chanukah was easy: I created a… well, I hesitate to call it a chanukiah. It’s a strip of fabric set up under the Yule tree with LED candles. Every night I’ve been saying the blessings and lighting the candles. (The Yule tree, btw, is three birch logs lashed together in a tripod, wrapped with blue string lights and topped with seasonally appropriate cookie cutters. Because we are those Minnesotans.)
  • Christmas was more challenging. Other than attending the Christmas Eve service at church, which, just, no, my family of origin was much more connected to the holiday’s consumerist aspects than its religious or cultural ones. Being as anti-capitalist as a 21st-century American urbanite can be, those aren’t traditions I want to replicate.
  • I thought about food, instead. Specifically, waffles. My parents had a waffle maker. It was a wedding gift. They hated using it, considering it too unwieldy and difficult. It came out once a year: on Christmas morning. After we opened presents, Mom and I would watch The Nutcracker (Baryshnikov version) on PBS while Dad swore at the waffles.

This is tricky, of course, because I shared the tradition with ancestors (living), not Ancestors (dead). But it connects me to family, and although my more distant Ancestors may not have eaten waffles on Christmas Day, I’m sure that most of them had special holiday food traditions of some sort, and this feels like sharing mine with them.

I am one moment in Time. The lines of memory flows from the Ancestors, through me, and on to the Descendants. And in this time of deep, healing, dreaming darkness, I stand with ancestors, Ancestors, and Descendants at the confluence of three winter holidays and greet the returning light.

Five days after Solstice; fourth night of Chanukah; Christmas Day