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.


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


Atheist Pagan Panel redux

At Paganicon 2019, I had the honor of sitting on a panel on Atheist Paganism, alongside organizer/moderator Kay Lara Schoenwetter, Godless Paganism editor John Halstead, and local Pagan luminary, thinker, writer, and raconteur Steven Posch. Kay sent us questions beforehand, and like any good public speaker with anxiety, I wrote out and relentlessly practiced my answers beforehand. Then the panel actually happened. The conversation went in different directions; I forgot to say things I wanted and said things I hadn’t planned to; we skipped questions and added others as the discussion led us.

But by gum, I answered these questions, and it seems a shame to let that go to waste. So here they are, the answers I would have given to the questions we were sent, if the outer world ran as smoothly as the one in my head.

Continue reading “Atheist Pagan Panel redux”



I’ve been familiar with Laura Tempest Zakroff‘s art for several years, because my wonderful spouse Leora is an admirer of it. I first heard about Zakroff’s sigil work when Leora was on a panel Zakroff organized on art as spiritual practice for Paganicon 2018. The concept intrigued me instantly. So when Zakroff’s book Sigil Witchery: A Witch’s Guide to Crafting Magick Symbols popped up on Leora’s wish list at Samhain, I sneakily took the opportunity to get it as a gift for both of us.

I’m not particularly skilled in the visual arts, but I’m an inveterate doodler. My doodles are often boxy and geometric in nature, or shapes that incorporate written letters somehow. In eighth grade, one of my best friends taught me a method for writing secrets (mostly the names of people we had crushes on) in boxes, and I still use it today, sometimes with almost magical intentions. In junior high and high school, when I was writing my obligatory epic high fantasy trilogy, one of my favorite parts was developing a written language for my protagonist’s culture, a series of circles, lines, and swirls written in a circular manner and read outward from a central point.

Leora’s name (as it was when we met) in my super-secret adolescent code

As both a writer and a former linguistics minor, I’m fascinated by the construction of human language and the way we use it to convey both our external and internal landscapes. As a literally Earth-based Pagan, I’m also interested in how written language and representational art can both celebrate and obfuscate our relationship with this sacred living Earth.

Zakroff’s approach to sigil-crafting appeals to me deeply. She combines the entire danged known history of human mark-making, from cave painting on, symbols commonly shared among many traditions of western neo-Paganism, and the recognition that symbols must have personal resonance if they’re going to do any good, to come up with a sigil system that feels at once personal, communal, and global. She even suggests incorporating symbols from professional or leisure activities, if we can come up with symbolic meanings to go along with them. To which I say: copy editing mark sigils, here I come!

So I’m playing with sigils! So far they’re pretty boxy and geometric, go figure. I’m not saying I want mine to look exactly like Zakroff’s, but hers have a more organic flow that I’d like to see more of in my own. I’m experimenting with what I want to use them for and how I want to make them. Look for them soon in a witchcraft near you!

Early efforts: a sigil for the full Ice Moon