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A Pagan EDC: Everyday Elemental Tools

I have written before that for me, paganism is a way of living rather than a theology or a specific belief system. At the core of my practice is an awareness of being in relationship with Nature. Despite the many infrastructures of 21st century civilization that we live in, we are fundamentally organisms existing on a particular planet, in a particular ecosystem. We are beings being, in Nature. One way I like to think about being in Nature is to be ready to work with all the elements no matter where we may find ourselves.

Ironically, I have found that I have a lot to learn about being outdoors in Nature, from people who usually do not identify as pagans, but who live in ways that seem much more pagan to me. For the past few years I have tried to learn how to be outside more easily, without feeling like an interloper when I am in Nature. In return, I have tried to bring my spiritual awareness to my time in Nature. One example of this is in my EDC strategy.

EDC, or Every-Day Carry, is simply a specific strategy one uses to have a particular set of tools or supplies always ready-to-hand, usually carried in a bag or a pouch of some sort. Whether one thinks in terms of a strategy like this or not, most of us employ it. How many of us leave the house without our keys, our cellphone, and our wallet? These simple items are part of our every-day carry.

I am convinced our ancestors viewed the elemental hallows, or tools, as useful items to have with you when you are in Nature; they were more than mere symbols. As such, I try  to represent all the Elements in my own EDC strategy. This is a picture of a small pouch that I carry with me every time I leave the house:

My EDC (everyday carry) pouch, containing tools from all the elements.

My EDC (everyday carry) pouch, containing useful tools representing all the elements.

From right to left I have a knife (Air), an eating tool (Earth), a stack of 3×5 index cards and a small pen for recording my thoughts (Ether), a ferro rod for firestarting and a small flashlight (Fire), and finally a corkscrew (Water) — I go to a lot of gatherings with mead and need a convenient way to open the bottles! When I leave the house I nearly always carry a glass water bottle filled with spring water to complete my EDC for Water. The remainder of this article will take a closer look at these items and the elements they represent.

Air

The relationship between a knife and the element of Air might be the most abstract of all these tools, so a bit of analysis is in order. This traditional Air Hallow is often called an athame, particularly in Wiccan traditions. I remember early on in my pagan path reading that the athame

“isn’t used for cutting purposes in Wicca, but to direct the energy raised during rites and spells…. The knife is often dull, usually double-edged with a black or dark handle. Black absorbs power. When the knife is used in ritual to direct energy, some of this power is absorbed into the handle — only a tiny amount — which can be called upon later.” (Cunningham, Wicca: A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner, p. 30).

These days, Cunningham’s approach seems a bit abstract to me. Though I have great respect for Cunningham’s legacy in the pagan community, thinking of a knife in this way, with the dulled edge, used only as a sort of “energy” conduit misses the point for a regular practice of a person being in Nature. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors certainly carried the best edges they could — whether forged metal or flintknapped stone — but the edges carried by our ancestors were meant to be used, very practically, with an immediacy far beyond the abstraction of an energy conduit. For our ancestors, their knives were tools that allowed them to survive, to exist in a deeper, more effective relationship with their ecosystems.

In my view, the defining characteristic of a knife is the intelligence and knowledge required to create, use, and maintain it. A knife — at least not a modern metal knife — does not spontaneously appear. It requires wit and insight, specific construction techniques that were discovered over eons of time. Furthermore, a knife is the fundamental tool of bushcrafters: it is the tool that allows one to create other tools. In this sense, I think of a knife as a meta-tool. In this way it represents the “airiness” of intellect, of imagination, and the skill that accompanies both of those. We can imagine a tool that we need, and with the technique we know with a good blade at our service, it allows us to create these tools. Tools made with knives can be anything from a bow-drill set to start a fire, to a spoon to eat with, to lashed-together saplings for a shelter, to batoning through wood to make it more suitable for burning, to a weapon, snare, or trap for hunting. This tool is in service to our imagination, to our intellect, and to our skill.

My EDC blade is a folding knife that is big enough to fit in my hand, yet small enough to fit into my EDC pouch that I use. This goes with me everywhere. In my bag I keep any one of several larger knives that I think will best serve me in the circumstances I expect to encounter.

Fire

To me, humanity’s relationship with Fire in the 21st century may be the most out-of-balance of all the elements. Very few of us can start a fire without the aid of convenient fossil fuels, yet nearly all of us stare into glowing screens for a good chunk of each day. Apart from this, fossil fuels burn in nearly every home and vehicle.

Learning to start a fire without fossil fuels has been a very rewarding exercise for me. I can sometimes succeed with primitive technologies such as a bow drill or a hand drill (which I can make in the woods with my knife and access to the proper materials and conditions), but to save time I carry the ferro rod with me. This ferrocerium rod, when scraped against steel, produces small sparks that are thousands of degrees Fahrenheit, and can easily start a fire when one has an adequate tinder bundle (ie, a small grouping of dry, flammable materials, such as birch bark, small wood shavings, fatwood, etc).

In my bag (which often comes with me when I leave the house), I also carry a very small portable stove and tinder that will allow me to create a small fire for any reason, including warmth and cooking.

In addition to the ferro rod, I carry a small flashlight that is an astonishing piece of technology. It is a small LED flashlight, powered by a single AAA battery, that produces enough light to illuminate an entire yard. If I need photons, I can easily generate plenty of them using this tool. When I use it with a rechargeable AAA battery, it is also an extremely efficient use of electricity.

Water

I’m a bit of a fanatic about water. Most of the water I drink is water I have gathered myself from a spring a short drive from my house. Going to the spring is like going to church for me, and keeps me in tune with this most important element. It is a peaceful place in the western mountains of Maine, where the best water I’ve ever tasted comes naturally up from the aquifer deep inside the Earth to the top of the mountain, where I collect it 20 gallons at a time in glass containers.

When I leave the house, I always have a water bottle with me. Usually it is a recycled, 1.5 liter glass wine jug, but sometimes it is a smaller 24oz bottle. The corkscrew in my EDC pouch is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the fact that I often bring my homebrewed mead to various gatherings I attend, and a way to open the corked bottles is quite useful. Between these two, the element of Water is quite well represented.

Apart from having a way to boil (ie, purify) wild water, I am considering getting a water filter, something like the Lifestraw personal water filter, to keep in my larger bag. But because water is is so essential to our survival — it is said we can survive for 3 minutes without Air, 3 hours without shelter (ie, Earth, at least in adverse conditions), 3 days without Water, and 3 weeks without food — I usually carry my own water with me everywhere I go. Staying hydrated is very important to me; I typically drink about a gallon and a half of water per day.

Earth

Earth symbols are perhaps the least abstract of all the elements. Shelter. Food. Shoes. Eating utensils. We are, after all, earthly creatures, existing on this specific planet, and we are inseparable from it. In some ways it is difficult to think about the element of Earth in terms of surviving in Nature, because these are the most common concepts in survivalism. Everything we put into our body is of the Earth.

For my pocket EDC kit, the Earth tool is a small eating tool/spork that sometimes comes in handy. In my bag I also carry a small pot that I can use to cook in, quite compatible with my portable stove. Other symbols that go in my larger bag are two stones: first is a small sharpening stone to maintain an edge on my knives in the field. Second is a stone that I use as a bearing block when attempting primitive fire with a bow drill.

Lastly, there is cordage to consider. I keep cordage in my larger back, a small roll of jute twine which I use whenever I can because it is a natural material. Additionally, I also keep a few hundred feet of “paracord,” also called 550 cord. This artificial material is small, light, and thin, and is rated to support weights of up to 550 pounds. Very useful stuff for many tasks, including shelter building (ie, lashing two supports together to build a primitive shelter).

Ether/Quintessence

In some ways, Ether is the most difficult to implement because it doesn’t really have a common, traditional tool. By definition, it is somewhat vaporous and abstract, and it both underlies and flows through the other four elements. One of the strategies I employ as a guideline is to maximize the flow of quintessence, as it manifests in the other elements. For instance, in Earth I will try to eat the best quality, most vibrant, locally grown or harvested food. For Water I try to drink the cleanest, most vibrant water I can. I feel that Fire started with primitive tools have more quintessence — a different vibe — than fires started with fossil fuel or electricity. And air that I breathe in outside — preferably on a beach, on a mountaintop, or in the woods — has a higher vibe (and at least 90% less pollution) than indoor air.

So my tool for Ether might be the most abstract, and kind of a “reach” in a sense, which in a way is fitting for this element. It is simply a pen and something to write on. For my EDC kit, I use a Fisher Space Pen which is very durable and can write even in adverse conditions. My “paper” is a stack of 3×5 index cards held together with a small binder clip, which is also more durable than regular paper. With these simple tools, if I manage to pull a thought from the ether, I can at least record it while out and about.

 

Maine Pagan Traditions

As I look up at the crescent of the Moon slowly climbing over the sentinel pines in the Eastern sky I am reminded of what a magical place we live.  Maine is not without its eyesores, something that can be observed in rapidly-deteriorating roads and suburban sprawl, yet most of what makes Maine a destination spot for vacationers is the rugged wilderness that seems almost untouched by the hand of human beings.  Wide valleys give way to ranges of hills and small mountains that seem to come alive each fall with the waning fire of warmer months as the leaves change.  Leaf peepers come from all over to view them, never knowing that beneath the canopy of orange, red and gold, Maine Pagans dance and sing our place on the Earth.

I have spoken to many people both from here in Maine and as far away as Australia, who admire the relative ease and comfort the Pagan community enjoys here.  Maine is a place of rugged natural beauty and generally friendly people.  It makes sense to me that a population of people who wish to walk gently upon the Earth and live spread out enough to have space for our own spirit to soar unhindered, would for the most part choose to get along and celebrate.

It seems long past due I believe, that we come together to create a strong tradition of Maine Pagans.  A mutual framework of  recognizing core values that does not impede our personal spiritual beliefs but rather celebrates the things we share in common.  Such traditions clearly already exist.  The Temple of the Feminine Divine in Bangor offers public ritual for each station on the Wheel of the Year.  Beltane on the Beach just celebrated its 34th year and the recent establishment of The Druid College in Hollis, Maine, as well as the yearly Weaving ritual in Casco, further exemplify a desire to impart the importance of a core tradition which can celebrate the eclectic nature of our community.

I am hardly the progenitor of this thought.  Being a “student” at the Druid College myself, this idea has been bandied about and it was more or less formally announced during the Gorsedd at Beltane on the Beach by Michael B. who immediately launched into a song he wrote called “I’m a Maine Pagan (and this is my place).”

For most of us it is an important aspect of our spiritual values to honor our ancestors and this is an important aspect of my Druidry as well.  I can often feel the multitudes of my ancestors traveling at my shoulder, peering around over my shoulder and looking forward to see what I am observing and why.  These are men and women who existed (for the most part) in a time where things were simultaneously more simple and more brutal.  The stories they tell are the stories of the three invasions of Ireland, the heroes, the meddlesome gods and the feats of strength and courage that have inspired generations.  When viewed in context of the stories of their homeland, they are powerful and impressive.  When viewed in terms of our connection to the Earth where our feet touch the land here in Maine though, they lose the critical element of authenticity they enjoy in the place where our ancestors walked in Pagan antiquity.  Certainly the lessons taught by these stories are critical to the method of our connections, however, they lose relevance if we are not actively participating in relationship with this land and instead focusing upon those stories as a way of identifying with our ancestors.

It is inherent to us that we make sacred connection to this land by forming a relationship to the land we find ourselves in now, based on the connections our ancestors formed to the lands of Europe.  Also inherent is that we recognize our status as invaders, a people who have come as conquerors to the Aboriginal, First Nation peoples of this land.  If we are to build a sacred relationship with this place, we must certainly consider that this land should reject us if we are unable to make relationship with the people our recent ancestors savaged in their conquest of this continent.

I am aware that the Wabanaki Confederacy has extended an invitation to all people, especially environmental activists, to join with them in an effort to preserve and protect the land.  If this invitation is still open, I suggest that we organize ourselves enough to lend a hand and learn from the people of this land how best to weave our connection as people to the Earth here and live in harmony so that we may someday be able to earn forgiveness for the actions of our ancestors and together live in peace with the land.

As a Pagan, as  Druid and as a human being, I firmly believe that we are in crisis mode on the long slope of decline.  A future of limited resources awaits us but it is also important to remember that human beings lived without many of the resources we enjoy now for many, many more generations than our species have exploited them.  Creating traditions that honor the Earth and demonstrate community through our tribe will be vital to us in the future and there is no better place I can think of to begin than right here at home.

Faerie Tidings: The Great Ostara Egg-Hunt

Photo by EraPhernalia Vintage. Shared under the CC by-sa license.

Photo by EraPhernalia Vintage. Shared under the CC by-sa 2.0 license.

Faerie Tidings: The Great Ostara Egg-Hunt
by Starcat and BlackLion

We scooch down, level with the table top, squinting our eyes and tilting our heads to note any changes in the eggs resting in the glass bowl. The Spring Equinox is upon us and our experiment with coloring eggs for the Great Ostara Egg-Hunt is proceeding quite well. The table holds bowls of various concoctions of beet juice, onion skins, blueberries, red cabbage, carrots, and kale leaves, with eggs resting or floating in them. To some of them we’ve added progressively more water to create a gradient of festive colors. Local farmers’ chickens provided us with flats of eggs to use for the community celebration. We’re excited to be this year’s hosts.

The three cats, two black and an orange tiger, crouch nearby, awaiting further tidbits of the hard-boiled eggs whose shells didn’t survive the vigorous boiling process. Lunch will, of course, be egg-salad sandwiches. Outside the windows, some patches of snow still linger in the field. They are getting smaller each day, thanks to the strong yellow rays of the sun and the warming breezes.

As we craft, we daydream of all the squeals of discovery we’ll hear from the wee ones tomorrow, once the hunt has begun. Along with these colorful eggs, we also have treasures such as our homemade chocolates, small jars of preserves from our stash, and little braided sticky buns. In the morning, we’ll traipse about the cottage and yard, hiding the treats in unexpected niches.

After we finish our lunch, which we share with our three hungry cat friends, we decide to venture out for a walk in the sunshine. Surveying our many trays of eggs, we concoct a plan to remind our friends in the valley of tomorrow’s festivities. Scrambling about in the big wooden trunk, we unearth our bunny ears and cotton tails, and soon we are rabbits ready to hop down the lane towards the village. We giggle in merry delight of the reactions we’ll receive. Soon, we pile our baskets with tulip bulbs, ready to hand them out as a promise of the flowers to come.

By the time we reach the village, we lead a parade of wee fae to and fro. They aren’t entirely sure what to do with the bulbs, but their excited chatter about tomorrow’s delights lights up their faces and causes smiles to spread throughout the valley. A sweet-faced crone distributes cookies and milk to the whole entourage when the Fae Rabbit Parade stops for a rest near her front porch. This brings further laughter and shouts of joy. She is thanked with many sticky kisses and a pile of bulbs for her garden.

As suppertime approaches, we return all the wee ones to their various homes, with instruction on bulb-planting and an air of excited anticipation for tomorrow. Back at the cottage, we collapse in happy weariness, nibbling on a salad of early greens and the leftover cookies the kind widow tucked into our baskets.

We are up at dawn, as excited as the youngsters about the Great Ostara Egg-Hunt. The fresh spring air fills our lungs as we venture out, the cats following us, sleepily blinking and wondering what we’re up to. The orange stripey cat sniffs at the treasures we place in their hiding spots, puzzled over what they might contain. Maude greets us happily and we turn her out into the field to crop some fresh grass, taking the opportunity to hide eggs in her stall at child-eye-level.

In the hollows of fruit trees, tucked behind small rock cairns, on the corners of the porch rails, our treasures are secured. One egg perches on the sundial, another several in the garden, and of course many rest among the rocks of the unlit fire pit. We lose track of several of them, trusting that our young sleuths will determine their location. Finishing our task, we contemplate a light breakfast and put the finishing touches on our contribution to the feast: braided bread and scalloped potatoes.

When the families arrive with their empty, colorful baskets and bright smiles, we feel a rush of spring energy fill us with anticipation of discovery and joy of our community celebration. Soon everyone has arrived and the tension of eagerness is at its peak. Let the egg-hunt begin!

We let them loose in the yard, savoring the squeals of discovery. Before long, laden baskets return in the arms of chocolate-smeared children, and the compost bin is littered with brightly-colored eggshells. The benches and tables from the barn are hauled out, and we all pitch in to set out the feast. Our musician friends, plied with eggs and chocolate, strike up a merry tune as the festivities continue throughout the day.

Faerie Tidings: The Seeds of Imbolc

Seeds of ImbolcFaerie Tidings: The Seeds of Imbolc
by BlackLion and Starcat

Nestled in the cozy cottage, though the cold, wintry winds still blow, we enjoy the hearth fire as our cat friends curl nearby. We sip our late-morning cups of chamomile tea with honey. A cauldron of white bean and rosemary soup already bubbles on the stove, while happy loaves of dough rise into bread in the filtered sunshine. Imbolc has arrived, a blizzard is coming, and it’s a day-dreamy kind of day.

Visions of a big garden expansion dance in our heads. Layers upon layers of green plants, shrubs, and trees will be exchanged, moved, and combined for the optimum growth for our plant friends. We are creating a design that not only benefits our plates, but also the plants, critters, and earth as well. A joyful and yummy garden indeed!

We scribble down notes about which seeds to claim at the upcoming seed exchange at the Browns’ farm, as well as discussing all the brown-paper packets of seeds to share that we have carefully saved from last season’s garden.

Before too many moons, we would be rearranging window seats on the south side of the cottage, making room for seedlings. We’ll need to remember, of course, to leave sunny sleeping spots for the cats. As if on cue, the orange stripey cat wakes from his slumber and leaps into the cardboard box we had strategically left for them beside the couch, drawing the casual attention of the two black cats. All felines soon settle back to their snoozing.

By afternoon, the sky has clouded over and the expected snow begins to fall. We check the barn and make sure everything is secure. The day wanes towards dusk, and we light the candles on the mantel, along with a pair of lanterns. We settle in to dream near the fire while the bread, now shaped into braided rings, does its final rising.

Our inner visions sparkle with the delights of seasons to come. Besides the bountiful and brightly-colored gardens, our reveries include barefoot hikes into our beloved mountains, crafty creations at the big oak table, dance and revelry at the bright sunny beach, community celebrations with the folk of the vale, and a new friend for our donkey pal, Maude. Later, after the bread and soup is safely placed in our bellies, we’ll assemble our dreams and intentions onto our Imbolc vision board.

In the meantime, we bustle into the kitchen and collect our aprons and bowls and flour and the big rolling pin and a myriad of whimsically-shaped cookie cutters. We add nuts and dried fruits and chunks of chocolate as decorations to adorn the gingerbread cookie parade. It is soon comprised of prancing kittens, swirling spirals, shooting stars, plump hearts, dancing birds, covered wagons, and an assortment of wild animals – elephants, mustangs, giraffes, antelope and lots of big cats. Lions, tigers, and leopards, oh my!

In a few days, when the snowstorm relents, we plan to deliver our menagerie of cookies to our neighbors at the seed exchange. As the baking proceeds into the evening, the frigid winter air is temporarily left at the door. The seeds of Imbolc have been lovingly planted in our minds and hearts for the year to come.

The Weaving Follow-Up: Where Do We Go From Here?

So we completed our second annual Weaving ritual this past weekend. I have to say, I am totally amazed at the sense of community and connection that we were able to create. I don’t believe I have ever been in a circle with 30 people without detecting a single current of conflict. There was a real sense of peace in our circle. Everyone’s needs were met. And we all sat around the fire in perfect equality, sharing our impressions and insights from the rite. We talked about the community and the next generation and a vision began to come. And that is what this ritual was all about.

Next year we will change the format a bit. The second round will not be a free-for-all drum circle. It will focus on prayer, divination and maybe some priestess will be an oracle for us. It was too much to shift gears from deep quiet trance to active outward movement. We will take it more slowly next time around. Third time’s a charm as they say.

One criticism I have is this. We need to stop bashing the Christian faith. There were a lot of open negative comments about Christianity that were said around the fire. I know many of us are still reeling with the wounds we received from that religion. But do we want to have this negativity as part of our sacred community rituals? Let’s all try to keep the comments focused on our own works, our own faiths, and our own community. There are scary screwed up people in every religion. I still encounter Pagans who are focused on ritual magick and summoning demons to do their bidding. We hope they aren’t the face of Paganism. And I meet Christians who just shudder at the fundamentalists and the bigots in their own religious community. These Christians are people of deep religious experience. They are Christian because they experienced the spirit of Christ. So let’s not go down that road anymore. Let’s work on building our own traditions and let their beauty and deep communion with the divine in Nature echo out to the world.

To dive into that image, I have been carrying this vision around for a while. I have talked about it with many of you but I want to bring it forward to get the community talking about. My vision is one of building a strong Maine Pagan tradition to carry us through our lives and to pass onto the next generation. We have had to create everything from scratch – sometimes with beautiful inspired results, sometime with a complete flop. I hope we can leave a foundation of community rituals and strong priesthood-level training opportunities for the next generation, something more tangible than what we all started with. And to that end, we have already made great strides.

Beltane on the Beach just celebrated its 30th year! That is remarkable. I have no doubt the Weaving will continue. Someday there will be Pagans dancing the 300th year at Beltane, and we will be the ancestors they call to come dance with them. To keep that connection strong, I think it would serve the community well to have four seasonal rites to balance these two. We could use winter and summer rites to bring our community together. I already have thoughts around these. But I think it would be awesome for the community to dream up these rites together. It takes individuals to put out ideas and to try things out. So to that end, here are my thoughts.

Winter in Maine is dark, cold and long. What serves us well in these long months is family and community. What did our ancestors do during these months to sustain themselves? They had incredibly strong traditions for music and storytelling. So I am thinking a Gorsedd (a Gorsedd is the coming together of bards to share). We could wrap this rite in rich sacred space. We could make it very special. The passing of the mead horn would be a part of it. And for those of us who are not bards, we hold witness and simply take in the inspiration. Bardic craft is about reaching deep into relationship to find inspiration. And then in honor of that inspiration flowing from the muse, gift it back to the world. I think a winter rite of this nature would serve the community well.

The second rite I have brewing in my mind is for the Lughnasadh timeframe. We had a Stone Spiral rite this past weekend as well. It was a long intense night of working with fire, a vigil, and finally a sunrise rebirthing rite of walking into a stone spiral to dive into the cauldron at the center. It was exquisite and very powerful. I would like to build on this and make it a stand-alone weekend. There was other work I had intended but simply forgot or wasn’t organized enough to add. Dedicating time and energy to this rite is again something I think would serve the community well.

These are my thoughts about ways to hold our community close to us and to craft something of lasting value for those Maine Pagans yet to come. I am not wed to these being the community rites we put into place. They are just ideas being thrown into the cauldron. Let’s hear your thoughts!

Finally, I had the great pleasure of meeting a young man this past weekend raised in a Pagan tradition. It was deeply inspiring to see someone who wasn’t healing from being brought up in a religion that didn’t serve them well. He seems whole, connected to the Earth, and with a true understanding of sacred relationship. I have great hope for future generations of Pagans. I send a special thank you to all you Pagan parents who have shared your religious ideals with your children, acknowledging their experiences of the divine in Nature.

Blessings of the harvest,
Snowhawke /|\

Faerie Tidings: Midsummer’s Full Moon

photo by mgstatton

photo by mgstatton

Faerie Tidings: Midsummer’s Full Moon
by BlackLion and Starcat

We pick up our baskets, getting ready to forage for berries and herbs. Before we leave, we make a last check of our ocean-side encampment and its midsummer decorations. Maude the donkey seems happy in the shade near the pavilion, munching on hay and the local grasses. Our pavilion is set up near a hedge of beach roses. Their beautiful scent wafts over us each warm night.

Flowers adorn the walls in streams. We hung flags of vines and leaves attached to hemp rope atop each peak. Colorful ribbons flutter from every wooden pole. Inside, we’ve covered the ground with canvas and piled pillows upon pillows, all shapes and sizes. Low tables hold lanterns, books, crafting supplies, and in one corner, the kitchen.

Crushed shell paths lead from the pavilion further down the beach, where our stone-lined fire pit is full of driftwood, surrounded by the larger logs for seating. The tide is low, smelling of seaweed and brine. We can see that it will turn soon and be quite vibrant and close for our nighttime ritual.

We set off on a path away from the beach into the forest. We miss the companionship of our cat friends, who decided to stay back at the cottage, yet we have noticed a pair of red squirrels trailing not far behind us. The meadow up ahead is one where we first noticed the blossoms of wild strawberries. After a few weeks we are excited about returning to collect a harvest.

Giggling and skipping, we pause occasionally to collect mushrooms and baby greens for a salad for the feast. We plan to make a berry pie if we find as many strawberries as we saw blossoms. Our fire brick oven is our latest addition to the encampment. Steps from the kitchen is our baking and cooking area on a wide stone ledge. Lost in a reverie of pie, we almost miss the split in the path to the strawberry patch.

Opening up in the forest is a bright, sunny meadow filled with green and juicy red. Our floppy hats protect us from the sun as we start picking. The Berry Faeries have been quite busy – we fill our baskets and still see more. Once in a while we pause for some stretching: cartwheels, backbends, and handstands. The red squirrels chitter-chatter around the edge of the meadow, laughing at our playful antics.

At length, it is time to return. We put in a good afternoon’s work of strawberry picking for our feast. Leaving plenty of berries for the other critters, we bless the area and head back down the path toward the beach. Off in the distance we can hear a cadence and a playful melody. We hurry our steps, knowing that our musician friends will soon join us. With uncanny timing, we meet at the split of the path and greet one another enthusiastically. As usual, their gift for the feast is mead, music, and merriment – all welcome additions.

The miles seem like moments as we regale in the beauty of the land, the rhythm of nature, and the empowerment of open spirits. We discuss the forthcoming preparations each of us will make. Our musician friends agree to draw the labyrinth in the sand above the high tide line, while we prepare the feast.

On our voyage to this beach encampment, we had stopped along the way at a friendly farmstead. We stocked Maude and the cart up with a full load of vegetables, fruits, and grains. So along with the berry pie, our feast will include millet stew, onion flatbread with cucumber yogurt sauce, huge salads of fruit and greens, and hand-made sushi.

Feeling quite hungry, we spare a few strawberries as we finish our journey to the beach. We hear the roar of the ocean as the tide begins to come in and the sun settles over the trees. When we arrive, Maude brays a greeting and we offer her some of our foraged greens. The musicians explore our encampment, exclaiming excitedly. They rave about our decorative flair. Making themselves at home, they unpack their bedrolls (and swim suits) in an open area since they will be joining us for several days. Then we all merrily set to work.

Stoking the oven, we bring her back to life and begin our baking excitement. The flatbread is prepped, flattened, and baked at just the right temperature. Meanwhile the chopping, slicing, shredding, julienning, and mashing of the fruits and vegetables proceeds apace. When we finally wipe our hands on our aprons and look up, twilight is beginning to fall and it is time for the ritual to begin.

The musicians have been quite busy. As the other guests arrived, they were guided to different areas of focus for creating the sacred space. Whether beachcombing, setting up trestle tables, lighting the fire, or completing the labyrinth, each of the attendees shared their energy in the spiritual process.

The stars and fireflies twinkle and the waves roll louder and louder. Some of the younger guests are already frolicking in the water. We step out of the pavilion to raucous cheers as we encircle the fire. As the Full Strawberry Moon appears over the watery horizon, we all join hands and dance as we joyfully celebrate the Midsummer Full Moon.

Maiden, Mother, Crone and Warrior

Maiden, Mother, Crone and Warrior

 

Sweetest Maiden Sister,

Lover of the wild,

In all respects a blossoming

And happy little child.

We name you Springtime Maiden,

Treading softly through the trees,

Awakening the flowers,

Your laughter on the breeze.

Beneath you, seeds are sprouting;

Above you, warm, the sun.

Around you, animals are born

Now that Spring’s begun.

The innocence of childhood,

The joy of simple things;

We find in you beginnings new

And pleasure without stings.

Blodewedd of blossoms,

The Vernal Goddess bright

Who brings the rains that nurture seeds

And longer days of light.

 

Great Goddess Mother,

Watching over all,

Lovingly we praise you

And you hear us when we call.

We call to you as Brigit,

The hearth and home you rule,

The holy wells and blacksmith’s forge

With love the burning fuel.

We name you, too, as Lakshmi,

Of wealth and hope you sing;

Candles lit in praise of you,

For happiness you bring.

The fullness of the Summer

With fields so ripe and round,

Your body in its glory,

The grand and fertile ground.

The King Stag your companion,

Your partner, God of love

Who walks with you in fields if green

And in the clouds above.

 

You, the Elder Goddess

Honored Lady of the best,

The Wheel can’t turn without you –

Our fair planet needs to rest.

You are the Harvest Goddess

Within the grain and corn,

And all that falls will rise again,

Life’s promise thus reborn.

We name you as Nokomis,

The Goddess of the field,

Giving of your body

When the gardens fail to yield.

We call to you as Winter Queen

Who puts the earth to bed –

The Goddess of the quiet times,

Keeper of the dead.

Rising with the crescent moon,

Falling with the rain;

Walking Winter’s frozen land

So silent once again.

 

And the Mighty Warrior,

She of sword and spear,

Confident within herself,

Strong – no sign of fear.

We name you as Diana

Who hunts with spear and bow –

The lives you take are done with honor,

And respect you show.

And you, the Goddess Morrigan,

The Celtic Queen of war,

Black crow of the battlefield

Who feasts on death and gore.

Goddess of the Dark Phase,

Of those things that we hide,

Our anger and our vengefulness,

The things we keep inside.

But also you’re our power

The strength of blood and bone,

The competence of women

That the brave have always shown.

 

© LSG 2:02PM 1.19.2010

Owning “Stuff”

Stuff

A Compilation Article from Maine Pagan Digest

[Ed note: The opinions expressed here are from many different people, so the subjective “I” is not specific to one person. Good luck!]

The Holidays are behind us, to which many of us breathe a sigh of relief… until the credit card bills come in. Did you get everything you wanted? So what? What do things truly matter? Remember being devastated as a child when that extra special toy did not arrive under yon tree? Do you still feel that way? A friend told us of a quote, which essentially said that fretting over things you don’t have is wasting what you do have.

I have had an epiphany.

While not a wealthy man, monetarily, I have too much “stuff.” Dumb stuff that I don’t need. Good stuff that I never use. Some stuff that I really don’t like but for some reason can’t get rid of. It is all getting in my way and requires me to get more space to keep all my stuff from the elements. (Sounds like the George Carlin bit huh?) Knowing that I don’t need it and having all this stuff that I already have somehow has never kept me from wanting more stuff that I don’t need. This gift season it really has struck home as folks have asked me what I want for the holidays, as if getting just that next thing will make my life more enjoyable. I really sat down and thought about it with the intention of making a list the other day and realized that even if I got everything on my list that this would not change all that is most important to me in my life so why bother. I suddenly realized that on our deathbeds in our old age (hopefully) I don’t think we’ll look back on our life and say “I wish I had gotten more stuff.” It is more likely that we would wish that we had spent more time enjoying and sharing our short lives with those we love.

Ben Franklin once wrote something to the effect that “if everyone else in the world were blind he should not want fine clothes and furniture.” I think he was right. (He usually was.) So in this traditional time of the making of resolutions, I wish to go on record as saying that it will be my endeavor to rid myself of much of my unneeded stuff this year and to attempt not to accumulate anything unneeded in its place. I will choose to be content with and thankful for the blessings that have been bestowed upon me and my family.

Many of you know about my STUFF, especially those of you from the old Sunday groups who got some of my STUFF, and those of you wonderful people who have helped me move my considerable mountain of STUFF from home to home. Every now and again, I go through phases of wanting to get rid of STUFF. And a lot of it is “stuff.” I frequent yard sales and Salvation Army and such, looking for new things, interesting things. And I know why.

I found this pattern back in 1988 when I was living with a boyfriend who got called into the armed services 5 months early. He left a large hole in my life… a hole I unknowingly decided to fill with STUFF. I needed something new, something to like, something to distract me. I sometimes bought animals and pets, for a way to have something to love, something that needed me. And even though I know this, I still buy STUFF. I see this trait in some of my friends, and we are all in the same boat — the U.S.S. STUPH.

My parents tend to hoard, and I dread the time when we will have to clean out their home. They have almost every check they have ever written, an entire basement full of things that they “might” need. They saved clothes for me from high school (and a size 12 I may never be again, speaks the size 24). They have things that have not moved (Not. Moved.) since we moved into that house in 1982.

“It’s only $1, $3, it’s on sale….”  I need to find out what is causing my need for STUFF. Am I running away from something, trying to shift focus from other issues? What is so lacking in me that I need so much STUFF to “validate,” if that is the case?

Your material things do talk to you (“Put me away!” “Diet so I’ll fit!” “Are you ever going to read me?”). I have found that that’s why I am a binge-and-purge consumer — I get things cheap too, and later on throw everything out and start over. After a while I can’t take the stuff talking to me, and as my apartment is also quite small, I find I feel better and calmer, the less STUFF there is around.

Of course, when I told my daughter about this phenomenon last year, she said, “Well, I guess I don’t have to clean my room, then. My stuff doesn’t talk to me.”

Here’s some hints….  I hope they help.

* Look, seriously SEE your stuff, each individual object. Are there things in your house that are just there because they’ve always been there, and are so much a part of the wallpaper that you overlook them? Ask yourself: Do I use it? Do I NEED it? When was the last time I used it? What purpose does it serve? Why do I own it, why did I buy it?? What does it mean to me, and why am I keeping it? If there are no really good reasons, ditch it.

* What are your things saying to you? Are the books you bought and never got around to reading telling you something? Is that size 10 dress hanging in your closet and not on your size 14 butt? WHY? What is it saying to you? That you failed a diet? That you should be “thus and such” a body size or type? If you don’t like what it’s saying to you, junk it.

* As it is difficult for us “stuffies” to get rid of things, try this. Start boxes in your storage area. Mark one “Month,” one “6 Months” and one “Year” with the appropriate dates. Put those things you may use in the “Month” box. Those you rarely use in “6 Months” box. And the things you just don’t use or are really uncertain about in the “Year” box. Leave those boxes closed (but for putting more in) for the allotted time. If you have wanted nothing or used nothing from those boxes in that time span, DO NOT OPEN THEM – GIVE THEM TO GOODWILL. Whatever is in them, if you can’t remember and it has had no use to you, IT’S GONE.  You are free.

Many members of my family this year have been hard to buy for, because they literally don’t “need” anything. My son in fact has more clothes than we can fit in the bureau and more toys than the room can hold. I try to do practical things (grocery gift certificates and such) and that helps. Maybe after the holidays, my family and I can discuss what we **!NEED!** and how we can give that to each other.

Thank you, Aracos, for starting the thread on Maine Pagan Digest.

Defining “Pagan”: Coming Together as a Community

Within Paganism we have a seemingly endless list of traditions – and within those traditions, endless variation of practices. Paganism is a living dynamic spiritual path and this can make it very challenging to craft a definition of Paganism people can agree on. Many pagans would even challenge the idea that we need a definition. But I think we can craft a definition and that there is value in doing so. So here goes…

Why bother?

In my work as a priest I have been deeply involved in Pagan prison ministry. Over the past decade, I have written hundreds of pagans in prisons across the country. While some states are much more supportive than others, there is a definite prejudice against pagans of all traditions in our prison system. I hear the same stories of blatant discrimination over and over again. While it is no easy thing to be a Christian, Jew or Muslim in prison, it is doubly difficult if you are Pagan.  Pagans are routinely refused a place of worship, the ability to gather as a group, allotted time slots for gathering, books, materials, visitors, and the right to wear a necklace or symbol from their tradition. There is an ongoing struggle for Paganism to find legitimacy in this country. This is especially apparent within the US prison system.

The purpose of this article however is not the issue of pagan prison ministry. I use it as an example of consequence. It is the consequence of our disconnection as a religious community.  Most institutions have little to no knowledge of paganism, especially given our many traditions and the solitary nature of the majority of pagans. We are an unknown. And the consequence of being unknown is very apparent when we try to exercise our religious traditions within established institutions: national, state and local.

What continually affects the few, eventually affects the many. I still see people in this country hiding their pagan beliefs out of fear. I hope that as a community, we can evolve past this. There is strength in numbers and it is important that Pagans of all traditions come together as a whole and help assure our religious freedoms are being respected.

As part of the Maine Pagan Clergy Association, I know from experience that getting people from our many traditions to agree on a definition of “paganism” is a real challenge. While I may have a completely different theological view of paganism than other pagans, I think we can find common bonds and core principles that we embrace in our spiritual life. I think we can all agree on the following:

1. All of Nature is sacred

2. We seek direct relationship and communion with the Divine

3. Self-responsibility and living with honor are at the core of our pagan values

In my definition of Pagan, the community expands greatly. I see Hinduism, Taoism, Shinto, Santeria, basically all nature-based indigenous religions around the globe sharing these common ideals. I see these as great pagan traditions. And I think it good to have an expansive rather than limiting view of Paganism. I think reaching for the common ground is much more effective than emphasizing the differences.

When I work within the prison system, I don’t feel any need to explain the principles of Druidry to people. I say I am a pagan and then if there is sufficient interest, I may go deeper. But I always go back to these three core ideals and it usually suffices. I think most people can identify with them. They aren’t hidden, occult, mysterious or dangerous. And while I could write an entire book on the nature of each ideal, they really don’t require much in the way of further explanation to give someone an idea of where I am coming from.

We all have aspects in our traditions and practices that are unique. And I think this very beautiful and powerful. But the differences are often used to draw divisions.

There is inherent disdain within the pagan community for institutions and organizations trying to define Paganism; to speak for the greater community; to make a judgment call on what defines a pagan or which tradition is legitimate. I love that this is the case. Nature isn’t filled with hierarchy and neither should religious traditions based on Nature be so. Our ideal of equality is one that makes paganism work for people. It is a key principle that attracted many us to paganism. My point in this essay isn’t to try to get all pagans involved with prison ministry or greater local, state or national organizations. It is only to get people to embrace the word “Pagan” and to reach for the common ground. If the word “Pagan” brought to the mind of the average American an image or understanding that encompassed the three principles I’ve mentioned, I think would see less discrimination towards pagans within our institutions and within our culture. It would dissipate a lot of the fear people have when they hear the word “pagan.”

Personally, I think one of the core strengths of paganism is the celebration of diversity. Finding a greater umbrella for the outside world is very helpful though, and I am hopeful we can all embrace the label of “Pagan.” Each tradition struggling individually simply isn’t working. I have encountered many prisons where “Wiccans” can have a group but “Druids” can’t. “Druid” groups can gather but “witches” can’t. These labels divide us. And division isn’t helpful. If we all claim the label of Pagan first and then state our tradition, I think this would make a significant difference.  It is my opinion that the common threads can bind us together as a community. If we can make progress here, its reverberations will hum with power and beauty throughout many aspects of our lives as Pagans here in the States.

Peace, beauty and inspiration,

Snowhawke /|\

Brighid

Imbolc lays before us deep

As all the world lies still, asleep.

And in this time of seeming death,

We’re livened by Midwinter’s breath.

The celebration of this time

Is done with stories, song and rhyme.

Here in Winter’s deepest cold

We find you, Brighid, kind and bold.

 

With joy, the bride doll now is made –

The children dance a brisk parade.

Old and young folk, one and all,

Do bless the lovely white-clad doll.

And then the bride is laid abed

With blossom garlands at her head,

And at her feet, all shod in white,

A candle, lit to share its light.

 

Lady of the Holy Wells,

We chant your name and ring the bells

To honor you this special day,

Our trials and fears all laid away.

Crosses made of golden wheat

And flowers are laid at your feet.

The bread is baking, tried and true –

With mead, full cups we lift to you.

 

Lady of the blacksmiths’ fire,

You of love and heart’s desire,

Shed your glow on all our lives,

Sons and daughters, husbands, wives.

Forge us in the glowing coals,

Strong in body, mind, and soul.

Lady Brighid, shining bright,

We seek your blessings on this night.