Winter Solstice 2018

“The Rebirth of the Sun,” adapted from Starhawk’s story in Circle Round:

By this time of year, the sun has grown old and tired. All year long the sun has worked hard, rising and setting, shining and shining, day after day. The sun has fed us throughout the year, giving energy to trees, flowers, and grasses so that they can grow and feed animals, including people, in turn. All year long Sun’s gravity has held tight to the spinning ball of Earth and the other whirling planets of our solar system. Sun has grown dizzy from watching it all! The days have grown shorter and the nights have grown longer because the poor, tired sun can barely make it up in the morning before needing to sleep again, by this time in the year.

Night, the Great Starry Mother, knows this. “Come to my arms and rest, child,” she says. “After all, I am your mother. You were born out of darkness billions of years ago, and you will return to me, when all things end. Let me cradle you now, as I shelter every galaxy and star in the cosmos.”

So Night has wrapped her great wings around the sun. Night is long, and Sun rests. Wrapped safely in Night’s arms, Sun grows younger and younger. For though these may be the longest nights, they are not the last. Sun rests and grows brighter and stronger, to be born out of Night once more.

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In our Solstice circle at First UU last night, we drummed and chanted and lit 365 candles to encourage Sun’s rest and returning strength. We kindled flames for the gifts and joys of the past year as well as for the challenges we faced and our regrets, for fire casts shadows, even as it offers protection and warmth.

A church member made this epic Yule log cake to share afterwards:

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Yes, those are meringue mushrooms with glittery cinnamon tops.

I hope you’ve had some wonderful Winter Solstice celebrations of your own, dear readers!

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Dandelion Decomp

My family and I are back home after the Tejas Web Regional Dandelion Gathering, a lovely weekend of camping and circling with other Reclaiming Witches in the Texas Hill Country. We arrived a day later than planned, because this one woke up with a mysterious tail injury requiring X-rays and medication the morning we planned to leave town:

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The last-minute change of plans was ungrounding and tiring for all of us. Life with children, jobs, and multiple four-leggeds to care for is complicated. But, once confident that our pup was on the mend and in good hands, at last! we drove out to Dandelion, set up camp under the live oaks and Ashe junipers, and settled in.

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After weeks of rain and historic flooding in the Hill Country, the blue skies, dry breezes, and sunshine of this weekend were glorious.

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As was the opportunity to hug old friends, meet new ones, and share magic, fire, meals, and conversation.

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Products of the twig-weaving workshop for all ages that I led this weekend

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Fires for love, justice, and liberation

The facilitator of our closing circle invited us to say what we would take from the weekend, once the circle was open. Song, was the word that came up first and loudest for me. But I also left with a sense of gratitude, grace, and connection. I’m so deeply grateful for ancestors of blood, for ancestors of the Reclaiming tradition, for the beauty of the land, for community, for the many tools and allies I have on the path.

And now, after the ecstatic drumming, the laundry.

Dipping into the Cauldron of Changes

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Last weekend UU-Pagan ritual was celebrated again at First UU of Austin, facilitated by yours truly. Thirteen of us cast the circle in a grove just south of the sanctuary. We drummed, chanted, shared poetry and storytelling, honored ancestors, and tasted (Minister Meg’s wonderful homemade) apple sauce from the Cauldron of Changes on the Isle of Apples.

More than two years had passed, since Pagans circled at First UU with our previous group, Yew Grove Pagan Interfaith. The facilitator of that group circled with us last Sunday and thanked me afterwards, which meant the world.

I’m on a steep learning curve for facilitating public ritual, and I’m already reflecting on ways to improve and deepen this particular ritual for next year. Practical improvements are obvious and easy, like well-organized supplies for the crafting piece of the ritual. I think we could boost attendance by choosing our date and time well in advance, and by making sure that they don’t conflict with the meetings of other groups, especially those with overlapping interests. Several people who passed by the grove on their way inside to an Alphabet Soup meeting looked interested in what we were doing, for example. Oops.

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A variety of experience levels and ritual backgrounds were represented in our circle, including Reclaiming Witchcraft, Goddess-centered Spirituality, Heathenism, Appalachian Granny Magic, and neo-shamanism. Facilitating ritual that’s accessible and meaningful to such a diverse bunch, in which we can raise energy toward a shared intention without being too wordy with explanation, will be an ongoing challenge. I’m proud to report that we neither read much from paper nor succumbed to long-winded prose in our circle last weekend. There was touching, smelling, tasting, singing. The circle was cast and the magic worked; that’s first-circle success in my book o shadows.

Now to pack up for Tejas Web’s Dandelion Gathering this weekend, and next to plan another First UU circle for Winter Solstice.

Happy Samhain, y’all, however you keep it!

 

A Good Enough Witch is the Best Witch

What do you want from your wisecraft? I don’t know about you, but from my Witchcraft, I expect results. In general, my Witchcraft should support an ecstatic relationship with a the world as it is, a world full of many different people, processes, and stories. It should help me make meaning of mortality, of the wheel of birth and death, to borrow a Buddhist term. It should support me in living well, in flourishing, in becoming fully human.

But Witchcraft isn’t practiced in general. Which chants do I sing for that? Which herbs do I burn? A leaf is not just a leaf, you know. Which stories do I tell? To which spirits should I make offerings? There are so many from which to choose. Choice is freedom, but a sea of choices is enough to douse even the brightest flame.

What I want from Witchcraft is an experience, a feeling, one that comes from getting lost in the singing, the burning, the storytelling, and the offering. In other words: time to stop haunting all the options and actually turn up at the altar. The magic won’t be perfect, but it will work, and it will be enough.

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A word of power: VOTE

“Happy for the outcome; sad he had to be treated so badly,” a woman commented on my mother’s Facebook post in celebration of the Senate’s confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh. My mother and her friend teach preschool together in deeply conservative Northeast Texas, where I grew up. Lots of nice, white Southern ladies live in my hometown, ladies who these days seem to be even more passionately Republican than their husbands are.

It’s tempting to excuse their choices. I know these women. They taught me grade school, I attended parties they hosted, I sat next to them in mass on Sundays. They never did me ill; some of these women were even occasional sources of kindness and encouragement during my childhood. And yet they helped elect a self-proclaimed sexual assaulter to the White House, and now they openly celebrate the confirmation of an accused sexual assaulter to the Supreme Court.

It’s tempting to be wounded by their actions, but to take recent events personally would be to misunderstand. The nice white ladies with whom I’ve shared the red soil and green trees of the Piney Woods are just publicly performing their submission to the patriarchy’s display of power. If they’re compliant, at least they’ll fare better than people of color, or so the thinking goes. It’s an old deal, but a rotten one, since we women, all of us, are subordinates and sex objects under the system, and compliance is no guarantee of safety.

It’s tempting to be wounded by their actions, but the next election’s only 29 days away. This is no time to give away power like that. We must dispel fogs of discouragement and despair. We must gather the red hot rage of betrayal and injustice and channel it into our most potent prayers and spells, all of which contain the same word of power: VOTE.

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Even solitaries need a tribe

Attendance was poor and last-minute cancellations were frequent, in both of the place-based witch groups with which I’ve circled in recent years. We struggled to develop common ritual, probably because we lacked a shared intention in the first place. In the first of these groups, nontheists like me wanted to get outside regularly, encounter the natural world directly, and gradually create localized ritual forms based in that direct experience; polytheists wanted to co-create trance experiences, in which we imagined new anthropomorphic deities to apply to our particular landscape. The second group included several newcomers to Pagan practice who were, I suspect, simply witch-curious and subsequently lost interest. When the second of these groups petered out, I re-joined the legion of solitary Pagans, or so I would have said at the time.

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The course those circles took is not surprising, given trends in the Pagan movement as a whole. Between the Pagan Census of 2003-2005 and the Pagan Census Revisited (PCR) in 2009-2010, sociologist Helen Berger and other researchers found that the number of Pagans identifying as solitaries increased from 51% to 79%. Furthermore the surveys revealed that Pagans are becoming increasingly non-traditional and eclectic, with 53% of PCR respondents identifying primarily as eclectic practitioners.

Although survey results indicated that Pagans are becoming increasingly solitary, 73% of PCR respondents reported having practiced in a group at some time, and Berger spoke with some solitary Pagans who also met regularly with a group. “When asked how it was possible to practice both as a solitary and with others I was told that each person had her or his own form of spirituality and that no one attempted to change or reform another’s practice,” Berger reports. These Pagans gathered to discuss their individual practices, or took turns leading ritual in their various traditions.

The PCR findings parallel my personal experience. Since the witch circles in which I used to participate disbanded, I’ve been a solitary practitioner without really being solitary. I still have Pagan friends, and we still discuss our practice and the Pagan books we’re reading. We’ve taken turns hosting one-off rituals for each other, based in our individual interests and theological perspectives. And I still hope at some point to participate in a functional circle that develops shared ritual intentions and forms.

Takeaway: Pagan groups are trending informal, eclectic, and non-hierarchical. Most Pagans prefer to priestess for themselves, it seems, rather than submit to ceremonial training and initiation blessed by an elder. But even solitaries need a supportive tribe, as they do the hard work of crafting paths and practices from the books and blogs they read and from personal experience.