Thursday, December 27, 2012

Lessons from the Winter

  I'm amazed at how much my understanding of paganism has grown over the last several months. One of the lessons I'm currently learning is about the role of winter in the cycle of the year. For most of my life, I've had a love/hate relationship with winter. I've always looked forward to the excitement of Christmas and the possibility of snow, but soon enough, I grew tired of trudging through the long, cold months of January and February. The winter seemed too long, too cold, too dreary. Though I loved the cool fall that came before it, I would have skipped much of winter if I had the choice.

  I am learning that there is an inherent value in the season of winter, apart from singing about jingle bells and playing in the snow. Something that makes it worthwhile even when I would like nothing more than to hole up in my apartment and hibernate until the spring comes. On the wheel of the year, winter is the time when the earth is sleeping. At Yule, a spark was born, but we still have a long way to go before we see it grow to its full height in the world around us. This time is seen as a time for reflection and going within. A time of fulfilling the Delphi maxim, Know thyself. I don't think this means spending hours each night in meditation. I think it means honing an awareness of oneself, not just through planned times of reflection, but simply through the ordinary activity of daily life. If we remain open to the universe around us, I think that as we live, we will learn and grow.

  In the past, I felt like I was doing something wrong when I didn't feel like spending time in nature in the winter, like it must be detrimental to my spirituality. But now, I see it as a part of the cycle. Much like many animals hide away to keep warm at this time, we go inside to get away from the harsh winter weather. Though I think it's important to visit with nature every now and then, it's okay to feel this way. It's just natural. Instead of being out and about enjoying the sun, as we do in the warmer months, we gather together with others who matter to us and we have time to engage in activities that we might be distracted from at other times. We decorate our homes to make them feel warm and inviting, refuges from the snow and cold outside our doors. We bake warm goodies for our families, and snuggle up with the ones we love. Through the long, hard parts of winter, we can learn about endurance.  And when the light finally returns, we will experience the joy of the spring in a way we never could had we not gone through the dark of winter first. As John Steinbeck once wrote, "What good is the warmth of spring without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?"

  My wish for you all is that you have a warm winter full of love, and that you let the winter teach you what it will!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Pagan on Christmas

   As noted in my winter solstice post, this was my first year of really celebrating the sabbat. I observed it on the 21st, and then prepared to head out of state to stay with my family over the holidays as usual. I've been celebrating "secular Christmas" for the past two years, but up until then the holiday had significant religious importance to me. To some of my family, it still does. I have to admit that the whole experience of celebrating Christmas felt a little surreal to me this year. There were no religious events to worry about. My husband's family gathers at his mom's house on Christmas eve, so we head over there every year while church Christmas eve services are going on. But still, I felt a little strange about my involvement in the whole fiasco of Christmas.

   I'm aware that some significant portion of Americans celebrate a "Christmas" of sorts that has little to do with Christ, and much to do with family, food, presents, and Santa. It is still strange to me, though; something difficult to reconcile myself to. Maybe one day, it won't seem so odd. In part, it felt strange because I had already baked yummy treats, already planned for a "big day," and already exchanged presents, all for the solstice. My big day was over, yet everywhere I went, people were wishing me a merry Christmas. I'm not one to be belligerent for no reason, so I just wished them a merry one back and went on my way. On the big day, friends texted saying they hoped I was having a great day, and later others texted asking if I had. I said "yes" because that was the easiest answer. Easier than saying, "I'm feeling conflicted about this whole thing because I'm a pagan and Christmas means nothing to me."  Easier than saying, "I feel like I'm going through the motions, doing things with no purpose."  I suppose time with family and food and presents is great enough, is merry enough. But that's all Christmas is to me right now.

   Maybe that's okay. Maybe it's enough to celebrate a "Christmas" of those things, to bask in the magic that everyone seems alive with at this time of year. Honestly, I have no concrete statement to make, no definite opinion to give. There are pagans on both sides of the fence and everywhere inbetween. Pagans who don't partake in anything with the word "Christ" attached, and pagans who sing Christmas carols and wish others a merry Christmas with the best of them. I'm not in a place where I can declare any kind of a stance. I'm just here to say that the whole thing bothered me a bit. That I felt confused. And I think the indefiniteness of that is okay. I think it's okay to pause, to wonder, and to reflect. To just sit with your feelings for a while. For now I will sit, and then I will live my life until the wheel of the year brings me to yet another December and yet another Christmas, and then I will face it all again.

How do you feel about pagans and Christmas?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

My First (Real) Solstice

  I remember pointing out to my husband last year that I was celebrating "Yule," not "Christmas"(thank you very much.)  But really, I didn't even know much at all about Yule or the solstice.  This is my first year of actually observing the sabbats, and so this was my first true winter solstice celebration.

  My day began with a flurry of activity, making some last minute cookie gifts and making butternut squash soup and biscuits for later in the day.  What could be more appropriate for the first day of winter than a bowl of hot soup?

I spent time looking over the list of goals and intentions I'd made for the coming year, and made a scrapbook of those goals, leaving space to record my progress. One of my goals is to learn about health and naturopathic medicine, so I left space to list the related books I read over the next year. Another is to get into one musical production, and there's a pocket to place a ticket to the show in.

  When I opened the blinds, I was delighted to see the thick white flakes falling from the sky. It snowed and snowed, our first big snow of the year, and felt just like you'd imagine the first day of winter should.  I made some hot cocoa in the crockpot, and filled two portable coffee cups for me and hubby before bundling up and driving off to the park. The park was deserted and we parked the car near a short path through some trees. Sipping our cocoa, we walked over the snowy path and breathed in the wintry air. I searched for the the spark of life that is so vibrant in the spring and summer, but it seemed to be lying deep within the earth, not quite as easy to access now.

  We ran a few errands before going back to our warm home, where we spent some lovely time together. In the evening, I went to my room for my ritual, followed by divination and reflection on this darkest night. I headed to bed fairly early, and rose the next morning to greet the sun. It hid behind the clouds for most of the day, finally showing itself in a beautiful sunset later that evening. We sat in the living room and exchanged our gifts to one another, then finished packing and headed out of town to spend the holidays with family.

The Sun, now beginning to grow in strength, was placed at the top of the tree in the morning.

  Altogether, I thought it was a lovely first winter solstice, and I look forward to many more to come.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Blessed Yule!

   To all pagans, a merry solstice!  May you enjoy this wintry day and spend this longest night in meaningful meditation, and may it bring you closer to yourself and to the Divine.  

  And on another note, we survived!  Those Mayans.  Man, yesterday people were making apocalypse jokes like there was no tomorrow!  Bahaha!  Get it??.....sorry.

Blessed be!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Healthy Holiday Desserts: Link Roundup!

It's time for making holiday desserts! Hooray! But special desserts don't have to be terrible for you. I'm going to be trying out some healthy dessert options this year in an attempt to lessen the overall end-of-December junk food consumption. As I'm pretty much a Pinterest junkie, I have no shortage of ideas. Here are some recipes to get you started!

         I just tried this one the other day, and it's amazing! 
           Plus, its got none of the eggs or dairy of regular nog.

                                                            Healthy Eatmore Fudge Squares
                                                       These frozen, but creamy squares are
                                                 made with ingredients like banana, nuts, and
                                                dates. This is a yummy dessert that won't leave
                                                                      you feeling guilty.

                                                         Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip
                                                The base of this ingenious cookie dough dip is
                                                  made with chickpeas! This would be great
                                                  served at a party with graham crackers for

                                                                  Cinnamon Glazed Popcorn
                                                      Flavored popcorn around the holidays is
                                                     nothing new, but this flavorful recipe keeps
                                                      the tradition while taking the health factor
                                                                       up a few notches.

                                                            Chocolate Covered Date Cups
                                             Just imagine biting into one of these babies. Mmm.

                                                               Sweet & Nutty Trail Mix
                                                     Trail mix is great to have handy so you
                                                 don't find yourself munching on not-so-great
                                                 alternatives. It's also  great to take along on
                                                   car rides if you'll be doing any traveling
                                                                     over the holiday.

                                                       Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites
                                                    Sweetened with honey and made with a
                                                 chickpea base, these cookie bites will keep
                                                    you happy without giving you all the fat,
                                                       sugar, and carbs of regular cookies.

                                                                     Happy cooking!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Real Witchcraft

  Yesterday I was talking to a group of people at school. One guy was talking about his crazy family and was describing their various crazy antics in detail.  Out of nowhere came,

  "She practices, real witchcraft."

  The emphasis on "real" witchcraft was obviously aimed at making us understand just how truly crazy this woman was.  Let's have a quick run-down of my thoughts during this encounter:

He began describing a spooky-looking table full of all sorts of supplies and things he wasn't supposed to touch.

          Oh yeah! That makes sense. Most pagans wouldn't want you touching their altars.

  He talked about how she practiced some dark Vodou shit.
     Oh. Voudou.  (I've never practiced it, but I've definitely heard about people who have.)

  He described some weird thing she did where she taped coins onto a plastic bottle. She had planned to throw it into a river, but told her family that when she went down to the river to do it there was a guy there, and she couldn't.
That sounds familiar, like sympathetic magick for prosperity. And ugh, who hasn't gone to a park to try to do some pagan thing and had the hardest time finding a place with no people to do it in?(Many pagans would take issue with throwing non-biodegradable things into rivers, though.)

  Whether or not the woman was crazy in other ways, I clearly related to most of the things he was describing about her. I didn't speak up. Maybe I should have, but in the moment, I was experiencing a confusing mess of emotions and it was hard to believe that any fumbling explanation I could attempt would change his mind.

  After I walked away, the impression burned in my mind was, This is how he sees us. 

  People of other religions hold all sorts of beliefs. Many Christians believe in the divine revelation of the Bible and the physical resurrection of Jesus, and yet they are generally accepted as decently normal, sane people. Why is the belief that I can use my thoughts and will to change my reality any different? 

  The fact that someone is a pagan does not mean they are crazy, any more than a Christian or Buddhist is crazy for their beliefs. We are just people, like everyone else, and a belief in the reality of "witchcraft" does not invalidate us.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Planning for a Merry Yule

   This year is my first year of seriously observing and celebrating the sabbats, so I've been thinking about what I'll be doing for Yule. I faced the challenge of trying to make sure I have time to celebrate the solstice, while also making time for being with my family around the Christmas holiday, a challenge I'm sure that many of you share. I think my solstice will include an outdoor walk, indoor divination, ritual, and reflection on Solstice night, and being up to greet the sun in the morning. The sabbats have become meaningful times of quiet reflection, times of drawing meaning from myth and from the cycles of nature, and I have come to look forward to each upcoming festival.

   When planning my sabbats, I tend to gather up ideas from all sorts of places and use what seems best for me. As I searched the internet for Yule ideas I was a bit surprised to find that there seemed to be a distinct lack of them. I think this may have been partly because I kept searching "Yule." Searching "winter solstice" seems to get much better results. Anyway, I thought I'd share a few links that might be useful in planning your solstice festivities.

For Reflection

One pagan's thoughts on Yule - Inspiring and well-said

Yule Ideas

Yule Celebration Ideas: A Vlog by YouTube's AutumnStarMoon 

A few spells just for Yule, including a cleaning ritual and prosperity candles

If guided meditations are your thing, you might enjoy this Yule Meditation


If you've never heard The Christians and the Pagans by Dar Williams, I advise you to head over and check it out! I love it!

I've also come to enjoy two solstice-themed songs by Dahm the Bard:  Antlered Crown and Standing Stone and Noon of the Solstice.

Will you be celebrating the solstice this year? What are your plans?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Best/Worst Discovery of 2012

  So Pinterest introduced me to something this year. I suppose it's very possible you already know about it and that I'm just lame and behind the times, as usual, but this discovery has really turned my world upside down. Behold..

                                                                 Brownie In a Cup! :-)

  Oh my God, guys! Seriously? Mix up the simple ingredients in a mug, pop it into the microwave for 90 seconds, and you have a perfectly sized one-person brownie! Admittedly, it's not quite as tasty as regular baked brownies but it's quick and I can easily do it when I'm too tired to fool with something bigger. Which brings me to the dark side.

 Brownie in a cup! :-( 
-insert gloomy music here-

  You can make this easy brownie anytime! Anytime. Consider for a moment the implications. Why you make me eat you all the time, brownie in a cup?  Why you try to ruin my healthy plans?  Damn you, brownie in a cup!  Damn you!

  I'm pretty conflicted about the whole thing, as you can see.  But don't worry, that won't stop me from sharing my best/worst secret with you. Head over to My Happy Place to get the super-simple recipe!  

What do you think? Best or worst idea ever?

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's Reflection Time, People, So Get To Reflecting

  It's that time of year again! Whether you celebrate Yule, or just recognize the passing of one year into the next, it's the time when we take stock of the past year and plan for the next.  Some people relish making New Year's resolutions and some people hate them with a vehemence I don't quite understand.  Whatever you want to call them, I think that it's a good idea to take a good look at where you are and where you want to be each year.

  I did most of my review of the past year at Samhain(in October), but I have recently been focusing on planning the year ahead.  I remember years past when I would literally have a list of a hundred resolutions.  Needless to say, I didn't have nearly enough willpower for most of them. Last year, I made a smaller list of some goals for the new year and I'm ecstatic to say that I've accomplished and made progress in many of them. I feel like really thinking about what I want in my life allows me to take charge of it and make it what I want it to be, instead of just another letting another year slip purposelessly by. Since I've begun to be reflective and intentional about my life, I have really begun to make it what I want it to be and I'm excited to continue this in the years to come.

  I came up with a few questions to help you reflect on the past year and plan for the new one. Leave out any that don't apply to you and, if you like, paste them into a word processor or write them into your journal to think over.

Reflection Questions

The Past Year -

What was the most challenging thing you faced?

What were the highlights?

What were the best books you read?

What were the most meaningful relationships in your life?

How have you grown?

The Next Year -

What are you most looking forward to?

What are your goals?

What relationships would you like to nurture?

What are your learning goals?

How would you like to see yourself grow?

How can you better love your partner?

Happy reflecting!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Real Food, Real Work

  Though I sometimes wander into the most unhealthy of junk food binges, I always return to my desire for healthy eating eventually. The first half of this week makes me look like an amazingly healthy, industrious wife. Maybe if we keep quiet, everyone will believe it to be true. ;-)

Fitness Magazine

On Sunday,... Southwestern pizza.

           Monday, pita sandwiches with cucumber, tomato, red bell
                 pepper, and hummus.

Tuesday, Gingered Carrot Soup with Whole Wheat Biscuits.

   I did so great for those three days!  And yesterday, I ate leftover soup, so that's not too bad. But I didn't really think to plan for lunches at school, and so here I am, left to the mercy of the healthiness of whatever cafeteria soup happens to sound best. Monday and Tuesday were pretty  easy. Wednesday took a while, though. I am determined that one day, I will finally plan and eat healthy foods every day of the week, not just a few. But sometimes all the planning and cooking just gets me overwhelmed.  

Here's to everyone who's on this journey together, that we not get discouraged. (I'm always open to tips...just leave them in the comments!) I'm convinced that taking care of ourselves will be so worth it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Let Us Be Pagan

  When I say that I'm pagan, people make assumptions, many of which are probably untrue. Because paganism happens to be the label for a beautifully diverse group of people, the pagan next to me doesn't necessarily hold my beliefs or do the things that I do. Some people think that this lack of central organization will lead to the downfall of modern paganism. Some of them even believe that we need to come together and create doctrines and creeds to bind us. I, however, feel that this diversity makes up our very core and that by taking away from it, we would take something vital from paganism.

   Paganism isn't the only religion whose adherents hold to a broad spectrum of belief and practice. Judaism is a perfect example of another. No one who knows much about Judaism expects everyone who calls themselves a Jew to keep kosher or wear a kippah or grow the hair on the sides of their head out. Some Jews do take these commands in their holy book literally and do these things. Others leave them and instead draw meaning from their sacred text in the form of rich symbolism. There are these two extremes within Judaism, and any number of Jews inbetween. What makes them all Jews is that, in some way, they all derive meaning from similar traditions and rituals and from their own self-identification as Jews. The comparison is not a perfect one. Neopagans have no one holy book or sacred text, and many different traditions are present within the pagan community. However, we can see from Judaism that such diversity is a valid, effective option for a lasting religion.

   When someone thinks of a pagan, a very specific image may come to mind. Not all pagans are that. Even many pagan books say that pagans are this or that, but the messy, beautiful truth is that not all pagans are either. Though some pagans believe we should define our beliefs, our doctrines, and our rituals more clearly and definitively in order to make us a more unified, effective whole, I believe that when paganism loses its diversity, it will lose the very thing most of us delight in. Many have come from religions of strict doctrine or dogma, and we want to be free, not simply from our religions of origin, but from demands from within the pagan community, as well. We were drawn to the openness of paganism that allowed us to explore our own beliefs and preferences, while giving us a framework to grow within. When paganism becomes like that which we fled from, we will be drawn away.

  Despite all that I've said, there are things that bind pagans together, that cause us to find meaning in the designation of being "pagan." In one way or another, the earth and nature are sacred to us, and a vital part of our spirituality. We all have holy days or festivals that we observe and we draw wisdom from natural cycles, particularly from what is sometimes called the "wheel of the year." Many of us believe that by focusing intent and consciousness, we can change our reality and take control of our own lives. There is frequently emphasis on some form of deity, from a "Great Spirit" to a God and Goddess to many gods and goddesses, seen as either real or archetypal. Many of us believe in a higher power, but some are atheists. Most are polytheistic, but not all.

  Let us delight in our diversity and in our ability to accept differences. Let us abstain from those practices that do not move us and believe only those things that make sense to us. Let us be a diverse, beautiful whole.

   Let us be pagan.