Daily Archives: December 9, 2011

Yule Meditation

Winter Solstice marks the longest night of the year. The altar is decorated with mistletoe, holly, and evergreens, such as pine, bay, rosemary, juniper, or cedar. With the solstice, the dead of winter is passing, and you can light a red, orange, or yellow candle as you wait for the coming of light. A Yule log is burned to symbolize the return of the Sun, whose coming marks the beginning of outward expression, within nature and ourselves. The best time of day to burn a Yule log, traditionally oak or pine, is at dusk.

Light your Yule log, sit before it, and try this fire meditation: Through your stomach/solar plexus, direct your consciousness into the flames. Take a deep breath and let the fire reach the extremities of your body, mind, and soul. As you breathe in, you expand the fire. As you breathe out, soot and ashes dissolve and recede back to the Mother to be recycled.

Take another breath and feel the fire increasing – strengthening, and cleansing your whole being. Listen for any messages. Direct any of the excess heat to go down your arms and legs and out through your hands and feet. See yourself as illuminating light. You may want to chant this Pagan incantation:

May the log burn,
May the Wheel turn,
May evil spurn,
May the sun return.

Your strength and power are ever growing. The fire before you is a reflection of warmth, love, and comfort. It is the true representation of the wealth, abundance, and goodness within you. Everything that you thought during this meditation can and will come to you because you have prepared the fire of action, determination, and success.

Moonspinner

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On the Spirit of the Thing

On the Spirit of the Thing

by George Jackson

People throw the word “spiritual” around all the time, and a large number of us have probably never taken the time to really examine what the word means and how we relate to it. We seem to take for granted that everyone understands the concept at one level or another. I had this driven home to me at the 2001 Spring Mysteries Festival, when someone of the Gardnerian persuasion tried to tell me that doing magick didn’t enhance the spirit. It left me wondering what he thought all of those invocations — a magickal form of merging with a deity — were about if not an attempt to enlarge the understanding of the spirit. I then realized that I was taking a lot for granted, too. So here is my attempt at describing the concept of spirit.

The dictionary defines spirit as the life principle, and the word is derived from the Latin spiritus, meaning breath. This definition is further elaborated on to include the thinking, motivating and feeling part of a person that is sometimes called the soul. There is a tendency to separate this aspect from the physical body, and in some cases to connect it with the supernatural. This result, from my point of view, leads us a bit astray as it does not take into consideration the gestalt (whole greater than the sum of the parts) power that is inherent in a living person. Going back to the original definition, it can be said that any living thing is infused with a spirit. People who practice shamanism take this idea a few steps further, or it might be said they extend the definition of “living” beyond the usual scale of such things. At this point, I’m going to accept the definition of spirit as life force and work from there.

For the most part, a sorcerer’s intent is focused on ordinary reality. The complexity of substance and interaction occurring in this arena is so immense that it is as best very poorly understood. For instance, if you read Time Magazine this past June, you will know that the astrophysicists now believe that the majority of the universe is made up of “dark matter and energy,” the properties of which are pretty much unknown. One of the observable characteristics of ordinary reality is that everything moves, and the vast majority of this movement is not in what we call an orderly fashion. Out of these observations, chaos theory arose in the late 1960s. From this and quantum theory came the metaphysical concept that the universe was primarily chaotic in nature and that order was at best temporary, and for the most part, illusionary. From this observational standpoint, the universe cherishes two principal things: change, and what grows out of it, diversity. This is the benchmark that a chaos-theory sorcerer operates from. Thus, the sorcerer works to harmonize with the waves of probability coursing through the universe and by strength of will fueled by spirit (read life-force) causes shifts in flow.

Ge, Gaea and Gaia all mean Earth. Gaea in Greek mythology is the Earth personified as a goddess, the mother of Uranus and the Titans. In chaos theory, there is a concept called the Gaia Hypothesis, in which the conditions necessary for life are created and maintained by life itself in a self-sustaining process of dynamic feedback. Carrying this into the realm of metaphysics, it could be used as a partial justification for the belief in reincarnation. I’ll admit that my concept of deity lies within the Gaia area. On the popular culture scene, George Lucas brought Gaia, greatly expanded, to the public’s attention as the Force in Star Wars. This was not an accident, as Joseph Campbell was a significant collaborator on the Star Wars script. This concept should not be a surprise coming from Lucas, whose company is named Industrial Light and Magic, and who is recognized by his peers for having a powerful, questing spirit. And so, if you have ever said, “May the Force be with you,” even in jest, you have acknowledged Gaia, the spirit of our planet and perhaps our spiritual source.

Within quantum theory lies the statement that everything is connected to everything else. This is especially true of body, mind and spirit within a person. It has also been said that the body is the temple of the spirit that dwells therein. The body definitely processes outside sources of energy in the forms of food, liquids and other environmental elements that are necessary to sustain both the spirit and the mind. Both the disciplines of Yoga and the Hawaiian practice of Huna recognize this, and further both have some specific breathing exercises to raise power. The word haole in Hawaiian, which has come to mean “outsider,” originally meant “without breath” and referred to a lack of spiritual ability. Max Freedom Long publicized the art of Huna, which he considered a psychospiritual discipline that could be fitted into most religious paradigms. Much of his work concerns the establishing and maintenance of the spiritual three-in-one gestalt (basic self, the subconscious; middle self, the conscious; and high self, the superconscious) that make up a human being. It is good not to underrate the importance of a healthy body in regard to the support of the spirit. Of course, this is a two-way street, and a strong spirit goes a long way toward preserving the body.

Now, what are some of the ways of enhancing the spirit? A lot of these methods can be listed under “accomplishment.” If you set yourself a task and carry it through to a successful conclusion, part of your reward will probably be a spiritual “lift,” a sort of buoyant feeling of achievement. Another method is an appreciation of something one considers beautiful or awesome. The more esoteric routes to enhancement are initiation, illumination and gnosis. Gnosis is “the knowledge that impels action.” In other words, once you know the thing in question, you must act on it.

Within the psychospiritual paradigm, initiation, illumination and gnosis are the three primary methods of enhancement. They are a process. In ordinary reality, we undergo levels of initiation of one sort or another all of the time, and hopefully we learn from them. What we learn in the broad sense can be called a state of illumination. This leaves us with gnosis, which is part of the application, the knowledge that impels action. All of this process can be spiritually enhancing in that it widens our options for accomplishment of something beyond the ordinary. The chaos factor may truly surprise us when it comes to what such accomplishment yields in the long run. For instance, Athens, Greece, became a democracy almost overnight. Democracy had never been practiced on that scale before, as far as we know. Thus was set in place an opportunity for the spirit of the citizens to be expressed in both an individual and collective manner.

As I have mentioned, spiritual enhancement is a process. Most of the time what popular culture calls “spiritual” is connected with a religious paradigm or something that is considered supernatural. From my point of view, our life force is a force of nature and is connected to everything that surrounds us. I went through a major personal initiation event in the early 1970s that firmly set me on the road to becoming a magick user. At the time, I was already experiencing crisis and call (a general dissatisfaction with the spiritual status quo that brings on the need for change), and as the result of a gestalt experience, I experienced initiation and illumination as one continuous series of events that lasted for several minutes. I was superenergized from participating in a circle that had not been grounded. I was alone in a room and asked myself the question, “What’s next?” My subconscious altered, and I received my answers.

This initiation left me with the task of learning gnosis. Gnosis has been defined in several ways, from the state of no-mind, one-pointedness, to understanding the knowledge that impels one to act in a certain way. Like much of what we know, it has to be experienced to really grasp its meaning. Practicing magick gave me the experience that I was seeking and expanded both my personal reality and the energy needed to delve more deeply into it. From this point of view, I feel that I have been spiritually enhanced.

The spirit does have an enemy. The name of this enemy is depression. If this state of mind is not brought on by a biochemical unbalance, it probably stems from a loss of faith in one’s ability to positively interact with one’s environment. This inwardly focused state of negativity constricts the production of life force by the subconscious and in extreme cases can lead to death. For example, during the Korean War many American prisoners of war literally turned their faces to the wall and willed themselves to death. Much was written about this after the war, and some steps were taken to counter the effect, primarily in the form of encouraging prisoners to focus on resistance and escape. There is little doubt that one can’t be upbeat all of the time. There is a neutral status. Depression, however, is contrary to solving problems or maintaining faith in one’s self. Learning to consider obstacles as temporary in nature sure helps the spirit along.

In summation, I consider being spiritual as opening up one’s consciousness and becoming aware of the place we occupy in nature in all of its complexity and diversity. There are probably as many methods for accomplishing this as there are people. How people express their spirituality should always be a matter of personal choice. Our forebears struggled hard to establish this opportunity for personal choice for us, and we should not neglect the right to exercise our options. We pagans are considered by some of the major religions to be heretics. This means we hold views that are not sanctioned by their official church doctrine. The word “heretic” comes from the Greek, and means “able to choose.” Let’s keep up the good work!

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A Warm Yule and Winter

A Warm Yule and Winter

by Barbara Hedgewitch

As we approach the shortest days of the year, our house is a snug haven from the cold rain and winds of autumn. The horses’ coats are thick and full in preparation for the cold days ahead. We watch the steady retreat of the Sun. Each day, it sets just a bit earlier and farther south over the distant hill.

We spend time preparing gifts for our loved ones: homemade soap in a variety of scents and colors brightly wrapped in baskets; felt “melted” snowmen from a pattern at the craft store. We bake and decorate holiday cookies and get messy making gingerbread houses out of graham crackers and lots of frosting. I gather fir boughs and wire them to a frame, then attach a bright plaid bow. Soon a sweetly scented wreath hangs cheerily on the front door.

My husband makes his annual trek up our tall ladder, standing precariously as he strings holiday lights all along the roofline. One year, he fell off the roof as he strung lights. Fortunately for him, a potted rosebush broke his fall. It wasn’t quite so fortunate for the rosebush or its pot. This year, I remember to send a little extra protective energy his way as he heads up with hands full of lights.

He takes the children down to the bottom of our property where the former owners planted a grove of evergreen trees. They choose a fine Douglas fir for our Yule tree and triumphantly drag it up the hill to the house. As they huff and puff from the strain, the curious horses follow them.

Inside the house, I’ve prepared a place for this lovely tree, and we spend the evening stringing lights and placing ornaments on it. The scent fills the house. We discuss every ornament, for they all have meaning and memories. Some are from my childhood, and some belonged to my grandparents. Each year, the children are given one new ornament each for their own collections. We have many stars on our tree!

Finally, the Sun halts its southward journey. It seems to stand still for a day or two. On the longest night, our family holds vigil and awaits the rebirth of the Sun. The Holly King arrives and leaves gifts under the tree and in our stockings. My husband and son reenact the Oak King/Holly King duel, with the Oak King triumphing at this turn of the Wheel. We bid good-bye to the ancient Holly King, ruler of the darkening days, and celebrate the birth of the Oak King who rules the brightening days.

A few days later, we’re able to mark the slight northward passage of the setting sun behind the hill. The growing days give us hope as we enter into the coldest and stormiest time of the year. We eagerly await Imbolc and our local BrighidFest, which marks the beginning of the end of winter.

I take my spinning wheel to the BrighidFest and demonstrate how to spin wool. I have a steady stream of people, men and women, eager to try their hand at spinning. Most of them get the knack of it enough to take home a length of lumpy yarn that they spun themselves. Truly a bit of real magick!

Imbolc is traditionally the time of year to make candles. This is something I’ve never done. I think it’s time for the children and I to try our hand at this new skill. I ponder the endless possibilities: the colors, the shapes and the scents. We have a huge collection of old crayons that can be used for color, and some glitter, and I can “frost” the candles by whipping some warmish paraffin with the hand mixer. Oh my, what fun we’re going to have!

I hope you have a warm and cozy winter, filled with much love and learning.

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Finding Your Own Pagan Family Values

Finding Your Own Pagan Family Values

by Sienna

Before I got to know any pagans in my area, I was a stay-at-home mother of two. Because this was a very boring lifestyle, I volunteered to help out an organization called Parents Anonymous and became a group therapy counselor. What a relief it was to learn that much of the organization’s methodologies tied in with pagan values. I’m sure many pagan families can benefit from this experience, so I’ll share what I know here.

Pagan families are growing, both in number and in size, and now at the family season of Yule it’s a good time to take a look at the environment that pagan children grow up in. Many of our children (including mine) are getting to the age of puberty. This means that there are some heavy lessons ahead involving sex, drugs, peer pressure, societal pressure, setting morality and setting guidelines.

In a Christian community, the Bible provides the framework of morality that parents can teach their children. A Christian community has 10 commandments that allow parents to draw lines between right and wrong behavior. But what framework can we work from if we are pagans?

The answer is simple: An ye harm none, do as ye will. Even if you are not Wiccan, this guideline (or something similar to it) is in most codes of behavior for most non-Christian belief systems. But whichever code of conduct you choose for yourself in your dealings with other adults, you must use the same code of conduct when dealing with your children. Kids are the first to spot a hypocrite, and if they spot you being hypocritical, you will have a hard time regaining their respect.

So let’s take a look at what that phrase, as stated above, means. Doing your will, and by this I mean your True Will, which has been defined as “the true purpose of the totality of one’s being,” means finding out what suits you best. Your Will is made up of tiny decisions made every day that lead you in one particular direction. The voice of your conscience is a part of your Will, as well as your long-term goals, and what people and things are attractive to you. Everything you have done so far has put you where you are now. So remember: When you are interacting with your children, it was an act of your Will that put them there.

One of the things that we sometimes forget about Will is that I have no right to guess what my kid’s Will is, and she has no right to guess mine (or anyone else’s, for that matter!). Although parents can offer advice and information, in the end the decision to act or not act belongs to the child. Whether my daughter goes to college, is gay or straight or chooses Christianity, it’s none of my business, unless she tells me it is. Just because my daughter is my offspring doesn’t mean I get to set her Will. Any attempt to do so violates the first part of the sentence: An ye harm none.

Let’s take a look at the word harm. Harm occurs when one person attempts to stop another person from doing his or her Will. Kids can do harm to their parents by breaking the law while they are minors, not telling the truth or breaking well-established rules. Parents can do harm to kids by expecting too much, disciplining too much or neglecting their needs.

Watch yourself and your reactions to your child, and see if there is any Will subversion going on. Do you give in when he gets emotional? Do you get angry when she states her own opinion? Discuss the rules of your household with your children. Make sure that all of them are logical, and take the time to explain each one to the child. If you can’t explain it in words he or she can understand, do you really need that rule? This means no because-I-said-so’s.

But what about when someone’s Will is causing harm? What happens when a drug dealer sells drugs to curious children? What happens when someone’s sex drive causes him or her to react inappropriately toward a minor? How does one deal with the harm that this causes without hurting our children or impeding another person’s Will? This gets tricky, indeed, when there are no commandments that outline particular behavior.

Each lifetime has its lessons to learn, and perhaps your path has crossed the path of one of these types of people. Think about the lessons learned from a drug dealer, an oversexed acquaintance or a violent maniac. The lesson to “stay away from these types” had to be learned somewhere in life. Would you be who you are if no one had ever done you harm?

This is not to say that drug dealers should be allowed to sell crack to your kids on the playground. This is never good, for Christians or for pagans. But what is more effective, openly attacking the drug dealer, or telling the kids how it does harm to themselves and their parents if they choose drugs and why the dealer is a person to stay away from? Many people would choose both of these methods; however, an open attack on someone usually makes them sneakier or more determined in the behavior you want stopped. The most peaceful resolution is to educate those whose naïveté would allow them to be harmed. In this way, you are helping your children choose the correct path of their Will and allowing the lessons they need to learn to happen.

When I have warned my children of all dangers, when I know they understand what my words mean, I have done all I can do without causing harm to them myself. Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own behavior and with whom we choose to associate and avoid. Therefore, getting angry at children for getting themselves in trouble is pointless and sometimes heartless.

Punishment in a pagan family is yet another issue of Will. If my son’s Will is to stay out all night on a school night, he will pay the karma in lower attention span and perhaps lost grades in school. But teenagers have very little idea of what the long-term consequences are, because they have not lived a long term. Therefore, it is my job as his parent to drive the lesson home. When he says he’s going out, I ask him what time he is coming home and discuss whether or not this is an appropriate time to be in bed for a full night’s rest. Then I explain that if he does not stick to his word, he will be given extra chores, have privileges revoked or have other nonviolent unpleasantries occur. At that point, the decision of whether to stay out all night is back on him, and because he knows I’m consistent, he knows he’s going to do those chores if he is not!

In writing this article, I was asked, “So what about the kid who is impossible to deal with, who is entirely unreasonable?” There is no such child. Just because your teenage daughter is not listening to reason from you doesn’t mean she is entirely unreasonable. Someone, somewhere, has her attention, even if it’s her best friend who gives her lousy advice. What has happened here is that the child has lost respect for you somewhere down the line. All it takes is one time for her to see you not being honest, fair or reasonable yourself, and she may lose respect for you. Just once.

So begin by reinforcing the positive parts of your relationship with your child. Remember, you are both individuals, and you can be yourself with your kid, as much as you are with your best friend. When you understand that this is an adult in the making, and not an annoying, needy creature that you have to support, you will find the most reasonable path of communicating with her or him.

Which brings us to communicating with kids. Think about how young you were when you began having independent thoughts of your own. Your kids have been thinking for themselves since day one and will continue to come up with their own original ideas and attitudes for the rest of their lives. Allowing your kids to tell you these ideas without judgment will encourage them to think for themselves and preserve the level of respect that they have for you. Showing respect to my children while explaining my point of view makes sure that they have heard me, so that they don’t learn the lesson the hard way. Children listen when they have respect for the adult speaking. Winning respect that has already been lost is a long, hard job, so it’s easier not to disrespect them in the first place.

If you provide a basis for communication that cuts through all the fear and worry with your kid, there is nothing that any other person can do or say to undermine your authority with the child — including his or her other parent. Don’t fear what the other parent will say, and don’t pull any punches when talking with your kids.

Lying is something that all children attempt at some point in time. In most families, this is the point where communication breaks down and arguments start. Saying “You’re lying” will just get the kid defensive. However, if you know your child is lying to you, do you really have to tell him or her that? Just act as if you did not hear the actual words that came out of his or her mouth, and behave as if you know the truth. In other words “I didn’t make that mess” is not answered by “yes, you did” but by “clean it up.” Once a kid figures out how pointless it is to lie, he or she will stop on her own.

The most effective way to communicate with children is positive reinforcement. Catch them acting in a way you like, and tell them you like it. When writing this article, I asked my well-behaved 11-year-old, “What keeps you from breaking rules?” She said, “I want you to be happy with me.” This is a natural reaction for all kids; they want to please. Use this tendency by telling kids when they are being pleasant.

Most attention-getting behavior (which is 90 percent of “misbehavior”) can be rectified by giving the attention energy that the kid is trying to get. If you’re used to doing energy work, just visualize a direct line of energy between yourself and your kid whenever he or she wants your attention. Yes, you might find yourself giving more energy than you were prepared to give at the moment, but isn’t that the job of a parent? Realize that eventually your child will have enough energy from you and learn to find some within his circle of peers. In the meantime, make sure the lines of communication stay open.

Open communication is especially important when you are trying to teach your children to follow their own Wills and oppose outside manipulators or people who would do them harm. Respect is important here. Even though the person committing the act against them is not necessarily respectful, it is important to teach kids a perspective of respect for their own minds. Two wrongs do not make a right, and two disrespects do not teach respect.

If possible, it’s best to begin response to any unwanted pressures with a simple “No.” However, if someone puts a hand somewhere that my daughter didn’t agree to, it is perfectly acceptable for her to say in a loud voice “Get your hand off my ____!” This is a clue to everyone around to protect her. It also tells the perpetrator that this child is not a pushover and will help my child be able to withstand the real world and its manipulation tactics.

When it comes to drugs and alcohol, it is extremely important to explain to kids that after that first drink, you are no longer in a position to exercise your Will. Remind them that it is illegal for a minor to drink, which could harm you, the parent. Secondly, if they find themselves being pressured to alter their awareness against their Will, the safest bet is to walk away. This is one argument they need not get into at all.

The best approach I’ve found yet in dealing with Will manipulators is to know your own Will so that you recognize when it is violated. Explain to kids that it is probably not within their Will to get high, give sexual signals to an adult or commit acts of violence. It is a kid’s Will to create his or her future and learn how to live in this society. It is a kid’s Will to dance, sing and play and make good decisions about who to dance, sing and play with.

To help children stay safe, give children healthier options in the first place. Ask any “good” kids why they don’t shoot heroin, and they will tell you that they have better things to do. The kids who wind up doing drugs typically have unhappy home lives, no knowledge of addiction patterns or consequences and access to drugs. All three of these are direct lines into drugs and can be stopped by the parent, if the parent is paying attention and interacting positively with the kid on a daily basis.

One of the fastest way to lose a child’s respect is to overreact in situations where the child’s well-being is at stake. It’s easy to get angry when you see your children pressured or hurt. Many parents overdefend their children in such cases, often causing harm for others in their zeal. To keep yourself from this situation, keep your actions balanced: equal energy returned for the amount of energy received. If someone insults your kid, it is not equal energy to get violent with him or her. If someone pressures your kid once, it is not equal energy to spread rumors about that person for the next six months. It is, however, equal energy to ask that the person leave your child alone.

Balance cannot be kept if you are acting in anger, because anger adds to the energy you return, and therefore it becomes more than what was received. Calm down before taking any steps to correct the balance between your kid and whoever stepped on his or her Will. Always return the same amount of energy that was given; in my observation, the laws of karma become instantaneous in such situations.

We don’t live in a perfect world; however, we raise our children the way we do because we all value our freedoms. Respect, communication and love are all we have to combat the negativity in our environment. To keep our children safe, we must first not allow ourselves or them to be vulnerable. The best gift you could give a child is the capacity to walk his or her Will.

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How Do We Include Kids in Ritual Without Making Adults Run Screaming?

How Do We Include Kids in Ritual Without Making Adults Run Screaming?

by L. Lisa Harris

Ask a group of ritual facilitators what their philosophy on children in ritual is, and at best you’ll get as many different opinions as there are people in the room. At worst, you will have pushed a hot button that operates an opener attached to a huge can of worms. This topic is near the top of my “ways to start an argument at a pagan gathering” list. I’ve seen this issue turn a harmless candle-making party and ritual planning session into a virtual war zone, and don’t even get me started on what it can do to an e-mail list.

Groups that put on large public rituals, those who work in small family coven structures and every sized group in between all eventually face this issue. Public ritual comes to most people’s minds first when they think about controversy over kids in circle. But even in small covens, where all of the members consider themselves a family and parents or “aunties and uncles” to the children of other circle members, disagreements as to if and when children should be in circle do crop up.

One of the many issues that parents who want to include their children in ritual can run into is what circle members wear (or don’t wear). Bob, a member of a “medium-sized traditional coven” is concerned about the legal ramifications involved in having children present in a group that works skyclad.

“There are certain considerations when allowing children in ritual,” he said. “For instance, being skyclad in front of a child can get a person charged with sexual abuse in many states.” Just because a child is taught that nudity is perfectly normal and not necessarily sexual, it doesn’t mean that society as a whole and the judicial system will see it that way. If a small child casually mentions seeing “Uncle John’s wee-wee” to a teacher or member of the medical profession, the parents are likely to receive a visit from Child Protective Services.

A greater danger arises when the parents of a child are separated or divorced. Even if there is no ritual nudity, a parent who wants full custody can claim that what goes on in ritual is damaging to the child. Seeing someone hold a blade to Mommy’s throat and issue a challenge to her when she enters a circle, or even witnessing a light ritual scourging, can not only be frightening to a child, these things are also not going to look good if a complaint is filed by an ex-spouse with an axe to grind.

Some small groups prefer that ritual be a place for adults only. “Circle is a place for women to relax and take a break from their daily parenting responsibilities and nurture themselves,” said Luna, who facilitates a women’s circle. She doesn’t want new mothers to be left out of circle but has very clear rules regarding the presence of children. “Babies at the breast are welcome in our women’s circle, but once a child is old enough to be left with family or a sitter, we expect that mothers will come alone. They need to be able to bond with other women and to have time that is theirs alone.”

Sage, a father of two, feels strongly that children should be included in circle. “It is vital that we teach our traditions to our children, or they will be left open to conversion by more aggressive religions and there will be no one to carry on after us.” His partner Oana agrees: “We have a responsibility to provide for the spiritual education of our children. Christian churches have Sunday school, so why is it wrong for us to teach our religion to our kids?”

When it comes to public ritual, not everyone has or understands children, and many people have very different ideas as to what is appropriate behavior and how much parental discipline is called for. Stardancer, a mother of three, feels “watching children joyfully play in a circle is a beautiful sight. We don’t want to suppress their natural energy, it can be quite infectious.” Kim, who is married and “childless by choice” does not agree. “Poorly supervised kids in ritual distract everyone else, and they don’t learn or experience anything. Don’t get me wrong, I like kids, but ritual should be a sacred space that is not filled with running around and yelling.” She doesn’t place the blame for disruptive behavior on the kids. “It’s ludicrous to expect a 3-year-old to stand quietly in a circle or to understand what’s going on.”

Some groups don’t allow anyone under the age of 18 at any event. “Our circles can get a little wild and crazy sometimes, and the owner of the place where we meet doesn’t want to worry about having minors around,” said Wolfehawk, a member of a small group that hosts open events. Other groups restrict the age of the children to middle-school-age or older and specify which events are appropriate for kids. Freya, a Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans member, said, “We let older kids par-ticipate in most of our rituals, with the excep-tion of Samhain, as it tends to be a bit too intense. Although middle school seems to be a good cut-off point, it’s not always that easy. Reaching a chronological age or grade in school is not always a good indicator as to how a child will behave in circle. I’ve seen very young children pay attention and be respectful, while older kids in middle school have behaved atrociously. It’s really all about the individual level of maturity and how the child has been allowed to behave in public by their parents.”

A few groups have experimented with various forms of paid and shared childcare. “The problem with the concept of co-op child care is that one or two parents get stuck with all the kids all the time while the parents that tend to have the most badly behaved kids just dump them off and go have fun,” advised Morgan, a solitary witch and mother of two. “Sooner or later, you get tired of doing all the work and missing out on the festivities and ritual workings.”

Some groups that have considered hiring a babysitter to provide paid childcare have run into liability concerns. They are afraid that if a child gets hurt when childcare is being paid for at an event they sponsor that the group members will get sued. Anne, an attorney, advised, “The fear of lawsuits for an injury or allegation of abuse is very real, particularly if someone is providing care without a license. People will sue over anything, and you never know what a jury will do. Liability releases aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.” Another problem with paid childcare is the policy that most pagan groups have of not turning anyone away due to inability to pay. Either you give some people free childcare and not others, or you allow some parents to bypass childcare. Either way, someone is going to feel that it’s unfair.

Yet another possible solution is making all kids under a certain age check into childcare and requiring all parents to work a shift. This concept did not go over well with me at all when one local group suggested it about a year and a half ago. My daughter, 11 years old at the time, was still in elementary school and would have been required to check in as a kid. I have trained her as a witch, taught her circle etiquette and even given her small roles in ritual at the Unitarian Universalist Association of Tacoma (UUAT). She generally behaves better than many adults in circle, and I most certainly was not going to “reward” her hard work and good behavior by allowing her to be labeled and treated as a “child.” My rule is that if a young person has continually behaved like a responsible adult in circle, then he or she deserves to be treated as such. In addition to my objection to what I considered an insult to the maturity of my daughter, an older, well-behaved young woman, I didn’t feel that I should be required to baby-sit the children of parents who couldn’t be bothered to teach their children manners or to supervise them.

Several local groups have had great success with separate rituals specially designed for kids. I was at a Mabon event earlier this year where just such a ritual was put on. The quarters were marked with colorful balloons, and the adult leaders led the children in a merry dance to lively music. I overheard several adults say, “I wish I was a kid, so that I could be in that ritual.” In this case, the children’s ritual, along with other kid’s activities, was held before the adult ritual, which still left the issue of what to do with the kids during the adult ritual.

One of the major obstacles to successfully including children in ritual with adults is the lack of a standard of behavior. What one adult interprets as children freely expressing themselves is often viewed by other adults as a lack of parenting. “I have to ask myself, do these parents let their children behave like this in school, restaurants or in other peoples’ homes?” said Laura, a mother of a 7-year-old daughter whom she is raising in a goddess tradition.

David, whose children are grown, has had negative experiences at public festivals where children were not supervised by their parents. He said, “I was at one outdoor festival where a very expensive drum was ruined by kids whose parents were nowhere in sight. There was a band of unsupervised kids running around all over the place banging on the drums and playing with things on the altars. It was like their parents just walked off and figured that the community would take care of their kids for them.”

I am one who feels very strongly that we should include our children in our rituals when possible. I tried for almost three years to bill events at the UUAT as child-friendly and trust that parents would ensure reasonable behavior from their children. It became increasing apparent to me that this was not going to work. After several complaints from adults who felt that ritual was disrupted and after having to clean up several messes left by unsupervised kids, the Gaia’s Grove earth-spirituality group had to implement a set of rules for at UUAT events. The following statement is available at the check-in table, is posted on our Web site under the heading “parents please read” and is also addressed in pre-ritual discussion:

We love our children.

We want them to be part of our community and events.

We design our rituals to be child/family friendly.

Due to past damage to chairs, carpet and other UUAT property, and to ensure that all ritual guests get the most out of their experience, we must now abide by the following rules.

  • Children must physically be with a parent or adult guardian at all times.
  • Children must respect altars, drums and personal item as hands-off.
  • Children must not climb on stacked chairs.
  • Children must not walk on the furniture.
  • Children may not run nor roughhouse in the building.
  • Children in circle should participate in the circle, not play with other children and/or disrupt the person/people who are speaking.
  • Children may play in the nursery downstairs WITH ADULT SUPERVISION. The nursery must be picked up afterward.
  • The circle guardian will gladly cut parents with fussy kids in and out of the circle as necessary.

Even with the new rules in place, it seems that some parents are just not sure exactly where the line of “disrupting the ritual” gets crossed. I found that often the parents with the most disruptive children were oblivious and did not think their kids were a problem, while the parents with well-behaved kids, who weren’t quite perfect, stressed out trying to make them behave well. We decided to enlist the help of a circle guardian who gently and discreetly offers assistance to parents whose kids are pushing the limits of being disruptive. After Gaia’s Grove implemented the rule, a handful of people decided not to bring their kids anymore, which is too bad. The ones that still bring their kids are making a concerted effort to help them to respect the ritual and others in the circle.

The challenge to groups of any size is to balance the needs and desires of parents and communities to involve children in ritual with the needs of adults who don’t want their ritual experience disrupted. It is ultimately up to parents to decide if their children’s behavior is appropriate for the circle they are bringing them to, but it is also vital that ritual facilitators address this issue and make expectations and behavioral standards clear in a supportive, yet firm, manner.

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Rekindling the Fires: How We Gather and Celebrate for Yule

Rekindling the Fires: How We Gather and Celebrate for Yule

by Catherine Harper

I am a person much concerned with the rituals of hearth and home, and in general I am more likely to mark the turnings of the year in my kitchen or garden, or alone in the woods, than I am in larger gatherings. But even this preference aside, Yule seems to me a holiday that focuses around these intimate spaces. In the face of the darkest time of the year, who we share our table with is especially important. If sunlight brightens the whole community, away from the sun one can pick those who are each of our chosen families by candlelight. Winter, to me, breeds a love of small spaces.

Reaching for this sense of family and continuity is a challenge for the many of us who are first-generation pagans. I know that I want to be able to reach back to my own memories of being a child and find something there that I can bring forward to give to the children in my life. But this can be almost an archaeological challenge, finding amid so much past the right pieces, bringing them to the surface, cleaning them and restoring them to some kind of meaning.

I have a vague fondness still for stockings, but no context from which to hang them, and the woman who knitted the stockings I once loved is dead and gone. That memory I can love and yet watch recede into the distance.

I remember the candles on a tree in the yard of one of my dearest childhood friends that, starting with the youngest child, we would each light in turn on the eve of the winter solstice, singing carols into the night.

I love and remember the smell of a fresh fir tree brought inside, but equally I remember being seven and in tears faced with that same tree two weeks later that had died and dried and lost its needles. And mixed in with my childhood memories of yearning for lights and magic are my adult wishes for fewer malls, a different sort of family and a clear line of demarcation drawn between what I do and what is so nationally celebrated as Christmas.

Out of these conflicting needs has come our own synthesis. I don’t pretend that the answers that our dialog with the past has produced extend to anything beyond our own threshold. We don’t bring in a tree, though that ritual is as pagan as it comes. We do exchange presents and stay up all night and party and play and keep a light going through all the long hours of darkness. At midnight, everyone gathers in front of the fire and feeds it with tokens of things they are glad to have seen the last of, accompanied by explanations and applause. (A ritual that started more or less by accident but has grown and continued until it has developed such momentum I suspect I will never see the end of it.) We make candles. We eat soup, bread and little sandwiches, and trays of cakes, cookies and fruit tarts.

In the last several years, these gatherings have begun to set fruit. When they started, we were college students and young adults, mostly. Now, we are overrun by children, competing among each other to dip candles thicker than their own wrists, gorging on sweets, playing tournament mancala, helping grind flour, swimming laps in the hot tub and staying up far past their accustomed bedtimes.

My senses of past and present are becoming satisfied. Bit by bit, out of the flotsam from our childhoods, from the chance occurrences that recurred and became tradition, from literature, from history, from the stories we have imagined for ourselves, we are building something solid, something that returns and carries us along with it, something that we will pass on.

(To people who will doubtless prune it into a shape they find pleasing. There is no point in being too attached to any particular notions for the future….)

Meanwhile, for me Yule will smell like fir and beeswax and taste like cinnamon. In this land of evergreens, it is natural to bring in a little greenery when so much else has died away. In a time of darkness, of course we make a fuss over light and warmth. And when there is so little in season for the table but we need the extra nourishment to stave away the cold, our celebratory food is rich with saved eggs and butter, and spiced to overcome the monotony of the winter stores. And in 15 years, or 20, if the gods be kind, a nephew, or niece, or godson (or child?) will call me from another city where they have gone to work or to school and say “That cake, you remember? You used to make it on longest night? Do you still have the recipe?”

Gingerbread

This is simply the best gingerbread in the world. The recipe is not original with me, but it has changed more than a bit in my keeping and may in yours as well.

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3/4 very hot water
  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour your baking pan. (I use a 9-inch round pan, but a pair of loaf pans also works well.)

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the molasses. (It is very efficient if you pour the hot water in the same measuring cup you just poured the molasses out of — it will dissolve the molasses residue and save you time.) Add spices. Alternately, add a bit of the hot water and a bit of the flour until both are thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, and then quickly whisk in the baking powder and soda. Now quickly, before you lose any rise from your leavening, pour the batter into your pan and pop it in the oven. Cook for about half an hour, or until the middle is firm.

Moldable Shortbread

When I was young, I found a variant on this recipe and used it to make cookies in the shapes of fruit, stippling little balls of orange-colored dough to give them the texture of citrus peel, piercing them with a clove to make a blossom end, painting a blush on the surface of peaches and so forth, rather in the manner of marzipan. But the dough can be made into almost any form, as long as it is mostly flat. You can think of it as an edible, cookable play-dough. Don’t be timid with the food color — bright colors make it much more fun.

  • 1 part sugar
  • 2 parts butter
  • Flavoring to taste
  • 5 parts flour
  • Food coloring

Cream together the butter and sugar, add flavoring if desired and then blend in flour. (If your one part is equal to half a cup, you can use &fraq12; to 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or a bit less almond extract, a bit more Grand Marnier, a teaspoon of citrus zest, a couple of tablespoons of minced candied ginger or whatever suits your fancy.)

Divide the dough into sections and add a different color of food coloring to each one, mixing it in first with a fork and then with your fingers. Form each color into a ball, wrap with plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.

When it is chilled, form it into whatever shapes you — or your children — like. Bake at 325 for 20 to 30 minutes. If the dough becomes hot and sticky while it is being worked, just stick the cookies into the refrigerator to chill before you bake them. As long as they are cold when they hit the oven, the texture will be fine.

Categories: Articles, Daily Posts, The Sabbats | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Special Kitty of the Day for December 9th

Rusty, the Cat of the Day
Name: Rusty
Age: Nine years old
Gender: Male
Kind: Domestic Medium hair
Home: Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, USA
We adopted Rusty from the local animal humane society. The previous owner did not want him because he quote, “vocalized too much”. When we saw his face in the pictures of adoptable cats, he seemed to be saying “get me out of here!” Once he arrived in our house he immediately became a “momma’s boy”, following my wife around the house, sitting on her lap and snuggling with her in bed.

He is a very loving boy, with a crazy wild side. Once or twice a day he will do what we call “rocket shipping”, bursting down the hall at great speed, jumping on the bed and then taking off again. He is also a champion wrestler and gets into bouts with his older brother daily. Rusty is also capable of some very complex Gymnastic maneuvers, don’t you agree? He has brought us great joy and we treasure him greatly!

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Doggie of the Day for December 9th

Maggie, the Dog of the Day
Name: Maggie
Age: Nine years old
Gender: Female Breed: West Highland White Terrier
Home: Berlin, Connecticut, USA
Maggie is our West Highland White Terrier. Maggie is special because she is very lovable and enjoys playing with her family, along with other dogs in the neighborhood. She was born on the 4th of July, but hates the sounds of fireworks. Maggie is very energetic and loves to go for walks around the block. Her favorite food is carrots, but she will eat pretty much any food you give her besides bananas. Maggie spends most of her day napping while the family is gone. Once they get home, Maggie gets very hyper and loves to play fetch with her squeaky toys.

Maggie loves being outdoors and going on car rides. In the summer she travels with her family to their house on the shore where Maggie enjoys sitting in the grass and greeting all the people who walk by. She sometimes comes on boat rides with her family and occasionally swims in the ocean on hot days.

Maggie is the best dog anyone could ask for!

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