Daily Archives: June 13, 2012

Celebrating Midsummer Eve the Latvian Way

by Mark Dalton

It was a sunny early evening on Midsummer’s Eve, years ago when I was a footloose young college student. My friend Dace came bursting through the door of our communal hippie household with a couple quarts of beer clanking in a paper bag and announced, “We’re going to a Latvian party tonight — it’s St. John’s Eve!”

I should explain about Latvians. Latvia is one of the Baltic countries, three small nations along the Baltic Sea, on the cusp between the Germanic lands of western Europe and the Slavic peoples to the east, and between the northern lands of Scandinavia and the plains of central Europe. Latvians saw a lot of traffic and heartache during the twentieth century, as they moved from Russian domination, to a brief flowering of independence following World War I, to German occupation during World War II, to becoming a Cold War republic of the Soviet Union, to an eventual, ecstatic return to independence after the collapse of the USSR. Many Latvians fled to the west as refugees when their country was overrun by the Soviets at the end of World War II. Sometimes after years in western European resettlement camps, they came to the United States — particularly the Midwest, where large, settled communities of German-Americans welcomed them like long-lost cousins.

My city in Nebraska was no exception, and I grew up with so many Latvian friends I sometimes felt as if I had been adopted into the tribe. Latvians as a rule are friendly, outgoing, smart and often creative people. My friend Dace (say it “Dot-suh”) was a sunny art major with blond hair streaming down her back and an air of sophistication and mystery. She seem wise beyond our years, which was then about 20. She was a great dancer and loved James Brown and the Motown Sound, having spent her teens in Detroit. Dace showed me Diana Ross’s senior picture in her high school yearbook. A home economics major, Diane, as she was then known, was voted by her classmates as “most likely to succeed.”

I’d been to a number of Latvian college parties by that time, either with Dace or other friends, and they were invariably a great time, always with plenty of beer, music, dancing and good-natured fun. “Where’s the party?” was my question. “This one is out in the country” was the response. “I’ve got the directions.” We polished off one of the quarts, and then piled into my old station wagon as dusk started to set in, driving quite a ways out of town down those Nebraska gravel roads. Fragrant breezes wafted around and through the open car windows, with the sounds of crickets and cicadas making Midsummer Night’s music as we drove along.

“So what’s the deal with St. John’s Eve?” I asked.  “Well, it’s the night of the Summer Solstice — you know, like in Midsummer Night’s Dream? The fairies and goblins come out, and everybody parties? In Latvia, St. John’s Day is a big deal. Everybody named Janis [Latvian version of the name] gets to lead the celebration.” Anyone familiar with the Latvian community knows that Janis is an extremely popular name, so it didn’t surprise me that they had their own holiday — but more about that later.

At this point, Dace was counting mailboxes as we drove along, and she suddenly yelled “Here! This one! Turn in here!” so we did — pulling perhaps 500 feet down a winding dirt drive, coming into a clearing where there was already a large crowd of kids milling around, rolling beer kegs out the back of a pickup truck — and also working on a large pile of brush, tree branches and logs in the middle of the clearing. “You always gotta have a bonfire on St. John’s Eve,” said my hostess. “The bigger, the better!”

And an incredible bonfire it was that night — the sun went down as it crackled into life, sending flames and showers of sparks high into the sky as the keg foamed, the music rocked, and we danced in a great circle under Dylan’s diamond sky. Later in the night, as the fire simmered down and the crowd mellowed, I was sitting with some of the guys when they jumped up and said “Come on, man! Tonight you’re going to leap over the fire with us and become a real Latvian!” Sure enough, there was an unruly line forming to one side of the somewhat tamer, but still vigorous blaze. “You jump the fire on St. John’s Eve, you’re gonna have good luck with the women all year long!” said my mentors. And so I did. And that delightful night was my introduction to the survival of real pagan ritual in the Western world.

The thing about Latvia and the other Baltic countries is that Christianity never really triumphed there, certainly not to the extent it did in western Europe and the English-speaking world. The Baltic countries were never a part of the ancient Roman Empire, and they were not incorporated in the later Holy Roman Empire until well into the fifteenth century (and then only after great reluctance and resistance). For hundreds of years, Latvia’s neighbor Lithuania, which had converted its local folk-pagan beliefs into a powerful and coherent pagan state religion, served as a buffer between the Baltics and the advance of Christian Europe.

Baltic and Latvian paganism was an earth-centered set of beliefs. Around the year 1400, Father Peter of Dunsberg wrote “[Latvians] worship all of creation… moon, stars, thunder, birds… they have their sacred forests, fields and waters in which they dare not cut wood, nor work, nor fish.” Important deities in the Baltic pantheon include Dievs, the sky god; Mara, goddess of earth and water; Laima, the goddess representing destiny or fate — and Janis (John), son of Dievs, the fertility god of the summer solstice!

In spite of the official “Christianizing” of Latvia and the other Baltic states, pagan beliefs were neither eliminated, nor outside the major cities even driven very far underground. The language of Christianity was Latin, and later with the rise of Luther German, and they were also, as in many nations, the language of the oppressor. Latvians, in response, perpetuated their folk customs and pagan beliefs through songs and celebrations in their native language. Early in the twentieth century, the pagan oral tradition of Latvia was collected and published in six volumes (the “Laviju Dainas”), followed by the collection of sacred Latvian folk songs in the 1920s (the “Dievturi”). These works offer invaluable documentation of the survival of pagan beliefs and folkways down to the present time. Lithuanian paganism was again officially recognized in 1967, and since 1988 a shrine-site at Romuva has again become a place of pilgrimage and celebration for modern Baltic pagans. Similarly, after a long period of repression under the Soviet Union (including a total ban on Midsummer festivities), modern Latvian paganism is experiencing a rebirth under the name “Dievturi,” after the sky god, and has become a national movement, “Dievturiba.” Again, in Latvia, the Midsummer’s Eve festivities, or “Jani,” are back on a large scale!

Indeed, the reality of Latvian paganism and its survival into the twentieth century very closely matches Gerald Gardner’s description of Wica (as he spelled it) in the British Isles:

“Although its adherents might be of any class of society, they were mostly drawn from the peasant population of outlying districts. These people lived close to the earth, and their livelihood depended on the fertility of animals and crops. Hence they continued to do what they had been doing from time immemorial — namely, to follow a religion of nature and the fertility thereof, and to hold regular festivals at which the concept of cosmic fertility was worshipped, and the attempt was made to induce it by ritual to manifest upon the earth.”

Now, we understand that, in Latvia, as across the nominally Christian nations of Europe, St. John’s Eve is commonly and officially associated with John the Baptist. But the association of the Baptist with the “John” (or Janis) of midsummer is one area where the clever syncretism of the Christian church is thinly veiled. St. John himself has often been clearly associated with the pagan Oak King, all across Europe, and in fact, many existent statues show him with little horns! (Pan the Baptist!) This persistent association of the Baptist with nature and the rustic shrines offered up to him through the ages offer substantial clues to the more ancient reasons for his attachment to a powerful pagan holy day.

In the Latvian midsummer festival, for example, the arrival of Janis is heralded by much music-making, and he is pictured as tall and handsome, with a wreath of oak leaves on his head. The use of oak, birch and other leaves, branches and flowers is very important to this celebration, as Latvian men, women and children bedeck themselves and their homes with wreaths and garlands to celebrate the arrival of this beloved deity of fertility and plenty. The villagers gather to sing songs to and about Janis — and there are many of them, all ending with the same word, “ligo,” meaning good cheer or to make merry. As the bonfires are lit, the more amorous couples in the village tend to slip off into the night at times in search of a magickal (and possibly mythical) pure white flower that blooms on this night — and even if the flower isn’t found, the search is reportedly sure to be enjoyable! As the song goes,

“Here comes Janis on Janis’ eve, with his steed all adorned;

“Run little sister and open the gates, so Janis can ride into our yard!”

With bonfires on hilltops throughout the land, the celebration of St. John’s Eve, or Jani (John’s Days), on Midsummer’s Eve goes on throughout the night across Latvia, and wherever the sons and daughters of Latvia congregate. And wherever you are on this holy night of celebration, love and thanksgiving, please give a good thought to the Latvians and their Baltic neighbors, for their bravery and tenacity in keeping the spirit, joy and sense of oneness with the natural world of pagan religion alive and intact, and join them in communion with the glory of our beautiful universe!

References

Books

  • Gerald Gardner: Witch, by J.L. Bracelin
  • A History of Pagan Europe by Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick

Web sites

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Sacrifice at Solstice

by Little Paws

When you step away from the confinement of mainstream religion,  you never know where you are going to end up. I certainly didn’t suspect  how twisted the road would be when I declared myself a pantheist at the  age of 20. Less than six years later, I was initiated into an  Eclectic-Gardenarian tradition and became officially  a priestess of the Goddess. I am of Scottish extraction, and so I followed  my natural inclination to use Scottish mythology as the basis for my  worship after my initiation.

Very shortly thereafter, my husband and priest came to me to  interpret a recurring dream he had. This dream concerned his participation  in a ceremony called the Sun Dance, which many Central Plains tribes  do. He believed that he was being called to participate in this ceremony,  but that white people were “not allowed” to do this. I reminded him of  something that he always said to me, “The gods never give us anything we  can’t handle.”

In the way of all good things, the right person appeared in our lives  in the form of a Lakota Sun Dancer who was willing to teach us what  we needed to know and take us to a Sun Dance in South Dakota that was  open to non-Lakota people. In support of my husband, I attended many  sweat lodge ceremonies and pipe ceremonies leading up to the Sun Dance.  I supported him at the Sun Dance and basically did my own thing for the  rest of the year. I have no Native American ancestry that I know of, and I  wasn’t really interested in Native American spirituality, but my wishes turned  out not to be relevant. While attending my second Sun Dance, I had a vision  to dance in gratitude for every year that one of my friends survived with  HIV. This set my feet squarely on the Red Road, as it is commonly known, and  I have not looked back.

When I stepped onto the Red Road, I was really entering alien  territory. Although I thought at the time that Native American spirituality  and the Craft shared many concepts, I soon discovered that on a  deeper level the surface similarities dissolved and I was left to contemplate a  “religion” that was so closely tied to a  language and culture that the borders were indistinguishable. My  cultural experience was that of a middle-class Caucasian American of the late  twentieth century. I really had no frame of reference for understanding the  rituals that I was participating in. My experience with paganism was  firmly grounded in Europe, and I had little real understanding of the  profound differences between a priest and a medicine person. It also became  very quickly apparent to me that many Lakota elders had grave doubts  about allowing whites to participate in their ceremonies. Because of some  experiences of my own, I respect the concerns of Lakota elders over the  distortion of their religious practice by people, both Indian and white, who  are exploiting it for their own gain.

With all this in mind, I trod softly at all the ceremonies I attended, and  I made an effort to learn the history and mythology of the Lakota in depth.  I also studied the language. Although I know that my experience of the  sacred ceremonies will never be the same as those of a Lakota  woman raised in that culture, I have done as much as I can to integrate the  spirituality and philosophy of this extraordinary people into my own life. The  Red Road is wide enough for everyone, provided that proper respect is  paid to the traditions and history of the people who  originated it.

The Sun Dance is the only Lakota ceremony that is done  by a large group of people on a regular schedule. It must be  remembered that the Lakota were a nomadic people and  so it was only at the fattest time of the year that they could  afford to get together to worship and pray; thus,  this ceremony is done at or around the summer solstice. The Lakota  Sun Dance is basically a group prayer in which the dancers dance around  a sacred tree for four days. The dancers observe a strict food and  water fast during this time. Some male dancers pierce their chests with pins  made of hardwood or buffalo bone. These pins are tied to ropes that are  attached to the high crotch of the sacred tree. At the most dramatic  part of the ceremonial day, each pierced dancer will run or preferably  walk backward away from the tree and pull the pins out of his chest.

Many changes have been introduced to the Sun Dance  ceremony over the last hundred years. Changes have come because the Lakota are  a pragmatic people who have always adjusted their spiritual practice to  the demands of their environment. In prereservation days, the only  women who participated in the Lakota Sun Dance were those who were  postmenopausal. Many Lakota believed then and now that it is after  menopause that a woman receives any significant medicine power. In the  past, women of childbearing years were so concerned with raising their  families and making a living that it was rare that they would have time to  engage in the fasting and prayer necessary for the spirits to speak with them. In  the seventies, a spiritual and cultural revival occurred on the Lakota  reservations, and many younger women were moved to dance the Sun Dance  with their brothers. Some of them have even pierced, although this is  commonly done in a woman’s forearm rather than the chest or back as  is common with men. Women’s joining the dance is just one of many  changes adapting the Sun Dance to the changing life ways of the Lakota.

When attending the Sun Dance, my husband and I arrive at the  grounds at least two or three days before the four days of purification that  precede the dance. Usually the campgrounds are very primitive, and we never  know what changes the previous winter may have wrought on the land.  Arriving early also allows time for us to help assemble the pine bough arbor  that encircles most of the Sun Dance field. During purification days, we  prepare our prayer ties and brightly colored flags that will be attached to the  sacred tree. We also use this time to purify in the sweat lodge and get  reacquainted with people we may only see once a year. Once the  dancing starts, there is no time nor is it appropriate for us to chat with friends.

On the fourth day of purification, the Sun Dance Intercessor, one  or more medicine people and usually all the dancers and supporters trek  to the base of a cottonwood tree that was previously scouted out for  this honor. It is usually a tall tree with its main crotch about 20 feet off  the ground. The presiding medicine man will make a prayer thanking the  tree for giving its life for us. A young girl usually makes the first cut, or  sometimes an especially honored old grandmother, and each of the  male dancers also makes a cut. The dancers and supporters catch the tree  before it hits the ground, and they carry it to the Sun Dance field, stopping  four times to honor the four directions.

The group carries the tree onto the field through the eastern gate,  and each dancer who plans to pierce during the ceremony ties a rope to  the crotch of the tree. Next, dancers and supporters tie prayer flags into  the high branches of the tree and other sacred objects just at or below  the tree’s main crotch. Then the group sets the base of the tree into a hole  prepared for this purpose, and the dancers use their ropes to haul the  tree upright. At a certain point in this process, the ropes spray away from  the tree forming rays or butterfly wings. Last year, the tree-raising  happened just at sunset, and I was standing on the eastern side of the circle.  When the tree went up, it looked as if those butterfly wings would carry that  tree into the setting sun.

When the tree is up, the men wind up their ropes so that they don’t  touch the ground and everyone fills the hole with dirt to stabilize the tree. This  day, tree day, is the last day that the dancers will eat or drink until the dance  is over four days later.

Each day of the Sun Dance follows pretty much the same  pattern. The dancers get up before the sun rises, and everyone goes in to  sweat before they go onto the field that day. Men and women sweat separately,  and they dance on opposite sides of the circle. Usually all the women  are dressed and ready at least 30 minutes before the men are, so we  stand around in the cold morning air trying to keep our bare feet warm on the wet grass. The singers and the  drummers drag themselves out of bed and into a place set aside for them in  the arbor. When they are ready, we hear a few taps on the drum. As the  sun comes up, the Drum sings an entering song. The Drum here is the  entire drum circle, with one or more drummers and singers. To the  entering song, the women dance into the circle behind the men. Once we find  our place on the field, we dance in the same place most of the day. We  dance in rounds of two or three hours and then come off the field for rest  periods of up to 20 or 30 minutes. A place under the arbor is set aside for  dancers, and men and women sit separate from each other there.

For me, that first day is to honor the east, and it is my day to thank  the spirits for all the wonderful things that have happened in the previous year.  I find giving thanks then makes it easier for me to endure on the third  and fourth days, which are much harder than the first. On the first day, I  also focus on Mother Earth and all she gives us every day. I stay  absolutely focused throughout on the sun and on the Sacred Tree. The sound  of the drumbeat enters my bones, and I let that carry  me through any actions required during the day. I know  other people are there, their energy connected with mine  to the tree, but I really don’t see them. The second day,  following, is perhaps the most joyous because I feel like I have come  home at last. I am dancing strong and the lack of food and water has not  yet become a pressing presence in my consciousness.

Other pagans have asked me, “Why do you choose to suffer like  that?” There is no simple answer to that question, except to say that I  benefit more than I suffer. Each dancer comes to the dance for different reasons,  and they all go away with different experiences.

I have never had a vision to pierce, so I have not done that. I think this  is because I am a mother, and I have already given a lot of my flesh to  the prosperity of the tribe, metaphorically speaking. However, my husband  does pierce every year, and when he breaks from the tree he usually does no  more than step back and pull a little. This is a more impressive sight than the  telling of it, because some men literally have to run backwards, and they  sometimes have to pull very hard to break free. I have heard it said that if a  man is truly right with the spirits, he can just step back and the pins will  pull free. My husband does the dance every year so that the suffering in  the world will be that much less. My husband and myself both dance for other people, so that “the people may  live” and to alleviate suffering in the world.

The Sun Dance is performed to give thanks, to enrich and to heal.  Most of the people who attend a Sun Dance are not dancers; they are  supporters and people who come for healing and to pray. The Sun Dance Intercessor  will bring sick people onto the field to the tree to pray for their  healing. Usually the only person who has the power to heal is a  medicine person; medicine people are given a gift  from the spirits, and they have a responsibility to serve  the people for the rest of their lives. However, on the third  day of the Sun Dance, many dancers are said to be temporarily gifted with  this same power to heal. On that day, one dance round is set aside so  that people can be touched and healed. Veterans who still carry the  emotional scars of past wars have red tears painted on their faces and are  brought to the tree. People who are sick in their bodies or minds come to  be touched by a dancer and receive some form of healing. This day is  usually the most difficult day for me, because

there are so many needy people and they need so much. I usually  cry through the healing rounds.

Then the day continues. Dust rises around my knees. I keep  looking up at the tree. The sky is the cruel blue of summer in the high  desert. The sound of the drum pushes my feet up off the ground and then  draws them down again in what has become the unending rhythm of my day. I  try to pray and stay focused, but I am tired, and thirsty, and I am  distracted by the smell of moisture on the wind. Water has become my best friend  and the worst enemy of my prayers.

Then I might feel a tug, as if someone has pulled on my left sleeve.  I don’t look around, and I try not to wonder what is happening across  the circle from me, but I know. One of the dancers has gone down. Maybe  he pushed himself too hard the first two days; maybe his concentration  was broken. The circle is broken and we all can feel it, but we must not  break the tenuous tie that binds the circle together.

I feel another tug, harder this time, and my own thirst threatens to  push me to the ground. Another dancer  tried to help the first and was drawn down with him. Sun Dance  leaders move to help, take their places in the circle. A medicine person is  brought onto the field to help. People cross my field of view, and I ignore them;  I stare up at the tree, but I know that my strength is being pushed to  the breaking point. The circle of dancers sustains us; we are one here; if  one of us is sick, we all are.

My eyes are so dry I cannot cry.

Grandfathers, please just get me through this round. I am reduced  to pleading.

The drum pounds out four honor beats, four harder taps on the  drum, and I raise my hands up to honor the tree. The little bouquets of sage  in my hands feel like lead weights.

Just then I see the first eagle gliding in from the south. The bird  wings his way above us around the circle. Another eagle and another  join this eagle, until there are four of them riding  the air currents just above our heads.

The whole circle takes a deep breath. My thirst backs off  to become just another background annoyance, like my aching feet. I realize I  have been tensing my shoulders and neck, and I straighten my posture a  little, relax.

The energy starts to flow again. The dancers are all on their feet.

My prayer is answered.

By the fourth day of the dance, I have forged a special bond with  my  Sun Dance sisters. We have suffered a little together, and we have  supported each other through to the last day. Although I am terribly tired and  hungry and really, really thirsty, I am always reluctant to see it end. What  we forged in that four days will never be repeated in exactly the same  way again. We are measurably different because of this ceremony. I can  see the action of that difference in subtle ways throughout my life. Happy as  I am to finish on that fourth day and hear the dance leaders shout  “hoka hay” for the last time, it is sad  to say good bye.

Over the years, I have been deeply honored to carry the Canunpa  (sacred pipe) and to pour water for many sweat lodges. I  have been presented with wonderful opportunities to learn  Lakota language and songs and to find a well of gratitude and humility inside  myself that has sustained me through some of the worst times of my life.  I have delved deep into the way things used to be done, and I have  participated in the ways as they are practiced today. The deeper that I  immerse myself in the history and culture of the Lakota people, the richer my  experience of the Sun Dance grows. It is good to respect and remember  the ways of our grandmothers and grandfathers, as long as we can allow  those ways to evolve into ceremonies that are relevant to the spiritual lives  of modern people.

Not everyone who walks the Red Road in the Lakota way is, or  should be, a Sun Dancer. Many notable warriors in history were not Sun  Dancers; Crazy Horse comes to mind. Dancing a Sun Dance is not done to prove  your manhood, or womanhood, as the case may be; it is danced according to  the vision of the dancer, in service “for all my relations.” This is the point of  it all. We are all related, not just humans but all of creation. This is why  those who follow the Lakota way say “Mitokuye oyasin (for all my  relations)” at the end of every prayer.

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Heating Up Litha With a Bonfire

by C. Cheek

Is there anyone who doesn’t associate bonfires with pagan festivities? Fire is the element of Midsummer, when the Sun King is at his highest. Sweet herbs laid upon coals purify the air, and the smoke from burned prayers or offerings rises to the heavens. Some revelers dance around the fire to infuse the night with life and laughter and lust, others gaze into the flickering light to see what the future holds. What could be wilder, more carnal, more appropriate to the Dionysian festival of Litha than a huge, roaring bonfire? All you need is a little planning and forethought, and you too can set the night aflame.

Location

Most people want to host Midsummer on their own property or in a public park. Keep in mind that not all parks allow fires. In Seattle, for example, only Alki Beach and Golden Gardens allow fires at all. If you’re in a national forest or state park, fires are generally allowed except on no-burn days. You can call the park warden to find out the conditions in advance.

If you’re having a celebration on your own property, you’ll be restricted by your city’s backyard burning rules. Most cities allow small fires, as long as you’re not burning garbage. Call the fire department to find out if a burn ban is in effect, or check your city fire department’s Web site.

Safety

The safest place to have a fire is in a permanent brick or stone fireplace. Second safest is in a covered fire barrel with mesh sides, over a concrete or other non-flammable surface. You have to admit that this doesn’t have the allure of a fire built in a more primitive setting, but safety is still important. You don’t want to chance having the wind or a careless guest spreading the fire. If you have the fire pit on the ground, remove any grass underneath, and replace peat or bark mulch with sand or stones. Make sure there are no trees, bushes, buildings, picnic tables or other flammable objects near your pit.

No matter where you put your fire, you’ll need something ready to put it out. A fire extinguisher is good for emergencies, but you won’t want to use a fire extinguisher every time. Not only are they expensive to purchase and recharge, but some of them contain toxic chemicals. For a campfire, water is best. A single gallon isn’t enough. Have a hose or several large buckets of water ready. It may seem like a good idea to put sand or earth on a fire instead, but earth or sand can bank the coals, keeping them dormant until the wind stokes them up again. Every year, people who fail to completely extinguish their campfires start forest fires. Don’t be one of those people. If you leave a fire unattended, your karma will get so bad, you’ll be audited yearly for life.

Fuel

Bonfires are communal events, so your best bet is to make everyone bring a little bit of wood — like a flammable potluck. That way everyone has contributed to the event, and the burden of gathering or buying wood isn’t all on the host.

Many people like to use Duralogs, firewood made from compressed paper. These are good because they burn cleanly and are made from recycled materials. Duralogs can help you start the flames, but cost about a dollar an hour per log to burn. They also aren’t structurally sound once they start burning, and you won’t be able to stack them very high.

Cordwood is a good choice, because most wood sold for fires has been well dried and comes from ecologically sustainable forests. Places that sell camping goods often sell small bags of firewood, but you’re paying for the convenience. Like many things, wood is cheaper in bulk. Depending on the type of wood you get and where you live, it will cost $100 – $200 per cord. (A cord is a stack of wood that measures 4′ x 4′ x 8′) Check the classifieds, or visit www.firewoodcenter.com for a list of dealers near you. The disadvantage of buying cordwood is that you usually have to buy at least half a cord, and you may need to pay delivery fees as well.

Another option is to use gathered branches. If you are having a fire in a national or state park, you are not allowed to gather wood for fires. If you are on private land, you can do it as long as you respect the wishes of the owner.  Don’t cut down living trees. Not only is it bad karma, the wood will remain green and wet for far too long. Gather only dead branches. Dead wood is free and removing it helps the tree grow better. You’ll know it’s dead when it snaps off sharply. If it bends, it’s still too green.

If you’re on the beach or near a river you can gather driftwood. It burns much hotter than normal cordwood, and is generally free of rot and insects. Driftwood from a river will gather on the banks, especially on a curve, after floods. Don’t count on finding all the wood you need at one time or in one place. Plan ahead, and pick up a little at a time. It will add up.

If you are willing to invest the time you can get free wood in your city. It’s too late for this Midsummer’s bonfire, but next autumn, walk around your neighborhood, especially on days when trash collectors pick up yard waste. With a saw or a pair of loppers cut pruned branches into manageable sized pieces (one to two feet) and store them in a dry location, such as a garage or carport. In a few months, your yard waste will be burnable timber. The advantage of gathering the wood yourself is that it’s free, you can get to know your neighbors better and you can choose woods that have magical or emotional importance. Also, since you put more foresight and work into your fuel, the fire will have more meaning. Meeting the tree, cutting the lumber, and anticipating your fire for months and months is very different from picking up a couple of Duralogs at Circle K on the way to the park.

Don’t burn broken furniture, cardboard boxes, or other trash. Most city laws prohibit burning garbage, and with good reason. Plastic, varnished wood and even some papers release harmful gasses when burned. If you have mementos or items of spellwork that you want to burn for ceremonial reasons, either make sure they’re clean and free of chemicals, or use only a tiny portion.

Firebuilding

A fire needs fuel and air. Place the fuel in such a way so that the air can get to the flames without extinguishing them. If you have patience, you can start with just kindling. Light a match under grass and slowly add small twigs. When you’ve got a decent flame, but before the fuel turns to ash, add larger thumb-thick sticks to the pile. When those sticks have lit, you can gently teepee or stack the larger logs on top. That’s how experienced campers do it. The rest of us use an entire box of matches, curse at everyone nearby and blame the damp earth and the wind for our failure.

If you’re one of those, try the cheater’s way. Clean and prepare your fire pit, whether metal or a hole in the earth, and pour in a pile of charcoal briquettes. Douse them with lighter fluid and toss a match on top. When the coals have been burning for a while and glow red, stack logs on top and fan the coals till the wood catches. If you do this well before your guests arrive, you can tell everyone you started the fire by rubbing sticks together. Hide the briquette bag and they’ll never know.

Once you’ve got your fire going, what to do with it? An old German tradition is to burn Sun wheels: everyone would bring a handful of straw, tie it to a wheel, and set it on fire. The men would roll it down the hill, past cheering women. Your local fire warden will not approve of this. An even older tradition (decried by the Romans) is to cage condemned men and women in a wicker effigy and burn them alive. This is also a bad idea.

Instead, give everyone an unlit torch. The leader begins a prayer, then lights each torch as they pass in procession. The torchbearer joins in the prayer as soon as his or her torch is lit. As the firelight rises, the chanting will grow louder. Once everyone holds lit torches, use them to light the bonfire simultaneously. As the bonfire burns, have everyone join hands and dance a simple grapevine step in a circle. Your coven leader can sing out couplets for all to repeat, other members can offer songs of their own, or people can simply sing whatever nonsense is on their mind. The important thing is to make some noise and loosen up. There’s nothing like the flickering glow and heat, the communal voices rising like sparks to the sky and the warm grip of palms on either side to make anyone feel fiery and sensual.

Some people might want to jump over the bonfire, but unless it’s very small, discourage them. Loose clothing and open flames don’t mix! I once had a cloak catch on fire while I was wearing it. Cotton lights quickly, hair burns faster than paper and synthetic fabrics melt and stick to skin. This is not fun.

Another ritual that’s great for bonfires involves preparation. Ask the guests to prepare a sacrifice (homemade incense works well) as an offering. Say whom the offering is for as you toss it into the fire. Conversely, you can invite your guests to burn that which they don’t want anymore: mementos of an ex, their pink slip, strands of pre-diet clothes. As they toss it into the flames, they ask the gods to remove it (and its implications) from their life.

Once the party gets going and the mead starts flowing, people might feel inspired to toss clothing too. As long as they don’t toss stinky polyester into the fire, why not? Hey, it’s Midsummer! What better time to go sky clad?

Enjoy your bonfire!

 

Safety Checklist

·                     Have the fire only in designated areas, and keep flammable materials away from your fire pit.

·                     If your wood has been stored outside, wear gloves and watch for wildlife. Snakes and spiders love woodpiles, and they might bite you for disturbing their home. Also, build and burn your fire on the same day so that you don’t unwittingly kill innocent creatures.

·                     Make sure you have a sufficiency of water and/or a fire extinguisher. It’s easy for a fire to get out of control.

·                     Don’t have fires on windy days, or when the land has a lot of dry brush. Sparks can fly.

·                     Keep children away from the fire. Watch the adults too. There’s often a joker who thinks he’s invincible, especially when he’s had a few beers.

·                     Don’t have fires under trees or other flammable structures.

·                     Don’t pour lighter fluid or any other flammable liquid onto an open flame. Flames can travel back to the source of the fuel, causing explosions. Also, never ever use gasoline to start a fire unless you want to see the inside of a burn unit firsthand.

·                     Keep the fire attended at all times.

·                     Make sure the fire is completely out before you leave. A cold puddle of ash is good. A smoking heap of coals is not.

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Step forward with action

Start now, not tomorrow or early next week or when you have the time. Now is  when your time is, so use it now.

Sure, it’s important to plan and to prepare. What’s essential, though, is to  put your intentions into action.

Even if you’re not fully prepared, there’s something you can do right now.  Even if you’re unable to get it all done, you can get moving right away in a  productive direction.

Action accomplishes more than just the immediate results it creates. Taking  action seals your commitment and puts you in a state of solid, indisputable  effectiveness.

Action lets you see and know, without the slightest doubt, how capable you  can be. Though it’s great to tell yourself you can do it, action goes several  steps beyond that and shows you that you can do it.

Your dreams and goals and best intentions begin to be truly yours only when  you act on them. So stop just thinking about it or wishing for it, and step  forward right now with real, solid action.

— Ralph Marston

The Daily Motivator 

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Daily OM for June 13th – Silent Change

Letting Nature Work

by Madisyn Taylor

Change can enter our lives silently and this change can be just as important as change we have worked hard for.

 

We all see things about ourselves, our relationships, and our world that we want to change. Often, this desire leads us to take action toward inner work that we need to do or toward some external goal. Sometimes, without any big announcement or momentous shift, we wake up to find that change has happened, seemingly without us. This can feel like a miracle as we suddenly see that our self-esteem really does seem to be intact, or our partner actually is helping out around the house more. We may even wonder whether all of our hard work had anything to do with it, or if it just happened by way of grace.

As humans, sometimes we have relatively short attention spans, and we can easily lose track of time. We may worry about a seedling in a pot with our constant attention and watering for several weeks only to find ourselves enjoying the blooms it offers and wondering when that happened, and how we didn’t notice it. Nature, on the other hand, has infinite patience and stays with a thing all the way through its life. This doesn’t mean that our efforts play no part in the miracle of change—they do. It’s just that they are one small part of the picture that finally results in the flowering of a plant, the shifting of a relationship, the softening of our hearts.

The same laws that govern the growth of plants oversee our own internal and external changes. We observe, consider, work, and wonder, tilling the soil of our lives, planting seeds, and tending them. Sometimes the hard part is knowing when to stop and let go, handing it over to the universe. Usually this happens by way of distraction or disruption, our attention being called away to other more pressing concerns. And it is often at these times, when we are not looking, in the silence of nature’s embrace, that the miracle of change happens.

Daily OM 

 

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Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos!Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2012 June 13

A Venus Transit Over the Baltic Sea  

Image Credit & Copyright: Jens Hackmann  

Explanation: Waiting years and traveling kilometers — all to get a shot like this. And even with all of this planning, a good bit of luck was helpful. As the Sun rose over the  Baltic Sea last Wednesday as seen from  Fehmarn Island in northern  Germany, photographer  Jens Hackmann was ready for the very unusual black dot of Venus to appear superimposed. Less expected were the textures of clouds and haze that  would tint different levels of the Sun various shades of  red.  And possibly the luckiest gift of all was a flicker of a rare  green flash at the very top of the Sun. The above image is, of course, just one of  many spectacular pictures taken last week of the last  transit of the planet Venus across the face of the Sun for the next 105 years.

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Do ‘bath salts’ drive people crazy?

The unregulated ‘bath salts’ from overseas can cause the brain’s danger instinct to kick into overdrive, making the user see everything as a threat.

By Natalie Wolchover, Life’s Little Mysteries
On May 26 in Miami, a naked, “zombielike” man viciously attacked a homeless man, biting off and eating much of his face. Police shot and killed the 31-year-old attacker, Rudy Eugene, who, according to some news outlets, may have been high on “bath salts” at the time of his cannibalistic attack.

These soothing-sounding substances are not what they seem. Manufactured in China and sold legally online and in drug paraphernalia stores under misleading brand names like “Ivory Wave,” bath salts contain a bevy of newly concocted chemicals, such as methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), which aren’t yet banned by the federal government. When snorted, injected or smoked, the synthetic powders can induce a state of paranoid delirium paired with abnormal strength, a combination that often leads to horrific acts of violence.   Read More Here ……
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CDC denies rumors of zombie apocalypse

With reports of flesh-eating coming in from across the nation, rumors of a possible zombie outbreak are spreading on the Internet — but do you really have anything to worry about?

 

By Laura Moss

 

On Sunday, a New Jersey man sliced his belly open and began throwing pieces of his intestines at police. On Monday, a Miami man was shot to death by cops while eating the face of a homeless man. Then, on Tuesday, a Maryland manadmitted to dismembering his roommate and eating his heart and brain.

With all these bizarre incidents occurring within a matter of days, it’s no wonder that “zombie apocalypse” has been one of Google’s most popular search terms this week. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says we have nothing to worry about.   Read More Here….
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