Imbolc 2014: Fire and Ice

Imbolc is a cross-quarter Sabbat, marking the waning of winter and the earliest stirrings of spring.  The exact cross-quarter point occurs when the sun reaches 15 degrees Aquarius, although it is often celebrated from sundown February 1st to sundown February 2nd.  Many of us are tired of the cold air, weary of being indoors, and we long for light and warmth to carry us through until the sun regains his full strength.  Thus, we honor Brigid, the ancient Celtic goddess of the hearth, at this time of year.  The Celts believed that it was she who wandered over the frozen landscape, melting the ice and snow with her sacred flames to wake the earth again.

The past week brought plenty of wintery weather into the southeastern United States, resulting in traffic woes and emergency situations for many.  Even balmy Savannah got enough ice to shut down some of our bridges and close schools for a couple of days.  The traditional focus of Imbolc is to drive winter away, so perhaps that is more relevant than ever after experiencing harsher conditions and colder temps.  It’s time to light our candles, keep our hearth fires burning, and decorate our altars with flowers that remind us of better days ahead.

Mentally and emotionally, we also shift from the solitude and darkness of the Crone (which is necessary for personal growth) to the energy and enthusiasm of the Maiden (which spurs us to put our plans into action).

I had to smile when I saw the moon phases for Imbolc as well, because she will move from watery Pisces into fiery Aries.  How perfect for Brigid, our goddess of sacred wells and flames.  I love the idea of not only melting physical ice, but also melting the ice that builds up around our hearts.  What conflicts need resolving?  How can I live a more heart-centered life?  What needs to be brought into the light to be healed?  These are the questions I will be pondering as I create my ritual for Imbolc, which will no doubt involve candles and ice cubes.

Brigid is also a goddess of crafts, so I couldn’t let this Sabbat go by without making something in her honor.  Here’s an incense recipe that I tried and liked.  Cedar and pine are clearing, frankincense and orange peel are uplifting, cinnamon gives it just enough heat, and the rose lends a bit of sweetness—altogether perfect for Imbolc.

You’ll need a mortar and pestle to grind the pine and frankincense resins and a grater for the cinnamon sticks and orange peel.  I’ll admit that this incense does take some work and elbow grease, but it’s worth it!  You can dry orange peels in the oven at 250 degrees for about 20 minutes or until they start to curl up.  Then allow them to cool and stiffen before grating.  I obtained pine resin from Shaman’s Market, and I found dried, food grade rose petals from a supplier on Amazon.  Why food grade?  Because the roses you get from floral shops are often sprayed with chemicals to repel bugs, and you don’t want that in your incense.

After you grind and grate all the ingredients, you should have something like this:

Imbolc Incense

Imbolc Incense Ingredients

When you mix all the ingredients, you get a lovely combination of scents and colors:

Imbolc Incense

I recommend storing incense in glass containers.  It keeps better, and it’s a great way to recycle.  I like to save small jars that have an interesting shape and then crochet a pretty cover for the lid.  Here’s the finished product:

Imbolc Incense Stored

Love, light, healing, and peace to all.  Have a blessed Imbolc!

Re-Member

The definition of remember is “to bring to mind or think of again.”  That is what Webster offers, but I see remembering as more than just recalling the past.  It is also recreating.  A member is one part or unit separate from the whole; so, to re-member is to restore that missing part to wholeness.  It is finding what was thought to be lost and building something magical again.

This poem was inspired by La Loba, the old woman who gathers wolf bones and sings them back to life.  It was also inspired by Inanna’s descent to the underworld, as she passes through the Seven Gates that strip her of her power and her life before she is reborn.

The past year was a turbulent time for many, as we faced loss, separation, and challenges from all fronts.  It is time to heal and rely on the truths we know deep down.  We have a New Year and a New Moon in Capricorn to celebrate on this day.  What better time to dig in and lay the groundwork to manifest our dreams?


“Re-Member”

Re-member who you are, beloved,
beneath the grave they dug for you.
Keep going down past the layers
of earth and stone
until you find the bare bones–
and when you do,
learn to love them.
Sing them back to life
until the flesh returns
layer upon layer,
until the eyes are clear
and the hair grows back,
lustrous and full,
and the heart beats
to the rhythm of your soul,
until you can dance in a body
that makes no apology.
Re-member who you are, woman.
~by Jennifer R. Miller (January 1, 2014)

Quilt Circle

I usually write prose, but poetry is really one of my best modes of expression.  So today, I thought I’d share some spoken word poetry with you.  This piece is about our ancestral ties, reaching all the way back to the ancients.  I draw a lot of strength from the idea that whatever I’ve faced, some woman before me has likely faced the same thing.  I view my ancestors has helpful spirits on this journey, even if I never knew them in this life, so this is a tribute to them and to all women.  Blessed Be.


“Quilt Circle”

I think of them
as pieces of a quilt
stitched together by soft, loving hands–
my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother–
all of these women
surrounding me
supporting me
even the ones I never knew
even if all I have are stories
and fragments of their lives,
I still feel them–
the way we are bound together
by blood and bone
the way we are held together
by traditions and memories
the way we are seamed together
by threads that pull too tightly
by threads that are too loose
the way our colors go together
the way our colors clash
and yet we are unified by the stitching
by these strands of DNA
spiraling through time
stretching back further than I can see
to She who was first
the Mother of us all
the heartbeat at the center
the rhythm of the Earth
the pulsing, the loving
the bleeding, the birthing, the dying
the cycles, the seasons
we turn and we turn
finding our place
in this quilt that has no corners
for we are a circle
a circle of women.
~by Jennifer R. Miller (December 11, 2013)

Winged Messengers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all –
-Emily Dickinson

I use my journal to work through things.  Sometimes I use a prompt to grease the wheels, but I had no idea how far this particular question would take me:  What is the symbol of your magic?  Now that was a tough one…and chewy, too.  It was like a rawhide treat for the brain.  How could I choose just one symbol to define my spiritual practice?  I went through a mental Rolodex of Wiccan symbols:  the pentagram, the triple moon, the chalice, the athame, and so forth, but none of those really hit the mark for me.   They were charged with too many layers of meaning, and I am just one modern witch trying to make a difference.  I wanted something more personal and representative of my life’s purpose.

Okay, so what do I do?  What am I?  I write.  I’m a writer.  I’m either writing prose or I’m plucking out songs on my guitar.  Okay, so what symbolizes a writer?  A pen?  Well, not just any pen…a quill!  Of course!  It’s even in the title of my blog.  How could I have missed that?  Hmmm.

I wrote it down in my journal—the quill symbol—and thought a little more about what my “magic” is in this life…this writing that I do, why I bother doing it, etc.  I write mostly for myself, because it’s how I have always coped.  If what I have to say helps others on their individual paths, then it’s a lovely bonus.

I attended a songwriting workshop recently, and the presenter started off by saying, “I don’t know how to write a song.  I can’t tell you how the rabbit gets inside the hat.”  Well, I can’t tell you, either.  All I know is that when something is right, when it rings true, the goose bumps happen, and the magic is made.

The day after I wrote about the quill symbol in my journal, my husband came in from a morning walk and presented me with a blue jay feather.  He had no idea that I was contemplating the symbolism of quills at the time, so I placed the feather on my altar, sensing that it was part of a larger message.  Perhaps it was confirmation that I had chosen wisely.  Nature doesn’t walk through your door without a purpose, and even small, delicate things contain volumes.  If I have learned anything from my shamanic studies, it’s that the universe is constantly trying to get our attention.  The problem is that we want the burning bush in the desert and the words written in stone right before our eyes, so we often miss the subtler, gentler ways in which it communicates.

A few days later, we were on the road to visit my family in North Georgia.  It’s a six-hour drive from Savannah, and anyone who has driven I-16 will tell you that it’s a monotonous stretch of highway bordered by cotton fields and not much else.  I had been dreading the trip, not just because of the drive, but it meant facing a harsh reality.  My mother’s health is declining from an autoimmune disorder called Multiple Symptom Atrophy.  It is slowly claiming her ability to walk, her ability to speak, and her desire to live.  I have felt her receding further and further into the mists for quite some time, but I didn’t want to actually see this happening.  I preferred to recall the vibrant, creative woman who styled my unruly hair in pigtails and painted flowers on my bell-bottom jeans.   I loved her fiercely, and I wanted her back.

I was pondering all of this as we stopped somewhere around Metter, GA to walk our dog and take a break.  Baxter sniffed and roamed around a grassy area behind a fast food place, oblivious to everything except the previous markings of other canines.  I glanced up at a lonely dove on a power line.  I felt just like her—perching on a wire and bracing myself against the wind.  She shed one of her lovely plumes, and it floated to the ground in a hypnotic little dance, landing just a few feet away from where I stood.  My husband said, “Look!  She’s giving you a feather!”

She was indeed, but why?  Maybe I needed more validation that I’m supposed to be staring at a blank screen and trying to fill it up with words.  I put the feather in the glove box, offering my thanks to the dove.

Fast forward to the return trip.  I was on the phone with a friend, explaining how the past few days had gone, how my mother had cried on my shoulder, how frightened she was, and how drained I felt.  He said, “I have something for you.  I know how much you love the white egrets, and I found one of their feathers near the dock.  I want you to have it.”

I was stunned.  This was the third feather I had been given in a week’s time.

I placed the dove and egret feathers on my altar next to the more colorful one from the blue jay.  Maybe the birds themselves were trying to tell me something, since all creatures represent certain characteristics.  According to Ted Andrews, author of Animal Speak, “When we pay attention to and acknowledge a nature totem, we are honoring the essence that lies behind it.  We are opening up and attuning to that essence.  We can then use it to understand our own life circumstances more clearly.  We can share in its power or ‘medicine.’ ”

Blue Jay, Dove, and Egret feathers

Blue Jay, Dove, and Egret feathers

Delving deeper into the world of avian symbols, I learned that the blue jay teaches about the proper use of power.  Rather than getting distracted or having too many projects going at once, they remind us to develop our abilities to the fullest.  I needed to take a longer look at where and how I was expending my energy and what really deserved my full attention.  Could I stay focused on my goals, even if others needed me?

The dove represents the maternal instinct, peace, and prophecy.  No wonder she appeared right before I visited with my mom.  We were locked in a classic role reversal where the child becomes the parent, and the parent becomes the child.  I was beginning to see how she probably felt when I was going through my own dramas, and she wanted to take away the hurt.  I wanted to do the same for her this time, but we each have our paths to walk.  There is only so much we can do for those we love.  Pain is part of the journey—peace only comes with acceptance of what is, not how we think life should be.

My last feathered teacher arrived just in time to remind me that I can’t afford to be stuck in the mud at this point in my life.  The egret teaches balance, the ability to progress and evolve, and the confidence to walk into deeper waters.  I have observed these graceful birds so many times out on the marsh, and they always inspire me to try a little harder…to wade out a little further.  If the ground isn’t solid enough beneath them, they just spread their wings and fly to a better location—a lesson we can all appreciate.

I bow with deep gratitude to the way all things are connected and to the power of a symbol to speak louder and clearer than a thousand printed pages.  I bless the blue jay, the dove, and the egret for their roles in my journey.  May we all become more open to the many ways we can experience Divine guidance.

Blessed Be

Getting Rhythm

I face eastward as a brilliant coastal sunrise breaks through the clouds, following many days of unrelenting rain.  The calming scent of white sage wafts around my body and the parts of the drum I will assemble.  The smoke caresses the finely crafted contours of the willow oak hoop, the horsehide, the lacings, the sinew, the suede, and the stick that will become the beater.  I feel as though I have done this before in some other time and place, that the drum is already part of me.  It is potential, raw material…the seed of something yet to be manifested.  I long to bring her to life, to hear her voice, to let her vibrations wash over me in a healing torrent of sound.  She is my drum, and I am her maker.  We are one from the beginning.   

I’ve never viewed the drum as just a method for keeping time.  All the tribal drums I’ve ever played—djembe, ashiko, doumbek, riq, and tar to name a few—have taught me something about rhythm and its healing powers.  I have been in drum circles with so many people that the vibrations felt as though they were going through my entire body, and I could no longer distinguish my own heartbeat from the drumbeat.  That is where I really learned to be in trance and to be comfortable in that space that is no space and time that is no time.  Layne Redmond describes it perfectly in her groundbreaking book, When the Drummers Were Women:

As I entrained with the beat of the drum, as I became the pulse itself, I felt that I was letting the force of gravity draw my essence down, down through the layers of the earth to the fire at her center.  As I connected to the fire of the earth, I could feel that energy radiating up through my body and out through the sound of my drum, as if I were a radio transmitter. 

While the heat of summer began to pulse through the veins of the low country, I felt this compulsion to make a drum instead of just playing an instrument that someone else had crafted.  There is much intrinsic value in creating your own spiritual tools, infusing them with your own energy, and dedicating them for a purpose.

Deciding on the materials took several weeks.  I had to consider how I would use the drum and what would best support my intentions.  I wanted it to assist me in deep meditation and shamanic work, so I chose a willow oak hoop for clarity and vision.  Then I had to figure out which animal skin I would use—and that wasn’t easy for a 20-year vegetarian who has never hunted or skinned anything in her life.  Still, I wanted the drum to be authentic and to be fashioned in the same way that indigenous tribes have made them for centuries.  I finally chose a horsehide for the drumhead, as the horse symbolizes freedom, mobility, trust, stamina, and the ability to travel between worlds.   The horse had died of natural causes, so I reasoned that making a drum from the hide would be a way to honor its spirit.

My frame drum!

My frame drum!

After soaking the hide and lacings, I was at last ready for the assembly.  Working with an actual skin was a strange and humbling experience.  I had to keep it moist and pliable while pulling it firm but not too tight.  It was very much like trying to control a spirited horse indeed, and there were times when I wondered if I was doing it correctly, if there would be enough lacing, if the tension was right, and so on.  Then I would ask for guidance, and the answer was always the same—Go slowly and steadily.  This is not a race.  I worked in a clockwise manner around the frame, pulling the lacings in and out, and watching the drum begin to take shape.  I noticed a darker pigment running through the midline of the drum, and then I realized it’s where the horse’s mane had been.  I touched it softly and thanked the horse for the life it had lived and for the work we would do together.  I allowed the skin to dry and tighten over the next few days, wondering how the drum would sound.

When I assembled the beater and struck the drum for the first time, the tone was simply divine—slightly higher in pitch than a buffalo drum, but still very deep and resonant.  It was vibrating at G#, which corresponds to the “zeal point” chakra at the base of the skull between the throat chakra (G major) and the third eye (A major).  This was a new concept for me, since I had only worked with the seven chakras commonly introduced in yoga and Reiki.  I had never heard of the zeal point until I began researching more into sound healing, but I had to smile when I came across this passage by Eileen Brooks in Messengers of Spirit:  “The gift of this chakra opening is a fully conscious mind to express the spiritual powers through the voice.”

Most of my friends know that I have spent the last eight months trying to play my guitar, write songs, and gain a little more confidence as a singer.  So many times in my life, when I have stepped out on nothing but faith and a desire to honor my highest potential, I am provided with exactly what I need in the most unusual and unexpected ways.

So Mote It Be

  • If you would like to make your own frame drum, I highly recommend Cedar Mountain for their wonderful selection of kits and friendly service.

All My Relations

Healing CircleI stood before my Medicine Wheel altar, thinking about circles and the greater purpose of rituals…their power to heal and transform lives.  I realized that there are no perfect circles, because human beings are not perfect.  If we were, then there would have been no need to return to this material plane to learn more lessons.  Everyone within a circle has a character flaw of some kind.  It is our task as spiritual warriors to get over these barriers and to at least attempt to view others at the soul level.  There will always be certain individuals who make a negative impression, get on our nerves, or stir up personal issues we thought we had resolved.  That is their job, actually.  They help us grow more than anyone else.  We have to look at that person and think, “How does this remind me of myself?  Am I reacting this way because it reminds me of something within myself that I don’t like?”  Then we can bring it out into the light to be healed.  The end result is more compassion toward ourselves and others.

Native Americans use the phrase Mitakuye Oyasin (All My Relations) when they pray, and they do not mean just their immediate family and their ancestors.  They mean every living thing in this world, even the people, animals, and plants that they don’t like so much.  Take some time to meditate on what it means to be interconnected in this way…to be “related” to all that exists.  Think of something or someone that irritates you—maybe it’s snakes or poison ivy or the person who just cut you off in traffic—and try to see how you are related.  You will walk away from the meditation with a very different view of the world and your place within it.

I have been in circles in the Wiccan community for over a decade, and there is always a lot of emphasis on having the right energy and the right people in a ritual.  There is usually disagreement on who should be there, who should not be there, and so forth.  This is often the main reason that many covens and groups fall apart, and it’s regrettable to me that those who claim to be peaceful and tolerant can end up being the most exclusive.  (Isn’t this why we left mainstream religion in the first place?)  I have begun to view circles more like a Medicine Woman.  They are places of healing, and those who need to be there the most may not be the ones you like the most.  If you have reached a higher spiritual plateau than someone else, then that’s great for you—but it also means you have the responsibility to help others who are struggling.  If you are only with those of like mind and ability, what is that really worth?  What would you expect to learn?

The greatest work you will do on any spiritual path is down in the trenches, not up on the mountain.  That is the path of a healer, and it’s the path I want to be on.  I don’t care so much if you are “broken”…we are all broken.  We come to the circle to heal ourselves and each other.  Blessed Be.