Summer Solstice arrives on June 21st in the Northern Hemisphere, and along with it comes the undeniable truth that half the year has passed. The last six months were full of lessons, both professional and personal. I completed an enriching and transformative experience in life coaching with JRNI. I also moved into a new house, which has demanded more of my time and attention than I expected. It didn’t surprise me all that much when I drew The Hermit card and the Four of Swords on the New Moon in Gemini. Even the cards are telling me to rest!
It seems a little counterintuitive, though. Pagans are supposed to be reveling and basking in the glory of the sun at the height of his power right now. Maybe I’ll just head to the beach and revel in a chaise lounge instead.
Historically, I’ve used this time as a mid-year review, a little assessment of where I’ve been, where I’m heading, and what might need adjusting. I created the Tarot spreads below with that in mind.
The Mid-Year Review Spread follows the sun’s waxing and waning energy with the still point, the solstice, in between. Since Winter Solstice, it’s likely that we’ve been working on or processing something. Where we are now is the result of the work we’ve put in earlier. As the sun’s light wanes and the days grow shorter, it’s important to recognize where we may need a bit of extra support or nurturing to finish out the year.
When the Sun King is strongest at Summer Solstice, he also moves into the sign of Cancer, which is ruled by the Moon and the most feminine of all the signs in the Zodiac. There’s a great lesson in this. It teaches us to lead with the heart and balance strength with love and compassion. The Solar King Spread below is for the king within us all, who honors the feminine within himself and others.* It also pays homage to that most ancient Celtic ceremony of the king’s marriage to the land.
For this spread, you will need to place the The Sun and The Moon cards from your Tarot deck at the top. If you’re working with an oracle deck, choose something that represents those two qualities for you.
If you use either of these spreads, drop me a line below, or tag me on Instagram @quillofthegoddess. I’d love to see how they work out for you.
There are two predominant themes for Lughnasadh: one is sacrifice, and the other is nourishment. There have been years when sacrifice has shown up stronger for me, when I’ve had to give up something or become more aware of when I’m being a martyr. This year, however, Goddess is asking me to look harder at how well I nourish myself on the most basic level: with food.
I am not a foodie, though there are times when I wish I could be one. Eating is something I do to live, but I don’t live to eat. When I’m overly stressed, I’ll skip meals or eat sparingly. Some people are stress eaters, but I’m more of a stress starver. Nothing kills my appetite faster than anxiety or depression. Most of the time, I cruise along on an even keel. If someone is rude or cuts me off in traffic, it’s no big deal. I can let that small stuff go. I don’t surround myself with drama, so my everyday life is generally calm and peaceful. I’ve worked hard to create an environment that supports, rather than siphons.
Throw in a major stressor like a death in the family or moving, however, and I’m turning green at the gills over just the smell of food cooking. Then all my healthy meal planning goes out the window, and I’m just trying to choke down a Saltine cracker to keep body and soul together. It’s frustrating, especially for a Virgo. We’re supposed to be the health nuts of the Zodiac, right?
So when I drew a card from The Goddess Oracle on the New Moon in Leo, and Corn Woman showed up in all of her grain-abundant glory, my first thought was: fuck. My next thought was: how can I possibly eat well and nourish myself when I’m still mourning the loss of my beloved canine and familiar? On top of losing Baxter just one week prior, I was still adjusting to life in a new place. I felt thoroughly wrung out in mind, body, and spirit, as though part of me had simply left this world along with my dog. I didn’t have a manual that said: How to Eat When You’re Grieving and You Don’t Know a Soul in Town. Someone should create one, though.
What I did have was Corn Woman staring at me from my altar, gently but firmly reminding me that I can’t ignore the basics of life and expect to feel better on any level. Of course it would be corn. I mean, you normally see wheat fields associated with Lughnasadh, but that’s Europe. This is south Alabama, and we have corn, which functions as both grain when it’s dry and vegetable when it’s fresh. It’s also extremely abundant at this time of year. The message was getting louder and clearer: foundation, staple, plain, essential, sustenance. I didn’t need to become a gourmet overnight, but I would have to find a way to love myself better with the simple abundance that Mother Earth provides.
I began with questions, which is the starting point for any type of change and course correction. What am I resisting? What don’t I like about the whole cycle of procuring, preparing, and eating food? We have it much easier than our ancestors, after all. I can cook, thanks to a mom who cared enough to teach me how. Other people practically get off on being in the kitchen, so why doesn’t it excite me? More to the point, why is eating and nourishment the first thing I drop when life gets excruciatingly painful?
Biologically, it’s fight or flight. All my body knows is that it’s facing some sort of crisis. It can’t distinguish between an emotional trauma and a physical attack. It’s programmed not to waste time digesting when survival means getting out of town or fighting to the death. After four decades on this planet, it still doesn’t know that it won’t actually die from a broken heart.
I’ve learned a few techniques for calming the fight or flight response through meditation and energy medicine, but resilience isn’t built overnight. It takes years of consistently applying those practices, and I certainly haven’t mastered them yet.
Spiritually, I prefer to focus on ‘higher’ things. I think it would be fantastic if we could live on air and gain back all the time we spend on food (spoken like one ruled by Mercury!) Eating brings me down to the mundane level, and I don’t always enjoy being there. It feels dense, heavy, and slow. It forces me to be in touch with my body and its needs, instead of floating around in my upper chakras where I’m more comfortable. People often describe me as grounded, but what they don’t know is that I can appear to be Zen on the outside even when I’m dying on the inside. I come from a long line of stoics, and they taught me too well, unfortunately.
Feeling truly grounded takes more work and more willingness on my part to really be in those lower chakras, and that is where I meet my resistance every time a major crisis comes up. I don’t want to be in my body while I’m processing a ton of grief and pain, but abandoning it doesn’t work, either. It just results in feeling weaker and less able to handle the situation that surrounds me.
Corn Woman symbolizes true nourishment, and that means feeding the soul and the body. It is the time spent in the circle, the trance, or the vision quest… and it is the feast afterward to ground and center oneself in this world. No matter how high and far our spirits may travel, we must return to this earth walk, even when it hurts, until our time here has ended.
The lesson is a hard one, and I will most likely be examining my complicated relationship with food for quite some time. Still, I’m grateful for Lughnasadh, for the turning of the wheel, for life, for the first harvest, for the bountiful earth, and for Corn Woman’s wisdom. May we all be well nourished.
A SONG of the good green grass! A song no more of the city streets; A song of farms—a song of the soil of fields. A song with the smell of sun-dried hay, where the nimble pitchers handle the pitch-fork; A song tasting of new wheat, and of fresh-husk’d maize. –Walt Whitman, “A Carol of Harvest for 1867”
The word I would use to describe Lughnasadh is liminal: occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. Summer isn’t over yet, and autumn hasn’t begun. There is still work to do—the harvesting of crops, especially grain, if you happen to be a farmer. For most of us, however, the harvest is more akin to deep reflection, taking stock, and looking at how the intentions we have put out into the world have developed.
What has grown? What has withered? What can be gathered in and used for nourishment? Was it worth the sacrifices we made? Are we enjoying the fruits of our labors at all? We pause. We consider. We begin to winnow out anything that isn’t useful. We dance in the sacred space between “no longer” and “not yet.”
My coven celebrates the astrological date of Lughnasadh when the sun reaches 15 degrees in the sign of Leo. In the northern hemisphere, this marks a seasonal shift toward autumn, as it is the exact midpoint between a solstice and an equinox.
Again, there is the overriding theme of being poised without having to move in either direction. For me, nothing captures this better than The Hanged Man of the Tarot, and he has been making a frequent appearance lately.
This card disturbed me a little when I first encountered it years ago. The whole idea of being hung upside down seemed barbaric. I imagined the blood rushing to my head, the ropes chafing at my ankle and wrists, and the constant exposure to the elements. I thought of insects biting and stinging and feeling helpless to swat them away. Some decks show The Hanged Man underwater, which is even more unsettling if you suffer from aquaphobia.
Yet, he seems to endure his restriction with a contented expression on his face. There is an air of quiet resignation about him. He has accepted what fate has delivered and knows that struggling is futile. Rather than focusing on his outward circumstances, he goes within and finds peace. He appears to have chosen this particular trial and is managing it gracefully, like Odin’s shamanic initiation upon Yggdrasil.
If you flip him right side up, The Hanged Man becomes the cosmic dancer of The World card, the very last trump in the Major Arcana. But he hasn’t achieved that supreme level of integration yet—he cannot avoid spending some quality time in the Underworld first.
We can learn much from this placid figure about honoring the space between. As an American, I was brought up to believe that achievement is paramount. Competition is instilled from elementary school onward, because how else would we survive in a capitalist economy? You either climb the ladder or dwell in various levels of poverty. So we develop this driving force to be the best at whatever we try and to constantly set higher bars for ourselves.
I’m not saying that pursuing goals is a bad thing, but when 40 million of our citizens have anxiety disorders and 17.3 million die from cardiovascular disease every year…you have to wonder if we’re doing it right. Maybe we haven’t been taught the value of BE-ing along with DO-ing. After all, what does it profit us to gain the whole world and lose our souls?
That is what The Hanged Man is finding again as he sways from the branches of the World Tree—his radiantly beautiful soul. He is teaching us that liminal space is healing space and that a divinely ordered time out is often just what we need. There is no place in the past worth revisiting and no place in the future to run toward. There is nothing to be accomplished immediately and no all-important five-year plan to hatch. As we celebrate the first of the harvest Sabbats, casting our magic circles once again to honor the Old Ones, let us drink in the sanctity of being between the worlds. In the midst of an ever-changing and frequently chaotic era, may we listen to the subtle whispers of nature, reminding us to Be Here. Be Now. Just Be.
I have written quite a bit on the Wild Woman, as many of us are reclaiming our wildness in the truest definition of the word: living in a state of nature; not tamed or domesticated. Now that we are on the astrological date of Beltane, my thoughts turned more toward Wild Woman’s counterpart, the Wild Man. I felt that if she were extending an invitation for revelry and ecstasy on this ancient festival of flames and fertility, it might go something like this…
I want all of your wildness,
your gritty, earthy rawness,
your unleashed primal howl.
I want the sharp, muskiness of your sweat,
the sweetness of honey wine on your lips,
the smell of forest and loam in your unkempt hair.
I want the roughness of your sundrenched skin,
the sound of your heart like a ritual drum,
the heat of your body like a blazing torch.
I want the dark, unexplored depths of your eyes,
the hard sinuous muscle encasing your bones,
the blood rushing through every vein and artery.
I want all of your wildness,
your gritty, earthy rawness,
your unleashed primal howl.
Once, in a lucid and ironic season, I looked behind the mask the living wear, Hardly expecting either fiend or angel Under the tarnished brightness of that stare. -John A. Holmes (from “The Mask the Living Wear”)
I’ve often felt that the costumes people wear on Halloween show more about their true character than the “masks” they wear everyday. I once worked for a company that allowed all employees to dress up for Halloween, and they even brought in judges for a costume contest. It was fascinating to see all of the symbols and archetypes everyone portrayed through their choice of attire. Some of the highest corporate ladder climbers often ended up sporting the most original designs. It was like they had one day out of the whole year to let their inner eight year-old come out and play, and they weren’t about to miss the opportunity.
Personally, I have been a belly dancer, Tinkerbell, Wednesday from the Addams Family, a lioness, a witch, a dark fairy, and the incomparable Stevie Nicks, just to name a few of my Halloween get-ups. That probably tells you more than you wanted to know about me, and it tells me plenty about what was going on in my life during those years.
So, why do we get all decked out and made up for Halloween anyway? There’s a hefty volume of folklore on the subject and a lot of conjecture as well. The concept of wearing masks to fool evil spirits dates back to pre-Christian Europe, but we can’t draw a clean, straight line from the Celts and the celebration of Samhain to the way trick-or-treating and costumes evolved in America. Millions of Scots-Irish immigrated to the U.S. from the mid-1700s to the 1880s, which led to the assumption that they brought the medieval traditions of “guising” or “souling” with them. If that’s the case, then it took quite a long time for those customs to morph into trick-or-treating, which didn’t become popular or widespread in America until the late 1920s. Keep in mind that interest in the occult and various theosophical societies virtually exploded at the same time. Clearly, the Roaring Twenties was a kick-ass time to be alive, especially if you happened to be a witch.
Regardless of exactly how it came to be, the tradition of wearing costumes on Halloween is here now and bigger than ever. More importantly, it opens a door into the psyche that generally stays shut for the remaining 364 days of the year. We live in a world of duality. If we suppress the dark, it tends to surface in unhealthy ways. If we bring it out into the open, it loses power over us. Flaunting our Jasons, our Freddy Kruegers, and our Alien Queens allows us to flip the bird at our deep-seated fears about death and the dark side. It’s why these gruesome characters exist on the big screen in the first place. Even if we find them repulsive and frightening, we actually need them. They represent the darkest of the dark, which provides contrast for us to see the lightest of the light.
It’s a dynamic we’ve enjoyed playing with for millennia. The ancient theologians of Greece and Rome wore masks to portray specific characters, and the Latin word for mask is where we get the word persona. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are always wearing a social mask that changes constantly. “In Jungian psychology, …the persona is closely connected to the ego because the role that we play in any social situation tends to structure our conscious identity within that setting.” We are one way with our friends, another with family, and yet another at work. The differences may be subtle, but they are there if we care to look.
Halloween allows us to make a conscious choice about the mask we wear (at least for one night), and I believe the selected costume often embodies the shadow self. It’s not just the zombies and the vampires that carry our darkness for us. Even the glittery princess, the fairy, and the angel can be aspects of the shadow. According to Jung, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it.”
I offer up the theory that All Hallows’ Eve presents an opportunity for course correction, so to speak. We can invite the shadow out to dance with it and explore its depths by literally wearing it on the outside. We can be whoever or whatever we want, and no one will judge us except perhaps for our artistry and inventiveness in costume design.
I was watching a video by Matt Kahn recently in which he puts forth the most essential spiritual question: “Who do you become when you don’t get your way?” The answer to that question is your shadow, my friends. Maybe that answer can guide your next Halloween costume idea. What comes forth when life doesn’t go as planned? Who is that person behind the social mask? Maybe you become the ghost, the sorceress, the slasher, or the demon. Maybe you become the sexy nurse or the superhero. Whatever your shadow is, own it, get to know it better, and appreciate whatever it teaches you on October 31st while the veil between worlds is thin.
The Spring Equinox, a Total Solar Eclipse, and a New Moon all occur on the 20th of March this year. We shift from dreams to action with the transition of the sun from Pisces to Aries. The New Moon also enters the fiery sign of Aries, so the energy will be high, intense, and quite beneficial if we’re ready to act on all those plans we’ve been making. All the eggs we decorate at this time of year are really just symbols for what we hope to accomplish. They also represent the Cosmic Egg or the primordial beginnings of all that exists. Everything about Ostara is loaded with potential on the verge of being realized. This meditation takes you into the labyrinth to find your own unique “egg” and to contemplate what it means for you, as we prepare ourselves for the next cycle in the Wheel of the Year.
Let’s begin by finding a quiet place where you can relax, close your eyes, and go within. Take a slow, cleansing breath…making the inhalation match the exhalation…just breathing very slowly and rhythmically…in and out…letting your belly and chest expand with the in-breath…and then letting it all go with the out-breath…slow, easy breathing. Each time you breathe in this way, your mind and body comes back to center…where there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, and you simply allow yourself to BE. Let your muscles become loose and relaxed, starting with your feet…your ankles…lower legs…knees…upper legs…pelvis…torso… back…shoulders…arms…hands…face…and head.
Feeling calm and peaceful now, imagine there is a magnificent old tree there before you. Its trunk is so wide that you can’t even wrap your arms around it, and its thick branches reach up so far into the sky that you can’t see the top of this wise, ancient tree. Just take some time here…feeling the tree’s gentle, supportive energy…letting its roots teach you how to be grounded and centered as they reach way down into Mother Earth.
At the base of your tree, you notice a hollow space that calls to you, inviting you to take a journey. Following your curiosity, you step inside and find yourself in a brightly lit stairwell. The polished wooden steps spiral downward, and you follow them, one by one, freely descending this lovely old staircase until you reach the bottom. There is a door in front of you, and you notice that it is carved with many symbols. Some of them are runes, some are zodiac signs and symbols of the elements, and others represent the Goddess and her consort. As you turn the well-worn handle, the symbols glow, and you step forward into the light and sounds of a lush, enchanted forest.
You begin walking along a path that winds between moss-covered rocks and friendly old trees. Signs of spring are all around you. Purple crocuses are pushing up through the ground, along with bright yellow daffodils. Wisteria vines sway gently in the breeze, and the air is clean and sweet, filled with possibility. The winding trail opens up into a clearing. A spiral labyrinth of stones has been carefully created here in this sacred grove. The spiral invites you to go deeper within to see what mysteries may be revealed, and so you begin…one step at a time…walking mindfully and gently toward the center.
Every step through the spiral path creates more balance within as day and night are now in equal measure. Every step reminds you that there is always a way back to wholeness and alignment on the physical, mental, and spiritual levels.
As you reach the center of the labyrinth, you find a basket full of brightly colored eggs. Each one is unique with its own pattern and design. One egg in particular stands out for you. Take it out of the basket and hold it against your heart center. What color is your egg? How is it decorated? Feel the energy of the egg and all the potential it contains inside. Take some time here to really listen to your higher self. What have you nurtured through the long winter? What are you ready to bring forth?
Return your egg to the basket, trusting that it will soon become all that you wish to manifest. Begin to retrace your steps back through the labyrinth, walking easily and freely around the circular path of stones until you reach the beginning. See the path through the forest, and begin walking back the way you came, through the budding spring flowers, beneath the fragrant vines and around the moss-covered stones until you reach the doorway of the ancient tree. As you turn the handle, the symbols glow again, and you step inside. The wooden staircase is before you, and you begin to ascend step by step, gradually returning to conscious awareness.
Slowly begin to reawaken…and turn your attention to your breathing. Notice your calm, smooth breaths…in and out…allowing your awareness to turn now to your body…calm and relaxed. Sit quietly for a moment with your eyes open…reflecting upon your journey into the labyrinth. You may want to record anything you wish to remember in your journal. When you’re ready, wiggle your fingers and toes, roll your shoulders, and stretch if you like. Have a blessed Ostara.
Imbolc has several themes worth contemplating…the first stirrings of life under the sleeping earth, the Goddess as she changes from Crone to Maiden, cleansing and purification, the growing power of the Sun, the lengthening days, the germination of seeds both literal and metaphorical…all of these add to the magic of this cross-quarter sabbat. We honor Brigid at Imbolc, the Celtic goddess of healing, smithcraft, poetry, and midwifery. This year, I was drawn to the flames of Her forge as a catalyst for change and transformation, so I wrote a meditation to share with you. Enjoy and Blessed Be.
Begin by taking a deep breath…inhaling slowly for a count of five and exhaling…making the in breath match the out breath…and one more time…inhaling slowly and exhaling…breathing in perfect rhythm. With each breath that comes in and goes out, you feel your body begin to let go and relax. You feel the tension washing away from your forehead, your eyes and your jaws, as though someone were pouring a warm, cleansing libation over you. The tightness in your shoulders falls away, and this wonderful healing waterfall works its way down through your arms, your chest, your belly, your sacral chakra and on down into your hips and your lower back, your sit bones, feeling all tightness and tension drain away…down through your legs and feet…down through your toes…into the rich, black soil of Mother Earth.
Feeling calm and free, you find yourself walking on a path through a lush pine forest. You breathe in the invigorating scent of the evergreens on this late winter’s day. The sky is clear and blue as a robin’s egg, and the sunlight filters down through the trees, warming your shoulders and lifting your spirits. The birds are chirping happily overhead, and you hear the faint rustlings of squirrels and other little forest creatures as you pass by. Being in this natural place puts you at ease, and you feel perfectly safe as you walk along the trail. You know that you are part of this woodland, and it is also part of you. The path widens up ahead and you can see that it opens up into a grassy, rolling meadow. A thin trail of smoke is rising from just over the next hill, and you begin to walk in that direction. As you crest the hilltop, you see that the smoke is coming from a blacksmith’s forge.
Something about the place calls to you, as if you had been there before in some other time, so you make your way down the grassy hill. As you get closer to the forge, you can feel the heat from the glowing embers of the hearth. You look around and see all of the blacksmith’s tools—the anvil, the bellows, and various sets of tongs and hammers. You sense that someone is near, and then you see her: she seems to glow and shine from within, a soft white light illuminates her face, and her long red hair cascades down in waves over her emerald green dress. You know her at once. She is Brigid, the ancient Celtic goddess of the forge, and she welcomes you.
She hands you a scrap piece of metal and asks you to think about what it could become as you place it in the red-hot coals of the hearth. What will you create with your own unique gifts and talents? Can you take something rough and plain and make something of beauty? Can you make something useful and practical? How will the fire from Brigid’s forge shape and mold your dreams? How will the fire transform you?
Brigid takes the metal from the hearth and begins to shape it. Sparks fly as she wields her hammer, and when she is finished, you see that she has created a symbol just for you to remind you of your divine purpose. When the metal has cooled, she places the symbol in your hands and tells you that it will give you strength and courage to pursue your destiny. You give thanks to the goddess as you leave the forge and make your way back up the grassy hill and into the forest. The sun is lower in the sky now, and his healing rays are glowing in brilliant shades of orange, just like the fire in Brigid’s forge. You walk out of the forest and back into your own sacred space, feeling grounded in your body again as the energy returns to your arms, your legs, your hands, and your feet. Take a few deep breaths…and then open your eyes, feeling grateful for the symbol you have received and the lighter days ahead as winter begins to recede. So Mote It Be.
Autumn arrives slowly here on the Georgia coast. It is a couple of days before Mabon, and everything is still quite lush and green. Temperatures remain in the 80s, and it would be easy to pretend that summer is eternal…but I have always been infatuated with fall. I long for crisp mornings, thick fog, turning leaves, and all things pumpkin. I get ecstatic over corn mazes and bonfires and county fairs. I delight in a hearty soup on the stove and crusty bread in the oven. Most of all, though, I want the internal shift from action to contemplation, from outward to inward, from sowing seeds to taking stock.
This is the work of the Dark Goddess, as she stands ready in the field with her sharpened scythe. She cuts away what is no longer needed, what we’ve outgrown, and what doesn’t fit into our soul’s purpose in this lifetime. It can be difficult to view this process as love; yet, it is both loving and necessary. It allows us to focus on the good that we’ve manifested without getting tangled up in the weeds. It gives us clarity and vision, even if we don’t always like what is revealed.
The core teaching of Mabon is the balance of dark and light, not only in the natural world, but also within. As day and night become equal in length, we have the opportunity to look at our shadow side without judgment. There is a place for wrath, rebellion, grief, and destruction. Goddesses like Kali Ma, Lilith, Morgana, and Hecate remind us that cycles of creation and destruction are a natural part of living. If there were no darkness, how would we recognize the light? Do the moon and stars not shine even brighter when the sky is deepest black?
Because of her cyclic nature, Persephone is one of my favorite dark goddesses to work with at this time of year. Hades initiates her transformation from vulnerable maiden to empowered woman by taking her far away from her mother into his underworld realm. As D.J. Conway notes in Maiden, Mother, Crone, “Kore-Persephone made the terrifying journey downward by Herself; Demeter could not accompany Her daughter. Each of us must make the journey through the labyrinth of our minds alone” (31). So this, too, is a principal aspect of the autumnal equinox—the weighing and balancing of our positives and negatives is very much a personal and solitary undertaking.
There are various interpretations of this myth, but I believe Persephone willingly follows Hades and that the abduction/rape part of the story was a patriarchal revision. When the earth split open before her, Persephone had an opportunity to go deep into her own subconscious with Hades as her guide. She crosses a threshold with him and knows that it’s impossible to go back to her former self. By swallowing his pomegranate seed, she secures her place in the underworld, not as a victim, but as a queen who has integrated both dark and light in equal measure. Demeter also ceases to mourn the loss of her daughter at this stage of the tale. “As soon as she knows the seed has been eaten, there is no more said on the subject—all is joy. Persephone has eaten the food of Hades, has taken the seed of the dark into herself and can now give birth to her own new personality” (Luke, 195-196).
We, too, have the same ability to journey inward, to face our greatest fears, to own our darkness, and to be reborn. As the sun enters Libra on Monday, we can take an honest look at the scales again. Perhaps something needs to be added to make them equal. Maybe something needs to be taken away. Your heart always knows.
May you be abundantly blessed and balanced this Mabon.
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:
When you mix all the ingredients, you get a lovely combination of scents and colors:
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:
Love, light, healing, and peace to all. Have a blessed Imbolc!
Samhain feels different this year. Maybe it’s because I’m more focused on the depth of this holiday and less interested in the festivities—not that I don’t love pumpkin carving, costumes, and the revelry that accompanies cooler weather. I enjoy all of those things, and by now, my house would normally be a visual tribute to autumn splendor…except it isn’t.
I picked up the colorful gourds in the produce section, the mini pumpkins in white and orange, the Indian corn, and the small sheaves of wheat. I looked them over, appreciated their significance and symbolism of the harvest, and then I put them all back. Decorating just seemed like one more thing to do, more items to occupy our small condo…and then what does one do with a shellacked gourd when the season is over? I didn’t want to buy something just to see it rot and be forced to throw it out, although that is part of the lesson that comes with Samhain. Everything transforms.
My coven celebrates this cross-quarter Sabbat when the sun reaches 15° Scorpio, the true halfway point between the Autumn Equinox (Mabon) and Winter Solstice (Yule). Astrologically, the sign of Scorpio is ruled by Pluto, that frustrating little snowball of a planet that brings about transformation and profound change. If we think of Samhain as being the eighth spoke on the Wheel of the Year, then it also ties in nicely with the eighth house of the Zodiac, which governs…you guessed it…death. So we have an ending at this time of year, which is really the beginning, just like an infinity sign. Crops die, but we know that seeds are produced to generate new life in the spring. Our loved ones pass on, but we know that their energy and their love only shine brighter and truer on a higher plane of existence.
Giving an extra boost to this focus on death and rebirth is the movement of Saturn into Scorpio where he’ll stay for the next two years. Ever the taskmaster, Saturn is telling us that we must deal with our emotional baggage, no matter how long we’ve carried it or how attached we might be to our own wacky little hang-ups. The process of letting go is often painful, difficult, and lonely, but our efforts do not go unrewarded. When all that is unnecessary falls away, we are left with something more refined and durable than what we had before.
Life is constantly asking us to step up to the plate, to stop playing small, and to get over ourselves enough to make a difference in the world. It’s why we’re here, after all. Those who have walked this road before us are now standing on the other side of the veil and asking, “What will you do with this time you’ve been given?”
My advice? Make it count. That is the message of this Samhain. Do the deep inner work, and reap the harvest of self-actualization.