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Archive for August, 2011

Rather than going out early, as I had considered, I made my weekly visit again on Monday (the 29th).  I have begun to think about the way that offerings will have to adapt to the seasons as they change.  For example, things like honey might not work in the winter; liquids and semi-liquid offerings would freeze in the cold.  If I do choose to make libations during the winter, I may end up pouring them out around the outside of the willow tree’s trunk, to avoid having large chunks of frozen decaying wood and soil inside (which might be a problem for any creatures living inside the tree’s hollows, nooks, and crannies — last week I saw a toad, and this week while I was there, I saw a mouse.)

I gathered up my offerings before leaving; first mixed nuts and seed popcorn:

Then, chopped watermelon:

Steel-cut oats and sunflower seeds:

Organic local honey and raw sugar (hey, ants gotta eat, too!):

Left: bananas and grapes; right, more tomatoes from my garden.

The libation: a bottle of Warsteiner German beer (why shouldn’t the land wights get the good stuff?):

And then I went, trash bags, bottle opener (last week I forgot it!), offering and all, out to the willow-cave.  I continue to believe that service should go along with sacrifice, thus the trash picking-up (which this week involved disgusting things like used condoms and dirty diapers…with a trash can less than ten feet away.  People are pigs.)

As with last week, when I arrived at the tree, I found almost nothing to show that I’d left an offering last week — just one solitary broken hazelnut shell:

I got everything out of my pack, setting it aside:

Then I laid out the offering, one thing at a time.  First the grapes and bananas, then the raw sugar:

Then the tomatoes from my garden, the steel-cut oats, and the watermelon:

Then seeds and grains (left to right: popcorn, sunflower seeds, mixed nuts):

The fruits and veggies, all together:

The honey:

The ale soaked into the decaying wood and dirt “floor” of the cave pretty quickly, leaving nothing behind but a wet spot.

And at last, everything all together:

The tree still looks strong, vibrant, sheltering:

I took a step back, looking at the offerings through the veil of willow fronds, and spent a few minutes in silent prayer:

And then I packed up the empty beer bottle, the tupperware containers from the fruit and veggies, and all my odds and ends, and continued on my way.  I picked up garbage for a total of two and a half hours that day, four big bags full.  It never ceases to amaze — and dismay — me how people apparently don’t teach their children to throw their trash away properly any more.  I think smokers are the worst; there needs to be a PSA about how the Earth is not here to serve as their ashtray.  The nicoteine in cigarette butts is so poisonous that it’s used as a pesticide, and rat poison, yet cigarette butts are by far the most common item of garbage I see, and I pick up hundreds every day.

Gaia wept.

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Washerwoman

…the Washer at the Ford, another guise of the Morrígan.

The Washer is usually to be found washing the clothes of men about to die in battle.

In effect, She is choosing who will die.

 

–from Pagan Celtic Britain, by Anne Ross

 

Raven queen,

Scarlet-eyed,

Hands full of bloody laundry,

You sit at the river’s edge.

Patient,

For so many men come to you

in their time.

Battle-bright,

Sword-steel wingspan,

And the cruel scything grip

of your talons.

Boldly,

You stride amongst the wounded.

Boldly,

You dine on death.

Boldly,

You winnow weak and strong alike.

Cuchulain’s bane,

Babh, Nemain, Macha:

Dark Lady,

Who is there who can stand in your way,

And end the ringing clash of steel,

Silence the screams of the maimed,

And wash away the blood?

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After getting back from camping and Freyfaxi last weekend, I went out to Wolf Lake Park Sunday afternoon to do my usual thrice-weekly (or more, as the mood strikes me) trash pick-up.  While I was there, I went by the willow-cave and noticed that the offering I had left last Tuesday was completely gone.  Offering accepted.

So Monday around noon, I bundled up another batch of goodies, some trash bags, and headed back to the park to make another offering.  This will definitely become part of my regular religious practice; I can see that now, although I imagine I won’t be quite as thrilled about it in January, when I’m wading through snow to the knee to get to the tree!

As is obvious before I made the new offering, not a single speck of oats or drop of honey had been left behind.  (I spotted a toad hurrying down into a crevice in the tree’s riven trunk; I assume he’s far from the only critter who feasted on my largesse.  More power to them all.)

This week, I brought (from left to right): a container of mixed grapes and watermelon, more mixed nuts, a container of pieces of VERY ripe banana, another bottle of real maple syrup, steel-cut oats (top), more tomatoes from my garden (round tupperware), a ziplock baggie containing seed popcorn, some sunflower seeds, and this week, I remembered the libation: a bottle of Leffe blonde Belgian ale.

Sunflower seeds, the popcorn (red bits at center), mixed nuts (bottom), banana pieces (far top), steel-cut oats (top right corner).

Banana pieces (left), popcorn (below it), steel-cut oats (pale at center), watermelon and grapes (right top), tomatoes cut in chunks (bottom right).

This week, instead of letting the maple syrup drain into the soil, I let it pool in the hollow of a chunk of dead wood laying in the center of the “room”.

This week’s offering.  A little different from last week’s, but still a wide range of different things — fruit, seeds, nuts, sugars, veggies, etc.

(Note: did the offering on Monday.  Was out there Thursday afternoon picking up garbage, swung by the tree…and it was all gone again!  So maybe I’ll go out there with more tomorrow…or maybe it’s a bad idea to train the local wildlife to expect food from me?  But with winter coming, is it necessarily bad to give the squirrels a little extra to…well, squirrel away?)

The mosquitoes didn’t seem nearly as bad this time.  I’m sure that doesn’t actually mean anything, but it felt like they were holding back intentionally.  There I go, anthropomorphizing the wildlife again.  This isn’t a Disney movie, after all.

 

P.S.  This is my park:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_Lake_%28Indiana/Illinois%29

 

http://www.satelliteviews.net/cgi-bin/g.cgi?fid=446253&state=IN&ftype=park

 

http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/r2/wmpow.htm

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Ritual: Freyfaxi

Freyfaxi is the heathen Harvest festival; traditionally held on the weekend closest to August 1st (which other pagan faiths follow as Lughnasadh or Lammas).

 

My husband (who is heathen) and I (who am multi-trad) celebrated Freyfaxi last year with our friends Joe and Heather, of Heilag Skjold Hearth in Colfax, Illinois; we were invited again this year to attend (although the Hearth has been holding the feast on the third Saturday in August rather than the first), and we were glad to go.  As part and parcel of enjoying their hospitality (there was a feast planned), I made up a batch of oatmeal cookies (my mother’s recipe), and we headed down to camp out nearby at the state park Friday night.

 

After getting a little lost, we arrived only a bit late (which I hate, as I feel it constitutes an insult to their hospitality), but they welcomed us in and introduced us to their other guests.  They were just putting the finishing touches on the corn dolly to represent Old Man Winter, pictures were taken, and then the rest of the guests arrived.

 

And we headed off to a nearby stable to ride horses.

 

Historically, as I understand it, the festival of Freyfaxi was celebrated by a huge feast; the primary course in this feast was horse meat.  As such a meal would not be considered acceptable in our current culture, an alternate means of honoring Frey as Lord of Horses and the Harvest was chosen, and a number of us went on an hour-long horse ride through the forests and fields around the state park.  I used to ride a bit when I was much younger (18 is much younger), and had not done so again until Freyfaxi last year, but I was pleased to see that I hadn’t forgotten much of it.  This year, I mounted up and took to horseback as if I’d been doing it all along, and we had a grand time.  No one got thrown, no one got stepped on, and the worst problem was that several of the horses were a bit balky.  I hailed Frey aloud several times while riding; the day was a grand and glorious one to be outside — no rain, no high winds, no swarms of bugs.

 

When the ride ended, the group returned to the Hearth for the feast.  Everyone had brought a dish to contribute, and one of my Kindred-mates, Doug F., a home brewer, had brought a drink of his own making — bottles of spice beer made with the sweet woodruff I had grown in my garden and contributed to him for that purpose.  Although I don’t drink much or often, I had a bottle, and it was definitely a different and delightful drink, tasting slightly of anise.

 

After the feast, we gathered round to blot; most of the people present hailed Frey, although the ancestors, Odin, Frigg, and Freya were also hailed.  I chose to hail Frey: “he who helps us hoard harvests, grower of garden and grain, giver of all that is good, in love with life.”

 

Afterward, there was plenty of good conversation among friends, and I was disappointed when it was time to finally leave (that three-hour drive home, unfortunately, works better when it’s still light out).  I found the ritual meaningful, the camaraderie warm, and look forward to returning again next year.

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Last Friday night I slept on the ground.

My husband, who is heathen (the steward for the Troth for North Illinois) and I, and a group of four friends had decided to go camping in Moraine Valley State Park in South-central Illinois as a lead-up to attending a ritual for Freyfaxi being held by Joe and Heather, our friends at Heilag Skjold Hearth in Colfax, Illinois.

My husband and I have camping equipment — a tent and tarp, lantern, sleeping bags, camp chairs and table, dishes — but have really only ever used the lantern, chairs, table, and sleeping bags; previous times we’ve camped have always been in rented cabins, always at Camp Wokonda (an old Boy Scout camp) in Chillicothe, Illinois, for our Asatru Kindred group’s annual Illini Moot (2012 will be our 5th anniversary!)  We’d never used the tent before, or even unpacked it, and I was looking forward to getting closer to nature in a new way.

It’s hard to get much closer to nature than sleeping on the ground.

My husband finished work early on Friday and came straight home; I had everything packed and ready to go.  Brandon, his 16-year-old son, came with us (my daughter Sarah had to work, alas), and we packed up the car and off we went.  The state park was a three-hour drive from our home in northwestern Indiana, and before six PM, we were pulling up to the camp’s office, and filling out the necessary paperwork to rent a camp site for the night.

Confession: I have never put up a tent before, and I am just awkward enough that I don’t think I’d be good at it.  While Doug and Brandon put the tent up, I went about unpacking the rest of the gear — and then grabbed a garbage bag and meticulously went about picking up every tiny little piece of garbage I found.  For a state park, there was a lot of it, a fact I blame on government funding cuts.

Our friends arrived together about the time Doug finished with the tent, and we talked among each other as they went about putting up their own tents.  I chatted with Drew, Karen, Brigid, and Stephanie as I went about picking up garbage and identifying as much of the flora and foliage as I could.  The site we picked was blessed with lots of trees, including one type of cypress, black walnuts, several maples and sweet gums, and a red oak.  There were plenty of bushes — pokeberry, elderberry, raspberry, and gooseberry — and flowers and herbs like cleavers, black-eyed susans, lupines, dandelions, plantain, and poison ivy (ugh!)

Ripe elderberries.

Black-eyed susans and a lovely violet flower I didn’t recognize.

A whole field of black-eyed susans.

Unripe elderberries.

Pokeweed.  (Danger!  Poisonous!)

Goosegrass (also called Cleavers); the multi-leaved plant with the thin central stem.

We made dinner around the campfire, talked, joked, slapped at mosquitoes (although they weren’t that bad there), and eventually ambled off, one by one, to go to bed.

I fell asleep to the hooting of owls, the first time in my life I’d ever heard them for real, in person, instead of on TV or a movie.  Every time I woke up when it was still dark out (always to use the restroom), I heard them talking to each other across the cool distances of night and the canopy of branches.

I woke to the raucous, rude, rowdy chorus of crows.  Crow is one of the creatures I feel closest to; I view the spirit of the crow and raven as the nearest thing I have to a totem (although, amusingly, gull comes in a close second).

Eventually I dragged myself out of my sleeping bag, exited my tent, and saw at least one of them on a dead branch overhead, watching like a sentinel:

(Not the greatest of pictures, I’m afraid; it was very early, still quite dim, and taken at a distance with my cell-phone’s camera.)

I got something to drink — no one else was awake yet — and walked around a bit to stretch my legs.  When my husband got up fifteen minutes later, we both had a bite to eat — for me, a banana and a couple of homemade oatmeal cookies — and then went for a walk.

Once past all the tents and campers, there was only the road and a few electrical poles to remind us of civilization.  We passed a lake and saw the ducks paddling about contendedly, as well as a rather more elegant and serene watcher:

(Grey heron, or little blue heron, I do believe.)

We went for a walk on a trail through the woods, passing innumerable early-morning spiderwebs (one with a spider almost as big as a silver dollar, who Doug almost walked into before spotting), lots of flowers, plenty of squirrels, and a beaver hurrying away through the rushes at the edge of the lake (too fast to get a picture, unfortunately).  There were sparrows and bluejays and starlings and robins and more goldfinches than I had seen since leaving Iowa, my home state (where they are the state bird).

A little more than an hour had passed by the time we got back, and only our friend Stephanie was up yet, so we decided to drive into town to see if the dollar store was open yet (as I had, heh, forgotten to pack a few important things — hard to take a shower when you don’t have any towels along).  We woke Brandon to take him with us in case we stopped someplace for a hot breakfast.

On the way out of the campgrounds, we came around a bend in the road and came upon a sight that took our breath away.  We slowed the car down so I could take pictures of the doe and fawn unworriedly cropping plants at the side of the road.  They were very nearly tame, no doubt from living so close to the park where no hunting is allowed, and if I’d had any food to offer them (not that I would, you don’t feed wild animals), I have no doubt they would have taken it from my hand.

I expected them to bolt away as soon as they saw us, but they didn’t — nor did they as the car inched closer and closer.

We went very slowly, afraid that if we tried a normal speed, they might become alarmed, jump into the car’s path, and get hurt.

The mother seemed more aware of us than the fawn; not afraid, but properly cautious.  (If I were inclined to anthropomorphosize, I would say she understood how dangerous humans and their creations could be.)  But not so cautious that she did not let the fawn stray a few yards away.

At this point, I could make out almost every detail of the fawn’s coat.  Even then, when we were almost abreast of them, they seemed utterly unafraid.

Only at the very end, when we were precisely abreast of them did the mother decide that discretion was the better part of valor.  I was stunned to see that the picture caught her in mid-leap as we passed; the fawn was not yet so careful, and didn’t follow its mother into the underbrush until we had already passed it.

The trip to town after that was utterly anticlimactic.  Breakfast, groceries, and towels and sundries at the dollar store took up not quite two hours of time, and we headed back still oohing and aahing over the deer.

Nature wasn’t finished with us yet.  As we passed the camp office, we saw quite clearly that the deer weren’t the only denizens here that seemed unconcerned with our presence:

Five wild turkeys were feeding in the grass at the side of the drive.  (There are two almost superimposed on the left.)  I have no doubt that if we’d turned down the drive, they would have demonstrated that they were far, far better at flying than their domestic cousins we see every year at Thanksgiving.  However, at the distance we maintained, they were unimpressed with us, although the one at the far right watched the whole time until we were (I assume) out of sight.

Most of the others were up by the time we got back to our campsite, and after we had gone and showered, all of them were.  We talked more about the things we had seen (and, I admit, I showed off the photos) while we went about packing up our tent, needing to be at our other friends’ house for the Freyfaxi ritual by noon.  I would have loved to have the rest of the day to hike around further and explore the other areas of the park.  I’m hoping to go back there before the seasons’ change turns the weather too cold (no later than early October, hopefully).

We were as careful to leave behind no trash of our own as I had been about picking up and disposing of that left behind by previous campers.  In that, if nothing else, I think we at least left that small patch of earth a little better off than it had been when we arrived…and sometimes that’s the most you can hope to do.

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Originally posted April 29, 2011.

It’s taken me awhile to get my altar set up, mostly because I dithered a long time, deciding how I wanted it to look and what I wanted on it.  There’s a myriad of ways to represent the Well, the Tree, and the Fire, and having things just so goes a long way toward how well I connect with the gods and other Kindreds.

One of the things I very much was concerned about was mostly trying to use pieces I already had.  I have very strong pack-rat tendencies, and it’s wasteful (and thus not so great for the planet) to constantly be getting new tchotchkes (no idea if I spelled that right) for an altar.  Also, I’m going through a bit of a lean period financially just now, so I didn’t have a million dollars to spend.  I wanted each piece to mirror more than one element of the all, if that was possible, and in the end, all the pieces could be said to represent the Land — the World/Gate I’m most closely tied to (Sea, Sky, and Land) — as well as the one they were originally intended to represent.

So:

(Note: original pictures came out terrible, I took a new set today before posting this.)

An overview of my altar.  At the left is a red candle in a small china bowl to represent the Fire.  In the center is a collection of dry branches in a china pot to represent the Tree.  At right is a wooden bowl to represent the Well; I fill it during ritual.  Clustered around the Tree are several of the takeaways my Grove has made and handed out at rituals, mentioned in those posts (the Brigid candles and candle holders are on my altar to Brigid).

A close-up of the Tree, and the Hawthorn berries on the Tree. The Tree itself is made of a bundle of dried oak, apple, and hawthorn (three types of trees, reflecting the Celtic triads, and specifically standing — for me — for strength [oak], fertility [apple], and courage [hawthorn]) branches (windfalls, not cut live from the tree). A pewter acorn sits at the base of the pottery bowl that contains the branches; the bowl was a cast-off from a friend and cost nothing.

Smooth river rocks holding the branches/trunk of the Tree in place. A mix of granite, jasper, limestone, shale, quartzite, and basalt. Most of these were picked up along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, on trips to the Dunes.  The stones further mirror the realm of Land, as does the china bowl it rests in, which was a “defective” cast-off from a friend of mine who’s a potter, who gave it to me for nothing.

The pewter acorn I bought at the gift shop at Morton Arboretum on one of my trips there.

The Well (bowl is carved out of a single block of walnut, IIRC — found in a thrift store for $2).  By virtue of the fact that it is made of wood, it, too, reflects the realm of Land for me.

The Fire. The candle is soy (healthier than paraffin, if not any more ecologically sound — monoculture crops aren’t good for the planet or the people who grow them); the china bowl is from Target, $1.  China represents both Land (the clay that makes it) and Imbas, the fire of creativity it passes through to transform it.

The torc around the base is copper wire with griffin-head finials, a nod to the Celtic hearth-culture I’m following.

Takeaway herb bag from the Summer Solstice ritual.  A mixture of echinacea, fenugreek, juniper berry, blackberry leaf, eucalyptus, meadowsweet, spearmint, rosemary, and hellebore.

Takeaway medallions (and first prize for the bake-off) from the Lughnasadh ritual. First prize is an imprint of Epona; the medallions are triskellions. All are (I think) Sculpy or a similar art/craft bakeable clay.

A long view of the altar. To the right is my altar to Cernunnos; on the shelf under the altar is my collection of Tarot decks (I currently own nine of them) and part of my large pagan/occult library.  [http://www.librarything.com/catalog/BrigidsBlest&tag=pagan&collection=-1 , http://www.librarything.com/catalog_bottom.php?tag=magic&view=brigidsblest , http://www.librarything.com/catalog/BrigidsBlest&tag=occult ]

There are improvements I want to make in the future.  I’d start with a decent altar cloth, as my house is very old and dust collects very quickly.  I make my own candles out of reclaimed wax from commercially made candles, and after the candle on the altar is done, future ones will be those I make with my own hands (which I think is not only more eco-friendly — using up leftovers — but the fact that I made it will, I hope, be pleasing to the Kindreds, since I put my own skill and effort into the matter).

Also, eventually I’d like to move the altar to a room where there’s more light, or else install a light in the room where the altar is now.  It’s situated high enough that my cats don’t bother it, at least.

Other improvements may come as I decide what, if anything, I want to change or add.  At the one-third-of-the-way mark (and almost Beltaine), I’m pretty happy with what I have for now.

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Originally posted August 1, 2011.

As has been par for the course so far this year, the weather did its best to disrupt another ritual.  Fairly violent summer thunderstorms left the original location for the Lughnasadh ritual, Illinois Beach State Park, unusable.  However, this occurred early enough before the day of the ritual that another location could be found, and this is how I and my husband ended up out at Kathy Osterman Beach in Chicago, tramping around the sand and looking for other members of the Grove.

It took quite a bit of looking, as neither of us had ever been to that particular beach before; however, after about 45 minutes, we did indeed find two of our Grove’s members, along with a newcomer who had let us know he would be joining us that beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Two of the Grove’s long-time members who usually attend, Chris and Jack, were unable to be present this day due to storm damage flooding their cellar; another regular member who had planned to attend had an accident that injured his ankle, and thus couldn’t be there, either.  However, it was decided that the four of us (plus my husband, who is not an ADF member but IS heathen, and ADF-friendly), were enough to get started.

As I had learned was tradition for this particular holy day, the deity of the occasion was (of course) Lugh, and we were celebrating part of the day by having a bake-off to decide whose culinary skills would be featured as the offering.  I made a loaf of banana bread and brought it with (eschewing the usual walnuts, because I wasn’t sure if anyone in the Grove had nut allergies, and didn’t think interrupting the ritual to call 9/11 would be a good way to honor Lugh).  However, it turned out that with so few people present for the rite, only two of us had done any baking, and I received the first prize by default, as Caroline didn’t think it fair to give her own Bailey’s Irish Cream-Chocolate cupcakes the first prize.  (I did; they were MAGNIFICENT.  But I chose not to argue, and everyone else really did seem to like the banana bread.)

The specific site we were at, Contemplation Point at the beach, was a lovely raised hill over the beach itself, with a number of heavy rectangular blocks of cement arrayed in a circle for people to sit on.  The arrangement looked very much like a (short) circle of dolmens, and I said as much.  Numerous trees,  mostly crabapple, cast their shade over the site — a welcome amenity, as the heat that day was in the 90s (heat index near 100).  Because of the limited space we had to work in, we chose to omit the normal processional.  However, it was a distinct pleasure to be able to utilize one of the live trees on site as the Tree for the ritual (and the fact that it was an apple tree was of special importance to me, given the Celtic legends of Emain Ablach; I have a dwarf apple tree in my back yard for this very same reason).

The rite itself was changed up a bit, I understand, from how it has been done in past years — using the Triple Triads Jack wrote, plus removing the reference to Lugh’s marriage to the Morrigan.  (Cue my face of O_0 )…I always thought it was the Dagda who was with the Morrigan.  By now, I pretty much had the words to “We Call the Tribe” and “Mothers and Fathers of Old” down pat, which meant I was more comfortable for that part of the rite.

We invoked Manannan mac Lir as Gatekeeper, and then I invoked Brigid as the Bardic deity (can’t help it, Celtic holiday, would’ve been wrong to drag in Apollo or Bragi, plus I’ve been devoted to Brigid for a really long time, and she’ll always be my first choice in the matter).  We split the invocation of the Three Kindreds between myself, Colleen, and Caroline (I went for the Nature Spirits), and our newcomer did the bit with the Outsiders.  (Sorry, muddling up the order here.)

Aside from the baked offerings, there were also offerings of birdseed (for the nature spirits), dried fruit, and alcohol.  The only real hitch to the day was when the omen was drawn; the card picked indicated dissatisfaction with the offerings.  So, on the idea that Lugh hadn’t gotten enough, he got more of everything (SIX cupcakes, three pieces of banana bread, more alcohol, raisin bread, etc. — appetites of the gods, indeed, and none of us begrudged Him for it).  At length, another omen drawn indicated he was satisfied, and we continued.  The Grove omen was good, and we concluded at last, then shared snacks and drinks and talked.

Despite the heat, and that there were problems keeping some of the Grove members from coming, I think the ritual went really well, and felt a very strong sense of connection (I don’t always, even when it’s just me doing a solo rite).  When we went home, I was very pleased with how well things had gone.  And mmmm, cupcakes!

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