Summer Solstice

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Summer Solstice is usually one of my favourite times of the year. I love the balance of day and night and coming as it does in the midst of summer, celebrating outside is often not only possible but enjoyable. Summer Solstice is the one time of year I really look forward to marking by some kind of ritual, sometimes with friends and sometimes as a solitary.

This year though, for some reason it is different. Time has somehow got away from me and was only a day or two ago that I actually realised Solstice was creeping up on me, for one moment I even thought I had missed it completely. This came as quite a shock for even though I don’t religiously follow the ritual of a wheel of the year, I do, in my own way, acknowledge the passing of time and the turning of the wheel.

This year as part of my Ovate training with the OBOD I have been trying to live the wheel by  observing changes in the world around me so that I am always aware of where and when I am. Because it has been warm, dry and sunny I have been outside a lot, in the garden, working with plants, tidying, planting and just generally enjoying the natural world around me. Perhaps it is because it’s been such amazing weather (not always the case where I live),  that I somehow hadn’t noticed the passing of time, or perhaps I have just so been caught up in the enjoyment of a dry, warm spell that I haven’t been aware of where in the year I am. Whatever has happened Summer Solstice is tapping on my shoulder and at the moment I have no plans.

In many ways I am pleased about this for it gives me complete freedom to work with my intuition, my guides, allies and the spirits of place, on the day of Summer Solstice itself,  to mark the time in whatever way I am guided. I actually prefer this way of creating ceremony or ritual to using anything anyone else has constructed or which can be found in a book and of course if I am alone I don’t have to take into account anyone else’s energy or wishes.

I am almost expecting that solstice this year will be different anyway, the energy higher perhaps as with the full moon just a few hours before the Summer Solstice sunrise it can hardly fail to have some effect. I am though being patient and with a few days to spare I still have time to sow the seeds of Summer Solstice, to wait to see how they germinate, what grows from them and what form the ritual takes this year.

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Pagan Portals and Shaman Pathways

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As some of you reading this may already realise, I my first, and so far only, book, ‘Web of Life’ was published by Moon Books as part of their Shaman Pathway series but did you know there are lots of other books in the Pagan Portals and Shaman Pathways series too?

A  Facebook page was also set up recently for the series.

These series consist of lots of small books, packed with information and in many cases, exercises to help you, so why not click and have a look. If you like the page then its easy to stay on touch with what is being published in the series too.

What does this time of the year mean to me?

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The next question in the pagan challenge is concerning what this time of year means to me. At the time of writing I am on the cusp of February becoming March which is usually a time that has me celebrating in a small and unobtrusive way. The reason for this being that for many years I really did not like February and even now it is my least favourite month so I am usually quite happy when it has ended.

I must say at this point that February has never done anything to upset me, its just that Imbolc never seems to live up to the promise of the beginning of the spring, a concept that in Ireland is held strong despite evidence to the contrary, and although the shortest month it always seems to take forever to pass. A couple of years ago I discovered some information about February having been a time of purification and this understanding has certainly helped me to dislike the month a little less. This year thoughI must admit that it has been different.

From November until the last few weeks it has rained pretty much consistently, we have had floods, washed away roads, gale and sometimes even storm force winds and the only thing to do has been to hibernate. Recently though we have had blue skies, sunshine, getting out for a walk, visiting the beach, just lifting our heads out from under the duvet has been possible. Plants and shrubs are showing signs of new life, primroses, crocuses and mini iris have been blazing in all their glory and we have even managed to do some tidying of our hedges before the birds being nesting. This is also the time of the year when we drive to the next county to see young lambs as we live in cow country not sheep, but this year we have a field of them just up the road which is lovely.

So this year February really has felt like the start of spring even taking into account the snow we had on Friday night.

Today is 29th and it is raining, tomorrow is the 1st March which where I come from would be the start of spring, but the  forecast is for rain and the week ahead isn’t looking good at all. Strong winds are forecast so the ‘In like a lion, out like a lamb’ might well be true this year. Whatever it turns out to be Spring Equinox, the second of the spring festivals and a time of balance isn’t far ahead.

 

My take on the Wheel of the Year

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The fourth question posed in the pagan challenge is to write about your take on the wheel of the year so this is mine and it follows on nicely from my last post about my book Web of Life for it was writing this book that helped me get my own wheel of the year in place.

As I was writing the book, so my own web of life was developing and as it did so I learnt, as do others who work with the book, about what was important to me. At first I tried to fit in all the pagan festivals of the wheel of the year in the way they are usually placed in connection with the seasons they are associated with, but I soon realised that it didn’t sit well with me at all. I then realised that at this point in time I really had no connection with many of the festivals. I also realised that it was only Summer and Winter Solstice, Samhain and Bealtaine that were part of my life and resonated with me so these became my wheel of the year within my web of life and I let everything else go.

These points in the wheel of the year fitted me as they are still very much part of the culture I live in. Here these festivals are named and marked, the Winter Solstice is looked forward to as a marker of longer days ahead and was at that time shown live from Newgrange. Bealtaine is a time of festivals, Summer Solstice a time for gatherings and Samhain often brings drumming and dance.

Other than this, as a shamanic pagan I didn’t have a belief system that involves a wheel of the year but in the time between writing my book and now I have been studying with the OBOD (Ovates, Bards and Druids), initially as a Bard and currently as an Ovate. Working with the festivals of the year, performing ritual and celebration at the time of each festival and really getting a feel for the purpose of them was very much part of my path as a Bard. For that time in my life they were all recognised and firmly marked. My own web of life, which takes the place of a wheel for me, shifted to incorporate all eight festivals.

Now though as an Ovate I have again experienced a shift in the way I connect with the wheel of the year and how it fits into my web of life. Whereas whilst training as a Bard it felt right to follow the ritual and celebration of each turn of the wheel now it no longer does. This shift happened with no conscious thought or planning on my part but rather by osmosis. I now find that I have a much closer connection with and awareness of the changes in the seasons, the time of the year and hence the festivals of the wheel. I no longer see the need to practice ritual for the sake of it and only do so when it feels right for me. Instead I find myself living the wheel of the year through my awareness. I find I am recognising the turns of the wheel because they are becoming part of me rather than something outside of me. At times now it seems I  instinctively know when for example it is Imbolc rather than having to look it up in my diary or because the ritual is next in the pile of things I have to work though.

 

Shrines

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Yesterday in my post about altars, shrines and sacred places, shrines didn’t really get a mention. Today I thought I’d share with you the little that I learnt about shrines when I was fortunate enough to visit whilst in Japan last year.

There I learnt that the difference between a temple and a shrine was that a temple contained a representation of something whereas a shrine didn’t. I am sure this is incredibly simplistic but basically, in Japan at least, a Buddhist Temple contained a representation of Buddha, one or more altars and could be entered, whereas a Shinto Shrine was simply a building that housed the spirit of whatever the shrine was dedicated to. Although the area around a shrine could be entered the shrine itself could not be.

Although there are shrines everywhere in Japan  the sacred mountain of Mount Kurama near Kyoto is dotted with them all dedicated to an individual spirit, often one connected with an aspect of nature, which is itself at the heart of Shinto.

All of the images here are a small selection of the shrines on Mount Kurama.

 

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Do you have an altar, shrine or sacred space?

 

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I do have an altar but it’s not a worshiping at altar, more somewhere I leave some of the objects and tools that are important to me. At the moment on my altar are; a Cambodian Buddha, a Tibetan Prayer Wheel, some stones (earth), feathers including a condor and an eagle feather (tools but also air), shells (water), a tea light (fire) fetishes of a sun and a condor gifted me in Bolivia and a key.

As someone who is probably best described as a shamanic pagan I don’t workship gods or goddesses and so have no need of an altar or shrine dedicated to anyone. My belief is that everything that exists has a spirit and so I connect with the spirit of whatever or whoever I am working with, usually in non ordinary reality, but sometimes in this one.

I do though use sacred space to work in if I feel it is needed but again this isn’t a fixed ritual as I also believe that we carry sacred space within us and so wherever I am working is sacred space.

On my website is an article about sacred space but to save you having to go and find it if you follow this link it will take you straight there: Sacred Space

Getting going

I could blame the recent inertia on the weather, the floods on a million and one things but some reflection points to only one thing in all honesty and that is the fact the start of the calendar year doesn’t really hold any great meaning for me anymore.

For the last couple of years I have been training with the Order of the Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD). Initially as a Bard I lived the eight fold wheel of the year though the ritual of the festivals, Imbolc, Spring Equinox or Alban Eilir, Beltane, Summer Solstice or Alban Hefin, Lughnasadha, Autumn Equinox or Alban Elfed, Samhain and Winter Solstice or Alban Arthan. This meant that in terms of ritual, my new year slipped in and out around Samhain.

New to working the passing of the year in this way I struggled with the seasonal entity of Christmas 2014, feeling out of sync with the dates of the cultural festival. The start of the new year though, the opening of the brand new diary, the filling in of dates and appointments was as much part of my own ritual as anything else that I did.

This year though has been different for I am now wandering deep in the forest know as the Ovate grade. Here I have felt less need to perform the eight rituals but instead have been moving closer to living the wheel of the year. This has meant that I have found myself developing a much closer and deeper awareness of the day by day changes of the seasons rather than focusing on the one moment in time that the rituals had been for me as a Bard.

At Christmas we were both slow enough to put up the tree. For the first time  I was fully aware of how I was simply going through the motions without any attachment to them in any way. It goes without saying of course that I enjoyed the chance to meet with friends, the time to sit, catch up without other demands on our time and share to food. In busy lives this time year provides a rare enough chance to spend time in this way.

Somewhere along the road prior to Christmas I had managed to remember to buy a new diary. This diary far from being pulled out on 1st January, has sat on the side unopened, unnoticed and unwanted until last night when I managed to find the motivation to pick it up and make it up for the coming months, transferring dates and notes from the old one. It was this that made me notice how little impact the shift from 2015 to 2016 had made one me. There had been no excitement about the newness of the year, no interest in the chance to shape the weeks or months ahead, simply a gentle rolling forward, a following on from what had been there before. This then made me appreciate that there had been another shift in my own alignment with the wheel of the year and where Christmas had been the time I noticed this in 2014, in 2015 the awareness came with New Year.

Without the setting of resolutions, the newness of the year or anything else connected with it to get me going, I now need to fall back on my own resources, to shake off the inertia of the last weeks. The diary is made up, dates are inked or penciled in, the sun is shining, the sky is blue and Imbolc isn’t to far away so maybe it won’t be too difficult.:)