Indulging in the Dark Time

Indulging in the Dark Time

by Katie LaFond

Now that the Yule season is over, a lot of my friends have a hard time as they wait for spring. The days are getting longer, but we still have a stretch to get to Spring Equinox.

Here are some things my family and I like to do this time of year, in case they help you. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comment section below.

  • I set up hot chocolate or tea to be ready when I come back in from some bundled fresh air, yes even when I’m tired.
  • We light candles, even if overhead lights are on. It’s surprising how they can change the mood in a room.
  • I always have three or four books going. You don’t need to hold yourself to false moral reading standards. I usually have a comedy, fantasy, and a couple nonfiction books going on in the winter.
  • Stillness. We use winter to encourage myself to slow down, monotask, and to say “no” to lots of things. This is one of the ways we try to tap into the natural cycles that are so easy to forget with modern technology.
  • Darkness. I love it and I’m unafraid of it. I shower in the dark all the time and turn on as few lights as I can, both out of silly, childlike “can I manage to put my earrings away, find my pajamas, and get to bed without being able to see anything?” and because the dark allows other pieces of me to surface and flex.
  • Extra sleep. My Nan talked about how our Nordic ancestors told stories of how people would sleep more in the long dark and less in the endless day, so I often indulge in nine hours a night. I have a lush relationship with Dreams, and when I sleep as much as my body wants, it nurtures that relationship, and it is deeply nourishing to me. This is where the power of “no” comes in handy, because if I said yes to everything, I would not have the time to get this much sleep.

These are just a few ideas that carry us through the dark, cold days of Winter. What are some of your favorite activities, whether playful or self-care-ful?

waking coyote

waking coyote

Rose Sinclair

What is it to grieve?

What does it Feel like?

The air of me gasps

The earth of me trembles

The fire of me pushes my blood

The water of me falls in a torrent

They ask it of me, these elements of creation

This full presence

This authenticity of self which includes them

This fullness of humanness not limited to the edges of my skin

When the sunflowers bow their heads to the rain

When the trees crack and break and fall in the wind

When the volcano erupts and the lightning strikes and the grasslands burn

When the rocks tumble and break to become new beings

My fullness of life is not limited to the edges of my skin

The earth holds it all, holds me all

Holds all of me

Gasping, trembling, pushing, falling

And rising again.

January: Purification, Divination, and Hitting the Reset Button

January: Purification, Divination, and Hitting the Reset Button

by Irene Glasse

The very first pre-Christian Deity I served was Brigid, an Irish goddess.  As a young musician with a military background, she was easy for me to relate to. “A musician AND a blacksmith? Sign me up! I want to make music and hit things too!” I still consider my time in service to her to be incredibly valuable – it laid strong foundations for my spirituality. 

One of Brigid’s holy days is Imbolc, February 1st – 2nd, and in my own devotional practices for her, I found the time between Yule and Imbolc to be very potent. I wore my hair long at the time and would style it in braids every day, an outward sign of an inward focus. My practice was centered around deepening and clearing, creating space for the light to come. 

Although the center of my own beliefs has shifted to the Heathen gods of old Norway, I still consider this time of year to be perfect for getting my spiritual “head” straightened out. There’s a simplicity to these cold days, to a natural world streamlined to reveal its core shapes and colors: brown branches, gray stone, faded grasses, white snow. As the world reveals the structures that support the growing season, we can follow the pattern by looking more closely at our inner structures. 

I like to start with purification. If it’s been a while since your last smoke-bath, break out some purifying herbs and resins and waft that sacred smoke around your body. It can help to have a partner to assist here. If you’re working alone, consider carefully placing a smoldering cauldron on the floor and allowing the smoke to drift upward to cover you. If using smoke isn’t an option where you live, take a salt bath/use a salt scrub in the shower and remember to completely rinse the saltwater off your body when you’re finished.

Then, sit down with a journal or your preferred note-taking medium. This reflection is based on underlying structures, so the questions I use for my own purposes are simple.

1)    What’s working right now? What practices or patterns help you stay centered? What are you already doing that feeds your sense of spiritual connection? When are the moments when you feel calm, and what’s happening during them to cause that experience?

2)    What’s getting in the way? What patterns, behaviors, and obligations are distracting you, or keeping you from spending time and energy where you’d like to? What practices or patterns got jostled by the rush of activities around the winter holidays?

The movement of energy at this time of year is downward and inward flowing. The culture of the United States tends to encourage wild expenditures of energy under the guise of “New Year’s Resolutions,” but to do so is to fight the stronger, older pattern of the natural world. If we shift to purifying, streamlining, releasing, and going deeper, we work with the prevailing flow of energy rather than against it.

Bearing that in mind, look at your reflections. The practices that are already working can be ones to take deeper whether that’s daily devotionals, meditation and journeywork, walks in the woods, or yoga. How can your existing practice(s) become even more centered, even more stable, even more rooted?

Look at your reflection on what’s getting in the way. Are there obligations or patterns that you can let go of? Are there any “shoulds” you can release? Many areas of life where we experience stress, tension, and frustration are unavoidable, but there are also some funny little places where we tend to make things harder for ourselves.

We often think of purification as a practice for our bodies, or spaces. We’re familiar with spring and fall cleaning, with smoke and water purification, with fasting and vigils, etc.  But purification is a practice for our lives and patterns as well. In my own experience, the small daily patterns we engage in often arise due to necessity or by accident and then perpetuate themselves simply because most people follow patterns once they’re set. Looking more closely at those repeated behaviors and making a few adjustments can help us get recentered.

My last step is a simple three-card divination. I hold my Tarot deck and think about what the natural world around me is doing. I visualize the land around my home, the clean lines of the winter trees. I think about the way they’re focusing on their roots, on the energy pooling deep in the earth.  Then, I draw cards:

First card: What can I do more of to go deeper?

Second card: What can I let go of to create space?

Third card: What message do I need to hear this winter?

This method would work for any sortilege-based divination system: Tarot, oracle cards, runes, kahina stones, etc.

Balancing the results of the reading with my own reflections, I then choose a few small shifts to make. For my own part, I’m letting go of pushing so hard. I have self-imposed creative “deadlines” that aren’t serving me and ultimately create more stress. One thing that’s working well for me right now is a 20-minute yoga practice at the end of my workday. It got jostled by my schedule and then by a case of covid, so I’m prioritizing that return to the mat. I’m fortunate enough to live in a part of the world that experiences a mild winter while still seeing a true seasonal shift, so I plan to support both of these adjustments by continuing to spend time outdoors. For me, it really helps.

So, what do you want to streamline and recenter right now? What’s working for you? And what do you want to let go of? Hit me up in the comments. You never know when your own ideas are exactly what another person needs to read.

Stones for the Season: Yuletide

by Sarah Lyn

Stone has a beautiful language. Anyone who has ever had a rock jump out at them has heard it. Pick me! Pick me! Before you know it, you have either slipped it into a pocket, or you find yourself holding it in your hand, uncertain of how long it has been there.

Deep stone sleeps but the closer to the surface it gets, the more connected it is to us and our life cycles. Some rocks just want to introduce themselves and have a conversation. Some rocks will bite and want to be left alone. And some rocks have been looking for you to take them on a quest to some unknown corner of the world they have only heard about in the whispers of the deepest bedrock (even if that’s just your front yard).

[ALWAYS respect places that ask you NOT to take their rocks.]

The Trio

Clear Quartz, Selenite, Citrine

Different stones I encounter have different energies to them. Each sabbat, I put together a trio of stones to focus on for the following six weeks. It’s divination to me. I reach out into the web and see where we are in the world, creating a recipe of stone allies, and then I send that energy back out into the web.

I don’t usually use the same grouping of stones every year, but a couple of times I have. I will work with these ones in my night meditations until the next sabbat, sometimes individually and sometimes as a group.

The stones I chose for Yule this year are: Clear Quartz, Citrine, and Selenite.


Quartz

If they’re familiar with crystals, most people are familiar with Quartz, a hard mineral composed of silica. It’s a crystal that everyone can tap into and connect with. It comes in a wide variety of flavors, so to speak, but I am working specifically with Clear Quartz. Many beloveds in my life right now are seeking the kind of clarity and focus that Quartz offers. I think about Quartz like this… I have a friend who went hiking on the glaciers in Alaska and on the journey they drank some of the running water from the center of a glacier. She tells me that we have not tasted real water yet… I believe her. Quartz is like that for me— a powerful crystallizer of intent. 

See clearly, it says to me.


Citrine

Another stone most people are familiar with is purple Amethyst. This year, I chose its kin Citrine, a yellow crystal. When Amethyst is exposed to extreme heat and pressure over time, it becomes Citrine. You can often find pieces of Ametrine, showing both purple and yellow coloring.

Citrine is rare in its natural form. Most Citrine on the market is heat-treated Amethyst. Still technically Citrine, and much more affordable, but not nature-made. And most heat-treated versions turn a dense yellow-brown.

As another variety of quartz, Citrine joined with Clear Quartz radiates joy and opens the mind for new beginnings. If Quartz is a focuser, then Citrine is its laser pointer. I associate it with the solar plexus chakra, and as a stone of decisiveness and courage. On the longest night of the year, it is a useful tool against the darkness.

Strike the match within, it whispers steadily.


Selenite

A favorite stone of mine is Selenite. It is made of gypsum and its structure is 70% water. And like water, it helps you with letting things go. I associate this stone with the emotional body and often use it for healing. It also looks like ice and is helpful in soothing energies associated with stressful family scenarios at the holidays. I decorate heavily with them and they feel peaceful. Even though they are constant workers, I associate them with the joyful stillness of the season.

Float with the current, it says.

Together this trio creates a peaceful clarity. They also remind me of light we carry through the darkness as we wrestle and/or dance with our shadows, and wait for the days to lengthen.

For Advanced Work

If you want to go deeper into this season? I recommend using a piece of Rutilated Quartz during vigil on the longest night of the year. There’s definitely a plethora of quartz this season, but it feels important to this year’s transition. The rutile inclusions are a mineral called Sagenite, which amplifies the Quartz energy. It’s an excellent stone for divination and for peering into the unknown while planning the next step on your path.

A Grief Balm

If your heart is heavy with grief this season, I would normally recommend keeping Rose Quartz nearby. But the holidays can be so heavy and may need something stronger. This year, I recommend Jade, a solid to translucent green silicate mineral. It can also be found in other colors but is most commonly known as green. It is a powerful heart protection stone, which fortifies your spirit at the same time as it works defensive magic.

[Notes from Sarah Lyn: I never purchase rocks from people who do not know where they are sourced from. It’s important to know where your rocks come from so you can make informed decisions about where to put your money. For those of us buying tumbled stones at rock shows, we’re picking up the chips of what has already been cut from the earth, we are not part of the demand that influences the mining world. But know where your stones come from.]

All photos © Sarah Lyn

Heathen Holidays: Mothers’ Night

Trey Wentworth

This is the first blog post in a series on the topic of Heathen Holidays.

The season of Yule is upon us, and though many pagans share the word yule these days, celebrations by the same name may differ widely from one tradition to the next. Here we’ll be talking about how Heathens celebrate Yule, particularly traditions practiced by the Chase Hill community in Vermont.

In Heathenry, Yule is always a multi-day celebration. (Ever hear of the twelve days of Christmas? That wasn’t a Christian innovation!) Historically, it may have been celebrated for a span of days, weeks, or even months! Many modern Heathens celebrate Yule starting at sundown the night before the winter solstice and ending at sundown on January 1st. This holiday marks the ending of one year and the beginning of the next – with the span of 12 or 13 days belonging to neither, but instead a potent in-between time for resting and setting intentions for the coming year.

The first night of Yule is often called Mothers’ Night after the Old English tradition as recorded by the Venerable Bede. This is a time when we honor all the goddesses and female ancestors – the Good Ladies – when they at last take a break from their yearly work and wander the earth, traveling from home to home during the night. As the start of the almost two-week Yule celebration, it is also the time when we bless and ward our homes to protect them from the many dangerous beings that live in the long dark nights between years.

Celebrating Mothers’ Night

Leading up to Mothers’ Night there is a flurry of house cleaning. When the host of the Good Ladies comes, we want our homes to be orderly, and it is customary to finish all fiber arts projects before they arrive. Because spinning, weaving, and other crafts are so sacred to the Good Ladies, we set them aside for the span of Yule and don’t pick up new projects until the New Year. Working on fiber arts while the Good Ladies themselves take a break from that work would be hubris indeed! All this should be done before the sun sets, signaling the start of the Yule holiday.

Once the house is clean, all your knitting projects are done for the year, and night has fallen, it is time to bless the house. We “kindle fires in every corner of the house” by turning on every light – even that rarely used closet or basement light. Light every candle and oil lamp that is out and in use (you don’t have to pull out that backup box of 20 tapers and light them all!), and turn on all your flashlights. Any woodstoves or fire places should be lit – even if only by an electric tealight. The house should be fairly glowing in contrast to the dark winter night. Then gather up some bells (yes, bells!) and step outside to recite this prayer to all the unseen beings that move through the night between years:

Come those who wish to come,
stay those who wish to stay,
and fare those who wish to fare,
harmless to me and mine.

(adapted from Our Troth, vol. II, Second Edition, compiled by Kveldulf Gundarsson)

Ring your bells and walk a circle around your house, welcoming in good luck and all kindly spirits, while driving away bad luck and any beings that mean you harm. When you are finished, your house is blessed, and you can turn off all the extra lights and blow out the candles (make sure you don’t forget any!)

For a holiday dinner, I often make dishes that fit the theme of the Good Ladies – potage bonne femme (a French leek and potato soup whose name means “soup of the good woman”) and hexenschnee (a Dutch dessert of applesauce, gelatin, and whipped egg whites called “witches’ snow”) are two of my favorites.

And beyond feeding ourselves, it is also time to feed the spirits. On Yule eve, the house spirits of the Heathen world are given their yearly pay in the form of cream porridge — with a big dollop of butter on top. The hob, tomte, nisse, or whatever regional name you use for the being that protects your home will find your offering if you place it on the hearth or the doorstep. If your house spirit isn’t particularly hungry and the bowl is still full in the morning, the contents can go to your garden via the compost.

Lastly, before bed, we lay out the Feast of the Good Ladies, because tonight they will come to the house, checking to see that all is in order and all spinning for the year is finished, and we must welcome such august guests with a meal. This food stays on the table until morning when we eat it ourselves for breakfast, taking in the blessing of all those kindly spirits as the first act on the first morning of Yule. It is important to leave the food uncovered so the Good Ladies can take part in the feast and lay their blessing on it. But be aware that some breakfast foods don’t survive well exposed to warm, drying air for hours. This is a great time for foods with rinds, peels, or crusts – fruit (a bowl of apples or clementines), cheeses (which are often stored unrefrigerated in countries outside the US), and uncut loaves of bread, pies, or pastries. There are some European recipes such as the Italian La Befana Cake that do well sitting out, as they are made for traditions just like these in their areas of origin (la Befana is an Italian witch who similarly enters homes looking for a meal, though she rides at Epiphany on January 6 — a date in common with some other Heathen versions of this practice, especially in the Urglaawe tradition).

However you celebrate it, here’s wishing you all the blessings of Yule, and all the protection of family, home, laughter, and light in this dark time of year.

Cultivating Hope, Raising Resiliency

Cultivating Hope, Raising Resiliency

by Irene Glasse

When I was a teenager in the mid 90’s, I spent my summers working as a counselor at a YMCA day camp. It was a fun job and the location was beautiful – a campground in the forest with a swimming pool, flowing stream, open fields for sports…pretty much anything a kid (or a teenager like me) could want. We had a lot of fun and most kids loved camp so much that they cried when their session ended. There are a few children I remember clearly even after so many years. I definitely still remember Jeff*.

Jeff was in my group – Group 5 – which meant that I had a lot of interaction with him. No matter what we were doing, Jeff was unhappy. He seemed miserable at camp. When we were going for a stream hike, he was upset about the possibility of tripping and falling, or of his clothes getting wet. When we were headed for the sports field, he was worried about not being able to play the sport of the day well. When it was time for free swim, he was unhappy because he was tired and didn’t want to play anymore. He didn’t even get excited about Ice Cream day. No matter how much I tried to reframe and redirect, Jeff found a way for whatever was going on to be a source of dismay. None of the other counselors knew what to do, so we managed however we could.

Family Night occurred toward the end of each summer session. There was a big cook-out and overnight camping adventure that family members were invited to. At Jeff’s session, his father attended, and suddenly everything made sense: Jeff’s dad had the same energy as Jeff – he walked with his shoulders rounded, mumbled under his breath about bugs and dirt, and turned every conversation into a litany of complaints and dire predictions for the future. He had the same heaviness to him – a deep sadness that made him difficult to reach.

In the 90s, we didn’t have the same understanding of mental and emotional health that we do now. Those fields were only beginning to blossom and hadn’t really made it out into the suburbs of Western Maryland. I like to think that today, Jeff and his family would be a little healthier. However, although their behavior might have been rooted in very real emotional regulation issues, one thing that meeting Jeff’s dad illustrated for me was how much of our behavior is learned.

To be hopeful is to have a form of emotional resilience. A hopeful person believes that although challenges, grief, and adversity occur in every life, somehow things will work out. They believe that they have the ability to figure out a path forward or respond in a way that makes adversity just another part of the story. And, emotional resilience is a learned behavior. It is a practice as much as an attitude.

For so many of us, staying hopeful can be challenging. We’ve had quite a few rough years in a row and the fissures in society seem to be deeper and more jagged than ever. I know I’m not the only one who has fantasized about just throwing in the towel and becoming a hermit. It’s easy to feel hopeless when it seems like the world keeps stacking obstacles against us.

Approaching hope as a practice is a good way to cultivate resilience, especially for those of us who did not learn hopefulness from our families. Pagans have some advantages when it comes to growing hope. More resources are available to us and we tend to have experience with intentionally changing thought patterns. As with many areas of life, hope can be cultivated through both mundane and magical techniques. I’ll give you the conventional information first, then the mystical.

Understand what hope is and what it is not

Feeling hopeful doesn’t mean starry–eyed naivete about the world, or using “love and light” as a way to spiritually bypass our own behaviors and patterns that we need to work on. Remember that hopefulness is simply the realistic expectation that something good will happen, and that we have some influence over it. It’s not an “everything’s going to be perfect and amazing” attitude. Hope is aspirational while being grounded in reality. Interestingly, it’s also a feedback cycle. When we successfully manage a challenge, it increases our optimism that we will do so again in the future. One of my favorite quotes is “You have a 100% success rate of surviving every bad day so far.”

Acknowledging that hopefulness is difficult right now is a great first step. We don’t need to beat ourselves up about feeling hopeless while also trying to cultivate hope. Start with where you are: if hope is challenging, that’s totally okay. Allow it to be difficult and grant yourself some grace.

Observe and alter your thought patterns

This is one of those areas where Pagans often have an advantage. Reframing thoughts is a powerful way to work with the brain’s ability to learn new patterns and behaviors. This flexibility is known as neuroplasticity. Reframing is also part of approaching hope as a practice – it’s something we repeat so we can get better at it. When we’re struggling with low levels of hope, reframing a thought to be happy is frequently unhelpful. However, reframing a thought to be neutral can have good effects. For example, “Everything is ruined now” becomes “I’m trying as hard as I can, and giving myself some patience.” Reframing can also apply to larger areas of thought. If your dreams for the future have been thrown off by life’s slings and arrows, consciously sitting and evaluating how to build a future you still desire is helpful. Maybe your plan happens in six years rather than five, or includes different people, or changes the location you expected.

Begin with observing and reframing your thoughts when you notice them. The practice of slipping into the Observer mode many of us learn in meditation practice is useful here. Don’t worry about catching and correcting every thought – start with just a few (maybe the most repetitive or intrusive ones) and grow from there.

Focus on what you can influence

As in spellwork, the person we always have the most influence over is ourselves. By tending to the aspects of our lives that we have the most control over, we help create the right circumstances for hope to flourish. Think of it as amending the soil a garden grows in.

Keep up with your self-care and creative outlets. It’s tempting to surrender to the gravitational pull of the couch and endless dopamine hunting via social media, but continuing (or starting) a self-care regimen is one of the best ways to cultivate hope and resilience. Small activities that inspire pleasure or joy are the building blocks of hope. Self-care looks different for everyone, so remember to try different techniques if this is a new practice for you. Our self-care gives us smaller moments to look forward to as well as times of pleasure and satisfaction. The combined effect is strongly supportive of a resilient mindset.

Get involved with group efforts and activities. The minister of the congregation I serve, Rev. Carl Gregg, has a wonderful saying: “If you feel like you’re just one person alone, stop being one person alone.” Group activities can be in person gatherings like Rites of Spring, A Feast of Lights, and Twilight Covening, but can also be virtual gatherings (Zoom has been such a blessing over these last few years) like Sunflower Mornings and Evenings, or taking part in a group effort on your own time. Activities with social and spiritual focuses are wonderful. If you’re having a hard time processing some of the political or environmental challenges facing us, getting involved in a group focusing on creating change on those fronts can also be helpful. Doing something, even a small thing, about a big problem can help us feel more optimistic. It also puts us in contact with other people who are trying to make the world a better place.

One of my favorite resources for getting started with political work is 5Calls.org. This website offers various political efforts to support, shows you who to contact, and gives you a script for calling and leaving a message/sending an email for your state legislators. Getting involved in local social, racial, and environmental justice organizations is a wonderful way to make an impact as well as connect with others of like mind. Acts of compassion and care help foster a sense of control over the world around us as well as have a positive effect on the lives of others.

Lastly, monitor your media intake. If you’re a bit of a news junkie like me, have specific windows of time for checking the news, and then shut off that media feed. We can only absorb so much information before we hit overload. Give yourself plenty of wind-down time after your last news bulletin of the day to recover and reset before bed. Monitoring media includes our entertainment as well. Stay aware of the emotional tone of your entertainment media and choose options that support the emotional state you’d prefer to cultivate.

And now for the magic…

Pagan practices offer us additional tools when it comes to cultivating hope and resilience. Through connecting with different energies and Beings, we can shift the flow of energy in our lives.

The Elements

The primal Elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water each include both generative and destructive qualities. By focusing on the uplifting or generative aspect of the different Elements, we can increase the presence of that quality in our lives. For example:

Earth stabilizes. It is the deep roots of the mountain, unchanging in the face of human turmoil. Earth holds and grounds us. Earth is the power of stability and strength.

Air brightens. It is the fresh breeze at dawn, the currents that blow the mist and darkness away. Air is the power of new ideas and effortless communication.

Fire transforms. It is the light and warmth that tempers the cold darkness of winter. Fire devours what no longer serves and illuminates the shadows. Fire is the power of passion and vitality.

Water purifies. It is the flowing waves that wash away the debris. Water nourishes, heals, cleans, and clears. Water is the power of connection and clarity.

To begin cultivating a stronger connection with one of the Elements, create space for it within your home and life. Shift your altar over to that Element’s colors and symbols. Find time to connect with the Element in natural environments. Add associated colors, stones, scents, and symbols to your clothing. Consciously connect to the Element you have chosen when you’re having a tough day, or struggling with hopelessness.

The Ancestors

Our ancestors experienced many challenges in their lives – plagues, famines, natural disasters, violent political turmoil, and more. They lived long enough to make our own presence on the planet possible and left us a legacy of survival. Developing a stronger connection with our ancestors can support our own resilience. Our ancestors have a very real stake in our lives. We are their legacy, their lives and loves still active in this world in a new form.

Learn about your ancestors. If you do not have specific names, learn about the culture you are descended from. Every culture of the world has faced incredible challenges and being able to remind yourself how far your line has come can be wonderful. Consider adding a candle or small altar for your ancestors to your devotional practices. Allow their strength to become your strength.

The Gods

Many of the Pantheons we encounter in polytheistic devotional practice include hopeful figures. So many core myths are about overcoming adversity or remaining strong in the face of overwhelming odds. If you work with the Gods, consider learning more about and making more offerings to the hopeful members of your pantheon. Like attracts like, and even just immersing ourselves in the energy of a deity who inspires hope can be beneficial.

The Self

Humans are incredibly complex beings. Within each of us exist a multitude of faces and facets. As a result, we shift between identities. We are our parent self, our child self, our ritualist self, our goofy good-natured self, our hard worker self, our trying-not-to-freak-out-the-mundanes self, and more. My own students work with an archetype of the self known as the Empowered Witch Self. Along with all those many selves, there’s a hopeful self in the mix.

Take a moment to contemplate your hopeful self. Imagine them. What are they doing or saying? How do they present themselves? How do they feel? Allow that self to become as real as possible in your visualization. Then, if today is a challenging day, take a few deep breaths and draw your hopeful self into your body. Feel their energy spreading out and through you. Experiment with holding the connection for a little while. When we guise or step into a particular facet of self, that guise eventually slips. Unfortunately, we cannot be only our hopeful self forever onward. However, this archetype can be revisited regularly and tapped into when needed. If you noticed your hopeful self wearing clothing or jewelry you do not normally wear, you could experiment with wearing those items and evaluating their impact. Our meditations, journeywork, and visualizations offer us information in many different ways.

Spellwork

Many of us are first in line to light a candle for a friend in need but reticent to do so on our own behalf. Not all Pagans do magic, but if you do, remember that self-enchantment is available to you. Spells to increase hopefulness and resiliency can be as simple as candle magic or as elaborate as a full monthly working. Consider what works best for your path, practice, time, and energy. Remember, the closest and best target for a spell is always the self.

I wish you hope, renewal, and resiliency. May the path forward be a blessing.


*name changed to protect privacy

Recommended Books for Yule

Recommended Books for Yule

by Sarah Rosehill

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2020. We decided to run it again with some additions. If you have your own titles to recommend, please drop them in the comments.

At our December Stories of the Season event, we featured some wonderful books for Yule and the winter season that focus on nature and pagan traditions, and we wanted to share that list along with a few other favorites in a way that would be easy to find later!

The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren (and the sequel, The Tomten and the Fox)
These lovely, lyrical stories are based on the poetry of Swedish Romanticist Viktor Rydberg and feature the Tomten (a little gnome-like being) going through a farm and reassuring the animals that spring will come. This one is appropriate as young as 2 and enjoyable for much longer.

Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven
This rhyming book tells about a baker who makes “sun bread: to lure the sun back to the skies after a long streak of wintery weather and includes a recipe you can try at home. (We did; it’s pretty good!) Also aimed at the preschool set, this has colorful illustrations of a town filled with animals of all types.

Grandmother Winter by Phyllis Root
This story for young children tells of Grandmother Winter, who lives alone with her flock of geese, and how she makes and then shakes a quilt to bring the snow. It has beautiful illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Beth Krommes and shows what people do when the snow happens and then how Grandmother Winter passes the winter herself.

Cozy by Jan Brett
A musk ox grows a thick winter coat and several animal friends come to shelter in it through the winter, requiring an increasing number of “house rules” that will sound familiar to any parent: quiet voices, gentle thumping, claws to yourself. This book is a little longer and aimed at the 3-5 year old set. Other Jan Brett winter favorites in my family include The Mitten, which is a shorter story about animals climbing into a mitten to keep warm (and comes in a board book for toddlers!), and The Snowy Nap featuring a hedgehog who desperately wants to stay awake to see the winter.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
This meditative book follows a young child on her first owling trip with her father. It’s longer — probably best for kids 5-8 — and evokes a peaceful, flexible relationship with the natural world. Sometimes there’s an owl and sometimes there’s not!

Solstice Badger by Robin McFadden
This longer book for early elementary schoolers tells the story of how the solstice and seasons came to be. The sun is lonely and finds a true friend, and then begins to spend more and more time out of the sky with his friend. When he realizes what he has done, his friend brings the problem to Grandmother Pine, who gives wise and measured advice.

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper
This is a beautiful illustrated version of the beloved poem: “And so the shortest day came and the year died/and everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world/came people singing, dancing/to drive the dark away.” We read it every year in my family!


Added in 2022

Old Mother Frost by Jennifer Hartman
“Old Mother Frost is a Yuletide story of an ancient Norse goddess who sleeps all year long, waking only to make sure children are happy, healthy, and festive during the longest and coldest nights of the year.”

Sky Sisters by Jan Bourdeau Waboose (not properly a solstice story, this is a beautiful winter tale)
“Two Ojibway sisters set off across the frozen north country to see the SkySpirits’ midnight dance. It isn’t easy for the younger sister to be silent, but gradually she begins to treasure the stillness and the wonderful experiences it brings. After an exhilarating walk and patient waiting, the girls are rewarded by the arrival of the SkySpirits — the northern lights — dancing and shimmering in the night sky. This powerful story, with its stunning illustrations, captures the chill of a northern night, the warmth of the family circle and the radiance of a child’s wonder.”

The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer
“Looking at both the science of the winter solstice and the history of how it has been celebrated by various cultures throughout history, this book will inspire a new understanding of this special time of year.”

The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson
“The beginning of winter is marked by the solstice, the shortest day of the year. Long ago, people grew afraid when each day had fewer hours of sunshine than the day before. Over time, they realized that one day each year the sun started moving toward them again. In lyrical prose and cozy illustrations, this book explains what the winter solstice is and how it has been observed by various cultures throughout history. Many contemporary holiday traditions were borrowed from ancient solstice celebrations.”


Do you have a favorite we haven’t included here? We’d love your contributions to this list in the comments!

Yule Book Flood

Yule Book Flood

Katie LaFond

Editor’s Note: Katie LaFond began the Jolabokaflod tradition for the EarthSpirit Community in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic — when most of us were isolating and unable to see each other in person — as a way of connecting as community. She wrote this two years ago, but just recently submitted for publication. This is the third year (2022) that Katie has run an EarthSpirit Jolabokaflod. 2022’s Book Flood is underway! If you haven’t had a chance to participate and are interested in it for next year, watch the EarthSpirit Facebook Group and Page for information and sign up right around Samhain.


December 2020

This year was unlike any other, so I shared one of my family’s traditions with the community, in the hopes that it brought some joy to your homes.

Jolabokaflod (Yule Book Flood) started in Iceland during World War II, a time of rationing for many people. Paper was one of the few things that wasn’t rationed, so people gave each other books. Today, the tradition as I understand it, is that people give each other gift-wrapped books and on Christmas Eve they stay up all night reading them and eating chocolate. This is definitely a tradition I can get behind. If you’re interested in learning more about the Icelandic tradition, there are many wonderful resources available.

My ancestry is from all over, but the grandparent I was closest to (and who survived long enough for me to have deep conversations with) was Scandinavian. While my family identifies as American, I have always been fond of Scandinavian traditions, and they’ve made my winter seasons so much happier and fulfilling living in the Hills of Western Massachusetts.

I’m a fan of traditions and have built many with my young family. We have a prayer we say at each meal, we have an annual Dumb Supper at Samhain, and we love Jolabokaflod. Simply put, we give each other books on Yule eve and sit by the woodstove in our jammies, eating chocolate and reading them late into the night. We wake up in puppy piles, kindle a Yule fire, and sing up the sun eating cinnamon buns and drinking spiced coffee.

This year it was my pleasure to extend our tradition to all of you. We each found a book in our homes that we had read and enjoyed and were ready to send on to someone else who might enjoy it. We signed up with a google form, I organized an exchange, and sent out names, addresses, and genre requests to each person. Despite some shipping delays, most people ended up with a book to tuck into, with a mug of hot chocolate perhaps, and a quiet evening of enjoying a good book.

Here are the books that we sent each other this year, in alphabetical order. 

Title. Author (genre, if listed)

  • Assassin’s Apprentice. Robin Hobb (fantasy)
  • Beggars in Spain. Nancy Kress (sci fi)
  • Blink. Malcolm Gladwell (nonfiction/science)
  • Blood Heir (Kate Daniels series). Ilona Andrews (fantasy/romance)
  • Braiding Sweetgrass. Robin Wall Kimmerer (nonfiction/spiritual)
  • Caste: the origins of Our Discontents. Isabel Wilkerson (non fiction)
  • Chronicles of Chrestomanci Volume I. Diana Wynne Jones (fantasy)
  • Code Talker. Chester Nez
  • Do What You Want: the story of Bad Religion. Jim Ruland (non fiction/memoir)
  • Dreamblood: The Killing Moon. N.K. Jemisin (fantasy)
  • Dreamblood: The Shadowed Sun. N.K. Jemisin (fantasy)
  • Fledgling.Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
  • Flesh and Fire. Laura Anne Gilman (fantasy)
  • Free Play. Stephen Nachmanovitch (nonfiction/art)
  • Hex Appeal. PN Elrod (anthology)
  • How To Be ultra Spiritual. JP Sears (comedy)
  • Howl’s Moving Castle. Diana Wynne Jones (fantasy)
  • Love the World. Todd Parr (board book for ages 0-3)
  • Mind of the Raven. Bernd Heinrich (science)
  • Minecraft Dungeons: The Rise of the Arch-Illager. Matt Forbeck (young adult/fan fic)
  • My Abuelita. Tony Johnson (kids book)
  • Norse Mythology According to Uncle Einar. Jane Sibley (comedy, Norse mythology)
  • Pagan Consent Culture. Edited by Christine Hoff Kraemer and Yvonne Aburrow (non fiction)
  • Press Here. Herve Tullet (board book for ages 0-3)
  • Prodigal Summer. Barbara Kingsolver
  • Quarantine and Constellations. Katie LaFond (kindle book, memoir)
  • Rosemary and Rue. Seanan McGuire (fantasy)
  • Songs of the Seven Gelfling Clans. J.M. Lee (fantasy)
  • The Buried Giant. Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge. Jeremy Narby, Ph.D. (nonfiction/science)
  • The Divine Thunderbolt. Jane Sibley (nonfiction/spiritual)
  • The Hammer of the Smith. Jane Sibley (historical fiction)
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora. Scott Lunch (fantasy)
  • The Long Lasting Love of Lady and Lord: The Bonding. Darrell A Roberts
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Agatha Christie (Mystery)
  • The Mystery of Mercy Close. Marian Keyes (mystery)
  • The Night Circus. Erin Morgenstern (fantasy)
  • The Night Fairy. Laura Amy Schmitz (children’s fantasy)
  • The Rakess. Scarlet Peckham (romance)
  • The Shortest Day. Susan Cooper (picture book/poetry)
  • The Way of the Wise. Jane Sibley (nonfiction/spiritual)
  • The Wishing Spell. Chris Colfer (fantasy)
  • The Word for World is Forest. Ursula K Le Guin
  • Tigana. Guy Gavriel Kay (fantasy)
  • Trace: memory, history, race and the American landscape. Lauret Savoy (memoir/travelogue/science)
  • Twelfth Night. Shakespeare (drama)
  • Wild. Cheryl Strayed (non-fiction memoir, semi-spiritual)

Flavors of Shadow

by Andrew B. Watt

Like many people, I spent my quarantine time learning baking skills. Instead of focusing on sourdough bread, though, I learned a lot about tarts, cakes, and pastries. In the fall of 2020 I made apple and pear tarts, which involve slicing up the fruit and arraying them in fans within a pie crust. In the spring and early summer of 2021 I worked on lemon curd tarts, and then berry tarts — strawberry, blackberry, blueberry. No rhubarb though: I never could stand the stuff, myself.

And who can forget pumpkin spice? The mixture is usually a roughly equal blend of cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, and sometimes allspice. Today we think of it as a mix reserved for overpriced coffee drinks — but the combination owes a great deal to the ‘sweet mix’ used in royal desserts in the courts of Henry VIII and his daughters Mary and Elizabeth I of England. This may have had something to do with the spices’ putative magical properties, too: cinnamon for protection and purification, ginger as a prosperity charm and as a protective spice, clove for both sexual potency and mental clarity, and nutmeg for both prosperity and imagination. Allspice, too, promoted health and improved focus. We can imagine the royal chef telling King Henry, “this cake, it’s not bad for you — it contains healthy things too!”

Three years in, I’ve learned a lot about the craft of baking. But I’m starting to turn my attention to identifying which of these festive dishes belongs to what times of the year. Here in New England, autumn is a season of shadows and darkness. Pumpkin pies and mincemeat pies are seen as traditional for Thanksgiving and the Solstice-cluster of holidays. Sugar cookies and gingerbread are ancestral holdovers for many.

For Samhain this year, I found my attention turning to the idea of making a Pomegranate curd to fill a tart shell. The pomegranate, that maroon-colored fruit filled with yellow rind and jewel-like arils, each with a seed inside … Well. The fruit of Persephone, of the High Priestess card of the Tarot, that symbolizes secret knowledge and gnostic insight… it does not want to be curd or custard. It does not want to set at all into a soft, sugary tart filling. I’m sure it has to do with the pH balance of the juice, or the way the juice interacts with extra butter and sugar.

Following recipes online, I found that, with careful timing and attention to heat and chill at the right times in the cooking process, you can make pomegranate curd, and fill a pie shell. It’s this lovely maroon color, with swirls of darker purple, and it draws gasps and awe from the people who have a slice of the pie. It’s this sensual and dark flavor.

But the secret to getting pomegranate curd to set properly, and be the right color — is dried hibiscus flower. It turns out that to get the right flavor of darkness… you need to include the memory that spring will return.

Photo by Andrew Watt

Interfaith Service Reflections October 2022 (2)

Chris LaFond

Editor’s Note: Westhampton holds a Fall Festival each October, which begins with a town-wide interfaith service. Katie and Chris LaFond have been part of planning and officiating that service since 2019. The following is the reflection that Chris offered at this year’s service, on October 16, 2022.

As we were preparing for this morning’s interfaith service, the topic of Peace came up. I’ve thought a lot in the last week about peace. There are a lot of assumptions that we have about the idea. But what really is Peace? As I often do, I went running to the Oxford English Dictionary, and I found something really interesting.

All of the major entries under “peace” start by defining it as a “freedom from” something.

For example: 

  • Freedom from civil unrest or disorder
  • Freedom from quarrels or dissension between individuals
  • Freedom from anxiety, disturbance (emotional, mental, or spiritual), or inner conflict
  • Freedom from external disturbance, interference, or perturbation
  • Absence of noise, movement, or activity
  • Freedom from, absence of, or cessation of war or hostilities

This surprised me somewhat, since today, I think, many of us have engaged in groups or organizations where the idea of peace is far more active than passive. I think about all the effort that goes into things like international peace accords, and it seems to me that peace is far more than just “freedom from” things.

If I were to ask you today what you think of as “peace,” what would you say? Would you also tell me that it’s a freedom from disturbance, anxiety, or conflict? Maybe in the workplace? Or in the neighborhood? Would you tell me that it’s those precious 10 minutes after the last kid is in bed, and all is quiet before you have to collapse into bed yourself. Maybe you and your partner have a quiet cocktail or a cup of tea first to …  you know … “help the peace along” a little? Maybe you experience it as the calm after the storm, the sunny morning after the hurricane when you see that the damage is superficial.

Or maybe peace is an inner state that we can cultivate and carry with us wherever we go, regardless of what is going on around us. The lyrics to the well known hymn are “let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.” As I was trying to capture these thoughts, my house was a shining example of not-peace, as if to be sure that I was experiencing the lesson that I was preparing to attempt to share with others. One kid needed help with homework, another insisted on doing a big art project in the same small room I was in, the sewing machine on the desk next to me was loudly engaged with making some necessary materials for one of our community rituals, and the dog was whining to go out. Sometimes peace is being able to close the door and be alone. But maybe peace is also what I bring to the chaos that is often daily life. Do I bring more chaos? Do I bring calm?

“Let peace begin with me” sounds good. But what happens when your neighbor isn’t so interested in peace? What do you do when others antagonize you or your kids? How do you teach your children to deal with the school bully? Maybe sometimes, peace is putting up a fence, or reporting the bullies to the teachers. Maybe sometimes, peace is precisely a freedom from stress, a cessation of previous hostilities.

I don’t really have any clear lessons here for you, or conclusions. So I hope you’re not waiting for one. Maybe as soon as we figure out how to define peace, it shapeshifts on us and looks entirely different from yesterday. John Denver’s song “Perhaps Love” ponders, “Love to some is like a cloud, to some as strong as steel; for some a way of living, for some a way to feel. And some say love is holding on and some say letting go; and some say love is everything, and some say they don’t know.” Perhaps peace is like this, too. It’s different for different people and on different days. Perhaps Love; Perhaps Peace.

In a few minutes, we’ll invite you to join us in singing “Deep Peace.”

Deep peace of the running wave to you;

Deep peace of the flowing air to you;

Deep peace of the shining stars to you;

Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.

And maybe that’s the key. The wave, the air, the stars, the earth, can only ever be what they are: their authentic selves. Maybe as supposedly rational humans, we complicate things to the point of being unsettled. As pagans, our first teacher is the Sacred Earth. May the water, the air, the fiery stars, and the firm quiet earth teach us authenticity and teach us peace.

“Deep Peace”