Our Little Thanksgiving

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A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about my family’s emerging Thanksgiving traditions. In my opinion, it was golden. There are few things I would change today.

A couple of my kids have grown up and gone their own way and don’t always come to my house for this holiday, so we’ve scaled down food-wise… we make fewer starchy dishes, and just add dried cranberries to the dressing, instead of making the fresh uncooked cranberry sauce. Also, we make Turkey Breast of Wonder in the crockpot. Its so delicious, much less fuss, and frees up the oven for other baking.

We still use our Thanksgiving playlist, and the fourth season Thanksgiving episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is still optimal viewing. Later, per my youngest daughter’s request, we go see the lights on the town square. I hate the cold, but its worth it to get to the square for kettle corn and hot chocolate.

We try to remember to make toasts. If I can remember to buy cider (Angry Orchard hard cider for this mamma), and get out the goblets, then I can usually remember to initiate making toasts. I hope you and yours are having a lovely holiday. Here is my favorite toast…

Hail the Gods, Ancestors, and Nature Spirits!
From the Kindreds, we receive
and to the Kindreds, we give.
Together we share,
and from this we live.

thanksgiving toast

early group struggles and finding self confidence

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A few years ago I started an ADF study and discussion group. We were just three ADF members getting together in a coffee shop. Membership and attendance remained small, but we kept on meeting, taking a small break in the winter for bad weather. After a while we became a Protogrove, and I volunteered to be the Grove Organizer because no one else was volunteering for the position. There was one other member farther along in the study programs than me, and who took a leadership role in meetings, but due to a chronic illness, he would not take the position. So I became the organizer, but all of us really looked to him as our leader. We carried on as we were for a while, having coffee shop meetings, and a few others joining us as time went by. Sometimes we’d talk about having a ritual for this or that High Day, but it would always get canceled a few days before the date due to fore mentioned person’s illness. We were essentially a discussion group, and I was fine with that.

Then suddenly, this person I mentioned stopped showing up. I was a nervous wreck. I am a lifelong shy introvert and suddenly it was all on me. Attendance dropped down to just three; myself and a married couple I’ll call Sue and Sam. Sue and Sam were not ADF members and seemed not too interested in ADF. I believe they attended because they couldn’t find an open Wiccan group. Sue was a real talker. So there were no awkward silences. There was also no structure to the conversations. Sometimes I would try to interject something Druid-y into the random conversation, but most of the time I would get interrupted so many times that I would forget what I was going to say. Since there was consistently only three of us at these meetings for months, and I was the only ADF member there, I became very discouraged. Sometimes a new person would come to a meeting, not say much, and then not come back. At the time I wished that I had that option, but I knew that my role was all too official for me to give up, and I couldn’t think of a way out of it.

Then a new person came to a meeting. I’ll call him Andy. Andy was already a member, and committed to ADF. He told us all about himself, was witty and interesting, and became a regular attendee and member of the Protogrove. I tell you, he was the Protogrove’s saving grace. So then it was four of us; me, Andy, and Sue & Sam. For some reason, Sue didn’t seem to like Andy all that much, and when we started talking about having one of our twice monthly meetings in a neighboring town, Sue and Sam left the group. That’s when more members gradually started trickling in. Before I knew it, we had seven active members, and several non-member attendees. We outgrew our location and starting meeting at a park and having rituals there too. Conversations at meetings were not difficult anymore. I didn’t need to steer the conversation toward Druidism because, with that many ADF members, it naturally went in that direction.

As for rituals, I was really nervous at first. Historically, when I have to speak in front of a group, I would get a feeling of dread for days, then when it came time to speak, my voice would shake. That’s how it was leading these rituals at first. Then people started volunteering to take on talking parts or even lead a ritual themselves. I grew really at ease with the group. We had great conversations. I stopped being nervous about meetings. Then, one day, I stopped being nervous about rituals as well. My voice evened out. The dread and worry disappeared. I started enjoying speaking in ritual, and if you know me in person, you know that’s really saying something.

So how did this change in confidence happen? I think a lot of it had to do with my getting to know the group through our discussion meetings. I gradually became at ease with talking to them. I also changed the conversation with myself in my head. The last time I got nervous before a ritual, I was able to stop feelings of nervousness and dread by reminding myself that they’re all my friends. I told myself “This is just like when we have discussion meetings. I’m talking with my friends in the park. Its going to be fun, as usual.” Those words were like magic, and have lasting power! (Also, it didn’t hurt that I asked Odin for good speech, and Thor for strength.)

So if you’re wanting to start an ADF or other Pagan group, and think you are too shy and/or introverted, think again. Finding self confidence is more about practicing social skills and getting comfortable with other people than about trying to impress. If you are struggling with a small group with poor dynamics, hang in there! Sometimes you have to face what you dread, and wait out the bad times, to get the community you want.

If you are thinking about attending a local Pagan group, but are having second thoughts or thinking that it wouldn’t matter if you show up or not– just show up! You might be some group’s saving grace, or at least play a very important part of the dynamic. Do not under-estimate the value of belonging to a spiritual community.

explaining polytheism to kids

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In this world dominated by monotheism, it can be difficult raising children in a polytheistic faith. Although you don’t want to dictate what your kids believe, it is reasonable to give polytheism a fair and equal representation so that your children can make a informed decision on what to believe.

When kids are young, they are more likely to believe what we believe, but soon mainstream school mates and playmates challenge those beliefs. So it becomes necessary to provide some logic and reasons for our ways. Here are some basic ideas that can uphold polytheistic belief:

nature is complex and diverse
Nature, life, the universe… is so amazing, intricate, and complex, it makes more sense that its creation was a team effort, rather than the masterpiece of one divine being. Metaphors and examples of the many creating something big and complex can be found in nature, as well as in humankind’s advances.

absolute power doesn’t exist
Monotheists commonly claim that their deity is all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), and all-good (omnibenevolent). However, if this were true, there would be no evil in the world, because such a god would not have allowed it. It wakes more sense that there is a group of deities that share power, and are not omni- anything, but are helpers to nature and humankind. Such deities may have different strengths, interests, and areas of influence.

many spirits, many gods
If one believes that the soul (and personality) survives the death of the body, then logic dictates the existence of spirits in some sort of spirit world (or transition state before reincarnating). If a multitude of spirits exists, why shouldn’t a multitude of deities exist as well? Perhaps some of the gods are old and wise ancestral spirits who have evolved over time.

Some of these ideas are simplistic, I admit, and not without fault. But they are compelling on certain levels, and meaningful to contemplate. Older children and teens may want more thorough arguments and would benefit from reading “A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism” by John Michael Greer.

One great tool from Greer’s book mentioned above is the “cat analogy”. From age four, most children can understand the use of metaphor in a story, so the cat analogy can be very useful in explaining the logic of polytheism compared to other types of belief. To summarize the story, there was once a village with five houses. A researcher decided to go door to door and ask the villagers about their beliefs…

At the first house, the villager believed in one great Cat (which he had seen once), and left kibble out for him. He believed that other households left out kibble for a “false cat” that didn’t exist and that hobos probably ate that kibble. (This villager was a “mono-felist”.)

At the second house, the villager believed in one Cat (which he had also seen once, but looked different from what the other villager described), and believed that other people were not only worshiping false cats that didn’t exist, but inadvertently worshiping lesser evil creatures… and that evil sewer rats probably ate that kibble. (This villager was a “mono-felist” as well, but with a more sinister view of other beliefs.)

At the third house, the villager believed in one great Cat as well, but believed that Cat may look different to different people (mainly because they didn’t get a good look at Cat). This villager also claimed to know how Cat really looks, and what kind of kibble he prefers. (This villager was an inclusive “mono-felist”.)

At the fourth house, the villager believed that all the other villagers were delusional, that there were no cats, but only figments of their imagination. (This villager was an “a-felist”.)

At the fifth house, out on the edge of the village, the villager acknowledged that there are many cats. She had seen them on many occasions. (This villager was a “poly-felist”.)

village

There is much more detail of the story in Greer’s book, plus much discussion of it. Some points you might like to discuss after telling the story: On what do the villagers base their beliefs? Which one is based most on observation and experience? Do any of the villagers’ views involve special pleading?

Some other ways to reinforce a Pagan mindset (if not the logic) in young children are:
~to read mythology (see my recommendations for Norse and Celtic mythology for children),
~to talk about your own relationship with the gods and spirits,
~point out the gods’ influence in nature and in our lives and give thanks,
~teach prayers, blessings, and devotionals, and
~sing songs from The Heathen Songbook Online. I especially like “My Gods, Your Love” and “All the Gods Are Here With Us”.

explaining polytheism to kids

flying devil oil

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Now that we are well into the dark half of the year, my thoughts turn to workings of decrease and defensive magic. One of the best items to have in your magical supply cabinet is flying devil oil. This fast acting oil is reputed to be the best for all kinds of defensive magic. Use it for banishing evil or negativity, or to reverse a malevolent spell or curse. But do not wear it one your skin, it may burn!

Making flying devil oil is simple. Do so with reverence and intent. Select a small bottle (you may want to sanitize it with boiling water to keep the oil from going rancid) and add red pepper flakes, ground red pepper, then olive oil. Give it a good shake.

Use flying devil oil to anoint your entryways and windows for house protection rituals. You can use it on ritual tools, sachets, poppets, petition papers, and talismans (that aren’t worn against the skin). You can use it to anoint uncrossing candles. You can even use it in and of itself as a spell bottle… When you feel negative vibes, or have negative thoughts, just go get your flying devil oil off the shelf and give it a good shake. Watch the pepper flakes fly around in the oil and visualize them burning through negativity. You can add a spoken spell like “Harm and hurt has no hold on me.”

flying devil oil

Samhain Pork and Apple Stew

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I have published holiday feast menus on my blog before, but a while back I was thinking that I should post some more simple, frugal ideas. What if I was short on both money and time? What if I needed to make it a one-dish meal? With these criteria, what kind of dish could I bring to the family table that would honor the Ancestors at Samhain and the spirit of the season?

Pork was a sacred food to both Germanic and Celtic peoples in ancient times. You can use a tougher (and less expensive) cut of meat for this, since it will be stewing over several hours. The humble apple is iconic of the Celtic Otherworld, a theme that is also reflected in the Norse role of Idunna as guardian of the golden apples of youth, and the Roman Pomona’s domain over fruit and orchards. To round out the meal, any root vegetable you have on hand would be suitable, as is befitting of a stew. Turnips and parsnips have been eaten since ancient times. Use whatever root vegetable is best available to you.

The apple cider base and choice of spices are what makes this stew stand out from the everyday mundane meal. Sage was a sacred herb to many cultures and has been used since ancient times for warding off evil and promoting longevity. Thyme has the magical properties of promoting courage and preventing nightmares. The cloves have protective qualities as well, not to mention it enhances the flavor of the apples. These spices are commonly in a frugal cook’s pantry already, for cooking Thanksgiving dishes.

So layer this Samhain meal in your slow cooker around lunch time, and get on with your other holiday plans.

Samhain Pork & Apple Stew
1 1/2 lbs. pork roast, cubed
2 T. grease or oil
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 onion, chopped
1 or 2 c. chopped root vegetable (carrots, parsnips, turnips, etc.)
2 tart green apples, peeled, cored and quartered
3/4 c. apple cider (or juice)
1/2 tsp. thyme
pinch cloves (or allspice)
1/4 tsp. sage

Heat your grease in large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add onions, apples, and root vegetable to skillet and cook, stirring often, until onions are getting a little brown. Pour into the bottom of a 3 1/2-quart slow cooker. Add more grease to the skillet if necessary and add cubed pork. Brown pork all over, adding salt and pepper. Layer pork over the fruit-veg. mixture in the slow cooker. Add apple cider, thyme, allspice and sage to skillet. Bring to a simmer, scraping up brown bits on bottom of skillet and pour into the slow cooker. Cover and slow-cook until pork is tender, 6-7 hours on low.
Serves 6.

Samhain Pork and Apple Stew

no-sew poppet

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The use of poppets in folk magic goes back to ancient times. Though the material of choice back then was wax, practitioners have adapted through the ages to make poppets out of anything handy; plant material, yarn, and often cloth.

This method of image magic can be used for any number of goals that you can think of, but the poppet is generally used to represent a person; what is done to the poppet is done to the person in sympathetic magic. The inside of the poppet should contain a taglock of the subject of the spell, and can include other items that are involved in the goal (healing herbs, for example), and other stuffing as needed like cotton, wool, or plant materials.

Even if you can’t sew, there is a simple way to make a poppet. You’ll need a handkerchief, bandana, or just a square of fabric, the taglock and other stuffing mentioned above, and a length of string. ( If you don’t have string, rubber bands will work, but the advantage of string is that you can add knot magic to your working.) First, find the center of your cloth. Roll the outer edges toward the center. Now open up a little space in the middle and stuff. Fold over, spread out the poppet’s arms, and tie off the head. (Draw on a face and other details if you like.) Take the end strings and criss-cross in the front and tie in the back, under the arms. While doing so, you can say, “Criss-cross, cloth and moss. This I claim, _____ is your name.” or other words of your choosing, followed by the specifics of your spell.

no-sew poppet