Category Archives: Holidays

hidden practice

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Over the years I have had a few people tell me that they can’t practice their Pagan spirituality because of their circumstances. Usually it is because of living with a conservative family member. While I have never really experienced this myself, I do get the feeling it is a common problem that affects not just the young. For some folks, hiding their true spiritual beliefs may be a matter of survival if they are dependent on others for home and shelter. Whatever your reason for not being able to practice openly, I hope the following ideas and insights may be of help to you.

church
For those of you who not only are restricted from openly practicing Paganism, but are also required to attend a mainstream church, here are a couple of strategies for you…

Before entering the church, remember this silent prayer-

“Whatever way my words may stray, it is to the Old Gods I truly pray.”

Also, when reciting prayers or singing hymns, you can quietly, or in your mind, add an “s” to the end of words like god, spirit, and lord. Likewise, replace the word “one” with “the” in things you may have to recite such as the Nicene Creed… “We believe in the Gods, the Father, the Almighty, makers of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen…”

And if you go to a church where all kneel to pray, think “this I do not to submit myself, but to dwell closer to Mother Earth”.

Adopting some form of soft polytheistic viewpoint may help ease inner conflicts as well; thinking of saints and other figures as avatars/versions of older deities, for example. Adopting some form of Pagan Gnosticism as a world view may help resolve some issues as well. Some would consider Christianity but another form of Paganism.

If you’re expected to wear a cross, find one that incorporates a tree emblem, or get a Celtic or equal-armed cross, to make it more meaningful to you.

altar
Of course, one need not have any kind of altar to practice Paganism. A person could actually do everything mentally, visualizing devotionals, rituals, energy work, everything. However, it is beneficial to have some kind of touchstone in the physical world (especially if you can’t get out in nature as much as you’d like), to prevent a feeling of disconnect or “being in one’s head” all the time. If you have a small space to yourself, preferably the top of a bookshelf, then you can establish a discreet altar. You can use animal figurines to represent gods and goddesses, as most deities have animal associations. The Yule season is a great time to find altar items with a hidden meaning: a regal reindeer figure could represent Cernunnos or other antlered gods, you may find angel figurines that remind you of certain goddesses, and some rustic or unusual “Santa” figurines are reminiscent of Pagan gods.

9th night of YuleYou may even want to adopt Christian statuary for use on your altar. How can one not think of the Star Goddess when viewing one of those statues of Mary crowned with stars and standing on a globe?

Santa Marija Assunta
daily devotions
If you don’t have a lot of privacy, you’ll have to get creative with how you commemorate even day to day devotions. There are Pagan prayers that can be used with a traditional rosary, and doing so can be a ritual in itself. Also, there are traditional rosaries that have a tree for the crucifix. Prayer for your Druid Beads by Sarva Antah is a very easily memorized set of song prayers that honors nature spirits, ancestors, and deities. Yes, doing the prayers silently counts, as does simply meditating on the spirits, and no one around you would be the wiser.

holidays
How lucky we are to live in a culture that still retains so many of the older Pagan customs. We can light candles on a Yule log or decorate an Easter egg, and no one bats an eye or even thinks about how these customs relate to Paganism. Relish the special meaning these things have for you, even as those around you give them little thought. When you light a candle, or enact any of these customs, quietly or in your mind say something like, “This I do, in honor of my gods.”
You may not have a space or privacy to give offerings, but you can eat symbolic foods as a way of showing honor. Quietly or in your mind, say this blessing:

“Spirits (or Kindreds/specific deities), taste as I taste,
and let this sacred food of (name of holiday) be as an offering to you, through me.”

Some simple ideas for symbolic foods that can be easily obtained to commemorate the holidays are: an apple slice for Samhain, pork or gingerbread for Yule, a dairy food or honey for Imbolc, an egg for Ostara, a strawberry for Beltane, an orange slice for Midsummer, bread or berries for Lammas, and fruit salad for Harvest Home.
symbolic foods of the holidays
magic
Here is where you may feel the most limited if you are of a mind to make magic a vital part of your lifestyle. Yet, it can be done. Use ordinary objects for your “tools”, and ordinary actions as your “works of magic”. Kitchen magic can be very subtle, using a wooden spoon as your wand and the entire contents of the kitchen as materials. Don’t forget about the subtle use of color magic and visualizations. You can simply send your energy out in accordance with your goal, and that requires no materials nor spoken words at all. Yes, every little thing you do (with intention) is magic! In your mind, dedicate whatever you’re doing, toward your goal.

divination
There are a number of divination methods that require no special tools. Divination of Nature requires only your observance and intuition and includes the interpretation of dreams. In bibliomancy, one flips open a book, and reads a randomly selected passage. It is possible to use an ordinary deck of playing cards for divination. Pendulum divination can be done with only a key on a string.

learning
If you are just starting out and seeking a way to learn all you need to know, I would recommend that you first learn all you can from trusted internet sources. (See my recommendations on book and internet resources.) Try to memorize what seems important, then clear your browser history. It may be tempting to obtain a lot of books, but if you have access to a good library, reading up on mythology and philosophy will give you a better foundation in the beginning. Some libraries will even order Pagan books if you put in a request. You can read them at the library if you feel it isn’t safe to bring them home.

If you are embarking on a hidden practice, take heart. Know that the circumstances holding you back are most likely temporary as are all things in life. You may even learn and grow from the experience.

Harvest Home Fruit Magic

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appleWith another harvest holiday coming up, I thought this would be an auspicious time to share with you one of my favorite tricks from ye olde kitchen witch cupboard: a simple all-purpose fruit spell.

For this easy method of magic, one chooses a fruit of the appropriate symbolism, clearly visualize your goal or desire (see associations below, or use your own intuition). Then speak the words of your spell and eat the fruit.

I find that the ever-popular apple makes a great all-purpose fruit for this spell, so I like to keep some around. If you have chosen a large enough fruit, you could also carve runes or symbols of your goal into it. You could juice it into a potion, or bake it into a pie with symbols formed in the crust. You could even slice up a piece of fruit and share it in a group spell. If using an apple, you could slice it horizontally to reveal the star in the middle, eat around the center and make a wish on the star then bury it.

Below you will find the words I have crafted for a general fruit spell, and some associations I have for some common fruits. Of course, this spell could be used for other foods as well.

“Fruit of Earth, the Mother’s gift,
with you I seek a fateful shift.
With my goal placed well in mind,
your taste brings forth my will in kind.”

Harvest Home Fruit MagicFruit Associations for Magic
Apple: health, vigor, youthfulness, wholesomeness, and love.
Blackberry: abundance, prosperity, and protection.
Cherry: love, desire, passion, and playfulness.
Blueberry: protection, happiness.
Fig: sexuality and fertility.
Grapes: fertility, prosperity.
Lemon: cleansing and purifying.
Orange: friendship, courage, luck.
Paw-paw: protection, love, or revenge.
Peach: love, beauty.
Pear: love and desire.
Persimmon: joy and wisdom.
Pomegranate: desire, commitment, mystery, lifeblood.
Raspberry: love and protection.
Strawberry: youthful attitude, love and happiness.
Watermelon: joy, freedom, prosperity.

The Nature and Character of Lugh

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It seems like every year around this time, I’m fighting misinformation on the god Lúgh. Everywhere one looks on the internet, people are perpetuating the same outdated stuff; that Lúgh is a sun god, and/or a god of the grain. The origin of such notions is from new age books that never bothered to research beyond outdated Victorian-era anthropology.

I mean, you only have look it up on wikipedia to know that his name doesn’t link him to the sun: “The exact etymology of Lugus is unknown and contested. The Proto-Celtic root of the name, *lug-, is generally believed to have been derived from one of several different Proto-Indo-European roots, such as *leug- “black”, *leuǵ- “to break”, and *leugʰ- “to swear an oath”. It was once thought that the root may be derived from Proto-Indo-European *leuk- “to shine”, but there are difficulties with this etymology and few modern scholars accept it as being possible (notably because Proto-Indo-European *-k- never produced Proto-Celtic *-g-).”

Some of the later new age publications actually acknowledge that modern scholars say Lúgh isn’t a sun god, but word it so as to not step on the toes of the die-hard sun theorists. The main passage that comes to mind is one published in Lammas: Celebrating the Fruits of First Harvest by Anna Franklin & Paul Mason, and has been copied onto Lúgh articles all over the internet. It states: “While some writers state, without hesitation, that Lugh was a sun god, others, with equal force, argue that he was neither a god of the sun nor harvest.” What the author seems to be doing here, is giving both ideas equal merit. However, they don’t have equal merit. The actual historical record speaks for itself.

There is no record of Lúgh being worshiped as a sun god, but ample evidence that both his name meaning and his roles in Celtic religion were something else entirely.

“…helped along by Victorian scholars’ obsession with “solar myths”, it was taken for granted that Lúgh was a solar god… However, traditional, ritual-associated ideas about Lúgh show no trace of this… Lugus has his domain in storm rather than in sunlight, and that if his name has any relation to “light” it more properly means “lightning-flash”… This is the principal function of his invincible spear…”Lugus: The Many-Gifted Lord by Alexei Kondratiev

Why does it irk me so that the misinformation persists? Because people who think Lúgh is a sun god are getting the story wrong. Because if you’re getting the story wrong, then you’re also misunderstanding the meaning of an entire holiday; Lughnasadh. Because if you think Lúgh is a sun god, you do not know the real Lúgh. The real Lúgh is much more interesting and complex.

So that is why I’m writing this. It’s time to go beyond calling out the sun myth debacle, and move on to telling folks about his true character.

Excuse me, do you have a moment to talk about our lord and hero, Lúgh?

He was known by the continental Celts as Lugus, by the Welsh as Lleu, and by the Irish as Lúgh. We must look to all these cultures to get a complete picture of who Lúgh is. When Romans encountered Lugus, they equated him with their god Mercury, patron of travelers, commerce, trickery, and eloquence.

Relief of Mercury and Rosmerta from Eisenberg in present day Rhineland-Palatinate.

Relief of Mercury and Rosmerta from Eisenberg in present day Rhineland-Palatinate.

Early depictions of Lugus show him with a Tree of Life, twin serpents, dogs or wolves, birds (especially two ravens), horses, and mistletoe. He has similarities with Cernunnos, as they are both threshold gods, psychopomps, have a triple form, and a magical bag.

He has much in common with, and may actually be the prototype for- Odin. Like Odin, he wields a spear and is associated with two ravens. They are both psychopomp deities (again, like Cernunnos and Mercury). Both are travelers and magicians. Odin is god of wisdom, Lúgh of intellect and of every skill. Odin is one-eyed. Lúgh closes one eye to do magic on the battlefield. Odin was hung on a tree, pierced by his own spear, died and was reborn. So was Lleu. There are a few similarities with Loki as well, as they are both tricksters and associated with the mistletoe, however Lúgh is seen in a much more positive light than Loki. (For more of such comparisons, read The Birth of Lugh – Óðinn and Loki among the Celts by Thor Ewing, and Of Norse Loki and the Celtic Lugh.)

Lugus

Archaeological Museum of Dijon

So if you know a little about Norse mythology, you may be starting to form a picture in your mind of some of the aspects of Lúgh’s character; imagine a younger, smaller, Celtic Odin (especially in his traveler guise), with a fair bit of the trickiness of Loki. Now imagine that like Thor, he can also wield lightning. He shares some strikingly similar characteristics and powers with these gods.

I think of all the modern day depictions of Lúgh in art, the Magician in Lo Scarabeo’s Celtic Tarot captures his spirit the best; the slender wiry god sits perched in his sacred oak (a tree sacred to several Indo-European thunder gods), a floppy red Odin-eske hat covering one eye, and his magic bag slung over his shoulder. The torc around his neck is huge (or is it the god that’s small?). He is surrounded by some of his symbolic animals (serpent, horse…). Torcs and rings of gold hang from the trees. A fidchell board (Celtic chess- his invention) lies at his knee.

Lugus The Magician from Lo Scarabeo’s Celtic Tarot

Lugus The Magician from Lo Scarabeo’s Celtic Tarot

In Irish lore, Lúgh was born of a Fomorian mother (Ethniu), and a Tuatha Dé Danann father (Cian). The Fomorians were an earlier race of beings that inhabited Ireland, sometimes depicted as monstrous giants, sometimes from under the sea. They represent wild chaotic nature. The Tuatha Dé were the race of divine beings that would later become the Sídhe, and were often represented as the gods of humanity and civilization.

Lúgh was born of both races, and so has a mastery of both nature and civilization, of the below and the above, of humankind and the divine. It is no wonder then, that his traditional places of worship are high hills with a nearby water source.

In the Battle of Mag Tured, Lúgh goes up against his own grandfather, the evil Fomorian king Balor. With his swift sling (or in folk tradition, his spear), he pierces Balor through his fiery poisonous eye (which represents the harsh summer sun). In winning this battle, he gains control of the land for the Tuatha Dé (and metaphorically saves the crops from scorching in the fields from Balor’s evil sun-eye).

He was fostered by Manannán mac Lir, the sea god and gatekeeper to the Otherworld, and so has many water associations and inherited much of Manannán’s magic. He was also fostered by Tailtiu, a Fir Bolg queen who died clearing land for agriculture. And it was in honor of his foster mother Tailtiu that Lúgh instituted the first Lughnasadh festival and funeral games.

I have just hit a very few of the highlights here, describing some of the points in the mythology that tie in with the season of Lughnasadh, and describing some of Lúgh’s traits that I find especially interesting. I know I have left out a lot of important parts of his lore. Find more of the story of Lugh in Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland), and The Second Battle of Mag Tured (Moytura). Read about Lleu in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion.

He is god of Land, Sky, and Sea. God to kings, warriors, and farmers. He is the quintessential underdog, surviving and winning despite the odds and with intellect and magic rather than brute force only. He is both hero and trickster and sovereign protector of the land. He is patron of travelers, for he travels with the lightning, small and swift, many places at once. He traverses worlds.

As Alexei said, “His many gifts remain at the disposal of those who trouble to seek him out.” Indeed, I hope you do.

The Nature and Character of Lugh | Ozark Pagan Mamma

Harvest Dollies for Modern Pagans

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Historically, grain dollies were made from the last sheaf harvested, and either left in the field or placed wherever grains were stored. It was often tied or plaited to be roughly human shaped, but in some places shaped like an animal. It was representative of the Spirit of the Harvest, or the Corn Mother. In Ireland, the grain harvest is associated with Lughnasadh. But the god Lugh is not a grain god or earth god. He’s not John Barleycorn (who is English, and more about the production of beer). Lugh isn’t a sun god either, but I’ll get to that later.

The grain dolly from the previous harvest would be ploughed into the first furrow of the new season in the spring, or else otherwise destroyed in some way to release the spirit of the previous year’s grain. Another tradition, the one that most Pagans follow (and I don’t know the origin), states that it is to be kept to insure a bountiful crop through the next harvest season and burned around the time that a new one is made from the last sheaf.

Since Neopagans have three harvest holidays (Lughnasadh, Autumn Equinox, and Samhain) in the widely observed “wheel of the year”, there is some debate over which holiday to burn a grain dolly. I would think the answer would be to make it close to one’s local grain harvest date. Arkansas grows soft red winter wheat as a commercial crop. Harvest begins in May and ends as late as the first week of July. So, for our locality, if you want to burn your grain dolly at the end of harvest, it makes sense to do so at Lughnasadh, rather than at any of the later harvest holidays. That, and because it’s the harvest holiday that has a strong grain theme.

Note that I’m calling them grain dollies instead of the more traditional “corn dolly”. This is because Americans have confused traditional use of the word corn to exclusively mean maize. To the Europeans, corn meant grain. Corn dollies were not corn husk dolls. They didn’t have maize back then. Corn dollies were made of whatever grain various European cultures predominantly ate, like wheat or oats.

But we do live in the modern western world, and many would say that we need to adapt traditions to where we are and the way we live now. Americans in general do eat a lot of corn, both as a vegetable and as a grain, and as a sweetener (although Arkansas doesn’t grow much maize commercially). Corn husk dolls are easier to make than wheat dolls, which is probably a big part of why most American Pagans make corn husk dolls instead of the more traditional grain dollies for harvest holidays. The materials are also easier to find. Not many people grow wheat in their backyard garden but plenty grow corn, or could get corn in the husk at any farmer’s market or grocery store. Maize harvest starts mid August in Arkansas and can last late into September or even October, so it would make sense to burn your cornhusk harvest dolls at the Autumnal Equinox or Samhain if you are so inclined.

Unless you are a farmer or a gardener who grows grains, your harvest doll is purely symbolic anyway, not made from the last sheaf of anything, but symbolic of the harvest for you personally. So make it of whatever materials represent the harvest for you (you’ll notice that one of the dollies in the picture below is make of both cornhusks and wheat), and burn or bury it at whichever of the harvest (or spring) High Days that you feel drawn to do so.

Harvest Dollies | Ozark Pagan Mamma

Solstice Sun Shirt

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All you need to make this festive sunny attire is a sun-colored shirt (perhaps one you’ve tie-dyed in light sunny colors), contact paper, scissors, an iron, a piece of cardboard the width of your shirt, and fabric crayons.

Prewash the t-shirt and iron out any wrinkles, if necessary. Insert the cardboard inside the shirt to give you a hard surface to work on. See my tutorial for making tissue paper sun faces, and use that method to cut out a design with the contact paper, keeping the design simple.

Next comes the tricky part– peel off the back of the contact paper and lay your resulting sticky stencil on the front of the shirt. Use your fabric crayons to color in the features of the sun face and other details, and along the edges, fading as you go out from your design. For best results, use colors that contrast the colors of your shirt, so the design will show up. When finished coloring, peel off the stencil. Follow the directions that came with your fabric crayons for setting your design permanently into the fabric.

Solstice Sun Shirt

For more Summer Solstice fun, see Kids’ Activities for Midsummer / Summer Solstice.

offerings

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In ADF Druidry, giving offering is a big component of our rituals. In this very tangible way we establish and maintain a give and take relationship with the Three Kindreds (collectively; the deities, ancestors and nature spirits). It is spiritual hospitality. It is ghosti, the Proto-Indo-European word from which we get the English words guest and host.

offerings of oats, cornmeal, and seeds

In our protogrove, we like to include a time for “group offerings” in every ritual. This is a time for folks (anyone who wants to, that is), to come up the the altar, one at a time, and place their own offerings into the offering bowl (or fire, if we’re outside). They can say something if they like, but that’s optional. They can use the basic offerings we provide (which is usually oats, cornmeal, and birdseed), or bring their own biodegradable/burnable offering.

When creating a personalized offering, there are so many options. There are several things you will want to keep in mind, however. First of all, your offering needs to be of natural materials that will degrade and not pollute the environment. How will you deliver (disperse) your offering? Fresh green offerings such as herbs and flowers will degrade quickly, but other food offerings may need to be finely crumbled. If an offering can’t be crumbled into tiny pieces, it will need to be either buried or burned. If your ritual is taking place on your own land, it may not be so important to you that the offering return quickly to the natural elements. However, it has been my experience that burning is preferable as a quick and satisfying mode of delivery in a ritual setting. The following are a few ideas are for burnable offerings…

offering cakes
An offering cake can be made of any kind of of bread or biscuit dough, or even salt dough. (Although salt dough is not edible, the salt in it is an excellent offering, and salt dough can be a bit easier to shape into creative forms than other doughs, making it an offering of art rather than food.)

spiced salt dough offering cakes
To personalize an offering cake, mix items into the batter before baking (or in the case of salt dough, drying), such as herbs, flavorings or spices associated with the holiday you are celebrating or spirit/deity you are honoring. A biscuit shaped circle is a classic shape for an offering cake, but you can make them in any shape. Try using cookie cutters, molds, stamps, or shaping with your hands. You can shape the cakes into a symbol associated with the deity/spirit/occasion you are honoring. The tops can be decorated with diluted food coloring or garnished with herbs or flowers.

offering bundles
One way to make several small offerings at once is to use an offering bundle. Place items inside a scrap of natural fabric (a seven inch square seems to work well). Gather up the edges, and tie off the end with a string or cord. You could also use a large pliable leaf or piece of brown paper and fold your bundle. Some ideas for items to place in the bundle are: a written prayer or devotional poem, herbs, flowers, dried fruit/nuts, grains, and loose incense.

offering bundle

Another option for an offering bundle is to skip the container and just tie items on a stick (this will however limit what can be used to what will stay tied on) . You may even want to carve runes or symbols onto the stick itself, and anoint the entire bundle with an appropriate tincture or oil.

offering stick

greenman doll

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This greenman doll is bendable! Your kids will love hanging one from a tree branch or from an Ôstara basket. Here’s how I made it:

greenman doll template

Print out the template above. (If you copy and paste onto a word document, it should fill up half the page in landscape mode. If it doesn’t, shrink or expand to get the right size.) This doll is actually sewn before it is cut out, so you’ll need to trace the pattern onto the wrong side of your fabric. I used an iron-on transfer pencil and traced over the outline, then ironed it onto back of the fabric. With the right sides of two pieces of fabric facing each other and pinned in place on the corners, sew (a very fine stitch) on the lines all the way around. Now cut closely around the outside of the lines you’ve sewn. To turn the doll right side out, cut a small slit in the middle of the doll’s chest. Use a skewer get the skinny parts all the way pushed out. (Sorry I don’t have pictures for these first few steps… this doll has actually been in my basket of unfinished projects for years- from when I still had a working sewing machine.)

becoming a greenman

When you’ve got it all turned out, take a couple of chenille stems and twist one in the middle to the size of the doll’s head, and twist the ends down to form loops for the hands. Tape sharp ends down. The other chenille stem is for the legs. Bend it in half and twist loops at the ends for the feet. Tape sharp ends down. Insert chenille stems into the doll casing through the slit cut in the chest. When they are in place, fill the doll with stuffing, putting in little bits at a time and pushing into place with a skewer. When the stuffing is even all over, sew the slit in the chest closed by hand.

greenman doll comes to life

Glue a silk leaf onto the doll’s chest wound. (Re-purpose the leaves from old silk flower arrangements found at a thrift store.) I hot glued three onto this one’s chest at different angles. For the face, I folded a leaf in half and cut leaf and horn shapes around the edges. I’ve made some before using several very small leaves arranged around the face. Paint on or draw on features with a marker and you’re done!

greenman doll - Ozark Pagan Mamma