Kindling the Fire at Home & in the Community

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L is for Labyrinths

Sir-Didymus-LabyrinthAs long as I’ve known about them, I’ve been fascinated with labyrinths. When I was younger, I always associated them with mazes that were so complex that you were sure to get lost in them or worse yet you’d end up arriving at… The Bog of Eternal Stench. It didn’t help that when I was 8 years old I saw Labyrinth and all I could think of was Sarah making her way through the Goblin King’s labyrinth in order to save baby Toby. What always stood out to me about that movie, aside from the maze Sarah had to navigate, was the magick within it. From fiesty Hoggle to brave Sir Didymus and his trusty sheepdog steed… within the  Goblin King’s labyrinth was magick in abundance. Always magick.

It should make sense that the thought of labyrinths insights the images of magick to me even now that I’m a grown woman. I still see them through the eyes of a child in that way. They will always hold that air of mystery and magick. Even the most simple labyrinth drawn on the ground or laid in brick brings on the need to walk it, dance it, meditate within it… no way I could just breeze on by one without paying it some attention. They have and always will be special to me.

In many cultures they are thought to serve as traps for malevolent spirits and in others as a defined path for ritual dance. Still others believe they signify a symbolic pilgrimage; people can walk the path, ascending toward salvation or enlightenment. Since many people couldn’t afford to travel to holy sites and lands labyrinths and prayer substituted for such travel. Over time, most of the spiritual significance (especially in Christianity) of labyrinths faded and they served primarily for entertainment. Recently though their spiritual significance has seen a resurgence. Not just with Christians, but also with Buddhists, Pagans, Hindus and other spiritual people. Many newly made labyrinths exist today, in people’s personal gardens, in churches and in parks. Modern mystics use labyrinths  to help achieve a contemplative state and for meditations.

The history behind them is especially interesting to me. Daedalus built the original  for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. Its soleLabyrinth-of-the-Minotaur purpose and  function was to hold the Minotaur, the half man and half bull creature. Eventually the Minotaur was killed by the Athenian hero Theseus. The story goes that Daedalus had made the Labyrinth so difficult and skillfully that he could barely escape it after he built it himself. Fortunately for Theseus, Ariadne provided him with a skein of thread, literally the “clew”, or “clue”, so he could find his way out after slaying the Minotaur.

According to Through the Labyrinth by Hermann Kern, “In colloquial English, labyrinth is generally synonymous with maze, but many contemporary scholars observe a distinction between the two: maze refers to a complex branching (multicursal) puzzle with choices of path and direction; while a single-path (unicursal) labyrinth has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center. A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route to the center and back and is not designed to be difficult to navigate.”

This leads me to wonder where the idea that mazes and labyrinths were synonymous came from. Many people, not just myself, think of the labyrinth in the movie with many ways to go and many twists and turns… and we’re all wrong according to Kern. So what was so difficult about navigating the original labyrinth built to hold the Minotaur? Magick, of course! I mean, what else could it be? Surely, if the Minotaur really wanted to he could just plow through the hedges and find his way out, but something kept him trapped… if it wasn’t the branching puzzle of a maze it could be magick, right? Well I think so!

brick-labyrinthMost labyrinths I encounter now-a-days are brick laid or made with stones. It’s quite a rare occasion to see a garden hedge labyrinth anymore, at least it has been for me. Hedges or stones, labyrinths are something I go out of my way to indulge in. However inaccurate the movie is about the true nature of the labyrinth, I’m not sure labyrinths would hold the same mystery and magick that they do for me if it wasn’t for the way it was portrayed. Besides, a story loosely based on a myth is bound to be embellished a little… especially when the embellishment makes it that much more magickal!

Whenever I walk a labyrinth I find myself counting steps and inhaling a little more deeply than usual. It is more often than not, a very relaxing and cleansing sort of thing to do. It doesn’t take long to get into a  meditative head space and as long as I am feeling inspired, I may decide to offer up thoughts or prayers to the Gods. Even though these spaces are not “nature” in it’s truest sense… they are IN nature. Since they are set aside for the purpose of spiritual nourishment  I believe that is why I feel strongly connected to the Goddess when I’m counting paces inside the defined space of a labyrinth. They are beautiful both aesthetically, but their purpose is as well. I hope that if you have the opportunity to walk the paces of a labyrinth, that you will.

To find labyrinths near you check out the Labyrinth Society.

Blessings,

Bridey-signature

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Pagan Ethics and Morals

right-or-wrongLast year we asked the members of our circle to think about Pagan Ethics & Morals and what those words/ideas meant to them… Rowan expressed “One of the questions that people ask (or silently wonder about), especially in the ‘good ol’ South’ is something along the lines of, ‘if you don’t believe in the Bible, then where do you get your morals/ethics from?”, or ‘how do you know the difference between right and wrong?’”

Here were my thoughts on this topic:

My morals & ethical code don’t come from my spiritual beliefs, they come from my parents. I was lucky enough to grow up with parents who allowed me the freedom to explore many different spiritual paths as a child, but before they sent me out in the world to explore they made sure that I knew certain things about how to behave and the difference between right and wrong. My dad was in the Navy and appreciated a sense of order and his expectation was that respect was earned, not freely given (despite age/status/position). Both my mom & dad taught my brother and I to respect them through love, not fear or power. We learned early on that dad was easier to make budge than mom when it came to what we wanted, but they were both fair for the most part. I don’t remember them sitting me down to tell me what was right and what was wrong, but I do remember living & learning as I went.

brave-merida-elinorIf I made a mistake, i.e.: was sassy to a great aunt or grandparent, they would correct me and explain what was and wasn’t acceptable and over time I came to appreciate praise over reprimands. I was taught to share with others, to help when asked, to be kind to others, not to use language around other adults that I wouldn’t with my parents, to listen without speaking, not to steal, not to lie, leave the land as I found it, treat animals with reverence and kindness, say please and thank you, keep my hands to myself, don’t give up, try… try again, admit when you’re wrong & apologize… you know, all those things most kids learn without really realizing they were learning them.

As an adult and as a witch, I reflect on the times my parents, other family members, teachers or friends taught me a life lesson and I realized that not much has changed. Those are the same things I still try to strive for in my life today.

Kindness. Respect. Honesty. Integrity. Reverence. Hospitality. Perseverance. Love. Personal-Accountability. Fairness.

In addition to those, there is a code of ethics that I abide by as a nurse. It deals with treating patients with dignity, practicing with respect & compassion, treating patients as equals despite socioeconomic status, race, religion, gender, sexual identity, etc., about being an advocate for the patient, protecting health, safety and rights of the patient, to practice competently, collaborating with nursing peers, ancillary staff, doctors and therapies when necessary on behalf of patients, represent nursing positively through articulating core nursing values & maintaining the integrity of the profession and practices.

I think about what kind of example I want to be to others in my personal and professional life, as well as in the greater community. While I know that some of what I have learned has shaped the kind of witch and nurse I am, that has more to do with where I came from than what I learned from the Craft.

Communing with Plant Spirits

mandrakeThe very thought of talking to or communing with plant spirits might seem strange, odd or downright delusional to the average person. Fortunately, I don’t consider Pagans, occultists and witches “average”, not by any stretch of the imagination. Our very existence flies in the face of average, mundane and status quo.  Most of us live a life that is immersed in magic, beauty and mystery. We live for those moments of connection… to each other, to the divine and to other living beings.

This weekend I attended the Houston Pagan Conference hosted by Blackberry Circle. The featured speaker was Raven Grimassi and he spoke a lot about communing with plant spirits. How to do it, why to do it and what you can expect if you do it. I was mesmerized by the idea of being that in touch with plants to have them actually appear to me in spirit form. How cool would that be?! He told us a story about getting up in the middle of the night to use the restroom and returning to his bed in a bit of a sleepy stupor. There he found 2 mandrake spirits about mid-calf high, standing next to his bed looking up at him. His initial thought was “I don’t remember leaving my boots here.” and as he rubbed the sleepiness from his eyes and saw their little faces he said all he could muster was a weak “Hello.” as he climbed into bed. He jokingly said that when plant spirits appear to you at 3am for the first time “Hello” is about the only thing you can get to come out. He went on to talk about them disappearing and reappearing at the foot of his bed in full human size. They started to dance, shuffle and sway. Initially he thought “This is really creepy.”, but after a few moments of watching them what seemed creepy soon became beautiful to him. Their dancing and swaying was calming and as they carried out their little routine he started to receive a message from them. He had wondered why they appeared and they told him telepathically and given him a sense of calm. Just as quickly as they had appeared, they disappeared leaving him with the message they wanted him to have. It was a lovely story… one that stood out for me.

I’ve never had a mandrake plant spirit appear to me to dance and convey messages, but I have felt a sense of connection and knowing

coast redwoods muir woodswith plants and trees. I have felt an overwhelming wash of calm come over me in certain places. I have felt a sense of being remembered in others. Some of my earliest memories of feeling connected to the divine, to nature and to my authentic self have not been in the presence of other people, but in the presence of the giant redwoods in Muir woods, under the wispy branches of the willow tree in my Gram’s backyard and lying on the soft needles of the pines with nothing but earth below me and sky above me. Those moments are the ones I often try to recapture in my current surroundings. They brought me peace, serenity and a greater sense of self.

So what does any of this mean to you? Well, it means that if you want to feel close to the divine, find a way to connect to the life around you whether big or small. Don’t be afraid to stand barefooted in the grass or to put your hands in the soil. Lie on the damp ground and listen to the hum and chatter of nature around you. Be open and willing to accept even the most unexpected messenger. Whether that’s a talkative little robin or a dancing mandrake… this life you’ve chosen (or that may have chosen you) isn’t meant to be ordinary. Magic doesn’t reside among the ordinary… it’s the unbridled possibility of what if’s in this world that makes the life of a witch extraordinary. So don’t be afraid to truly live it out loud.

The next time you are tending to your herb garden, rose bushes or house plants… whisper to them that you are a witch and that you mean them no harm. Tell them that you are thankful for all of the amazing things they are capable of. Name their uses and properties one by one. Touch them, praise them and nurture them. You will be amazed at the ways in which they will communicate with you and how much closer to the spirit of the land you find yourself.

Blessings,

Bridey-signature

Returning with the Fullness of the Moon

From September 2012 until May 2013 I was extremely busy drafting case studies, care plans and mental health assessments for the Registered Nursing program I was admitted into last July. The schedule I was keeping for school left very little time for me to do the things I quite enjoy doing on my spare time, like reading fiction and writing for this blog. Fortunately that has changed.

I am happy to report that as of May 10, 2013 I’ve graduated with my Associates of Applied Science in Nursing. For now, I’m working on finding a groove to get into. I will still have studying to do for my state boards test (NCLEX-RN), but I also have plenty of free time to devote back to the leisure activities I have been neglecting over the past 8 months. Namely my writings here. I hope that you will join me as I recommit myself to exploring my thoughts, experiences and feelings while living openly as a witch in SE Texas.

Blessings,

J is for Jumping the Broom

What is “jumping the broom”? What is the purpose?

To most Pagans, when you hear about “jumping the broom”, that means someone is getting or has gotten married. Jumping the broom is an act carried out after the completion of a wedding or handfasting ceremony. It is a time-honored tradition that signifies leaving the single life and crossing over the threshold into a new life together as a couple. The broom itself is symbolic, as it represents the ability to sweep away the old life and any negativity. In addition, jumping the broom is believed by many to bring fertility to the couple and as you “jump into a new life” you are leaving the old one behind ready to take on the world as a team.

The origin of the tradition is unknown, but many people have associated it with many cultures including: Roman, Celtic, Welsh and European Gypsy cultures as well as West African cultures. They have all practiced this custom in their own ways. Many of these people did so in secrecy either because they could not afford traditional weddings or because they were forbidden.

During the time of slavery in the American south, many African slaves performed “broom-jumping weddings” in secrecy because they were not allowed to legally marry one another. Once African-Americans were legally allowed to marry, the tradition of broom-jumping pretty much disappeared because it was no longer needed. However, there has been a resurgence in its popularity, due in no small part to the miniseries Roots.  Due to this, many modern-day African-Americans choose to honor this tradition.

It’s no wonder that many gay & lesbian couples have chosen to take up this custom and make a place for it in their wedding ceremonies. After all, in many places, they too aren’t afforded the right to marry whom they love.

You could say this tradition is indeed cross-cultural. Interestingly enough, the implications of the act of “jumping the broom” mean relatively the same thing to all people who decide to incorporate it into their wedding ceremony, regardless of cultural identity. I think more than a religious symbol though, to those people who started this tradition, it was a cultural custom. One rooted in superstition and mystery. Who wouldn’t want to make sure they put forth every effort to ensure a successful marriage?

This is just one of many wedding customs that Pagan couples may choose to incorporate to make their ceremony more meaningful for them. Similar to lighting a unity candle or binding their hands together with cords, what it comes down to is a symbol of unity and togetherness. It’s one that I happen to really like and hope to incorporate into my ceremony should I ever get married again. Whatever your cultural identity, you might consider adding this tradition to your handfasting or wedding, as the symbolism is universal and can add a little bit of fun to the ceremony!

Blessings,

Opportunity Knocks

Recently Rowan & I have been talking a lot about leadership and what our roles entail. We’ve also been discussing how we’d like to expand on our knowledge as leaders and grow our circle. There are a lot of ideas being tossed around. We’re both ordained and considering what that could mean for our circle and our lives personally. While we hold the title, both of us want formal training and some guidance from other people in leadership roles. It’s one thing to call yourself a High Priestess and another to actually fill that role appropriately. I feel that we both live up to the standards of what I believe a High Priestess should be, however, it doesn’t hurt either of us to ensure that we learn how to better serve our community.

The other day we started talking about formal Pagan clergy programs. Most of them are geared entirely towards Wicca, require that you are there in person or require such far-fetched time periods (2-4 years) that neither of us were sure we were going to find something we could both feel comfortable paying money for & committing to. It was about the time I thought screw it, that Rowan was thinking up ways to create our own training program… And then I remembered Covenant of the Goddess.

Prior to moving overseas I had considered joining CoG and went so far as to ask for letters of recommendation from my circle mates who were already members. They had provided me with them… and then life happened (divorce, move back to the states, being without my belongings for months) and I completely lost sight of that goal entirely.

A few days ago I asked a former circle mate who had previously vouched for me, Lady Justice, if she’d do it again and she said she’d happily write me as many letters as I needed. (Goddess blessed me with amazing friends!) She also mentioned that Merry Meet (annual CoG shindig) was going to happen this year in Albuquerque, NM. That just happens to be where my friend, Lady Justice, and her adorable family all live. Not only did she mention that Merry Meet was happening in her town, but extended an invitation to Rowan & I to stay with her, eat her food & get carted to and from Merry Meet via her chariot if we got our booties to Albuquerque for August 16-19th. Yikes! That’s only a little over a months time to save up. After figuring our travel expenses, overnight lodging in a hotel 1 night on the way there and 1 night on the way back, food/snacks on the road, general entrance fees for Friday/Saturday & the leadership conference… we estimated about $500 each. Gas alone is going to be about $400 because we’re driving 1,900 miles roundtrip.

Never fear… Bridey has a plan, because while I think we’re quite capable of saving $500 each, I’m not sure we can both do it in 6 weeks time. Well, not on our own.

SO, this is where you come in. If you think you’d like to help us make our way to Merry Meet for a much needed leadership getaway, then click on the little link provided below & contribute to our cause! Not only will you be helping our circle here in Beaumont, Texas thrive, but you’ll also be supporting the greater Pagan community when we become recognized clergy too!

Contribute to the Merry Meet Fund!

Thanks in advance & Blessings,

Summer Solstice

Last year for Summer Solstice I made my way to Hillsboro, Texas to participate in a Summer Solstice festival being held on the property where Middlefaire Renaissance Faire is held. Initially it was going to be a girls retreat, but many of the women invited weren’t able to come… it ended up being a mother & daughter retreat for mom & I. That’s how I sort of think that it was supposed to be. We needed the time away to reconnect and let loose a little together. Believe me, we did! It was hot as Hades out, but we managed to have a good time and tried to keep cool. It was our 1st Pagan festival in Texas & we were determined to make it memorable!

Much of our time was spent chatting with merchants & patrons there. I quickly befriended a musical group called Dublin Doubles comprised of Teresa, Trey & Lala. For 2 days they were our surrogate family of sorts. They were very welcoming and friendly so it was easy to hang with them and get the lay of the land… plus I really enjoy their music and it gave me lots of time to listen to them play. Next to them were the lovely couple Denise & Mel, who felt like kindred spirits to me the moment they opened their mouths to speak. Something about them just felt very familiar and comforting. Mom & I both bought some fantastic loose incense & burners from the business they run called Practically Magick. When we weren’t buying stuff and mingling with the people… we were off by the stage finding our spiritual groove…. in drum circle with a really cool guy named El Lobo. This was obviously not his first rodeo because El Lobo brought a bunch of drums and noise makers for everyone to play with. We spent hours both days we were there getting lost in the rhythm of the drum beats… it was a lot of fun and very relaxing.

This Summer Solstice when Akasha & Indigo started talking about what we needed to bring with us for ritual, I was excited to find out that we’d be drumming. On our Litha craft day I made a little hand-held drum to bring with me for ritual since Jay was going to be playing my doumbek. I’m not sure how long we drummed, but it was a fantastically freeing sensation. I felt very tranquil drumming and swaying to the beat. Prior to that we were encouraged to dance with abandon, Akasha described it as “mad monkey dancing”… so we did. Danced, spinned & jumped the fire. It was a lot of fun. Probably the most free I’ve felt dancing in circle in a long time.

The tone of the ritual felt very playful & fun… like the sort of ritual a faery would want to attend. What with the flowers, fire, drums, poetry & dancing… who could resist?

Here’s the poem I wrote:

Blazing heat
Fairies dance
‘Round the wise oak
Spin & prance
Rhythmic beat of the drum
Twirl and whirl to the hum
Sacred earth
Summer’s warmed air
Flicker of fire
Cleansing water mists their hair
Energy grows with desire
Solstice sun high in the sky
Joy & merriment as they fly
Longest day has arrived
Blessed Litha they all cry!

We also went on a guided meditation to visit “Ancient Ones” who told us about whatever it was we were seeking. We were told to envision ourselves riding a white mare and when we came upon the opening in the rocks we spoke to the Ancient Ones who talked to us about perception. From our end it appeared to be an opening only large enough to peer through, but on their end it was an opening large enough for us to ride through on the mare. That meditation sat with me even after ritual was concluded, the concept of perception and the need to reevaluate how you look at things. I thought it was a really insightful meditation.

It has helped me focus some attention on some of the things I perceive in my life as “not right”… I have too little time, too little money, too many responsibilities, too many chores, etc. You know, when it comes right down to it, none of that is correct at all. Sure, I wish I had more time to do the things I enjoy, but with good time management I can do most of what I want with my leisure time. I wish I made more money, but who doesn’t? With good budgeting I can afford the things I truly need and even a few of the things I want. Responsibility is something I should welcome & appreciate because that means that I am trusted and counted on, things that only come to someone who is tried & true. I’d much rather spend my time visiting with friends, writing, crafting, reading… really anything other than doing chores, but they’re one of those evil necessities in life. What a drag to have to do laundry, dishes & vacuum the livingroom, but I’d much rather do that than live in a dirty, unkempt home. Perception is important. It helps you to look at the very same thing from a different vantage point to gain a broader view.

That’s what Summer Solstice was for me. Drumming until my hands hurt. Dancing with abandon like a “mad monkey”. Writing poetry. Leaping the fire. And reevaluating my perception. So, what was your Summer Solstice?

Blessings,