Samhain Thoughts

Halloween/Samhain approaches. It’s my High Holy Days! But there is so much going on in my world right now that I can barely focus. I’ve missed the last two Maxim Mondays – the week before was the middle of Navratri and yesterday I was attending to family things. I’d like to share some of what’s going on in my world and what I’ve been up to, along with a few thoughts on the season.

First, I was able to meet up with some amazing people on Sunday. I drove to Seattle and met with Christine Hoff Kraemer, new managing editor of the Pagan Portal at Patheos. She was in town visiting friends, but we were able to talk about a new blog that I may be joining over at Patheos. (Don’t worry, My Own Ashram isn’t going anywhere.) We also met with P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, author of the incredibly smart Queer I Stand blog, also at Patheos. It’s a delight for me to meet other kindred spirits.

Ten years ago I smirked with bemused judgment when people told me they had a blog. Now, my life is rich and my social web complex and robust thanks to the many people I’ve met through blogging. I have multiple writing opportunities open before me thanks to the internet. I am grateful and excited.

More opportunities are underway as well, regarding traveling. I’m in discussions with Journeyman Adventures. We’re talking about possible pilgrimages and how we might work together. Who knows? You might be able to follow along on journey to India!

My personal life is also undergoing some commotion. Part of this is brought about by the any-now-day-now dying of my husband’s grandmother. I doubt we’ll be adding her to our dumb supper in honor of our Ancestors and Mighty Dead later this week, but we don’t know.

I read recently (wish I could remember where) that Samhain is the beginning of the long, dark night that marks the beginning of the year. In Jewish tradition, and Celtic ones too, if I remember correctly, the day begins not with the dawn, but with the setting of the sun. The observance of a spiritual, if not calendrical, new year at this time acknowledges the quiet darkness that is necessary before the bright dawn of the day. For me, autumn has always felt full of possibility; this year is clearly no different – I’m getting possibilities by the boat load!

Once the Samhain fires die down, then comes the long dark night to settle in with these new possibilities. New ideas will gestate and simmer before being manifested in the spring. It helps that my environment mimics these shifts too, with bright orange trees and seemingly gold-plated sidewalks that light up the greying, early evenings.

And of course, tomorrow is just plain ol’ Halloween. The kids are going as Mario and Luigi. It will be the first trick-or-treating for both my kids. We have uncarved pumpkins on the porch. I don’t think we’re going to get around to carving them this year. Not all of Samhain can be serious. Thank goodness I’ve got my kids to bring home cheap plastic bats and spiders to remind me of this.

How will you celebrate Halloween? What’s simmering for you right now?

 

From Lakshmi to Saraswati

Today is the third day of honoring Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, wisdom, maturity and personal authority; it’s also the final day of Navratri. Tomorrow I will celebrate morning puja and then pour cream into my tea.

Blessing of the laptop

Saraswati puja typically involves blessing one’s tools of work and one’s books – and then not using those items for an entire day. Those things are not really possible in my hyperliterate house. There is no way all the books in our house could fit in front of my altar I had planned to do some writing this afternoon and then grade some papers tonight, so going without my laptop for a full day is just not possible. I’ll let it sit at the altar overnight though.

Offerings at the altar

You can see Saraswati in the above picture. She’s the lady with the green background, holding a sitar; a peacock sits behind her. Offerings on the altar now include (from left to right): cinnamon, cumin, and turmeric in the ramekin on the left; water; the dark mother figurine (typically on my altar); rice and a chunk of dark chocolate in the sea shell; a hand mirror (also on my altar); sugar; half a pomegranate; and a bangle. Down below on my laptop is a banana.

The last few days of devotions have been more taxing, mainly because I am fighting a cold. My head is thick, my body is tired, my energy very low. But I’m showing up, sitting, lighting my candles and saying my prayers. Something about Hindu devotions feels freeing to me. Maybe it’s because I know my prayers are being buoyed by millions of other prayers around the world? However, I rarely felt that when I was a Christian. The few times I’ve felt that in a Christian context was at a few cathedrals or old churches, where the walls are coated in the devotions of thousands over the centuries. That is a beautiful feeling indeed. But my Hindu devotions do not feel like a layer of dust, but like living flames dancing around my head.

In addition to my devotions today I had the honor of casting a sweetening spell for a friend. The spell was given to me the Witch of Forest Grove.

A sweetening spell in progress

I’m glad this honey gets to sit on my altar for a while and soak up more juju. My energy wasn’t at its peak today, but today was the day for the spell. I plan to reinforce it for the next few weeks and let it brew before giving it to the person for whom it was crafted. I figure casting a spell during Navratri might also be auspicious. We shall see!

 

 

From Kali to Lakshmi

The first three days of Navratri have passed. Three days of making purification (via kala), three days of dark red candles and meditating on the fierce love and thunder of Ma Durga, three days of praying that injustice, ignorance and illusion be razed. I have been running the iron pentacle, energetic meditations on sex, pride, self, power and passion. I have been adding an offering a day to the altar. So far I have rice, water, turmeric, and cumin.

Now we shift to honoring Lakshmi, reflection of the beauty of creation, goddess of all that is bright and abundant. This morning I took extra care with my grooming, attempting to add a little beauty into my day. I added a white candle and an offering of sugar. I will be adding the pearl pentacle to my meditations (love, law, knowledge, liberty, wisdom) in the evening, keeping the iron pentacle in the morning for a few more days.

I didn’t get to my devotions early enough this morning, so I had company at prayer time. My little girl sat on my lap and nursed as I said prayers, offered thanks, and petitioned for good things. She is a bright shining face, a gift that gladdens my spirits, and a reminder to be sillier. I think Lakshmi would approve!

Lakshmi

May my family and yours be blessed with sweetness and abundance of all good things!

Navratri begins!

After doing my dark moon cleaning of the altar, I changed my altar just a little in preparation for Navratri. For the next 8 days I’ll observe this beautiful Hindu festival of Shakti principle. (I wrote about Navratri last year and recommend reading it for a little background.)

My Navratri altar

Navratri focuses on the manifestations of Durga, the Mahadevi, or in my Feri eyes, the Star Goddess, the Great Source from whom we all emerge and to whom we all return. For the next three days I’m focusing on the dark, purifying aspects, as seen in Kali. The picture of Kali, seen hung on the back of the case, is permanently affixed, as she is a deity I honor daily. While asking for boons and blessings is a common part of festivals and holidays, I like that this one kicks off with a focus on purification. It is not purification from our inherent evilness, but purification from the confusion of illusion (often self-inflicted), from obstacles to truth, and from the malaise of inaction. I’ve already made kala this morning and will make kala daily as part of my purification practice.

 

O, Kali Ma!

Slay the fears that limit my spirit.

O Kali Ma!

Dance upon the grave of my iniquities.

Many Hindus choose to fast for the entire holiday. That can mean any number of things: having only one meal a day, giving up meat, eating only grains and fruit…. ask ten Hindus, get ten different answers! I am abstaining from dairy and alcohol. (I already don’t eat grains, other than the occasional bit of rice.) I love dairy and alcohol. In fact, I have a 2/3 full bottle of bourbon sitting on my shelf and I’m not touching it! But I welcome this fast. It feels joyful and life-giving to me.

In the photo you can see a red scarf draped under my little table, with red candle holders. Sandalwood incense burns; the white shell holds two handfuls of rice as an offering. This morning I added a ramekin with turmeric in it. I’ll change out the offerings throughout the nine days. I plan to run the Iron and Pearl Pentacles, make kala, and have two sittings a day of prayer and meditation.

Already I feel the presence of Ma Durga. Her loving presence descended just a little last night, and I was grateful. This is a very personal holiday for me. I don’t have the kids involved at all. I retreat into my tiny office and sit at my altar – time just for me.

Jai Ma!

 

(If you observe Navratri, I’d love to hear how you involve your family, if at all.)

 

 

Maxim Monday: Love Your Friends

I love my friends. I’m loyal to a fault. I often cling to relationships well past their ‘use by’ date. But if I’ve decided that you are a Friend, it takes a lot to shake me off. Moving so much, so often over the last fifteen years has taken a toll on many of my friendships. I’m still as fond of my old friends as ever, but it can be difficult to maintain or even renew some bonds.

But now I’ve found my ‘forever home’ and I’m excited to forge relationships here, relationships that I hope will grow and be nurtured over decades. Building community is incredibly important to me and my husband. We want to be around people who are passionate, engaged, open to new experiences and discussion, and who are willing to show up in rough times, as well as fun times. We’re already forging some beautiful connections here, a village, we call it. Our friends mostly have kids the same ages as ours, but one family just gave birth to their first child less than a week ago. Another friend is dealing with divorce.

It’s these life transitions that allow us to love on our friends with the kind of tangible support I know I’ve found invaluable in my own life. I have become a huge fan of the strengths of internet/social media friendships (I was once a doubter of mocking proportions); online social circles are important and can be incredibly supportive when we need a high five or a morale boost. But for me, there is nothing so satisfying as being able to show up with soup (or homemade carnitas and refried beans) when some one is ill or post-partum, to say ‘Hey, come over and I’ll pour you a glass of wine, and you can tell me all about it,” to be able to watch the kids when a meeting gets switched last minute.
These acts are loving my friends – and letting them love me.

There’s magic in community. There’s magic in my village.

 

Looking Ahead

I love October. It’s my favorite month. I adore autumn, with the changing leaves, the fresh grey skies, the cool, crisp air, and warm sun (when we had it!). It’s also a month of holidays. Between mid October and early November I feel like it’s my High Holy Days.

Here’s what I’m looking ahead to:

Oct. 15 – the dark moon

Oct. 16-24 – Navratri (Hindu observance of the Goddess in Her Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati forms)

Oct. 18 – Alaska Day (the day the US purchased Alaska from Russia) I don’t really celebrate this, so much as announce it on Facebook.

Oct. 29 – Full moon

Oct. 31 – Halloween! It falls on a Wednesday night this year. The kids are either going as Bowser and Mario or as Mario and Luigi (from the Mario Brothers Nintendo games). This will be the first trick-or-treat experience for both of them.

Nov. 2 – Observance of All Soul’s Day/Day of the Dead, in which our family has a dumb supper

Nov. 3 – Heading up to Seattle for a Feri Samhain ritual

Nov. 4 – Family party to celebrate Guy Fawkes’ Night (officially Nov. 5)

Nov. 6 – We host an election returns party (please vote if you are eligible to!) as the US decides to either keep Obama or give the post to someone new

 

Of course, in there I also have a host of new appointments (we now have health insurance, so the kids get to see a doctor!), another round of papers to grade, and two other trips up to Seattle, one for Feri ‘class’ and another to see a friend from Massachusetts. It’s going to be crazy in the next month – and I’m excited! I hope to blog about most of the events, including more photos than usual as well.

What do you have on tap in the next month?

 

Maxim Monday: Do not use an oath

A working knowledge of Greek would be helpful in this endeavour to explore the Maxims. I’m guessing an oath is making a promise, or swearing by something or some one, a deity perhaps. I would agree that is unwise. If an oath means a ‘swear’ word, well…. I fucking love swearing. I would like to get out of the habit of taking Christ’s name ‘in vain,’ as I think it is disrespectful, even though I do not personally honor him; it’s disrespectful to Jesus himself, but also to the many, many people who love and adore him, some of those people are my friends and family!
Yes, so don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t swear on your mother’s grave. Unwise. Very, very unwise.