Two Unusual Solstice Rituals

I had various plans to try and get my kids involved in non-ADF (by which I mean, without portals, but with deities) solstice rituals. One way or the other, none of them worked out — but we did talk about the fact that it was solstice and I tried to impart something of my ramblings about the energy of the season.

And then I realized, I needed to get something done in order to qualify for the Dedicant’s Path. Then, while out with the kids, we found a new climbing tree:

climbius
Climbius, the tree

And, while my kids were off chasing frogs I tried my hand at climbing it myself. Then, closer to the sun and thinking I had a bit of time to myself, I tried an impromptu ritual, akin to the Samhain that I felt was so beneficial.

And I had a bit of a nice ritual, honoring the ancestors, the nature spirits, and the shining ones. I even was able to speak some spontaneous praise to Sol and Apollo before being interrupted with the kids.

I considered just counting that as my ritual. (I need to finish up the Dedicant’s Path so I can begin focusing on worshipping in a way that fits me — which will probably be with rituals but without so much pressure.) But then I thought, “no, I had some serious thoughts about this high day and didn’t even make any offerings.”

So I got up early the next morning and made the sacrifices. I didn’t draw an omen, because I wasn’t sure what to ask. In the moment, it felt more like I was just covering an existing debt (not a debt, but more like just doing the right thing, for form’s sake. Like when you go out and buy a friend a card, even though their birthday has passed and you’ve already congratulated them. You both just know that it’s appropriate and you want to have the kind of relationship that includes cards.)

That was my Summer Solstice. I’m a little discouraged. I’d put more thought into what I wanted it to be like, and I wanted it to be an ADF ritual, to gain experience in having them. Also, I have a higher affinity for the ‘solar’ high days (I guess they’re all based on the solar calendar) than for the cross-quarter days. So, I wanted it to be more, but it was still something.

And that’s not nothing.

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Resolutions, Rethought

New Year’s Resolutions

I’m a pretty big fan of resolutions. In fact, I like the idea that paganism is about me becoming a better version of myself. And setting goals is a big part of that. Whether I’m resolving to take more omens or reset my priorities.

As a conversational English teacher, I teach resolutions each January. The general consensus seems to be that goals are pointless because people don’t stick to them. And I get that. However, it seems like New Year’s resolutions are the only part of life where “it’s hard” is a socially acceptable and I think that’s ridiculous.

Enter the wheel of the year

I think that the problem with New Year’s resolutions is that they’re too far apart. Setting goals once a year seems to be a bad plan. I mean, we only get eighty or so years. If you’re setting your goals and evaluating the results only once a year… well, I get why that doesn’t work.

But, there’s a high day every six weeks. And doesn’t that seem like an appropriate amount of time for setting a goal and evaluating how it worked for you? Six weeks seems to be enough time for trying a goal on and revising it.

Even more, the wheel of the year gives us different things to worry about at different times of the year. There are a lot of things I could work on on the way to becoming my best self. However, thinking of the summer solstice as a time when I should focus on productivity and forward-thinking reduces it to a manageable list of goals.

Goals

Since the winter solstice, I’ve been trying to write down goals. I missed the spring equinox (that is, I didn’t update them). In fact, I’ve been writing them down big on my walls.

solstice-goals

I have ‘blackboard’ stickers on the walls in my workshop/office. (The space I carved out for myself.) I use them for various things, but I’ve been putting my goals up where I can see them.

Even more, they’re where my kids can see them. They don’t hold me accountable, but they’re just learning to read, so they’ll read them out loud and want to talk about them with me. And, that’s good for me. Even more, I enjoy my role model function. I think it’s good for my kids to know that I’m working on improving and to be open about the things I’m dissatisfied with about myself. (I mean, it seems that childhood is just eighteen years of people being dissatisfied with you and setting goals — why not demonstrate that the goal setting doesn’t stop.)

I don’t know if this is something I’ll be doing when I’m eighty, but right now it works for me.

What Midsummer Means

A small disclaimer: I see myself as a very young, novice pagan. I don’t have a definitive answer to what Midsummer means. However, that doesn’t stop me from trying to find something to focus my summer solstice script on.

Look out the window

Not a farmer, I still look at the plant world to get a sense of what the wheel of the year means. I don’t know if that’s because of the affinity I feel for Proserpina and Ceres, or if I feel that affinity because of their active role in the cycle of the year.

Still: this is a period of growth. Proserpina is returned to Olympus and Ceres grants growth to us. So, logically, this is a time to celebrate their reunification and the Ceres’ joy which is so verdantly evident around us.

For me, being a pagan isn’t simply about celebrating the lives of the kindred (though that’s an essential part of it). It’s about organizing my own life, and finding a bit of meaning in it. So, what does it mean to me?

Clearly, this is a time of growth, of looking forward towards the harvest. This is a time to be productive, to set goals and to work toward them.

Astronomy has something to add

Well, we can see that this is the time in which Sol showers us with energy. So much of his energy surrounds is, in fact, that we have to be careful how we experience it: it can make us sick.

This is a time in which energy is available to us — see the bit about it being a productive time — but it’s also a time in which we have to be careful how we interact with that energy. Just as we can do too little with the energy that Sol is providing us and have too little stored up for the dark time when Proserpina returns to Hades, we can also do too much and hurt ourselves.

I don’t know how much wisdom is to be gained by reflecting on sunlight as a metaphor for how we interact with the energy available to us now, but I know that we know a few things about sunlight:

  • What we put in our body affects our ability to engage with the energy. (I’ll blog about tomato paste at some point)
  • We can put something between us and the energy — clothing or, in my own personal worst case, sunblock — between us and the energy in order to be surrounded by it more
  • We develop a tolerance with exposure and actively engaging with the sun’s energy as soon as it comes out makes it easier to bear the intensity of it when it reaches full power
  • Despite all that, it’s sometimes wise to seek refuge from the sun’s energy indoors or in some shade

I don’t have a list of one-to-one analogs to each of those. I can’t say that eating this or drinking that will help. I just find it useful to know that I probably don’t have some innate level of tolerance to interaction with the energy of this season. Instead, I have the option to develop a higher tolerance towards it.

Looking forward

When I asked the Ancestors for an omen as I began reflecting on my Summer Solstice ritual, I told them all the things I said above (though I was less verbose — it was a brief summary of my thinking) and the omen I got was the Six of Cups, reversed.

The Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom book had this to say about it:

Like the Seven, the Six reversed indicates a move towards action. Specifically, it shows looking towards the future, rather than the past. The two cards reversed are very similar; the difference is that the Six shows an attitude while the Seven indicates actual steps taken.

And, I think that complements what I’ve said above: now seems to be a time to begin shifting our focus towards the harvest and the next cycle of darkness. What do I need to lay up in order to be prepared? What can I do now that I can’t do later? What am I likely to wish that I had done now when I have the chance?

The ritual

Anyone who owns a calendar can see that I’m behind on the ritual, again. But, I still have time to “do it right.”

So, what do all those reflections mean for my upcoming ritual? Well, it seems wise to praise Sol — or maybe Apollo (I can’t explain why, but I get the sense that Sol is not available to me, except through Apollo) — and to offer gratitude for the energy around me. And, it makes sense to offer to the ancestors and ask them to be allies in this time of increased productivity. I don’t know where they fit in the list of things that help us interact with the increased energy, but I do know that they are sources of wisdom as I make decisions about how to interact with this time.

So, the short version of my planning for the ritual is the following:

  • Celebrating with Ceres and Proserpina
  • Honoring Apollo and Sol, perhaps asking for wisdom in interacting with the energy they are making available
  • Asking my ancestors to stand by me and provide wisdom as I focus on using the energy available without hurting myself or making decisions I will regret

Omen reflection: Think about the question

Something I’ve thought about more than actually experienced is the fact that the kindred — just like other people — aren’t guaranteed the answer the question that you ask. On Monday, as I was drawing my omen for the week, I wasn’t careful enough in choosing a question.

In general, I’m a fan of more omens rather than fewer. That is to say, I think it’s better to ask three general questions of the kindred, rather than one specific one. It gives them more chances to communicate clearly, and it indicates genuine interest.

On Monday, however, I think that I went too far. I’ve been struggling with back pain and — in the druid meetup that led to my first prayer making a request — I spoke about asking the grandfather whose body I have (that is to say, whom I strongly resemble) if he had back pain and how he dealt with it.

The question I formulated was something like “how should I think about approaching you about how you managed life in your body?”

The response was this:

queen-wands
The Queen of Wands, reversed

Nothing I found in any of the books really spoke to me. I mean, it didn’t seem helpful as an answer to the question — but, to be honest, what could — and it I couldn’t see what my grandfather was trying to tell me through the omen.

Eventually, I accepted that this was not an answer to the question I had asked, but I also began to see that I wouldn’t have been able to answer that question if someone else had asked me, and I have a much broader vocabulary than just 78 symbols available to me. So, I thought, maybe it was a suggestion that I need to be better in asking my questions.

Today, I decided to formulate the question more exactly and to say: I’ve been struggling with back pain and I would like your wisdom on how to approach it. Changing up the decks, I got this as an answer:

princess-of-cups
Princess of Cups

And in both of my tarot books, meditation was indicated. To me, it seems fair that, when I finally decided to address my grandfather, he said “forget your back, focus more on meditation.”

And, I guess I’d be a fool if I didn’t.

What is a hearth?

hearth

“Hearth” is a word you’ll hear often in paganism. You might hear things like:

  • I keep a Celtic hearth
  • Hestia is the goddess of the hearth
  • I place my offerings at the hearth
  • Hearth and home

But, what is a hearth? To be honest, I don’t know. This isn’t a post I’m writing because I’ve found an answer, but because I’ve found something positive in asking the question. (Though, now I’m thinking I should ask the ancestors about this and take an omen.)

A fire

Ultimately, it’s easy to define a hearth. It’s either a fire, a fireplace, or a part of a fireplace. A hearth for heating and cooking was such a basic function of a home that it came to stand in for one. That’s where the phrase “hearth and home” above comes from.

And, since I’ve learned that, I’m happy that we still heat with coal (environmentally sinful, but I still build a fire for my family in the winter — and that feels somehow ‘rooted’ in the past) and that we have ‘home fires’ which need tending.

So, simple, a hearth is a fire, right?

The center

I’m learning Latin with the goal of using it with the kindred and in general. And, interestingly, the Latin word for the hearth fire is ‘focus.’ Obviously, they weren’t thinking of the English usage when they gave it that name, but I’m giving it a connotation. How can I not?

And Vesta — the goddess of the hearth — had a temple in Rome where the fire was never allowed to go out, with dire consequences if it did. Her hearth fire was clearly something more than just a place for cooking and warmth.

Vesta wasn’t only the goddess of the hearth, she was also the goddess of the home and family. And I think that (for me) illuminates the meaning of a hearth some. A hearth was a fire — and still can be — but it was also something more. Some abstract thing around which a family formed.

Or, maybe it’s some abstract thing that defines a home or a family. In this understanding, maybe the hearth is that indefinable quality that a lived-in house has, that makes it feel welcoming — or makes you feel out-of-place.

Perhaps — and I like this understanding of the word — a family is more than just genetics. It’s a collection of people who belong at the same hearth.

The altar

The ‘sacred fire’ does not have to be your hearth fire in an ADF ritual. At least, not as best as I can tell. It can be any fire. But, I think of the one specific candle on my altar as my ‘hearth’ and I sometimes take it with me onto the balcony to read in the evening. I like being ‘beside my hearth.’

(Though, interestingly, I don’t think that I’m opening any special gate to the heavens when I light it this way. Apparently, intention is important.)

Still, I hear people speak of their hearth in a way that makes me think it makes more sense to substitute the word ‘altar’ for hearth than ‘home.’ And that makes sense, if you look at the translations listed under focus above. Even without the translations, there is something nice about the idea of the altar being the focal point of a home.

I’m not sure that my own relationship with the kindred is at the point that it could be the focal point of my family, but I can see why the idea is appealing.

This is — I think — the meaning that people have in mind when they say “I keep a Celtic hearth” (or, in my case, “I keep a Roman hearth.”) We’re saying: my altar (and practice) tends in one certain direction. You can also “keep an eclectic” hearth which borrows from many different practices.

Conclusion

Generally, I’m one for clarity. I like precision (though obviously not economy) in language. I like people to say what they mean.

And yet, I embrace the ambiguity of the hearth. I like the idea that it can be the ‘center of the home’ or the ‘altar’ or both at once. Or maybe it’s just a fire.

I still don’t know what the average pagan is thinking when she uses the word, but I don’t mind having the opportunity to turn it into a conversation.

 

Omen Reflection: Knight of Cups

The omen

My omen drawing for this week was a difficult one. Not least because there wasn’t much clear in the Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom book, but also because what I did find didn’t seem to be helpful.

This was this week’s omen.

knight-cups
Knight of Cups

In Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom (the only book I consulted on Monday) the explanations talked about the conflicts between the Knight as a figure of action and the passivity of the cups. And that may be true and I do sense both of those in me, but it wasn’t helpful as an omen.

This week, I reflected less on the omen than I did last week. (And I suppose there is nothing wrong with that.) I can remember there being some sense of “avoid apathy” whenever I thought about it, but I can no longer explain why.

Now — after the time period covered by the omen has come and gone — I had the idea to consult my only other Tarot book, The Druidcraft Tarot. This is what it says under meaning for the Knight of Cups:

You, or someone you know, may be following their heart and their romantic dreams, and the challenge is to avoid the pitfalls of illusion and glamour. It is also hard to act when so much of your attention is in the world of dreams, and so you may be experiencing a conflict between what you feel in your heart and your need to take action in the world.

And that seems like actionable wisdom.

Upon reflection, I think that I did spend a lot of the week in fantasies of action (thinking of the things I wanted to get done, congratulating myself on the excellent formulation of plans) rather than in action.

Partly, this was understandable: I was out of the house a lot, working and driving between jobs. And, partly, it was enjoyable: I got a hike in in a forest I used to visit more often, and of course, that was accompanied by more daydreams.

Next time

There was something I did only once, which I could have done more often: writing down the ideas I was dreaming of in a note-taking app, so they could be implemented more easily. The next time I draw this card, I would encourage myself to make the plans I dream up more permanent, to invest more energy in contemplating how they’re going to be implemented.

Omen reflection: The tower

So, after last week’s success with taking, contemplating, and reflecting on an omen, I was so happy with the results that I took an extra omen on Friday to think about the past week and the upcoming weekend.

And this is what I drew:

vulcanus
The tower

Obviously, I wasn’t thrilled at the omen. It seemed ominous.

I won’t quote the book, because the entry for the Tower is long and good, but there isn’t one short part that I can copy here to sum it up. So, what I took away from the text was that the Tower meant:

  • (possible) pain
  • (possible) new beginnings (out of ashes, so to speak)
  • things being torn down to make room for new

And none of that is what you want as an omen for the weekend.

How was I to deal with that? How should I use that to approach my weekend?

The best I could come up with — in conjunction with the positive experience of the week I’d just had — was that I needed to be open to new beginnings and to accept that they might be hard.

Since I drew the omen, it’s hard to say that I’ve had new beginnings. I do feel a general call to re-commit myself to adulthood (that is to say, buckle down and do the next several weeks ‘properly’ before retreating again to fatherhood and projects of my own design) but I feel that is me trying to force the omen to fit.

Maybe, the kindred were answering a different question, or pushing me to ask the ‘right question.’ I don’t know.