This is only a minor aside, but I’ve been trying to process the omen from Ceres, and the idea that a good work-ethic might be a form of worship. (Gods know that my work-ethic is spotty).
Today, on a purely secular note, I ran my monthly 5k for time, and, as I was pushing myself, the thought that developing the willpower to work hard might be a way to honor Ceres was one of the factors that kept me going.
Maybe I’m just overdoing it with paganism at the moment, and will return to a more normal level after tomorrow’s ritual.
My Samhain ritual is written. Or, a solid draft of it. I didn’t want to consider it finished until I had time to do the last thing on my list: take an omen from Proserpine. She’s one of the beings of the occasion and has been the only deity I feel even remotely talking to.
When I saw on the back of the card that I’d drawn a reversed card, I was pretty nervous, but I think that this one makes sense in the context of my ritual. Here’s what the book Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom says about the Three of Wands reversed:
Here we find one of Waite’s best formulas; ‘Surprise, wonder, enchantment, trouble, and fear.’ All of these terms together describe someone jumping directly into new experience. When we leave behind safe situations and past success to enter the unknown, we liberate so much emotion and energy that we cannot avoid either the wonder and enchantment or the fear that goes with it.
I think this makes sense in the context of the ritual — we’re celebrating, or marking, her departure for the underworld — and it’s the first ritual I’ve written that includes me doing any workings. That’s new territory.
Because I don’t see the omen as a reason to change the ritual I’d written, I’m going to declare the preparations finished. And it is a feeling of fear and wonder.
This was the part of the preparation for the Samhain ritual that I was most dreading. When I added a Ceres leaf to the tree on my altar, I got my first ever negtive-ish omen: a reversed Seven of Pentacles. Which I took to mean that the goddess was not really satisfied with the kind of relationship we have.
So, it seemed logical to make strengthening that relationship a priority in the Samhain ritual, as this was traditionally a time (more or less) when her mysteries were celebrated.
Today, I took the omen and I got the three of pentacles, reversed. Another negative-ish omen.
This is from Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, on the Three of Pentacles, reversed:
Mediocrity: the work, physical or spiritual, goes badly, often from laziness or weakness. Sometimes the meaning extends to a general situation in which little happens: things continue either getting worse or improving, at a slow steady rate.
There’s not a lot to try and interpret there. I don’t have all the answers at hand, but, as I contemplate what it could mean, I understand that there are a lot of things that I wanted to do — both for my spirituality and more mundanely — that I haven’t been doing.
Part of me is focusing strongly on the fact that Pentacles are the suit of the mundane world and of ‘real’ (as opposed to spiritual) work. I’m wondering if I should focus on the physical actions I can take.
So, I had really intended to get out and sit in silence with the Earth Mother. However, I live in Germany and we had a pretty bad storm over the weekend and, while that didn’t mean I couldn’t get out, it meant that, when I had a chance to get out, it was wisest to take my kids with me.
It wasn’t a big deal. I like getting outside with my kids. Following the omen from the ancestors that I took in preparing for the upcoming ritual, however, it seemed almost like a sign.
Outside, seeing the changes wrought by the storm, it seemed pretty easy to see how the storm was part of an all-suffusing Earth Mother, that returns branches and at least one entire tree, to the soil. It became easy to see myself as some part of the same system, and the kids, too.
It’s hard to convey it now, but it seemed like I could sense how I was just a bundle of resources temporarily assigned a tiny speck of will. And, in the moment, it felt meaningful, and like I had some kind of obligation to make the most of the weird coincidence which saw my own particular bundle of water and minerals saddled with a bit of will.
Walking with kids who were happily picking up mistletoe (there was so much mistletoe on the ground!) and finding runaway kites, I reflected a lot on how hard it will be for me explain what “making the most” of it might mean. However, I re-pledged myself to try to take the fewest resources, as it seems logical I’ll have to achieve less to be proud of what I’ve done with the little bit allotted to me.
I feel like this exercise in thinking more about the altar has mostly taught me that I need to think a lot more about my altar. After each of my posts on the well and the fire, I felt like I was more deeply appreciative of the meaning of the things on my altar.
So far, I haven’t been able to get that feeling out of the tree. I recall asking the local proto-grove leader if I could just use a picture on my altar as a tree and she strongly counseled against it. So, for the first year or so, the tree on my altar was just a stick from my anchor tree.
The symbolism of the tree
The tree is symbolic because it is rooted in the Earth, nourished by the deep waters, and reaches for the heavens, drawing energy from the heavens. It’s a symbol of what we can be. And, to be honest, I like the two powers meditation a lot, in which the practitioner imagines being a tree.
So, the symbolism of the tree is potent, and I often find myself envious of mature trees. (Though, really, your average sapling doesn’t have great chances of getting to reach the point where I might envy it… That’s not something that gets pulled into the symbolism.)
The tree as gate
Here’s where I begin to struggle: when we (re)create the cosmos in ADF ritual, we offer to the well in order to open the gate to the ancestors. And that dovetails very well with the Roman Hearth tradition of the ancestors living in an underworld.
And, we offer to the fire in order to open the gate to the gods. That’s also pretty easy to understand: fire was used since times of old to sacrifice to the gods.
The thing is that the tree, as a gate, is a bit harder to wrap my head around. We offer to the tree, in order to invite the nature spirits to take part in the ritual. Seen that way, the tree is a portal between this realm and the very same realm.
Do you see where it’s hard for me to get?
An abstract gate
I neglect the nature spirits. I mean, inasmuch as my outdoorsiness is part of my paganism, it’s how I relate to the Earth Mother. Perhaps it’s easier to relate to the ancestors and the gods because they’re so distant. The nature spirits, however, often so poetically referred to as “spirits of wing and fur, or stone and stream” surround us all the time.
So, perhaps, the tree can be seen less as a portal than as a lens which we turn to in order to see that which is in front of our noses.
So, I just asked the ancestors for an omen, and I got the card Rebirth / Judgement. Quick consultations in both my Tarot books suggests this: encouragement to try to see the divinity in the world, and to be reborn into the spirituality of oneness with creation.
That sounds like something to do at a ritual honoring Proserpine and Ceres. But how? There is some thinking to do.
Like the well, the fire is a basic part of an ADF altar. In fact, it’s such a basic part of Druidry, that one of the first things I knew about it was the greeting “May you always pray with a good fire.” I asked the founder of the local proto-grove about it when we met.
I’ve had a candle on my alar since before I really had an altar. I started out with a candle on a table, and I’d put everything away when I was finished. From early pagan readings, and from that conversation with the founder of the local proto-grove, I knew that the fire was basically the gate to the gods.
It’s like a window
I think that what I struggled with, initially, with the fire was what it said about the nature of the gods, that I needed to open a gate to communicate with them. The explanation I liked best (credit: the proto-grove leader) was to think of the gates as windows. If the various realms are rooms separated by windows, we’ll be able to hear, dimly and muffled, what happens in the other realms. If you want better communication, to make someone in another realm feel welcome, then you open the window.
And, that’s how I’ve approached the fire. However, as I decided to do some reading about the parts of the altar, I’ve learned to expand my appreciation of it.
I knew, in some abstract way, that the Greeks and the Romans viewed fire (or some fires) as the embodiment of a goddess. That would be Hestia for the Greeks, and Vesta for the Romans.
Since six or so months, I’ve really started seeing Vesta in all the fires surrounding me. Or, more precisely, being intellectually aware that she is in these fires, and then feeling bad for taking her presence all over my apartment for granted.
We have at least two pilot lights in the apartment, and five different coal stoves to make fires in as winter approaches, as well as a gas stove to light several times a day, on top of the candles and incense I light fairly often.
The Romans had such appreciation of the power of fire — which we, I think, take for granted and (wrongly) think we have tamed — that they could see the work of the gods in it. Or, of a specific goddess.
And I don’t appreciate that enough. Vesta was the first goddess invoked in any religious circumstance, and so essential to prayer, that her name was synonymous with it.
Short version: What I learned from my reading is that I have a lot more to learn.
In going through the rituals that other ADF members have shared, I’ve found that the fire is honored for it’s transformative, and its inspirational power.
I still have to think about the inspiration part (OBOD makes a bit of a deal out of Awen, and a little bit, I get the sense that the fire of inspiration means something similar).
As for the transformation, I think that it should be pretty clear what is meant: Fire can change things from one form to another. Whether it’s directly burning something, converting it to smoke and ash, or converting something as inedible as a raw potato to something as useful as a cooked potato.
Further, a lot of people use the fire to make sacrifices. The sacrifice is burned, converting something mundane into something sacred.
I think that, what I’ve taken from the whole experience — aside from the need to learn more — is that, when I write my ritual, I will need to acknowledge Vesta, the goddess who visits my altar embodied in flame, for all the amazing powers she has.