In Praise of the Invincible Light

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“The light shines in the darkness,
And the darkness did not overcome it.”
(John 1:5, NRSV)

While writing a sermon on the first chapter of John, I came across this interesting observation from Karoline Lewis in her Fortress Preaching Commentary on John: “A quick review of the science of light in terms of our ability to see underscores the theological claim that is being made. It only takes the slightest bit of light for our optical system to adjust and see in the dark. When there is no light present at all, our eyes will never become accustomed to the darkness.”

In a season where every spiritual path celebrates some festival of light, I find Lewis’ observation tremendously encouraging. It’s easy for us to focus on the darkness that exists in our world. Facebook and the 24-hour news cycle do an excellent job of promoting every tragedy and sadness that is happening all around us. But if we’re paying attention, nature is telling us there is an alternative: we can shine whatever light we possess, armed with the hopeful knowledge that even the tiniest bit of light makes a huge difference to those we shine it on. It can go a long way in helping them navigate the darkness in their lives.

So, keep those Hanukkah lights burning. Rejoice in the return of the sun on the Winter Solstice. Sing Silent Night with candles blazing on Christmas Eve. Follow the seven luminous principles of Kwanzaa. Find some reason, any reason, to light a candle! May the candles we light remind us of our connectedness to each other, and our sacred duty to be light for one another. We spend far too much time talking about what makes us different. Maybe this December we can focus on what binds us together as one! Shine on, sisters and brothers!

Copyright ©2018 by  David Taliesin, sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Coping During the Holidays

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“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”—Chinese Proverb

As we approach the Winter Solstice, the days continue to get darker and darker. Likewise, the world around us feels like a darker place as well. The headline news brings a fresh new horror every day: mass shootings, police brutality, global warming, terrorism, sexual harassment charges, political hubris and the like. I find that many people around me are anxious and afraid of what the future will bring. When we put the insanity that is the secular American Christmas on top of this, it makes many of us feel like hiding behind locked doors and not coming out until at least January 1st.

Since this is not an option for most of us, how do we cope? What tools do we need in our spiritual toolbox to navigate this dark season in all of its layers of meaning? Here’s my list of things we can do to light a candle in the midst of the darkness. No matter how bad things may seem, we all have the power to make a positive change in our lives and in our world. Feel free to add your own coping strategies in the comment section of this post:

Limit the time you spend on social media. Psychological studies suggest that social media sites don’t contribute to us feeling closer to others. In fact, they can make us feel isolated and depressed. Furthermore, inflammatory and reactionary posts and comments can make our blood boil. Don’t get sucked into the drama!

Take a walk out in nature. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a walk down a city street or a stroll through the countryside, turn off your computer and/or cell phone and connect with nature. Breathe deeply and look at the flora and fauna that are around you. It’s good for the soul (and also a great way to get away from that obnoxious relative who pushes all your emotional buttons)!

Avoid the 24-hour news cycle spin. Yes, bad things are happening in our world but you don’t have to wallow in them. Get the highlights, hold the situation in your thoughts and prayers, send healing energy if that’s a part of your spiritual path, and move on with your day!

Practice random acts of kindness. Do something loving for your spouse, your family, a neighbor, a coworker, or a total stranger. Volunteer for an organization that is making a difference in your community such as a food pantry, homeless shelter, abused women’s shelter and the like.

Breathe, breathe, breathe. Find a meditative practice that works for you. Channel your inner Elsa and learn to “let it go”! Let go of worry, obsessive thoughts, etc. I do this on a daily basis and it makes a big difference in my life. Click on the “meditation” link on my site for suggestions.

Lower your expectations for the season. It doesn’t matter whether you celebrate Solstice, Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza or Yule. We often have a mental “to-do” list running through our heads that is probably too ambitious. Yes, it’s great to create memorable moments for those we love, but they’ll enjoy them a lot more if we’re not cranky and stressed when they arrive.

Copyright ©2018 by David Taliesin

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November Full Moon: Frost Moon

November’s full moon, which will occur on Nov 23rd, goes by several different names. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, it was called the Beaver Moon by the Algonquin tribes and colonial Americans. The reason for this is that hunters used to “set beaver traps before the swamps froze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs.” Other Native American tribes called it the Full Frost Moon which appeals to me more on a spiritual level rather than celebrating the killing of beavers!

If we see the November full moon as the Frost Moon, it is calling us to gather what we need for the coming winter season, be it physically, emotionally or spiritually. Due to a warm winter in North Carolina, I was still harvesting things from my medicinal herb garden until the first week of November! But, now we’ve had several hard frosts and it’s time to put the garden to bed.

Physically, all the energy we put into our yards and outdoor activities has either slowed dramatically or ceased altogether. The shortening of our days as we move toward the Winter Equinox also makes most of us spend more time indoors. Perhaps we can use the energy of this full moon to ponder the things we need to do to our living space in order to make it feel warm and inviting to everyone. It’s a great time of year to invite friends over for dinner, snacks and a movies, etc. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It’s the getting together that counts. For some, the family obligations we have during this time of the year are downright exhausting. [There’s a reason why we only see some of these people once or twice a year!) Therefore, it’s important that we spend time with our “real” family, the family we create. They are often our strongest support system and we need really need them this time of year!

On an emotional and spiritual level, there are a number of us who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or a milder form of it known as the Winter Blues. Light is important to those of us who have a hard time adjusting to the increasing darkness. Lots of candles, warm scents and fireplaces are welcome allies during the winter months. Perhaps this full moon is calling us to change our living space around a bit so that there is more natural light coming in our windows during the day and extra lights [be they strings of electric ones or natural sources] during the dark hours.

The final thing we need to consider this full moon is that the darkness serves a purpose both in nature and in our lives. We all need opportunities to rest, to relax, to recharge. Some of us do our own from of hibernation this time of year and that’s completely natural. The darkness also calls us to journey inward and work on whatever spiritual and emotional issues are important in our lives. We don’t have as many outside distractions so, it’s time to deal with us which is not always an easy thing to do!

I wish you all a blessed holiday season, no matter what holidays you celebrate. May the power of the Full Frost Moon inspire you to tend to some of the things I’ve mentioned above. Blessed be!

Copyright ©2018 by David Taliesin

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Welcoming Circle Ritual: Nov 11

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Hammer Rite

Tree: We call quarters differently today. To honor the Heathen path, I am going to use an elder Hammer Rite. The Hammer is both the symbol for Heathenism and Earth (which Thor is God of in Norse lore.) In Norse lore, the primal elements of fire and ice collided creating our nine worlds. Freya Aswynn says they were actually matter and anti matter sparking creation of everything else. Who knows? We will call to the most primal elements to be our guardians. Please stand and face the middle.

(Raising Hammer to the North)

Tree: Hamar ef eldr ok Muspellheimr helga ve petta ok hald vordt!

David: Hammer of the fires of Muspellheimr hallow and protect this holy stead!

Tree: Hammar ef Iss ok Niflheimr helge ve petta ok hald vordt!

David: Hammer of the Great Ice of Niflheimer, Hallow and protect this holy stead! Tree: (Tracing the Hammer Sign in air): Um mik ok I mer Asgardr ok Midgardr David: Around me and within me, heaven and earth.

Tree: Please be seated.

Tree: As we have already mentioned, today is traditional for honoring our war veterans but the warrior ethic and stance in the world is deeper than just the weapons and courage in battle. Martin Luther King said “life isn’t worth living until you have found something worth dying for.” Martin Luther King found civil rights worth dying for.My Norse ancestors found their people and families worth dying for. They lived life as fully as they could in those days. Today, more than ever, we need the warrior spirit in us awakened as troubled times increase but is there anything worth dying for? Living for? What would you consider worthy of dying for, that something that makes your life worth living? Let us give ourselves a few moments to think about that then individually stand or come up to the Hammer and tell the universe what is worth dying for? This is not an oath. This is a reflection to awaken you to your inner warrior. Warriors come in all guises- parents, activists, spiritual pathworkers, keepers of light, everyday heros. If you have nothing to say, that is okay. There is no judgement here. Just remember those that you have held in your heart as courageous and heroic.

(Time for participants to speak to Hammer or the group)

Tree: Please stand and face the center again.

Tree: Hammer of Muspellheimr’s fires, I thank you for your protection. You may go now and take with you our thanks.

David: Hammerof Nifilheimr’s Ice, We thank you for your protection. You may go now and take with you our thanks.

Tree: You can be seated again. Thank you for sharing this space with us. Special thanks to Mike for giving us a glimpse into the Heathen Way.

Written by Tree Higgins

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Samhain/All Hallow’s Eve Soul Cakes

soulcakes

The Soul Cake is part of traditional Samhain/All Hallows Eve festivities in the British Isles. The cakes are flat and round, scented with saffron, mixed spices and currants.During the 19th and early 20th centuries children would go ‘souling’ on Samhain (All Hallow’s Eve), All Saints’ Day (Nov 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov 2) where they would request alms or soul cakes with the following song:

“A soul, a soul, a soul cake.
Please god missus a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry.
Up with your kettles and down with your pans
Give us an answer and we’ll be gone
Little Jack, Jack sat on his gate
Crying for butter to butter his cake
One for St Peter, two for St Paul,
Three for the man who made us all.”

In earlier times the poor would go to prosperous houses, offering to say prayers for departed loved ones. In return, they were given these round cakes and sometimes food and money as well. Soul Cakes are a wonderful example of a Pagan tradition that made it’s way into Christianity virtually unscathed. If you’ve never made them before, they are absolutely delicious. Here is my favorite recipe for Soul Cakes. They freeze well so you can make them ahead!

Soul Cakes
For the dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground fresh if possible
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground fresh if possible
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp of saffron
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup raisins (or currants if you are able to get them)

For the Glaze:
1 egg yolk, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the flour, the nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl. Mix well with a fork.

Crumble the saffron threads into a small saucepan and heat over low heat just until they become aromatic, taking care not to burn them. Add the milk and heat just until hot to the touch. The milk will have turned a bright yellow. Remove from heat.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium bowl with a wooden spoon (or use an electric mixer with the paddle attachment). Add the egg yolks and blend in thoroughly with the back of the spoon. Add the spiced flour and combine as thoroughly as possible; the mixture will be dry and crumbly.

One tablespoon at a time, begin adding in the warm saffron milk, blending vigorously with the spoon. When you have a soft dough, stop adding milk; you probably won’t need the entire half-cup.

Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead gently, with floured hands, until the dough is uniform. Roll out gently to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Using a floured 2-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can and set on an ungreased baking sheet. You can gather and re-roll the scraps, gently.

Brush the souls cakes liberally with the beaten egg yolk.  Add currants in the shape of a cross and press them firmly into the dough.  Bake for 15 minutes, until just golden and shiny.

Makes 12 to 15 cakes

Copyright ©2018 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Full Hunter’s Moon: October 24th

full_hunters_moon-resizedAccording to the Farmer’s Almanac, the Algonquin Native American tribes referred to October’s full moon as the Hunter’s Moon because it was time to go hunting in preparation for winter. As the days grow visibly shorter, perhaps we can use this full moon to contemplate what resources we need in order to make it through the approaching winter season.

We can think of this preparation as either literal or metaphorical. Some of us have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and have to surround ourselves with the people and coping skills we need in order to keep us healthy. Others are feeling like they’re slipping into a winter season of their lives. If this is the case, be intentional about doing what you need to do in order to keep yourself strong and grounded.

Since, the veil between the worlds is also thin this time of year, it’s the perfect night to seek the wisdom of our Ancestors and Beloved Dead who can help us to navigate the perilous journey ahead. Candles, mugwort, marigolds/calendula, pictures, etc. can help us draw closer to those on the other side. We all need to feel their love and encouragement in this stressful and angry world.

So, put the energy of this season and this powerful moon to good use. And for those who celebrate it, I hope you have a blessed Samhain!

Copyright ©2018 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Samhain/All Saints: The Great Cloud of Witnesses

greatcloudTherefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.  [Heb 12:1. NRSV]

As we approach the celebration of Samhain as well as All Saint’s Day, I love the term the writer of Hebrews uses to describe those who have made the transition from our world to the next. The “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews are those who sit in the eternal stadium seats, cheering us on, as we “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” I have always found this image to be rather comforting. It reminds us that the blessed dead still have a role to play in our lives as a source of wisdom and strength.

So who makes up this great cloud? One of my teachers, Byron Ballard, gave three distinctive classifications of the blessed dead in a class I attended. In looking at each, I hope it expands our understanding of who makes up those we label as our ancestors.

ANCESTORS: People in your direct bloodline who are dead.

BELOVED DEAD: People you honor who are not your ancestors who are also dead.

MIGHTY DEAD: Those you claim and honor as your ancestors. Heroes, writers, warriors, people who inspire you who, again are dead.

On my ancestor altar this year there are a few that fall into each category. I have pictures of my Ancestors such as my great-grandfather and his family. I also have pictures of the Beloved Dead such as dear friends who are no longer with me. Finally, this year’s Mighty Dead include Scott Cunningham whose magical work continues to resonate with me and inspire me and David Bowie and Prince, musical legends who passed away this year.

Everyone’s great cloud of witnesses is different, yet each of us has people who continue to inspire, challenge and comfort us even thought they are no longer with us. Who are the Ancestors, Beloved Dead, and Mighty Dead you are honoring this Samhain/All Saint’s Day?

Copyright ©2018 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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