Lughnasadh/Lammas: August 1st

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August has a rhythm all it’s own, especially in the South. These hot, humid days force us to slow down our pace a bit, and why not? The soil has been tilled. Gardens have been planted. Many vegetables have already been harvested and more are on the way. The only thing left to do is pray for rain and wait until everything is ripe and ready. In the meantime, we can escape the sweltering heat of the day by “sitting a spell” on the porch with friends, sipping glasses of sweet tea and eating a freshly baked peach cobbler! That’s how we roll in North Carolina and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

The first of August is known by several names: 1) Lughnasadh, which is Gaelic for the modern Irish word “Lunasa,” meaning August. In ancient times the Sun God Lugh was honored. 2) Lammas is the English harvest festival which occurs on the same day. The word is Anglo-Saxon for “loaf mass” and was celebrated by Pagans and Christians alike. 3) Festival of Green Corn, which is the name Native Americans attach to this harvest festival, and 4) Feast of St. Peter in Chains, which is an odd ancient Christian observance that has been removed from the liturgical calendar.

Basically, Lammas is the first of three harvest Sabbats or festivals.  This particular one celebrates the first fruits of corn, wheat and barley. Needless to say, this is something to be thankful for, especially in ancient times. A successful harvest meant there would be plenty of grain to last through the cold winter months. The main food for this festival is bread in one form or another. Bread has always been universally symbolic of life, Mother Earth, home, hearth, harvest and vitality. Because of this, ritual bread appears in every religious tradition I can think of.

For early Christians “Loaf Mass” was an adaptation of the Pagan Lammas. In both traditions, bread was baked and presented as an offering to the Divine in thanksgiving for a successful harvest. Here is an ancient Christian prayer that was used on Loaf Mass:

Holy Lord, almighty Father, eternal God, graciously deign,
to bless this bread with Thy spiritual benediction
that all who eat it may have health of body and soul
and that they may be protected against all sickness
and against all the snares of the enemy.  Amen.

Some of the bread in the Christian tradition was used to celebrate the Eucharist (Holy Communion) on Lammas. The rest of it was blessed and taken home for the Lammas Day feast. I also discovered that in Anglo-Saxon England this blessed bread was used by some to work magic! According to a book of Anglo-Saxon charms, a Lammas loaf was broken into four bits, which were placed in the four corners of the barn in order to protect the gathered grain.

In modern times, we can celebrate Lughnasadh/Lammas not only by giving thanks to the Divine for a successful harvest, it can also be a day to support local farmers. Let’s face it, they work their tails off to grow the food that appears on our tables. Perhaps we can use this holy day to commit ourselves to buying as much locally grown food as possible. I make a weekly trip to a tailgate market that is less than a mile from my house. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us urban dwellers to connect with our agrarian brothers and sisters. I always have wonderful conversations with the vendors there and I’ve learned a lot about how to cook the fruits and vegetables that are grown by them.

As a final note, my Cherokee brothers and sisters still celebrate the Festival of Green Corn. There is always dancing, singing, drumming and the eating of corn in a number of forms. You can Google the topic for more information.

So I wish everyone a most blessed Lughnasadh/Lammas celebration. If you’re ever in North Carolina I have a glass of sweet tea and a peach cobbler waiting for you!

Copyright ©2022 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Positive Pagan: Staying Upbeat in an Offbeat World

For several years author Lisa Wagoner and I co-facilitated The Welcoming Circle at Asheville’s Raven & Crone. It became a jumping off place for many seekers who are new to earth-based religions and magic. We tried to give them a firm foundation to build on and connect them to the resources they needed to grow in their chosen spiritual path. So, I was very excited and proud when I first heard the news that Lisa was asked to write a book for Llewellyn. I knew she would do a great job with it and, indeed, she did!

Positive Pagan is more than just a book. It’s a lifestyle. In Lisa’s words “When used in this book, the term ‘positive’ describes the energy that flows within one’s self. No matter the obstacles or hardships, or how wonky or horrific the world seems, positivity helps to move forward.” I have always believed that we receive back whatever kind of energy we project out into the universe. Even when bad things happen to us, we always have a choice regarding how we will react to them. Will they leave us feeling sad and defeated, or will they give us the motivation to make positive changes in our lives and in our world? Clearly, Lisa falls into the latter category. And as someone who knows her personally, she definitely practices what she preaches.

The book itself is impeccably organized and is jam packed with practical information and tons of rituals. It’s the perfect book to give to someone who is new to the Craft or Paganism and provides a solid foundation for them to build on. It’s also a great book for someone who feels like their spiritual path is either stagnant or ineffective. Positive Pagan will definitely help to jump start their magical practice. Everyone will find ideas that are well suited to them.

One of the strengths of Positive Pagan is the clarity of Lisa’s writing. It is easy to understand, concise and accessible to everyone. She continually asks the reader questions to ponder and it feels like she’s taking you by the hand and gently leading you through everything.

The other strength is that she never comes across as dogmatic regarding “the way things should be done.” Instead, she offers the reader a buffet of tools, ideas and rituals from which they can sample and see what works for them. And, trust me, it’s quite a feast!

Needless to say, I highly recommend this book and hope you’ll consider adding it to your collection. It’s one of those books you’ll find yourself returning to again and again.

Copyright ©2022 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Marking Time, Part 2

I gave yesterday’s post a little more thought and came up with a theory as to why many Christians are, unfortunately, antagonistic to their Pagan brothers and sisters. If Christians view time in a linear fashion, then everything new that comes along is an improvement on the old. Judaism is an improvement over Paganism. Christianity is an improvement/completion of Judaism. Today’s Christians understand Jesus better than Christians who lived in the Dark Ages.  Etc, etc. It’s an elitist kind of thinking and many explain why some Christian are so intolerant of views other than their own. They are right and everyone else is wrong.  nd of story.

Needless to say, I don’t subscribe to this kind of thinking. In fact, I believe it’s cutting the roots off the spiritual tree which, of course, means the tree is going to die. We see signs of this in all the absolutely crazy things people are saying in the name of Jesus today. It makes me cringe because the Jesus I believe in looks absolutely nothing like the Jesus they believe in.

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Celtic Tree of Life

If Christians adopt the Pagan view of time as cyclical, the whole picture changes. Pagans have a gift to give to Christianity that can connect the tree back to its nourishing roots. Instead of every generation feeling superior to the one before it, we see that all of our ancestors tried to connect with the Great Mystery using the best words and rituals they could envision. Each generation possess a gift of wisdom about the Sacred that they pass along to successive generations. If we reject the gift, it weakens the tree. If we accept the gift, we inherit thousands of years of wisdom that make our spiritual tree strong and vibrant.

For example, NeoPagans have reached back to their Ancestors of old and listened carefully to their wisdom. They have taken many of their traditions and beliefs and adapted them in a way that is powerful to to 21st century people. The new ways are not superior to the old. They are merely a new expression of the same connection to the Divine.

Likewise, modern Christians such as myself are listening to the voices of our spiritual Ancestors as well. I love the spirituality of the Christian mystics whose voices have been silenced over the ages by mainstream Christianity. I also reach back to old rituals that were used centuries ago and adapt them in ways that speak to 21st century Christians.

The last piece of the time puzzle is that there can also be “cross-pollination” on the tree. Christians can learn from Pagans. Pagans can learn from Christians. We both can listen to other voices on the tree such as Buddhism, Native American spirituality, etc. The Ancient Ones have much wisdom to share with us if we only have ears to hear them. My biggest fear is that if Christians keep doing their “superior dance,” thinking in a linear fashion, they are going to destroy themselves, and possibly all of us. This kind of thinking only breeds hate, misunderstanding, and violence.

Wouldn’t it be better for all of us to hop on the Sacred Wheel and enjoy the ride together? I think it would make for a happier and healthier planet.

Copyright © 2022 by sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Marking Time, Part 1

wheelofyear

In his insightful book, Pagans and Christians: The Personal Spiritual Experience, Gus DiZerega explores the different ways Pagans and Christians mark time.  Regarding Pagans, he says “The Pagan view of cyclic time leads us to focusing more on process than upon goal, upon the road traveled rather than to where it may end, upon continuity rather than upon point of origin.  True wisdom comes from traveling well, not traveling quickly.”

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Christians could benefit from this kind of wisdom because they tend to measure time in a linear fashion that starts with the creation of the world and ends with heaven, or armageddon, or something of the sort depending upon their personal belief. There is an expression that “Christians are so heavenly minded, they’re no earthly good.” There is some truth to this, especially among those who see this world as a place of suffering and they’re just trying to survive it until they get to heaven.

Pagans call Christians to view our life on earth quite differently than merely survival and endurance. They call us to remember the best of our own tradition in scripture passages such as Ecclesiastes 3:1 which tells us “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” (NRSV)  This points to the cyclical nature of life but Christians sometimes forget this.

In Luke 17:20-21, Jesus was asked by the religious teachers of his day when the “kingdom of God” was coming. They were definitely thinking in a linear fashion and wanted a day and time for this occurrence. Thankfully, Jesus wisely replied, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (NRSV) The specific Greek word that is translated as “among” in most Bibles can be equally translated as “within” or “inside” which I think is the better English word choice here.

Jesus appears to be saying that the Divine Presence is already among us and within us. God is not going to arrive at some appointed day and time. The Holy is already here. I see this as a call to live more cyclically than linearly, looking for the Sacred in every day experiences and in the world around us.  Perhaps Pagans can teach Christians to live life more fully in the here and now, instead of waiting for a better life sometime in the future.

Copyright © 2022 by sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Candles, Prayer and Magic

A Christian goes into her local Roman Catholic Church. Before worship, she lights a candle for a sick friend and prays to Jesus, asking for healing. She believes her prayer will help to make her friend better…and it does.

A Wiccan stands in front of her home altar. She lights a light blue candle for a sick friend and calls upon the energies of the Ancestors and powers of the elemental spirits to send health to her friend. She believes her candle magic will help to make her friend better…and it does.

What’s the difference? Not a blessed thing as far as I’m concerned. There have been studies by physicians such as Larry Dossey who have documented that prayer/intention is a powerful thing. People who are prayed for do better clinically. Period. Why this is the case is anybody’s guess. I believe we are directing spiritual energy toward the person we are praying for and it helps them to get better.

Some Christians get hung up on the term magic. They’ve read all the Harry Potter books and watched a few movies like The Craft and or Hocus Pocus and think that’s what magic is all about. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Scott Cunningham in Wicca: A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner defines magic as “the projection of natural energies to produce needed effects.” The sources of these energies are a combination of personal, earth/natural, and Divine. I would argue that Christians tap into this same energy only they may not be as intentional about it as their Wiccan friends. Christian prayer unleashes something. Wiccan magic unleashes something. Define it how you will, but I think it’s the same something.

As a Christian, I try to send only positive prayers into the Universe. I may pray for justice, but never for vengeance. I may pray for God to deliver someone from destructive patterns of living, but never to kill them. My guide for prayer is Jesus’ definition of the greatest commandment: Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s just how I roll!

With the Wiccan Rede as a guide for all works of magic (An it harm none, do what you will), Wiccans try to be forces for good and healing in our world. Many cautions are given to those who try use magic to bend someone’s will or hurt them. Some believe that only positive magic should be practiced in the Craft, which can include binding spells if a person is a harm to themselves or to others. Sounds like the same intent to me.

So, I’m trying to start a conversation here. Maybe what Christians and Wiccans are trying to accomplish is precisely the same thing with different names and rituals for carrying it out. I would be interested in knowing what others think about this.

Copyright ©2022 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Home Altars International

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I must admit I’ve watched more than my fair share of HGTV. I love home improvement shows because our houses are sacred places. They become sanctuaries where we should feel safe and secure. The colors we choose and the way we arrange the furniture can leave a home feeling healthy and harmonious or chaotic and cluttered.

I believe it’s important that we create at least a small space in our homes that is peaceful and relaxing; a place where we can focus our thoughts on Sacred things. The solution (Cue the music!) is a home altar! Now, we don’t have to be interior designers to create beautiful home altars. My advice is don’t listen to any author, Christian or Pagan, who says your altar should be set up “exactly like this!” Altars are personal things. Like snowflakes, they reflect the diverse beliefs of the people who construct them.

You can create an altar on top of a table or a small cabinet. Some people even have them in their bathrooms! The choice is yours. If you have kids, might want to construct yours in a place that’s out of reach from curious fingers. (Or create one that is kid-friendly so they can use it as well.) Mine is on top of a chest-high bookcase in my home office. Choose your space carefully because this is the place you will go to meditate, pray and let go of the negative energies you’ve picked up during the day.

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What should you put on your altar? That’s up to you. Both Christians and Pagans will want to place items on their altar that help them to connect with the Divine. Not surprisingly, mine is a hybrid altar that has a cross and several icons but also includes items representing the four elements as well.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Elemental Spirits, they might be a nice way to introduce nature into your home altar. Here’s how mine is oriented:

North (earth): I have rocks I’ve collected from sacred places abroad. Other choices include actual soil, salt or crystals. Whatever works for you.

East (wind): Incense is always a nice choice. The scent creates an atmosphere in the room that is different from the rest of our everyday world. A bell or Tibetan singing bowl can also add an auditory element to your altar.

South (fire): Candles are a must.

West (water): I use either a small stoneware pitcher or a goblet, depending upon my mood. Some people even use those little plug in zen fountains. Again, the choice is yours.

Whatever you decide to place on your altar, be creative. Take time to think about what is Sacred and beautiful to you. If the objects on your altar help establish a sense of the holy and make you feel happy and harmonious, then they are a good choice. Who knows, maybe someday it will be a show on HGTV. I can dream, can’t I?

Copyright ©2022 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Connecting With Herbs Ritual

herbaltar

Here is the ritual we did at Sunday’s Welcoming Circle. Thanks to all who attended. We will take a break for the summer and start back in September.

CONNECTING WITH HERBS RITUAL

CASTING THE CIRCLE—David Taliesin (Ares incense on charcoal burner. Use a feather to spread the smoke in all four directions.)

Aries Incense (adapt. from Cunningham)
2 parts Frankincense (Sun, Fire)
1 part Juniper berries (Sun, Fire)
1 part Cedar leaf tips (Sun, Fire)

Brother Sun and Sister Moon, empower us as we seek a more intimate connection with plants and herbs.

CALLING THE QUARTERS—David Taliesin

We face the East and call upon the energies of plants that correspond with the Powers of Air: Lemon Verbena and Lavender, Pine and Sage. Elecampane and Lemongrass. Lend us your wisdom, optimism and intuition. Hail and welcome!

We face the South and call upon the energies of plants that correspond with the Powers of Fire: Rosemary and Hyssop, Peppermint and Rue. Basil and Juniper. Lend us your courage, enthusiasm and willpower. Hail and welcome!

We face the West and call upon the energies of plants that correspond with the Powers of Water: Violet and Thyme, Chamomile and Yarrow, Lemon Balm and Catnip. Lend us your compassion, flexibility and receptivity. We bid you welcome!

We face the North and call upon the energies of plants that correspond with the Powers of Earth: Mugwort and Vervain, Patchouli and Honeysuckle, Primrose and Fern, Lend us your patience, truth, and dependability. Hail and welcome!

We also call upon our Earth Mother, Gaia, Creator, and ask her to join us in this Circle. You have made all of these plants for us to enjoy. Words cannot express our gratitude for such an extravagant gift. We offer our thanks by learning more about their magical properties and using them to change the world around us for the better. Hail and welcome!

SHARE AT LEAST ONE GOAL WITH THE GROUP TO INCREASE YOUR CONNECTION TO PLANTS AND HERBS

RAISE ENERGY AND SEND IT TO THE PLANTS AROUND US (O-ma chant)
As we raise energy have a visual for the plants and herbs you would like to send our energy to. When we release it, direct it toward these plants.

CLOSING THE CIRCLE—David Taliesin

Earth Mother, Gaia, Creator, we thank you for your presence in our Circle tonight and for your nurture of us each and every day. We leave here challenged to develop a more intimate connection with magical and medicinal plants. Help us to achieve this goal.
Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell!

Powers of the North and plants that correspond with the element of Earth, We thank you for your presence in our Circle tonight. May your patience, truth, and dependability be reflected in our lives. Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell!

Powers of the West and plants that correspond with the element of Water, We thank you for your presence in our Circle tonight. May your compassion, flexibility and receptivity be reflected in our lives. Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell!

Powers of the South and plants that correspond with the element of Fire, We thank you for your presence in our Circle tonight. May your courage, enthusiasm and willpower be reflected in our lives. Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell!

Powers of the East and plants that correspond with the element of Air, We thank you for your presence in our Circle tonight. May your wisdom, optimism and intuition be reflected in our lives. Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell!

Our Circle is now open but never unbroken
Because it is a circle woven in love.
Whatever energy is left in this space
We return to the earth with a spirit of gratitude.
Merry meet and merry part, and merry meet again.

Copyright ©2022 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Universal Characteristics of Candle Magic

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Ever since the first prehistoric humans learned how to harness fire for warmth, protection and cooking food, we’ve been in awe of the power of the flame.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s a blazing campfire in the woods, prayer candles glowing in a majestic cathedral, or lightning ripping through the sky, fire inspires awe in us.  It’s spiritual, transformative power in our lives cannot be denied.

Not surprisingly, there are number of spiritual paths that practice candle magic.  On a basic level it’s about two things: 1) INTENTION: The candle helps us to focus our intention/prayer concern.  It serves as a meditative device through which we can channel our energies and ask for help from the Divine Presence and the elemental spirits/powers.  2) FLAME: The flame is the “transport device” that sends our intention/prayer concern to its desired recipient. It acts as a bridge between the material and spiritual worlds.

In addition to these two basic characteristics, there are a number of spiritual traditions that have a more “formal” way of doing candle magic.  The goal in these practices it to “turn up the volume” on our intent and increase the ritual’s effectiveness.  While each of these traditions (such as Wicca and the Christian Spiritualists) do specific things that set them apart from the others, there is a lot that is quite similar.  Here are some of the things they hold in common:

CLEANSING: This step is to remove all the negative energies that the candle may have picked up along the way.  Some do this with sea salt, moonlight or sage.  Others literally clean the candles with oil to remove dust and dirt.  They will also take the time to trim the wick, carve away any unwanted wax, and add symbolic carving.

ANOINTING: This is also sometimes called “dressing” while others call the entire process “dressing.”  The idea is to anoint the candle with some kind of special oil and dedicate it for ritual use.  There are lots of different opinions as to how this oil should be applied, and what words should be said, but anointing is in every tradition I’ve studied.

CHARGING: This is the opportunity to attach to the candle your specific request/intention.  Some traditions place a piece of paper under the candle that has the person’s name written on it as well as the intended request.  Others simply charge the candle by prayer/visualization.   Charging is also the opportunity to ask the Divine Presence and elemental spirits to help manifest your request.  This can also be done during the anointing as well.

LIGHTING:  This goes without saying but it is the final step.  Some then continue to focus on the candle as they repeat/visualize their request.

For those of you who practice candle magic out there, I’d love to know what your tradition looks like and whether these step are involved or not.  Whatever the case may be, candle magic can become a powerful part of our spiritual practice no matter what faith tradition we come from.

Copyright ©2022 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Sophia: Lady Wisdom

Sophia by Mary Plaster
Sophia, Divine Wisdom by Mary Plaster, http://www.maryplaster.com

Sophia is the Greek word for “wisdom.” She has her roots in Hellenistic philosophy and Platonism, but eventually became a central idea in Gnostic Christianity, Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism, among others. My favorite image of Sophia comes from Proverbs 9:1-18 where she is personified and contrasted with Dame Folly. The first part of the passage is as follows:

Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
“You that are simple, turn in here!”
To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.” (NRSV)

Some view Sophia as a separate deity apart for God. Some view her as the Bride of Christ. Others see her as a feminine aspect of God or a theological concept regarding God’s wisdom. There are also some NeoPagans and Wiccans who have taken her under their wing as well. Sophia predates Christianity but it is also possible that some Wiccans and NeoPagans adopted her from Christian sources such as Gnosticism. I need to do more research on this subject, but if anyone out there can has information they can share, please let me know.

For some Christians. the idea of including Sophia in their worship is unthinkable. For others Sophia is the aspect of God we’ve been missing from our patriarchal faith for way too long. Not surprisingly, I fall in the second camp and see her as Hagia Sophia which means “Holy Wisdom.” While some see the Holy Trinity as three masculine persona, others, like myself, see Sophia as the Holy Spirit who guides us with her divine wisdom.

You might also find it interesting to know that Jesus mentions Sophia in Matthew 11:19: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” (NRSV)

Could it be that Sophia is one of the things that links Pagans and Christian together? I think so. Some Christians see this as heresy, but that’s a label we place on things so we can dismiss them easily. Sophia is part of my personal devotional life. I dine at her table often and am blessed by her many insights. If you also feel a connection to Sophia, I’d love to hear from you!

Copyright©2022 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Ritual: Battleground and Blessing

According to the dictionary, the word “ritual” is defined as, “a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.” BORING! My definition would be “any action or attitude that helps us to connect with the Divine and with each other.” How does that grab you?

Rituals are as important as the air we breathe, especially those we define as spiritual ones. When I was a teenager, I spent some time in the Assembly of God which is a charismatic Christian denomination. Those who attended worship there prided themselves as having “no rituals” unlike those “other churches who have robes and printed prayers.” But I assure you, I could tell you exactly what was coming next in any given worship service. Like it or not, we are all creatures of habit. We all find power in rituals, whether we admit we use them or not.

The challenge with rituals, however, is that when a particular ritual works for someone, they assume it works for everyone. It’s at this point that the wicked weed of “ritual snobbery” begins to grow in our hearts. This happens in both Pagan and Christian spiritual paths. Suddenly, there is only one way to set up an ancestor altar, celebrate communion, pray. etc. Rituals then become a battleground rather than the spiritual blessing they’re intended to be.

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If we can lay down our athames and processional crosses for a moment, we might find rituals in each other’s traditions that will enhance ours. For example, the first time a Cherokee friend of mine introduced the Prayer to the Four Directions in a worship service I attended, I instantly fell in love with it. The prayer included bold visual images for nature that were associated with the colors of white (north), yellow (east), red (south), and black (west). As each direction and color were invoked, we faced in that direction.   have used this ritual many times in progressive Christian churches and it’s been received very well. This particular prayer is similar to one in the Wiccan tradition that invokes the spirits of the north (earth), east (air), south (fire), and west (water).

Instead of thinking of it as “stealing,” perhaps we can think of it as “borrowing,” with a heart full of gratitude to those who were inspired to create a specific ritual action in the first place. Rituals should never be rigid. They’re  supposed to be creative and powerful. If a particular ritual helps you to connect with the Sacred and feel closer to your gathered community, then it’s the perfect ritual for you. But don’t spoil the ritual party by looking down at someone else’s ritual that has equal power for them.

Copyright ©2012 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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