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, especially while we’re in a pandemic that has no end in sight. 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, friends! Shine on!

Copyright ©2021 by  David Taliesin, sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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November Full Moon: Frost Moon

November’s full moon, which will occur on Nov 19th, 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 am still harvesting things from my medicinal herb garden!

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 forces us to 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 nurturing. We’ve all spent A LOT of time in our homes since the beginning of this pandemic. I find that clean rooms, nicely decorated and free of clutter help to nurture my creative and magical spirit.

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!

The other amazing thing about this particular full moon is that this year it’s also a lunar eclipse. There’s tons of info on the internet about this so look it up. Below is the viewing chart for North America. I’m definitely going to set my alarm and go out and view what should be a gorgeous moon providing there is no cloud cover!

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 ©2021 by David Taliesin

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What Do Spirits Smell Like?

So, a weird and wonderful experience happened to me that I wanted to share with you. My husband was in the hospital after a serious car accident and I left his bedside one afternoon to get some work done at church. I was dashing from my office to the kitchen when, all of a sudden, I smelled pipe smoke. This is not really possible because 1) no one had been in the building for two days, 2) no one in my church smokes a pipe and there is no smoking on campus, and 3) the nearest building is quite a distance from my church so it could not have come from there either!

As soon as I smelled it, I instinctively knew it was my great grandfather and it made me smile. I even giggled out loud when I made the connection. It felt like he had paid me a visit to let me know I could handle the crisis I was facing and everything would be okay. After the message was received, the smell disappeared and never reappeared again.

Later that night, I asked my Mom if my great grandfather had ever smoked a pipe. Much to my surprise, she told me he had one with him constantly! This was a detail about him I had never known about my great grandfather before, so it confirmed my intuition about what I had experienced at church.

Has anyone out there had a similar experience with smells and spirits? This has never happened to me before. It wasn’t something I was expecting to occur nor was I intentionally trying to contact someone from beyond the veil. Instead, it was a surprise visitation from my great grandfather whom I never met in person but have always felt a strong connection to him ever since I was a teenager. Blessed be!

Copyright ©2021 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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A Halloween Blessing

A Halloween blessing for all who aspire to be nightmares when evil sleeps too peacefully.

Listen, God is howling at the moon.

Let the strange come out of hiding.

Let imagination rise from the grave.

Let all who are named Freak, Monster, Weirdo, or That Which Others Should Fear call out to the gifts in each other. When destruction is made normal, we need all the wild, all the odd, all the unusual we can get.

Blessed be the tricksters, stirring up trouble when evil desires calm.

Praise God for the prophets who linger with us like ghosts.

Hallelujah to the children, knocking on the hearts of strangers,chasing joy from door to door.

When evil is lurking in broad daylight, we practice our courage in the night.

Nourish that which has bite, unleash the impulse to scream, feed the desire to haunt the unjust.

Let us keep trying on possibilities like costumes, until we discover the ones that will leave evil trembling.

Rev. M Barclay, enfleshed (from Facebook)

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Samhain/All Saints: The Great Cloud of Witnesses

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Therefore, 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.

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 ©2021 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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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 ©2021 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Samhain Divination: The Pentacle Tarot Spread

Since the veil between the worlds is thin this time of year, Samhain is known as a good time to do divination work. My favorite spread as of late is the Pentacle Spread which includes the four elements, a spirit card, and a significator card. There are several variations of this spread so you have to use the one that “works” for you and your particular spiritual path. I’ve been told I read the cards like a witch because I connect Air with the suit of Wands and Fire with the suit of Swords. Many flip these correspondences around but this approach has always made the most sense to me.

As with all things Wicca, there is no “right” way to read the cards. It’s an intuitive process so you have trust your judgement. Experiment and see what happens. I did two amazing readings last night with this spread and think you’ll enjoy working with it as well. Samhain blessings!

Pentacle Spread

MY PENTACLE TAROT SPREAD

Center: Querent’s Significator – What are they asking about? Have the Querent look at all the cards in the deck and choose the one that most resonates with them.Explain the meaning of the card to them and see if it fits the question they want to ask.Place this card face up in the center and shuffle the deck.When it feels ready ask the Querent to cut the cards and deal them clockwise in the order of air, fire, water, earth and spirit.

Top Right: Air – Intuition/creativity. Represents the SPIRITUAL. What is your gut/intuition telling you? Is it positive or negative? Qualities associate with this suit are enthusiasm, adventure, risk-taking and confidence. Wands involve the intellect, learning, teaching, knowledge, enlightenment, divination. The mind working to discern from a spiritual perspective.

Bottom Right – Fire – Will/energy. Represents the MENTAL. Fire can create or destroy. How are you feeling about making decisions at this point? Qualities associated with this suit are will, action, passion and energy. It’s capable of separating good from evil, truth from falsehood. Swords involve acting with power and decisive action.

Bottom Left – Water – Emotion. Represents the EMOTIONAL. Qualities associated with the suit are intuition, desire, feelings and relationship patterns. Cups involve intuition and are “heart centered.”

Top Left – Earth – Stability/security. Represents the PHYSICAL. What is grounding/rooting you? Is it nurturing or keeping you from moving forward? Qualities associated with this suit are money, prosperity of all kinds, and physical health. Pentacles involve practicality, security, prosperity of all kinds, and physical health.

Top – Spirit – The Whole Self. This is what everything is leading up to. This is the goal the elemental spirits are pointing toward.

Copyright ©2021 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Full Hunter’s Moon: October 20th

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According 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. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year!

Copyright ©2021 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Samhain Ritual 2021

INTRODUCTION

Begin the ritual by saying the following:

Tonight is Samhain which, for some, signifies the end of one year and the beginning of another. The Ancestors are very close and they have been journeying with us faithfully through this pandemic. Tonight, we quiet ourselves in order to listen to the wisdom they have to share with us. They, too, faced trials and tribulations. Some of them faced pandemics even more deadly than COVID-19.

And so we pause to gather whatever spiritual and material provisions we need to navigate the dark times we are facing. May the Ancestors and Sister Moon illumine our path so that we may walk into this new year stronger and braver than we’ve ever been before.

CASTING THE CIRCLE

If you have a besom, ceremoniously sweep the area where you’re going to cast your circle in a clockwise direction. While sweeping, say the following words:

Dark Spirits fly away. Let only peace and love remain.

Then walk around the perimeter of your circle with your wand or athame in a clockwise direction. Say the following words.

We cast this circle as a sacred space where nothing may enter that seeks to do us harm. It is protected by the Guardians, Ancestors and Elemental Spirits whom we now invite to join us in the circle.

CALLING THE QUARTERS

All in the circle face each direction as it is called. Say the following words.

Guardians and Ancestors of the East, Spirits of Air, keepers of wisdom and mystery, whisper into our ears all that we need to know. May the cool fall breezes that rustle the leaves beneath our feet point us in the direction we need to go. Hail and welcome!

Guardians and Ancestors of the South, Spirits of Fire, purifiers of heart and mind, burn away all clutter and confusion from our minds so that we may see the way forward with absolute clarity. May the bonfires of fall that give us light and warmth, bring comfort to our weary souls tonight. Hail and welcome!

Guardians and Ancestors of the West, Spirits of Water, vessels of peace and compassion, may our thirst for justice and equality be quenched. May the fall rains which nourish the roots of the trees, give strength to grow the dreams you have planted in our hearts. Hail and welcome!

Guardians and Ancestors of the North, Spirits of Earth, stewards of hearth and home, gather around us the community we need to make us feel safe and loved. As the fall harvest continues, we ask you to bring about a harvest of good things into our lives, Hail and welcome!

Everyone face toward the center of the circle.

As the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer,
We learn to see in the dark.
We search for the deep, hidden mysteries of the Divine Presence,
And dine at Lady Wisdom’s table of intuition and creativity.
Great Spirit, who is known to us by many names,
Be with us tonight. We are blessed by your presence.
Hail and welcome!

This is the time to do whatever rituals you have planned for the evening. Here are a few suggestions:

Cord Magic—Take three strands of yarn, one of each color (black, white, and red). Very slowly, twine them together. You can braid them or simply knot them together. Tie at least three knots. If you want to use more knots, do so in multiples of three. Work your love into the yarn. Think about the people and resources you need to weave into your life in order to remain strong during this pandemic. When you have finished, hold the yarn between your palms and send energy to your loved ones. They will feel your warmth.

Shamanic Drumming— Drumming is a time-honored tradition in many spiritual paths. For me, it can keep the body busy and focus the mind so that the wisdom of the blessed dead can come through more clearly. There is lots of literature regarding how to do this. Have paper and pen ready in case any wisdom comes through you need to write down.

Inner Wisdom Dialogue— This is a difficult exercise for some people. For others it is life changing.

  1. Begin by closing your eyes and focusing on your breath. Try to rid the body of any tension you may be feeling and attempt to clear your mind.
  2. When you are ready, open your eyes, grab a pencil and start writing. The easiest way to start is with a question you are struggling with at this point in your life. Write down the answers you receive and continue the conversation.
  3. When doing this exercise, the key to success is you cannot stop writing and you cannot pause to think. You should let the conversation flow without censoring any of it.
  4. Some people ask me if this exercise is only talking to yourself. My experience with this discipline is that is the wisdom gained from this kind of meditation comes from a deep wisdom source that is part us and part spirit. Some people gain incredible insights from this discipline that surprise and astonish them.

CLOSING THE CIRCLE

All in the circle face each direction as it is called. Say the following words.

Guardians and Ancestors of the North, Spirits of Earth, we thank you for your presence in our circle tonight. Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell!

Guardians and Ancestors of the West, Spirits of Water, we thank you for your presence in our circle tonight. Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell!

Guardians and Ancestors of the South, Spirits of Fire, we thank you for your presence in our circle tonight. Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell!

Guardians and Ancestors of the East, Spirits of Air, we thank you for your presence in our circle tonight. Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell!

Everyone face toward the center of the circle.

Blessed Ancestors who watch over us
In ways both hidden and revealed;
Whose love surrounds us,
And whose encouragement warms our hearts;
Thank you for your presence in our circle tonight!
Stay if you will, Go if you must!
We bid you farewell!

Great Spirit whose hidden wisdom
Has been revealed to us tonight,
We give you thanks.
Give us strength to act upon what we have learned,
And illumine the dark days of autumn
With your insight and creativity.
Stay if you will. Go if you must,
We bid you farewell!

BENEDICTION

The Wheel of the Year is making yet another transit
As we celebrate Samhain.
We are poised at a time which is an ending,
And yet it is also a new beginning.
As it was and ever shall be,
We look back at times remembered,
And we look forward to times yet to come.

And now the circle is 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 ©2021 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com. Please feel free to adapt this ritual for your own personal ritual use but don’t repost an altered version of it online. Thank you!

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Remembering a Man I Never Met…Talking to My Ancestors

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Dia de los Muertos 2014

Henry was my great grandfather who emigrated to this country with his wife many years ago. Together they learned English, lived through the Great Depression and found a way to raise 10 healthy, happy children. Although I never met him face to face, I have always felt connected to him ever since the day I saw his picture on my grandmother’s bedroom dresser. She told me he was a wonderful father who loved music and adored his kids. He had a zeal for life that never faded, even when he and his family were going through the toughest of times.

During the month of October I construct an ancestor altar in the style of Day of the Dead. It has pictures of departed loved ones, with Henry front and center. It also includes fresh flowers, candles and calaveras (skeleton figurines engaged in everyday activities). Every time my family sits down for supper, we light the candles and dine with our ancestors. At other times I meditate in front of the altar, burn a little mugwort (which attracts the spirits) and ask Henry to give me the wisdom and strength I need to face the challenges of the coming year. I know some people might think that’s strange, but I find it comforting and uplifting.

Ancestor veneration is practiced throughout the world in some form in every culture. Unfortunately, it has mostly fallen out of favor in the United States. Yet if there was ever a time for us to revive this spiritual practice, it is most certainly now. Our world is a mess with violence surrounding us one every side. Our environment is also in peril and we need all the advice and strength we can get from our ancestors to help us navigate these perilous times.

As we approach the celebration of Samhain, All Hallow’s Eve, All Saint’s Day, or Dia de los Muertos (depending upon your spiritual path), many of us believe the veil between us and those on the other side is thinnest. It is the perfect time to commune with our beloved dead and draw strength from them. If you’ve never constructed an ancestor altar before, start small. Use the top of a dresser or a shelf in a book case. Include pictures of those you wish to remember, along with small mementos, a candle, and maybe some fresh flowers or incense. Use this altar as a place to meditate and pray in the coming weeks and see what wisdom the beloved dead have to offer you!
If you’re like me you will discover that you won’t want to dismantle this altar after the month of October comes to an end. Personally, I reluctantly take the big altar down but I also construct a smaller one in my office where it remains for the rest of the year. It is a visual reminder that our ancestors and Ancient Ones are always with us, building us up and cheering us on every step of the way!

Copyright ©2021 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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