The Magi’s Blessing: Chalking the Door

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I came across a wonderful tradition which I will have to research further to learn a little more about it’s origins. According to Pagan Christmas, “Even today, priests go from house to house in the Black Forest on January 6, smudging them for protection from evil influences. With chalk sanctified with blessed salt, they write the letters C, M, and B, plus the year, over house and stable doors.”

This ritual is called “chalking the door” and the markings for this year look like this:

20 + C + M + B + 22

The C, M and B are the initials for the traditional names of the Magi (Caspar, Melchior, ad Balthazar), but they are also an abbreviation for the Latin phrase Christus mansionem benedicat, which means “May Christ bless this house.” You can find various liturgies on line for this ritual.

On January 6th my plan is to go outside, read the story of the Magi from the gospel of Mathew, smudge the entrance to my house and mark the lintel with chalk. One article I read suggested that this ritual could be used any time during the Christmas and Epiphany season with other suggested uses such as blessing a room in a nursing home or hospital (get permission first!) or to set aside a Bible study meeting place, choir practice room, nursery, or youth area at church. This would be a fun activity that even the youngest members of your household could participate in and enjoy. Happy Epiphany!

Copyright ©2022 by David Taliesin, sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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La Befana: Ancient Goddess, Santa’s Precursor, or Christmas Witch?

I was hooked the first time I heard about her: La Befana, the “Christmas Witch.” The first figure I saw of her while traveling in Italy was an elderly “nonna” (grandmother) who was dressed in peasant clothing with a kerchief around her head. She was riding a broom and had a bag of goodies. What’s not to like about THAT? A friend of mine recently brought me one from Italy that looked like a leftover Halloween witch. She even wore an orange skirt and a pointy hat.

Needless to say, there are many layers of tradition and stories that go into the creation of La Befana. The earliest layer is that some believe she is descended from the Sabine/Roman Goddess Strenia (Strenua), the goddess of the new year year, purification and well-being. She name appears to be the origin of strenae, the gifts Romans exchanged at the beginning of the year as good omens for the coming year. These gifts often included figs, dates and honey. Not surprisingly, several sources say that La Befana brought these same gifts to Italian children in her earliest incarnation. Thus, the tie between the two is rather convincing.

The next layer of La Befana occurs around the 8th century when she began to appear in Italian folklore in connection with the celebration of Epiphany. In fact, her name, most likely comes from the Italian word for Epiphany, “epifania.” If you’ve read my blog you know that the goddess often got adapted and incorporated into Christian theology and practice. (Brigid is the best example.) So it’s not surprising that this most likely occurred here as well.

The story that is told about her is a really weird but delightful one. Here’s one version of the legend:

La Befana lived alone in a house in the hills of Italy. She spent her days cooking and cleaning like all good nonnas do! One night she noticed a bright light in the sky. After some thought, La Befana decided to ignore the light and go back to sleep.
A few days later, a caravan led by Three Wise Men stopped at La Befana’s house to ask for directions to Bethlehem. La Befana offered them hospitality. In return, the Wise Men invited her to come with them to visit Baby Jesus. She declined, saying she had too much work to do. But later she changed her mind.
She then packed a basket with baked goods and gifts for the newborn child. She grabbed her broom (because the new mother would certainly need help cleaning), and tried to catch up with the Wise Men.
After she had walked a long distance angels appeared to her and gave her the gift of flight. So she hopped on her broom and continued to search for the Christ Child. She is still searching to this very day, and every Epiphany, she visits homes throughout Italy, giving gifts to every child she finds along the way. Over time, she has come to realize that the Christ Child can be found in all children, so her search is not in vain.

Her final layer is the more modern folklore tradition that may be somewhat freed of its Christian adaptation. La Befana visits all the children of Italy on Epiphany Eve (January 5) by magically sliding down the chimney on her broom. She leaves candy, treats and presents if you’re good, and a lump of coal or black candy if you’re bad. Yeah, I know, that sounds a lot like Santa Claus so she may also be the precursor to the legends surrounding the jolly old man himself! Another tradition is that La Befana also sweeps the floor before she leaves since she is such a good housekeeper.

My “Befana” figure purchased in Italy

The final piece of the puzzle is her reputation as the Christmas “witch.” I see no evidence of her being a “Strega” (Italian witch) but am open to any information you have to share. It seems to me that since she rode a broom in early folkloric traditions and has the magical power to slide down a chimney, it’s not surprising that her kerchief became replaced with a pointy witches hat and her face grew more haggardly over time with a big pointy nose. It was born to happen, but I think this does her a great injustice. It may make sense for retailers to pawn off their Halloween witches as La Befana, but this cheapens her legend and legacy.

I still need to do more research on this topic but you must admit that La Befana is an intriguing woman whose legend is surround by magic and mystery. I don’t think she would have it any other way! Copyright ©2022 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Frankincense: Universal Magical Resin

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The LORD said to Moses: Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (an equal part of each), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy; and you shall beat some of it into powder, and put part of it before the covenant in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you; it shall be for you most holy. [Ex 30:34-36, NRSV]

On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. [Mt 2:11, NRSV]

Many years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to tour Egypt. One of the stops in the Valley of the Kings was a perfume factory that manufactures essential oils. I smelled a number of scents that day but the one that immediately became my favorite was frankincense. I loved its spicy, musky scent and purchased a sizable bottle of the stuff to bring back home. My favorite use of it is on Christmas Eve. After worship, I offer those who attend the service the chance to be anointed with it. Very few say no. There is something magical about the scent that’s irresistible! I’m also glad to report that of the thousands of people who have been anointed with it over the years, not a single one had an allergic reaction to it that I’m aware of.

Frankincense is native to both North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It has been cultivated for over 5,000 years and was used as incense by ancient Pagans in Persia, Babylon, Egypt, Greece and Rome. Eventually both Jews and Christians incorporated this fragrant resin into their worship life as well, making frankincense the universal resin that ties us all together! Jews used it as part of a special blend of incense that was burned in both the tabernacle and the Temple. The exact formulation of this incense is up for debate but there’s no doubt that frankincense was a part of it. Frankincense was also among the gifts given to the Christ Child by the “Magi” (i.e. the magicians) who, according to the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy, were followers of Zoroaster. To this day, frankincense is used in many Christian churches, especially Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian and Lutheran. It is also heralded in the popular Christmas carol We Three Kings:

Frankincense to offer have I; incense owns a Deity nigh.
Prayer and praising, gladly raising, worshipping God, Most High.
O, star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright;
Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light.

Frankincense is also called olibanum and the English name of this resin comes from the Old French “franc encens,” which simply means “high quality incense.” Among Wiccans, it’s planetary correspondence is Sun and it’s elemental correspondence is Fire. Magical properties include protection, exorcism, spirituality, cleansing, consecration and purification. It is believed that when frankincense is burned it releases powerful vibrations which not only lift up those in the area, but also drive out all evil and negativity. It is also burned to induce visions and to aid meditation. According to Scott Cunningham it is easily substituted with copal or pine resin. (I’m allergic to pine so this is not an option for me!) Frankincense is a little hard to grind into a powder with a mortal and pestle but be patient and you’ll get the hang of it!   The oil is useful in promoting spirituality and meditative states.

When I am doing any magical work that requires an extra boost, I use the following incense blend which is an adaptation of a formula from Scott Cunningham’s indispensable volume “The Complete Book of Incense, Oils & Brews.” This Ares Blend works like rocket fuel for me!

2 parts Frankincense (Sun, Fire)
1 part Juniper berries (Sun, Fire)
1 part Cedar leaf tips (Sun, Fire)

I grind these ingredients with a mortal and pestle as best as I can and place them on a self-lighting incense charcoal briquette. When working with Frankincense it should be noted that it often emits a bitter aroma the longer it burns. For this reason, some prefer to use Copal in its place which stays sweet from start to finish. Copal is also native to North America so it’s the perfect choice for those who live on this continent and feel strongly about using plants and resins that are native to their region.

As a final note, Witchipedia says that “recent studies have indicated that frankincense tree populations are declining, partly due to over-exploitation. Heavily tapped trees produce seeds that germinate at only 16% while seeds of trees that had not been tapped germinate at more than 80%. In addition, burning, grazing, and attacks by the longhorn beetle have reduced the tree population. Conversion (clearing) of frankincense woodlands to agriculture is also a major threat.” Because of this, take the time to find out where the frankincense you’re purchasing comes from. My local metaphysical bookstore sells frankincense resin which comes from a company that is dedicated to harvesting it sustainably. It might be a little more expensive but it’s worth the extra cost in my book.

Copyright ©2021 by sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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December Full Cold Moon

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, December’s full moon, which occurs on Saturday December 18, is known as the Full Cold Moon. The name comes from Native American, Colonial American, or other traditional sources passed down through generations. It’s a Mohawk name that conveys the frigid conditions of this time of year, when cold weather truly begins to grip us.

With Christmas, Yule, the Winter Solstice and other festivals of light in front of us, we enter into what is actually one of my favorite times of the year. There is a stillness in the natural world around us whether we have snow or not. Our bodies tell us it’s time to “hibernate” which means we need to give ourselves permission to slow our pace a bit, including getting more sleep if our bodies tell us it’s needed.

I use this time in the Wheel of the Year to rest and to listen. I tap into my artistic side and work on fun projects that recharge my batteries. I also take time to discern what goals the Divine is calling me to accomplish in the New Year.

Perhaps, this Full Moon is calling us to cease the need to be productive tonight and just rest and recharge. Cook a meal that bring you delight or order take-out if that’s more appealing. Prepare your favorite beverage, light some candles, and don’t be in a hurry to finish your meal. Enjoy every bite. Savor every smell. Give gratitude that you have a warm home to live in and food on the table.

After dinner, if whether permits, bundle up and go outside. Ground yourself in the stillness of the winter season. Absorb the tranquil energy of the Cold Moon and try to let go of any anxiety and worry you may be carrying. There have been a lot of things in 2020 that have caused us to feel outraged and afraid. For one night, give yourself permission to simply be!

Blessings! David Taliesin

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

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The Christians and the Pagans

While strolling through YouTube looking for Solstice/Yule carols, I came across a delightful song by Dar Williams entitled “The Christians and the Pagans” that recalls a somewhat tense but hopeful December family gathering. The first version of the chorus goes like this:

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
And just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said,
Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses.

There is both humor and wisdom contained in the lyrics and as someone with a “blended family” of Christian and Pagan traditions, it really spoke to my heart. Perhaps it will speak to yours as well.

For many years I’ve considered myself to be a Christo-Pagan (or a Spiritual Mutt which is my preferred term). In my personal spiritual path I blend many faith traditions into a harmonious whole that definitely works for me. Now I find that several family members have become much more interested in “what I do.” I’ve always been open about it with them but they’ve never asked me too many follow up questions. For whatever reason, the questions are flowing freely these days and I’m excited to share with them what I’ve learned from my Pagan siblings of many different traditions.

So the Christians and the Pagans are sitting together at my holiday table. I know that’s not the case for some of you. I know that some holiday tables are contentious if not downright hostile because of differences too numerous to mention.

However, it is my hope and prayer that what Dar Williams sings about may come to pass this holiday season. Because of COVID, we’ve been apart for far too long. Maybe, this year, we’ll learn to be kinder to each other! Blessed be!

Copyright ©2021 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbtsandsabbaths.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: another Covid variant, mass shootings, global warming, 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 ©2021 by David Taliesin

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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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