Ostara Seed Bombs

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At an Ostara celebration I attended several years ago, one of the rituals we did was make seed bombs. [Google it] Participants were given a small plastic baggie into which we scooped a big tablespoonful of red clay dirt that had carrot, radish and kale seeds mixed in it. We watered the dirt with a garden mister and used the bag to form it into a ball. We were then told to let these balls harden for about 24 hours.

Participants were encouraged to toss their ball onto any patch of ground that needed something to grow on it. Suggestions were made such as an abandoned lot, a park, etc. The idea is that once the seeds germinated there would be food produced for animals and humans to eat. I thought it was a creative idea.

Seed bombs could also be used for Earth Day celebrations. I would be inclined to mix native wildflower seeds into the dirt to add a little color to your neighborhood as well as provide a source of pollen for bees and butterflies. It’s a cool idea rich with symbolism and meaning. It’s also a creative way to love our planet. Happy Ostara everyone!

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

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Happy Eostre…Or Is That Easter? Or Ostara?

Here comes Peter Cottontail,
hopping down the bunny trail.
Hippy, hoppity, Eostre’s on its way! 

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Or is that Easter? Or Ostara? To be honest, it’s really hard to tell the difference. Nearly every Christian tradition associated with the celebration of Easter can be traced back to its Pagan roots. The connections are many and not particularly veiled.

Ostara is celebrated on the spring equinox, when day and night are equal. Ostara is Latin for the ancient German spring goddess Eostre. The ancient Greeks called her Eos or Aurora. Ostara celebrates the balance of all things male and female, physical and spiritual, etc.

Here’s a list of common Easter traditions and their Pagan connections:

Eggs—They are a symbol of fertility and new life which were decorated to honor the Goddess. Almost all Pagan cultures gave brightly colored eggs to each other as gifts during this time. Eggs were also used in a number of rituals as well.

Easter Lilies—Most Christian churches are decorated with white lilies on Easter Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. This tradition goes back to ancient Greece and Rome where they decorated Ostara altars and temples with lilies to honor the Goddess.

Easter Bunny—Yep, even the Easter bunny goes way back! There is an Eostre legend of a rabbit who wanted to please the Goddess, laid sacred eggs in her honor (pretty impressive for a rabbit!), decorated them, and presented them to her.

Easter Clothes—German Pagans believed it was bad luck to wear spiring clothes before the celebration of Eostre. They worked on a new spring outfit in secret all winter long and unveiled it during this holy-day.

Lamb—Lamb is sacred to almost all virgin Goddesses of ancient Europe and beyond. It was first adopted by the Jews as a part of the Passover story, and then Christians piggy backed on this tradition as well. While ham in now the popular choice for Easter dinner, lamb was the meat of choice in earlier times. (Eating ham to honor a resurrected Jew makes no sense to me, anyway!)

Hot Cross Buns—Yes, even the hot cross bun was first created by Pagans as a representation of the Sun Wheel/Wheel of the Year.

Resurrection and New Life—In Edain McCoy’s excellent book Sabbats: A Witch’s Approach to Living the Old Ways, she says the following about the celebration of Ostara: “In Slavic Pagan traditions this was believed to be a day when death had no power over the living.”
The ancient Greeks told the story of Persephone who went to he underworld to guide the spirits of the dead to their eternal rest. Meanwhile, her mother, Demeter, put her life on hold and waited for her daughter to return. During this time, grain and other plants did not grow and the weather was cold. When Persephone returned, the earth came alive again.
In addition to the Persephone legend, most spring equinox myths are about Deities who visit the Underworld, where they struggled to return back to earth. When they emerged triumphant, new life appeared.

I believe the reason why there are some many connections is because these ancient celebrations were so much a part of the cultures they came from that Christians had to join the party. Therefore, they set their own story of resurrection and new life at the same time as these other spring celebrations. It only makes sense and is the pattern of the early Church as they wrestled with Pagan culture and traditions. I like to think that Christians adapted instead of stole these rituals because they were rich with meaning and easily fit the theology of the Christian church with a few little tweaks.

Here’s an article that counters much of what I’ve written here. It’s hard to know who to believe which means more academic research needs to be done on this subject. Here’s the link from the Association of Polytheist Traditions: http://www.manygods.org.uk/articles/essays/Eostre.shtml

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

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Rue: Herb of Grace

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Rue is a hearty perennial and powerful herb with an interesting history. WRue is a hearty perennial and powerful herb with an interesting history. I grow one plant in my garden and, trust me, it’s more than enough so don’t plant a bunch of it! Wiccans use it for protection, cleansing and especially prosperity. Rue candles are often used in rituals to ask for financial or other assistance. One of my mentors, Byron Ballard, calls it “rocket fuel” and uses it to add zest to any kind of spell or energy work. One of the traditional prayers used in connection with this candle is quite beautiful:

My work is hard, but I’m strong and I do not complain
My rewards are few, but I treasure what I have
My needs are great, but my petitions are small
Asking only for what is just, I wait with quiet patience
Receiving in humble gratitude.

After this prayer is said, the petitioner states their specific need and then the candle is lit.

But Rue has other religious connections as well. It is also called “herb of grace,” or herbygrass and was But Rue has other religious connections as well. It is also called “herb of grace,” or “herbygrass” and was used in the early Roman Catholic Church to sprinkle holy water on the people during worship. In the Middle East Hyssop is traditionally used instead of Rue, but some believe Rue was used in Europe because it had antiseptic properties. This Roman Catholic custom may have been adapted from an ancient Roman ceremony where weapons, flags and the like were purified by waving a laurel branch over them.

The scientific name of this ancient herb is Ruta Graveolens. Ruta was the Latin name of the herb when the Romans introduced it to the English. It was eventually Anglicized to Rue. Graveolens is Latin for “a strong or offensive smell.” Personally, I think it smells just fine! I also like the flowers it produces which are small and delicate.

The way I make Rue Oil is very traditional. I pack a Mason jar full of sprigs and cover it with olive oil, making sure that no part of the plant is exposed to air. I then let it infuse for a moon cycle away from sunlight, strain, and use the oil for the rest of the year. I anoint most of my candles with it.

As a word of caution, Rue can be a dermatological irritant so it’s best to handle the plant with gloves on. I have never had an adverse reaction to Rue Oil but if you’re a person who is highly allergic you may want to avoid getting in on your fingers or try a small test patch on your arm and see what happens!!!

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

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Naming the Unnamable

Naming the Unnamable is a tricky proposition. Many ancient religions believed that if you knew the name of a god/goddess you could summon and/or control that deity. Thankfully, the Unnamable, the One who created all that is, refuses to be pinned down like this. When Moses asked the Unnamable for an ID, the response was “I Am Who I Am” (Ex 3:14). Jews call this the tetragrammaton and is composed of four Hebrew letters. They are transliterated into English as YHWH. Religiously observant Jews are forbidden to pronounce this “name” for the Unnamable. Most use either “Adonai” (Lord) of “Hashem’ (The Name) in its place. I also have Jewish friends who write G-D as a way of conveying the same thing.

The beauty of this is that the One who created all that is, remains a mystery and cannot be limited by such a small, earthly thing as a name. Furthermore, a scan through the Old Testament reveals that YHWH never appears in full form because humans could not handle it. Instead, Hashem reveals a little glimpse of the Divine in forms such as a pillar of could and a pillar of fire (Ex 13:21), the hem of a robe (Is 6:1), glory (Ex 16:10), and Hashem’s backside (Ex 33:23).

One of the biggest misconceptions about Pagan religions has to do with polytheism. Gus DiZerega, in Pagans and Christians: The Personal Spiritual Experience, says “Often people believe that polytheism implies denying the existence of a single source from which everything comes. Historically, it rarely has. A great many Pagan faiths acknowledge that there is an ultimate source for all that is, even while acknowledging other spiritual entities and powers with whom it is appropriate to relate.”

The Sioux Indians called the Unnamable “Wakan Tanka” which many translate as “The Great Spirit,” but it really means “The Great Mystery.” Some Wiccans refer to Drygthen which means “the original source of all things.” In the Gardnerian Drygthen Blessing Prayer, the following opening words describe the Unnamable: “In the name of Dryghtyn, the Ancient Providence, who was from the beginning and is for eternity, Male and Female, the Original Source of all things; all-knowing, all-pervading, all-powerful; changeless, eternal.” This doesn’t sound too far from the characteristics attached to YHWH in Judaism. [NOTE: I personally view YHWH as beyond gender so attaching male and female characteristics to the Great Mystery seems unnecessary.]

When it comes to Christianity, we have a mixed bag of references. Many Christians are attracted to Jesus’ Aramaic name for YHWH, “Abba.” It is a paternal term, meaning “Father,” or “Daddy.” Jehovah’s Witnesses prefer “Jehovah,” which is the Latinization of the Hebrew YHWH. It means “Self Existent” or “Eternal One.” Other Christians use “God,” “Creator,” and “Lord” which is used in many English Bibles for the Hebrew word YHWH.

So, we might be a bit closer to one another than we think! It seems like a spiritually healthy thing to keep the Unnamable unnamable. To think that we can grasp the Great Mystery who created everything that exists is pretty audacious on our part. The Unnamable is not going to be pigeonholed by even the smartest of us human beings. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

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

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My Brigid Story

In 2015, I attended my first Imbolc ritual which was led by Mother Grove Goddess Temple. It was a transformational night for me as Brigid made her presence known to me in a real and powerful way. Since that night, she has never left my side, and is still the form of the goddess I hold most dear. It is She whose name I invoke every time I cast a circle, and an icon of Saint Brigid is front and center on my home altar.

Fast forward to 2022 and I recently found out, much to my surprise and delight, that one of my Great Grandfathers was Irish. He was born in the United States but both of his parents immigrated to this country from Ireland. Throughout my life, I’ve always been told that my Dad’s side of the family was 100% German. Surprise!

It appears that Brigid already knew this family secret and sought me out before I discovered the truth. I spoke to my mentor and friend Byron Ballard about this and she said Brigid always seeks out her people who are a part of the diaspora from Ireland.

I cannot tell you how wonderful this discovery makes me feel, and my celebration of Imbolc this year was especially joyous and festive. My hope and prayer for all of you is that the Goddess will surprise you every once in a while and fill your life with a sense of wonder and delight. May the spiritual path you walk contain a few unexpected twists and turns along the way!

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

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Imbolc vs. Candlemas

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Candlemas @ All Saints Ashmont, Boston, MA

Even some of my Wiccan books get this one wrong! Imbolc and Candlemas are not the same holiday, but they are tried together thematically as we shall see. Imbolc is a Gaelic celebration that usually occurs on the night of February 1st. It honors the goddess Brigid who is often associated with fire among other things. One of Imbolc’s main themes is Brigid’s turning of the Wheel of the Year toward spring. Therefore, light plays an important part in the celebration. Some NeoPagans light outdoor bonfires while others employ lots of candles in indoor settings.

Candlemas is a Christian holiday that is observed on February 2nd. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox celebrate it as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. Candlemas commemorates a story found in Luke 2:22-40 where Joseph and Mary take baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after his birth, as required by Jewish Law. After making the required sacrifice, Mary is then considered to be ritually clean and Jesus is presented at the Temple since he is their first born son. A man named Simeon witnesses this event and gives a heartfelt prayer known in Latin as the Nunc Dimittis. The theme of the prayer is that Simeon has now beheld the “light” that will shine on Gentiles and Jews alike.

Christian celebrations of Candlemas include the blessing of beeswax candles, and a candle-lit procession precedes the worship service that day. In some part of Europe, especially France, they eat crepes on Candlemas (I’m not exactly sure why!). Each member of the household cooks their own crepe while holding a coin in their hand. They believe it assures wealth and happiness until the next Candlemas celebration.

I’ve read a number of articles that connect Candlemas with Imbolc, as well as the Roman festival of Lupercalia. Personally, I’m not convinced the tie is as strong as some people suggest. Both Imbolc and Candlemas are festivals of light. However, there are numerous light festivals during the winter season that appear in many cultures and religions. If anyone out there has a strong argument regarding how they tie together, I’m all ears. Please cite the sources that helped you to draw this conclusion.

There is a good possibility, however, that Candlemas got its start as a Christian alternative to Imbolc. This has certainly been true of many Pagan festivals so it wouldn’t surprise me at all. Copyright ©2022 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

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Brigid: The Goddess Behind the Saint

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St. Brigid from wikkicommons

St. Brigid is both historical figure and character of folklore and shared more than a name with her Pagan Goddess counterpart. It is through St. Brigid that the clearest glimpse into Brigid the Goddess can be found.—Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess, Courtney Weber

If you spend any time researching the subject, there are numerous theories that describe how the Saint and Goddess are connected. The one that resonates with me most strongly these days comes from the excellent research done by Courtney Weber in Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magic of the Celtic Goddess. According to Weber, one of the commonalities between various Celtic cultural traditions was a term for an exalted being: Brig or Brid. It was applied to more than the Goddess, and was also used to refer to women in positions of power in society. One example is a first century Irish lawyer called Brigh which was probably not her name but was a reference to her occupation as a female judge.

When nuns take their vows, they leave their secular name behind and choose a new one. Based on Weber’s work it is possible that the nun in question chose the name Brigid which was quite fitting since she held a powerful position as the founder of the cathedral in Kildare (which was built on top of a Pagan shrine) and abbess of a monastery. She also had a reputation for being generous to the poor and was known for healing miracles and compassionate care for animals.

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Cross from St. Brigid’s Cathedral

When Brigid died and was declared a saint, there is no doubt the folklore surrounding her continued to grow. It’s my theory that many of the qualities that were once attributed to the Goddess Brigid became attached to St. Brigid since the worship of the Goddess remained strong in Ireland in spite of Christian attempts to eliminate it.  This way, the Celts could have their Goddess in the guise of saint’s clothing.  It was a win/win for both sides!

There are others beside myself who believe in this theory. Robert Ellsberg in All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses For Our Time, says “It has been noted that in ancient times Brigid was, in fact, the name of the Celtic sun goddess. This has given rise to the suggestion that in St. Brigid, a nun and abbess of the fifth century, we find the repository of primeval religious memories and traditions. In any case, it seems that with the cult of St. Brigid the Irish people maintained an image of the maternal face of God with which to compliment the more patriarchal religion of St. Patrick and subsequent missionaries.”

Edward C. Sellner in Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, says “These attributes (of the goddess) were eventually identified with Brigit, the saint, whose feast day, February 1, came to be celebrated on the same day as that of the Pagan goddess. Early hagiographers also portray crucial turning points in Brigit’s life and ministry as touched with fire. It is clear that St. Brigit stands on the boundary between Pagan mythology and Christian spirituality.”

In my own personal spiritual practice, Brigid plays a big part as my “go-to” Goddess. I have an icon of her above my altar in the form of St. Brigid to remind me of the connection between my Christian and Pagan paths. For me she is a bridge-builder and reconciler whose healing power might help to bring us all closer together!  Hail Brigid, and I wish you all a blessed celebration of Imbolc!

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

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St. Brigid’s Cross

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I love the simple beauty of St. Brigid’s crosses. In Ireland, they are made from rushes and contain a beautiful woven square in the middle with four equidistant arms that are tied at the ends. They make these crosses for the feast day of St. Brigid, February 1st.

Many people believe this cross has pre-Christian origins and I wholeheartedly agree. The cross reminds me of the spokes of the wheel that the goddess Brigid turns toward spring during the celebration of Imbolc. The four spokes of this cross represent the two solstices and two equinoxes of the year. With all the connections that can be made between Brigid and St. Brigid, it’s not hard to believe that the cross is a Christian adaptation of the wheel of the year.

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The earliest origin of St Brigid’s cross may possibly be the sun cross or wheel cross that dates back to prehistoric times, especially during the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods.  Wheel crosses appear frequently in artifacts associated with religious rites. They call to mind the spokes of a chariot wheel. If this is the case, this cross could have been used in connection with the sun chariot the gods rode to carry the sun across the sky. Whatever the case may be, this is an old symbol that has been connected to spirituality for a very long time. Enjoy!

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

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Great Wheels of Fire

St. Lucia's Day

Imbolc is the celebration of the first stirrings of spring after the dark days of winter. Ancient Pagans celebrated the holiday by lighting ritual fires to lure back the sun. One of the most popular customs among the Celts was to have a young woman, representing the maiden aspect of the goddess Brigid, enter the ritual area carrying a circle of lit candles. This circle is a symbol of the Wheel of the Year that Brigid is slowly turning toward spring. Thanks to their Norse brothers and sisters, the wheel was eventually worn on the young woman’s head. This tradition originated in the Norse celebration of Yule.

If all this sounds familiar to my Christian readers, we have another connection with our Pagan friends! As early at the 4th century, Scandinavians and some Italian Christians celebrated St. Lucia Day on December 13 which was considered to be the the shortest day of the year before our calendars were radically reformed in the 16th century. This Christian feast day commemorates Lucia of Syracuse who allegedly brought food to Christians hiding in the Roman catacombs. It is said she wore a candlelit wreath on her head so she could carry as much food as possible. It’s also interesting to note that the Roman goddess of light was named Lucina. So we may have another transformation of a goddess into a Christian saint like we see with Brigid.

There is a lovely Italian carol entitled “Santa Lucia” that is sung on St. Lucia Day. One of the English translation I came across is as follows:

The silver star shimmers on the sea,
The wave is peaceful, the wind is favorable.
Come to my sprightly little boat,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

With this breeze so sweet,
Oh, how lovely it is to be on a boat!
Come on passengers, come away!
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Amid the sails, supper is ready
On this night so serene.
With no demands, with no desires,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

This sea so calm, this wind so dear,
Makes the sailor forget his troubles.
And he is shouting cheerfully,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Oh sweet Naples, oh blessed land,
Where Creation wished to smile!
You are the realm of harmony,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

A great book that helped me make some of these connections is Sabbats: A Witch’s Approach to Living the Old Ways by Edain McCoy. It is filled to interesting rites, crafts, activities and history that surrounds the eight sabbats observed by most modern Wiccans.

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

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It All Begins with Brigid!

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The seed of this blog began with Brigid (Exalted One). Brigid is the Celtic triple goddess of fire, poetry, metalwork, and medicine among other things. Brigid is also associated with the element of water and has a number of sacred wells and rivers named after her. Brigid is celebrated with gusto on the sabbat of Imbolc which is February 1st. On the night I attended my first public celebration of Imbolc, I immediately fell in love with Brigid’s creative, fiery spirit that was evident all throughout the sabbat.

One of my favorite parts of our time together was a song one of the priestesses taught us:

Lighting your candle, we call to you, call to you.
Lighting your candle, we call you by name: Brigid.
Burn off our darkness, we call to you, call to you.
Burn off our darkness and heal with your flame.

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My curiosity that night was peaked even further when I learned of Brigid’s ties to St. Brigid, one of Ireland’s most revered saints. According to medievalist Pamela Berger, Christian “monks took the ancient figure of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions onto her Christian counterpart.” In her Christian incarnation, St. Brigid was known for her generosity to the poor, her healing miracles, and warm hospitality.  Her feast day is also February 1st.  Hmmm. I am inclined to believe that many of the qualities attributed to St, Brigid came from the goddess Brigid because the worship of this Celtic deity was so popular at the time.

Another interesting connection is that a perpetual flame to honor Brigid was kept in Kildaire until the 16th century. It was then relit by the Brigidine Sisters in 1993 to honor their beloved saint and became a perpetual flame again in 2006! The icing on the cake is that the monastery in Kildaire, which St. Brigid founded, was built on the site of an older pagan shrine to the Celtic goddess Brigid.

As the celebration of Imbolc ended on that fortuitous night, I left not only feeling warmly welcomed by my Pagan sisters and brothers; it also made me realize we have a lot more in common than I ever imagined. A bridge was built between us that set me on a journey to find more connections and help Pagans and Christians overcome their fear, suspicion and sometimes hostility toward each other.

If you’re interested in reading more, there are several books on the subject including the excellent Brigit: Sun of Womanhood by Patricia Monaghan and McDermott Michael and Brigid: History, Mystery and Magic of the Celtic Goddess by Courtney Weber.  You can order both of them through Amazon.

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

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