A canonized saint in the Roman Catholic Church, Martin of Tours is revered across large swaths of Europe–including Protestant-majority northern European countries. Celebrations of his Feast Day on November 11 speak to a devotional cult that incorporates many curiously Pagan elements of great antiquity, indelibly ensconcing him in a meta folk consciousness channeled through traditions that aren’t about to die out any time soon. From Sweden to Spain, from England to the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, St. Martin’s Day/Martinmas/Martinstag/Sint-Maarten gives rise to seasonal celebrations that commemorate blood sacrifice and feasting (cattle, pork, and especially geese), the building of sacred fires (both bonfires and more controllable lantern-lit processions led by children), uncorking the season’s first wines, welcoming the start of winter, and singing in the streets for Halloween-like treats. Continue reading
Like a lot of other Pagan witches in the U.S., I wholeheartedly celebrate both Halloween and Samhain, the former being a secular, cultural (and certainly, commercial) interpretation of the greater themes of mortality, ancestor reverence, and the celebration of the Witches’ New Year/the Third Harvest that find expression in ritual celebrations of Samhain (“Summer’s End” in Gaelic). October 31 has always been my favorite day of the year ever since early childhood. Continue reading
There are times when you don’t need to look at a calendar page to know that the Days of the Dead are upon you. All of Nature seems to be a manifestation of the restlessness of spirits on the move, of hungry ancestors clamoring for your attention and your ritual foods. It’s the way that fog banks roll into the city on a strong north wind, blotting out the rising sun. It’s the way that the chill autumn rains beat upon your windowpanes as you curl up under the covers at night, trying to blanket all thoughts of your own mortality out of the province of conscious awareness. That’s what’s been happening in my experience here in Chicago as of the past 72 hours, and it’s all very fitting as tomorrow marks one of the biggest All Souls’ Days (Zadušnice in Serbian, from the root word duša, which means “soul”) in the Serbian calendar. Continue reading
“Learning to live with one’s own mortality is the most universal of educations in reality.”
According to noted grief expert David Kessler (I highly recommend his book, co-authored with Louise Hay, entitled You Can Heal Your Heart: Finding Peace After a Breakup, Divorce, or Death), a person can be said to be healthily coping with the loss of a loved one when heartwarming memories of the deceased outweigh the pain of the loved one’s absence in the physical world. But the loving connection with the deceased is never severed, Kessler asserts, and the spiritual relationship between the deceased and the person grieving her or his loss on the physical plane takes on a new level of intensity.
That “intensity” is pretty much what the Samhain season represents for me and devotional practices to what we in my former Gardnerian coven used to call “the Mighty Dead” or “the Hidden Company” take center stage in my home and at the public Pagan rituals I attend at this time of year. Those who have gone before us, those who have made us the walkers of the crooked path that we are today, are rightly honored, remembered, given thanks and praise, and in many cultural traditions, literally fed. They may be ancestors of blood and bone or ancestors of spirit, mentors to whom you’re not physically related. I am glad that at this Samhain season, the loving counsel of those who have gone before me and helped make me the Witch and Priestess that I am today is as near to me as the rustling wind ushering fallen maple leaves, or the moon-kissed shadows that slink across the walls of my home in this season of encroaching darkness. Continue reading
Death. I’ve been acutely reminded of its omnipresence in many ways lately. Seeing the low angle of the sun at this time of year has begun to trigger my seasonal affective disorder. My nightly cemetery walks have been tinged with greater pensiveness and even despair. It’s a gloomy, cool day here in Chicago as the Sun gets ready to enter the eighth sign of the zodiac, Scorpio, herald of the mysteries of death and rebirth. I’m still processing the devastating news I received on Tuesday when I took my 11-year-old cat, Thor (a feral kitten rescue from Hawaii), to an emergency veterinary clinic for an abdominal ultrasound and other tests. My regular veterinarian had performed an X-ray on Thor to determine the cause of his misshapen stomach and elevated liver levels revealed from recent blood testing. The X-ray indicated a mass protruding from Thor’s liver–one so large it had actually pushed Thor’s stomach at a 90-degree angle. No wonder Thor’s lost 9 pounds in a little over two months. Was it a tumor? If so, could surgery be an option? I was referred to the emergency clinic, which is equipped with an advanced radiology department, to find the answers. Instead, the main veterinarian there stunned me with the diagnosis: advanced pancreatic cancer that has metastasized to his liver and lungs. And then those horrible six words, laden with the iron weight of finality:
“There is nothing we can do.” Continue reading
In the Old Cairo Calendar, today marks the Feast Day of the great Goddess Selqet (or Serket), the scorpion-crowned protectress of the living and the dead. Like my beloved Patroness, Nebet-Het, Selqet is Great in Heka (Magick); She knows the ways of the pharmakeion, from noxious poisons and the venom of scorpion and serpent as well as their antidotes and healing herbs and resins. In the Pyramid Texts, it is written that when the Goddess Aset fled into the marshes to deliver Her son Heru, Selqet dispatched seven sacred scorpions to ward Mother and Child. She is awesomely apotropaic. Continue reading
I know I’m not the only Reconstructionist Pagan who owes her vocation of service to the Gods to an experiential tapestry whose oldest threads of personal magickal practice are Wiccan. As my friend Tamilia observes in her excellent WordPress blog, Wandering Woman Wondering, Wicca is “the gateway Paganism.” I consider myself particularly fortunate, however, that my involvement in Wicca and my earliest magickal training came at the hands of Chicago’s oldest, most lauded, and longest-running Gardnerian Wiccan coven, the Temple of the Sacred Stones, founded by the late Donna Cole Schultz and her husband, Robert Schultz.
Donna set the bar high for a High Priestess, whatever the Pagan denomination: she was an arduous teacher who extolled discipline and exuded Taurean tenacity and patience; she was equal Kabbalistic pillars Severity and Mercy. She ran the Temple of the Sacred Stones like a tight ship–none of this “Pagan Standard Time” tomfoolery. Continue reading