Pagan Parenting in the Bible Belt

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PBP: The Wheel of the Year – Part 1

Prompt: The Wheel of the Year

“When celebrating the Wheel of the Year, you can interpret it many ways. You can see it as symbolic, agricultural, astrological, etc. You could even do a combination. How do you find significance of each holiday in the modern world we live in? For example, during the fall season, the holidays relate strongly to the harvest. In this day and age, most of us don’t live on a farm harvesting grain and ensuring the following year’s crops. How do you stay in touch with the roots of the holy days we observe when some times we are so far placed from them?
How do you interpret the Sabbats of the Wheel of the Year and make it fit the modern world around us?”
Since the prompt begins with harvest season, I suppose I will start there. The easiest answer is that, it’s Harvest Season – we harvest the things we’ve been cultivating through the year. Not only does this mean that we start seeing produce from our garden, but also the things that we put into play (by will, by virtue of The Universe, what was given to or asked of the Gods, by virtue of spells cast – whatever you want to call it) are starting to see results by this time. It’s drawing closer to the Dark of the Year, and the time to examine the progress we’ve made thus far is nigh. There’s still some time to work, if it’s needed; or if the harvest is good, then it is time to look forward to relaxing in the Winter months.This is also the time of year where we make offerings of thanks, and ensure the continued protection and good will from our border and land spirits. Like Spring cleaning, we do Autumn cleaning, which is more taking stock of what we have and what we will need come Spring than actual ‘cleaning’. This applies to clothing, seeds, materials, and spiritual things as well. We save what we will re-use and donate what we can.
As far as connecting with the roots of the Sabbats, I have found it extremely helpful to do some research. Knowing the history and traditions of the Sabbats, and the meanings of them in the eyes of our ancestors, makes the Holy Days much more personal for me. Much of my family comes from Northern & Western Europe – Denmark, Ireland, Scotland, England, France & Germany. I am drawn to Celtic and Scandinavian traditions, in addition to others (and the more I learn, the more influence I see from those countries in my path). Since we homeschool, learning our family history and working through the projects we’ve done (and continue to do) on those countries and their peoples, the changing governments, and religions in those countries makes it more ‘real’ and easier to make a personal connection to the Holy Days that they celebrated, and thus, to my own.
As for my Holy Days, over the years of celebrating them, I’ve found that each of them has a ‘reason’ for me to connect with. I am part of a Flamekeeping Cill for Bridgid, Cill Willow. That is a primary focus for me at Imbolc; the focus on Bridgid (I am actually writing this on my Flamekeeping shift). There are traditions that appeal to me, such as snuffing and re-lighting hearth fires (even though I don’t have a fireplace in my house, we do it symbolically), sweeping out the old and welcoming in the new, baking bread, making corn dollies and the like. With the kids, taking time to celebrate the beginning of the calendar year, recalling seasonal and Sabbat Lore to strengthen their connections to their paths is always a focus. As the first Sabbat of the calendar year, it’s easy to make the connection with the beginning of the year, the first signs of the approaching Spring. Since this is a devotional Sabbat, it re-affirms my own path, and helps me maintain my focus for the coming year.
I feel a special affinity for cross-quarter days (Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh & Samhain). These ‘in-between’ times are times of change and examination. This is when I evaluate, and make adjustments when needed, to my path or journey towards a goal. I update my journals, Shadow Books, make changes and consolidate information, add a new binder if I need to. It’s a time of ‘housekeeping’ and organization.
I struggle a bit with Ostara, I admit. My own past and hang-ups associate Ostara very much with the Christian Easter, which was always a problem for me. The Easter traditions are so blatantly Pagan in nature (rabbits and eggs as symbols of fertility, re-birth as a theme); I could never comfortably celebrate Easter in good faith. I have found that now, as a Pagan, I have a harder time letting go of the Christian associations to comfortably and fully fall into it as a Pagan celebration. Weird, I know, but that’s how it is. I am still trying to work past it. I don’t dye eggs or decorate them with my kids, which is a huge association that I am grateful to be rid of (though oddly enough, I don’t have a problem using eggs in my Ostara decoration or altar themes, and I’ve been wanting to try Pysanky for the longest time).  This past year has been the first time that I’ve successfully maintained a garden throughout the entire Summer and into the Fall; in part, I believe, due to the seed blessings from the previous Ostara. I am looking forward to 2014′s Ritual, where some of the seeds I’ve harvested this year will be blessed and hopefully grow well next year. The themes of ‘Spring Cleaning’ and fertility, waking up the earth, taking stock and preparing for the planting season are also connections that I honor at Ostara. It’s great fun to walk with the kids around our house, stomping and banging on the ground with staves to ‘wake up the earth’, and making Spring-ish decorations (like birdfeeders and window clings).
Beltane is one of my favorite Sabbats. The theme of Holy Union and fertility permeate the atmosphere, and Summer is right around the corner. The energy of Beltane is so very powerful; everything is ripe with promise. Beltane is when sex magic is at its peak, and the blend of male and female energies makes for that much more power. This is when I do most of my long-range goal spell-casting for the year. Seeds are planted, both actual seeds and ‘seeds’ of goals and creativity; the first steps towards future plans are made. At Beltane, too, I honor the ‘fruit of my loins’ – my children. The energy and vibrancy of youth is much reflected in the spirit of Beltane, and so I like to take some time to be thankful for them. This is, again, a time of re-dedication, and so I make offerings to some specific deities, and re-affirm my dedication to them.
Litha (or Midsummer, Summer Solstice) is another one that’s easy for me to connect to. As the beginning of Summer, it’s a great time to begin new things. Summertime is the season for outdoors, and we take full advantage of t – hiking, beaching, swimming, canoeing – all things outdoors fill our activity calendar. With the kids, writing the summer’s ‘bucket list’ comes into play, as well a s celebrating Faerie Lore. One of my favorite traditions is in the legend of the Holly King & The Oak King. At Litha, the Oak King, who reigns from Yule until Litha – the Light half of the year) dies, and the Holly King is born. The God, in this aspect, will reign from Litha to Yule (the dark half of the year). ‘Mourning’ the death of the Oak King, and ‘rejoicing’ at the birth of the Holly King is something we look forward to the closer to the Solstices we get.
Litha is also when my local Circle celebrates our anniversary. We formed in 2011, and Litha was our first Ritual as a group, so each turn of the Wheel to Litha is another year that I celebrate in fellowship with the members of my Circle. We celebrate 3 full years in 2014.
This post is getting kinda lengthy, so I am going to make it two parts. I’ll continue with the second half of the year in my next post.

Brightest Blessings,


Houston Pagan Pride Day 2013

Once again, Houston PPD has come and gone. Can I just mention how much I love PPD events? The community is so cohesive, and seeing people I’ve met in the past, and meeting new people is always so electrifying!

This year, our PPD was held in October, rather than the traditional September. It was cooler out, which was a definite plus, but it was scheduled for the same weekend as the annual Witch’s Ball that’s held in Galveston, which was not so great. I think we lost some of the usual PPD attendees due to the conflict. Hopefully next year, we won’t have them scheduled at the same time.

Even with the conflict, we had a nice turn out! We were on the roof/parking garage area of Khon’s Wine & Darts. We had a section of the upstairs space blocked off, with the vendor spaces surrounding an open area. The stage was at one end, for the performers and entertainers. This year’s performers included Sparkling Shadows belly-dancers, drummers, and some amazing singers (including my favorites, Robin Kirby, Ginger Doss & Bekah Kelso).

There were two Rituals; one nearer to the beginning of the event, and the main ritual (Summerian), hosted by the lovely Kaleen Reed. I only caught a bit of the main ritual as I was downstairs taking a breather and grabbing something to drink, but it was lovely, and I am sad to have missed it.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get much of a chance to walk around, because I was vending! My local Circle decided to snag a booth and vend this year (our first year vending). We had a ton of stuff, all handmade (or handcrafted/upcycled) by our Circle-mates. We brought 4 of our kindred, along with me and Bridey, and had a really great time!

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This is what you’d see when you walked up.

We had handmade boxes by Inspired Woodcraft, with pyrography by Bridey; and spirit boards that I made (available by custom design via my etsy shop); and several small trinket boxes by Scara Darling.

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Travel altars, beaded spiders & Blessed Kitchen plaque by Bridey; Scara’s bracelets, and mini travel altars, plaques, goddess bowls, catrinas, tarot boxes & prayer beads that I made.

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And amazing Goddess Dolls by Magnolia Moon Crafts. Please go check out her page to see these dolls in better photos – they really are great. I have Blodeuwedd on my altar and she is absolutely beautiful!

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All in all, this was a great vending experience for us. I think we made more connections than money, but we were able to donate some of the funds made to our Circle’s treasury, which was part of our goal in vending. We’re considering heading out to Austin’s PPD next year in addition to Houston’s.

If you’ve never been able to attend a Pagan Pride Day event, please try and make that a goal for 2014! It’s been such a great experience for me. Being Pagan can be such a lonely path; gathering with the larger community is so refreshing. Having this community here to bring my kids into is another boost – for them to see that they’re not the only kids ‘like this’ is awesome.

Brightest Blessings,


PBP: Divination

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I haven’t gone away! The end of the year is always very busy, what with holidays and birthdays in my family. But things have settled down again, and I thought I’d get back into the habit of updating with Pagan Blog Prompts.

From what I gather, they’re following along with the Pagan Blog Project, which takes a letter of the alphabet as a prompt. This week’s letter is ‘D’, and the topic is ‘Divination’.

My favorite form of divination is the tarot. I’ve gotten really lax about practicing, but my enthusiasm is returning. In fact, yesterday, Bridey and I met with a new person interested in joining our local Circle, who reads, and that interest piqued my own.

I have always had great success with the tarot. I use the Medieval Scapini Tarot most often. I’ve used other decks, but this one reads best for me. I used to read every couple of weeks, and could track changes  I always write down the spread and put it in a journal so that I can see what things have happened. I’ve read for others as well, and seemed to be pretty accurate. I love that there is so much information in a spread.

Our local circle was hosting a tarot class each month, using the Rider-Waite deck, but we’ve gotten away from that. We’d take 3 or 4 cards from the deck and write everything we could see or feel or get form the card, then share those observations, then look up the traditional meanings. It was a really good exercise – a fun way to learn to read intuitively. I was surprised at how often my intuition corresponded to what the traditional indications were, and surprised by some of the ones that didn’t match up! It’s been an interesting study to compare the imagery between the RW deck and my deck. Some of the images are similar; others are completely different. I plan to go back and use my deck alone in the same manner, and see how my intuition with it compares to the RW deck.

I’ve used other methods of divination as well: scrying, pendulum, deep meditation and tasseomancy (tea-leaf reading). I really enjoy tea-leaf reading, but am not very practiced at it. I had some friends over for a tea party some time back, and we practiced our tasseomancy skills, but I haven’t employed this method on any sort of regular basis.

I have a pendulum board, and this is probably the method that I use most often for a ‘quickie’. It’s great for yes/no questions or for a quick response, but less helpful for a more in-depth answer. It took me a log time to get the pendulum and board to work for me. It wasn’t until I made my own pendulum that I saw results.

To make my board, I used a slab of wood from the craft store. The one I chose was unfinished, and had bark on it still. Then I drew out the design I wanted, and used a wood-burning tool to make the design. I used acrylic paint to color, then lightly sanded and sealed it with spray poly.

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Scrying… oh, boy… scrying and I don’t get along, LOL. To be honest, I’ve not put much practice into it. We’ve had scrying at two different Sabbat rituals over the last year or so and I have not been successful either time. I do have a scrying mirror, and have tried water scrying and we tried it with leaves once… maybe I just do it wrong! In any case, I am comfortable knowing where my skills are and where they are not!

Brightest Blessings,

Pagan Blog Prompts

 

 


Flamekeeping, Cycle 6

This post is part of my Flamekeeping Diary for 2012. I started printing these posts out and keeping them in my Shadow Book to reflect on and to have a written record of my time with Brighid.

This cycle is the sixth; I am amazed that it’s already my shift again. After my last shift, I wanted to make a devotional candle to burn during my shift – one that was specifically for Brighid. This is what I ended up with – I love how it turned out!

I used a white glass 7-day candle that I found at the dollar store, some craft necklace chain, wire and beads from my jewelry-making supplies. Then I found a picture of Brighid that I liked, and printed it, then ran it through a sticker-maker so that I could attach it to the candle.

This particular candle is one that came without any pre-printed decoration. The glass was clear, so I only had to remove the price sticker and clean the glass before putting the sticker on. I also created a sticker for the back with the history of Cill Willow and my upcoming shift dates. Upon reflection, I should have checked my dates more carefully; I made a mistake in the counting of days and was off, so I had to fix the dates. I’m going to end up re-printing the back sticker.

For this shift, I started the day off in a sour mood. I woke up late, my phone was acting up (I could hear people, but they couldn’t hear me), my modem was acting up (randomly turning itself off and refusing to re-load correctly), the kids were acting obnoxious – it just wasn’t a good day. As the evening crept closer though, things started to get better – in tiny, almost immeasurable increments, but they did start getting better.

My dad called and invited us all to dinner and the boys to watch the football game, so that eliminated the need to cook dinner. I also got to spend some time with my dad, which was nice. Then I left the kids at his house for a while and went back home. I had a couple of hours to myself; I got out my jewelry-making supplies and played with my beads for a bit while listening to the ever-soothing Lord of the Rings soundtrack. I’m a huge geek, and LotR just pushes all of my buttons, so that was utterly enjoyable!

The the men-folk came back home, so I retired to my bedroom to re-decorate my altar for Samhain (it was still decorated for Lughnasadh – I seem to have skipped Mabon altogether, which is unusual for me, but I just wasn’t feeling it). I lit some amber/sandalwood incense that I found at The Witchery in Galveston (that stuff has become my new favorite incense – I burn it all the time!) and just took my time cleaning my altar and putting the old decorations away. I cleared off some of the things I’ve been keeping on it for a while, and pulled out some things that I haven’t used in a long time; it’s nice to see those things again. I used a purple silk altar cloth and brand new purple candles, which is different; I usually use more neutral colored candles. I also cleaned out my ‘magic trunk’ and organized my herb jars under my altar in neat rows. I’m really happy with how it looks, and am breathing easier now that my trunk is all clean and organized. There’s definitely truth to the old saying about physical clutter being linked to mental clutter.

At bedtime, I put the flame out (my LED candle needs batteries), and re-lit it this morning for a few minutes before I extinguished it so that the kids and I could meet up with some friends. When we got back home this afternoon, I re-lit my flame and went to take a nap before we had to leave again, and had the flame next to my bed. I fell alseep quickly, and dreamed, but can’t remember what about now; something about my sister and I in an SUV going somewhere, I think.

This shift was odd in a way; while I was focused on making a connection, I didn’t feel particularly connected to Brighid. I feel like her influence was there, as both the inspirer of creative pursuits was there, as well as her role as a Goddess of the Hearth, but I didn’t feel like She was as attuned as I have in the past. Not that I expect her to be all in my face or anything, but I feel more like I was reaching out more and in the past She was reaching for me.

In any case, it was a lovely shift. It was just the thing I needed after a very chaotic day yesterday, and a busy day today.

Brightest Blessings,


Offerings

This week, I am combining my Pagan Blog Project post with Pagan Blog Prompts. It works, because the letter I am on is ‘O’, and the topic at blog prompts is ‘offerings’… I was struggling with finding a topic for ‘O’, so that worked out well.

We were asked:

For those who perform rituals, do you give offerings? If so, what kind?

What is the meaning/purpose of offerings?

 

Leaving offerings is something I do pretty often, both in ritual, and just in general. Our Lughnasadh ritual was last week and during it we made sacrifice dolls (decorated corn dollies) to burn at Mabon. In the meantime, mine rests on my altar, collecting bits of things I will offer at Mabon in the fire. This is fairly common in my group’s rituals; at Yule, we each decorate Yule Logs to burn – the idea is that the effort that goes into making a beautiful Yule Log is the offering to the Gods. We also generally leave flowers, bits of cakes and ale or wine, pretty things (seashells, nuts, and other Nature goodies) on the Circle Altar when we leave for the evening.

In my personal practice, I leave offerings as well, especially when hiking or walking in the woods. A couple of years ago, I came across a video featuring offering stones made from cornmeal. The kids and I have made several batches and we keep them in a bag in the van. When we go walking or hiking, we grab the bags, and choose a place to say a prayer and leave a stone. The stones are all natural, so they dissolve and nourish the ground and animals around the area we leave them in.

I also keep an offering bowl on my altar. I have made several goddess bowls, and have a few in my etsy shop, Exoptable Thaumaturgy.   I have them all over – in my bedroom on my main altar, in the kitchen window, on my desk… they collect coins, feathers, shells, bits of paper (fortunes from fortune cookies), beads – all kinds of small, pretty things.

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The idea of leaving something for those unseen appeals to me. Deities, faeries, guardian spirits – each of them traditionally ‘require’ something different and paying homage to their preferences is usually  a matter of minutes in terms of real time, but the effort to take the time can be monumental. It’s a small token of thanks, appreciation, acknowledgement… it’s hard to define, but all of those things, and more. The practice of making offering stones, of decorating an item to throw into the fire, of finding something pretty and leaving it in a special place all keep my mind focused on deity. It keeps me in constant connection by providing a tangible way to interact with Them.

Offerings also help me teach my kids about being thankful, and about mindfully going about their day. It’s easy to take a walk or go on a hike without really appreciating the cycles of Nature and the Seasons that make each moment so. By intentionally taking the time and making that connection, the practice of making and leaving offerings provides me with a ready-made teaching tool.

To read more about other Pagan topics that begin with the letter ‘O’, be sure to check out the Pagan Blog Project 2012. To read more about offerings, check out this week’s Pagan Blog Prompt.

Brightest Blessings,

 


Flamekeeping Diary: Cill Willow, Cycle 2

My sisters with Cill Willow have completed a full cycle and started on our second. I started my second cycle a bit late – my husband and I were on a date when the sun set, then we went to pick my children up from my parents and visited with them for a bit. Even though the flame was technically not yet lit, as Brigid is a hearth-goddess, spending time with family is always honoring her.

Once we got home, I lit my candle and put it on the table next to me while I worked on some signs to direct traffic – we hosted a party for our  dojo to congratulate our newest black belts. It was odd; I noticed that when my mind was on lettering, my flame would go out. I would re-light it and continue. This happened several times – until I finished with the signs and brought the candle into the living room where my attention was not as divided.

For bedtime, I turned on an LED candle, which has been on my altar since my last shift; I tried putting it away, but it felt wrong so I left it there. Both nights of my shift, I slept soundly, and don;t recall any dreams. I woke up fairly early for a day filled with family activities.

I wasn’t feeling well Saturday afternoon, so I went to lay down, fully intending to practice reiki and do some meditation – perhaps the intent was enough as I fell asleep shortly after lying down and woke feeling refreshed and much better. I woke in enough time to see the end of my shift through with a real flame – a white candle in thanks and honor of Brigid’s healing energies.

Overall, I am less happy with how this devotion went. I feel like I made more of a connection last time, but I also realize that life has a way of mucking up the best of plans. I am working on being flexible, and the realization that there is always a way to make the connection, even if it wasn’t ‘on schedule’. Since I didn’t get to craft much during my actual shift, I have been working on Lughnasadh amulets as gifts for our Circle’s Ritual next weekend and am making a Brigid’s Cross from some of the leftover wheat stems from the amulets. I’ll post pictures when I finish it!

Brightest Blessings,


Keeper of the Eternal Flame

Saturday, June 30, 2012 8:22PM CST began my first shift with Cill Willow to tend Brigid’s Eternal Flame. I have ‘shift 4′ in a 20-day cycle (with 19 Flamekeepers and one day that Brigid tends the flame herself, then the cycle starts again). Each shift starts at sundown and continues through the night and following day, until sundown, when you pass the duty off to the next Flamekeeper.

I posted about this a few weeks ago, and I wanted to come back and talk about what the experience was like; document what I did and how I felt.

I lit my flame just after sunset. I also lit some incense that I made. I plan to make another blend specifically for tending my flame (possibly with the sisters in my Cill), but this time, I used a blend that I made in Circle with my local group last year at Mabon. It’s one of my favorite blends and since it was made in Circle, I thought it was appropriate.

I chose a white candle to burn for Brigid. White corresponds to spirituality, cleansing, purity, perfection, innocence, integrity, healing, freedom, opportunity, forgiveness, and acceptance. It is also a color of simple power; white carries the powers of all the colors and can be directed towards almost any use. In this case, I specifically wanted to channel spirituality and cleansing. White helps eliminate negative energy and creates inner peace, which I found to be very true in this instance. It also corresponds to the Maiden form of the Triple Goddess, which is Brigid incarnate.

I was able to spend four hours in mindful tending this evening. I listened to songs and stories and even watched a documentary on St. Brigid of Kildare. Some of my favorite music devoted to Brigid is Lisa Theil’s Song to Brigid, Isaac Bonewit’s  Hymn to Brigid, Brighid’s Kiss by Triniti, Chalice & Blade’s I Hear You Calling, and Kelliana’s Brighid.

During that time, to honor Brigid’s call to creativity and her affinity for healing, I created a flat woven beaded panel that features a Native American Medicine Wheel. It didn’t turn out all that great; I had no idea how many beads it would take and ran out of the ones I started with and then the others were too small. I ended up editing the design once it was in-progress and it just… yeah – not so great. It looks nothing like the original design, but I am relatively happy with it (for what it is – call it a ‘proof of concept’). But the effort was there, and I plan on getting more beads to make a ‘real’ version of the panel. If it turns out well, then I will make another panel and sew them together for a ‘Medicine Bag‘. I very much enjoyed the process of beading. I am considering getting a loom, although flat bead weaving wasn’t too bad.

I will keep a natural flame burning for some time yet and when I go to bed I will switching to a LED candle. I would prefer a natural flame to burn the entire shift, but safety comes first and leaving a candle burning while I sleep wouldn’t be safe. I would also worry that the flame would go out while I slumber; an LED flame will be burning bright until I wake.

One thing that this experience has taught me is that I am not connecting with my deities deeply enough lately. I plan to spend some time over the coming weeks and months devoting my practice to a particular deity, rather than just honoring the Gods in general. I also found that I need to schedule more devotional time into my day. Though four hours is a bit much to expect on a daily basis, perhaps once a week would be feasible.

Something I would like to comment on before I go is meditating with children around. I have two children, both active boys, and my husband has been home this evening. They’ve been in and out of the kitchen (where I was meditating and beading), and asking me questions, commenting on my handiwork, turning the TV up too loud – all while I was in my makeshift ‘sacred space’. I decided before I began that trying to retreat to my room to practice in solitude and relative silence would be an exercise in futility, and so I adjusted my mindset. I knew that I would be needed (probably more than usual since my mind was to be elsewhere), and so I went into this evening with that in mind. Instead of being resentful or annoyed at interruptions, I looked at my divided attention as honoring the Mother aspect of the Goddess – caring for my children and family as She answers us when we are in need of Her attention – even when there are others who need Her more. Even though I was interrupted countless times over the course of the evening, my peace was undisturbed. I am relaxed and my mind is restful – I enjoyed my evening very much.

If you have young children, I wonder how looking at tending your families needs as part of your practice might work. When my children were younger, I felt like I didn’t have time for devotions, because I was so needed all the time. Looking back, I wish I had  more of an open mind about how my daily practice should look and feel. I also wish that I’d been more open to incorporating my boys into my practice when they were younger. I actually have mixed feelings about that, as I don’t want to ‘indoctrinate’ them into any religion – I want them to know about and explore other paths and find the one that’s right for them. That said, I do wish I’d taken more time with them in spiritual matters when they were younger – for that matter I wish I had taken more time for spiritual matters myself when they were younger! Oh well, done is done – time to focus on the here and now. My youngest did come craft next to me while I was beading. He is sculpting a little man figure from clay; we sat together and enjoyed some of the music I lined to above with me. A mother can’t ask for more than that!

I may write more tomorrow – I will have a full day of Flamekeeping to fill. ‘Till then, have a blessed night!

Brightest Blessings,


Incense Ritual

I have been a fan of incense in my daily practice for years – even when I didn’t consider myself a practicing Pagan, I had incense and candles at the ready for meditation and the creation of sacred space to ground and center myself. The ‘ritual’ of lighting candles and incense, then breathing the sweet smoke has always played a role in my personal practice. Even now, it is the first thing I do when beginning ritual or meditation.

Incense has been used in religious ceremonies, for ritual purification, in aromatherapy, for meditation, and for creating a spiritual atmosphere for centuries. The term ‘incense’ comes from the Latin word incendere, which means “to burn”.

Incense in religious practice is by no means new. Even in the Bible, offerings of incense are made to the Lord, and it’s common for Catholic Churches around the world to use incense during religious ceremonies. Use of incense is not limited to Judeo-Christian religions; Buddhist temples have incense glowing and burning at all hours, Hindu-permeated cultures (such as Japan) use incense not only in religious rites, but also in cultural settings (such as the formal Japanese Tea Ceremony).

So what is it about incense that is so special?

For me, I think it has to do with several factors. The process of preparing to burn incense is a ritual in and of itself, especially when you’re using something other than commercially produced stick or cone incense.

I usually make my own incense (thought sticks and cones will work in a pinch), and to burn them, I use a censor, ash and charcoal. It’s not something that can just be lit and walked away from – the process of setting up the burner, lighting the coal takes a few minutes to accomplish. So that means that I must be in the proper headspace – patient and open – to begin the ritual.

Another aspect is the smell – which means the ingredients of the incense. Making my own, I can control what goes into the air. The herbs I choose for a blend are harmonious and complementary to my mood or need. Commercial incense can be chosen for similar reasons, but in making my own, there is much more than just the compliment – there is intent – magick – as well. This aspect gives Incense Ritual much more meaning in my personal practice than it might otherwise have.

It is fairly common in my local group’s Ritual Circle to make incense as a group during Sabbat Rituals. We’ve made blends for prosperity, home blessing, fertility/creativity,  and protection. One of our incense blends was even crafted into a Ritual Soap by one of our group members  and gifted to us at the next class (who makes *ah-maz-ing* soaps and lotions, BTW – check them out if you’re in need of natural and magical products Goddess Divine Creations). The benefit to having group incense is that not only is my intent put into the creation of the incense, but also the love and will of my entire Circle. This only works, of course, provided you fully trust your Circle-mates (and I am so blessed to be able to trust without hesitation in my local group).

When I first started making incense, I found a video on YouTube by KrazyBoyTX on making incense pellets and gave it a try. I used honey and dried fruit to bind my powdered herbs and resins, and the result was a fantastic, light, airy scent. He has other videos on using charcoal discs and using makko powder to make cones. I haven’t tried using makko powder yet; the honey and fruit mixture is my favorite at the moment.

One of my favorite blends is as follows. Mix equal parts:

  • chamomile flowers
  • cinnamon
  • clove
  • comfrey
  • oak leaves
  • Echinacea
  • lavender
  • pine
  • sage
  • yarrow
  • uva ursa

and blend with amber resin, honey & golden raisins to form pellets. Burn on charcoal discs or mica plates.

I use a mortar and pestle to blend things while I am ‘creating’. Then, once I am done, I put everything in an electric blender to pulverize and fully blend the ingredients. I bought a coffee bean grinder for my herbs and store them in a combination of glass containers and plastic bags (until I have a container for them). My incense is kept in a wooden box that I got from the craft store. Eventually, I will post a picture of it!

Brightest Blessings,

Pagan


Handmade Tools

 “…with these hands, and with this heart, and with this mind, I can do anything!” ― Derek VitatoeWith These Hands

That’s how I feel about tools. Obviously, some things are better bought – an athame (since I am not a silversmith), a mortar & pestle, a chalice – but that’s not to say that I wouldn’t make a blade, or that I wouldn’t treasure a large flat stone and rock like Native Americans used to grind maize, or that a red solo cup wouldn’t work well in a pinch… but there is a certain joy in making your own tools.

One of the main reasons I tend to make my own things is price. The other main reason is energy. I mention price first simply because I have seen some breathtaking tools and supplies that I would love to have in my cabinet. But the second reason plays just as much of a role. When I buy something, I can’t use it until it is cleansed, and sometimes the cleansing process is lengthy. I bought a deck of tarot cards once and couldn’t use them for over a month (they still don’t read well for me). On the other hand, things that I have made usually work very well, sometimes even before they’re finished.

I also seem to have more success making things from scratch rather than re-purposing things. That, I feel pretty strongly, is about energy and vibrations – the reluctance sometimes of things to function in a new capacity. But with time and practice, my handmade items usually cooperate fully and work well.

Some things I have made are pendulum boards (for myself and for friends), pendulums, scrying mirror, pendants and other spiritual jewelry, and other decorations for my altar and home.

You might wonder – do I think that handmade tools are superior to store-bought tools? Well, yes and no. Yes, because I believe that anything I make myself (whether for myself or not) carries my will and energy and intent with it. Since magic is all about energy and will and intent, I believe that my handmade tools – or those made by someone else’s hand and gifted to me – work better than those that are commercially produced. That’s not to say that superior results cannot be found with commercial products; I love my crystal pendulum! But they lack a certain feel to them.

One area that I stray from the ‘handmade is better’ camp in is with my Shadow Book. Though I love the idea of a fully handwritten book, and have not removed that goal from my list of Things I would Like to Do One Day, I am not a fan of my handwriting – I tend to write things, then go back and edit, make notes and changes and the page ends up looking like a jumbled mess. Some might find that appealing – I’d rather everything stay neat and legible. So, I usually type and print. I do have an art-Book of Shadows that has a lot of drawing in it, but that’s not a ‘working’ book – more of a journal. More on the virtues of handwritten vs. printed later {wink}.

How about you? What’s your take on handmade vs. store-bought tools? Do you work with tools you created yourself?

Brightest Blessings,


 


Summer Solstice 2012

I have a confession to make – Midsummer has not been one of my favorite Sabbats in the past. I have several Sabbats that I feel a connection to and others that I just don’t for whatever reason. This year though, I have been making an effort to try to connect more with each Sabbat – even the ones that I don’t ‘feel’ as deeply.

It’s odd to me that Litha isn’t as meaningful for me since Yule is very meaningful; Litha (Summer Solstice) being the counterpoint to Yule (Winter Solstice). Litha/Midsummer is the birth of the Holly King – The Oak King/Holly King mythos is one that I celebrate; on the morning after the Winter Solstice, my kids and I greet the newborn Sun at dawn… but the death of the Sun King is not something that I feel compelled to celebrate.

I thought I would share some of the things that I have been focusing on for Litha this year, and talk about our group Ritual a bit.
Some of the deities associated with Litha that I have tried to connect to are:
  • Hestia (Greek): This goddess watched over domesticity and the family. She was given the first offering at any sacrifice made in the home. On a public level, the local town hall served as a shrine for her — any time a new settlement was formed, a flame from the public hearth was taken to the new village from the old one.
I don’t follow Helenic Paganism, but there are a couple of Gods and Goddesses that have been popping up in my view over the past little while. Ares has always been around, though I don’t consider myself a devotee of his, and lately, Hestia has been appearing in my periphery. As a ‘stay at home mom’, I think her presence is timely, and welcome, so devoting some time to her has felt right.
  • Horus (Egyptian): Horus was one of the solar deities of the ancient Egyptians. He rose and set every day, and is often associated with Nut, the sky god. Horus later became connected with another sun god, Ra.

In Tameran Wicca, the myth of the Oak King and Holly King can be played out with Horus and Set; YouTube use Pagypstian’s video explains the correlation – Horus is defeated at the Summer Solstice by Set (with Nepthys as the Goddess for the waning part of the year).

  • Sunna or Sol (Germanic): Little is known about this Norse goddess of the sun, but she appears in the poetic eddas as the sister of the moon god.
  • Other Gods and goddesses: All father gods and mother goddesses, pregnant goddesses and sun deities. Particular emphasis might be placed on the goddesses Aphrodite, Astarte, Freya, Hathor, Ishtar and Venus and other goddesses who preside over love, passion and beauty. Other Litha deities include the goddesses Athena, Artemis, Dana, Kali, Isis and Juno and the gods Apollo, Ares, Dagda, Gwydion, Helios, Llew, Oak/Holly King, Lugh, Ra, Sol, Zeus, Prometheus and Thor.

I thought this was a good, albeit brief, description of the Oak/Holly King myth if you’re not familiar with it, as well as some other common customs for Litha:

Customs and myths: One way to express the cycle of the Earth’s fertility that has persisted from early pagan to modern times is the myth of the Oak King and the Holly King, gods respectively of the waxing and waning year. The Oak King rules from Midwinter to Midsummer, the period of fertility, expansion and growth, and the Holly King reigns from Midsummer to Midwinter, the period of harvest, withdrawal and wisdom. They are light and dark twins, each being the other’s alternate self, thus being one. Each represents a necessary phase in the natural rhythm; therefore, both are good. At the two changeover points, they symbolically meet in combat. The incoming twin — the Oak King at Midwinter, the Holly King at Midsummer — “slays” the outgoing one. But the defeated twin is not considered dead — he has merely withdrawn during the six months of his brother’s rule.

On Midsummer Night, it is said that field and forest elves, sprites and faeries abound in great numbers, making this a great time to commune with them. Litha is considered a time of great magickal power, one of the best times to perform magicks of all kinds. Spells and magick for love, healing and prosperity are especially effective now. Wreaths can be made for your door with yellow feathers for prosperity and red feathers for sexuality, intertwined and tied together with

ivy. This is also a very good time to perform blessings and protection spells for pets or other
Nurturing and love are key actions related to Midsummer. Litha is a good time to perform a ceremony of self-dedication or rededication to your spiritual path as a part of your sabbat celebration. Ritual actions for Litha include placing a flower-ringed cauldron on your altar, gathering and drying herbs, plunging the sword (or athamé) into the cauldron and leaping the balefire (bonfire) for purification and renewed energy. Giving away fire, sleeping away from home and neglecting animals are considered taboo on this holiday.animals.

http://www.widdershins.org/vol9iss2/03.htm

Our local group celebrated Litha on Wednesday, the day before the actual solstice, this year. I like having group ritual on a day other than the actual Sabbat because it leaves the day of for me to practice on my own. I have been meaning to get back in the habit of doing spellwork on the Sabbats, but haven’t managed to make that happen yet.
For our group’s Sabbat celebration, rather than being a traditional ‘Wiccan’ style ritual, our leaders brought elements from Buddhism and Native American spirituality to the format. We had a drum circle and a lovely guided meditation/story. Our leaders also encouraged us to dance with abandon around the fire and jump it if we chose. I chose to jump! We also were asked to look into the fire and find a word that means ‘Litha’ to us. The word that came to me was ‘drum’, and I wrote about the rhythm of life played out in the heartbeat, from birth through death.

In our teaching circle the week before Ritual, we had a Litha Crafting day – we all made Litha besoms and a variety of other little trinkets. Our Litha besoms were used to decorate the ritual space, which, due to inclement weather, was held indoors. Our ‘fire’ was a large container filled with sand and a hundred flickering candles – it wasn’t quite the same as a bonfire, but it certainly served the same purpose!

I also made a necklace and earrings to go with my Litha Ritual outfit – I love making jewelry and it was fun to make something that will hold special meaning for years to come.

I hope that your Litha was filled with love and light!

Brightest Blessings,


Beltane 2012

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Pagan Blog Prompts post, so I wanted to jump back in. This week is asking about Beltane and I wanted to share my Beltane celebration with you.

Our local group hosted our Beltane Ritual last weekend. It was *amazing*, and I am not just saying that because I was one of the hostesses. It truly was beautiful and joyous and just full of energy and love.

We have a lovely outdoor ritual space that we use for our rituals. It’s been home to several pagan groups in this area over the years, but for the past 5 years or so has been largely neglected. One of the areas just outside of the main ritual circle was a 15′ tall Maypole circle. The area around the maypole was completely grown up and over the last year or so, we’ve gradually cleared the space. We had a goal of Beltane in mind and I am so happy we reached it!

 My friend and co-hostess, Bridey from Forge and Flame (who also wrote about this ritual here) and I spent weeks on the prep and planning for this ritual. We both dressed in solid white and decided to use lots of ribbons and flowers for decorating. The entire circle was so alive and welcoming by the time we started – we greeted everyone with a kiss and symbolic ‘ritual bath’ with magnolia/jasmine/sweetgum leaf water and orange/Calendula blessing oil.

We had beautiful music and a couple of awesome drummers to accompany the tune as we danced around both circle spaces to raise energy, then used some non-traditional methods for calling the quarters and casting the circle. Bridey found several interesting alternatives to the quarter call that most people think of. We used a meditation call from The Path of Druidry, and used a suggestion from Ritualcraft on invoking the elements with sound rather than words.

It was interesting – and effective. I lovelovelove that this group is that we are not afraid to try new things. The energy in our circle is vivid and alive with ingenuity and inspiration. Since we don;t have a coven structure, no one feels inhibited or shys away from stepping outside of their comfort zone. Not everything goes exactly according to plan, but it’s always fun and fresh. None of us are so ‘snooty’ that we lose sight of why we’re in ritual together. It’s serious, yes, but it’s also a joyful occasion. That’s a two-way street, I think – those who have prepared ritual take time to make sure that it’s representative of the occasion (with all appropriate seriousness and solemnity when appropriate), but we’re all fallible, and so technological flubs, tongue-ties or losing your place in reading is looked at with an indulgent smile rather than a sneer. As one who frequently loses her place when reading aloud, I appreciate that.

We also did a couple of crafts – we made witch’s ladders; we provided a triple cord and a basket of beads in many colors and asked everyone to choose beads that represent the things they’re looking for or working towards this Beltane. I chose blue in a gradient  - from white to dark blue.

One of my favorite aspects from this ritual was our incense-making. We’ve done this at a couple of different rituals. We decide what blend to use, then put the ingredients into a mortar and pass it around the circle several times. Everyone present takes a turn grinding the pestle into the herbs and resins and oils, infusing the mixture with their intentions and love. This time, we made two blends; a Beltane blend (rose, rosemary, frankincense, cinnamon & sandalwood oil)  and a fertility blend (Dragons Blood resin, rose, holly, pine, & crushed (dried) Juniper berries).

We also performed the Chalice and the Blade ceremony. I’ve never gotten to do participate in that before, and it was a very powerful experience! Bridey was the Maiden and I played the role of the Young Lord; it was truly awesome.

All in all, this was such a great experience! Beltane is one of my favorite times of year, and so being privileged to host this ritual was very special to me. We also decorated the house for Beltane; I have a bouquet of the nine sacred woods on the front door, and fresh flowers on my altar. We ‘shook out the house’ (used a besom sprinkled with peppermint oil to dispel negative energy and freshen up the house) and have incense burning… it’s perfect for warm summery nights!

I hope that your Beltane celebration has also been full of love and prosperity!

Brightest Blessings!


Diversity & Divination

For the ‘D’ prompts at the Pagan Blog Project, I decided to write about diversity in the pagan community, and also about divination. Since the Project is supposed to take two weeks, with the same letter for two weeks, and I am coming in late in the Project, I am combining both of my topics into one post.

I will probably write again about divination as a separate topic in the future because it can be such a lengthy one, but for the purposes of this post, I am going to limit the topic to what I have experience with or interest in rather than re-capping the many divinatory methods.

To start with, I wanted to write about diversity within the Pagan community. In my area, the word and concept of ‘diversity’ often gets met with the stink eye. There are all kinds of old hostilities in this area – from racial to class/economic, from political to parental, from educational to religious ones. When you make it known that such things do not matter to you, or that you recognize that such mindsets exists but that they’re not ones you subscribe to, it creates its own kind of tension in some circles.

'Mixed Mindsets' from Brain Leaders and Learners - Practical Tactics from Neuro Discoveries with Dr. Ellen Weber

I am most fortunate in the circles I run in refrain (for the most part) from getting mired down in such limiting world-views. The communities that I have chosen to surround myself are like-minded in that they value the different viewpoints and ideas that other people’s paradigms bring to the table. Though my personal views are my own, I can absolutely see how they’ve shifted over the years, from education and research, to simple exposure to a broader range of people, culture and ideas, and I am so grateful that they have. As my experiences have shaped me, so have they shaped my views – from everything to what religion I claim to how I raise my children, to what I believe is just and moral and Right ™.

Perhaps one of these groups I am most grateful for is my local Teaching Circle – the diverse group of Pagans that I meet with regularly to learn and discuss religious ideas and concepts with. I also belong to several other Pagan Communities that I met online and have met with in person over the years. Among my local communities, I have learned from traditional Wiccans, Eclectic Pagans with various flavors (secular, Celtic, Buddhist), Asatru and Druids. I’ve been a part of a couple of circle groups – some of which have fit and others that I look at now as a learning experience.

One thing that I haven’t encountered much in my personal experience has been the ‘more Pagan than thou’ attitude that many in the Pagan community have talked about. Oh, it exists – I know it does, and I’ve seen and felt hints of it here and there, but anytime I have come across it I quickly divorced myself from association with those people. The resulting community that I live in is peaceful, harmonious and diverse. I have created around myself the community that I wish to be a part of. This is true for many parts of my life. In my parenting and educational communities, my friendships – all are made up of people whose lives, styles, values, and world-views I respect, admire, agree with or aspire to manifest in my own life.

Two quotes that I thought were fitting on the topic of diversity are:

Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.
Malcolm Forbes

Before we can change direction, we have to question many of the assumptions underlying our current philosophy. Assumptions like bigger is better; you can’t stop progress; no speed is too fast; globalization is good. Then we have to replace them with some different assumptions: small is beautiful; roots and traditions are worth preserving; variety is the spice of life; the only work worth doing is meaningful work.
Robert Bateman


The next part of my ‘D’ prompt is ‘divination’.  I’ll be honest – my favorite form of divination is the tarot. I have tried scrying, my pendulum doesn’t like me all that much and I am interested in palmistry and astrology, but the tarot feels like home.

I have something of a collection of cards. My best-loved deck is the Medieval Scapini Tarot by Luigi Scapini.  It is based on the Visconti-Sforza Tarot with a similar style, but Scapini wasn’t familiar with the traditional symbolism of the Rider-Waite decks and so the cards do not fit that model. Reading them requires effort and familiarity with the deck that is hard to get from books.

I’ve been reading from this deck for years now, and as much as I would like to claim expert-level handling, I am not as familiar with the cards as I would like. I am currently going through Tarot for Yourself by Mary K. Greer with my Circle; we’re still working through the introduction and meditations on personal cards. I also found Learning the Tarot Online to be helpful, especially if you’re totally new to tarot.

I also have a couple of other decks – the Goddess Tarot comes to mind. I used to read from this deck quite a bit, but I started getting (for lack of a better term) ‘bitchy‘ readings from it. I tried cleansing it, but it still gives me attitude when I use it, so it’s pretty much been put in storage. I also have a couple of other decks that I have never used (I just liked the theme), and a couple of decks that I found at the local $1 store to craft with.

I haven’t closed the door on other divinatory methods, but I do feel like people generally have a talent in one or a few areas. I have a friend who is *amazing* with the pendulum. I have yet to see her pick one up that doesn’t respond to her. Another friend reads Oracle cards (which I am anxiously waiting for Amazon to deliver to me). I have an interest in tea leaves and have several books on palmistry (but I’m more interested in how the lines change over time – I’ve been taking readings on the kids for a while now… it’s neat to see things manifest and change!).

I’ve had fun with crafting; I made pendulum boards for myself and some of my Circle Sisters for Yule. We made pendulums during one class and scrying mirrors during another. Here’s one of the boards I made:

I have Looked into the future during rituals, and have occasionally read for others, but I primarily read for myself. I don;t always lay out full spreads; sometimes I pull a ‘card of the day’, or for the week to meditate on.

What are your preferred method(s) of divination? How often do you attempt to See into the future?

Brightest Blessings, 


Big Moon, Bright Moon – Full March Moon 2012

Photo courtesy of Why Not Art - 'March Chaste Moon'. Click the picture to bring you to the website.

March is the month of the Chaste Moon, the Windy Moon, the Fish Moon. Depending on your culture or path, you may call the moon by something else this month, but whatever you call it, last night was full of magic.

Something I was reading a while back was talking about how the moon affects water on earth, and how, since humans are made of mostly water, it is logical to assume that we are affected by the pull of the moon as well. I’d never thought about it in those terms before, but that works for me.

For practical purposes, I consider the full moon to last 3 nights; the day before, the day of, and the day after. We have an incredibly busy schedule, and rather than try to pack in a quickie Esbat ritual, I prefer to give myself a window to work within, that way I am not stressed out over missing the night of the full moon. My friend Bridey mentioned that it’s like a pyramid – the night leading up to the full moon, the night of, and then the night afterwards is on the downward slope; each day of the full moon can be tailored to tap into the last remaining waxing/full energy, or tap into the both the full and waning energies, but all three days are good for full moon working. That’s pretty accurate, I think.

That said though, there is something about the night of the full moon that makes it just that much more special, and the full moon falling on a regularly scheduled Teaching Circle night? Oh, even better. Since the new year began, our Circle group has been meeting occasionally for Esbat Rites in addition to Teaching Circle and Sabbat Rituals. In this case, we got a double dose – a Teaching Circle class on Moon Magic, and ritual. We talked about moon basics – what types of working that each moon phase is suited to, lunar deities, and some of the history of moon worship.

As a parent, it’s been interesting to me to see the progression of interest from my children. One of my sons came with me to this class, and whereas before they both have been more interested in hanging out in the playroom, my son decided to join in ritual this evening. This is the second or third time he has come out to participate. He’s a child still, so his interest level comes and goes, even within the context of circle – and he’s young enough yet that his entry into and out of ritual space isn’t an issue. Now, to be honest, his interest in being in circle may be that he just wants to stoke the fire; and/or may have something to do with the fact that last night, he was the only child there, and staying inside would have meant being alone inside while the rest of us were outside – but I like to think that having the option to participate without obligation has created some interest for him.

It also helps that we have men active in our circle. I think that goes a long way towards illustrating the (for lack of a better term) viability of this belief system for my sons. I respect the men who practice with us on a regular basis, and value their example as Pagan men for my children to emulate. Of course, they may ultimately decide that my path is not for them, and that’s fine – but having positive role models in their lives other than their father, regardless of religious flavor – is a good thing.

If you’re new to Paganism, or new to having children participate in your practice, there are many ways to get the kids involved. Keep in mind that a ‘ritual’ doesn’t need to be a full-on, quarter-calling ritual. You can keep things simple and casual; something that works better for some children than having a big formal to-do. Get the kids involved as much as their age and interest allows. Have a job for each child, and incorporate movement (dancing, singing, playing instruments) to help them release pent-up energy (and so as not to be a distraction if it is a group ritual). Some simple kid-friendly ideas include:

  • if you call the Quarters, make spirit jars to call/use at the corners (instead of or in addition to candles). Fill a small jar (Mason/Ball) with mineral oil or diluted corn syrup and glitter for the kids to shake as they call each Quarter. Use white/silver for air, red/orange for fire, blue/turquoise for water, green/yellow/lime for earth and we made one for spirit with gold and purple glitter that sits in the center of the circle or on the altar (if there’s a fire in the center).
  • if you walk the Circle, use a white rope to define the circle. Kids need/like visual reminders – letting them walk the circle with sage and salt can help cement for them where the Circle is at.
  • make saged salt – my kids love putting herbs through the grinder. We made saged sea salt for ritual use a few months ago by grinding sea salt and sage together. The result is a powdery smooth salt with sage throughout. It’s wonderful for protection and cleansing.
  • make moon-blessed water – full a container with filtered water and set it out at sunset. Leave it overnight to charge under the light of the full moon. Bring your jar in at moonset (or sunrise) and keep it for things like cleansing, blessings, filling your water element dish, watering your herb garden, etc. You can also put items into your water to charge – amulets, herbs, jewelry, etc.
  • charge your statuary – bring your gods and goddesses out into the moonlight to cleanse and charge them. Kids can bring their own, or make their own from clay, salt dough or cold porcelain clay and charge them under the moon. Stones, gems, rocks – these things can also be charged under the moon.
  • listen to and sing  Anne Hill’s Full Moon song (from Circle Round and Sing)
  • use the energy of the full moon to draw and send out healing energy to friends and family who are ailing
  • make dream pillows
  • incorporate the Moon Names into your theme for your ritual – March is the Chaste or Windy Moon, among others. Use feathers, fans, make a wind sock, wear white, talk about the Maiden aspect of the Goddess, etc.
  • talk about things that you want to banish in the waning moon
  • Visit PookaPages.com’s Moon Page  and Raven Rin’s Pagan Nest: Including Children in Esbat Ritualsfor more ideas

If you have ideas to share, I’d love to read them. If you’re a pagan parent blogger, please feel free to link to your website and let me know – I’ll add you to my sidebar.

Brightest Full Moon Blessings, 


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