Litha, or Midsummer, is the mid-point of the year – the Summer Solstice – a time of balance and transition from the light half of the year to the dark. One of my favorite myths is that of the Oak King and the Holly King, and Midsummer is the counterpart to Yule (or Midwinter). At Litha, the Oak King is slain and the Holly King rises up to lay claim to the latter half of the year. That’s not really relevant to this post, because although I love the retelling of that story at the vital points during the year, this Litha is all about housekeeping.
I have been remiss in my home-blessing duties; however much I try to re-frame ‘chores’ into ‘home blessings’ or ‘creating sacred space’, the fact is that I am just not a great housekeeper. There are always more interesting things to do than scrub the cabinet fronts or clean the ceiling fans… and so every once in a while it gets so bad that to not take the time to do some deep cleaning is just… well it’s just time to clean. And so this is where I have found myself now,coming up on Litha.
I really felt the need to ‘brighten’ things up – it felt dark and gloomy, and I know it’s my lack of attention to the space that’s allowing those energies to pile up, so I started in our living room. I went through an intense decluttering phase a few months ago, and though I did very well with cleaning the stuff out of the places it was cluttering up, I never got so far as to actually take the things out of my house. So they’ve been sitting in a corner, sucking up space and energy. Much of that’s actually, truly gone now, either out into the proper closet/storage spaces or tossed out into the rubbish bins. A few things made their way into the car to be taken to new homes, but the end result is amazing – so much brighter and cleaner and ‘light’ feeling! Sadly, even knowing how amazing ‘clean’ feels doesn’t help motivate me to be a better housekeeper much of the time… but I digress.
I also spent some time in the kitchen, enlisting the kids’ help in deep cleaning everything from the ceiling (and fan) down; cabinets, appliances, counters, organizing drawers, floors… all of it. Our table sits in a corner, and the actual corner tends to be a catch-all spot (for my things, especially) but even that’s now clean and tidy. There’s a little left to do; we’re supposed to clear out the living room and get a new sofa and coffee table soon, and I have a feeling paint will soon follow, depending on the colors of the new furniture, but even just those few changes have really shifted the feel of the space.
Litha and the Full Strawberry Moon both fell on Monday, so I did a simple ritual with the kids. I bought new Goddess and God candles and a new working candle for my altar, and changed the decor to reflect the warmer colors of summer. We also did something new; we set up a family altar in the living room. We have had a shelf with a smaller, less conspicuous altar space in there, and directional candles have always been at the cardinal points of the room, but now there’s an actual, dedicated altar there too, and set for Litha with deity candles and a family offering bowl. After our morning routine, we tidied things up, then smudged the house inside and out and laid new salt barriers on the windows and doors, walked the boundaries and left offerings for the border spirits. Afterwards, we spent a little time on Intentions and spellwork for the waning half of the year, celebrated the Moon, and had strawberry shortcake with sweet red wine.
How are you celebrating Midsummer this year?
As Pagans, it’s fairly safe to say that most of us are somewhat familiar with rituals. Those of us who are heavily involved in the local Pagan community either attend, take part in, or lead at least eight Sabbat rituals, and often many Esbat rituals as well. Even if you’re a solitary practitioner, you likely celebrate the Sabbats, Esbats and other marks of the passing year with some sort ceremony. Even in other religions, there are rituals. I’ve been watching The Borgias on TV, which showcases many of the rituals associated with the Catholic Papacy (many of which are oddly reminiscent of Pagan rituals, as many know and recognize), and have always been fascinated and drawn to the ritualistic aspects of ancient religions.
Most would say that it is these rituals define the practitioner, and indeed, you can usually identify a person’s beliefs often by the rituals that one takes part in. A priest wears ritual garb, a teacher leads the class in the Pledge of Allegiance, a nurse checks your vital signs… all of these rituals tell you something about the person who leads or initiates them, or takes part in performing them.
Wikipedia says that:
A ritual may be performed on specific occasions, or at the discretion of individuals or communities. It may be performed by a single individual, by a group, or by the entire community; in arbitrary places, or in places especially reserved for it; either in public, in private, or before specific people. A ritual may be restricted to a certain subset of the community, and may enable or underscore the passage between religious or social states.
Ritual is defined as a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. In a religious sense, for both Pagans and Catholics (and some other forms of Christianity as well), the rituals of bread and wine have heavy significance for us because of the meaning behind them – the body and blood of Christ; the union of the Lord and Lady.
As moving and meaningful as these rituals are, I thought I would discuss some of the small rituals that I perform daily that identify me as a Pagan practitioner, and some of the little rituals that I’ve helped my kids develop as they’ve grown and taken on more of a personally active role in their spirituality.
Like many Pagans, I keep a bowl of water on my altar. Sometimes it is moon-blessed water, sometimes it is sun-charged water, sometimes it is salt water, sometimes it’s Holy Water made during a Sabbat or Esbat observance. I usually press the tips of my fingers into the water, then to my forehead every time I pass it, but I often start my day standing before my altar, taking a few moments to connect with the quiet inside before going about the start of my day. I will go back again to my altar when I need to think, or chill out or meditate, sometimes with incense or chakra music or meditation music, as needed. I’ve mentioned before that we made meditation jars to help the kids learn how to focus and find their inner calm. They keep their jars in their rooms now, to use when they feel the need.
In addition to the water, incense also plays a big part in my persona practice. I make my own, but am not adverse to buying it; my particular favorites are from sandalrose and bergamot from ElvenKeep and the Hari incense from RamaKrishnaNandaStore.com. I love the way that the scents of incense permeate my house, and how the scent lingers long after the ember is gone. The I often use incense for meditation, and just to have that subtle scent that is ‘other’ to keep me grounded and focused.
My youngest child has found quite a desire for incense in his room. A year or so ago, we deemed him old enough to have access to incense, a burner and lighter in his room. He’s 11 now, and that was a responsibility that he’s taken well to. When we go shopping for incense, he’s always on the lookout for something that calls to him now.
Tea time is another big ritual for me, and for the kids. We started having ‘tea time’ when we started homeschooling – a time to relax and connect between lunch and dinner. We have the chance to talk and re-connect in the middle of the afternoon over a nice hot cuppa. This isn’t a ‘pagan’ ritual per se, but it certainly can be depending on the discussion.
Tea time can also tie into tasseography, or the art of fortune-telling through tea leaf reading. It’s a practice that I am not terribly experienced in, but enjoy immensely. I’ve been learning more and more about it over the past couple of years, and it’s been a fun journey.
Candle magic is another ritual that I engage in almost daily. From lighting my altar candles, my devotional candles (even if for only a few minutes), to lighting spell candles (what some might view as ‘prayers’), candles play a central role in my daily practice. Fire in my element, so connecting with primal elementals helps me keep my focus, even when things are hectic and life gets chaotic. Oddly, this is one of the first things that I tend to stop doing when things get busy, and one of the things I most enjoy picking back up when I realize how much I am neglecting my spiritual path.
One of the amazing things about rituals is the calm and comfort that comes from the performing of them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stressed or scattered, and been able to fall back on established habits and rituals to find myself again. Whether big or small, rituals help me be the best that I can be as a practitioner.
I was poking around WitchVox the other day and came across an article called ‘Living Your Religion Every Day‘ by James Bulls. In it, he writes about moderation:
As it concerns living your religion everyday, the loud dramatists advocate set rules and habits for life: meditate for an hour every day; read cards every day; exercise every day; never eat this; never drink that; always perform the quarter, cross-quarter, full-Moon, and dark-Moon rituals; and so on. And so the misguided accept one absolute after another into their spiritual devotions until all their time and energy is devoted to planning for the next event.
The trouble with living your religion in terms of absolutes is that each of us is fallible and will fail to satisfy an artificial schedule and arbitrary definition of “spiritual perfection.” Absolutes invite failure, failure invites discouragement, discouragement invites dissatisfaction, and dissatisfaction invites mediocrity. This “mediocrity” of which I speak is the ball-and-chain, which prohibits daily expression of one’s religion…
The article is wonderful, and I highly recommend reading all of it, but I especially agree with the last big. Holding unrealistic precepts for yourself is a sure way to burn out. Instead, I choose to focus on what I am able to do, and enjoy each thing fully. The more I appreciate and find joy in what I can do, the more I want to do. The more I want to do, the more I make time for. And when I start expecting too much of myself, then I find joy in re-establishing communion with my deities in more simple ways.
I’d love to see how you make and re-make those connections if you’d like to share!