Episode 16: A Valentine’s Day Ritual for One

Pets give unconditional love.

A few weeks ago, we celebrated Valentine’s Day. Am I late? No. What I have to say is about the timeless expression of love and about Valentine’s Day rituals for one…because February 14, 2020 will be here before you know it.

My local gift shop, grocery store, pharmacy, and post office all sell greeting cards. Annual holidays transform the rotating racks according to the seasonal emblems – witches, turkeys, evergreen trees, hearts, and shamrocks. For Valentine’s Day there were offerings for a person’s husband, wife, son, son-in-law, grandson, daughter, daughter-in-law, granddaughter, brother, sister, mother, father, and the list goes on. Why the variety? Because the greeting card industry knows that people feel good when they give an expression of love.

Back in the 1950s when I was in grade-school, my mom would bring me and my two younger sisters to the local drug store where she’d let each of us pick out a box of Valentine’s Day cards. The cards were small—about two inches high, a single layer of paper. Each came with a little envelope. Each box might contain 10 or 15 or 20 cards, so depending on how many classmates we had, we might need to buy two boxes. My mother taught us that if we didn’t have enough cards to give one to every classmate, we weren’t to give any cards.

Fast forward to today. I have a lot of friends who are single. Some are divorced, some widowed, some single by choice, some living “in the wait.” Even though I read and write romance novels, I don’t believe a person has to be in a loving, committed relationship to have a good life. That said, I do believe every single one of us needs to give love and be open to receiving love from others. How long the loving energy flows back-and-forth in any relationship will vary. To keep the energy flowing, I’ve designed a few safe and simple rituals.

But first, I want to tell you about something I learned on a recent episode of NPRs “On Being” podcast. The host, Krista Tippett, was interviewing Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They were talking about love and kindness, about how important it is for young children to see those qualities in the classroom, especially when children see love and kindness used to honor their differences.

Davidson said humans are born with an innate propensity for kindness but that kindness must be nurtured in order to be expressed. He talked about empathy as a prerequisite for kindness, and about the emotional and physical responses children have to acts of kindness, compassion, and generosity. I immediately thought of the vital role played by teachers in kindergarten and preschool.

Tippett and Davidson talked about the quality of resilience – how fast we recover from adversity – and how resilience is a key factor in predicting mortality. They talked about love as the next frontier for science. Now that’s fertile ground!

I was thinking about all this in connection with Valentine’s Day because Davidson also talked about how important emotions are in helping adults make some very important decisions, like partnering with someone, like getting married. I can see links with empathy and kindness and generosity …and ritual. I wondered, how we, as adults, work with those links to create rituals based on acts of kindness? And, will doing so open the heart to give and receive love?

For me, ritual is a visible act performed with invisible intent. Simply put, can a ritual designed around an act of kindness bring love into our lives? While I can’t make guarantees –because people are different and have their own definitions of love – I do see the potential.

Think of it this way. Each of us has a gift we can give: Time, money, things, energy. How much we have of each will vary. What’s important is to recognize that these gifts have an endless return on investment.

Hallmark cards and Lifetime movies are made around the ideas of the passing of time, of contributing money to a worthy cause, of donating items to charity, of adding sweat equity to a community project. We hear stories of the driver at the fast-food window who pays the tab for the stranger behind her. We see the television commercials about the lottery winner who leaves a mega tip for the server in the roadside diner. These acts of kindness demonstrate the truth that it feels good to give. What might an act of kindness look like when combined with ritual?

Young woman reading to older man

Suppose you volunteer at a nursing home. Once a week, you spend a few hours polishing one woman’s fingernails, reading to another, looking at family photos with another. These are visible acts. Now imagine that as you meet with each resident, you use your finger to trace a heart on the other person’s hand. As you do, you say, “May you feel loved.” Repeat the words and trace another heart when you leave. In that brief moment, focus your thoughts on the person whose hand you’re touching. You’ve turned an act of kindness, beautiful in itself, into a ritual, a ritual to bring love. Before you leave, draw a heart on your own hand and say, “I am loved.”

Suppose you’re making breakfast for your child who is getting ready for school. He has a big test that day. You know he’s feeling some anxiety. You want him to help him. A safe and simple way is to draw on the magical properties of basil. The herb is thought to bring courage to both the cook and to all who eat the food.

Dad in the kitchen making breakfast for his son

The mechanics are simple. Add fresh basil to scrambled eggs. Tuck a leaf of basil into a cheese sandwich. Spread some pesto on a cracker. Sprinkle dried basil on a cup of hot bone broth. However you give your son the basil, do so with a hearty “Carpe Diem!” the famous seize-the-day message from the movie, Dead Poets Society. Sure, you could use your best Robin Williams’ imitation and simple recite the quote. And that would be an act of kindness. Add the basil and the invisible intent to give your child courage and you have a ritual, a ritual of love. Be sure to have a bite of basil for yourself. As you eat it, say, “I have the courage to pursue my goals.”

Now let’s imagine you’re weeding out your closet or rummaging through a drawer of old jewelry. You make a pile of items and donate them to the local hospital thrift shop. That’s an act of kindness and generosity. Now suppose that before you bring those items to the thrift shop, you place each piece of jewelry in a little box tied with a ribbon, or in a pretty drawstring bag, along with a note. “I wore these earrings the day I got my dream job (or met my future husband) (or sold my first book) (or sang in public for the first time). May these earrings help make your dreams come true, too.”

Woman holds boxed earrings

Yes, depending on how many items you plan to donate, it will take some time to write all those notes and find suitable containers. Imagine how the recipient will feel. Grateful? Encouraged? Inspired? Chances are, you’ll never know the new owner of each treasure. So I’ll just remind you that destiny is a wide road. Your ritual of generosity could change a stranger’s life for the better. That’s a pretty powerful idea. So, when you drop off your donations, say to yourself, “I enjoy sharing what I have with others.”

Finally, anyone who has ever had a pet knows the feeling of unconditional love. But not everyone can open his or her home to a pet. What you can do is volunteer at your local animal shelter. They’re always looking for people to help comfort and socialize the animals who wind up there. To volunteer is an act of kindness.

Now imagine you’re sitting with an older cat whose owner died. You’ve been told that the cat is listless, has no appetite, and appears lonely and depressed. As you stroke the cat’s fur, envision the cat’s new home. Softly describe it, everything from the quiet cottage that smells like cookies, to the soft cushion on the sun-drenched window seat, to the widow who still cooks for two.

Or, imagine you’re playing with an eager mutt rescued from a devastating storm hundreds of miles away. Each time you toss a stick and the dog races to retrieve it, you say, “Go fetch the young family that’s looking for a dog just like you!” 

You see, if your heart longs for quiet companionship, or for the joyful energy of a new family, envision it for someone else first. Sometimes that’s easier than creating a clear vision of what you want.  As you repeat the ritual for other dogs and cats and they show their gratitude in ways that only they can, say to yourself, “I want companionship, too. I want a cozy home, too. I want love, too.” 

These are simple examples of ways acts of kindness and generosity can inspire rituals that open your heart to love. I hope these ideas inspire rituals of your own. And I hope you tell me about them. Email zita@moonriverrituals.com.  I’m going to assume that if you do tell me about your rituals, that’s it’s okay for me to talk about them on the Ritual Recipes podcast.

Of course, you can live your life without ritual. You can flip the pages on a calendar or watch the date change on your cell phone. You can feel like a hamster running inside a wheel, and when Valentine’s Day comes around next year, you’ll wonder where the time went and why nothing has changed. Or you can perform safe and simple rituals of kindness and generosity and know that you made a difference in someone else’s world. You can lead a relevant life, and share it with others.

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Episode 15 – Unity Rituals for Weddings

Candle light in the dark

You’re planning your wedding ceremony and want to include a unity ritual.  You think unity candle or sand ceremony. Both are lovely, but you do have other options.

In a wedding, the purpose of a unity ritual is to symbolize the joining of two people and two families for generations. A wedding adds a branch to a family tree. To see how important a branch can be, just watch the television commercials for ancestry.com and the public television show, Finding Your Roots.

When a couple tells me they want a unity ritual, I start with the elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Back in the 5th Century, BCE, Empedocles, a Greek philosopher living in Sicily, said all matter is comprised of those four elements. Later, Aristotle added a fifth element aether – meaning spirit, prana, chi, life force. This concept of 5 elements can be seen in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Paganism and probably other religions. While science has shown us that the elements of creation aren’t that simple, the original four elements are effective tools to inspire unity rituals.  Continue reading

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Episode 14: Imbolc – Brigid, Blacksmiths, Brewers, and Bards – and Swans!

Blacksmiths, brewers, and bards. What a strange group, you might say. What could they possibly have in common? All three are favored by the Celtic Goddess Brigid. Why? Because they all create with her elements of fire and water.

red hot horseshoe on anvil

Blacksmith at forge – Photo by Jonathan Bean for Unsplash

The fire in a blacksmith’s forge is hot enough to melt metal. From that heat, whatever is being created, whether horseshoe, tool, or sword, is plunged into cold water.

A brewer boils malt or other starchy ingredients to create wort, then plunges it into an ice bath. Centuries ago, beer was often safer to drink than water. Hops, a major ingredient in beer, has been used in herbal medicines for centuries to treat insomnia, depression, heart problems, some cancers, and a host of other ailments.

The bard’s fire is that of inspiration; his words drawn from the watery realm of emotion. It was the bard, the fierce poet, whose passionate speech could fire up a crowd. To an illiterate population who learned of the world by listening, a conquered population under the rule of another, the words of a skilled bard could instigate rebellion. Words could entertain when life looked bleak…and words could soothe the spirits of those in pain.

In all three cases, something, whether metal, or grain, or an idea, is transformed from one thing to another with fire and water. Brigid’s association with water also comes from her healing wells that never froze, filled with water believed to cure all manner of ailment.

Whether blacksmith, brewer, or bard, all three honored the Goddess Brigid on the fire festival known as Imbolc. There are many tales in the legend of Brigid, more than I can share with you now. Just know that she is also the patron Goddess of women in childbirth and of mothers whose sons died by violence.

 

Stuffed toy lambs in a basket

In The Milk

The word Imbolc is thought by some to mean “in the milk” a reflection of all the sheep that would be pregnant that time of year. Others connect the word Imbolc to the words “I wash” as a form of ritual purification.

Whatever the etymology, Imbolc marks one of the four Celtic fire festivals, and is celebrated on February 1, though some evidence Continue reading

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Episode 13 – Steps in a  Rite of Passage For Getting Married or Competing on The Voice

Do you watch reality television? I read somewhere that the shows are plentiful because a reality show doesn’t cost as much to produce as would a show with A-list stars. But why are the shows popular? I think it’s because the participants came from “everyday” lives, like mine, like yours.

 

A singer in a competition

THE VOICE

I watch The Voice. I love the stories of the contestants, about what life was like before they embarked on their journey to an international stage. The way the contestant packages are edited, I can see their dreams, feel their disappointments, imagine their pain, and in some cases, relate to that pain. I watch knowing only one person will win, just as I know they can all succeed. For these singers, competing in front of the world is, in its own way, a rite of passage.

As with all rites of passage, there are three key steps. For contestants on The Voice, leaving home is Step 1: Separation. They must leave home. Some have never crossed a state line or flown on an airplane. To make the emotional journey, some face fears, some defy discrimination.

They all audition. The audience can tell if they feel nervous, vulnerable, desperate, or confident that now, finally, it’s my turn. Some are selected for the next phase. They undergo rigorous training and emotionally grueling competition. Week after week, their numbers shrinks. Then comes the final round. Finally, one singer is chosen as the winner. From this day forward, he or she will be known as “The Voice.”  That’s Step 2: Transformation.

The winner is showered with confetti, congratulated by the judges, embraced by family. In the last, few on-air seconds, the winner emerges from the space of contestant to the stage of star, all to thunderous applause. And that’s Step 3: Incorporation. The transformation is visible and millions of people see it. Yes, the contestant is now a star.  Continue reading

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Episode 12 – Winter Solstice Ritual and the Infinity Symbol

Silhouette of couple with infinity symbol in sky above

The Winter Solstice is the longest night. What does this cosmic event have to do with gifts and candles, pigs and wine, freedom and fear, self-discipline, resolutions…weddings, handfastings, and the infinity symbol? A lot!

Solstices and Equinoxes

A little background first. Astrologically, the year is marked by four key events: the winter and summer solstices and the spring and autumn equinoxes. Astrologically, each of those events occurs when the Sun enters certain signs: Aries for the spring equinox / Cancer for the summer solstice / Libra for the autumn equinox, and Capricorn for the winter solstice. Each of those four events marks a significant point in the Sun’s journey to and from the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, depending on whether you live above or below the equator. Continue reading

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Episode 11 – Animal Totems as Spirit Guides to the Underworld

Young Striped Skunk in roadside ditch

Skunk medicine is all about having strong boundaries

I learned a valuable lesson the day a skunk crossed my path.  It was about animals as totems and the magical medicine they offer. Seeing animals as spirit guides was at the heart of a public ritual I created for Samhain, the Celtic festival that marks the death of summer.  The mysteries of Samhain are at the heart of the holiday we call Halloween.

 

Samhain marks the third and final harvest of the season. The first harvest is of grain, the second of fruits and vegetables, the third of meat. Centuries ago, the third harvest marked a critical time. If a family didn’t have enough, they couldn’t simply grow more. Not with winter on the horizon. Whatever they had harvested would have to sustain them through the darkest, coldest time of the year. Continue reading

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Episode 10 – A Butterfly Ritual for Weddings, Memorials and More

In folklore, butterflies are said to come from the faerie realm. In some Native American traditions, butterflies represent a living piece of a rainbow. In many cultures, butterflies represent the sweetness of life, the beauty of dance, the inevitability of change, and the power of transformation. It’s no wonder they’re associated with rites of passage, particularly weddings and funerals.

colorful swirl of butterflies

Back in 2012, in my first “official” year as a wedding officiant, I created a ritual I called “Butterfly Blessings” for Brittany and Renn. Brittany’s father had died shortly before the wedding. She associated butterflies with his spirit. Using butterflies in the ceremony gave her and her mother a sense of comfort.

In the seven years that followed, I’ve woven that ritual into other wedding ceremonies.  Earlier this month, I recreated the ritual for Emily and Padriac. This coming summer, I’ll adapt the ritual for a memorial service. Butterfly Blessings can also be used as a healing ritual. You can use it to celebrate a birthday, too, especially for adults. In fact, the ritual can be used for any celebration that focuses on transformation. More on that later. Continue reading

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Episode 9 – Magical Soup Ritual to Heal the Earth

It’s September. The harvest season continues. If we could make a symbolic soup to heal the Earth, what ingredients should we include?  What ingredients does Mother Earth have for you? I explored all that and more in a special harvest ritual.

I’ve seen first-hand how effective rituals can connect us to our tribe, deepen the meaning of our lives, give comfort, and reveal our personal magic. That’s why I created the Ritual Recipes podcast. In past episodes, I’ve talked about wedding rituals, baby blessings, rituals to begin the New Year, and more. Future episodes will include seasonal rituals as well as rituals for funerals, memorials, and divorce…and more. Lots more. Continue reading

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Mother Earth & the Corn King – The Harvest Story

The first harvest of the season, that of corn and grain, tells the story of Mother Earth and the Corn King.  Whatever your “field” of work, this is the season that highlights sweat equity, prosperity, sacrifice, and community.

My ancestors celebrated the first harvest with the festival of Lammas, or Lughnasadh. With money from the harvest, this was the time landowners paid taxes, others paid rent, and debts of all kinds were settled. For more, listen to Episode 8 of Ritual Recipes – a podcast full of practical magic to nourish your inner life.

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Episode 8 – Celtic Harvest Ritual with the Corn King – Time to Settle Debts

 

Giant bale of hay is evidence of hard work. Photo by Erik Witsoe of Unsplash

Make hay when the sun shines. That’s the mantra for the harvest season. It’s time to work hard, celebrate community, settle debts, and honor the sacrifice of the Corn King who gives his life for that of the community. That’s the subject of Episode 8 of Ritual Recipes, a podcast full of practical magic to nourish your inner life.

Centuries ago, July was called the hungry month because it was unlucky to gather fruits, dig potatoes, or in any other way begin the harvest until August 1st when the harvest season officially began. There was a lot to consider. The first reaping wouldn’t begin until the moon was in a waning phase, for that withdrawing energy would help dry the corn and grain, making it easier to cut and safer to store. Corn and grain, that’s what the first harvest of the season was all about. Continue reading

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