On April 29, I received an email from Singapore. The writer said that people in her country don’t believe in fairies. She does. But when she talks about fairies, people think she’s crazy. She wanted to know “how to find, see, meet the fairies during Beltane.”
I answered her from my heart. I doubt it was what she wanted to hear.
To me, fairies are thought forms of good energy — helpful spirits — invisible and accessible. My belief was shaped in childhood. As a girl, I had a vivid imagination. I remember when my dad planted a tree in our front yard. He said it was a Chinese Elm. I was certain that the roots went all the way to China, and that if I wanted to go there, all I had to do was dig under the tree. I remember when a traveling photographer took my little sister's photo dressed in a cowboy outfit, sitting on the photographer's pony. He gave my sister a horseshoe. Later, when my father told my sister she could absolutely not have a pony, she planted the horseshoe under the elm, believing she could grow a pony. At the wise age of seven, I knew horses came from farms, not trees. But what if there was a horse farm in China?
My dad planted two gardenia bushes by the front steps. On summer nights, when the gardenias were in full bloom, I would sit on the steps, snip off a green, waxy leaf, and use my fingernails to carve out a face. I was certain that there were spirits trapped in the leaves and that if I could give them a face, they would have a voice and be free. The hardest part to make was the mouth. I had to break the backbone of the leaf. The kids who lived in the house behind ours had an abusive father. Often, after being beaten, the girl who was my age would come looking for me. I got used to seeing the swelling, the burns, the bruises and belt welts. I showed her how to make a face in a gardenia leaf. Continue reading →
Long ago, when sailors navigated by the stars, when seabirds carried the spirits of sailors lost at sea, and when everyone knew that the bust of a naked woman on the bow of a ship could calm rough waters, a sailor would carry a cord with three knots. Bound in each was the wind itself.
As a writer, I’m often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” After three historical romance novels, a novella, a play, and several print and online magazine articles, I’ve learned to recognize the fertile soil where ideas grow. Several years ago, when one of my couples, Chelsea and Bill, told me they loved sailing and that their ceremony would be held on the waterfront of the historic seaport in Mystic, Connecticut, I got an idea.
Thanks to another project I’m working on, I have a small library of books on maritime lore. With a little research, I selected the knots I wanted to use in the wedding. I watched videos on YouTube to learn how to tie them. The first two were easy. The knot in the shape of a heart proved more challenging.
I practiced with ribbon, clothesline rope, and shoelaces. Finally, with a rustic heart in hand, I went to Home Depot. I explained my situation to one of the clerks. He enlisted help from another. Together, they found the perfect rope — flexible with a white pearl finish appropriate for a wedding.
On the day of the wedding, I met with the three people Chelsea and Bill had selected to participate in the ritual. I gave each a pre-fashioned knot and a card with a corresponding blessing for the bride and groom.
Here’s how I introduced the ritual during the ceremony:
Here in Mystic Seaport, the history and lore of sailing surrounds us. Knots are a big part of that world. We associate knots with sailors, but they aren’t the only people known for tying knots. Knots are a part of our lives, too. We tie ribbons in hair, cord on packages, and laces on shoes. Some knots are for utility, some for beauty.
It was the same in the Old World, too. Back then, when a sailor put out to sea, he carried a knot he had tied on a windy day. Should he veer from the Tradewinds and get stuck on the doldrums without wind to fill his sails, he would untie the knot and free the wind.
When sailors embarked on ocean voyages that kept them away from home for years, many of them carried a sea bag for what they called “fancy work.” With findings from exotic ports of call, they would string shells, carve wood, and etch whalebone. When the voyage ended and the sailors returned to their home port, they had belts and bracelets, rings and hair ornaments — gifts for family and friends, particularly for a sweetheart. When a wedding followed, there would be more gifts.
In fact, for as long as couples have gotten married, friends and family have shown their support by giving gifts. Couples today might receive anything from a kitchen blender to a crystal bowl. In earlier times, wedding gifts symbolized qualities desired in a marriage. Harkening back to those days, and in honor of our groom’s love of boating and our bride’s love of the beach, I now invite the presentation of three special gifts, three special knots.
As with all of the gifting rituals I’ve created, this is when the presenters come forward, one at a time, and present their gifts. In this ritual, each presenter held the knot so the guests could see it, read the blessing, then placed the knot on a small table in the ceremony space. Here are the three knots and their corresponding blessings:
First, the Arbor Knot. The Arbor Knot is used to tie new line to the reel. As you begin your new life as a married couple, the arbor knot is the first knot you need to learn. It’s made of two ordinary, everyday, overhand knots. It’s easy to learn and doesn’t have to be fancy to work. May this knot always hold your hearts with love.
Second, the Lovers’ Knot. The Lovers’ Knot holds two halves together equally and prevents either one of them from fraying. May this knot always hold your hearts with love.
Finally, the Marriage Knot. The Celtic Marriage Knot creates a weave of several paths into the shape of a heart. The pattern represents the idea that when two people independent and whole unto themselves are joined by love, the weave they create makes them stronger and more beautiful together than either was before. May this knot always hold your hearts with love.
If the couple wanted to add a fourth knot, they could use the Double Fisherman’s Knot, sometimes called a Grapevine Knot. The blessing could say, This knot is often used in search-and-rescue missions, making it ideal for the inevitable times in a long marriage when one spouse rescues the other in some way. May this knot always hold your hearts with love.
Another option is the Sailor’s Breastplate. It’s the ideal knot for joining two lines that are too big or too stiff to be shaped into other, more common, knots. The beauty of the Sailor’s Breastplate is that even when carrying a heavy load, even after being soaked in water, it won’t jam. That makes it the ideal knot for a couple marrying later in life, when both are set in their ways. The knot is also good for a couple of whatever age carrying a particularly heavy burden of some kind.
When presenting a knot in a wedding ritual, the goal isn’t to give a lecture. The goal is to express symbolism for a wedding. Look for aspects of the knot that suggest joining, symmetry, strength, and trust.
Knots for a New Business Partnership
The symbolism I’ve talked about for the arbor knot (simplicity), the lovers’ knot (fidelity), the marriage knot (beauty), the double fisherman’s knot (rescue), and the sailor’s breastplate (strength) make these knots ideal to ritualize a business partnership or other cooperative venture.
A ritual is simply a visible act performed with invisible intent. If you’re starting a new project — a book, a painting, a journey, bind your invisible commitment into a visible knot.
The mindful use of knots goes back through time and can be found all over the world. Common in many tales of folk magic is the belief that energy can be bound by tying a knot, and released by untying a knot.
Some cultures tied knots for love spells. Some believed that tying knots would prevent pregnancy and that untying the knots would make it easier to conceive. Disclaimer. I can’t vouch for either of those claims!
Weavers would knot their fringe to confuse evil spirits fond of unbound threads. I suspect that temptation of the unbound was also behind the mandates in some cultures and religions forbidding women to cut their hair, yet insisting it be bound in braids or buns.
Knots, Sex, and Responsibility
We’ve all seen the movies in which a woman unbraids her hair, or removes pins and combs to let her hair fall freely. That’s often the sign that sex or danger or both are coming next.
Imagine a man living in a strict, sexually repressed society. He sees a woman letting down her hair. He becomes aroused and acts on his desire in some way. When guilt and remorse follow, he blames the woman. If she hadn’t unbound her hair, he wouldn’t have been seduced into acting as he did. She released the storm that overpowered him. His actions are her fault. That storyline could be contemporary or historical.
Magical Knots and Sailors
In historical times, such thinking also made it easy for a sailor to believe that a woman, a magic woman, had the power to snare the wind and bind it into a knot.
Such a woman might be eager to sell a cord with three powerful knots to a desperate sailor about to go to sea for the first time. She’d make the first knot to free a gentle zephyr, the second to release a strong gale, and the third to unchain a tempest.
Postponing Your Wedding?
A special note for couples postponing their wedding because of Covid-19. My Life-Cycle Celebrant colleague, Karla Combres, has written a blog post about the why and how couples should mark their postponed wedding date with ritual. You can find it here.
Divorce and Untying Knots
Finally, I’m working on a podcast episode featuring a ritual for divorce. The ritual taps into the power that is released when a knot is untied. To be sure you don’t miss it, simply subscribe to Ritual Recipes wherever you get your podcasts.
Famines, fires and floods, volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, wars, genocide, persecutions and plagues and more.
Centuries of these catastrophes have left their marks all over the world. “Death counts” are estimated, declared, and recorded for posterity
What about the “life counts”? That’s how I describe those who avoided, escaped, endured, somehow survived the catastrophes of their lifetime. These are the healthy, the strong, the resourceful, the resilient, the skilled, and of course, the lucky. Somewhere among them are your ancestors. Whether or not you know who sits on the branches of your family tree, they existed. You are the living proof.
Cultures the world over believe in the power of the ancestors to influence the lives of the living. So, in times of trouble — like now — it’s good to call on your ancestors for help. How? Through ritual.
SEEING THE ANCESTORS
It helps to know how some cultures “see” their ancestors. In many of the seasonal rituals I lead, I invite the spirits of the ancestors. Cultures all over the world recognize their ancestors. Some see them in:
Butterflies, especially the ghostly white ones
Massive old trees
Stars, especially those in the Milky Way
Plants that reseed themselves, such as corn and grain
Listen to the podcast or watch the original interview with Mary Ann Handley on YouTube.
It's mid-March, 2020. The corona virus known as COVID 19 has been declared a pandemic. This post is not to provide information about the virus. I'm not qualified. This post is to share information about the “Spanish Flu” of 1918, as told to me nearly two years ago in an interview on my show, Page 1.
It was May, 2018. My guest was Mary Ann Handley, a retired history professor and retired state senator from Connecticut. A few days earlier, I had heard her speak at the Manchester Historical Society on the subject of the “Spanish Flu” of 1918, the third pandemic in world history.
I was, and still am, working on a novel that takes place during that time period. As a writer, I know that research can unearth the kind of details needed to make characters believable, plot plausible, setting vivid, and conflict compelling. Because Page 1 is a show for writers, I framed the interview with them in mind. My idea was to explore the details from an event in history and find viable story seeds.
One of the challenges around the flu of 1918 was that information was not as readily available as it is today. Because the news couldn't be disseminated with a tweet, preventing the spread of the virus proved impossible. We know now that people should have been self-quarantined. Instead, they gathered for parades and other large, public events.
Couples getting married often use a key as a motif for their wedding. It makes sense. The mere presence of a key indicates something of value, a treasure worth protecting. That understanding is what inspired me to create a wedding ceremony ritual I call “The Key to My Heart.”
Throughout time, keys have protected physical items such as gold, silver, currency, crops. Keys have also been associated with knowledge and success, freedom and liberation, authority and power. Such associations have been around for centuries. For example, keys on a coat of arms indicate a lineage known for trust and loyalty.
Keys and Cultural Traditions
Cultures all over the world have stories about keys. In Ireland, many folktales feature magical keys that can open any door, especially doors to the fairy realm. That’s where mortals are known to go in search of health, wealth, and love. Continue reading →
Every Maiden isn't young. Every Mother doesn't have a child. Every Crone isn't old. what distinguishes them is not age, but energy.
Beginning in 1996 and nearly every summer for the next 20 years, I spent a week with hundreds of women writers from all over the world. The gathering is the annual conference of the International Women’s Writing Guild. They ranged in age from teens to 90s! It wasn’t uncommon for mothers to bring their daughters. One year, we had four generations from one family, though one generation was still in utero.
For at least seven years, I designed the closing ritual for the conference. In 2008, I wanted the ritual to honor the many Maidens, Mothers, and Crones who had come to share the stories they had written and the stories they had lived. In fact, for some of the women, reading their work out loud at that conference was the first time they had shared their voices in public.
The ceremony was held in a college auditorium. Picture a raked floor with two aisles, running from the top level down to the stage. Unlike many of the DIY rituals I’ve shared on my podcast, Ritual Recipes, this conference ritual was more of a production. For one thing, I needed music. I chose the song Diety by Wendy Rule. Both the lyrics and the melody are fiercely powerful. The song includes these three lines: I am the Maiden. I am the Mother. I am the Crone.
A Jewish bride and a Catholic groom. As their officiant, what could I say in their wedding ceremony that would honor both spiritual paths — not only for the couple, but for their families? In episode #29 of Ritual Recipes, I talk about interfaith wedding ceremonies, the four Royal Stars of Persia, archangels, and the elements of earth, air, fire and water. I also offer The Blessing Box ritual for a new “home.”
The need for ritual is as old as time. They reflect a person’s beliefs which, in turn, helps us find our tribe. So, it’s no surprise that rituals are performed in most, if not all, religions.
Over the years, I’ve created wedding ceremonies for couples who come from two different religions or spiritual paths, or have forged their own path, or follow no path. Still, the couple might want spiritual elements to make the ceremony both meaningful and comfortable for their parents. That was the case in a wedding of a Jewish bride and a Catholic groom.
The bride’s family wanted her to be married under a chuppah. The groom had no issue with the chuppah. Neither did his family. But the bride’s mother was a thoughtful woman, sensitive to their feelings of the groom’s family. She asked if I could somehow honor both religions.
Here’s a modified version of what I wrote for their ceremony:
He calls her “Moon of my Life.” She calls him her “Sun and Stars.”
He is Khal Drogo, the testosterone heavy, alpha male leader of the Dothraki warrior tribe. Very Mars. He’s proud, fearless, and ruthless, at least in the beginning.
She is Daenerys Targaryen, his estrogen aplenty wife given to him in exchange for an army. She’s beautiful. Very Venus. She’s also innocent, compassionate, and submissive, at least in the beginning.
These characters are from Game of Thrones, a television series on HBO based on the medieval fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin. I watched Season 1and was struck by the symbolism in the names Drogo and Daenerys had for each other… and in what I saw as a connection to the wedding ritual of “circling.”
Don't make a New Year's resolution. Listen to what the trees have to tell you. And follow their advice!
It’s January. Like the two-headed Roman God Janus, for whom the month is named, this is the time when we look back to the year just passed and forward to the year just begun.
Two weeks ago, I led a Winter Solstice ritual at Meg’s Inspirations, a gift shop and spiritual boutique in Manchester, CT, where I live. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice marks the longest night of the year. Festivities celebrate the promise that the Sun is on his way back to us. Though the ground here is frozen, and the season of snow, sleet and ice is picking up speed, this is a time of hope. The sun, whether you spell is Sun or Son, has been “reborn.”
Let me set the scene for the ritual. There were 14 women, seated in a semi-circle in front of two, long banquet tables placed end to end. The tables were draped in red and white cloth. Thanks to Meg and her husband, Ed, we had at least 30 Yule logs, some cut to lay horizontally, some cut as pillars, some with white tea lights, some with red, green, or white tapers. The logs stretched across both tables, along with garlands of artificial winter greens and an abundant, aromatic layer of pine, cedar, and holly that Meg had cut just that morning. Along with the Yule logs, I had an assortment of tabletop trees, and hundreds of white fairy lights and crystal snow. …We dimmed the overhead lights and imagined we had entered a magical forest.
Sometimes, the smallest gesture can convey a feeling of abundance. That’s a lesson I learned from my daughter when she was a teenager working at a candy counter. … Abundance. That’s what this episode, #26, is all about.
When my daughter, Laurie Neronha, was in high school, she worked part-time at the candy counter in a fancy department store in Hartford. She didn’t drive yet so I had provided transportation. I arrived early one day. So I watched as she helped several customers, thinking maybe I could give her a few customer service pointers later.
Each customer one ordered a pound of gourmet jelly beans. Laurie was not the only employee on the candy counter. An older woman worked there as well. She seemed pleasant enough and, from what I overheard, had been with the store quite a few years. I watched her scoop jelly beans, too.
It didn’t take long to see that Laurie and the other woman had each developed a different technique. The difference explained why some customers would politely decline the other woman’s offer of help and wait in line for Laurie.