Episode 26 – Be Generous with Your Jellybeans

Small gestures can convey abundance.

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.

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Episode 25 – Why Carry a Bouquet?

The bouquet is not just about the flowers.

A pregnant bride in her early thirties didn’t want to carry a bouquet and asked me if she had to. I assured her there was no requirement that she carry flowers. I also explained why she might want to reconsider her decision.  I wrote about that wedding several years ago and drew on the story for part of Episode 25 of the Ritual Recipes podcast. 

To carry a wedding bouquet isn’t just about the fashion or the flowers or the photo op.  

In this wedding, both the bride and the groom had big jobs in the financial world and would be traveling overseas on business the following week. Any kind of travel can be hazardous to a woman who’s pregnant. International travel while pregnant can be even more of a challenge. Just in case a problem arose while they were out of the country, they wanted to be married. 

They organized a small ceremony in the home of the groom’s parents. Fewer than ten people would attend. They would have a big, traditional wedding next year, after the baby was born. Rather than hold flowers for this legal formality, the bride would just hold the groom’s hands. 

Because the ceremony was a formality, I didn’t meet with the couple prior to the day of the wedding. Our conversation were all by email. Until two days before the wedding. That’s when the bride and I talked on the phone. That’s when I knew she felt the same nervousness most brides do. Though she saw no reason to make a big deal of things, she realized that she would say the simple words “I do” and her life would change forever. Forever. That’s also when I heard the quiver in her voice and learned that her mother had died the year before. 

Astrologer Caroline Casey talks about how traumatic events stamp our passport to life with a visa to the Underworld and how when one person has such a visa, she can recognize it in another person. That was the case with this bride. I told her that my mother, too, had died before I got married. And that while I thought I had dealt with my grief, at least in a way that it no longer paralized me, it came roaring back 33 years later when I was getting dressed for my daughter’s wedding. 

Without words, I knew the energy between me and the bride had shifted.  I knew her family was in England and asked if any of them would be at the ceremony. Her mother’s sister would be there. The bride had always been close to her aunt. “So she’ll be there with all her love and your mother’s love, too.” 

Two days later I arrived at the home of the groom’s parents. The groom showed me the area at one end of the elegant living room where he and the bride wanted to have the ceremony. The layout of the room made it easy to imagine an aisle. I took the bride aside and asked if she would like to walk in with her father, something I knew she hadn’t planned. She caught her father’s eye and said, “Will you walk me down the aisle?”  “I’d be honored,” he said with that tender, father-of-the-bride smile I love so much. 

I noticed that at the far end of the room was a baby grand piano. I asked if anyone played. The groom’s father beamed and said, “I do! Would you like me to play for the ceremony? I can do …” and he offered a list of titles. I could tell by the look on the bride’s face that she liked the idea so I said, “Please do.” I explained to everyone that centuries ago the word “dream” meant “to dream” as we know it. But spelled d-r-e-m-e-n, it also meant “to make music” and that having music for the ceremony would invite everyone to dream.  

Before the ceremony began, I went around to each person and held out a black velvet drawstring bag. I told them that during the ceremony they would present the couple with a special gift, inscribed on a semiprecious stone inside the bag. Sight unseen, each one reached into the bag and pulled out a stone. 

The music began. The bride walked in, holding her father’s arm. He took his seat and the bride and groom joined me in what had instantly become sacred space. 

If I remember correctly, I read “The Art of Marriage,” a poem by Wilferd Peterson. It’s full of good, practical advice about how to have a happy marriage. He wrote it in the 1960s, a time when commitment was scorned in favor of  “free love.” Peterson said his wife inspired the poem.    

Then the guests presented their gifts: Wisdom. Kindness, Courage,  Happiness, Abundance, and others of that kind. 

Then the bride and groom said their vows… and I had the honor of pronouncing them husband and wife. 

Oh, about the bouquet. Well, first, let me say that many brides don’t realize that weddings are a time when the language of flowers speaks in a hidden code. 

The pure vibration of the rose is thought to gently stimulate the heart chakra. Deeply rooted, the delicate rose can surmount many obstacles. 

The iris is thought to unblock old, self-limiting patterns and create a rainbow bridge between worlds. 

Even the tiny violet imparts the power to protect against fear. 

And lavender is believed to cleanse the energetic field, to soothe and heal frayed nerves.  

Instinct tells me there’s a deeper reason for the bride to carry a bouquet.  Here’s what I see.  

Imagine a big wedding. The processional reflects who the bride and groom are as individuals.  (I’m speaking now of a bride and groom only to illustrate the story.) She is a woman with friends of her own—the bridesmaids.  He is a man with friends of his own—the groomsmen. They enter sacred space from different directions – he from the side to stand with the officiant (that’s me); she from the back, down an aisle strewn with flowers. 

While getting married requires both to take a risk, his particular task at that moment is to stand and wait. He needs to be patient. 

Her task at that moment is to move forward. She needs to be bold. 

The invisible message in the processional is that these two people are leaving behind the single life they know, risking everything to build a married life with each other. 

As the officiant of more than 150 weddings and a ritualist for decades, I’m keenly aware of the energy between them as physical distance closes. It’s not uncommon for her eyes to water, for his lip to quiver. 

She stops at the top of the aisle. I step forward with the groom. As the father-of-the-bride places her hand in the groom’s hand, I ask the guests, “In the spirit of love and trust, who supports the union of this man and this woman?”  Everyone answers with a loud and hearty, “We do!”  

The couple steps into the ceremony space with me.  A look passes between them. Of course I can’t say for sure what they’re thinking but I can imagine the relationship flashing before their eyes: a fragment about the way they met, the first date, the first kiss, using the “L” word for the time, the uncertainty—can something this good be real? 

Maybe they think about meeting each other’s families, about all those fragile dreams followed by casual noncommittal conversations about “someday.”  

They remember the proposal and all the planning that led to this moment, the fear of somehow messing it all up, the determination, the unconditional, luminous love. Unless the bride is feeling light-headed, I encourage her to hold her bouquet as she stands in front of the man she’s about to marry.  

Deeper into the ceremony, I ask the bride to pass her bouquet to her maid-of-honor. Whether the bride is carrying a lavish cascade or a single rose, when she hands her flowers to her attendant, everyone who has ever been married, and anyone who dreams of being married, will recognize that the process of transformation has taken a step. I doubt they realize what I see as the real significance.

Harkening back to Greek mythology, the bride is no longer Persephone picking wildflowers in the meadow with her girlfriends. Nor is she about to be abducted. In giving away the symbol of her carefree life with her girlfriends, the bride has just given up fleeting beauty for lasting love. 

Deeper into the ceremony, I ask the bride and groom to face each other and hold hands. Never underestimate the power of touch. These two people have entered the invisible circle of change. The transition from single to married is taking place. It’s a powerful moment.

The ceremony continues. Only after the couple has exchanged vows and rings, only after I have pronounced them married, only after I introduce them as a couple, only then does the bride retrieve her bouquet, take her husband’s arm, and walk back down the aisle. During the reception, the bride joyfully affirms her life choice by blindly tossing her beautiful bouquet, leaving to fate which unmarried girlfriend will next face the choice: Fleeting beauty or lasting love?

WEDDING FLOWERS

While I’m thinking of flowers, here’s a little something about three flowers often seen in wedding bouquets:  

Rose:  The heartache often seen in the struggle to find true love is symbolized by the thorns on the stem of the rose. The fragrance is worth whatever pain a person suffers to have even a single rose in a vase, to have rose perfume on the body, rose petals on the bed. In ancient India, the rose symbolized the body of the Goddess. I think women today feel that connection on some deep level. I think that’s why we like roses. These days, in writing the love story for my couples, I’m always encouraged when the proposal included a rose petal path to the place where the question was asked. 

Orchid:  In the language of flowers, to give someone an orchid was an invitation to seduction. There’s a reason: Testicles. Yes. The word orchid comes from the Greek “orchis,” meaning testicle. That’s because the orchid has twin bulbs.  In Ancient Rome, the famous Pliny the Elder was, among other things, a botanist. He claimed that simply holding the roots of an orchid would arouse sexual ecstasy.  

Calla Lily:  With its moist, white cup and an erect yellow stamen, the Calla Lily is said to awaken the female and male energy within each of us, to bridge the gender division so we can understand the power and beauty of integration. Think of the cosmic embrace depicted in some images of Tantric yoga. That intimacy suggests both the ultimate merging and an awakening, the idea that a new and exciting dimension of life has opened up. 

The next time you see a bride holding a bouquet of roses, orchids, or calla lilies, you can smile, knowing that she holds passion, an essential ingredient in a happy marriage, in the palm of her hand. And if you’re looking for lasting love, go work with a florist! 

Oh…the pregnant bride I spoke of at the beginning of this episode? The night before the ceremony, she ordered a bouquet.



 

 

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Episode 24 – Funeral and Memorial Rituals

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Liz Aleshire

n the previous episode, #23, I talked about my late-friend Mechi Garza, a Choctaw-Cherokee Medicine woman.  One of the things Mechi taught me was that there is a difference between being cured and being healed. Being cured is about the body. Being healed is about the spirit.  

 

Thanks to the International Women’s Writing Guild, Mechi and I had hundreds of mutual friends. Liz Aleshire was one of them. … I want to tell you about a life-changing event that happened in the months before she died.  

In August of 2008, I gathered with five other mutual friends — all women, all writers. One of us, Judy, had a home on Cape Cod big enough to accommodate all of us for the weekend. We were there, laptops in tow, to work on Liz’s manuscript.  The book was to be a tribute to her son, Nathan. He had died thirteen years earlier of bone cancer. He was sixteen.

Image result for liz aleshire 101 ways you can help The book’s title?  101 Ways You Can Help: How To Offer Comfort And Support To Those Who Are Grieving

Liz was a journalist and multi-published writer of nonfiction and children’s books, some under the name Liz Greenbacker. She knew what it took to write a book, especially under a tight deadline.  Reluctantly, she had called Sourcebooks in mid-June to ask for a one-month extension since the June 30 deadline wasn’t realistic. Her editor, Shana Drehs, extended the contract. ….. But Liz didn’t tell Shana how bad things really were. 

On the evening of July 16, I left the ICU with a mission. Liz had outlined the entire book but had written only about a third. She feared that if she couldn’t meet the extended deadline, the book might never be published. Liz identified five friends, all members of the International Women’s Writing Guild. As soon as I got home, I emailed them. I explained the situation and asked for what I knew would be a huge commitment of time and effort. In under 24 hours, I had their responses: Yes! 

On the day we all arrived at Judy’s house in Wellfleet, Liz called from the hospital and spoke with each of us about how much it meant to her that since mid-July we had put our lives on hold to finish her manuscript.  We, in turn, let her know how lucky we were to have a friend for whom we would so eagerly make such a sacrifice. She asked each of us a question, too. I’ll get to that in a moment. 

You see, on Mother’s Day that year, Liz had suffered the first of a series of heart attacks. By mid-July, she knew she’d never meet that second deadline. With Liz’s permission, I called her editor. I conveyed the gravity of the situation and that a group of us, hand chosen by Liz, wanted the green light to finish her book. We would write in Liz’s voice as best we could. We wanted nothing in return — no money, no acknowledgment. I had assembled brief bios, including writing credentials, on all six of us, and offered to email them to her.  

For those not familiar with how publishing works, this arrangement was unheard of. The book was already in the production schedule. Work had begun on the cover. Advance sales efforts would begin soon. The book had to be ready in time. Shana brought our request to the editor-in-chief, the publisher, and their legal advisors. In only a few days, she told us how honored Sourcebooks was to be part of this beautiful project of the heart.  

The six of ramped up our efforts. We turned in the manuscript a few days late. Shana understood the challenges on our end and got to work immediately on the edits. She knew we planned to meet on the Cape to work on the book in person.  Meanwhile, Liz took a turn for the worse. Emergency open-heart surgery did not deliver the miracle we’d hoped for.

The first round of edits arrived just before we gathered on the Cape. We were going through them when Liz called.  Her question to each of us: What we had learned in finishing her book? 

For me, it was seeing how much pain she’d hidden all these years behind a smile. I learned how carefully she always avoided talking about Nathan’s death.  She had lived through every parent’s nightmare and knew that talking about it made people uncomfortable, enough to drive friends away. Not us.

Judy’s home was on the water. To access the beach, all we had to do was step outside and descend a long, steep set of stairs. Earlier that day, after we’d all unpacked, we combed the beach. I had asked everyone to look for two beautiful stones. That night, after our phone call with Liz, we gathered on the deck in a ritual to honor our friend. We painted a word on one of our stones, some sorrow we hoped Liz’s spirit was ready to shed.  

Steps to the ritual on the beach

On our last evening, we walked down the steps again and gathered in a circle for a releasing ritual. We envisioned Liz's body free from pain, her mind free of depression, her heart free of sorrow. One by one, each of us walked out at low tide. Each of us prayed in our own fashion. And then we threw our stones as far as we could.

Climbing stairs from the beach.

Like the others, I climbed back up the steps with the second stone in my pocket.  On that second stone, each of us had written a word or drawn a symbol of Liz’s strength, some quality that enabled her to get through those painful years.  Those stones reflected her humor, resilience, loyalty, compassion, wisdom, and more. We would keep our stones and honor Liz by keeping her gift alive.

Liz Aleshire died on October 13, 2008.  She lived long enough to see the cover of her book. The nurses in the cardiac ICU at Hartford Hospital taped it to the wall so Liz could see it.  The book was published in the spring of 2009. …I can think about Liz now and not feel that gut-wrenching pain. Maybe that’s because I have a literal touchstone.  On mine, I wrote “Friendship.”

Sourcebooks asked me to write the foreword to the book. I wrote about a tough, tender, talented woman who kept a table-top Christmas tree up all year, who turned her grief into a gift for others. I also wrote about the six of us who finished the manuscript:  Kathy Barach, Marsha Browne, Judy Huge, Paula Chaffee Scardamalia, the late Anne Walradt, and me, Zita Christian. 

Letting Go and Holding On — That’s how I think of the two rituals I created for Liz. Years later, I used them to inspire funeral rituals for others. 

In her will, Liz asked that I conduct her funeral. I did. I based it on her love of quilts. I’ll tell you about that in another episode.  

In the meantime, thanks for listening. If you’re so inspired, please subscribe, wherever your feast on your podcasts. And please share the episode with a friend. It’s like sharing a recipe — a Ritual Recipe.    

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Episode 23 – The Making of a Medicine Woman – Attending My First Public Ritual

Medicine Woman Mechi Garza anoints a boy and gives him a new name

Years ago, I wrote about this experience.  I've drawn on that blog post to create this episode of the podcast. The event remains key to my understanding of the power of ritual.  ~ Rest in peace, Grandmother Mechi ~ 

 

To Little Elk, schooled in the healing ways of the Pueblo, she was his destiny.  He knew from a childhood vision that before he died he was to anoint a Medicine Woman, but she wouldn't be Pueblo.  She'd be Cherokee.

To Lothar, she was the woman he had loved centuries ago, the woman he sought again in this life.  Night after night, he woke her from her sleep, instructing her to transcribe the knowledge of his world, a place dismissed by many as the stuff of myth and imagination.  It took five years of such nightly sessions. She filled countless notebooks he called “The Manuals.” He said the knowledge could save this world from the same fate as his, Atlantis.  Lothar taught her Kolaemni, a method of healing using therapeutic touch. The word itself means “connecting with the light.”

To me, Mechi Garza was a friend, a writer, a teacher, a woman whose striking mixed-blood beauty was not diminished by more her years, whose wisdom was often bottled with laughter, or tucked in the gentle squeeze of her hands.  That I am the one writing about her surprises me. It wouldn’t surprise her. Lothar had told her to tell the story to Zita. That Mechi and I didn’t know each other at the time didn’t faze her. She knew the day would come.

Another year, I did a Summer Solstice ritual with Medicine Woman Mechi Garza

I met “Grandmother Mechi” in 1996 at the week-long, annual conference of the International Woman’s Writing Guild where we each taught.  I’m a romance writer; my class was on genre fiction. Mechi was a Choctaw-Cherokee tribal elder; her class was about finding the medicine woman in every writer.  I took her class. She took mine. When the week was over, we knew we would become friends.  She said it was destined. 

Four years later, in the fall of 2000, Mechi invited me to attend one of the most significant events of her life.  She was to be officially installed as a Medicine Woman, a validation of the work she had been doing for 30 years. I had never been to any kind of ritual, much less one like this.  I couldn’t buy a plane ticket fast enough.

The ceremony would be conducted by Art Tequaecshe, “Little Elk,” a Medicine Man from New Mexico, an acclaimed potter, and Marine veteran from the 1950s.  That he didn’t know Mechi at the time of his childhood, prophetic vision didn’t faze him. He knew the day would come.

So it was that the three of us gathered in a meadow on a mountain in West Virginia on a cold October weekend in 2000 to meet our destiny.   I was the only one who didn’t realize it. I had come as a guest. I had planned to take both pictures and notes, perhaps for use in a future novel.  But destiny is a wide road. Mechi asked if I would be part of the ritual and something stirred inside. I was being offered the Holy Grail.

Assisting Mechi Garza as she prepares for her ceremony

I was one of several attendants who helped Mechi get dressed: brown buckskin for the first day’s ceremony, soft white leather tunic and leggings for the second day.  On that second day, I listened as Wind Walker, lead drummer from the Turkey Clan, circled the perimeter calling the four directions. I listened as Little Elk chanted the ancient words he had learned from his grandmother.  I listened as Mechi, once initiated, blessed each of us and gave new names to those who asked. I watched two hawks circle overhead.

People from all over the country came for the ceremony.  The making of a Medicine Woman is a significant event. In truth, my participation was not significant to the ritual itself.  To me, it was life-changing. I remember standing behind Mechi who was seated in a lawn chair, bundled in blankets and fur. I placed my hands on her shoulders, not to reassure her but to keep me anchored in reality.  Ah, but Mechi had only one moccasined foot in this world, something I should have realized. As the procession around the meadow grew longer, the drumming stronger, and Mechi ever more still, I felt a current rush from her shoulders and into my palms.  Had I just shaken hands with Lothar?

Eight years later, Mechi and I were again in ritual together.  This time the ceremony was to close the week-long writers’ conference where we’d first met.  This time, I officiated. Four hundred women had journeyed from all over the world to be there.  For many of them, the emotional discoveries made that week had been profound. I asked Mechi to help me hold the energy.   Again, I stood behind her, my hands on her shoulders. This time she was in a wheelchair.

I have yet to find the right words to describe how it felt to be in ritual with her again, to stand behind her, my hands on her shoulders… to feel the vibrations of change from the woman who showed me my destiny. … Mechi Garza, died in the autumn of 2017. 

Oathing stone to symbolize a new family tree, painted by artist Carol Chaput

If you’ve listened to some of the other podcast episodes, you know that I often use stones in rituals. Some have words carved into them, or written on them. Some are painted by my friend, artist Carol Chaput, to look like fanciful owls for a baby naming ceremony, or with the image of a lotus or a tree or to be used as oathing stones when a couple makes their wedding vows. … I’ve always been drawn to the energy of stones. They connect us to the realm of the ancestors and symbolize all that endures.  

Before I left for West Virginia and Mechie’s ceremony, I filled a small pouch with stones chosen from my personal collection. Several were ones I found over the years while visiting my dad in South Dakota. My grandparents were homesteaders and used to lease grazing land from the Sioux. We’d always drive out to visit the old “home place” and I’d always find a stone or two or ten. I thought perhaps Mechi  would place the stones I gave her around her computer, like I do, or tuck a few into special plants, like I do, or place them in an offering bowl on her altar, like I do. I did not expect her to open the pouch and cry. But that’s what she did.  

She explained that preparation for her ceremony began with Little Elk the week before and included a series of tests. The most challenging required her to give up the leather pouch of healing stones she had carried for decades. She must trust that, in some way, the stones would come back to her. 

In the world of social media, we talk about influencers, people who shape our thoughts.  Sometimes, it takes years for us to realize how we’ve been influenced by someone. I can’t say that creating this podcast episode made me think of Mechi Garza. I think about her every time I pick up a stone. 

 

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Episode 22 – Origin Story

Flowered arch

One summer evening back in 2005, I had driven to New Hampshire to meet with a small group of friends to study astrology and Goddess spirituality. As we did twice a month, on or near the New and then the Full Moon, we would spend several hours at the kitchen table, notebooks open, pens in hand, learning about the stars and planets and signs of the zodiac. 

 

Then we would leave everything on the table and head outside. We were in the woods, well off the beaten track. The couple at whose home we gathered had built a sizable circle behind the house. To enter the circle, we walked down a path lined with lanterns on shepherd’s hooks. At the end of the path, we crossed under an arch covered in a profusion of white flowers or a tangle of bare branches, depending on the season.

 

The circle featured four mega stones to mark — precisely — zero degrees of the four directions. In front of each of these stones was a torch. Lighting the four torches, welcoming the spirits of the East, the South, the West, and the North was all part of the rituals we did every month. 

 

Over the course of a year, we held 8 rituals to align with the path of the Sun. These fire festivals echoed the celebrations of the Celtic, Scandinavian and other Western European ancestry most of us shared. Other months, our rituals aligned with the sign and phase of the Moon. 

 

By this particular summer evening in 2005, I had been driving three hours each way, twice a month, for four years. Sometimes, I spent the night. Sometimes, I drove home after the ritual, arriving well past midnight. The effort was always worth it. … A little background…

 

I had been raised a Catholic and went to parochial school for 12 years. I came away with a good education, friendships that last to this day, and a love of ritual — and the fragrance of frankincense! 

 

As for the dogma…no. I left the church in my 20s. I decided that any spiritual path I followed had to meet three criteria: (1) Living by its tenants had to make me a better person that I would be otherwise; (2) What I learned on the path had to make sense; and (3) Following the path had to provide comfort in times of sorrow and need. 

 

Eventually, I came to Paganism and a spiritual practice based on the feminine face of the Divine. 

 

That evening in 2005, I sat next to a relatively new member of the Circle. His name was Dan Graham. He had been coming to the astrology classes and the rituals for several months. His knowledge of different religions and forms of spirituality was extensive and respectful. …Everyone liked Dan. He was in his 40s (I think), nearly 6 feet tall, white hair that made him look older than his years.  Everyone also shared a concern for how to help him manage the two staircases and other physical challenges of the home and the circle. That’s because Dan was totally blind. … 

 

So, there I was, sitting in the living room next to Dan. I was briefing him on what we had set up in the circle, what his role in the ritual would be, and who would physically guide him. That’s when he said, “Red is a good color on you.”  

 

Yes, I was wearing red. He commented accurately on the blue someone else was wearing. I asked how he could tell. I figured he had asked someone else earlier — What color is Zita wearing? Not so.  As it turned out, Dan could feel the vibration of colors. He had lost his sight decades earlier and had an excellent memory of the colors he had once seen as vividly as the rest of us still did. We talked more about other colors in the room, about the sound of a ticking clock, about the hum of office equipment in another room. I gained a whole new appreciation for things I had overlooked. 

 

That conversation led to how Dan heard things — how people moved, particularly on stairs; how a person breathed — slow and deep, shallow and labored. He heard layers of nuance in a person’s voice — the volume, the emphasis, the hesitation, the clenched jaw, the small smile, the big grin.  I was fascinated. I wondered what Dan thought when he heard his own voice. He had one of those deep, “radio” voices. 

 

That’s when he told me that he did some work for a company that published books for law school students. He would read the books in braille, then turn them into audio books. His told me about his sound editing equipment and how he needed his ears, not his eyes, to use it. Then he told me about something called a podcast. <g>  I couldn’t grasp the concept and told him so…. I remember how he smiled and said, “You will. You’ll be good at it.”  

 

That’s was my introduction to the concept of podcasting. It would take me 12 years to launch Ritual Recipes.  During that time, Dan’s personal life would change dramatically. He got divorced, sold all of his sound equipment and boarded a plane to South Africa where he got married and helped establish a school to teach metaphysics. We kept in touch for several years. He was so happy. Except for the diabetes. That got worse. Eventually, my friend died. 

 

Years later, one of my podcast teachers, Dave Jackson from the School of Podcasting, talked about setting up a home studio and how a good microphone can pick up even the sound of a ticking clock. I have a clock on the wall right behind my desk. It keeps time with a steady, soft tick.  Now, whenever I record a podcast, I move my clock to the guest room…grab my headphones, turn on the microphone, close my eyes for a few seconds, and give a good thought to Dan.  

 

As for ritual, the core of my podcast, I can’t say with certainty when it became so much a part of me. It could have been midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. I was probably in the first grade. There were so many candles on the altar, I could smell the wax. I remember the choir, the black hymnals that contained words everyone already knew. And, of course, there were the shiny, colorful vestments worn by the priest and altar boys. I remember watching the priest swing what looked like a fancy gold ball attached to a chain. As he swung the chain to the north, east, south and west, the ball released the magical smoke that smelled so good. I felt connected to something ancient, something ancestral. 

 

I knew the priest was following the four directions because my dad had taught me how to read a road map. On summer treks from our home in Virginia to his parents’ home in South Dakota, I was the navigator, calling out route numbers from the back seat. 

 

My love for history was born on the Dakota prairie. I’d go for long walks down a dirt road or across the pasture with my local cousin, Carol Rose. I told her what winters were like back in Tidewater and how kids prayed for a winter with snow, enough to build a snowman. She told me about winters in Timber Lake, how snow could pile up over the windows, how animals and sometimes people, froze to death. 

 

One day, we gathered hay that had been cut and left in the field. We shaped a piece of chicken wire into a dome and stuffed the holes with wadded hay.  There was no formality to what followed, just pre-teen talk about what it might have been like to be homesteaders like our grandparents had been. Who knows? Maybe we were. 😉     

 

Decades passed. During those years, I wrote several historical romance novels. One of them was set on the Dakota prairie in 1887-88, with the blizzard of the century.  

 

Raven and cauldron for Samhain altar

Ten years or so ago, I started leading seasonal rituals at Meg’s Inspirations, a local gift shop and spiritual boutique. These rituals are open to the public. They celebrate the cycles of nature, especially the 8 fire festivals that follow the path of the Sun. We welcome the fairies of Beltane in the spring. We honor the ancestors at Samhain in the fall. And…well, lots more.    

 

I was in my 60s when I enrolled in a course on the history and structure of rituals offered by the Celebrant Foundation & Institute. I wanted to expand my knowledge of ritual. Then I took their course in weddings. I graduated in 2012, certified as a Life-Cycle Celebrant. I help individuals, couples, families, and communities with simple rituals for the moment of life — like how to start the day, and bigger rituals for the milestones. In fact, here’s what it says on the back of my new business card:  

Wake up. Get married. Move to a new home. Have a baby. Blend two families. Start a business. Send a child off to college. Uncouple. Renew your vows. Mourn the death of a loved one. Begin a new year. Celebrate the seasons the way your ancestors might have done. Create your own family traditions. Give gifts that express what’s in your heart. Claim the wisdom of your age. I’VE GOT A RITUAL FOR THAT. 

A favor please. Ritual Recipes is a podcast that celebrates the cycles of nature and the milestones of life, one ritual at a time. If you enjoy the podcast, please subscribe wherever you feast on your podcasts… and tell your friends. As I say at the end of each episode, it's like sharing a recipe, a Ritual Recipe!  

 

 

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Samhain – Enter the Dark with a Map, a Community Fire, and Animal Guides

Samhain ritual

The Wheel of the Year turns, plunging us deeper into the dark half of the year. It’s Halloween. Samhain. The ground is fertile for growing fears.  Between the worlds of the living and the dead, the border blurs. Connecting with the spirit world is easier than at other times of the year. Anyone traveling those worlds needs a guide to cross the threshold. Animal totems are always helpful.  

Last night, I lead a Samhain ritual at Meg’s Inspirations, a local gift shop and spiritual boutique here in Manchester, CT.  I’ve been leading seasonal rituals at Meg’s for many years. One year, we created an ancestor altar. Another year, we explored various means of divination. 

Last year, I created a ritual around animals as spirit guides. My original plan was to draw an animal oracle card and explore connections between the animal’s message and what we knew, or wanted to know, about an ancestor.  But three days earlier, 11 people were massacred at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.  So I invited those at the ritual to create a blessing for the dead based on the animal that had chosen them.  Here are a few of those blessings: 

May the bear guide them through the darkest nights.

May the dog protect all they hold sacred.

May the eagle bring them courage to see through adversity.

If you’d like to know more about that ritual, please see Episode 11 of the podcast. 

Messages from the animal world are meaningful at any time of the year. I think they’re particularly powerful at Samhain. So I returned to them for this year’s ritual. It was about a map of thresholds, fears, a community fire, animal spirit guides, and the energy of the Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Before I tell you about the ritual itself, I want to tell you what inspired it.  

A few months ago, I repositioned the desk in my office. I didn’t like working at the computer with my back to the door.  Now, when I type I can look across the room and see matching oval-framed photographs of my mother and my grandmother. 

Next to them, in a smaller, heart-shaped frame is a photocopy of a black-and-white Polaroid my little sister took of me napping with my newborn daughter. I’m wearing a homemade, cotton sundress, my hair chopped short by a girlfriend and plastered to my face by the oppressive humidity of a Tidewater summer. My daughter is in a diaper. We had just come home from the Naval Hospital. My then-husband was on a ship headed to Vietnam.At 19, I had crossed the threshold from Maiden to Mother.  

I had spent the last three days in the same hospital, in the same room, in the same bed where my mother died four years earlier. She died at 2:05 in the afternoon, precisely the time I left the hospital with my daughter.  There have been other times in my life when I’ve had that unworldly feeling, as though I’d stepped into a parallel universe, but never more so than that moment.    

The photo of my mother shows the calm and quiet beauty of a 30-year-old in a classic, long-sleeved, soft blue wool sheath, a string of pearls at her neck The following year, she would have several major surgeries in a few weeks, including an emergency hysterectomy. She would be hospitalized for six months, and plunged into menopause. Her thick, wavy, chestnut hair would turn gray and brittle. Her skin would be bleached of color, no more roses in her cheeks, no more sparkles in her eyes. She would age thirty years in six months. She would die eleven years later. The photo remembers a young and vibrant Mother unknowingly about to cross the threshold to that of Crone

The photo of my grandmother was taken when she was seventeen. I once asked her how the photo had come to be. She told me that a traveling photographer had come to town that day and set up a temporary studio. She and two friends wanted to have their pictures taken. Keep in mind, this would be around 1912. Having a photograph of yourself was a big deal.  

She told me how she’d pulled her thick, dark hair back in a modified Gibson and tied it with a grosgrain ribbon. She put on her best, high-necked white blouse and pinned a rhinestone star at her throat. She added a dark, boiled wool jacket, classic style, and took every penny she had from her savings sock. 

She got married a few years later and, over the course of time, gave birth to nine children. She would live to 100, bury her husband and seven of her children, including my mother, and be remembered as a wise, kind, and beautiful Crone, memorialized in the photo as a Maiden.  

We don’t always know when we’re about to cross a threshold.    

At Samhain, we know we’re in the season of the Crone. Signs of death and dying are all around us. Leaves change color and fall to the ground. Bare branches shake in the wind like brittle bones. Frost bites the tips of tender plants. Soon, a killing frost will turn them to black mush. Burning wood perfumes the cold nights and chilly mornings. Geese fly in formation and honk farewell as they head to warmer climates. The Crone is gathering her power. And she will rule until Spring when she is overtaken by the Maiden. 

With so many signs of death and darkness, it’s easy for fears to take root. While I like affirmations, I believe in confronting the worst possible outcome of our fears.  For the ritual, I thought it would helpful to envision our fears on a map, light a torch from a community flame, and enlist the help of special guides.  

A map of fears for the Samhain ritual

My friend Monica assisted me as mapmaker. I gave her a black Sharpie and a scroll of “ancient parchment,” the kind you can make with an ordinary sheet of paper. You crumple it, bathe it in coffee, and age it a little more by sponge painting with used, wet tea bags.  

I expressed my fear of a decline in my husband’s health. Others expressed fears of a lingering death, or dying alone, of being abandoned, of having an accident, of being homeless. The list went on.  

The Sun is in Scorpio now so I wasn’t surprised by the intensity and the darkness of the fears. I offered the remedy in the question, “And then what?” The idea is to express the fear as though it does happen. Confront it. And explore what might happen next, and next, and next, until we can see that, however difficult or devastating the obstacle, we will find a way to go on. 

Confronting a fear is powerful. So is knowing we aren’t the only ones who have fears. Centuries ago in Scotland, villagers would celebrated Samhain by extinguishing all the fires in their home. Then they gathered at a community bonfire with a torch, or candle, or wood, or peat or dried manure — something they could use to carry the community flame to rekindle the home fires. Just as the village was bound by the darkness of the season, they were united by the light in their hearths.  

At this point in the ritual, I gave each person a small, black candle that the owner, Meg, had provided. Before the ritual started, I lit a community fire, a tea light set in glass inside a piece of hollowed wood. Monica had placed the Map of Fears safely inside a nearby pumpkin made of wire, in a way that we could all see the words. One by one, each person came to the community flame and lit his or her candle. 

Now, because the venue is in a historic building that already had one horrific fire in its past, neither Meg nor I wanted to chance another. So Monica stood next to the fire, holding a black container filled with water. The effect was like a scrying pool. Each person had a second or two to light candle from the community flame and then douse the flame in the water. By the time they got home, the wick would be dry and they could light the candle again, perhaps to use while probing, “And then what?”   

A little aside… In 1996, I was given the honor of carrying the Olympic Torch. The torch itself wasn’t passed. The flame was. Picture a relay race with each runner carrying a torch. As with the other torch bearers, I was given the opportunity to purchase the torch I carried. The money would help support the U.S. athletes. In purchasing the torch, I had to sign an agreement that I would never light the torch again. In fact, an official emptied each torch of any fluid remaining in the chamber before we could take possession. I never entertained the thought of lighting the torch again. The soot on the silver spires came from an eternal flame that originated in Athens, Greece, where the Olympics began centuries ago. I look at that torch now and know that, for a few moments, I helped pass a flame that weeks later, the late Mohamed Ali would use to light the cauldron in Atlanta, Georgia to begin the Summer Games. Being part of a community, even in a tiny way, can be powerful.  

So, now we had named our fears. We had lit our candles with the community flame. We were ready for the journey ahead. 

When we seek to enter an unfamiliar world, it’s helpful to have a guide. As I sat at my desk, looking at the pictures of my mother and grandmother, I wondered what kind of totem animal would help me cross the Samhain threshold to connect with them. How might they help me to help my husband? 

I invited each person to pull a card from “The Illustrated Bestiary” by Maia Toll, published by story.com .  The animal guides who chose us offered their expertise. 

From the Katydid came the ability to see from a different perspective. From the Skink came the encouragement to take a risk. The Honeybee reminded us that dark times will pass. I say “us” because I believe that every animal spirit that came to our ritual offered its gift to all of us.  

Before coming to the venue to set up the ritual, I pulled a card for myself. It was the Katydid. I returned the card to the deck. Another woman pulled the same card during the ritual. She is grieving the loss of her partner. He died about a year ago. She has had to find a way to go on. She has had to look at her life from a new perspective. I think the Katydid, with its five eyes, affirmed each small, courageous step she takes.  

The sharing part of the ritual is always powerful. This time was no exception. A woman who was apprehensive about the new business she had recently launched drew the Skink with its advice that she take a risk. A minister from a nonprofit who works hard to accomplish a lot with few resources drew the House Mouse and its message that a lot can be accomplished by working together.  A woman who had just begun divorce proceedings drew the Spring Peeper with its advice that if life feels impossible, do as author Maia Toll suggests and, grow a new set of legs to carry you into your next becoming.” 

When it came time to close the ritual, we stood in a circle and held hands. One by one, going counter-clockwise, the direction that releases energy, we called out the name of a loved one who had died. As we did, we released our right hand. 

It just so happened that last night, one of the women brought her two dogs, both small, well-behaved and on leashes. They gathered with us in the closing circle. I was reminded that Sirius, the Dog Star, is said to guide the souls of the dead to the Milky Way. We had invited quite a few departed souls into our ritual. It felt good to imagine them being guided back to the Other Side by the sweet dogs that had joined us.  

I had some time constraints last night and wasn’t able to explore one more ritual element I had planned.  It echoed back to the idea of thresholds and Maidens, Mothers, and Crones. I associate certain animals with certain seasons. The associations are is more anecdotal than scientific, based more on pop culture than anthropology. Still, the associations are there. 

For example, I see the image of a Raven and I think autumn and winter, the dark half of the year, the time of the Crone. 

For the Monarch Butterfly, I think summer, the time of the Mother. 

The Spring Peeper, well, spring and the time of the Maiden. 

For the Tortoise, summer and the Mother. 

The Honey Bee is all about spring and summer, the Maiden and the Mother. 

The River Otter, often associated with the element of play, reminds me of the Maiden.  

Because the Elephant is known for its long memory and for reverence paid to the matriarch of the herd, I associate it with the Crone. 

But how do you process the Maiden energy of the Spring Peeper if you are living in Crone years? How do you work with the Elephant Crone if you are a 17-year-old Maiden?  What about the Mother urged to frolic like a Maiden River Otter? That’s where the threshold comes in.  

It’s easy to recognize the threshold between sea and shore, meadow and forest, mountain and foothill, desert and oasis.  Border guards create an added threshold at what is often a natural boundary between countries. The door to your home is a threshold, dividing one world from another. 

Some thresholds aren’t visible or well defined. Some are fluid and short-lived.  When I make jewelry and play in the sparkle of all things Swarovski, I’m the Maiden.  She initiates. 

When I cook and blend ingredients with nurturing intent, I’m the Mother. She maintains.  

When I uproot the annuals and prune the roses, cut the lilies, iris, hosta, and sage — because the garden must be put to rest if it’s to bloom again in the spring — when I attend to the rest, residue and remainder, I am the Crone.  She concludes.

In any one day, I can cross multiple thresholds and embody all three phases of the Goddess. You can, too. A spirit animal can be your perfect companion. 

Here’s a simple ritual to work with this energy.  I think of ritual as a visible act performed with invisible intent. The invisible intent here is to engage with the energies of the Triple Goddess. The visible act is to draw three cards: one animal to spark your Maiden energy, one to fortify your protective role as Mother, and one affirm your responsibilities as Crone. 

I plan to explore this idea further in the months ahead. Chronologically, are you Maiden, Mother, or Crone? In what aspect of your life do you mirror her? In what way do you feel the energy of another face of the Goddess? Please let me know. I’m working on a Croning ritual. I’d appreciate your thoughts.  Email:  zita@moonriverrituals.com

In the meantime, if you’ve been inspired to create a Samhain ritual and you realize Halloween is over, rest assured, it’s not too late. Astrologically, Samhain, the festival that inspired our Halloween, occurs when the Sun reaches the 15th degree of the fixed sign of Scorpio. And this year, 2019, that won’t occur until November 7 (East Coast time). So, grab a candle!  And when it comes to working with the energies of the Maiden, Mother, and Crone, there is no wrong time. 

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Creative Wedding Rituals: Pandas, Moths, Flours

Selecting the members of the wedding party can be so stressful, some couples don’t choose anyone. No maid of honor. No best man. After serving more than 150 couples as their wedding officiant, I’ve seen what this kind of stress can do. Friendships dissolve. Family tensions grow. A bridesmaid who thought she should be the maid-of-honor finds a way to draw attention to herself during the ceremony. 

According to The Knot, the average size of a wedding party is ten. That usually means five on each side. That number might be higher if couples had no restrictions; but, most couples do have restrictions.

If you’re the one getting married, you know how agonizing it can be to choose the members of your wedding party. If you have extended an invitation and been turned down, you know how disappointing that can be. For either scenario, contributing issues can be money, distance, health, time, trying to meet family expectations, trying to avoid family drama.   

To honor those special guests who are not in the wedding party, couples are often advised to make them ushers or have then pass out programs. Please! Don’t honor a guest with a boring task! Give him or her a meaningful role in the ceremony. How? Through a ritual.    Continue reading

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Fire and Water, Sun and Moon, Achievement and the Need for Rest – Episode 19

Jars of artificial fireflies on the banks of the Summer Solstice river

This year’s Summer Solstice has come and gone. But our entry into the dark half of the year has just begun. 

My European ancestors divided the year into two seasons, summer and winter. The Summer Solstice was known as Midsummer. People felt joy that the Sun had warmed the earth so they could plant and now their crops were growing. If all went well, the harvest season would be bountiful.

At the same time, they felt anxiety. From now on, each day would be shorter than the one before. Would there still be enough light to grow food? Or would they starve? Would there be enough heat to say warm? Or would they freeze? Once winter took hold of the land, would it ever leave? It’s no wonder the ancients held celebrations to honor the sun, and to plead for its return.

This year, as I’ve done for more than ten years, I led a Solstice ritual at Meg’s Inspirations, a gift shop and spiritual boutique in Manchester, Connecticut. This year, I explored the energy of the Cancer-Capricorn polarity. Continue reading

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Beltane, Fairies, the Hawthorn, and the Goddess Bloddeuwedd – Episode 18

The little fairies playing in the ruins.

Fairies, flowers, fertility, a Maypole, and a hawthorn tree.  They all weave their way into the Celtic festival of Beltane and other seasonal festivals so common in the Old World. On episode 18 of the Ritual Recipes podcast, I talk about the public ritual I created to celebrate Beltane here in central Connecticut where I live. It was about shadow gifts from the Beltane fairies, something we might need in order to be our authentic selves. 

I also touch on the story of Bloddeuwedd  (“bluh DIE weth”), the woman created from nine ingredients by two magicians determined to make the perfect bride for a young man who’d been cursed. I add my own two cents based on the magical meaning behind each of the ingredients. I talk about violence, punishment, and the dramatic transformation Bloddeuwedd goes through, first becoming an owl, then Goddess of the Hawthorn. You see, as that perfect bride, things went well…for a while…until she met another man and fell in love. 

But first…What is ritual?  To me, ritual is a visible act performed with invisible intent. If you’ve ever made a wish and blown out the candles on a birthday cake, you’ve performed a ritual.  It can be that simple.  It can also be more elaborate, a real community celebration.

THE HAWTHORN TREE

Earlier this year, I led a public ritual to celebrate Beltane. It wasn’t feasible to erect an actual Maypole, so I designed the ritual around the magical properties of the hawthorn tree, well known as the home of the fairies. 

Hawthorn tree in bloom.

The hawthorn is a relatively small tree, known to live for a long time, some as long as 400 years. The hawthorn has a lot of foliage, making it an ideal home for birds as well as fairies.

Hawthorn (Crataegus) tree blooming in springtime.

In the spring, the hawthorn blooms with a profusion of small white flowers. The stamens have bright pink heads. Some accounts of the hawthorn describe the scent as particularly female. In the old days, a bride would carry a sprig of flowering hawthorn on her wedding day to symbolize her desire for a fruitful union.

When summer comes, each hawthorn flower produces a fruit called a “haw.”  In autumn, the haws turn bright red. They look like little apples. The tree becomes a banquet for the birds.

Since birds were known to carry messages to the Spirit World, a tree that fed them was sacred.  In addition to the “haws,” the tree also has thorns, hence the name, haw-thorn.

My Celtic ancestors likely believed that wherever you find the oak, ash and hawthorn trees together, you can be sure the fairies are nearby. In fact, fairies are said to live beneath the hawthorn itself. The tree was considered so sacred that it was a serious crime to cut one down. 

That might seem extreme until you realize that when the deceased were buried, their spirits would travel to the Underworld. From there, those spirits – now called Ancestors – would guide and protect the living back here in the mundane world. The fairies kept the connections between the worlds alive. So, it you destroyed the home of the fairies, you severed the connection to your ancestors and all hope of their guidance and protection. Not prudent, to say the least.

THE MAY QUEEN, THE GODDESS BLODDEUWEDD

There’s another reason why a community would revere a hawthorn tree. In his book, The White Goddess, author Robert Graves writes that the Hawthorn is protected by a goddess, Bloddeuwedd, known as the May Queen. Bloddeuwedd was created by the magicians Math and Gwydion from nine different ingredients, most of them plants, trees, or flowers:  oak, meadowsweet, broom, cockle, bean, nettle, chestnut, primrose, and hawthorn.

A quick look into A Compendium of Herbal Magick by Paul Beyerl is illuminating. While each of the nine flowers and trees has many attributes, here are a few I found that seem to fit the creation of a perfect bride, from the viewpoint of the male magicians. (Of course, not having been a male magician, I’m just guessing.) Some of the attributes are from Beyerl, some from A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve, and others. 

Oak: for fertility and long life.  Subtext: She won’t die in childbirth.

Meadowsweet: for acquiring a merry heart, with extra joy and blessings to a new bride.  Subtext. Meadowsweet for a wife who won’t nag.

Broom: for good fortune and for accepting the changes that life brings. Upon further investigation, I saw subtext about broom, too. Might it have been added to ensure the bride would keep a clean house?

Cockle:  As I mention in the podcast, I didn’t find any reference to a flower or plant or tree named cockle. So I must assume the inclusion of cockle in the concoction used to create Bloddeuwedd referred to the shellfish, believed by many to be an aphrodisiac.  Makes sense.  

Bean:  for male virility.  More subtext. If Bloddeuwedd was created to be the perfect bride and one of her ingredients was to enhance male virility, does that make her a form of Viagra?

Nettle: for healing. Having someone in the family know how to heal would certainly be a benefit. Subtext: She will be able to care for him when he’s ill, wounded, and old.  

Chestnut:  for male potency.  Further reading about the chestnut associate it with humility, with finding satisfaction in little things.  Subtext: a perfect wife won’t demand a lot of his attention.

Primrose: for inner and outer beauty.  Self-explanatory.

Hawthorn: for female sexuality.  Yes, there were plenty of other attributes of the hawthorn I could have mentioned here; but, I find this one key to the story of Bloddeuwedd’s journey to becoming her authentic self.  

The magicians created Bloddeuwedd to be the bride of a young man, Llew. His mother had abandoned him and cursed him, saying he would never wed a mortal woman. (That’s a story for another time.)  The magicians wanted Llew to be happy. Hence, the creation of Bloddeuwedd who was said to possess in abundance every trait and feature a man would want in a wife.

As planned, Llew marries Bloddeuwedd. Married life seems okay … for a while…until she meets another man. As the story goes, Bloddeuwedd comes alive in a way she’s never known before. My guess is she had her first orgasm, apparently not something the magicians thought to ensure Llew could give.

As the tale unfolds, she and her lover kill Llew. The authorities come after her. The magician Gwydion overtakes her and turns her into a white owl. (Picture a white owl with a round face, sometimes called a flower-faced owl. The name Bloddeuwedd also means flower-faced.)  

Barn Owl with round “flower” face.

That chapter in Bloddeuwedd’s story could explain why some people associate owls with death.  I think a more fitting association is that of the woman who embraces the death of her old “self,” one defined by others, in favor of a new self, one who doesn’t fear being alone, one who finds wisdom in her experiences, one who realizes beauty is fleeting, one who discovers her own inner power, even if embracing that power means she will live a solitary life. Think of Sansa at the end of Game of Thrones. I won’t say any more in case you haven’t seen it yet. But I will say the stories of both Sansa and Bloddeuwedd show powerful personal transformation at great cost. Both stories are about gaining wisdom and the early concept of the virgin — the one who is whole unto herself.

I also wonder if Gwydion himself loved Bloddeuwedd, perhaps the way a parent loves a child. Maybe he sought to capture her so that he could determine her fate.  On the website druidry.org, the ancient meaning for Bloddeuwedd is said to be owl, symbol of wisdom. Did Gwydion set her apart from other birds so that only the worthy, strong, and pure of heart would recognize her gifts?  I’m simply speculating.  Did I tell you that when I was in the seventh grade, I was crowned the May Queen?  Or that the first gift my now-husband gave to me some 40 years ago was a necklace with a gold owl?  

TREES

Trees in general play a key role in Celtic mythology. In fact, their calendar is based on trees with May being the 6th month,  running from what we would calculate as approximately May 13 to June 9.  The tree that represents May is, of course, the hawthorn. 

Trees were also used to develop an alphabet, with letters formed by placing branches in certain formations. That alphabet is spelled o.g.h.a.m and is pronounced “OH-um.”  The hawthorn tree is symbolized by the 6th consonant. It’s spelled h.u.a.t.h.e (or simply u.a.t.h.) and pronounced “HOO-ah.”

The hawthorn tree, so important to the fairies and the ancestors carries the energy of cleansing and preparing, both things and thoughts. Simply being near a Hawthorn is said to invite stillness and clear the mind. Some say people feel more patient when near a hawthorn.

The hawthorn also symbolizes hope. Early Christian stories suggest the thorns of the hawthorn were used on the head of Christ at his crucifixion.  My guess is that different communities embrace different stories. Perhaps it was that Christian story that inspired the Pilgrims, back in 1602, to sail on a ship named Mayflower. Or maybe it was because they knew they’d need to have patience for the long voyage.

I wasn’t on the Mayflower, at least not that I remember, but I’m sure the stars were an important tool in navigation. Legend says that the Welsh Goddess Olwen, known as the White Goddess of the Hawthorn Tree, once walked through the empty universe trailing white hawthorn petals. The petals became the Milky Way.  That’ just one of many beautiful star stories.

THE BELTANE RITUAL

For this year’s Beltane ritual, needed four fairies, one for each of the four directions. Fortunately, there were four girls at the ritual, preteens and young teens. With their mothers’ permission, I gave each girl a basket of ribbons. The ribbons in each basket were about 18 inches long, all one color.

The Fairy of the East represented air. Her ribbons were yellow.

The Fairy of the South represented fire. Her ribbons were red.

The Fairy of the West represented water. Her ribbons were blue.

The Fairy of the North represented earth. Her ribbons were green.

I talked about how Fairies live under the hawthorn tree and how they had come to our ritual to give each participant three gifts, each gift symbolized by the color of the ribbon.

I asked each Fairy to describe the gift embodied in her ribbon. Prior to the ritual, I had typed this information on individual cards. All each Fairy had to do now was read from the card.

The East Fairy, with yellow ribbons representing air said: To think and speak with clarity, by fairy magick it shall be!

The South Fairy, with red ribbons representing fire said:  For courage bright, for energy, by fairy magick it shall be!

The West Fairy, with blue ribbons representing water said: For compassion, forgiveness and mystery, by fairy magick it shall be!

The North Fairy, with green ribbons representing earth said: For growth and for prosperity, by fairy magick it shall be!

Three gifts. Four fairies.  I’ll get back to that in a moment.

I held the ritual at Meg’s Inspirations, a local gift shop and spiritual boutique in Manchester CT, where I live. I told everyone that if we were holding the ritual next to a hawthorn tree, we would imbue our ribbons with our intent, our honest intent, and spear each ribbon on one of the thorns – because the thorns are blessed with fairy magick. Instead, I improvised with an umbrella stand filled with long, skinny branches, some from a local crafts store, some from the nature center near my home. These branches did not have thorns.

Each person picked ribbons from three fairies. We talked about the gifts we’d chosen and how we would use them in our lives. 

Then I asked everyone to think of the ribbon they did not  pick. I suggested that the gift not chosen – the shadow gift – might well be the gift most needed. I said to them:

Go now to your fourth fairy and receive your shadow ribbon.  Think about it carefully. If you’re ready to explore the magick offered by that fairy’s gift, then hang the ribbon on the hawthorn tree.  

On the night of the ritual, I didn’t tell the story of Bloddeuwedd. But I do invite you now to remember the struggle and the power of being your authentic self.  

We spent time sharing our thoughts about our shadow ribbon. We speculated about the gift we might find in the shadow. Most of us speculated silently. Some things are too private, too raw, to share. That’s okay. The transformation of a ritual doesn’t always happen in the moment.

TERROR

In her book, Voice of the Trees, a companion book to an oracle deck, author and illustrator Mickie Mueller shares ways to work with the messages the trees have for us. When she writes about the hawthorn, she notes that the Celtic name, huathe, “HOO-ah,” means “terror.” The oracle card for the hawthorn warns of obstacles along the path, or tension of some kind.  Mueller says you don’t apply force when encountering the obstacle. It will eventually yield a gift, but wisdom is needed first.  (Think of Bloddeuwedd!)  Of course, I don’t think it’s a good idea to apply force when dealing with any plant that has thorns.

MAKING FAIRIES WITH MY HUSBAND

The Fairies of Beltane are coming!

I’ve been leading seasonal rituals at Meg’s for over 10 years. A month or so before the ritual, Meg enthusiastically announces “The Fairies of Beltane are coming!” We always get a good turnout. That’s because everyone knows that if they come to the ritual, they get to take home one of the fairies. So every year, I make new fairies.

About six weeks before each Beltane ritual, I pull out my craft supplies.  First, I paint wooden balls and cones for the multicultural heads and bodies. Then I add artificial flowers, beads, scraps of leather, feathers, glitter, whatever calls to me in the moment.

Three years ago, I recruited my husband to help me paint the wooden heads and bodies. He had such a good time he helped me paint fairies again the following year. This year was different. The Alzheimer’s Disease is advancing. Instead of painting, he lined up the finished fairies on the dining room table so I could take photos.

My husband helped me paint Beltane fairies.

People who have attended several of my Beltane rituals tell me they have their fairies on a desk, a shelf, a dresser, a dashboard. I have one on the windowsill above the kitchen sink. I see her every day, many times. When I do, I’m reminded of how I gather each May with friends, some I’ve known for many years, some I’ve just met. I’ve celebrated Beltane in a welcoming gift shop, on the beach, in a basement, and in a clearing in the woods. I’ve filled baskets with flowers and planted flowers around a sacred garden. I’ve brought a potluck offering to a Beltane feast, and danced the Maypole with dozens of friends.  It’s been years since I’ve done some of those activities. Seeing my little Beltane fairy brings back all the memories, especially the memories of painting fairies with my husband.    

SUMMER SOLSTICE

 A few weeks later, I led another seasonal ritual, this time to celebrate the Summer Solstice, a time often referred to as Midsummer. In many parts of Europe, what we think of as a Maypole was also part of Midsummer festivities.

Flowers are a key element of both Beltane and Midsummer. In her book, Midsummer: Magical Celebrations of the Summer Solstice, author Anna Franklin talks about the long-held custom in Britain of placing flowers on the largest stone on a farm. Then and now, stones symbolize the realm of the ancestors.

I’m reminded of “worry stones,” the pocket-sized stones with a thumb-sized indentation just right for rubbing. I don’t doubt the physical act of rubbing the stone can help ease a troubled mind. Next time, while you’re rubbing the stone, ask your ancestors, the known and the unknown, to help you. The addition of adding that intent creates a ritual.  It can be as simple as that. I’ll tell you about the Summer Solstice ritual on the next episode.

Until then, how about you? Are you ready to connect with the cycles of nature? Honor the spirit of the ancestors? Discover the patterns of your life? Establish your own family traditions? Be transformed? Are you ready to do something to add positive energy to the world., I hope so. The world needs what you have to give.

How do you use rituals? Did anything about the story of Bloddeuweth resonate with you?  Send an email to:  zita@moonriverrituals.com or connect with me on Instagram (ZitaChristian) or Facebook (MoonRiverRituals). 

Thanks for being here.

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Episode 17: Spring Equinox – Ready to Break the Bonds of Winter?

Use a simple paper chain for a ritual to break the bonds of winter.

The Vernal Equinox arrived last week. The Sun has entered the sign of Aries. Spring is here.

Depending on where you live, it might still feel like winter. That’s how it is was here, until today. Soon, with a fierce determination to live, yellow daffodils and purple crocus will force their way through soil that has been frozen solid for months. They have broken the bonds of winter. How will you break those bonds?

Here in New England, winter can blanket or bury us with snow. So when Spring arrives, we may still be bundled in boots and gloves and bed-head hats. Even so, in some ancestral, cellular way, we know that winter has lost its grip. To acknowledge the change of seasons, I created a ritual called “Breading the Bonds of Winter.” 

This is a ritual for adults. You need to make a paper chain, the kind kids make in grade school.  I use strips of plain white paper, 12 inches long, 2 inches wide, and ordinary tape.

A few years ago, I performed this ritual at Meg’s Inspirations, a spiritual boutique here in Manchester. I expected 18, maybe 20, people. We sat on chairs in a circle. The paper chain had to be long enough to loosely stretch from the first person to the last. That meant about 200 links (I estimated 10 links per person). There wouldn’t be time to make a chain that long during the ritual. So I made the chain in advance. I assembled it in 4 sections and packed each section into a giant, drawstring trash bag so the paper links wouldn’t get squashed. When I got to the boutique, I taped the sections together to make one, long chain.

I wanted people to write on the chain. Now, if you’re visualizing this, you’re probably wondering how are people going to hold a floppy paper chain on their laps and write on one of the links. They don’t!  They write on white labels. I use the 1×4 inch address labels. They come 20 to a sheet. In advance, I had cut up several sheet of labels, keeping the paper backing for each label intact.  As people arrived, each one received several blank labels.

Starting at one end of the room, I gave the first person the first link. She passed the chain to the person sitting next to her. On and on, the chain snaked its way around the circle. As we each held part of the chain, we talked about the hardships of winter, about whatever had burdened, confined or constricted us. For some it was poor heath. For one it was the loss of her job. For one, it was having to replace a furnace. For one, it was the death of a pet; for another, the death of a family member. Then we wrote our burdens on our labels and stuck them to the links.  

For me, ritual is a visible act performed with invisible intent. The intent in this ritual is to release the worry, the disappointment, the loss, the pain, the sorrow that bound us through the winter. The visible act was give form to the burden by writing it down, and then to physically break it.

We stood up. Meg lowered the lights. While local musician Doug Yager played a hand drum and chimes, we passed the chain clockwise, the direction that builds energy. When the energy reached a peak, we each gripped the length of chain in front of us, silently read the message on the links…and ripped it apart! We kept ripping the links, making sure we broke all those that carried a written burden. Yes, it created a mess. Yes, it was worth it!  Not only were our burdens symbolically broken, but they were broken with the help of everyone in the circle. There were a few fist pumps, a shout or two, and a few tears.

This is a solitary version of the ritual.While this ritual is particularly powerful when performed with a group, it’s also powerful as a ritual you can do for yourself.  In a group, the energy builds quickly. If you’re doing the ritual alone, be sure to give yourself time to think about what you want to break. If you’re doing the ritual alone, you can write directly on each link before you tape the ends together. In the ideal world, write on the first link on the night of a new moon. Write on links for the next two weeks and break the chain on the night of the full moon.

Rituals for Spring

When we view the seasons like spokes on a wheel, we realize that there is no beginning, no end. When astrological symbols are applied, we can make a story that correlates the change of seasons with the turning of the wheel. We make spring the arbitrary starting point. Why? Because spring is about the resurrection of the earth, the celebration of life after death.

Colored eggs for an Ostara ritual by Zita Christian

This is when Ostara, the Goddess of Spring wakes up. She’s a fertility goddess.  Everywhere she walks, trees bud and flowers bloom.  She is Spring at its most tender.  Her symbols are bunnies, chicks, eggs, birds’ nests, sprays of bright forsythia and soft pussy willow, patches of purple crocus, bouquets of pink tulips and yellow daffodils.  She is the Goddess Oestre, from whom we get the word estrogen and the word Easter.  

Here’s an interesting side note.  Up until the year 46 BCE, the calendar year began on March 25. There were 10 months. September, from the word meaning seven, was the 7th month.  October, from the word meaning eight, was the 8th month. November for nine. December for ten. What happened in 46 BCE? That’s when Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar to replace the Roman calendar. Among other things, the Julian calendar added the months January and February to the beginning and pushed the other months down the list.

Astrologically, spring arrives when the Sun moves from the 29th degree of Pisces to zero degrees of Aries. Aries is symbolized by the ram with its big, curled horns, head down, ready to charge ahead, so eager for action and adventure. When the Sun is in Aries, he is physically powerful, testosterone-heavy. He can melt snow and thaw rivers. With all that testosterone, the Sun in Aries is eager to wake up the Goddess Ostara. She lives in the Earth, in the plants and the trees. She’s been sleeping.  

A Spring Ritual for Children   

The Goddess of Spring will soon wake up!

Hold that image of a sleeping Goddess while I tell you about a spring ritual for children. I saw this performed years ago when a friend, Laura Wildman-Hanlon, led a Spring Equinox ritual that included a group of little children.

We had all gathered on the town green of a small, farming community in western Massachusetts. She gave each child a foot-long section cut from a slender branch of a tree. (Yes, there was plenty of adult supervision!)  While the adults sang, played drums, rattles, and tambourines, the children walked to each tree and tapped on the trunk, shouting with unbridled joy, “Wake up, tree! Wake up! Spring is here!”

That’s an easy ritual to replicate. If you don’t want to use sticks, tell the children to tap on the trees with their hands.  But first, give their actions context. Tell them the story of spring. Tell them how the princess of spring is called the Goddess Ostara, or simply the  Maiden. Tell them how she has been sleeping underground in a cozy bed of tree roots, curled up in a fiddlehead frond, snuggled among the plant seeds and flower bulbs waiting to stretch and pop up into the sunlight. Tell them Spring is the time to hop around like bunnies, to sing like birds, to show off like flowers and dance like faeries.

Forest of Maple Sap buckets on trees in spring

Of course, the trees already know it’s spring. Their sap is rising. Here in New England, maple trees are tapped and buckets placed just-so to collect the sap that will be boiled and bottled and poured on pancakes.

I recently listened to episode 27 of the podcast, 5 Minute Feng Shui, Host Katie Weber talks about the element of wood, its association with growth and change, with helping us get unstuck and persevere. She talks about the “sheer force of will” we can see when a simple blade of grass pushes its way through cement. …I love that podcast for many reasons. In this episode, Katie painted a vivid image of the force of spring.

Going barefoot, or “earthing,” is good for you!

Want an easy way to connect with that force? Take off your shoes.  

I’m reminded of the day my grandson and I went for a walk. He was about four, maybe five.  I live near a nature center. We were walking along a trail and came to a grassy area. My grandson took off his shoes, plopped himself on the grass and stretched out on his back, arms out wide. I said, “Logan, what are you doing?” He responded, “I taking time to enjoy Mother Nature.”  Well, I couldn’t argue with that. So I lay right down next to him.  

In an article written by Arjun Walia, published in 2017 in Collective Evolution, Dr. James Oschman, a biologist from the University of Pittsburgh, talks about the reports that indicate walking barefoot on the Earth “enhances health and provides feelings of well-being.” Dr. Oschman is an expert in the field of energy medicine. He gives a scientific explanation for what my mother, my grandmother, and countless generations before them knew. Going barefoot, or “earthing” as it’s now called, is good for you!

The benefits of negative ions, antioxidants, and electrons that destroy free-radical aside, what do you feel when I say the title of Neil Simon’s romantic comedy, Barefoot in the Park?  I think freedom. Fun. Or, as the Beach Boys would say, “Good Vibrations.”

Plant Seeds to Celebrate Spring

Here’s another simple Spring ritual. The visible action is to plant seeds. The invisible intent is to imbue the seed with some quality you want to grow in yourself.

If you have the space and the light, you can plant physical seeds for flowers or vegetables. Be sure you know the parameters of the planting season where you live. 

Closeup of female hands planting seeds into small pots. Home gardening.

Or, you can plant symbolic seeds.  Find a pretty pot. Make sure it’s clean. Fill it with fresh potting soil. If you want to grow your finances, use a red pot, or wrap your pot with red foil. Spend some time visualizing not only how your life will change as your income grows but also envision the work you will do to cultivate that growth. Red is the color of desire, will power, and sweat equity. Then plant a bright, shiny new penny into the pot. 

Or, you can plant metaphysical seeds. Maybe you want to grow wisdom, or patience, or confidence. This has been a hard winter for me and my family. I’m planting resilience. No pot. No soil. I’m using one of those little, rubber balls, the kind you’re supposed to squeeze when you feel stress. The visible act is squeezing the ball and watching how it absorbs the shock and always bounces back. The invisible intent is that I can be as flexible and resilient as that ball. This ritual is one that needs to be repeated often.    

Know What You Leave Behind

Vector wintry landscape with night sky and light moon

As one season begins, another ends. The arrival of spring means the departure of winter.  In the excitement of welcoming the new, we don’t always think about what we must leave behind.  We should.  The song of spring birds breaks months of silence. The heat of the sun breaks the cold. Just as dawn brings a new day, it breaks the dark of night.  There is peace in silence, tranquility in the cold, beauty in the dark. Whenever you move forward, always be mindful of what you leave behind.

~~~

I hope you can use these rituals. Please don’t think you can do them on one day only. Spring is a season. You can celebrate it any time.

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, a year later, wonder where the time went and why everything feels the same. 

Or you can connect with the cycles of nature, honor the spirit of the ancestors, discover the patterns of your life, do something to add positive energy to the world. The world needs what you have to give. 

Stuffed toy lambs in a basket

Are you ready to live a relevant life? Add ritual. And, please, tell at least one person about the podcast Ritual Recipes. Thanks.

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