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 →
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
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.
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
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 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
Primrose: for inner and outer beauty.
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.)
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 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
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
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
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
WITH MY HUSBAND
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
or connect with me on Instagram (ZitaChristian) or Facebook
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
A Spring Ritual for Children
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Are you ready to live a relevant life? Add ritual. And, please, tell at least one person about the podcast Ritual Recipes. Thanks.
A few weeks ago, we
celebrated Valentine’s Day. Am I late? No. What I have to say is about the
timeless expression of love and about Valentine’s Day rituals for one…because
February 14, 2020 will be here before you know it.
My local gift shop, grocery
store, pharmacy, and post office all sell greeting cards. Annual holidays
transform the rotating racks according to the seasonal emblems – witches, turkeys,
evergreen trees, hearts, and shamrocks. For Valentine’s Day there were offerings
for a person’s husband, wife, son, son-in-law, grandson, daughter,
daughter-in-law, granddaughter, brother, sister, mother, father, and the list
goes on. Why the variety? Because the greeting card industry knows that people
feel good when they give an expression of love.
Back in the 1950s when I
was in grade-school, my mom would bring me and my two younger sisters to the
local drug store where she’d let each of us pick out a box of Valentine’s Day
cards. The cards were small—about two inches high, a single layer of paper.
Each came with a little envelope. Each box might contain 10 or 15 or 20 cards,
so depending on how many classmates we had, we might need to buy two boxes. My
mother taught us that if we didn’t have enough cards to give one to every classmate,
we weren’t to give any cards.
Fast forward to today. I
have a lot of friends who are single. Some are divorced, some widowed, some
single by choice, some living “in the wait.” Even though I read and write
romance novels, I don’t believe a person has to be in a loving, committed
relationship to have a good life. That said, I do believe every single one of
us needs to give love and be open to receiving love from others. How long the loving
energy flows back-and-forth in any relationship will vary. To keep the energy
flowing, I’ve designed a few safe and simple rituals.
But first, I want to tell you about something I learned on a recent episode ofNPRs “On Being” podcast. The host, Krista Tippett, was interviewing Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They were talking about love and kindness, about how important it is for young children to see those qualities in the classroom, especially when children see love and kindness used to honor their differences.
Davidson said humans are born with an innate propensity for kindness but that kindness must be nurtured in order to be expressed. He talked about empathy as a prerequisite for kindness, and about the emotional and physical responses children have to acts of kindness, compassion, and generosity. I immediately thought of the vital role played by teachers in kindergarten and preschool.
Tippett and Davidson talked about the quality of resilience – how fast we recover from adversity – and how resilience is a key factor in predicting mortality. They talked about love as the next frontier for science. Now that’s fertile ground!
I was thinking about all this in connection with Valentine’s Day because Davidson also talked about how important emotions are in helping adults make some very important decisions, like partnering with someone, like getting married. I can see links with empathy and kindness and generosity …and ritual. I wondered, how we, as adults, work with those links to create rituals based on acts of kindness? And, will doing so open the heart to give and receive love?
For me, ritual is a
visible act performed with invisible intent. Simply put, can a ritual designed around
an act of kindness bring love into our lives? While I can’t make guarantees –because
people are different and have their own definitions of love – I do see the
Think of it this way. Each
of us has a gift we can give: Time,
money, things, energy. How much we have of each will vary. What’s important
is to recognize that these gifts have an endless return on investment.
Hallmark cards and
Lifetime movies are made around the ideas of the passing of time, of
contributing money to a worthy cause, of donating items to charity, of adding
sweat equity to a community project. We hear stories of the driver at the
fast-food window who pays the tab for the stranger behind her. We see the
television commercials about the lottery winner who leaves a mega tip for the
server in the roadside diner. These acts of kindness demonstrate the truth that
it feels good to give. What might an act of kindness look like when combined
Suppose you volunteer at a
nursing home. Once a week, you spend a few hours polishing one woman’s
fingernails, reading to another, looking at family photos with another. These
are visible acts. Now imagine that as you meet with each resident, you use your
finger to trace a heart on the other person’s hand. As you do, you say, “May you
feel loved.” Repeat the words and trace another heart when you leave. In that
brief moment, focus your thoughts on the person whose hand you’re touching. You’ve
turned an act of kindness, beautiful in itself, into a ritual, a ritual to
bring love. Before you leave, draw a heart on your own hand and say, “I am
Suppose you’re making
breakfast for your child who is getting ready for school. He has a big test
that day. You know he’s feeling some anxiety. You want him to help him. A safe
and simple way is to draw on the magical properties of basil. The herb is
thought to bring courage to both the cook and to all who eat the food.
The mechanics are simple. Add
fresh basil to scrambled eggs. Tuck a leaf of basil into a cheese sandwich.
Spread some pesto on a cracker. Sprinkle dried basil on a cup of hot bone
broth. However you give your son the basil, do so with a hearty “Carpe Diem!”
the famous seize-the-day message from the movie, Dead Poets Society. Sure, you
could use your best Robin Williams’ imitation and simple recite the quote. And
that would be an act of kindness. Add the basil and the invisible intent to
give your child courage and you have a ritual, a ritual of love. Be sure to
have a bite of basil for yourself. As you eat it, say, “I have the courage to
pursue my goals.”
Now let’s imagine you’re
weeding out your closet or rummaging through a drawer of old jewelry. You make
a pile of items and donate them to the local hospital thrift shop. That’s an
act of kindness and generosity. Now suppose that before you bring those items
to the thrift shop, you place each piece of jewelry in a little box tied with a
ribbon, or in a pretty drawstring bag, along with a note. “I wore these
earrings the day I got my dream job (or met my future husband) (or sold my
first book) (or sang in public for the first time). May these earrings help
make your dreams come true, too.”
Yes, depending on how many
items you plan to donate, it will take some time to write all those notes and
find suitable containers. Imagine how the recipient will feel. Grateful?
Encouraged? Inspired? Chances are, you’ll never know the new owner of each treasure.
So I’ll just remind you that destiny is a wide road. Your ritual of generosity
could change a stranger’s life for the better. That’s a pretty powerful idea. So,
when you drop off your donations, say to yourself, “I enjoy sharing what I have
Finally, anyone who has ever
had a pet knows the feeling of unconditional love. But not everyone can open
his or her home to a pet. What you can do is volunteer at your local
animal shelter. They’re always looking for people to help comfort and socialize
the animals who wind up there. To volunteer is an act of kindness.
Now imagine you’re sitting
with an older cat whose owner died. You’ve been told that the cat is listless,
has no appetite, and appears lonely and depressed. As you stroke the cat’s fur,
envision the cat’s new home. Softly describe it, everything from the quiet
cottage that smells like cookies, to the soft cushion on the sun-drenched
window seat, to the widow who still cooks for two.
Or, imagine you’re playing
with an eager mutt rescued from a devastating storm hundreds of miles away.
Each time you toss a stick and the dog races to retrieve it, you say, “Go fetch
the young family that’s looking for a dog just like you!”
You see, if your heart
longs for quiet companionship, or for the joyful energy of a new family,
envision it for someone else first. Sometimes that’s easier than creating a
clear vision of what you want. As
you repeat the ritual for other dogs and cats and they show their gratitude in
ways that only they can, say to yourself, “I want companionship, too. I want a
cozy home, too. I want love, too.”
These are simple examples of
ways acts of kindness and generosity can inspire rituals that open your heart
to love. I hope these ideas inspire rituals of your own. And I hope you tell me
about them. Email email@example.com. I’m going to assume that if you do tell me
about your rituals, that’s it’s okay for me to talk about them on the Ritual
Of course, you can live
your life without ritual. You can flip the pages on a calendar or watch the
date change on your cell phone. You can feel like a hamster running inside a
wheel, and when Valentine’s Day comes around next year, you’ll wonder where the
time went and why nothing has changed. Or you can perform safe and simple
rituals of kindness and generosity and know that you made a difference in
someone else’s world. You can lead a
relevant life, and share it with others.
You’re planning your wedding ceremony and want to include a unity ritual. You think unity candle or sand ceremony. Both are lovely, but you do have other options.
In a wedding, the purpose of a unity ritual is to symbolize the joining of two people and two families for generations. A wedding adds a branch to a family tree. To see how important a branch can be, just watch the television commercials for ancestry.com and the public television show, Finding Your Roots.
When a couple tells me they want a unity ritual, I start with the elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Back in the 5th Century, BCE, Empedocles, a Greek philosopher living in Sicily, said all matter is comprised of those four elements. Later, Aristotle added a fifth element aether – meaning spirit, prana, chi, life force. This concept of 5 elements can be seen in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Paganism and probably other religions. While science has shown us that the elements of creation aren’t that simple, the original four elements are effective tools to inspire unity rituals. Continue reading →
Blacksmiths, brewers, and bards. What a strange group, you might say. What could they possibly have in common? All three are favored by the Celtic Goddess Brigid. Why? Because they all create with her elements of fire and water.
Blacksmith at forge – Photo by Jonathan Bean for Unsplash
The fire in a blacksmith’s forge is hot enough to melt metal. From that heat, whatever is being created, whether horseshoe, tool, or sword, is plunged into cold water.
A brewer boils malt or other starchy ingredients to create wort, then plunges it into an ice bath. Centuries ago, beer was often safer to drink than water. Hops, a major ingredient in beer, has been used in herbal medicines for centuries to treat insomnia, depression, heart problems, some cancers, and a host of other ailments.
The bard’s fire is that of inspiration; his words drawn from the watery realm of emotion. It was the bard, the fierce poet, whose passionate speech could fire up a crowd. To an illiterate population who learned of the world by listening, a conquered population under the rule of another, the words of a skilled bard could instigate rebellion. Words could entertain when life looked bleak…and words could soothe the spirits of those in pain.
In all three cases, something, whether metal, or grain, or an idea, is transformed from one thing to another with fire and water. Brigid’s association with water also comes from her healing wells that never froze, filled with water believed to cure all manner of ailment.
Whether blacksmith, brewer, or bard, all three honored the Goddess Brigid on the fire festival known as Imbolc. There are many tales in the legend of Brigid, more than I can share with you now. Just know that she is also the patron Goddess of women in childbirth and of mothers whose sons died by violence.
Stuffed toy lambs in a basket
In The Milk
The word Imbolc is thought by some to mean “in the milk” a reflection of all the sheep that would be pregnant that time of year. Others connect the word Imbolc to the words “I wash” as a form of ritual purification.
Whatever the etymology, Imbolc marks one of the four Celtic fire festivals, and is celebrated on February 1, though some evidence Continue reading →
Do you watch reality television? I read somewhere that the shows are plentiful because a reality show doesn’t cost as much to produce as would a show with A-list stars. But why are the shows popular? I think it’s because the participants came from “everyday” lives, like mine, like yours.
A singer in a competition
I watch The Voice. I love the stories of the contestants, about what life was like before they embarked on their journey to an international stage. The way the contestant packages are edited, I can see their dreams, feel their disappointments, imagine their pain, and in some cases, relate to that pain. I watch knowing only one person will win, just as I know they can all succeed. For these singers, competing in front of the world is, in its own way, a rite of passage.
As with all rites of passage, there are three key steps. For contestants on The Voice, leaving home is Step 1: Separation. They must leave home. Some have never crossed a state line or flown on an airplane. To make the emotional journey, some face fears, some defy discrimination.
They all audition. The audience can tell if they feel nervous, vulnerable, desperate, or confident that now, finally, it’s my turn. Some are selected for the next phase. They undergo rigorous training and emotionally grueling competition. Week after week, their numbers shrinks. Then comes the final round. Finally, one singer is chosen as the winner. From this day forward, he or she will be known as “The Voice.” That’s Step 2: Transformation.
The winner is showered with confetti, congratulated by the judges, embraced by family. In the last, few on-air seconds, the winner emerges from the space of contestant to the stage of star, all to thunderous applause. And that’s Step 3: Incorporation. The transformation is visible and millions of people see it. Yes, the contestant is now a star. Continue reading →
Silhouette of couple with infinity symbol in sky above
The Winter Solstice is the longest night. What does this cosmic event have to do with gifts and candles, pigs and wine, freedom and fear, self-discipline, resolutions…weddings, handfastings, and the infinity symbol? A lot!
Solstices and Equinoxes
A little background first. Astrologically, the year is marked by four key events: the winter and summer solstices and the spring and autumn equinoxes. Astrologically, each of those events occurs when the Sun enters certain signs: Aries for the spring equinox / Cancer for the summer solstice / Libra for the autumn equinox, and Capricorn for the winter solstice. Each of those four events marks a significant point in the Sun’s journey to and from the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, depending on whether you live above or below the equator. Continue reading →
Skunk medicine is all about having strong boundaries
I learned a valuable lesson the day a skunk crossed my path. It was about animals as totems and the magical medicine they offer. Seeing animals as spirit guides was at the heart of a public ritual I created for Samhain, the Celtic festival that marks the death of summer. The mysteries of Samhain are at the heart of the holiday we call Halloween.
Samhain marks the third and final harvest of the season. The first harvest is of grain, the second of fruits and vegetables, the third of meat. Centuries ago, the third harvest marked a critical time. If a family didn’t have enough, they couldn’t simply grow more. Not with winter on the horizon. Whatever they had harvested would have to sustain them through the darkest, coldest time of the year. Continue reading →
In folklore, butterflies are said to come from the faerie realm. In some Native American traditions, butterflies represent a living piece of a rainbow. In many cultures, butterflies represent the sweetness of life, the beauty of dance, the inevitability of change, and the power of transformation. It’s no wonder they’re associated with rites of passage, particularly weddings and funerals.
colorful swirl of butterflies
Back in 2012, in my first “official” year as a wedding officiant, I created a ritual I called “Butterfly Blessings” for Brittany and Renn. Brittany’s father had died shortly before the wedding. She associated butterflies with his spirit. Using butterflies in the ceremony gave her and her mother a sense of comfort.
In the seven years that followed, I’ve woven that ritual into other wedding ceremonies. Earlier this month, I recreated the ritual for Emily and Padriac. This coming summer, I’ll adapt the ritual for a memorial service. Butterfly Blessings can also be used as a healing ritual. You can use it to celebrate a birthday, too, especially for adults. In fact, the ritual can be used for any celebration that focuses on transformation. More on that later. Continue reading →