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Celebrating the Old Ways In New Times

November, 2018

Celebrating the Old Ways In New Times November 2018

Bright Blessings,

It’s close to the end of the fall season here in Central Ohio, and I have just a tiny bit more garden cleanup to do. I planted the mums and spring bulbs I wanted to, and will probably leave the wood asters to overwinter under our elm tree instead of cutting them back.

The days are shorter already, and we are about to Fall Back, which means it will get dark earlier very soon. It’s already as low as 29 degrees in the night and early mornings before the sun rises, and my arthritis is already ticked off by the cold. Before I know it, it will be snowing, and I‘ll be praying I don’t slip and fall on my round backside while I am walking the dog on the ice. Falling used to be hilarious when I was younger, but now, it hurts, and I know as I get older, it will hurt even more.

My husband is turning 55 this week, and he’s on the last phase of his preventative medical screening he has to do every few years from now on. It’s upsetting him to have to think of everything that could go wrong. We began discussing retirement as well. We will probably do the stereotypical thing and move to Florida instead of staying here in the cold Ohio winters in ten or fifteen years.

My face and body have started to change. I don’t recognize myself anymore when I look in the mirror, and I think I see new wrinkles every week. I do have some gray hair, but it’s all organized into an attractive witch’s lock, so I can’t complain. My husband has a full head of luxuriant silver hair, and I am wondering if he will keep all of it, like his Uncle John, or go bald like some men do. We don’t have the amount of energy we used to years ago. We sleep more, party less, watch what we eat and drink, and don’t go around sick people unless we have to. All of this just means that we are getting older, and truthfully, I don’t like it one bit.

It’s not as glamorous as it is in fantasy paintings of crones and dark grandmotherly goddesses. We are wiser, alright, but our backs, feet, and bodies in general are declining with middle age, and we are well aware that if we get old, well, we will get old!

Having worked in nursing homes, I know what that means. It means like a machine, our bodies will break down, and that isn’t fun. It means a lot of good things too, like finally ending the chase of youth for “Who am I, and where do I belong in this World.” At our age, we have nothing left to prove. I have found peace with myself, and I just don’t care anymore about things that used to drive me absolutely bonkers when I was younger.

In other words, when you get older, a real perk is you might have more worries, but you know what isn’t worth worrying about anymore. You know what things and people are not worth your time. You have learned how to say “No”, and not feel guilty. You know how to tell people off when needs be, and when to keep your mouth shut when it isn’t worth it to stir the pot. Middle age brings a dignity the unbridled strength and desperation to attain every desire of youth does not allow.

Our middle-aged bodies are like the garden in Fall, and moving towards the Winter of our lives means we have to accept we won’t live forever, and already, we have lost some loved ones to death. Countless friends and relatives’ lives are drastically changed by age, having children and grandchildren, and all of the things that happen over the years of having life. We weather these changes together, thankfully, and the sorrows and joys of the years we experience together serve only to make our spiritual harvests all the more glorious.

The reality that we will eventually be parted from everybody we know and love by death is not made any easier by the fact that as Pagans, we believe death is a new beginning. We don’t believe in the finality of a heaven/hell, and we believe we will all someday be reunited either in a new life on this plane, or a special place everybody goes where their beloved ancestors await them. We still grieve the loss of our loved ones, and we still fear the pain of illness or injury that triggers death. We may believe we will go someplace good, but the human animal is wired to fight to survive no matter what, and that instinct cannot be soothed away by religious beliefs.

It’s terrifying to think of losing somebody we love to death. It’s scary to think of our own death, and by the time we are middle-aged, we will have either had some pretty bad health scare of our own, or we will have lost somebody we love to death.

Pagans and Death

As Pagans, we often believe in reincarnation, and some of us believe we find our loved ones in future lives also. We speak to our dead, and don’t find it weird, unnatural, or scary to do so. It’s part of our religion, and considered very natural to speak to our ancestors, and any other spirits we encounter. We build ancestor alters, give the dead gifts, and some of us even feel bad for people who don’t include these practices in their own lives.

Many Samhain observances include gifts for the dead as well as memorial ceremonies, and rituals to honor those who have crossed the veil before us.

Mom

I was raised by a woman who sold cemetery property and directed funerals. I used to play outside the cemeteries when I was a kid, and at one cemetery, the groundskeeper was an older gentleman named William. He and I used to go for walks together at the cemetery when I was little. I went into people’s homes with Mom when she did plot and marker sales, and I colored lots of pictures, played with lots of dolls, and spent a lot of time in the cemetery offices, being quiet as a child while Mom was working.

I never once found it scary, creepy, or anything other than normal.

Imagine my surprise to find out how many people think cemeteries are cursed or scary places where monsters carry the living off to gobble them up. I sometimes wonder if these same people are unable to sleep with the lights off in their own houses.

The cemetery, and funeral home offices were always a beautiful place where people come to honor their dead, and to mourn them. Cemeteries are a permanent place where people can visit the last remaining piece of their loved ones- their bodies, and they are a place of focus for communication. There is nothing scary about that at all.

My Granny decorated the graves of her relatives for many years until she couldn’t do it anymore, and one of my Aunts took over that tradition. My Granny is now buried in that cemetery with her relatives, and my Aunt visits the graves.

Their Wishes

The focus in our Pagan circles at Samhain is often on group ritual to create a meaningful experience for attendees. Mom would have said that is because the ceremonies, including funerals are NOT for the dead, but for the living. The focus on our connection to our dead is often focused on our relationships with them, the times we had together, and maintaining communication although many of us believe they would have most likely already reincarnated.

The fact that someday we, too will become an ancestor is seldom mentioned, because let’s face it- while we honor our dead, most of us just don’t want to die, and that means we don’t like to think about it.

Part of our Samhain observances seldom mention the wishes of the dead we are remembering and honoring. Sometimes, that is because it is a VERY personal thing you just don’t want to share with a group, and it’s likely to make you much more emotional than something else, but if you think about it, that is a very good way to honor our dead.

Something Different

I include some history and interesting (to nerds like me, at least) facts in my articles monthly, but this month, I am not going to do that. I also include more structured ritual most months, but I’m not going to do that this time either.

I’ll just tell you there is no right or wrong way to honor your loved ones who have crossed the veil, and his month, instead of writing out a ritual, I have a suggestion. Do something in honor of your loved one they would have wanted, or carry out a wish they had. I can’t tell you what that is. Only you know, and while the veil is thinner, communication can be easier with the dead at Samhain, but you can do your thing your loved one wanted anytime. It doesn’t have to be at Samhain time!

If you want a suggestion for a simple group working, you can each take turns, and light a candle in your loved one’s honor, and tell a story about them before your potluck. Pagans LOVE a potluck, you know! Leaving a plate for the dead can be part of the festivities as well. You can take it a step further, and bring a food to the potluck that was a favorite, or otherwise significant of your loved one who you will be honoring.

Then, outside of the gathering, do something to honor that wish they had. For me, this is something I have already done, and will someday do again.

My mom always wanted me to be Catholic for her. Not going to happen. This Wiccan is devoted, happy in her faith, and not converting to suit anybody.

But Mom also asked me to light a candle for her at a Catholic Church if I ever had a chance to. Included in this article are two pictures of me lighting a candle for her in 2015 in a Mission Church in Arizona. Someday, I will light more candles for her.

The Cycle of Life

One day we, too will cross the veil, and there will be living people who honor us, reach out to us, and miss us every day of the rest of their lives. Each of us has to decide for ourselves how we want to be remembered, and we do that by how we live our lives now. Also, how LONG we are in these bodies are partially dependent upon us, and the daily decisions we make. We can poison our bodies, whittling years off our lives, or we can take care of them, in efforts to be with our loved ones for as long as possible. Beyond living longer, when we are healthy, we feel good, and quality of life is much better.

We can’t control our genetics, and we can’t prevent every tragedy, but we can try to influence things in our favor as much as we can.

Most Pagans today believe in reincarnation in some capacity, even if it’s not belief in The Summerlands, proper. Many of us believe, that after we cross the veil, we continue to communicate with our loved ones we left behind. For some people, the moments our loved one reaches out after they have died is beyond comforting, and sometimes, it is the difference beyond accepting our loved one will always be with us in some capacity, and being unable to accept their death at all.

Each of us who now reach beyond the veil to continue sharing with our loved ones will be an ancestor someday as well. We will remain in one another’s lives, and some of us will reincarnate together!

Have a Blessed Samhain no matter how you celebrate. May your loved ones smile upon you, stay near you, and may you reach old age happily, and with a lot of good experiences.

Blessed Samhain,

Blessed Be!

***

About the Author:

Saoirse is a recovered Catholic.  I was called to the Old Ways at age 11, but I thought I was just fascinated with folklore. At age 19, I was called again, but I thought I was just a history buff, and could not explain the soul yearnings I got when I saw images of the Standing Stones in the Motherland. At age 29, I crossed over into New Age studies, and finally Wicca a couple years later. My name is Saoirse, pronounced like (Sare) and (Shah) Gaelic for freedom. The gods I serve are Odin and Nerthus. I speak with Freyja , Norder, and Thunor as well. The Bawon has been with me since I was a small child, and Rangda has been with me since the days I was still Catholic. I received my 0 and 1 Degree in an Eclectic Wiccan tradition, and my Elder is Lord Shadow. We practice in Columbus, Ohio. I am currently focusing more on my personal growth, and working towards a Second and Third Degree with Shadow. I received a writing degree from Otterbein University back in 2000. I have written arts columns for the s Council in Westerville. I give private tarot readings and can be reached through my Facebook page Tarot with Saoirse. You can, also, join me on my Youtube Channel.

Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times

September, 2015

Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times

Mabon 2015

I have been so busy gardening and learning about seeds, soil, and planning next year’s planting that Mabon, or second harvest, snuck up on me this time. I just can’t believe how fast this year is going by!

Friends all shared their first harvests at Lughnasadh time. Some grew veggies, others flowers and herbs. Everybody gave thanks for the first things they harvested. My husband was so proud to bring the first tomato and the first berries of the season in to eat.

Fast forward a month and a half, and we are cleaning up some garden debris and saving seeds from things we want to plant next year. Next comes pumpkins, of course, and the radishes and peas I put in the ground for fall harvesting.

In today’s households, most produce is from the store, but some of us cannot resist planting gardens of our own. It’s not like I had anything better to do this year.

It has been ten months since I have worked outside of the home. You guessed it, I am not well enough to go back to work yet. Truthfully, NOT working has taken a major toll on my self esteem. Of course, my husband LOVES coming home to a clean house and a hot meal every day. I, on the other hand, feel like my life is on hold and my perception of who I am has suffered. Who am I if I am not doing those things that I always considered to make me who I AM? I am still myself, despite what I do, and I discovered that while what I do changes from time to time, who I am really does not.

At one time, I was a director where a lot of people relied on me to make things happen. Now, by professional definition, I am a nobody who has not earned one penny in months and is completely dependent on others. There was a time I gave rides to other people on a regular basis. Now, I can’t even drive myself anyplace at all most days.

So you see, my focus went from being on worldly things, to being… well… sick. Anybody who has struggled with a chronic illness can tell you it is counterproductive to just focus on what you CANNOT do. It became crucial to focus on what I CAN do.

And all year, I have done those things to the very best of my ability.

I have continued my normal crafting, painting, beading, and cooking, of course, but gardening and touching the earth every day is genuinely what kept me sane. (Assuming that I am sane!) I have gardened for at least an hour a day, for seven days a week since the first week of May. Sometimes, that just entails watering plants. Some days it entails crushing eggshells into soil for organic fertilizing. Some days it entails research about certain plants. We planted something new almost every week, and started planning next year’s planting. Every day it entails going outside and being with Nature.

As I age, my body is more and more affected by the seasons. I noted I could tell, based on joint stiffness, when rain was coming. After getting on hands and knees and standing up countless times to do garden work, and my blood pressure yo-yoing to the point I saw stars and psychedelic colors, my mood was always better. Not because of the blood pressure variance, but because touching the ground, tending the plants, and being outdoors in nature is naturally good for the human body.

Besides making you more aware of coming weather, gardening also plugs you in to the seasons. A lot of people, for example, just cannot understand why they start to feel sleepier in late summer and early fall. A gardener knows it is because the days are shortening and the body is getting less vitamin D from the sun. The earth’s fruits have reached their limit and are ready to harvest. The nights are getting cooler and it gets light later in the morning. Our bodies respond to all of this.

We have an illusion that we are separate from everything. We believe we are individuals who exist apart from all other individuals. We also have the illusion that other species are not as valuable as we are. Many of our creation stories even interpret gods or goddesses to be immortal human beings, and the earth and the animals were created simply for the purpose of satisfying human beings. We can kill another creature with no consequence, and we can step on other human beings to get ahead.

But if you think about it, we really are not separate at all.

Like I used to mistakenly consider myself an individual who could do everything all on my own, many modern people miss the fact that we are inter dependant on one another, and the earth, as well as members of the other species. Notice I said INTER dependant. Not CO dependant.

Even if you work, live alone, and pay all of your own bills, somebody had to work to build that car you drive. Somebody further produced the parts it was made of. Then somebody had to ship the parts to the place where they built the car. A salesperson had to handle the sale so you could buy the car. The bank staff had to approve the loan. Even your boss has to sign your paycheck so you can have the money to pay for things.

Having transportation and all the things that go into maintaining it is just one example of the fact that people rely on one another for everything, really.

We further rely on animals. Even vegans do. Animals, aside from providing food sources, maintain populations. Predators, even domestic cats, keep critter populations in check so we are not overrun with them. Their bodies further decompose into the earth when they die, fertilizing it so our soil can support plant life. Plant life is both food, and a way to clean carbon dioxide out of the air so we can breathe.

In this way, from death comes all life.

Being part of nurturing plants entails prepping soil, planting seeds, caring for baby plants, harvest, and then saving their seeds for future planting. It creates understanding of how life cycles and our role in that.

All this year, that has been my “job” instead of earning money. I always had plants, but never like this year. This year’s gardening has changed my perception of the cycle of life and my role in it drastically. It helped me realize that I am more than just somebody who earns money to pay bills. I realize we all are.

This Mabon will be the first one I have fully participated in an entire cycle of life of plants. So this harvest will hold different meaning than if I just bought plants and tossed them after a few months.

Mabon itself was first named by Aiden Kelly in 1970. He was referring to Mabon ap Modron from Welsh myths. He is associated with Irish god Oengus, ruler of Tir na Nog, land of eternal youth.

Mabon is the Autumn Equinox. Day and night will be equal, and afterwards, the nights will lengthen. I always think of Mabon as the right time for Thanksgiving. In the US, we celebrate that in November instead.

Mabon is really the time people are finishing up harvesting and storing the last of the crops and fruits before it gets cold. And of course, since foods are ripe and ready, it is the perfect time to feast and give thanks.

Throughout history, many people have celebrated harvest.

In Ireland, equinoxes were tracked and possibly celebrated at Loughcrew. Light strikes a burial cairn on both Spring and Autumn equinoxes there. The burial site dates back to 3500 BCE to 3300 BCE. Little is known about exactly what celebrations entailed back in

Pre- Christian days. The burial site was also used to keep track of seasons for agriculture. In a way, the dead were reminding their descendants of what to plant and harvest when!

In England, Stonehenge is one place where the Autumn Equinox sunrise is still observed, the sun rising above the stones. Farmers would begin slaughtering animals and prepping meat for winter use as well as finishing up the harvesting of crops at Autumn equinox.

In the British Isles, at sites like Loughcrew and Stonehenge, more than just burials were held. Some of those places had multiple structures for multiple purposes. Like the Hill of Tara, these ancient complexes seemed to be the sacred centers of all rites of passage, religious celebrations, and in some cases, lawmaking, matchmaking, and even places for royal or chieftain residence.

In Japan, Autumn Equinox is a time for visits from the ancestors. Visits to families graves and tombs as well as making offerings of foods and incense are given.

Greek myths say the goddess Persephone returns to the underworld at Autumn. When she leaves, wintertime starts to come in, when she returns in Spring, the warm days and growing season begins again.

The god Kelly chose to name the Sabbat after is related to the god Maponos who comes from Gaul and Britain. He is compared with Apollo, of course, since Romans compared other gods with their own. In Britain, he is the son of the Dagda, father of the gods. In Wales, he is the son of Modron, a matron goddess.

In modern Wicca, the god dies, a willing sacrifice into the earth. He will be reborn to the goddess come Springtime.

Christianization brought Michaelmas, which is still celebrated. It is the feast of the Saints Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael. Those who use the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram will recognize those names right away as being those of archangels!

Michaelmas at some churches specifically honors the archangel Michael, who is credited with defeating the devil.

It was also a time when harvest was over, and workers would need new jobs. Hiring went on and accounts were settled during this time.

Christianization bumped Lughnasadh sporting festivities to Mabon time instead.

All was kept alive by the Christian church. Timeframe was rearranged and patrons were changed, but once again, the Christians kept the Pagan ways alive and well.

The founder of modern Wicca, Gerald Gardner, gives a ritual in the Gardnerian Book of Shadows, which can be read for free on the Internet at sacred-texts.com. The altar is of course, decorated with seasonal offerings, and the Priest says, “ Farewell, O Sun, ever returning light. The hidden god, who ever yet remains. He departs to the land of youth, through the gates of death, to dwell enthroned, the judge of gods and men.“ More beautiful things are said, and a procession around the altar is lead. Dances and games are called for as well.

Personally, I always have a feast when I am hosting with a very short ritual and blessing of the foods. By then, the exhaustion of festival season has set in, and people will soon begin Samhain planning, which for a lot of us, is a very big deal. This “in between” harvest, as some call it, is more enjoyable for some of us if it is kept simple and low fuss.

Here is a simple, suggested working for you and your loved ones.

Simple Mabon by Saoirse

Invite everybody over for the Sabbat and tell them you will potluck it.

Have everybody bring with them a symbol of their own personal harvest. It can be things like garden plants, or evidence of accomplishments, or even a few extra dollars to donate to some cause. For many of us, the fruits of our labor are what we earn at jobs, and that is as good a harvest as any.

Have everybody also bring something to give as tribute for thanks. This is an easy opportunity to raise donations for some cause. It can be as simple as asking people to bring non perishable goods for a local food pantry, or as fancy as doing a raffle, or even arranging to do some volunteer work together.

My favorite harvest altars are not covered with ritual items, or decorations. They are loaded down with the fellowship gathering’s food. Have everybody put the fruits of their harvest on the table amongst the food, and the tribute on or around the table as well, if it is physical tribute gifts.

To cast circle, join hands circled around the table, and take a moment of silence for everybody to focus.

Then have everybody take turns, clockwise, starting at the East, saying a short prayer or blessing directed into the food, their harvest items, and the donations. The best part of this is that shy people who are not comfortable speaking in front of others can say their blessings silently while they direct the energy and well wishes into everything.

This ritual form, as opposed to traditional Priestess and Priest and attendees puts everybody in the same role. Symbolic of community, it reminds, we all bring something to the group. Each person blesses every other attendees harvest, the food everybody will eat, and also the tribute. Together.

When each person has done their blessing, let the fellowship begin. Eat, drink, and be merry!

Blessed Mabon. Blessed Be.