celebrations

The Bad Witch’s Guide

May, 2018

 

 

The Bad Witch’s Guide to Beltane

 

I love Beltane. The flowers are just blooming. The green is just covering the hedgerows. It also happens to be my wedding anniversary!

There are huge celebrations all over the place, though not nearby it’s just that this year I am craving something quieter. Something a bit more romantic and I can’t quite put my finger on it. One of the best things we ever did was to do the Hastings East hill drumming and dancing in the dawn. On a hill in the ruins of a castle overlooking the sea we watched the light, a sliver of silver light creep, and turn red, then gold.

I’ve never done anything like that before or since. We were all done and dusted by 5.30 a.m. It was magickal. There were Morris dancers dressed in white. Pagan folks in regalia. Folks walking their dogs and people to watching the people.

After some food and a really good nap it was time for the huge parade. More Morris dancers and figures dressed as green men and women and Horned Gods drummed and danced through the streets. Dabbing people with green sponges. It really felt timeless. It felt like the whole town was magickally awake. The whole county!

A lot of pagans I know do camps from about this time of year. Where I had been busy, camping is not an option for me right now. Yet the pull of the wild still draws me. There is something utterly pagan about my island this time of year. Just under the skin of it.

Formal Beltane rituals can seem a bit hetro-centric but at its core Beltane is about the warmth of attraction. About reception and giving of energy. It is, at its core a ritual about balancing energy and understanding; within and in the world around us. It is the internal anima and animus finding momentum to create. It is about harnessing rather than repressing our wildness and turning it into something alive, be it art or science or poetry or an offspring. It is about the power of being alive and being grateful. Grateful for another year, another sunrise, a new day. It is a celebration of life.

It is not about what is in your pants, or whom you want to have sex with (if you want to have sex). That is a very limited view of self, sex, gender and identity. It is about the ritual. The receiving of energy, the channelling of energy, the using of energy to create something new. Ritual is a dream language, a psychological and social tool for healing and re-balancing a group and the self. When we exclude ourselves from the group or ritual we lose out on much of its power and deeper understandings.

As with all things this is a celebration of life has a touch of death with it too. Within Beltane’s warmth is the chill tingle of Samhain’s death. Acknowledging life means accepting death too. This roots you into and puts you out of time. You can see and feel the echo of your actions. Of course the bonfire was made of bone as well as wood. The death in the life as well as the life in the death.

For the May-pole and ribbons are only half of Beltane. The other part is about cleansing, warding off disease and illness through the power of death and fire. Cattle were driven through the ashes of bonfires, or between two large fires to do just that. People would dance around the fires and even jump over them. It was about dousing the hearth fires and re-lighting them from a group, a community fire. It was about re-igniting the heart within the home and community. Within the home. Within the self. It is to be in the dark, to be outside the usual bounds of social norms and to return changed for the better.

I recommend, if you are lucky and privileged enough to have folks nearby, to have get some folks together dance naked around a bonfire with at dawn. If that is not your bag, go and find a high spot. Climb a hill or go to a bridge or ancient ruined castle in the dark. Stand and wait in the darkness facing the east. Drum if you can. Or just be in the silence. Light a candle, or a fire if you can too. Watch the sunrise. Dance if you can. Or just stretch. Be at the mercy of the weather. No-one is outside the circle of life and death. After all it is the impulses and desire and joys that make us fully human.

 

The Kitchen Witch

March, 2018

Corned Beef and Cabbage

This is not going to be an essay of whether to celebrate St. Patty’s Day or not. I know that many Pagans do not celebrate St. Patty’s day with the righteousness of Jehovah Witnesses not celebrating Christmases and almost every other holiday. I am not one of those people. When I was growing up Catholic in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Saint Patrick’s Day was a secular holiday that was celebrated in my public school – it didn’t have anything to do with the Catholic Church at all – nor did Valentine’s Day, for that matter – another thoroughly secular holiday, only celebrated in my public school.

I am the type of person who believes in celebrating everything. Living in Buffalo, New York, this is really the way it is here – everyone celebrates everything, regardless of religion or cultural background – we are a partying people. Google it – Buffalo rivals much larger cities New York, Boston and Chicago in its St. Patty’s day celebrations. We have two parades on two separate days in two separate neighborhoods and they are both well attended. It’s not all Christians out there wearing the green. Everyone’s Irish – no matter if their last name is Mueller or Paderewski or Brucato or Khun.

I long ago stopped partying as hearty as I could – it just doesn’t work for me anymore. But I still like to eat the traditional foods as much as I can. And whether you are cooking for St. Patty’s Day on the weekend of March 17, 2018 or you are having a group of people over for an Ostara ritual, a plate of corned beef and cabbage is always a springtime delight.

According to my Joy of Cooking, corned beef got its name in Anglo-Saxon England when beef was preserved with salt the size of a kernel of wheat – called “corn” – not the yellow corn that Americans know, that would be “maize” – and unknown to Europe at that that time, anyway. Note the similarity of the words “corn” and “kernel”. “Corning” was a type of preservation so that meat could be kept for months. Salting meats and fish was ancient – every culture has ways of doing this to preserve food through the lean months. The way it was done in the middle ages meant that the meat was much saltier than we would recognize it nowadays – probably much saltier than we would find palatable! Modern refrigeration and brining methods has changed this and the corned beefs and pastramis that we eat today are much less salt and much more flavor than their medieval ancestors.

Usually corned beef is on sale this time of year. Look for either a good-sized brisket or round – I like a brisket because it’s more traditional but a round generally has less fat and will cook down less dramatically. You can get them from a butcher but generally they are prepacked in heavy plastic, with the brine and a small pack of seasonings included.

You can cook it in a slow-cooker – it takes about six to eight hours. I looked up how to do it in the Insta-Pot pressure cooker – it would take 90 minutes for the meat and another 10 or so minutes for the potatoes, carrots and cabbage. But I opted to do it the old-fashioned way – on the stove-top, in a large pot. The package also has instructions on how to cook it.

You need:

a corned beef, between 3-5 pounds.

Enough cold water to cover the meat.

Contents of the seasoning packet.

4 to 6 small white or red potatoes, or larger ones, cut into quarters.

Several small white onions or a larger one, cut into wedges.

3 to 5 carrots, cut into pieces.

Half a cabbage, cut into wedges.

Take the corned beef out of the packing and rinse it off. Set it in the pot and cover with cold water. Add the seasoning packet. Put on the stove and bring to a boil.

You don’t have to do this, but I do: I add a stalk of celery, a carrot and a piece of onion to the water. Just for added flavor and general food magic.

When the water comes to a boil, turn it down to a simmer. You’ll notice that there’s “scum” on the top of the water, so take a spoon and skim it off and discard it.

Now – some recipes say to cover the meat and let it simmer for several hours – some say to leave it uncovered. I personally always cover my corn beef as it cooks. Once in a while, I take the cover off and poke it with a fork and turn it over. But generally, I leave it alone and go about other business.

After two or so hours, you will notice that the meat has shrunk quite a bit! The aroma of the corned beef spiced should be drifting through your kitchen and making you hungry for dinner. This is when you should remove the celery and carrot and onion that was added when you first started – if you did add them. If not, just add the potatoes, carrots and onion wedges.

Cover the pot again and after about a half-hour to forty-five minutes, add the cabbage wedges. These only take fifteen minutes to cook! Dinner is almost ready! Set the table!

My son was over the day I cooked this and I almost forgot to take a picture of a fixed plate of the finished meal! We were having such a good time together, as we always do. But here is it:

Naturally, that’s my small plate and not the large one I prepared for my son. I should have taken a picture of that plate but he had it almost finished before I had mine even served up!

Anyway, this is a meal that always satisfies. I usually take the leftovers and make corned-beef hash – just chop everything up and fry it all together with a little butter. But that’s if there is any leftovers! Usually the meat gets all eaten up and there’s just a few potatoes and carrots left and a wedge of cabbage. There’s never any complaints when I cook up this meal.

So try this one out. It’s wicked easy – it practically cooks itself! If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is! Brightest blessings this Ostara season!

References

Rombauer, Irma S. and Marion Rombauer Becker. Joy of Cooking. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1975.

For Amazon Information Click Image

 

Dex and Ken. “How Do You ‘Corn’ Beef?” https://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2153/how-do-you-corn-beef/

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About the Author:

Polly MacDavid lives in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change, since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has three cats who all help her with her magic.

Her philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan and she is solitary.

She blogs at silverapplequeen.wordpress.com. She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a novel about sex, drugs and recovery.

Celebrating the Old Ways in New Time

July, 2015

Lughnassadh 2015 

The warm season is going by fast, isn’t it? Can you believe Lughnasadh, the beginning of harvest is nearly upon us?

This year’s harvest will not be so great for some of us.

El Nino began messing things up for some of us in March. Drought in California, flooding in Texas and Oklahoma, and the first four months of this year were the highest on record, according to NASA.

Some would say this is global warming and that we should recycle and ride our bicycles more.

Regardless of what is causing this, harvests will be drastically affected. Even in my own garden in Ohio, I lost almost all my sunflowers, all my sun loving wildflower seedlings, nearly every nasturtium, and I also lost my temper! We had heat come on suddenly, and it withered every last sprout that in years prior would have done marvelously well. I have never done pest control on my plants either, but with the dryness and heat, thirsty bugs are munching on my cool, green leaves for subsistence. Hello spray on pesticide!

First world problems!” you might joke. Wilted flower seedlings and pests on my flowers will not kill me.

But were it not for modernization, a weather event like this one might just wipe out food and destroy everything.

This is what I have been meditating on while I have been scrambling to try and save plants that I could not.

There is something you might not have figured out about me. I am a bit of a control freak. Having a rose to prune is the ideal activity for me. I tend my plants daily. I bless the water I use the first time I water them. I talk to the plants. I fertilize. I soak seeds prior to planting. I research all winter long. I buy seeds before the season and plan what goes where. I discuss things with neighbors. I am in a gardening group with friends. If I find cat doots and dog doots in garden patches, I respond by spreading cayenne pepper and bamboo skewers around plants.

I am pretty obsessive about gardening! I never had an unsuccessful growing season. Being unable to save the seedlings from the overnight heat snap was unbearable for me. I am an action based individual. I experience existence by doing. When I am helpless and can do nothing to create the change I want, it really bothers me.

I am more than certain that weather events like this have happened in my lifetime before. I was just unaware before because I was not connected to the earth. Any gardener experiences what the earth experiences.

Because we have our grocery stores, we simply do not get the sense of reliance on the earth the people who grow all their own foods do. We ARE reliant on the earth. It’s just that because of our culture, we don’t all know it.

I told my husband that generations ago, the weather this year would wipe a lot of people out. He kind of ignored what I said , but he IS worried about his elm tree. He planted it a few summers ago and said there are no new leaves developing right now due to heat he calls drought. But the thing grew so much! It has to be 30 feet tall at this point, and it was only about five feet tall when we got it!

As far as it being a drought, I do not know that Ohio has a drought at this point, especially since we are now having some rains and flooding that is wiping out some of the gardens the heat did not. But, it is hotter out than it was a couple of weeks ago, and we had no rain for as many days last month as my husband thinks we should have. So he insists Ohio is in a drought. I don’t know about that, but my dead seedlings agree with my husband.

One of my favorite depictions of drought was the Mesopotamian demon, Pazuzu. He is the son of a god, and is specifically in charge of the southwestern wind which brings locusts during storms and famines during drought. Ironically, this guy who brings things that have the capacity to starve everybody to death was also called upon to protect against other things deemed threatening. Most especially a goddess named Lamashtu, who could harm a mother in childbirth.

Maybe I was a Catholic for too long, but I don’t understand how one demons presence with their respective life threatening bad things is any better than other things with their respective life threatening bad things, but I guess I don’t have to.

When I looked at my garden this week, I kind of felt like Pazuzu, or something similar had been at work! Rationally, I know better, it’s El Ninos effect, and other places have it a lot worse, but the little kid in me that pitches a tantrum every time I am out of chocolate wants something to blame!!!!!!!

I had planned a specific garden harvest in my head and started damn hard work for it clear back at Imbolc. Now it is mid June ( and this article will go in mid July) and some of those plans are wrecked and it is too late to start again. I have to plan for next year and start next February.

This is actually a perfect analogy to what happens in our lives if you think about it.

I have no clue who said “Life happens when we are making plans” but it is one of the wisest things I have ever heard. I remind myself of it all the time. Control Freaks like me plan carefully and try very hard to be in the driver’s seat of our own lives. Just like in the garden. Some of us want to control everything. We are the pruners and the ones who thin out the weakest seedlings. We choose which seeds we plant. Carefully.

I admit, I eyed the wildflower mixes greedily for years, refusing to buy them because I was worried I might not like what grew unless I handpicked the plants. This year, I found some for eleven cents a bag. I nabbed ten bags of them and threw them into the ground in a space nobody ever used for planting and none of us expected anything out of it. Imagine my surprise when those cheap seeds thrived in the weather my husband called a drought and the seeds I carefully chose outright died on me!

I took equal care of both, but I expected more from the seeds I chose than the seeds that were random. So when those survived, it was a special joy. Isn’t it funny that what we harvest in life is just the same as what I am harvesting in my garden this year sometimes?

What does it mean to harvest?

For many of us in modern cities, we are not going to harvest a farm or an orchard, or even herbs or a flower garden. But we harvest spiritual things.

We work hard all the days of our lives for something or another. Babies work hard to crawl and eventually walk…and their parents work hard to keep up with them! Kids work hard at school, even if it is to get out of school to reap the benefits of having the summer off! Teens work hard at those summer jobs to earn spending money so they can enjoy good times with their friends. Adults work hard to make a living and live a comfortable life. Everybody is always busy working on something.

We also work on things beyond our mundane survival. We have our personal goals. Maybe there is someplace we want to go or something we would like to experience and everything we put towards that plants and cultivates the seeds that go towards that harvest.

Like my garden this year, life develops its own way regardless of our efforts. I always say our results are partly our efforts and partly what is meant to be. While we have to be proactive in our own lives and move things forward in our own progress, we have to also understand that the universe has its own plans for us sometimes. It is at those times we are called to graciously accept the harvest we are blessed with even if it was not everything we had planned for and expected.

The Lughnasadh working I will include here will focus on opening ourselves to just that. The harvest we are meant to have, not necessarily the one we THINK we are going to get. But first, let’s discuss historic Lughnasadh.

What is Lughnasadh?

Back in pre Christian days, the folk had harvest celebrations and games and traveled to healing wells. Like all of the Sabbats, historically, many different people did many different things at different time periods and different locations. The specific thing I want to discuss is what we believe are the true origins of Lughnasadh, and the beautiful tribute the god Lugh paid to his foster mother for clearing the land so the folk could plant.

It all started in Ireland.

Tailtiu was the foster mother of the god Lugh, and she died of exhaustion, after clearing space for planting crops. Lugh established what is known as an Aonach, or an honorary mourning festival in her name. It is now named Lughnassadh, after him. The festival entails not only funerary processions, but also, athletic competitions, lawmaking and handfastings, first fruit and animal sacrifice, merchants, and pilgrimages to holy wells.

On a sidenote- this all reminds me of the Highland Games they have these days with music and athletic competitions, food, and vendors. If you have never attended a Highland Games, which I realize is not specifically Irish…but still is very very fun and very Celtic, look online at The Association of Scottish Games and Festivals online at www.asgf.org. You can also do an internet search for your individual state, like typing in “Ohio Scottish Games”, for example. The Ohio Scottish Games will be June 27, in Lorraine , Ohio. Before this article is published! There is always next year. But remember the Dublin Irish Festival will be in Dublin, Ohio right smack dab in Lughnasadh time. July 31, August 1 and 2, and the Druids in Columbus , Ohio will do public ritual Sunday morning yet again. Information to attend this can be found at www.dublinirishfestival.org. I hope to see you there!

Back to the origins of this wonderful Sabbat!

Lugh established the festivities at County Meath. It was called the Tailteann Games and a complex of earthworks dating back to the Iron Age has been found there. Lugh buried his foster mother in a mound onsite, and the games were at the end of July or the beginning of August. Games were held there until the Norman Invasion and some events in Medieval times took place. A closer look at all the wonderful things that took place!

Funerary processions, lawmaking, and handfastings

The whole reason Lughnasadh started in the first place was to honor the dead! The specific kind of mourning festival this was is called an Aonach. Tailtiu was not the only one honored with these. This was a specific kind of funeral.

First, the funeral took place, which included chanting and a funeral pyre, which is interesting because it is said Lugh BURIED Tailtiu in a mound as opposed to cremating her. Many, however, did the cremations, and had other bonfires aside from the funeral pyres.

As for lawmaking, tribal people passed clan authority on when somebody died. It makes perfect sense to get the transfer of power and establishment of authority out of the way before brawling can begin. What better place than at the funeral where everybody is already gathered?

One way to make a political alliance was through marriage. Couples could be temporarily joined for as long as a year and a day to see if their union worked out. If it did not, they would part with no consequences. Rather than a cord to ritually bind as is oft used in modern handfastings, they grasped hands through a hole in a door. The couple could break up or make the bond permanent at any time during that year and a day.

One thing Neo Pagans will not like about these ancient handfastings is that sometimes, they were arranged. I cannot imagine any of you reading this would consent to such a pairing. Some of the couples were introduced to one another for the first time this way and may have seen one another only after joining hands through the door hole. Depending on who their parents were, they may not have been allowed to break off their bond. It was acceptable in tribal societies to carefully arrange marriages for political alliances. Contrary to popular belief, this had roots in Paganism, not Christianity.

One thing to keep in mind is Lughnasadh has been celebrated for generations, and many many people were handfasted for many different reasons there. Each couple had their own story and while it was not always for political gain, it was likewise not always like moving in with each other in modern times. This would be a fascinating research topic in and of itself, for sure!

Athletics

Interestingly enough, attempts to revive the Lughnasadh athletics in the 1920’s and 1930’s occurred, and part of the games included climbing, which persists to this day. It is unsurprising that some of the climbing today is now done in the name of Christian pilgrimages. Reek Sunday pilgrimage is held the last Sunday in July every year in Ireland. Barefooted climbers climb Croagh Patrick in honor of the Saint it was named for, and it is said this climb has been observed for 1,500 years. Up to 30,000 people do this climb annually. It only takes about an hour and a half to do the climb if the weather is decent, that is. It is also said site was used for Pagan pilgrimages since 3,000 BCE at Summer Solstice. This is yet another reason we can thank the Christians of Ireland for helping to keep Pagan practice alive and well.

All the athletic events you can imagine have been held Lughnasadh. Running, feats of strength, horseracing, fights, swimming, swordfighting, jumping, throwing various objects. It has been referred to as an Olympic gathering of sorts. In the 1920’s, motorized vehicle races were thrown in! Shooting was included as well as boating competitions and even chess matches! People from other parts of the British Isles and the Americas were welcomed to participate in the 20th century games as well!

Bull sacrifice and Harvest sacrifice

I apologize in advance for what I am about to write. I am sure all my articles say this exact same thing about this… BUT…

Animal sacrifice was done to prepare fresh meat to be eaten out of necessity. These were the days before refrigeration and meat went bad faster. Blood was given to the gods, and people ate the meat. The people feasted with the gods in a sacred meal. A lot of people today look back on this practice as barbaric as they open up their store bought steak and slap it on the barbeque grill. This always amuses me.

Bulls were sacred as they were seen as great wealth to the people of Ireland. You gave the best tribute you had to the gods in thankfulness and rejoicing.

The first corn and the first bilberries were offered to the gods as well. These foods were part of the feast as well. Bilberries are closely related to blueberries and huckleberries. This makes it convenient for those of us in the USA who want similar foods for Lughnassadh as are traditional in Ireland. We can have corn on the cob with steak and blueberry pie! These first fruits of the earth go directly to the gods in thanks, and the people partake of the feats as well.

Merchants

What festival would be complete without good things to eat or buy to take home? Human beings have always looked forward to festivals for this. In times past, if money was not used, things could be traded. Back before industrialization, there was still specialization. A good time to trade for what you needed or liked would be at festivals. Remember that people traveled by wagons, horseback, and by foot, not by jumping in the car and speeding off to a store conveniently nearby. Whatever they could not make, they might not be able to get for many months, and these festivals provided valuable commercial opportunities sometimes.

    • Crafts

  • persons and metalworkers would offer their wares as well as weavers, and you know very well that aside from the main ritual foods, there were people serving up delectable yummies! Baked goods would be sold and traded, and farmers would offer their fruits and veggies to hungry customers. Just like we do today!

    Puck Fair is said to be a survival of the early Lughnasadh fairs. A climb up a mountain to catch a “king goat” keeps with the tradition of climbing, and while there is a horse fair, the importance of cattle is not lost to the Irish, as a cattle fair is held. The fair can only be inconclusively traced back to the 1600’s, but many say it does go back to the original Lughnasadh fairs.

    Holy Wells and Healing

    The Irish have always visited holy wells for healing. The very wells the Pagans visited are now venerated by Christians. Holy healing is holy healing, period. Visits to wells to cast in coins and tie strips of cloth or rags to trees and ask for healing are made. This is practiced in Scotland as well. The cloth is called a cloot or clootie in Scottish. A hawthorn tree in county Meath, the same county where the original Lughnasadh was held, is on the site of megalithic monuments, and is used to tie clooties to. These ancient sacred places are still used by the descendants of the people of these early gods. The deities might have changed for many of the celebrants, but the meaning behind the practices has not.

    Reaping your own Harvest

    Maybe you will go to a public event with friends or host a Sabbat yourself for Lughnasadh. I humbly suggest a working to open yourself to acceptance of the things you are given , as opposed to just what you were expecting. And I include a pilgrimage in it. It seems as if the original gathering was a bit of a trip for many attendees. A lot of planning and travel went into it and to this day, some of the remaining festivities include tens of thousands of people. This first harvest is just the beginning harvest in the wheel of the year for us, and to prepare for each blessing you will harvest, here is my suggested working.

    Lughnasadh 2015 First Harvest Celebration

    Singly or with your group, go on a pilgrimage. This may be a walk at a local park, or even a trip out of town to get a fresh perspective.

    Before you embark on your journey, you will need to give sacrifice. You will be giving away an offering of the fruits of your labor for your gods and guides. But this will not simply be something sat on an altar to be discarded or burned at a later time. This will be something given away to somebody else in a way that pleases your gods.

    For gardeners, that is easy. Whatever is growing in the garden, give some of it to somebody who will enjoy it. For you, if you grew nothing, it might be something you bought as an offering that symbolizes your efforts. If you cook, then create something delicious to give to somebody to eat. If you are a musician, perform a song for somebody. If you are an artist, donate a piece of art to a library or homeless shelter or to a friend who likes your art but cannot afford a piece. It could even be a cash donation to a charity in the name of an ancestor you would like to honor. Surprise a stranger and pay for their lunch. Be extra nice to a grumpy, difficult customer. (Yes, that is a HUGE sacrifice, and it counts.) If you genuinely cannot think of what to give at this time, offer a future good deed! The gods will guide you, I promise.

    Then, before the journey is about to begin, say this short prayer, “ Mother, Father, first harvest is at hand. Look upon all I have done this growing season and all the things I have worked for. I accept that I am limited by my own perceptions and cannot fully understand which blessings are mine and which are not mine to want as they unfold. I diligently continue to be proactive in my own growth and industrious in fulfilling my responsibilities. In gratitude, I accept all that is mine, and relinquish my grip on that which I cannot control. Accept my gift of my labors in thanks and enlighten me to that which you want me to know on my journey.”

    Then, begin your pilgrimage. It can be a daytrip or something as simple as a walk on a nature trail.

    Keep in mind that enlightenment and guidance comes when your gods and guides will it. It might happen the minute you open yourself, even before you utter the prayer. It may happen ten years after the pilgrimage. But it will happen. May you have a Blessed Lughnasadh.

    Blessed Be.