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The Magic of Chocolate

August 1st, 2017

That chocolate is a magical drug is something that every woman knows. It can nurse you through any kind of heartbreak, it can make you fall in love (provided someone buys you enough of it) and it helps you cope with the everyday stress of a million things. No wonder then that chocolate gifts are something that work for any occasion. But is it just a delicious treat that makes you feel good or is there some serious magic at work here?

 

 

The ancient Mayans who are credited with first discovering and cultivating cacao beans, the source of chocolate certainly thought so. Archaeological evidence shows that chocolate in liquid form was used in a number of different ceremonies. It was important for baptisms and marriage ceremonies. It was served as an offering to the Gods and also to the deceased. At certain times in history its use was restricted only to those who ranked high in their societies – priests, officials and royalty. The Aztec’s regarded chocolate as an aphrodisiac and their Emperor, Montezuma reputedly drank it fifty times a day.

 

What is interesting is that research in medicine is now backing up the theory that chocolate actually makes you feel good. When you bite into a bar of your favourite chocolate there is a cocktail of compounds that affects your brain. Here are a few of them and their effects:

 

  • Tryptophan and serotonin: They create feelings of relaxation and well-being.
  • Caffeine: This psychoactive substance creates temporary alertness.
  • Xanthines: This mild stimulant occurs naturally in the brain and, like caffeine, increases wakefulness.
  • Theobromine: This stimulant and vasodilator increases blood flow.
  • Phenylethylamine: This compound stimulates the brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and motivation.
  • Anandamide: This neurotransmitter activates pleasure receptors in the brain.
  • Flavonols: These compounds boost blood flow to key areas of the brain for two to three hours after being metabolized, creating effects similar to those of a mild analgesic (painkiller) like aspirin.

 

But despite all the research there is something spiritual in the way we connect with chocolate which simply cannot be explained by a chemical reaction. Which is something that would explain the increasing popularity of the Cacao Ritual or The Cacao ceremony.

 

The Cacao ceremony which uses raw, unsweetened, unadulterated, form of the cacao beans is an intense chocolate experience which has the potential to open your heart and assist in deep emotional release. Participants in a ceremony partake of a specially concocted cacao elixir which uses spices and other ingredients. At a typical ceremony they are then guided into a meditative state and the facilitators may use various drum/rattle techniques to deepen the journey. Healing spirit songs and mantras are also used to guide the energy of the ceremony.

 

If you are interested in exploring this further you can search online for the next cacao ceremony happening near you. For those who want to experience the chocolate high right now you can go out and grab some delicious chocolate. Or better still share the magic and the love by gifting someone some chocolate!
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About the Author

Saurabh Mittal, Founder ChocoCraft, is an entrepreneur by trade and an adventurer by heart. He is fascinated by all things chocolate and loves sharing interesting ideas and information on the subject. When not making chocolate gifts he loves to hike in the mountains.

ChocoCraft is a firm that specialized in made to order chocolate gifts for all occasions – Weddings, Corporate Gifts, Birth Announcements, Birthdays and Anniversaries. They create beautiful printed chocolates with photos, text or any design printed on them with edible ink.

 

Witches Soul Work: The Witch as a Shaman

shaman

 

Shamanism is a world-wide practice in which the spiritual interrelationship of the earth with the Otherworlds forms an interwoven fabric of physical and psychic being, affecting all forms of life, both seen and unseen. Shamans are walkers between the worlds and interpreters of the spirit realms. They explore these unseen realms by means of the spirit journey (which occurs in shamanic trance) to interact with the beings they encounter there and to retrieve knowledge, healing and advice, which may benefit the people.

Shamanism exists among peoples who have an animistic worldview; in many cultures it functions as spirituality, although it often exists separately from formal religion as a healing, divinatory and spiritual practice. Shamanism is identifiable the world over by its practices, chief of which are the spirit-journeys to gain information, healing, divinatory and prophetic insight, and to enter into ancestral discourse.” (from The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom by Caitlin and John Matthews)

As you can see from this lovely definition, Witches are Shamans. Our practice involves our spiritual relationship with the world and other life forms both seen and unseen. Magic and healing works because of our interrelationship and our connection with allies, both plant and animal (familiars), ancestors (honoured at Samhain), trance work done in ritual and healing and many forms of divination such as tarot, runes, pendulums etc. The Witches were the Shamans of the British Isles and we are back!

Here are some ideas to get you started on incorporating traditional Shamanism in your practice. Please remember that we are reclaiming our own heritage, not stealing someone else’s. We are not First Nations people and we cannot steal their rituals and plonk them down into our Witches Circle. The first rule of the Witch and Shaman: Be impeccable!

The First Journey: Dedication

You will need a small pouch and a small blank book. Purify and consecrate the pouch and the book with a special prayer or poem that you have created yourself. These are your first words of power. Do not share these words with anyone. Keeping them secret will increase their power. You can use these words for blessing objects and people from now on, whispering them as you rattle, drum, or hum over the person or object to be blessed.

In a solitary ritual travel to meet the God and Goddess you work with. Tell Them your intention to seriously take up the Way of the Shaman in the context of the Craft. Tell them why you wish to do this. Ask Them for Their blessings. Perhaps they will give you a gift that you can use on your path. When you return from your journey find something that represents this gift and put it as the first object in your new Witch’s pouch.

The Second Journey: Meeting a Teacher

This important journey is to meet your new teacher. A Shamanic Teacher is waiting to teach you things you could not imagine possible. In a journey visualize your Place of Power; make sure you feel comfortable and safe there. Invite your familiar and any other guides that you work with. Tell them that you are looking for a truly wise and impeccable Shamanic Teacher in spirit and that you wish to apprentice to him or her. Ask them to take you on a journey to meet this Witch Shaman. There are Witches in Spirit, called “The Mighty Dead” who are watching over us and are willing to help you. (See :The Mighty Dead by Christopher Penczak)

When you meet someone who comes forward to be your teacher you must ask him or her three times and three times get a very clear “yes” from him. You must also have permission from your guides to start your apprenticeship with this Witch Shaman. Ask him if he expects any sort of payment from you for the training. If he says “yes” be sure it is something that causes no harm to you or your honour or anyone else. Make sure it is something you are willing to do or give. Get permission from your guides. For example: If he asks you to do one healing a month for a stranger, you must agree to this term before you start. It’s up to you!

After you have accepted his terms and he has accepted you, ask him for a token to put in your Witch’s pouch that symbolizes your apprenticeship. (As above, find something in the ordinary reality that symbolizes this gift and keep it in your pouch.) Now ask your new Shamanic Teacher to tell you what your next step is. What do you need to do or learn?

When you return from this journey it is very important to write down everything immediately. You have been in trance, an altered state of consciousness, and if you don’t write down your experiences, thoughts and feelings right away some of the knowledge you have gained will be lost. If you don’t know how to do Shamanic Journeying, also called by Witches “flying” please check out this link: http://www.corpshaman.com/exercises.asp

This is the beginning of an interesting journey that can deepen your soul work. For more support and to take courses you can also connect with The Foundation for Shamanic Studies in the area where you live. https://www.shamanism.org/

 

The Enchantment of Candles

 

candle1

 

With a hushed prayer, I light the sacred candle of Hekate. The flame leaps to life, casting ghostly shadows upon the temple walls. In silence, I meditate upon the day, reflecting on the blessings that I have witnessed and contemplating the challenges I faced. I thank the Queen of Shadows for the light She has provided, awakening to the illumination of lessons learned. I softy blow out the candle—hallowed gratitude upon my breath…

Simple yet effective, candle magic is a central focus of enchantment in my home. The creating of candle centered spells is both relaxing and invigorating. The choosing of the color, shape and scent of the candle is magic in the making. I can spend hours in a candle shop, relishing over all the vibrant color combinations and exotic aromas. The rubbing on of oils and rolling in enchanted herbs sends my senses into a whirlwind adventure into worlds of alluring charm.

candle2

 

One of my favorite forms of candle magic is the creation of artistic offerings. The picture above is a hallowed offering to the Nature Spirits and Faery. The fashioning of this work of art is a scared act and the magic emanating from it can be felt every time I light the candle. I have many of these around my home filled with all kinds of found objects from nature. They are like mini altars and can easily be disguised as a center peace on the kitchen table or coffee table.

candle3

 

For fast and easy candle magic, tea lights are the way to go. By adding a drop oil and a pinch of herbs appropriate for the spell, this simple charm is for those of us with busy lives. You can even carve some runes onto the top of the tea light with a toothpick or right out a charm of paper and place beneath the candle. If the scent of the burning herbs are overwhelming, sprinkle less herbs on the candle or simply sprinkle them around the candle. Make sure to burn this candle on a heatproof dish, the herbs and oil can catch fire.

 

candle4

 

I found this lovely candle of Hekate on etsy. When you burn a tea light behind it, the wax figure glows. It was scented in oil and I occasionally anoint the wax with more. This is a beautiful way to show devotion to the Goddess of the Flame and each time I light the candle I ask Hekate to bless my home with happiness, health, and harmony.

While there are many forms of candle magic, these are my favorites and ones that I use on a daily basis. Be creative with this bewitching art form, the beauty that comes from the making of candle spells will bring enchantment into your home and life.

*There are many lists of the appropriate candle colors to use in magic as well as herbs and oils. I like to use my intuition on the making of many of my charms and spells. What one color says on a list may be different from how that particular color makes you feel.

Spoon-fed Witchcraft

I have always been interested in witchcraft, spirituality and related stuff. Since my teens I read lots of books, magazines and later on websites. When I wanted to actively start experiencing it, it was quite a struggle. It was hard to find good info and even, how could I know which info was good? There weren’t many books available in my local library about these kinds of subjects. One of the first books I read was ‘Book of Shadows’ by Phyllis Curott. It was a personal account of how the author discovered her path, but could also be used to try out things for yourself. Both sides of the book appealed to me very much. I started to experiment with exercises and experiments she described. And I started to look for people that did the same. That wasn’t easy at all! I knew they had to be there, but I couldn’t really find anyone… Around that time I got internet access and the first word I put into a search engine was ‘heks’ (Dutch for ‘witch’). The second was ‘witch’. Wow… a whole new perspective opened for me! Step by step I got a bit further with my search for information and kindred spirits. It took quite some time and energy, but it was very much worth it. The way towards my goals was equally important as the goal itself. I learned to find my way all by myself by experimenting, making mistakes, improvising, even by bluffing. Trial and error. When I was really stuck I met people that could help me to take the next step. The universe provides! I travelled quite a lot to pub moots, workshops and meetings to find the right people. Yes, I found info and people, but the search keeps on going. The search and the goal are both rewarding. I wouldn’t want to have done it any other way!

Nowadays I come across a lot of seekers on the pagan path that want all the answers straight away and they want it NOW. I try to tell them the above story and give them some pointers to take the next step, as others did for me. But that’s not always appreciated… Unfortunately a lot of people don’t want to invest time and energy to find their own way. So many people already walked the path, so why invent the wheel again? Just tell them the outcome, clearly define the shortest way. I call it ‘spoon-fed witchcraft’ as they want to be handed instant information a.s.a.p.! It is such a pity, they don’t know what they are missing out on. Of course there are teachers that jump in this demand and offer fitting courses. You get all the answers and how-to-do’s ready-made, no need to think for yourself. Follow this course online, pay this amount and become an instant witch! Yes, I’m exaggerating a bit, but not as much as you’d think unfortunately. But hey, everyone does this in their own way, so maybe I’m just old-fashioned or a nagger.

The explanation could be that everything has to be quick and instant nowadays. Everyone is always in a hurry and doesn’t have time for things that take… time. Perhaps the internet is to blame, or the social media? I don’t know and you know what, I don’t really mind. I’m not that interested in blaming anyone but ourselves. Yes, myself too, I’m not holier-than-thou. It’s so much easier to get something ready-made, it can be a bit addictive even! Still, it’s no surprise that a completely different movement is gaining ground: mindfulness, taking things slowly, taking time to think and decide what is good for you…
I’m not against internet and social media, on the contrary. It has brought me a lot too! I’m quite addicted to it to a certain point to be honest. I just use the internet in different ways. Sometimes I want an immediate answer. ‘Damn, where do I know this actor from?’ -> take laptop, phone or tablet, check IMDB and ‘ha, that’s it!’. Sometimes I even need an immediate question in an urgent situation. Man, am I glad to have the internet at hand in those cases! Nevertheless, there’s a risk in using the internet, especially when we are not talking about facts. Because you read something on Facebook, it’s not automatically true! That might be obvious, but also not everything you read on any other website is always true. It’s very healthy and smart to always question things you read and the sources.
Back to witchcraft. All of the above is true there too. Know your sources and don’t believe everything you read. Think for yourself. Absolutely nothing wrong with using the internet, as I said it makes life a lot easier sometimes. When I need something for a ritual or for my altar, the possibilities are endless. This applies to materials, but also to information. When I have an idea for a ritual, I always search for information on how others do it, tips and tricks so to speak. I also ask others personally, look in books, my own notes and diaries, etc. I use all of those as a tool for research and inspiration, but I still write my own rituals. I look into the right time (moon phase for example) and place to do the ritual and shop or search specifically for things I need. Again, I put quite some time and energy into this because it’s worth it to me. Sure, sometimes I do an instant ritual and that’s not necessarily bad or worse, it doesn’t have to be. My point is that some witches want an instant spell, take one from the internet and blindly do exactly what is says. That can be a nice experiment, I did that too in the beginning. Still I always wanted to know the source the thoughts behind the ritual, why some materials or actions are chosen. I never blindly followed or believed something or someone. Okay, that made me a pain in the ass for some teachers, haha! I still needed to find the balance between listening to my elders and teachers of the craft on one side, and questioning things and thinking for myself on the other. That too went by trial and error… and I don’t regret much of it.
Is there a lesson in all of this? That depends on you. Read it as my personal rant (‘cause oh yes, it is!), that’s okay too. Still I invite you to think about it and see if you agree or not. Ponder a bit about it. Do not take my word for it, challenge me the way I challenged others… All I want to say is: take your time, do some research, ask questions, find answers instead of demanding them from others. It’s okay to make mistakes, or better yet: it’s necessary! Witchcraft is a path of experiencing: doing , making mistakes and learning from it. Don’t say: ‘but I don’t know how, I’m just a beginner, you tell me!’. Make an effort and think for yourself. Believe in yourself and your intuition. Go for it and don’t settle for anything less than you deserve. And yes, you can!

Blessings

cottage

Purification Rituals

Purification is important to do on a daily basis, for witches and Pagans alike. Witchcraft is really not different from Pagan religion in general; it is just a special discipline within that religion, like the ancient mysteries.

It is, first of all, a more efficient use of energy. Our energy tends to manifest in cycles, and during each cycle we will experience one or more peaks and troughs of available energy. We have different cycles for different types of energy, but their number is fixed by habit and they tend to operate unobserved by us; we just know when we are ‘up’ or ‘feeling down’. Witches observe their energy cycles by noting when they have trouble keeping to a regular schedule of exercise, or meditation, or ritual, or anything requiring self-discipline. They get to know the sequence of their peaks and troughs of available energy by becoming sensitive to the energy itself.

When our energy becomes old and stale it is called ‘miasma’ in witchcraft, especially when it is connected with a certain place or object. Miasmic energy is very unpleasant and fastens on us. In the effort to get free from it, we resort to mechanical patterns of behavior that expend a lot of nervous energy and so send us into a trough. At last, through some habitual means, we manage to ‘bottom out’ of our trough; by dumping most of our available energy, we get rid of the miasma as well.

The means employed to bottom out varies from person to person: we’ll have a temper tantrum, or take a drink or a drug, or overeat, or go to bed and sleep for hours, or engage in some self-destructive behavior, anything to rid ourselves of the deadly embrace of miasma. Once free again, we slowly recuperate, building up our energy towards the next peak. In this way we can imagine we are making progress for years and really just be turning in a circle.

Witches dare to escape from all habitual prisons, and they escape from this one by renewing their energy through daily rites of self-purification. It’s good to use a number of these so they do not become mechanical habits themselves. The witch purifies herself 1 with the four elements of earth, air, fire and water, and must do so in a state of focused attention, because aether or spirit, the fifth element, manifests as attention and the four elements must come into contact with the fifth if they are to serve spirit, as symbolized in the upright pentagram.

Self-purification is also the first step in preparation for spellwork. First the witch purifies her person, then her other tools. Once purified, a tool (whether wand or athame or the witch herself) can be consecrated and charged. These operations correspond to the three visible phases of the Moon, waxing, full and waning; and also to the eastern, southern and western quarters of the Circle. After a spell is released, it is put out of mind, and this corresponds to the fourth phase, the dark of the Moon, and to the northern quarter of silence.

Here, then, are a number of purification rituals that can be performed at different times of the day or night. It’s good when starting out to perform one in the morning, but as you become more sensitive to the quality of your energy you may choose to self-purify whenever you feel your energy getting old and stale.

(1) For earth and water, dissolve salt in water in a special bowl and anoint your forehead, lips, and heart, saying “With the power of the sea that washes the shores, I am purified.” 2

For air and fire, light incense or sage, wave the sacred smoke on the head and chest, then pass it around the body deosil three times, saying “May I be pure; may all my impurities be burned away, carried away on the incense smoke.” If you have difficulty passing the smudge around your body, a simple expedient would be to place it in a burner close by between you and a fan, then simply turn round three times widdershins (this will send the smoke deosil around your body). This is an example of the right use of technology.

(2) This is a traditional purification before prayer. Pour water from an offering bowl over your hands, holding the bowl first in your power hand and pouring it over your palm, then the back of your hand; then switch the bowl to the other hand and repeat. As you pour the water, say “May I be pure, fit to approach the Gods.” 3 Dry the hands with a clean ritual towel, used only for that purpose.

(3) After performing (2), you can don a headband and a ceremonial robe. The Greeks wore a ribbon headband while praying. 4 While tying the headband, say “I am encircled with the sacred, girded about, encompassed, that my actions here today might be within the sacred way.” While donning the robe, say “The sacred covers me, I am surrounded by the pure.” 5

(4) In the same way, praying while donning amulets or other sacred items helps to purify our energy. While donning an image of Cernunnos, you can say the following: “My lord Cernunnos, I offer you my worship. Watch over me today as I go about my affairs: keep me safe, keep me happy, keep me healthy.” 6

Donning a pentagram or pentacle (encircled pentagram), you could say something like the following: “The elements are joined with the power of spirit. May I be blessed by the four. May I be blessed by spirit. May I be blessed by the five.” 7

(5) The ritual bath. This has been described before, but it is not out of place here. Light a candle in the bathroom and turn off the electric light. Light some incense, not necessarily in the bathroom but somewhere close by so you can smell it burning. Begin filling the tub and cast salt into it three times with your power hand, holding it over your heart first. With the first cast, say “I purify by the Maiden.” With the second, say “I consecrate by the Mother to – ” and name the quality you wish to take into yourself, such as ‘balance’. With the third cast, say “I charge by the Crone.” You can also add a fourth cast for the dark phase, saying nothing. Take the bath by candlelight, staying quiet and aware. When you are finished, thank the elements and the Lady.

(6) Proto-Indo-European self-purification: This rite comes from unpublished material sent to the author by Ceisiwr Serith, with written permission to make use of it in ceremony. It is based on the earliest Indo-European sources available, as supplemented by information from archaeology and anthropology, and attempts to reconstruct religious ritual of the Indo-Europeans before that people separated in their migrations into Hindus, Iranians, Hittites, etc.

“Purification is an act of sacralization. It removes anything that does not belong to the object being purified, or to the purpose to which that object will be put. It thus separates the object from the world. It also simplifies the object. A purified bowl is just a bowl. Everything extraneous has been removed. It therefore perfectly expresses its part of the artos. 8 It comes close to godhood.

“Before any ritual each celebrant purifies himself by pouring a small amount of water into his hands. He allows this to run through his fingers to the ground (or a bowl if indoors). He pours more, and splashes this against his face. He pours again, and rinses his mouth. This is all done in silence, while thinking with each washing “Puros esyem 9 [May I be pure].”

“Each celebrant then robes himself.” 10

The Threshold

The sacred household in antiquity corresponded to the human body, and the household familiars corresponded to the internal spirits that accompanied each human soul through life. The house, therefore, was like a temple and contained elements reflecting both male and female bodies. As such, it served as an interface between the human body (the temple of the soul and internal spirits) and our local cosmos (that is, the solar system as seen from the Earth). The solar system is too large for the individual to contact directly, so the sacred household was used as an interface between the two, an instrument amplifying outgoing human energies and de-amplifying incoming cosmic energies from the Earth, Moon, Sun and planets. In this way the sacred household, like the solar system itself, acts like an electrical transformer; its physical features transform incoming and outgoing energies for the bodies of the residents, while the familiar spirits inhabiting those features do the same for the souls and internal spirits of the residents.

The threshold of a house corresponds to the body’s sense-organs and the organs of breath and speech. These are our main interfaces with the outer world as we go through the day, and the doors and windows of a house are magically connected to them. This is especially true of the front door, and Pagans always kept a little shrine there to the threshold guardian. For the Romans, this was the God Janus, who had two faces, one looking outward and the other inward. If you hang a God-face close to your front door, you can imagine His head imbedded in the outer wall, with His other face looking outward on the outside world. Janus is the God of endings and beginnings, and his festival was held on January 9th, in between the ending/beginning of the solar year (coinciding with the new moon or Kalends of January) and the ending/beginning of the sacral year (1st of March). From that vantage, he is looking at them both. He was also honored at the Kalends, celebrated at the new moon of each month, as well as at the beginning of every important new undertaking.

As Jews came to inherit the position of mercantile carriers held in earlier times by the Phoenicians, the empire adopted their seven-day weekly cycle. As we still follow this custom today, it seems appropriate to celebrate Janus at the beginning of each week as well as at the monthly calends. Another reason for honoring Janus on the day of the Sun is that the Sun is also a threshold guardian who looks down on us protectively but also looks outward, into the stellar world, keeping vigilant watch against the wild spirits of the outer spaces.

Every God has something to teach, and Janus teaches us to direct our attention outward and inward at the same time, so we can guard the thresholds of our own personal temple and its indwelling spirits. When we honor our threshold guardian on Sunday or at the beginning of a month, year, or new undertaking, we should ask for his help in learning how to develop the double-face so we can be effective household guardians of our own inner temple. Looking out and in at the same time means while we watch the outer world we monitor our inner reactions to it, and while we are immersed in our moods and thoughts we keep part of our attention on the outer world. If we do the former we will prevent spirits of negativity from entering, and if we do the latter it will serve to eject negative spirits who are already inside.

When entering or leaving our homes, we should touch the doorframe while thinking of the threshold guardian, as a way of acknowledging his presence and of asking him to keep everything safe. The ancient Hebrews followed this custom when they were Pagans, and later changed it into touching the mezuzah.

My own invocation to the threshold guardian goes like this:

“Honor and thanks to you, Janus,

For guarding the threshold of my home.

May only harmonious beings enter here,

And may the discordant depart !

Open this week [month, etc.] for me on blessings,

And teach me to look out and in as you do,

That I may guard the door to my inner home,

For I too am a threshold guardian.”

The Hearth

As I mentioned in Part 1, ‘sacra privata’ is the term used by the ancient Romans for their household religion; it means ‘the sacred private things’ (as in Greek, there is no word for

‘things’, so literally it means ‘the sacred privates’).

While the threshold is where the home interacts with the outer world, the hearth is the center of the home and corresponds to the human heart, which was regarded as the seat of

memory. It is therefore the place where the ancestors are contacted, the door down to theUnderworld or Summerland, and the dwelling-place of an important familiar called the Lar familiaris by the Romans.

In the Italian witchcraft tradition, the lar is the primal ancestor and is responsible for keeping the family together, on occasions when the dead visit the living as well as when loved ones are ready to reincarnate, returning to Earth in the family or clan line. The stregha therefore prayed to the lar to reunite them with loved ones in future lives so they could meet, know each other, and love again.

The easiest way to understand the concept of a primal ancestor is to think of him or her as

an Adam or Eve for your particular family. Pagan peoples like the Greeks did not believe that all of mankind was descended from a single human couple. The Athenians, for instance, believed their first ancestors to have sprung from the soil of Attica; thus, they had always dwelt where they lived. Many a Latin and Greek noble or royal family traced its descent from a hero and a nymph, themselves children of one or another God or Goddess. The primal ancestors had great influence over their descendants and long ago evolved into daimones (the rough Celtic equivalent would be the sidhe).

In ancient Roman religion, on the other hand, the genius of the pater familias (the father-

head of the household) became the lar familiaris after the latter’s death, or possibly he was absorbed into a composite of the genii of all preceding heads of the family. But whether we think of the lar familiaris as an original ancestor or comprising one or more genii of deceased forefathers, he watches over the vitality of the family line, which includes its virility, fertility and ‘heart’. Similarly, each man’s genius, assigned at birth, performs the same service for him, as does every woman’s Juno.

As the household seat of memory, the hearth was the place where families gathered on

special occasions to tell tales of the ancestors and the old days, meetings called ‘treguendas’ in the stregheria tradition. The sacred hearthfire itself was the hearth guardian, and was traditionally tended by the lady of the house, who officiated as her priestess. This fire Goddess guarded the seat of memory (for without remembrance there is no family and no home) and, as sacred fire, communicated the family’s prayers to the Earth deities. In the Baltic tradition her name was Gabija, which means ‘the covered one.’ The Celtic equivalent of Gabija would be Brigid, who was also the blacksmith’s fire and presided over crafts. In Rome she was known as Vesta, and in Greece, Hestia.

I honor the hearth guardian, along with my lar, on Friday, the day commonly used to worship the Earth Goddesses. When I have a stove but no fireplace, I place her shrine close to the stove and light a candle whenever I am cooking, with the words, “I cook with Brigid’s fire”. On Fridays I burn a candle and incense to her and offer salt, bread and pure water.

With fireplaces, a more complete cult of the sacred hearthfire can be performed, taken from the Baltic rites of Gabija:

While the fire is being built, all present maintain a respectful silence and face towards the hearth.

While the fire is going, a large bowl of water is set out by the fire so Gabija can bathe and refresh herself, with the words “Fiery one, bathe, refresh yourself!”

While cooking, the mistress of the household from time to time throws scraps of food into the fire as offerings to Gabija, saying “Gabija, be satisfied.”

At night when it is time to retire, the fire on the hearth is banked; that is, more fuel is added and then it is covered with ashes so it will not throw off sparks. This practice was the reason the hearth Goddess was called ‘the covered one’. The mistress was naturally concerned to bank the fire correctly so Gabija would not get angry and ‘take a walk’ in the night, burning down the house! So, while banking the fire, she would pray to the Goddess like this:

Holy Lady,

I loose you skillfully,

lest you be angry !

Holy Gabija,

be peaceful in this place !

Live with us peacefully,

Holy Gabija !

The only respectful way to put the hearthfire out is with pure water.

These rituals could, I believe, be easily adapted to the Celtic tradition, substituting the name of Brigid (‘Breed’) for that of Gabija.

Holding a Dumb Supper

I recently held my first dumb supper for ancestors for the season. Following Norse and Baltic traditions, I hold a number of these between Mabon and Samhain, culminating with the great dumb supper on Samhain or Hallowe’en, October 31st.

Throughout most of the year I keep my photographs of parents, grandparents and other dear dead in a walk-in closet shrine. The reason I do this is so the photos will stay fresh for me instead of becoming invisible like most of the pictures on the walls of my living room. When it’s time to hold the first dumb supper, I bring the photos out and arrange them in a semicircle on the hearth (my apartment is blessed with a small fireplace, with a brick hearth in front of it). Next to them is a tall candle holder with a red candle in it, and a statue of my primal ancestor. This is a somewhat crudely carved shepherd, ithyphallic, pouring wine from a wineskin into a chalice. 11

As it gets close to sunset, I begin preparing the meal. For my first dumb supper I chose red foods; that is, they were all red to start with, though only some of them were red after being cooked!

I began by turning off the kitchen light and lighting the candle in front of my hearth guardian, the Goddess Brighid, who is the spirit of the household fire. As I lit the candle, I said “Honor to fire, honor to Brighid, honor to the hearth.”

I then put two red potatoes on to boil, sliced and diced two salad tomatoes, and opened a can of red kidney beans. I took out two lamb blade chops and dusted one side of them with oregano, cloves, pepper and a little garlic powder.

As the light waned, I lit another candle from the hearth guardian’s candle and placed it on the windowsill to serve as a beacon guiding the dead to my home.

After the potatoes had boiled a while, I put the lamb chops in the top of the oven and turned on the overhead broiler to 375 to briefly brown the tops. I set the kidney beans boiling and prepared the skillet for the diced tomatoes, melting some margarine in it.

These preparations done, I went into the living room and lit the candle on the fireplace hearth, saying the following to the photos:

“Shades of the dead, who still remember this house, honored ancestors, grandfather, grandmother, father, mother [naming them], who are worthy of eternal remembrance, and all your relatives and children whom death has taken from us, I invite you to this annual feast. May it be as pleasant for you as our memories of you are sweet to us!”

Lighting some aromatic herbs, I said:

“Let us 12 remember those who perished by fire and those who have drowned. We remember those who have had to die far from their homes, and those who have perished without a trace.”

I now returned to the kitchen and finished preparing the meal, switching the oven dial to baking and turning the heat down to around 325. When all was ready, I brought the plates into the living room, setting the ancestors’ down inside the curve of the semicircle of photos, and my own on a small table nearby. According to tradition, no silverware is set out for the ancestors. I brought in two glasses of cranberry juice (red again) and set one for them and one for myself. Then I said:

“Shades of the dead, honored ancestors, sit, eat and drink as the Gods allow!”

I sat down myself and ate in silence, looking at the photos of the dead and occasionally raising my glass to one of them. As I toasted them in turn, I remembered something about each of them, some brief, cherished memory, and I longed for those old times when we were together in the flesh.

For dessert we had bowls of raspberry sherbet. Afterwards I lingered a little in their company. When a polite length of time had passed, I rose and said:

“Shades of the dead, honored ancestors, this dumb supper is over. Go your ways now where your destiny leads you, and remember to do no harm to anything in the streets or fields.”

Then I extinguished the candle and said

“There is, there is not even a spirit here.”

Finally, I took away the dead’s food and disposed of it. It cannot be eaten but must be returned somehow to the land. I poured out the cranberry juice into the earth, saying “return to the elements whence you came.” I let the sherbet melt down the sink drain, which leads to the sea. As for the solid fare, I would have liked to dig a hole and bury it, but my apartment managers might not understand, so I was forced to simply throw it away. This was the only part of the dumb supper that I regretted.

Back inside once again, I extinguished the candle in the window, saying (as ever) “honor to fire,” and then the hearth guardian’s candle by the stove, saying “honor to the hearth, honor to Brighid, honor to fire.”

The dumb supper was over.

The prayers and basic ritual are derived from Pagan Lithuanian practice, with the name of the Celtic hearth Goddess Brighid substituted for the Baltic Gabija. Lithuania was the last Pagan country in Europe, and only began to be (forcibly) Christianized at the beginning of the 15th century. Consequently, much that has been lost in the pre-Christian traditions of other countries can still be found there, and in the land of their neighbors to the north, Latvia. For more information check out their website at www.romuva.lt.

1 I use ‘her’ for ‘him or her’, etc., in this article.

2 Serith, p. 31. See bibliography.

3 Ibid, p. 32.

4 For an illustration, see the Magician card in the standard Tarot deck.

5 Serith, p.32.

6 Ibid, p. 33.

7 Ibid.

8 The ‘artos’ is the pattern of the universe; the wyrd or rta.

9 Pronounced PUR-os es-YEM.

10 Serith, unpublished material. See bibliography.

11 This is a marvelous scholarly word meaning his penis is erect.

12 The ancestors and myself.

Meet the Gods: Barleycorn

Merry meet.

Lughnasadh is celebrated this month – traditionally on the 1st, astrologically on the 7th. It is the first harvest, a festival of grain. While traditionally in Europe, corn meant grain, many Americans have come to think of corn only as maize. Because I know of no fields of rye, oats or barley here in Connecticut, maize has been my go-to grain.

While it’s found its way into my rituals as corn muffins, corn dollies and fry bread – to go with the bounty from my garden – I had never sought to welcome the corn god to my circle. This year I will.

Most cultures have a god of grains, fields or agriculture.

 

(Frey)

In the Norse tradition, Frey was the Corn God, the Lord of the Fields. He rode a great white horse and his hair was the golden color of wheat. Every year, he rode into the field where only the last sheath of grain remained standing. He sacrificed himself as it was cut, dying for the good of all as his blood enriched the field to assure next year’s harvest was bountiful.

 

(Osiris)

In Egyptian mythology, it is Osiris who is associated with grain and its lifecycle. He is represents fertility as each year he is harvested and killed. The dead Osiris is put into the ground as seeds which grow to be grain, bringing him to life again.

 

(Yum Kaaz)

The Maya god of corn and wild vegetation is Yum Kaaz, Lord of the Forest.

He is portrayed as a young man with an ear of corn growing out of his head,” according to AllAboutHistory.org.

 

(Centeotl)

Centeotl is the Aztec God (or Goddess) of Maize. Farmers would offer him fruits and grains from their fields that he might protect their fields from wild animals.

Perhaps the best known corn king and harvest god is John Barleycorn. In the English tradition, August 1 marked the sacrificial death of the Horned God in his incarnations as the Corn King or John Barleycorn whose reign began on the Summer Solstice. He is the personification of the lifecycle of grain – from planting to harvest, then malting to make whiskey and beer, and then to planting again.

There is a ballad sung about him.

 

John Barleycorn is the spirit of the fields that at this time are full crops given life by the sun. And it is in the last sheaf or stalk harvested that his spirit is strongest, so he’s dressed in fine clothing, or formed into the shape of a man and this effigy would be cut and typically burned with much celebrating. His sacrifice for the land, for the people and for the goddess became beer and malt whiskey and bread.

The Druid’s sacrificial burning of a larger-than-life wicker man may have been the inspiration for Burning Man. Both rituals are associated with death and rebirth of the god of the grain.

Lughnasadh is a time of transformation, of rebirth and new beginnings. It’s a time of plenty, a time to reap the bounty of your efforts and celebrate abundance that will sustain us as the wheel turns.

After calling the quarters, plan to light a candle shaped like an ear of corn to welcome one or more of these gods. Meanwhile, I would like to know how you’ve worked with them in your practice.

Merry part; and merry meet again.

 

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