Saturday, January 31, 2009

Blessings of Imbolc

With this winter having been an especially brutal one in some areas, I think it is safe to say we all could use a festival to remind us that spring is, if not just around the corner, at least not too far in the distant future. Cue Imbolc.

Some pagans refer to this as the Feast of Februa, or the Feast of Brigid, or Candlemas, or Imbolc, Imbolg or Oimelc. For some history and folklore related to this festiva, see my classic Witches' Voice article "You Call it Groundhog Day, We Call it Imbolc".

I have never quite understood why so many pagans want to associate this holiday with Brigid; I have nothing against her, she's a lovely goddess, inspiring and calming. My own coven celebrates Candlemas, or the Feast of Februa, and the ritual is focused on Pan, including ritualized scourging (shades of Lupercalia, the ancient Roman festival celebrated closer to Valentine's Day). For those who refer to the holiday as Imbolc or Oimelc (literally "in the belly" or "ewe's milk" depending on your source), it makes perfect sense to forge (no pun intended) a connection to the female goddess of poetry, healing and smithcraft. But I like the idea of a focus on a male god figure, especially one associated with sexuality and the forest.

The former is more of an indoor archetype, the latter outdoors, if that makes sense. The threshold, the door allowing us to shut the cold out or brave the biting winds, is a liminal place. This feeling of being on the brink is a powerful catalyst for many of us, urging engagement with new projects, or a return to old ones that haven't been fleshed out yet. Mercury's retrograde periods in winter allow a perfect opportunity to return to unfinished work. We dig in, hibernate, reflect, craft, repair. Brigid approves, this stoking of fires as intellectual as it is visceral. But so does Pan, his jollity a balm on grey days, wafting Arcadian breezes into our winter dreams.

So, too is the groundhog myth a liminal one. He is lifted from his burrow to divine the weather, blinking and wriggling, perhaps squinting in the sun or indifferently sniffing at the cloud cover. Then he is returned to his cozy winter abode. We accept his pronouncement, and return ourselves to wait out winter, industrious or lazy in our habits, hopeful or stymied in our daydreaming, brazen or apathetic in our socializing, chipper or aggravated while doing our outdoor errands. Now is the time for crockpot meals, novels, television reruns, hot toddies, and maybe some snowshoeing.

The snowdrops are imminent, the daffodils will shadow the snow with gold sooner than we may think possible. Time now for planning, plodding, pot roast, and making the best of it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

This Week's "23" Headline

The number of deaths so far in the winter storms sweeping the country is, yes, 23.

More can be found here.

More 23 News from December: blogged here.

And a link to more 23 info is here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Soon on ABC: The Witches of Eastwick! reports that ABC is developing the John Updike novel (or, more likely, the schlocky film somewhat based on it) for television, with Maggie Friedman of Dawson's Creek as head writer.

My main problem with the film is that, first of all, the main characters were made far more glamorous than their portrayal in the novel. Sukie, Jane and Alexandra were played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon and Cher, respectively. This took away from the significant issues of competition and sexual viability these women-approaching-middle-age were feeling. Alex was meant to be considerably overweight, for example, and, in the novel, envied Jane's and Sukie's thinness. The competition among them was so fierce, in fact, that the three witches decide to create a spell to kill a young woman who steals the object of their affection from them (Daryl Van Horne, played with delicious devilry by Jack Nicholson). That's the other very omportant plot point left out: the decision to perform an act of magic that amounts to murder. The sequel novel, The Widows of Eastwick, begins with the idea that the guilt over this murder (performed fifteen years earlier) is still very much alive in Alexandra, at least (I have only read 22 pages or so).

Why can't Hollywood engage a complex, realistic novel in a complex, realistic way?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Next Week on NCIS: Satanists!

The previews for next week's new episode of NCIS show an episode dealing with satanism and the occult, complete with one victim who has a huge pentagram tattooed on his back. Because this show is both smart and funny, I hope they'll deal with this topic in a less offensive way than The Mentalist did last week. Check out the controversy over that on the Wild Hunt Blog.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A delicious future

A very cool celebration of Obama's candidacy, rendered in cake and frosting!!!

A Day to Remember

It has been a surreal day, ablaze in the cold crystal light of winter. Words invoking strength, hope, caution, determination, wisdom, passion, patience, faith, compassion poured forth from the many speeches at the inauguration ceremonies, many from our new President.

How long has it been since so many of us have felt hope and optimism about being Americans? A very long time, my friends. May we go forward towards the difficult days ahead with courage and faith and the willingness to dig in our heels and do our best to survive and prevail and show compassion to those who are worse off than ourselves.

May the pagan community, many of whom supported and voted for our new President, gaze forward into the future and adopt the same spirit of powerful transformation and courage to change what needs changing. So mote it be.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Orchard revives Wassailing, suffers theft

I first found this story on Wren's Nest at Witchvox: An orchard in Hull, UK revives pagan tradition of wassailing.

Turns out the orchard suffered the theft of valuable gardening equipment and are accepting donations via tree sponsorship. I am going to call them and see if there is any possibility they might have a Paypal address for donations for any Americans who want t o help out. Or, UK'ers can call them directly. To sponsor a tree, call Yvette Grindley on (01482) 503577 or chairman Arthur Wilson on (01482) 561616.

More soon...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bay Area Orchard fans...

There is a workshop coming up for people interested in growing fruit trees in the city. Put on by Garden for the Environment, "I Heart Fruit Trees" is scheduled for Valentine's Day and promises to offer tips on growing apple, pear and plum trees. And it's only ten bucks! This organization sounds wonderful. They have other great workshops on offer, including making herbal medicines for winter. Let us know if you intend to go! (thanks to for the story, and the lovely pear tree image originally appeared on the Greenwalks blog.)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Wassail, Wassail the new year

Chas over at Letter From Hardscrabble Creek shared this link with me from the Hereford Times on January wassailing customs. The article comments on the growing popularity of cider helping to keep this ancient custom alive. Apple growing the world over is enjoying increasing interest because of cider-based events like Cider Days and even the humble little Harvest Moon festival I organized at Brushwood Folklore Center this past autumn, where we pressed fresh cider from the wild apples that grow abundantly all over the property.

England of course has a rich history of customs celebrating harvest and propitiating nature spirits of fields and orchards. I've tasted some wonderful regional ciders in England, from the sweet pear cider made by Brothers in Shepton Mallet (near Glastonbury) to the sublime, dry Kingfisher made in Norfolk, and the excellent Special Reserve cider made by Samuel Smith's and served on tap at the Chandos Pub in London's Trafalgar Square. May American cider brewers one day approach England's diversity and quality of cider.

I remember wassailing the orchard trees out at Mike and Penny Novak's farm one Yule. It's a lovely tradition. I also enjoy the songs associated with wassailing sun during Yuletide. The Gloucestershuire Wassail describes the blessing of livestock with cups of cider tossed in their faces:

"And here is to Cherry and to his right cheek; May Yule bring our master a good piece of beef!" The winter solstice as it was observed during the agrarian era was a time to share food abundantly with all in the community; singing by peasants was rewarded with comestibles from the "big house" during the days of feudal farming.

I served hot mulled cider at our Yuletide Open House this past weekend. A number of people who arrived, having come in from the cold, said no when asked if they wanted a drink, but when I mentioned there was hot cider on the stove they all changed their minds immediately!

Wassail, wassail, 2009. We drink to thee.