PaganSquare


PaganSquare is a community blog space where Pagans can discuss topics relevant to the life and spiritual practice of all Pagans.

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The First New Moon of the Year: Chinese New Year

This most special holiday for Chinese all over the world is a “moveable feast,” as it occurs on the second new moon after the shortest day of the year (the winter solstice, December 21) and lasts about two weeks. According to the Western calendar, this means the holiday begins sometime in either late January or early February. Tradition holds that homes must be cleaned from top to bottom in preparation for the festivities. On New Year’s Eve, families get together for a banquet, and at this feast fish is the dish of delight, as the Chinese word for “fish” sounds like yu, or “great plenty.” Red is the color of luck and all children receive red envelopes filled with money and bright, shining moon-like coins. Adults write “spring couplets” on red paper; these are short poems that are hung around the doorway to greet the New Year auspiciously. Oranges are placed around the house in bowls and plates and blooming plants adorn the home both indoors and out. All generations of the extended Chinese family, from great-grandmother to the tiniest toddler, stay up late playing games, telling stories and making wishes for the New Year. They call this most auspicious time of the year “Hong Bau,” and apply the ancient and sacred principles of feng shui in a celebration of love and luck. Gather red envelopes, coins and paper money. The Chinese call the red envelopes lee sees.

On the actual day of the Chinese New Year, go around to your neighbors, friends and family with red envelopes containing money. If you are like me, bright, shiny coins are what you can easily afford to give instead of envelopes stuffed with paper money. With each gift, greet folks with Gung Hey Fat Choy, which means “Wishing you prosperity and health.”

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I saw a squirrel with a newspaper this morning.

No, seriously. I actually did see a squirrel with a newspaper.

Well, with a sheet of newspaper, anyway.

In the first hour after sunrise, before people are up and about, the city belongs to the squirrels. (I actually groaned when I saw where the Sun came up today: already so far South of his Northern-most Midsummer rising, rapidly approaching due East and the Equinox.)

At that hour, it was just me and the squirrels. I'd gone out to collect a case of apples: the next best thing to having an apple tree yourself is to have picking rights on someone else's.

That's when I saw the squirrel. Actually, in the still morning I heard it before I saw it. Compared to a squirrel, a full sheet of newspaper is huge, but the squirrel was doing his best to drag the awkward thing along. Unfortunately, he was trying to walk with one forefoot on the ground and the other on top of the sheet, and not having an easy time of it.

A squirrel with a newspaper? Yep, it's that time of year. Sun going South: Winter coming. Now, as the apples are picking, is time to start insulating that dray of yours with all those good air-trapping things like leaves and sheets of newspaper, that are going to keep you warm through the cold to come.

(Good old English. What other language has a specific name for a squirrel's nest?)

The squirrel lining its nest, me gathering the apples that I'm going to cook down into the applesauce that will sweeten the long nights ahead.

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Imbolc Invocation: Calling Forth the Guardians

Candlemas, also known as Imbolc, is the highest point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. This festival anticipates the coming of spring with banquets and blessings. Tradition holds that milk must be served, and modern pagans have expanded that to butter cookies, ice cream, cheeses and any related foods. It is an important time to welcome new members of your spiritual circle and new witches into a coven. Candlemas is a heartwarming occasion, but it is still a wintry time, so kindling for the hearth or bonfire should include cedar, pine, juniper and holly along with wreaths of the same to mark the four directions alongside white candles in glass votives. Strong incense such as cedar, nag champa or frankincense will bless the space. The circle leader shall begin the ritual by lighting incense from the fire and begin by facing each direction, saying:

Welcome Guardians of the East, bringing your fresh winds and breath of life. Come to the circle of Imbolc.

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In retrospect, it was one of the formative moments in my early pagan career.

1973. A gangly tow-head is sitting on the floor of his grandparents' living room in Pittsburgh, reading a National Geographic article about that year's Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan.

One photo was all it took.

The organizers had commissioned a local artist to make three massive—25 foot—snow sculptures of three pertaining kami for the occasion: the kami, if memory serves, of Winter, Snow, and Ice.

But now the Olympics were over, and it was time to tear down the snow-statues before they became a hazard. ("Look Out for Falling Gods.") In the photo, a workman is making a final offering to the kami before they're broken up: he's leaning out of the basket of a cherry-picker, pouring a bottle of sake into the fanged mouth of one of them.

In that moment, a door opened in my head. Lacking contextual experience of kami, Shinto, or pagan religious practice, I somehow recognized and understood what I saw in that photo. I didn't need any explanation of what they were doing to know that it made sense, and that it was right.

Lo and behold: nearly half a century later, that gawky teen, now grown up, has become chronicler, and éminence grise, to one of the US's largest and most vibrant pagan communities.

Talk to any pagan, and you will hear about similar formative experiences; we all have them.

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Sabbat of Imbolc: A February Festival

Although February is the shortest calendar month, it holds many rich festivals from several cultures. Celtic Pagans celebrate Imbolc, or Brigid’s Day, as the first sign of spring in the Wheel of the Year. 

Imbolc translates to “in the milk,” which reflects the lambing and calving season that begins around this time. The idea of purification also runs through February festivals such as Purim, Candlemas and Lupercalia. Take the opportunity to start “spring cleaning” a bit earlier than you usually do to help chase away the winter blues. And of course, February holds Valentine’s Day, a now-secular celebration of affection and friendship.

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 My Goddess Gave Birth To Your God -The Ancient Sage

 

Umm Allah!”

As a general rule, I think it's sound policy to be respectful of other people's gods, but, after all, a story's a story, and history's history. As an Anishinabe elder once told Minnesota storyteller Kevin Kling, with a story and a sense of self, you can survive anything.

In the Arabic-speaking world, it's customary to refer to people in day-to-day conversation not by their personal names, but by the name of their oldest child: hence Umm (“mother of”) or Abu (“father of”) Whomever. So prevalent a custom is this that (I'm told) those without children will often be assigned a fictitious child as namesake.

(A pagan mom once explained to me the logic of this. In a given community, you may or may not know the parent, but—the kid-pack being a free-wheeling entity of its own that goes pretty much everywhere—everybody knows all the kids.)

Even so, there's something about the phrase Umm Allah (roughly: OOM aw-LAW) that strikes the Muslim ear as deeply disturbing, if not downright blasphemous. (I would really recommend against using it while walking down the street in Kabul these days.)

Arabic-speaking Christians do use the phrase, of course. By the internal logic of Christian thought, it makes perfect sense: if Jesus is God, then the mother of Jesus must be the mother of God. Christians being Christians, of course, people have, down the centuries, killed one another by the thousands over this phrase.

Naturally, the pagan story is different. (With a story and a sense of self, you can survive anything.) Though no proponent of bumpersticker theology, I will admit that seeing My Goddess Gave Birth to Your God on the back of someone's car brings a smile to my lips every time.

Well, the Great Mother is Mother of All the Gods, even ones (I won't mention any names) that don't exist, or—to be, perhaps, slightly more nuanced about it—exist only in other people's heads.

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One Moon for All the World: New Year’s Council Fire

Any discussion of rituals for the month of January must include New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. I remember the drama that ensued as people around the globe stood by to witness the sunrise on January 1, 2000, perceived as the beginning of the new millennium. While many other cultures observe their New Year at other times during the year, January 1 has also become a time of celebration, reflection and an opportunity to embrace change.

For many millennia, indigenous peoples have celebrated their own New Year in unique ways. One common element is the use of fire rituals by North, Central, and South American peoples. The Pilgrims who arrived to what was to become New England observed and documented that the Iroquois and other tribes they encountered had a New Year’s Council Fire, a time when the tribe gathered to review the past year, listen to their elders and speak their hopes, dreams, and visions of the coming year. In addition to your personal New Year’s ritual with the significant people in your life, I recommend a Bonfire Ceremony as a powerful way to bring positive change of the New Year into your life.

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