My first spell

October 14, 2016

Almost 27 years ago when I was first introduced to Paganism, I was reluctant to practice magic. Magic seemed like wishful thinking and constructed “coincidences” to me. (The most famous definition of Pagan magic is Doreen Valiente’s “the art of changing consciousness at will,” but I prefer Oberon Zell’s “probability enhancement.”)

I decided to give it a (skeptical) try. I chose to work magic to attract more money into my life. I was living on my own and trying to raise enough money to pay for a year at college. I had some scholarships and loans but didn’t have enough to cover expenses. For effective magic, you need to feel an attachment to the outcome. Money was something I was definitely emotionally attached to!

I chose spells from a variety of traditions, both folk and contemporary. For instance, I wrapped a silver dollar in orange paper (orange is the color of attraction). This is an example of folk magic, where you “show the way” for the outcome you desire.

For a more contemporary approach, I did candle magic. I used several lit candles of different colors, each representing something different. One represented me, a green one represented money, gold represented riches and abundance, etc. Over the course of seven nights during the waxing moon I moved the green and gold candles closer to the one representing me. Eventually they burned together in one waxy lump.

I also tried an ancient form of magic: dance and trance. In my candlelit room, I danced in front of my altar for an hour at a time, repeating chants like “As the leaves fall from the trees, bring the money unto me.”

As much as I tried to maintain my rational skepticism, I couldn’t help but notice that I was changing consciousness, that I was raising power, and that I could clearly visualize an outcome where I had enough money and riches without harming anyone (an old Pagan guideline is “harm none”).

Far beyond what I was experiencing with magic were the results! Within two weeks of doing the various spells, I received the money that I needed to go back to school. First I received a new work-study job that paid more and was related to my major. Then I received another grant. A previously awarded scholarship amount was increased for an unexplained reason. My parents, with whom I had a complicated relationship, came through with a no-interest, no-strings-attached loan.

One of the oldest rules about magic is “be careful what you wish for.” In the same time period that I received all this good news, my parents came to visit me. They brought two large bags filled with cakes, candies, brownies, dessert mixes, and other sweets. They’d never done anything like that before and haven’t since. Even more odd, they’d brought a box of chocolates that my sister had bought for me. My sister had never bought anything for me before, much less my favorite candy!

I was puzzled by all this sugary largesse until I thought back to what I’d been asking for: money and *riches.* As every Pagan knows, you can place your requests however you like, but the universe will provide in ways it thinks are best! I received my wish—with the side effect of a larger waistline!

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Encounter with a Baptist

November 2, 2014

This post will be offensive to some Christians. Take it or leave it. I am reminded of my friend Angie, who argues vociferously with people of different faiths when their beliefs result in objectionable actions, even though she’s on the board of the Parliament of World Religions, one of the world’s best interfaith organizations. We can critique each other’s faiths without hating each other.

Last week I went to an event sponsored by the Center for Inquiry that featured a Baptist youth pastor. I wasn’t able to stay for the whole time but a couple things stuck out.

He read from an online list of Things Baptists Believe and one of them is that all humans are born sinners. And the only way they get to Heaven is through accepting Jesus as their personal lord and savior—good works don’t count.

This is whacked. I think it was Joseph Campbell who pointed out this example that settled the former issue for me: He said that if two people are standing on the edge of a cliff and one starts to fall, the other will instinctively reach out and try to save the first. It’s an instinct, not a rational decision. That, to me, indicates we are fundamentally good.

However! It doesn’t take much to change our behavior. Riane Eisler writes at length about how competition over scarce resources leads to patriarchy, hierarchy, and war. She argues that humans were originally cooperative and community-minded until we abused the environment and began to compete. I don’t know that it’s that simple (was there ever a Golden Matriarchal Age?) but the general idea seems to hold up.

The whole idea of good works not counting was of course a key element of the Protestant Reformation and feelings run deep on that issue. Personally, I think it’s insane. What kind of god would create a race of beings only to make it impossible for the vast majority of them to come to him after death? A sick and twisted god, that’s what. And I have no idea why someone would choose to worship him. You can’t say “God is love” and square that with “Everyone who believes something different from Baptists is going to Hell.”

As much as atheists slam the Bible (and let’s face it, there’s a lot to slam), I don’t blame The Book. I hold people responsible. It’s been my experience that people have their own points of view based on nature and nurture, and then they look to religion to buttress those opinions. Relatively few people belong to a religion that encourages them to be radically different. Most people choose to stay inside their comfort zone. It’s my belief that narrow-minded bigots will find evidence in the Bible to reinforce their point of view, just as the most compassionate Christians will. It’s not the book that’s the problem, it’s the people relying on it as justification for pre-existing beliefs.

Before I left I asked him about women’s roles within the church. He said women are just as good as men (how enlightened!) and can take on every role except—wait for it—head pastor. Of course.

According to him, there is a core set of beliefs that make you a Baptist. If you don’t believe them, you’re not a Baptist. But there are grey areas where you can be subject to “persuasion.” Since Baptist churches are relatively autonomous, they can have different views on a variety of issues and still remain Baptists.

So I asked him what his personal view of women was. He said he hadn’t done enough study of it but he could be brought to the view that women should be allowed to be head pastors. But that’s as far as it goes. He wouldn’t be able to persuade anyone else to his point of view and he ultimately wouldn’t be considered a Baptist.

What’s the point of that? Why belong to a church which actively discriminates and oppresses, especially when you disagree with that position? I suspect it’s because he doesn’t feel strongly enough about the issue to let it jeopardize his role in the church. He might feel differently if his wife wanted to be head pastor. That might make it more immediate and worth fighting for. But I have to wonder about the morality of the situation.

On a side note, that part of the discussion made me realize that there are more priestesses than priests in Paganism and we may be the only religion on the planet where that’s the case. It’s not that men are forbidden from becoming priests. There are more women than men in Paganism in general and the emphasis on the Goddess draws many women into leadership positions. Add to that the related women’s spirituality movement and you’ve got an awful lot of women Drawing Down the Moon. It would be completely bizarre to me to be part of a ritual where there is only a priest. That’s how far I’ve come from my Catholic upbringing. I love the affirmation women have within the movement and the encouragement all women receive to become their best selves. And of course, Pagan men are some of the best men on the planet, in part because many of them revere the Goddess. They are comfortable with their masculinity because they have explored the Divine Feminine. They are open, funny, tender, strong, loving, and not afraid to wear sarongs. 😉

The thing that made me sad about the Baptist thang was the realization that one of my brothers believes pretty much everything the Baptist said. Many years ago my brother and I engaged in a long email conversation about religion because he said he wanted to understand me better. It ended rather abruptly when he finally confessed his real purpose was to convert me back to Christianity. I was furious. It still pisses me off. It’s such a denial of my basic human rights.

When he was going into the hospital to get a brain tumor operated on, I asked him what time the surgery was going to be so I could light a candle. No prayers, no incantations, no magic, just a candle. And he told me he didn’t want it. He didn’t want me involved at all. I told one of my sisters (who was Catholic) and she was so enraged that she immediately emailed him and asked him for the time of the surgery so she could light a candle. He told her.

Sometimes I think about what will happen when he or his wife dies, or if I ever get married. Would I be allowed to go to his funeral? Would he come to my wedding? Even though I’ve explained in every way I can that I don’t worship Satan (I don’t even believe in Satan—he’s a Christian construct, not Pagan, and I don’t believe in Christianity), because I’m not a Christian, I am—what—a leper? Contagious? Disgusting? Evil? Certainly not worthy of his respect and love.

Now, my brother happens to be one of the most upright people I know, but his religion prevents him from expressing his love in any other way than the patronizing “I will show you Christ’s love and that will make you love him” way. Ugh! It hurts me to think I may be excluded from his life, or he will exclude himself from mine, because his supposedly superior religion prevents him from simply living with difference.

To me, the sign of a useful religion is whether it pushes you to be a better person. And by “better,” I don’t mean “please follow these arbitrary rules.” I mean becoming more compassionate, more honorable, more respectful, more accepting of difference. When people are committed to pushing their boundaries and becoming their best selves, we not only get the personal benefit of one-on-one interaction, we also get the social benefit of a more civil society. It’s in the interest of the state to encourage respect and embrace difference. I’m not suggesting the state should endorse religion—far from it—but I do think there are core principles that apply in both secular and religious contexts.

Friday night was the anniversary of my initiation into the Craft. Every year I read the instructions I wrote way back in 1991 and they still hold true. They are a reminder to me to “hold pure, then, your greatest ideal—strive ever towards it.” I don’t usually get there, but the journey is worth it. And as much as I disagree with some of the points the Baptist made, I thoroughly uphold his right to believe them. I don’t think they’re particularly useful beliefs, but I support religious freedom. Just because it mystifies me doesn’t mean it should be suppressed.

When I used to do public education about Paganism, I likened it to a potluck. There are all these dishes on the table, each representing a different belief or practice, and we go around, looking closely, asking questions, poking and prodding. If we see a dish that looks interesting, we take a little bit. If we like it, we go back and take a lot of it. And if we see something we don’t like, we leave it where it is. We don’t dash it to the floor in a fit of righteous pique. We leave it there because others might like it. Works for them, doesn’t work for me. No biggie. We focus instead on enjoying the party. 🙂


Spring walk 2014

April 27, 2014

Woke up early after a harrowing nightmare as usual and found myself with time on my hands. I’m tired of reading, didn’t feel like watching a movie, and lo and behold the sun was shining even though it was supposed to be cloudy today. So I decided to go for a walk.

Special Nike walking shoes firm and snug on my feet, earbuds plugged into my iPod on one end and my brain on the other, I set off for the field across from Collins where I sometimes walk the track. But the sun was so yellow and the sky so blue that I decided I wanted more rich Gaia than I was getting trekking on the asphalt.

I headed off into the arboretum and that’s where I found my bliss. So many different beautiful species of plant. The flowers are bright striking color slashes against the new green and stinky mulch. There are so many flowering trees on campus it feels like a fairyland.

I love new leaves. They’re so delicate and soft and tender that I wish I were a goat. I just want to reach out with my prehensile lips and suck the leaves into my strong goaty teeth and ingest all that beauty and power so I can tap into it whenever I need it.

The birds were out in force and the streams were burbling happily along. And as fat and sludgey as my body feels, it held up at an athletic pace as I breathed in deeply through my nose and exhaled into the sweet spring air. I can feel my body coming out of hibernation, out of that tight, frozen grip I get into when I’m just so, so cold over the winter. The walk in the sun and the breeze loosens up the space between my bones and I feel more alert, more relaxed, more ready for living.

I came home and just sat in the backyard in the sun, listening to iTunes spin through Depeche Mode, Social Distortion, Frank Sinatra, Thievery Corporation, Rasputina, Bach, Eartha Kitt, Little Cow, Russian nuns, and more and more and more. I mostly just drank in the sun through this porous sensory envelope we call skin but sometimes opened my eyes to see what the wildlife were up to.

This is new to me—I’ve been tentatively moving into my yard more and more each year, staking my claim to the land. My trees. My slopes and hollows. My sweetspires. From the beginning, I wanted to create a place where wildlife would feel welcome. The suet keeps just about everybody happy and the bunnies are glad enough to ravage my shrubbery. That’s why bunnies are so cute—otherwise we’d kill them in a murderous rage.

There are a pair of doves that have taken up residence somewhere near my house. Today I watched one settle down beneath my ninebark bush and just chill. I was so still for so long that the robins came pecking within five feet of me, just going about their business. A squirrel limped in, favoring a hurt front paw, heading for the safety of the darkness beneath my back porch.

Long ago when I became a Witch, I chose to see the biosphere as sacred. Great Gaia living and dying in glory all through the eons. And I’m a part of that. I feel her energy pulsing through me always, but it’s more intense when my bare feet are pressed against her precious soil and I feel her gently pressing back. Equal exchange of force. Beautiful.

The main tenet of my faith is “Tiocfaidh an Samhradh”: Gaelic for “Summer will come.” No matter how cold the dark night of winter, Summer will come and spread her wings. I will revive. I will live again. And Spring is the start of that promise manifesting. We all stretch our limbs and remember all that is good in our lives.

Take a deep breath. Savor the flavor. Drink in Gaia’s sweet power. Bright Blessings.


AREN interview and tepid Paganism

March 22, 2014

I recently had the honor of being interviewed for the lead story in the Alternative Religions Education Network’s ACTION newsletter. In it I blather on about the highlights of my most active period in the Pagan movement, from the mid-90s to the mid-00s. Christopher Blackwell, the kind and attentive editor, is hoping that others can learn from my experiences in organizing in the national sphere.

But today I finished reading Ancient Wisdom: Earth Traditions in the 21st Century by Vivianne and Christopher Crowley and I am reminded of what has always bothered me about contemporary Paganism: its tepid nature.

Constructing the ritual for the Summit was a wonderful intrafaith adventure, combining Ásatrú, Druid, and Craft elements. But the heart of the ritual just said, “Cairril waxes poetic” in the script. I knew I could summon up something dramatic (it is, after all, my nature), but I told the Goddess, “Only if it’s real. Only if I’m truly Called.”

Well, I got Called. Big time. I channeled the Goddess and went around the circle of 40 or so people and gave an individual blessing to each one. I used water from the communal cauldron (everyone had brought water from their homes to contribute, I can’t remember which tradition this drew on but it was lovely) and signed everyone there. I think I sang most of the time, but for certain people there was a specific message from the Goddess for me to give. The messages didn’t make sense to me but I trusted the recipients would understand. The song was one of the chants that came to me in private ritual space: “I stepped into cauldron waters / I stepped into cauldron waters / I heard Her calling out my name / And I felt my self reborn / And I found my self reborn.” (This is one of my favorite chants, since it switches meter from 7 to 4—thank you, Universe!) You could feel the intense power in the room. We were all blessed by it. Euphoric afterwards. Several people were blown away. But later, I thought, “Why? Why was that so unusual?”

I am a solitary, mostly by choice, so I don’t know how the majority of Pagan rituals go in the wider movement, especially outside the Craft. But when I read Drawing Down the Moon, Margot stated in no uncertain terms that Witches draw down the Moon! It’s what we do. Ecstatic trance. C’mon, people. Get on board here.

I generally eschew group ritual for two reasons: 1) I don’t like sublimating my desires/urges to groupthink and 2) almost every group Pagan ritual I’ve been to has been lame. Bless the Unitarians, but give me snake-handling Pentecostals any day when it comes to conjuring up some power. A local CUUPS rit I attended a couple years ago was rocked when I belted out my chant to Call the Earth. It’s an Earth chant. It’s loud. It calls the Earth. Come ON. Nobody knew what to do with it.

So yeah, I finished up Ancient Wisdom today, and it’s a survey of indigenous traditions from around the world, and the difference between the whole book and the two-page “Here’s your takeaway” conclusion was head-whipping. There I am, burbling along through circumcision, ritual scarification, tattooing, weather witching, curse-lifting, fired longships and the like, and then the last two pages talk about canceling Third World debt and considering our impact on the Earth. What are we, Presbyterians??

I used to be pretty rigid about ritual when I first started out but a kitchen Witch showed me some easy ways to weave my spirituality into my everyday life. So now when I cast a Circle, I may confine it to my temple space or I may include the kitchen and bathroom in case I want a break. No biggie. It’s all of a piece. When I finished boiling my eggs for my Equinox ritual, I poured the remaining water around the foundation of my house to ward off lightning. I like the books of Valerie Worth that are filled with charms like “How to Become Invisible”—I mean, this is the shit, right?

I am struggling through The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual by Alexei Kondratiev. He starts with this breathtaking overview of Celtic history but then he turns into this haranguing harpy with serious issues with imperialist powers. He insists that you’re not practicing a proper Celtic path if you’re not speaking a Celtic tongue. Well, that lets out most of us. How many people have the resources to track down teachers and find a community to speak with? Anyway, today I read his outline of a Samhain ritual and I was all, “Where’s the yelling?” We’re talking about the Celts, right? The definition of a passionate people. So where is the juice?

Maybe I’m just not hooked up to the right resources (highly likely). But I’ve been trying over the last year to ease my way back into the national movement and I just can’t find my place. Recently The Wild Hunt did an article on the theme of sacrifice and I just could not get in. The biggest problem is that these people actually believe in Gods and Goddesses. I don’t. I’m an atheist Pagan, a minority within a minority. I am comfortable saying, “There’s more going on than five senses can account for,” but I’m not going to talk about entering into transactions with mythical beings.

I checked into several of the big name Pagan magazines but the one that sticks out in my mind did its most recent issue on herbs. Still?? Isn’t this where I left off ten years ago? Not that herbcraft isn’t Witchcraft, it is definitely within the tradition, but I just pictured all these “Use mugwort to polish your crystal ball” articles.

My problem is I have a backlog of books I was sent when I was head of PEN and we used to do book reviews. No, actually, my problem is I don’t have any good recommendations for resources that will speak to me. I looked through Llewellyn’s catalogue last week but it still looked like it was catering to the beginner Pagan (it’s been nearly 10 years since I’ve looked at their stuff). Maybe that’s where the money is. Maybe once you get into more advanced practices you move beyond what books can tell you. But that can’t be right—other religions have advanced texts, why can’t we?

To my dismay, I have had to look to secular sources for ideas that feed into my evolving Craft. Like books on comparative religions. Interesting, occasionally inspiring, but often intellectual and safe.

I want Pagan sources that give me ideas for how to mainline pure joy, power, grief, tranquility, and song. Push me deeper. Stretch me. Help me become ever more a Witch, with a rich skill set to draw upon to serve my community.

Anyone want to teach me how to ride lightning?


Which Witch?

October 27, 2013

On a jaunt to a community festival, goddessdaughter #1 turned to me and said, “I feel comfortable with you.” She’s 10. A warm sensation started in my stomach and moved outward. “Mama’s always online buying shoes and Papa’s always busy,” she continued. I know this is not the case but I understood what she meant: When I’m with her, I’m with her, 100%. She is part of an extraordinarily close-knit family but somehow I’ve made my way into her heart. In the midst of the heartache surrounding one of my nieces, I feel like at least in this one small way I must be doing something right.

I take my girls every Friday to Banneker or a park or my house and we spend about two hours together. Mostly they play together, but if we’re at the park goddessdaughter #1 will talk to me for half an hour while I push her on the swings while goddessdaughter #2 (age 7) makes “salads” of weeds and mulch and flowers. I’ve been teaching them baseball with a wiffleball bat and a large plastic ball and they are improving. We just started running bases and they are thrilled with that.

When A and J asked me to stand goddessmother the first time, I told them I would be there for their daughter 100%—as long as they let me. We had a blessing for each of the girls at the Unitarian Universalist church where I swore to “teach her to love the ways of justice.” I think of that often, such as when I encourage them to share or when I demand that they stop fighting.

I have always been completely open as a Witch with the girls, and we have a small altar for them in my temple. Goddessdaughter #2 has recently become fascinated with my path and wants to know how to be a wizard. I gave her some gemstones for her birthday, listing the magical property of each. Both girls have gone through phases of telling their friends that I am a Witch, with the usual wide variety of responses. Neither one quite understands the concept of religion yet but they know I am a “good Witch.”

Friday was awful. When I entered their house, goddessdaughter #1 was wearing a T-shirt that said, “Don’t be a witch.” It had a green background and a black silhouette of a caricatured witch that was clearly meant to look like the Wicked Witch of the West. I understood at once that it was the equivalent of “Don’t be a bitch,” but it still took my breath away. I was overcome. I was so offended.

I pointed at her shirt and asked, “What’s this?” She could tell by my expression that I was upset and she crossed her arms over her chest and looked away guiltily. A stepped in with her best “soothing” voice and said she had bought it and thought it was cute. It didn’t mean anything. By this time my goddessdaughter had fled the kitchen for her room. I turned to A and said, “You wouldn’t have a T-shirt saying, ‘Don’t be a Christian.'” She was still in soothe mode and just said, “Okay.” My goddessdaughter shortly re-entered with a shirt saying, “Witch way to the candy?” I laughed and gave her a hug, but I was still in turmoil. In fact, I’m still in turmoil.

In one of the Dune books, Frank Herbert wrote, “He knows me so well, but I despair of his ever understanding me.” That’s how I feel about A. She has known me for over 20 years, all that time as a Witch, and she has even self-identified as Pagan. She knows that I founded a national non-profit for educating the public about Paganism and ran it for almost 10 years. She knows me. Doesn’t she?

What could she possibly have been thinking when she bought that shirt? She says she thinks of me as a sister but it seems she doesn’t think of me at all. I was deeply offended by the shirt, not only for myself, but for my people. Do I really need to explain to her that Witchcraft is a religion?

A and J are ambivalent about my path. They were adamant that I not teach the girls anything along the lines of natural magic several years ago. Recently A told me she didn’t want me to teach them how to cast a Circle. But she’s fine with their learning “metaphysical” properties. I don’t know how to interpret that. I feel like they want all the good things I can bring to their children, just without the feminism and the Witchcraft. But there is no me without feminism and especially the Craft. When I follow down the strands of my identity, the things that make me me, I find at my core singing and the Craft, twisting together in a beautiful DNA strand. They can’t be separated from who I am. That’s terribly inconvenient for parents with middle class values. But it’s who I am. It’s who they asked to be goddessmother—twice.

They love that I’m involved with the girls’ lives, that the girls love me, that they get alone time when I take the girls on our jaunts. They invite me for Thanksgiving and Christmas. But, even though the girls’ grandmother takes them to church on Christmas Eve, I am not allowed to take them to the local synagogue or mosque to expose them to different faiths. And I’m their goddessmother. If not I, then who?

The whole reason we have an altar for the girls at my house is because A lost the gift I gave to goddessdaughter #1 at her blessingway. She lost it. But she was able to hang onto the Buddhist prayer flags given by my goddessdaughter’s godfather. I knew that if I wanted to maintain any kind of spiritual relationship with the girls, I would have to safeguard it myself.

I have always walked Between the Worlds. Even when I was a good Catholic girl playing Maria in The Sound of Music, I was set apart a little from others. It is a constant tension in my life. It is a spiritual truth which I have meditated deeply on for years and which I hope to come to peace with before I die. But it’s just so hard to be who I am, to be admired for who I am, and yet to have my identity denied. Like when my family says a Christian prayer at every mealtime and ignores the fact that I am not of their faith. We’re an alcoholic family, so it’s easy to ignore the elephant in the living room, but it still hurts. I’ve been on this path for nearly 25 years and these people who are so involved in my life refuse to acknowledge it. They don’t want me to be fully myself because it makes them uncomfortable. And I feel wedged into an ill-fitting place because I can’t be what they want and what I want at the same time.

“I feel comfortable with you.” Which me?


10 Tips for Large Group Rituals

May 25, 2013

This is the world’s shortest post: I just want to link to this excellent blog post on constructing/running large group rituals. Great tips. Well done!


Bealtaine invocations and prayers

May 5, 2013

Every sabbat (there are 8 per year) I pull out a folder full of scripts for rituals I’ve written over the years. When I first began practicing Paganism, I wrote a new script for every ritual. Now I re-use bits of past scripts and do the rest of the ritual extemporaneously, since I’ve internalized so much of the inner meaning of each sabbat.

This Bealtaine (May Day, which according to Celtic tradition should be celebrated the night of 30 April but which I always celebrate on the 1st) I went back to 1999 for inspiration. Bealtaine is a joyous sabbat, celebrating the first day of Summer and the ripening of the Goddess and the God. This year it was absolutely gorgeous, with blue skies, temperatures in the high ’70s, and my gardens bursting with new life.

I always begin in darkness and silence, facing the North. North is the direction of the element of Earth, the home of the ancestors, and the “womb and tomb” of life. I briefly meditate on all which has brought me to the present place and time and set in stillness to prepare myself to transition Between the Worlds.

I then light sandalwood incense and the main candle on my altar while saying the following prayer, which comes from Vivianne Crowley’s Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Age (which is so well-used that the binding is completely broken and the pages keep falling out):

Let me be at one within myself
At one to celebrate the power
The power which moves the universe.
For behold! The lords of light have set their stars upon the heavens
The Earth spins and the Moon holds her course.
I will walk proudly and hold my head high
For the Sky is my father
And the Earth my mother
And I am a child of the Gods.

Then my own prayer:

Blessed and gracious ones, on this night do I bring to you my mind, my body, and my spirit!

I then light a candle and place it in each Quarter and invite the elements. Different Pagans use different systems but I honor the North first (“from you we come, unto you we return”) and then place the candle in the appropriate Quarter. Each Quarter corresponds to an element and a patron goddess.

INVOCATION OF THE EAST

Here do I bring light and Air in at the East, realm of Arianrhod. Arianrhod and all beings of your realm, all beings of Air, I welcome you to my Circle this night. Lend your swift voices to my growing song, send your fleet messengers ahead that my ravens know the course. Open my eyes, open my heart—all is awareness, all is choice, all is flow. Beings of Air, I welcome you in proud reverence here.

INVOCATION OF THE SOUTH

Here do I bring light and Fire in at the South, realm of Brighid. Brighid and all beings of your realm, all beings of Fire, I welcome you to my Circle this night. Light my way this night to awareness and understanding; add strength to my commitment to manifest my passions. Let my heart remember what it means to dream and let my spirit take flight! This is the time of rebirth, as sure as the buds on the trees and the sunny faces of the daffodils. Give me faith in my fire. Beings of Fire and passion, I welcome you in proud reverence here.

INVOCATION OF THE WEST

Here do I bring light and Water in at the West, realm of Rhiannon. Rhiannon and all beings of your realm, all beings of Water, I welcome you to my Circle this night. Dearest mother, open my heart, still my brain, let me hear your rhythmic and persistent tones. Let the sea awaken me, let the waves wash me clean, let the seagulls crown my joyful head. Seahorses and lily pads, treasure and sweet dominion—flow, flow in sacred sexuality, let music flow in the briny waves, let all of us dance in the graceful, lilting flow. Great Goddess, Mother Rhiannon, it is time for rebirth. From you our race emerged, cold and naked, searching for some greater truth. Yet still we long for you. Help me bridge the worlds of Earth and Water, Fire and Air—make me whole and unique, in love and in tune with the song of living. Give me flow, give me flow, let me ride the waves in inner stillness, let there be room for musings and whispered confidences and secret self-assurance. Great Mother, let your waters heal and sanctify me, your priestess of lifeanddeath. I am on the path. I welcome you in holy reverence here.

INVOCATION OF THE NORTH

Here do I bring light and Earth in at the North, realm of Cerridwen. Cerridwen and all beings of your realm, all beings of Earth, you know the enduring bonds of relationship. You know the ties of kith and kin. Great gods of forgotten ancestors, open the veil which shrouds my mind. Free my mind, heart, and body from the ravages of my history. It is time to be made anew, to carry seeds to fruition, to plant seeds anew. It is a new day, a new time, a new me. Give me the Sight—give me the breath, the clarity I need to make my dreams come true. I welcome you in blessed reverence here.

CAST THE CIRCLE

Casting the Circle can be done in a variety of ways, using a tool such as an athame, sword, or feather, or simply using your body. For Bealtaine, I used my body to cast a full sphere of water surrounded by Fire. I then said my traditional prayer, which may or may not be original (it’s hard to tell after almost 25 years!):

This Circle is sealed, and all within are free to glorify the Lady and the Lord, whom we adore.

I always follow this with a personal prayer suitable to that particular ritual’s needs, drawing on the mythological, psychic, and psychological themes of the sabbat.

After that, it’s anybody’s guess. My rituals vary year to year, sabbat to sabbat. There are a few things I like to do for Bealtaine. From Crowley’s book:

THE ARADIA CHARGE

I am Aradia
Daughter of the sea
And daughter of the wind
Daughter of the Sun
And daughter of the Moon
Daughter of dawn
And daughter of sunset
Daughter of night
And daughter of the mountains

And I have sung the song of the sea
And I have listened to the sighing of the wind
I have heard the hidden secrets of the Sun
And I have drunk of the tears of the Moon
I have seen the beauty of the dawn
And the sorrow of the sunset
I have lain ‘neath the darkest dark of the night
And I have beheld the might of the mountains

For I am stronger than the sea
And freer than the wind
I am brighter than the Sun
And more changing than the Moon
I am the hope of the dawn
And the peace of the sunset
I am more mysterious than night
And older than the mountains
Older than time itself
For I am she who was
And who will be
For I am Aradia.

SPRING GODDESS CHARGE

Hear then the words of Diana the Moon
The Bright Virgin
Changing but unchanging
My mystery is unanswerable
But solve ye that mystery
My nature is unknowable
But strive to understand me
Darkness and light are met within me
I flee from thee, but lure thee on
I seek for thee, but hide my face
I speak to thee, but my words are silent

I use the latter prayer at both Vernal Equinox and Bealtaine because I love it so much. It explores a great mystery: How can you solve a mystery which is unanswerable? How can you catch the Moon, which ever flees from you? I am caught up in the beauty and power of Diana, goddess of the hunt, fleet-footed and free in the greenwood.

I also have fun with Robin Goodfellow, adapted from Ben Jonson:

From Oberon, in Fairieland,
The king of ghosts and shadows there,
Mad Robin I, at his command,
Am sent to view the night-sports here.
What revel rout
Is kept about,
In every corner where I go,

I’ll oversee
And merry be,
And make good sport, with ho ho ho!

More swift than lightning can I fly
About this airy world and soon
In a minute’s space, I descry
Each thing that’s done beneath the Moon.
There’s not a hag
Or ghost shall wag,
Or cry, “‘Ware Goblins!” where I go,
But Robin I
Their feats will spy,
And send them home, with ho ho ho!

Whene’er such wanderers I meet,
As from their night-sports they trudge home,
With counterfeiting voice I greet
And call them on, with me to roam
Through woods, through lakes,
Through bogs, through brakes;
Or else, unseen, with them I go, 
All in the nick
To play some trick
And frolic it, with ho ho ho!

Sometimes I meet them like a man;
Sometimes an ox, sometimes a hound;
And to a horse I turn me can;
Top trip and trot about them round.
But if, to ride,
My back they stride,
More swift than wind away I go,
O’er hedge and lands,
Through pools and plants
I whirry, laughing, ho ho ho!

This is obviously based on Puck from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I love how it conjures up a mischievous spirit. Bealtaine is on the opposite side of the Wheel of the Year from Oidche Samhna (Samhain/Halloween), the night when the Veil Between the Worlds is at its thinnest and all kinds of spirits walk the roads. Puck is a nice reflection of that.

At some point I also sing the lovely tune The Young May Moon (this is a slightly different version from the one I sing but gives you the idea). My version was collected from England in the late eighteen hundreds. The lyrics are definitely from that time but the tune may be older, who knows.

Bealtaine is a good time to check in on how I’m doing with my reading from Oidche Samhna. That’s the in-depth (3-hour) tarot reading I do with Catlín Matthews’ Celtic Book of the Dead. It’s my guide for the spiritual year. This year is all about finding my true vocation, deepening my connection to the Otherworld, and relying on that connection to strengthen me as I travel through the Sea of Mists, unsure of my destination.

As with any ritual, I may include trance work, ecstatic dance, meditations, spirit journeys, prayers, and magic. But I always ground with “Cakes and Ale,” the traditional feast at the end of the Witch’s ritual. Of course, my “cakes” are a chocolate chip cookie from Butch’s (so delicious, I just can’t even describe) and a lovely glass of milk. The prayers that go with them are something like:

I know that every seed is a record of times past and a promise of what’s to come. Thank you for this gift of the Earth and may I live out its promise in love and courage.

Just as the grape undergoes change to become wine, and that wine may bring the enchantment of the divine realms or the stupor of the baser ones, so do I recognize that all rise or fall according to their talents and their strength of will. Thank you for this gift of Earth and may I live out its potential in courage and grace.

I always put aside some of the Cakes and Ale for the Little Folk (I toss it outside afterwards with the quick prayer, “Back at ya, Goddess”) and then tuck in. I often feel the spirits of those I’ve invited flitting around, chatting and gnoshing along with me.

I close with prayers and by saying thank you and good-bye to each Quarter, knowing that I carry the promise of each in my bodymindspirit always. I open the Circle and then say,

The Circle is open, but never broken. Love is the law and love is the bond. May I have a straight spine, a clear mind, and a heart filled with love and with joy. Blessed Be!

I am usually left with a great sense of well-being, clarity, and peace at the end of ritual, and often have a lesson or two to take with me onto my path to the next sabbat.

I share the above resources freely; adapt as you will for your purposes (for the good of all, may it harm none). Blessed Be.