I venture to say that very few of us Pagans were raised Pagan.  I'll venture another assumption and say that most of us were probably raised Christian.  We all left the church for various reasons and found our spiritual home in Paganism.  For many of us, myself included, Paganism was a breathe of fresh air that spoke to our soul.

However, I will admit that sometimes being a Pagan sucks.  The problem with Paganism is that it's so old that most/all of it isn't written down anywhere.  It's also so "new" that there aren't Pagan temples on every corner and hoards of fellow Pagans gathering in every town.  Sometimes being a Pagan is lonely and confusing.

Christians have it better...sometimes

Most of us turn to religion for guidance, connection and community.  We want to know how we should live our lives.  We want to feel that we aren't a meaningless individual floating in space.  We want to commune with fellow believes and feel the strength of that solidarity.  All of these things are difficult to find in Paganism.

Christianity (or really any of the Big Three), is equipped with holy book, churches and millions of followers.  Paganism, on the other hand, has no definitive holy book, very few gathering places and far fewer followers.

So we can all agree that sometimes being a Pagan sucks.  So why be a Pagan?  What can we learn from Christians?

Next time I'll talk about why everything that makes being a Pagan suck are the same things that make it awesome.

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The Winter Solstice is almost upon us and the days are short, cold and dark.  Here, in Vermont, our leaves have long since left the their trees and the temperature has entered the single digits more than once.  As far north as we are, the Winter Solstice is not mid-winter, but is instead the first day of winter.  We can look forward to many more months of cold and snow before the earth warms again.

As Pagans we must constantly renew our connection to our mother, the Earth.  This can be particularly difficult in the wintertime.  Unlike the hibernating animals, we are still expected to go to work, care for children, and clean our house regardless of the weather and darkness.

Pagan Winter

In the Winter our bodies and minds just want to snuggle under warm blankets, drink tea and sleep.  Forcing our Summertime-level of activity can lead us to feel stressed and depressed.  Although we can't climb into a burrow until Spring, we can still honor our Winter rhythm in other ways:
  • Stay Warm:  If your body is expending large amounts of energy to stay warm you may begin to feel sick and tire.  Honor your body's need for warm and layer with wool base layers, socks and sweaters.
  •  Sleep More:  Try getting into bed an hour earlier than usual.  Even if you bring a book, you're still honoring your body's need to rest.  Just as the trees and plants rest during the Winter, so must we.  
  • Walk Outside:  You may be tempted to stay inside all Winter- running from the car to the house, but be sure to spend some time outside everyday.  Bundle up and breathe in the cold air, look up at the stars (particularly visible in the winter) and tromp through the leafless woods.  Renew your connection with the sleeping Earth daily.
  • Reduce Artificial Light:  With such short days, it's tempting to live under a constant glow of artificial lights.  Instead, try to embrace the darkness.  Light candles at night, enjoy the grey gloom during the day and turn on soft salt lamps in the evening.  With less light you'll find your body slowing down as it should during the Winter months.
Don't bide your time until Spring!  Slow your pace, hunker down, eat good food and huddle under warm blankets. Embrace the darkness!

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The first trimester is one of the most delicate times during a woman's pregnancy.  Although very small, the growing embryo is incredibly vulnerable and fragile.  Often, pregnancies end for reasons unknown and women are left confused and sad.

Although perhaps unpleasant, all women should know that 10%-25% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, the vast majority of which happen during the first trimester of pregnancy.  This is an important fact, not to cause fear and anxiety, but to understand that you aren't alone if you have experienced an unexpected miscarriage.  Our body's are usually very smart and there may be a very good reason that the body decided the reject that particular pregnancy.  Rarely is the miscarriage caused by anything the woman did or didn't do. 

If you have experienced a miscarriage, are in your first trimester, or perhaps are pregnant after a previous miscarriage, you may have heightened fear about potentially losing your pregnancy.  As difficult as it can be, choosing to trust your body and the Goddess can help alleviate your fear.  It's good practice to begin building this trust relationship now because it will serve as an anchor during the throws of labor.

Beginning a daily devotion is one of the most effect ways to foster a positive and trusting relationship with both your body and the Goddess.  Mantras or chants can be added to your devotions as a way of positively affirming your intentions and desires.  This is a key element in any magical working.  Below is a very old set of mantras that you may find inspiring:

  • As this great earth conceives the germs of the beings, thus shalt thy embryo be-beld fast, to produce a child after pregnancy!
  • As this great earth holds these trees, thus shall thy embryo be held fast, to produce a child after pregnancy!

  • As this great earth holds the mountains and the peaks, thus shall thy embryo be held fast, to produce a child after pregnancy!

  • As this great earth holds the animals scattered far, thus shall thy embryo be held fast, to produce a child after pregnancy!

 Hymns of the Atharva-Veda translated by Maurice Bloomfield Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 42 [1897]

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Magical talismans can be very useful in your Magical practice.  Our human brains often need symbols and objects to contain the ineffable quality of the universe- it helps us focus our will and energy.  It is thought that certain herbs, stones, metals, etc. correspond with planets, stars, and purposes.  When we pair or group these objects into a single object it can unite with our own will to create a magical talisman.  In "The Philosophy of Natural Magic", the author details the process of creating a magical ring:

Now, the manner of making these kinds of Magical Rings is this, viz.; When any Star ascends fortunately, with the fortunate aspect or conjunction of the Moon, we must take a stone and herb that is under that Star, and make a ring of the metal that is suitable to this Star, and in it fasten the stone, putting the herb or root under it—not omitting the inscriptions of images, names and characters, as also the proper suffumigations
 One of the dangers of buying or creating a magical ring is choosing the correspondences.  There is no definitive tomb with all magical correspondences.  You may see in some texts that silver corresponds to the moon and feminine energy.  In other texts you may read the silver actually corresponds to Saturn and aids in clear thinking and masculine energy.  Which is correct?  Unfortunately and fortunately, there is no correct answer.  Unfortunately because, as Pagans, we are woefully short in authoritative texts.  Fortunately because we then have some freedom to make our own decisions in these matters.

In the footnotes of the same text on Magical rings it warns the reader against trusting charlatans who would sell magical talismans claiming they will cure an ailment or accomplishing some task.  The true virtue in these Magical rings is that which the wearer imparts to the object:

Consult yourself, therefore, regarding a personal occult ring, selecting the metal, stone and design that you are most pleased with. Then you have made a proper start, and, in a great many cases, need go no further; thus every plain gold marriage ring becomes a magical ring... Every ring, being a circle, contains occult force and symbolizes the eternal.
 Think of those objects, stones and metals that may hold special significance for you.  Perhaps you and your partner's birth stones combined on ring to signifying the child as a union of the two of you.  Think of your future child and write down, quickly, those colors, stones and metals that come to mind.  Often the best talismans come from your instincts. Wear this ring and feed it positive energy daily, thus creating your own Magical ring.

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The Philosophy of Natural Magic, by Henry Cornelius Agrippa, L. W. de Laurence ed. [1913]

I took a bit of a break to celebrate the holidays.  It was my son's first holiday season so I wanted to be completely present and in the moment.  Although much of festivities was over his head, we all had a wonderful time.  I hope all of you had a joyful holiday as well.

Today we'll talk about Vietnamese fertility rituals.  Every culture has fertility rituals that aim to help a woman conceive a child.  A ritual will help to focus your energy and attention to the act of conception and prepare your mind and spirit for pregnancy.

As with most rituals, the Vietnamese fertility ritual begins with prayers to the Gods.  One common Goddess associated with fertility and childbirth is Lieu Hanh, one of the Four Immortals and the main figure in the mother Goddess cult called Dao Mau.
In the town of Huong Tich of Ha-dong province, now in North Vietnam, there is a grotto which has a number of vaguely human-shaped rocks called "Young Girls' and Young Boys' Rocks". After paying proper devotions, the supplicant woman chooses one of these "children of Buddha" and caresses it with exhortations to follow her home. She then goes home convinced that "Buddha's Child" is accompanying her, and in attempts to please it, she buys both sweets and toys, and will even pay double bus fare so that "it" can ride beside her.
From that day forward, a place for "it" is made at the family table, with a cradle being prepared at night until the day when the "invisible visitor" finally decides to become a member of the family. Such a child is referred to as a "prayed-for child" because he is an answer to fervent prayer and the parents tend to spoil it.
 The "Buddha's Child" could be associated with the idea that our children's spirits are waiting to be born.  Our job, as mothers, is to usher this spirit child into the physical realm.  The Vietnamese prepare their homes and their hearts for the impending arrival of their child into physical reality.

Many of us Westerners do something similar in setting up the nursery, but the Vietnamese take it one step further by assuming that the child's spirit is visiting the family until it decides to be born.

How do you feel about this ritual?  Do you believe your child's spirit accompanies you until it is born into the physical plane?  

The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division [1967]
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I'm pleased to be able to offer a Pagan-themed January 2013 BBT Chart.  When I was trying to conceive I used the Basal Body Temperature chart to track my peak fertility.  I really wanted a Pagan-themed chart that allowed me to track the correspondences, lunar phases and zodiac.  The chart is made to be printed and filled out daily. 

This is the proto-type that I will be offering for sale at a fair price in the near future.  I hope you'll try it out and give me feedback to make it even better!

Thank you and happy holidays!

Download here

Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice (in the northern hemisphere) and either the first day of winter or midwinter depending on your location.  This holiday is all about light both literally and literally.  We celebrate the return of the sun after the longest night of the year and thank the Gods for the lengthening days and shortening nights.

As Pagans, we may choose to celebrate both the Winter Solstice and Christmas.  Personally, I observe the Winter Solstice religiously and Christmas as a generic family holiday.  As I'm sure we all know, Christmas itself is just the Christian solar festival and Jesus is the "coming of light".  Different trappings, but the same holiday in essence.

William Tyler Olcott in his book "Sun Lore of all Ages" discusses the origins of the word "Yule" and where we get our English word "wheel":
In many countries this festival season was known as "Yole," or "Yuul," from the word Hiaul, or Huul, which even to this day signifies "the sun" in some languages. From this we get our word "wheel," and the wheel is one of the ancient symbols of the sun, the spokes representing the sun's rays. 
 For thousands of years humanity has been celebrating this holiday.  There is, perhaps, no other holiday that is so shared by so many cultures and civilizations through time and space.  
Procopius describes how the men of Thule climbed the mountain tops at the winter solstice, to catch sight of the nearing sun after their thirty-five days of night. Then they celebrated their holiest feasts.

Plutarch, referring to the solar festivals of Egypt, says, that "about the winter solstice they lead the sacred cow seven times in procession around the temple, calling this the searching after Osiris, that season of the year standing most in need of the sun's warmth."

In China, the Great Temple of the Sun at Peking is oriented to the winter solstice, and the most important of all the State observances of China takes place there December 21st, the sacrifice of the winter solstice.
...the day was adopted in the western church where it appears to have been generally introduced by the fourth century, and whence in time it passed to the eastern church as the solemn anniversary of the Birth of Christ, Christmas Day. As a matter of history no valid or even consistent early Christian tradition vouches for it."  Many of the early dignitaries of the Church reveal in their writings the solar character of this festival. Augustus and Gregory discoursed on "the glowing light and dwindling darkness that follow the nativity," and Leo the Great denounced in a sermon the idea that Christmas Day is to be honoured, not for the birth of Christ, but for the rising of the new sun.
 One of my favorite ways to celebrate this time of year is with a beautifully decorated tree.  You may choose to call it a Christmas tree, holiday tree or Yule tree; it matters not.  
The lighting of the Christmas tree is but the light to guide the Sun-God back to life, and the festival cakes of corn and fruit, made in honour of the Sun in ancient times, and laid on the sacred altars of the Persians as an offering of gratitude to the Lord of Light and Life, find their prototype in the plum pudding that graces the board at our Christmas feasts of rejoicing. 
 If you have experienced a period of darkness in your life this is the time to welcome the light back in.  Perhaps you've been experience infertility or postpartum depression and have lost your joy.  Take time on this special day to rid yourself of this darkness.  Try this simple ritual:

Sit at your altar.  Light an offering of incense and allow the smoke to swirl around you.  Close your eyes and open your heart and mind to the voices of your Gods.  Take a small slip of paper and write down all of the darkness in your life.  As you write, imagine the ink pulling the morose out of your body and onto the paper.  When you're done, light a candle on your altar and hold the paper to the flame.  Stare into the flame and envision the rising of the glorious sun after a long, dark winter.  Feel the flame and sun burning the darkness out of your life and body.  Welcome the Sun God into your life and ask his blessing of fire and warmth.  When your paper is ash offer your gratitude to the Gods for the blessings in your life and open your heart to any messages they may have for you.  It would also be appropriate to draw a tarot card.

Happy Yule!

Sun Lore of All Ages, by William Tyler Olcott, [1914]
photo credit: Christolakis via photopin cc

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