Category Archives: moot writeup

Lammas

Discussing Lammas was pretty useful for some of us at the moot this month – it’s a crucial point on the wheel – it is the time to take a plunge and turn the work of the summer into what will sustain you through winter and this requires sacrifice. It’s a harvest festival and a celebration of abundance and yet at the same time it is the first confrontation with death after the growth of light and life ever since the winter ended.

Lammas is the first of three harvest festivals. They’re three overhauls of cycles, all involving sacrifice to make way for new growth – the corn harvest, the fruit harvest and the meat harvest. Speaking in non-agricultural terms, they’re a good time to make over our lives. Lammas is a good time to sacrifice the things in our lives that are weighing us down, that will drain us if we try to keep them over the winter. A time to evaluate, then make brutal cuts – by working out what is important we can focus our efforts into preserving that over the winter.

A useful model which emerged was to assign areas of life to each harvest:

LAMMAS — AUTUMN EQUINOX — SAMHAIN

Body          —        Mind   —       Spirit

Going by the wheel of the year myths that have come to dominate in modern Pagan witchcraft in the UK, Lammas is when the God is cut down and sacrificed – the corn is cut down so that food can be made, and new crops can be sown in the next season. It is a practical, physical act. The fruit harvest is when we reap the fruits of our labours – in this day and age these are usually intellectual labours, done in libraries and behind desks – a time to re-evaulate careers and personal endeavours. At Samhain intense forces of life and death can be channelled and we can call on guidance in our spirituals paths…

What can we learn from Lammas? That losses from sacrifices are always replenished. When we cut something which has become negative out, it is to make room for something positive to take its place, be it a relationship stagnating, a task going nowhere or an interference in a situation which shows no signs of improvement. We invite in new opportunities when we make room for them.

Links to deities and traditions are strong in our imaginations for this sabbat. The corn harvest is linked with the most interesting sacrifice myths. The imagery is of a mature Goddess (such as Ceres) wielding a scythe, showing strength, while a God shows bravery and a sense of duty in accepting his fate – his strength over the summer is what is reaped in order to sustain the winter. Lammas is about maturity, the opposite of what is celebrated at Imbolc, youth. In Lammas we find the strength to make decisions.

The Goddess figures are changing a life stage at Lammas – slowly transitioning from mother to crone. The mother is at her bravest in the loss of her consort but her grieving is delayed as she must remain strong to see through what must be done. We went slightly into some more feminine issues… the Goddess is not yet a crone here, she still bleeds – power and life cornlinked to blood, blood represents life and death and she has the control over these events in these stories.

The harvest – a time of making offerings and tributes. Folk traditions about the corn harvest always feature something happening to the last sheaf of corn – it is not eaten but offered up to the Gods in some way – whether lucky or unlucky, it is not to be taken along with the rest. This could be an inspiration to celebrate practically? Throw out what is weighing you down, and make an offering to welcome in the new.

Midsummer Solstice

For June Midsummer Solstice proved a popular festival, crowding the moot with contributions and associations – here are some of them:

  • A masculine festival, associations with Sun Gods such as Apollo. The male principle here is at its most powerful, in a regal, wise and controlled kind of way as opposed to the wild Dionysian aspect.
  • The height of the sun and the height of personal strength and activity, permitted by so many productive hours of light! The solstice and its surrounding weeks are bright and tending towards a full and energetic life without the need for artificial light.
  • A feeling of safety – we celebrate the solar cycle as stable, it is a much longer cycle than the lunar cycle – the cycle of the sun is strongly associated with agriculture, the patterns we rely on to sustain the harvest and ongoing survival.
  • The turning point of the year – an excuse to party all day, since the night is so short (at Pagan Threads we always look for why to celebrate and how!)
  • We also talked a lot about stone circles like Stonehenge, and other sacred sites. These stand out at Midsummer as Pagan things that have pervaded popular culture, that a vast range of people of various beliefs or lack of, are prepared to celebrate as ancient and part of their heritage even if they don’t know the meanings of why they may have been there.
  • So maybe a good way to celebrate Midsummer is to visit somewhere special? Our moot-goers recommended some of their own favourite places of power:
Avebury Stone Circle
Avebury Stone Circle

 

  • Avebury Stone Circle
  • The New Forest
  • Glastonbury Chalice Well
  • Uffington White Horse
  • The Long Man of Wilmington
  • Burnham Beaches
  • Whitby Bay

Spring Equinox

Just as its precedent, Imbolc, seemed the hardest of the major sabbats to understand, Spring Equinox called up the fewest obvious associations of the solar festivals.

Spring is much more clearly here at this time. Bolder daffodils emerge from the thawing earth, and here is the tipping point of the days and nights – the light takes over and promises the return of summer. Another beginning to take up where the endings in winter left off.

What interested us in this discussion was what form its celebrating of fertility came. The imagery is largely animal-related – rabbits, eggs, lambs.

BunnyWe talked about some of the deities associated with the time of year – the traditions. A lot of Goddesses came up (mingled in with Christian saints and other adopted patron names and characters), and a lot of maiden figures. However, it is a solar equinox, something many of couldn’t help but see as masculine, and if trying to find symmetry in the wheel of the year, then maybe this is a companion festival to Imbolc and maturing of the feminine divine? If a Goddess comes to maturity followed by a God, surely the preparations are done for the approaching sexual festival of Beltane…

Magic & Ritual

February’s moot topic drew a predictably large crowd, with the wonderfully huge topic and magic and ritual. We wanted to talk about its place within, or alongside, depending on your point of view, spirituality, and hopefully share tales of our own magical practices (or lack of) and why we had come to do the things we do, or what we were hoping to do.

Something we all recognised in the term ritual was an implication of structure. Whether this meant the casting of a circle or similar boundary (or at least the marking out of a working space), it seemed to us that ritual was something that happens in a different space to ordinary life, whether physically or mentally.

Cleansing the space or banishing from it first was a common theme, although whether or not this is done does seem to vary with circumstances, how much the person feels it needs doing.

Another most important component according the group was your own state of mind, if not somehow ‘altered’, then at least calm, cleared or focussed. ‘Clearing your mind’ and ‘trying to focus on something’ are not the most straightforward of activities! It was suggested that doing one could help achieve the other! (So can certain substances, it was also mentioned, but whether that was a good idea was all in the context ;-))

Helpful techniques suggested by attendees:

  • counting, breathing, listening to a regular beat (drumbeat, heartbeat) – a rhythm can help focus the mind and drown out the irregular background noise of distractions
  • an activity that focuses you – stirring, grinding, kneading (ties into if you are making something magical)

One of the most magical offerings made in ritual is speech – the power of words. Words have always carried power. A few of us were bilingual and we talked about choices of language. Sometimes a local language can make someone feel closer to a local spirit or deity… when writing our own words or using others’, we talked about knowing the meaning of what we were saying and focussing on the intent behind them. However alternatively we talked a lot about words in archaic languages, or words that we didn’t understand. On the one hand it takes extra concentration to learn or say them, but on the other hand is that just distracting more than devoted?  Perhaps they hold more power from a history of magical usage? Does speaking them transport the speaker to a more transcendent frame of mind, from not being everyday words with mundane meanings?

Ritual

Repetition, repetition, repetition. This was not so much a speculation as an observation, but from the combined experiences of our moot-goers, the more an intent was repeated the more successfully it seemed to fare. This brings us back to the word ritual – one of its meanings being “any practice or pattern of behaviour regularly performed in a set manner” – doing anything regularly gives it a life of its own, power and meaning of its own. To be the one performing it is to be the one shaping that meaning.

Imbolc

What we realised when we came to discuss Imbolc, in January, is that it seems to be the most elusive of the major Sabbats to understand. It is the first festival of Spring happening in an environment (2nd February) that is still very much immersed in Winter, and suggests new growth without the blatant connotations of celebrating fertility as the festivals immediately following it do, so how do we pin down the occasion we’re marking?

For those at the moot this month, Imbolc seems to represent a strange liminal period between winter and spring. A time to prepare to emerge from hibernation, but not quite come out yet. A time of planning and preparation – in agricultural terms, for planting and nurturing, not being hasty about results but instead being thorough in assuring they will happen. A focus on potential, and hope.

Practically it is when we have a tendency towards spring-cleaning, and decluttering – reassessing the basics and seeing and appreciating your environment anew, leaving the darkness of the winter behind. In that vein, we all seemed to call up personal reminders of a lot of fire imagery – not the blazing bonfires of Beltane, but candle light, sparks, the beginnings of warmth, and a sense of purification.

Also mentioned was the pre-Roman (possibly rooted in ancient Greek) festival of the Lupercalia, once celebrated in early February to purify the city to allow in new health and fertility. Pan or his equivalent was worshipped and the carnival-esque traditions included the priests of Pan wearing goatskins and enacting playful scourging/flagellations (a long-held symbol of purification) on those celebrating… it is suspected by some that such behaviour may have been the origin of the legends of the werewolf!

Modern Pagan understandings among us at the moot however were largely Goddess-centric. Most of us saw it as a quite gentle but feminine festival, with the female principle truly in a maiden aspect – deities we associated with it tended to be virgin goddesses, and ifSnowdrops understanding the sabbats as times for different rites of passage for the dual divinities, then perhaps an association to menarche? One stage of preparation towards impending fertility and impending Spring promise.

As far as observing the season, early February did seem to have an uncanny synchronicity with the appearance of snowdrops – nature’s calendar reminder?

 

Midwinter Solstice

For our 4th moot, festivity was in the (dark, cold) air and we elected to have a talk about Yule – arguably the most widely observed festival worldwide under its different guises:

This is the part of the solar year’s cycle most difficult to ignore, at least by the Northern hemisphere’s standards – the longest night, the shortest day, the time of year where nature seems to be advising you to stay indoors and snuggle up with a hot drink. We observe the point in the wheel by being up and awake as the sun rises latest in the morning and seeing it go down again soon after. We can literally see the wheel turning at this point as the sun sets earlier and earlier each day through December… this is part of what makes most people feel so attuned to the celebration of this festival.

So what’s to celebrate? Well in such times of darkness we want to create light through celebration, take stock of our blessings and what we have saved up for this time with feasting and the domestic comforts of hearth and familial bonds – these feelings add up to a feeling of safety to contract with the risks of cold and darkness outside.

Yule chimney

We also talked a lot about midwinter as a festival of birth or rebirth. As well as Christian religions placing the birth of Jesus at this time (much like the Queen’s official birthday is placed at a more culturally convenient time in sunny June than her real one in rainy April), it is also the birth of Mithras, of the Greek mystery cult, and in modern Pagan witchcraft come the myths of the rebirth of the God form the Goddess, the start of the cycle for the male principle. The deaths of what has been harvested after summer’s growth and the leaves that departed the trees in Autumn are now come full circle back to being reborn – here begins the promise of Spring.

Gods and Worship

Downright theism, or something more subtle? That is the question for November’s moot.

For many Pagans, personal connection to the deity that has always called to them is the very reason they practise, the reason they may have rejected traditions or background that sought to tell them such Gods were just myths, just out of date stories long since replaced by something else. Yet for others theism holds no answers, that swapping one God for another, no matter how old or how new, does not help them understand the world whereas seeing divinity in an entirely different way opens all the doors to knowledge that they have always been seeking.

So what are our options?

Monotheism: belief in one deity. Not really all the rage among Pagans, although some identify with or work with simply ‘Spirit’, the fifth point of the pentacle, the missing element which is not material.

Duotheism: belief in two deities. Many branches of modern Paganism give a lot of attention to characterising the polarity and balance found in the natural world (day and night, sun and moon, summer and winter, the + and – of the earth’s magnetic field) with two complementing deities, often characterised as a God and Goddess, a male and female principle.

Polytheism: Like the classical Greeks or the Romans or the ancient Egyptians, a polytheist’s world is rich in deities with their own names, personalities, interactions, stories and family trees. Many eclectic Pagans don’t even restrict themselves to the Gods of one region, maybe worshipping Isis and Thor in the same week. Others might be Hellenic polytheists and just stick with the deities of the Greeks, for example. But to the polytheist, these Gods are distinct, individual and very real.

Pantheism: the belief that divinity is nature and nature is the divine, plain and simple. Someone once asked the author known as Starhawk if she believed in the Goddess, to which she shrugged, pointed and said, “Do you believe in that rock?” Pantheists worship nature itself, as directly as possible, without the need to name and anthropomorphise the landscape any further than perhaps ‘mother earth’. For pantheists, the divine doesn’t need arms or legs or speech or gender to be the subject of celebration and honouring.

Panentheism (consulting the almighty wikipedia for help with this one): “(from Greek πᾶν (pân) “all”; ἐν (en) “in”; and θεός (theós) “God”; “all-in-God”) A belief system which posits that God exists and interpenetrates every part of nature, and timelessly extends beyond as well. Panentheism is distinguished from pantheism, which holds that God is synonymous with the material universe.”

  • Gender was one of our key issues when talking about deity. Flowers have male and female parts and we think of them as neither, so why not divinity?
  • Humans are social creatures and our minds and emotions geared towards interacting with each other, over and above our relations with anything else. When trying to develop an emotional and personal connection with divinity is it any wonder that we tend towards making people of our Gods?
  • With so many enjoying their expression of one gender, whether biological or adopted, and so few perceived as androgynous, it is hard for us to imagine something at once genderless and anthropomorphic, our brains are not well-practised at imagining or seeing such a thing, it is not as easily imagined as ‘a man’ or ‘a woman’ or ‘a mother’ or even the animals or part animals that Gods are often depicted as. Bizarre as it may seem there appear to be more depictions of creatures that are half horse and half man in our combined history and culture than truly androgynous people!
  • Archetypes – an unavoidable topic. People like to identify with ideas, with identities, with imagery that inspires them. Archetypes (the warrior, the teachers, the lover, the mother, the father, the magician) – they evolve, they represent different practical experiences, but the imagery doesn’t change and the deities continue.
  • Identity – in a time when everyone’s identity is so complex, archetypes are concepts we reach for reset, to get back to a basic, to focus something within ourselves – with this we can explain why we call upon a Goddess of hunting when we don’t hunt, a God of war when we are not soldiers and the Gods of nature when we live in cities.

Samhain

Our second moot attracted yet more interested parties – gathering to talk about the craft’s most famous festival, Samhain. What was said…

Samhain is a time for many things.

As the third harvest – the meat harvest, it has a raw and real connection with death and the necessity of it for life to go on. It is in direct opposition to the festival of Beltane, the year’s biggest celebration of sex, death’s opposite, the perfect balance of the two that is needed to keep things in equilibrium. Accepting death is part of celebrating life fully, and death, like its tarot card is also the ultimate metaphor for change – and accepting change as progress. Regaining purpose in the face of loss.

Samhain is also the time of folklore, where the veil between the world of reality and the world of spirits is at its thinnest – a liminal time, a time for divination (a good time to incorporate this into magical work, perhaps? Setting up and planning over the winter for the hopes of what will emerge from its hibernation). A time to look back on the past and those that have gone before. For those traditions or individuals attaching particular importance to ancestors, whether personal or as a unified concept, it is a time of honour and tribute, valuing what we can learn from elders.

The end of a cycle. Many think of Samhain as the Pagan New Year – it is certainly the last sabbat before Yule, the festival of rebirth. At Samhain death comes, and we welcome it with Jack-O’-lanterns, lighting its way and grasping it with both hands as a crucial part of the cycle.

Jack O Lantern

 

 

First Moot – Autumn Equinox

9th September 2009

Our first ever moot! We had a good few people and new friends were made, gathered around tea…

Tea

We talked about Autumn Equinox – the fruit harvest (the second of three harvest sabbats) – the fruits of our labours and imaginations and what has come of the summer. A time for:

  • Preserving, hoarding, safety – celebrating abundance but not squandering (being the industrious mouse, not the lazy mouse from the fable!
  • Celebrating the arrival of winter as a positive turn in the season, a time for rest and a time to turn in – introspection and growth from within.

It is also a solar festival – the equinox of the waning sun. If thinking of the male divine aspect in his duality as wise ruler vs. wild fertility god, this is the descending of the first aspect, the Apollonian aspect waning.

Also in discussion was risk – the risks of summer (heat and dryness) turning to the risks of winter (cold, rain, snow). In the Mediterranean liminal periods such as the peak heat and stillness of noon being known as the ‘hour of Pan’, where the trickster spirit can disrupt the calm. We made the associations between Pan and places and times where risk was present – in our corner of Europe his places of risk are the dark and dense woodland, wild and camouflaged in the wet and leafy Autumn.

We also talked about moving with the wheel of the year and staying in contact with it – experiencing the changing seasons directly as important to accepting the rhythms of the seasons and one’s own life, attuning to them rather than expending energy resisting them.

Also came our first foray into discussions of personal magic. How do we reconcile the many different bits of advice thrown at us from various directions from various books, authors and traditions? How reliable are sets of ‘rules’ that one person has chosen to write down and present to us? We talked about intent and how important it was to getting the results we wanted.

A pearl of wisdom from our own Francesco: Magic is like a dance or a poem – when learning to compose it, to perform it – structure, direction, using someone else’s ‘choreography’ as a template, is often helpful. If confidence or originality has trouble shining through at first, learning someone else’s song can teach us – all the better become our own skills to improvise 😉