Thursday, December 27, 2007

Covering my head.

In some of the Greek texts I've read, and in various historical readings, they talk about women covering their heads. There is also some evidence (perhaps a lot, although I haven't really done a lot of research into it) that men also covered their heads, at least during divine services of any kind. So... I asked Farnham for a shawl or scarf for Yule. He got me the most beautiful turquoise one, that matches my formal robes, and I am quite happy right now.

The last two nights, I have worn my scarf over my hair and shoulders when I have done my daily devotions. I am startled at what a difference it makes. I think it was Sannion that first mentioned it to me, or asked me a question about it, and sparked my interest. I didn't think it would be a big deal but figured I would try it out. Wow. Having the head covered really focuses your attention on the altar (or whatever you're looking at). I found it was easy to ignore outside sounds and disturbances, and just center on my devotions and meditations.

This is such a silly little thing to do, but... like the hand washing, and the holding of my hands over the candles for Hecate and Dionysus, it is becoming important to me. I find myself looking forward to nightly devotions, instead of going to bed and realizing I need to get up again. I can't wait until the next time we can have a fire in the house, and I can kneel by the hearth, staring into the hot coals, with my head covered, and my gaze focused.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Heliogenia?

There are people on my Hellenic Pagan list that talk about a "newish" ritual called Heliogenia. My basic understanding is that the ritual is a rehash of the winter solstice done by many pagans. However, it isn't JUST a rehash. There is plenty of evidence that non-Christians and those who were around before the Christian era (ie the Romans, Greeks, Celts, etc.) all celebrated some sort of festival around this time of the year.

There's plenty of reason to celebrate, after all. The solstice was something that anyone could observe, with nothing more complex than a stick in the ground. There are many rituals that revolve around the death and rebirth of the sun. The Wiccan rituals to do with the Oak and Holly kings are based on older rituals, even if they're a bit mixed up. There are rituals in many other cultures, too, that venerate the shortest day of the year.

So why not Greek reconstructionism? Frankly, I'm not going to stop celebrating the secular Christmas, just because I'm Hellenic in my worship now. I'm sure that the ancient Greeks didn't, either. They came from all corners of their world, and had a vast repetoire of gods and spirits and ancestors, and certainly there were many personal and private rituals enacted by the citizens of Greece, Rome, and Etruria.

I don't celebrate Heliogenia, but not because I disagree with it. I don't, actually, disagree with it at all. I think it's a great idea! I just have rituals that I already perform in regards to the solstice, so I don't need a new one.

For me, rituals of the more formal sort should be dictated not by some schedule created by someone before you were born (be that Jesus, Moses, or Gardner), but by your own life and cycles. I have daily rituals that are just mine, but there are "family rituals" that we celebrate every year, that are vastly important to us. At first, when I was Wiccan, I tried to jam those celebrations into the 8 Festivals, but it never really seemed to fit. Then I attempted to have non-religious celebrations, but that doesn't work for me either, because my beliefs permeate my life. Now, I am slowly making semi-formal rituals designed to celebrate our family's important moments.

We like to celebrate Christmas. We also celebrate Yule, though it's much quieter. We celebrate New Year. There's Brigid's Day, which we celebrate as the conception date of the twins. Ostara and Easter are on our list, and Beltaine, Mabon, Samhain, and a few others. There's also Thanksgiving, which is a very spiritual day for us. Each one has very wonderful associations which we've built up over the years. When we get together for these days, there is the force of five years of memory behind it, five years and growing.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Yule Logs and Other Things of the Season


As I built up the fire this morning, after Gray left, I thought about Yule Logs and fires of winters past. I thought about the tiny live tree that Davydd and I had purchased, years ago, in a small apartment near Metrotown Mall. I thought about the year that I only had $10 to buy gifts for my daughter, and I got her a zillion pieces of plastic play food at the local dollar store, and wrapped each piece separately. Then there was the year we hand-painted ornaments and gifts for everyone in the family, carefully choosing things that would reflect the person it was for.

As a youngster, I hated Christmas. Christmas Eve was fun, at my Grandma's house, with the Clootie Dumpling and the shrimp platter, and all the traditional Scottish foods she would make. But it inevitably brought my mother's drinking on, in large amounts. Then Christmas Day would dawn, and I would have to wait until 9:30 or 10am for her to wake up, and then she would be hung over and grouchy throughout the present opening. Then the 2 hour trip to see my Hungarian grandparents, which was long and painful, and the visit, which was fun only as long as the food was being served. Once that was done, the grown ups would sit and watch football or something equally boring, and I would retreat to my grandmother's bedroom to read a book. The 2 hour trip home was excrutiating, because my mother was now over-full, possibly drunk again, and extremely tired from the "labors" of the two days. The only good part was the following day, Boxing Day in Canada. She would stay in her room for most of the day, coming out only for food and BromoSeltzer for her stomach. I would spend time with my dad, playing games or watching movies.

When I moved out, I determined not to celebrate Christmas, since my parents didn't ever celebrate CHRISTmas, only the seasonal spending orgy. It seemed wrong to me, even at 18. Instead, I began to celebrate Yule, and the Solstice. Often, we'd stay up all night, waiting for the return of the Sun. We exchanged our gifts and had our "orphan's Christmas" on the 21st or 22nd, whichever worked better, and we had a really wonderful time. Slowly, my views on the winter holidays changed. I came to enjoy the decorations again.

When my daughter was born, suddenly it all took on new meaning. I took great joy in putting up the decorations. I started new traditions with her, like getting a new ornament every year, and opening our "family gifts" on Yule, and still celebrating both Christmas (as the *birth of Christ* and not a commercial venture) and Santa's visit. It turned the whole time into a week of fun, rather than one day of orgiastic present opening. In the middle was a feast, which all our friends and adopted family would attend, each bringing something different to add to the table.

After I came to Maryland, and lost custody of my daughter, Christmas became a sad time for me once again. It all seemed to call out that I wasn't with her, and that I was a failure, even though on a logical level I knew I was not at fault. I would spend the end of November and beginning of December purchasing little gifts for her, and the family would buy one larger item. I would buy her a dress, as I had been for many years, something overly "frou frou" and pretty, something her guardians would never spend money on. Then I would send it, and spend the rest of the month in tears, because every song and every twinkling light reminded me that she was far away.

Now that the twins are with us, it isn't so bad. I miss my daughter terribly, but she is old enough to understand some of why I'm not with her, now. We talk a lot online, and we enjoy many telephone calls. The twins are so excited and happy, it's difficult to find time to be morose and upset. I am learning, yet again, to love this time of year.

Having a fire blazing in our fireplace is helping. It gives me a place to make my wine and barley offerings. It is a place to sit and think, reflect, and meditate. It's warm, and has a "living" feel to it. Fire seems to embrace you, wrapping itself around you and warming you inside and out. I see the ghosts of Christmasses past and present in the glowing coals, and even the sad ones make me smile, at least a little.

If you'd like to learn about Yule Logs and the history of Christmas eve, this is a wonderful site to visit:

http://www.thebookofdays.com/months/dec/24.htm

Thursday, December 20, 2007

An interesting survey

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=PwWt5GPl4Y2h0lfE7vQYrg_3d_3d

This was an interesting survey to take. I have suggested to several of my friends that they take it. If nothing else, it certainly makes you think about what it is YOU believe in. It seems to be aimed largely at the neopagan crowd, but it fit me, in between Wicca and Hellenismos, and some of the Hellenic crowd seem to be enjoying taking it. There's no prize at the end -it's for research purposes. I'm all for research, though.

It's so odd to see some of the questions. "How often do you worship?" with suggestions of a few times a year, once a month, once a week, or several times a week. There was no entry for daily. There was no real definition of what worship was, either, which makes it so difficult to determine. I worship every day, for the most part. Sometimes it's just two minutes before bed, if I'm exhausted, but most of the time it is about 10 minutes or more of serious reflection, thanks, and offering. It seems so odd to think of how I would go for weeks on end and never think of the Gods at all.

This has gotten me thinking about my "sisterwife". Sis is Christian, although relatively open minded, and very loving. I believe she has a true Christian spirit - she thinks of others before herself, and "walks her talk" for the most part. She doesn't do anything at home, though. I don't understand it, I admit. It confuses me. I've never met a Christian who does daily worship. It seems to be "that thing you do on the weekend" or something.

The twins enjoy watching me when I worship. Girltwin LOVES to participate. She, like most kids I'm told, loves to offer up the barley to the Gods. She gets so excited about it, and it's fun to watch. She likes to take the offerings outside, too, or watch me put them in the fire. It's just all very fun. Boytwin is interested, too, though not as much. But they SEE me doing my religious duties each day. They don't see sis doing hers, and I think this is doing a disservice to sis, to be honest. She's a good Christian, unlike many of the nasty ones out there, and it's important (to me!) that she share her religion with her bio kids. I'm glad they're learning from me, too, obviously, but they should be learning from her, too.

It's odd. I'm the one that insists the children learn the difference between Yule, Hannukah, Christmas, Rammadan... I'm the one that insists that Spring Equinox is for bunnies and eggs, and Easter is for the solemn funeral of Jesus. I'm the one that insists that Lent is a time of giving up, for God (or the Gods, in my case), and led my family in six weeks of difficult but spiritually rewarding sacrifice.

Why is it that I seem to be so much more religious than sis? She's been a Christian all her life, and she's not "just a weekend Christian" like some. She teaches Sunday school, worships each week, knows the various holidays and their meanings. She just doesn't make it a vital part of her life. And yet... isn't that what Christians say is necessary? Are pagans making up, in some way, for the Christian lack of spirituality in the world? Most of the pagans I know are very spiritual, even if their religious duties differ widely from person to person. Whatever they do, they do devoutly, and regularily.

It's just something that always ends up going through my head at this time of year, as I look at our wreaths and trees and presents and lights (all symbols of the Solstice, not Christmas).

Monday, December 17, 2007

Worship

There are a number of texts out there that mention head coverings for people during worship, in the early Greek period. I "tried it out" with a small head covering, a red veil, and it felt rather good. So I asked Farnham to get me a veil or scarf for Yule, and he has. I believe it's turquoise, to go with my Greek robes. I also found a rather gaudy blue and yellow one at a little low-cost store nearby, which I *really* like. I think I will go back and get it when I get money, because it will be quite different than the one Farnham got me.

I finished my shopping, and managed to get inexpensive but cute/nice gifts for everyone for under $50. I consider that pretty good. Christmas/Yuletide dinner will be on Christmas Eve this year, with Farnham and the Missus, his daughter, and us. I'm really looking forward to it - the extra turkey I got on sale at Thanksgiving should be delicious, and we have green beans for cassarole, and salad, and rice. I'm looking so forward to things. I think it'll be relaxing for a change.

I guess there's just not much to say right now. I'm tired, only half paying attention, and out of it. It was an okay day, though.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Oh, it's the most (busiest) time... of the year!"

When I think of Yuletide, I think of baking cookies, roasting turkey or baking ham, fresh soup simmering on the stovetop... I think of the scent of a pine tree in my living room, and the sight of decorations going up, one by one, onto the tree, transforming it from something natural, to something supernatural. I think of curling up to watch old movies, reading The Night Before Christmas, and generally taking it easy.

What happened to that dream? What happened to that memory? Christmas time (the secular celebration) has become a rushed horror. Have you seen a mall, lately? The decorations and sappy music are playing before the kids even go trick or treating. We're inundated with the message to BUY BUY BUY! Any attempt at showing love or beauty is secondary to that all-important message to get the most expensive gift.

We have no money this year for gifts. We had a total of $500 to spend on 11 people, not including the grandparents who are just getting photos. Instead of giving gifts, we're spending time with each other. We're going to have a nice Christmas/Yule/Hannukah dinner with our inner family. We're going to sing carols, nibble on cookies in front of a blazing fire, and maybe watch some old movies.

I just wish the rest of our time could be so quiet, so contemplative. We took the twins to the mall for their yearly Santa picture, on Sunday. Wow, that was insane. Even at 10am, when Santa first got there, we had a 45 minute wait. Of course, by the time we left the mall, the line for Santa was literally stretched down one entire arm of the mall. People were rushing from place to place, screaming at their kids. The kids weren't happy, because they were strapped down in strollers or buggies, or they were hungry and being dragged around a stupid mall in their best clothes. The only thing of interest to kids, in that mall, was Santa, with his promises of junk and more junk.

What does this have to do with the birth of Christ, or the birth of Dionysus, or Mithras? What does this have to do with an unending supply of oil in a time of trouble? What does any of this have to do with the longest night of the year? Nothing, of course. We don't, as a country, celebrate that anymore. We celebrate the all-mighty dollar.

I want to learn how to slow down, despite what other people might be doing around me. I want to learn to appreciate the season for what it is. I want to return to the idea that mid-winter is a short time of rest between harvest and planting. I want time to enjoy the finer things in life - quilting with friends, knitting, cross stitching... scrapbooking... any of those things.

Bah. Humbug. I suppose I'm Scrooge, for not wanting to celebrate the commercial spending season.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Ghosts of Christmas Present

That does sound a little odd - Christmas Present. *chuckle*

This Christmas is not shaping up to be a financial joy. Gray has lost his job (not his fault... sales didn't meet quota, and he was the newest hire, so he and two others were let go), and we barely made bill payments. However, there's oil in the heater tank, firewood stacked on the front porch, and food in the freezer.

I could bewail the horrors of an unemployed Christmas. I could whine about how we don't have enough to buy gifts for people. I could whimper over the lack of Cool Things in people's stockings this year. Instead, I choose not to do any of those things.

This year, we have a huge turkey for our Yule/Christmas dinner. We'll be having mashed cauliflower, scalloped vegetables, and a wild rice stuffing. We'll also have zucchini latkes in honor of Farnham's daughter, who is studying Judaic religion in preparation to formally becoming a Jew. She'll be bringing her Menorah to the dinner, and will explain the secrets of the candles to our twins, sharing her religious joys with their wide eyed smiles.

Sis will say a prayer of thanks for the past year, and a plea for financial solvency. I'll offer a plate of food to the Gods. Others will do their own religious things. We'll share food together, and love, and stories of Christmases past, and dreams of those to come. Then we'll ask Farnham to get out his guitar, and we'll sing carols around the fire, with the twins capering about with tiny instruments of their own (thanks Kerridwyn!!).

There may not be much under our tree, but it's a beautiful tree (fake, but realistic). It has lights and garlands, ornaments both old and new, and pictures. Our mantlepiece is decorated with stuffed animals, the twins' advent calendar, and photos. A warm fire fills the fireplace, heating most of the downstairs to a toasty 68 degrees. We have hot tea, cocoa, and cider, and even a few bottles of mead. We have family, and friends.

How could we ask for more? Isn't this season about light, and love? We have both of those, in abundance. It doesn't matter that BestBuy didn't get our cash, or that Target missed out on sapping us of more credit. We have all that we need, and more.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ghosts of Christmas Past #3


My daughter was 3 years old, I think. It was our first Christmas together, alone. Her dad wasn't a part of the picture, and indeed, hadn't even dropped off a gift for her. But she and I were there, together. Uncle Davydd came over, and brought her a little present. We cooked a turkey, with stuffing, the first year we made "song stuffing" (bread, butter, 2 eggs, and parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme). It became a family tradition for us, a lovely thing to do, together.

So it was Christmas Eve, and we were singing Christmas carols, and talking about the Winter Solstice, and about Jesus and the story of his birth, when there's a firm knock at my door. I answer it, and it is the most gorgeous young man I've ever seen. He's built like a calendar model, and he's wearing nice clothes, and a tag proclaiming him to be a fire fighter. Apparently, some kind soul put us on the list of recipients for a gift basket from the community. They picked the most handsome fire fighters to deliver the baskets, to give the single moms a thrill. It worked.

In this basket, brought by this angelic young man, was a small chicken, all the fixings for a small meal, a can of oysters, some crackers, some soup, tuna, packages of macaroni and cheese, and a few small toys for my daughter. It wasn't much, but it brought tears to my eyes.

Those first few years were very lean, but they never lacked for love. My daughter was wrapped in love, surrounded by people who found her smile and her laugh to be the most wonderful things in the world. That first year, I had almost no cash at all. What little I had, had been spent on rent and food and heat. But I went to the dollar store equivalent, and bought a pack of play food for $5 or so, and then wrapped each piece of plastic food separately. She had an amazing morning, unwrapping gift after gift, not realizing that her "bounty" was the result of me not having money to buy better. For her, it was the greatest joy. And her joy translated to mine, because she was, and is, my life.