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I decorated our tree yesterday, something that I enjoy doing each year.  My husband had pulled all of the decorations out of the attic and brought them down a couple of days before.  When he did so he told me he was glad to have me decorate the tree as long as he got to put the topper on.  Our topper: Father Winter that we bought on a road trip to North Carolina a year or two ago.

So yesterday, in the quiet afternoon, I began to decorate.  Pulling out each ornament from the box, wrap, or bag that has kept it safe the past year I was transported backwards in time as memories of celebrations gone by came flooding back.  There was a white hat with pink feathers that was my daughter at about age 10 or 11; a penguin or ten that are my son.  Gingerbread girls, boys and bears made over the years documenting the growth of our family.  A wolf and her pups, an owl, and Curious George made their way to the branches.  Old fashioned glass candy canes and  Santa were next.  Memories of a time when life was lived in California and not on the east coast were joined by the more recent memories portrayed by bobble headed Yankees players that my husband owned.  Golf balls with faces and “Babies 1st Christmas” tell of life before we met also found their places on the tree. A bulb to find a cure for AIDS, one to end world hunger, sea shells glittered, and a tree skirt of red and green – all memories held close to my heart.

As I put the ornaments in their places I began to think of this ritual that I’ve done so many times.  With live trees, cut trees, fake trees, trees outside, and the most important one – the asparagus fern the year we had a “welfare Christmas”.  That’s what we called it because there was money only for one gift each; a small gift and nothing more. No tree at all. That year we decorated the house plants with the ornaments and it was enough.  Each year there seems to be something added, just like life itself each year brings new memories.  But the one year we had next to nothing I remember the best.  I remember it because it made me think about what it was that we were doing.  My entire family will tell you I’m not one for gift giving this time of year.  Christmas really isn’t my holiday and so I don’t give gifts then, at Yule I only give something small, usually an item that I found some time prior that jumped out and said “this person needs to have me.”  I’m sure my children would rather have had lots of things over the years, but I just don’t do it.  I show them in other ways I suppose, and they show me as well in return.

My son called and asked what our plans were for Christmas day.  I laughed when I answered that we had planned on a traditional Hudson Christmas: Chinese food and a movie.  He laughed as well; we had spent many a holiday together in that fashion, our own tradition.  My daughter and I discussed what we would both be doing and each of us has the same attitude; it doesn’t matter really if we get together or not.  We will be spending the solstice together and that is what counts to her and I.  We also agreed that my son should spend the day with his in-laws because it is a day of celebration for them; he needs to honor that.  And yet, none of the discussions took away the depth and meaning of my memories, our memories. 

Each ornament has found its place, each memory is cherished, all of it representing the many roads I and my family have travelled to get to this point in time.  I like my memories of Christmas’ past.  And a new one this year: my husband putting Father Winter one more time on the top of the tree in the evenings light.

So, regardless of what path you are on or what faith you follow, here’s to making many memories in the future of Yule fires with friends, egg nog with Cat Daddy, a gift or two for loved ones and all of us growing wiser together.

It is always an interesting ritual; one that each of us has to go through, one that can’t be avoided, and yet the emotions that go with it are mixed. Sometimes the individual is happy, sometimes sad. Sometimes it is a mixture of both, the realization that this portion of their life is complete and it is time to move forward. What is the ritual? It is the cutting of the cords.

Last night as the snow fell around us, we gathered as a group to cut the cords of the one Senior that is graduating at mid-year. It was a beautiful setting, powder like snow all around us, the chill of the air, the smell of sage and a gathering of friends in the night. I enjoyed letting this one go, this particular friend. It isn’t that I want to see her go, but she has to. There are times when we all have to move forward to discover who we really are.

Last year I had a group of students ask if they could observe the ritual. They didn’t really understand what the significance was, but they were interested in watching a “pagan ritual.” As they arrived we talked and I explained what would be happening – they still didn’t understand. I invited them to participate in the ritual if they chose; if not I asked that they show respect by observing silently during the rite. I was a little surprised and pleased when about half of them decided to join in.

They followed the queues that the pagan students gave, asking questions about what to do when they couldn’t figure it out. The callings occurred and they became part of what we were doing. Then it occurred, the students to be let go came to the center, and like last night, each had their cords cut. There were tears at that ritual, there were none last night – difference between individuals and their readiness to face the next stage. After the ritual was done, the guests had questions about what they had just experienced. The question that I remember the most came from one very emotional young man. He told me that he didn’t expect what happened, that he felt the ripping and tearing of the cords as each person had theirs cut. As he was relating his own experience he said he felt the pain of the cut that it seemed brutal and uncaring and did it have to happen. Why do we have to cut cords?

It’s a question that I get asked often, especially from those that are the reason we are having the ritual. It is simple; it has to be done in order for individuals to grow and for the group to remain thriving. As I explained to the young man, cutting of the cords isn’t a “gentle act” to wish someone well. It can be a violent act since what we are doing it cutting the ethereal ties the individual has to the group. I explained that for the growth and survival of each, the cutting must take place. I went on to describe it in the only terms that I could: this is the cutting of their spiritual umbilical cord. When a child is born into the world their physical umbilical cord connecting them to their mother is severed. If it isn’t both the child and the mother die. The cutting is bloody, messy, tough to do, violent, and yet absolutely necessary. The student group at the University in many cases is the spiritual womb for these students where they begin to learn who they are spiritually and what path they need to walk.

Once the cutting is done they are not left alone to face the world on their own. I always ask members of the larger community to be there. It may be only one or two, but they are there. The student stands alone for a moment. Some travel through it easily, others say it is a time when they feel absolutely isolated. But I don’t leave them there that would be irresponsible. They are reconnected to community, loved ones, beings outside the smaller University group, and given the knowledge that are part of the greater pagan world now where connections will be made when necessary. The ritual is complete.

Last night was an easy traverse of the void between womb and world. She was ready to separate awhile ago and she did so with joy. In fact, for me it was a joyous ritual, one where silliness and fun needed to be present. She will move forward, on her way home in less than a week she will find her community. That is my next obligation to her: a connection that I promised near her hometown.

So as you travel through life take a moment to think about your own cords. Have you cut the ones that need to be? If you haven’t, are they harmful to your growth? If so, what are you going to do about it? And yes, that moment of absolute alone after the cutting can be terrifying, but the discovery that it leads to can be amazing.

It has been a special week so far.  On Monday I spoke with of students on topics ranging from Hendricks Chapel and what makes it work to Atheism.  These discussions really didn’t have anything to do with Pagans or paganism, but my opinions on the various subjects to be included in their class projects.  What made the discussions special was when I began to think about them later.

In one “interview” that wanted to find out how the different religions/belief systems get along and work together so well; what makes Hendricks Chapel unique.  In the conversation the student told me he had interviewed several people, chaplains and administrators, and asked the same question.  What he had found was an interesting attitude when specifically asked about how easy it to integrate Paganism into the mix was.  He was told that administrators never asked us/me to “water down” what we do.  And it is true, they never have.  I have always been given full support in all areas.  That isn’t to say there aren’t things that I have decided over the years aren’t a good idea for a college campus.

First, no sky clad rituals.  I don’t know about anyone else, but this just doesn’t seem like a good idea on a campus. Second, I don’t hold Beltainne on campus.  I don’t want to add sex energy to a campus that is already full of hormones, once again doesn’t seem like a good or responsible thing to do.  Last, no athames.  Come on, no matter how you look at it they are a double-bladed knife (generally speaking) and considered a weapon.  You can’t have it in your control 24/7 and who knows what your room mates boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s best friend’s new party friend is going to do.  That being said, we do everything else.

So Monday night the students met like every Monday evening.  Everyone had asked the same question at some point: “So Mary, what are we going to do tonight?” But business first; there was a couple of “things” to discuss and get out-of-the-way regarding information that they all needed. When that was done I started in on what I had planned: spell making/spell casting.  Something that I think gets talked about a lot but practical instruction doesn’t necessarily occur.  Did I teach how to do specific spells? No.  More to the point, how to construct a spell and the ethics behind why you would or wouldn’t do this type of work.  The evening was great, lots of questions on everything from the difference between a spell and a curse, why would you use a binding spell, what a “love spell” really is, the cost of doing spell work, and lots more.  The evening was great.  One of the students asked it was okay to do spell work for personal gain.  He had heard/read/been told that it was not a good idea, that it was “forbidden”. 

I explained that it was my personal opinion that doing work for yourself, your own “personal gain” was perfectly okay, in fact we all do it all the time.  How many times do we ask for energy to help us get a job, understanding, healing, or… well you get the picture.  It doesn’t make us bad people.  How many times do we WISH to do well in our work, or personal relationships, to be able to make the bills?  Spell work is part of this; I also explained that I had been doing as much work to allow the Universe to open opportunities to help us raise money for their trip during spring break.  That is in a sense personal gain, but it is always done with the highest good in mind.  Let the opportunities present themselves without hurting anyone in the process. I don’t want someone to give funds instead of paying a bill.  That isn’t productive.  The evening was wonderful, the most important part, the ethics part was understood. Do what you will but do it ethically and with the greatest good in mind.  Intention is everything.

The next day I received an email regarding the Interfaith trip and I knew that magic had happened, spells were at work using an unlikely source.  One of the students had secured $4000 for the trip; $1000 for each student.  The Universe had answered the energy put out there by everyone, money was found that could be used.  Like I said magic happens.  Are we at our final goal yet? No.  We still need about $9000, but it will happen.  We have things planned.  The students understand that you can’t just cast a spell and do nothing else.  They are planning fund-raisers of all sorts and the money will come.  I thank everyone that has already given and who plans on giving in the future, we will continue to what we are going to do.

In the meantime remember that magic happens, spells really do work, and I hope that you find joy and unexpected happiness in your day.

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