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I have a confession to make – I got scared and hid.  I’m not talking about in the last few days or on my arrival in Bendigo.  No.  I’m talking about four years ago at the Global Conference that took place in Yale. The last Global Conference for Chaplain in Higher Ed.  Yes, I got scared. I was hit by a ton of rocks created out of ignorance in such force and magnitude that I did what many of us do.  I hid, I retreated, I stepped back into the closet, kind of, hoping that my wounds would heal and the world would be right again. Or at least it would go back to what I remembered and that meant familiar ground.  Well the wounds did heal, but the world didn’t go back to what it was; it can never go back. The experience changed me and in the process I stopped writing which is horrible.  I love writing, but by not writing this blog and exposing my vulnerabilities I was able to stay in the “closet” a little longer. But a curious thing happened. A gentleman named Rob Lingard read a paper where I let all of my feelings out and promised me that things would change. Rob is not Pagan, he is a Christian and he is also a man of his word; a man of honor.

Yesterday we arrived in Bendigo after approximately 34 hours of travel time and in a slight state of exhaustion.  My husband Bill came with me this time as the support system that I didn’t have last time.  We decided that we would go straight to the conference venue since the opening ceremony and dinner was starting within 40 minutes of our stepping off of the train.  I was happy to get our name tags and to just sit without being in motion.  We were greeted warmly by the conference staff and I asked for Rob.  He was the one who had encouraged me to come, asked if I would be on a panel of speakers, and with whom we are sharing a house while we stay here.  It wasn’t long before we spotted one another and hugs ensued.  As his duties quickly took him away, he is one of the organizers, we were left to begin meeting people on our own.  A little tea and quite for just the two of us, however, is what we took in most.

I watched the room, it WAS different this time. This was a smaller, more intimate gathering than the last conference and I thought that might be what it was. This was a better place to get to know one another, to make connections… but there was more. Bill had found the evening’s outline. The opening event was a ceremonial greeting by the indigenous Dja Daj peoples of the land.  We were taken outside and the smoke we ran into was amazing.  We were being told of the tradition of smoking off the evil spirits to allow good to come in so that our works would be positive and of a good nature.  We were being smudged by eucalyptus leaves – the indigenous tradition of the land – and being told of the honoring of the elders and ancestors and how it was important to remember them always as they are the ones that teach us how to live and how to be.  It seemed ironic in one way that this was being talked about.  We had just met a gentleman from St. Andrews in Scotland and had been talking about Pan Am Flight 103 and the connection that Lockerbee and Syracuse have due to that tragedy. This week he is giving a talk on how we honor students that pass.

As this cleansing concluded we were invited back in to hear the initial greetings and I quickly understood that Rob had truly kept his word.  The four directions were explained as the people of the four directions were called to come forward to take their place we found out that we were the people of the four directions – Americas to the East, Asia and Europe to the North, Africa to the West, and Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Isles to the South – and as we spoke the words in the familiar call and response manner an energy was laid down.  We were asked to take a stone from the center table while we moved to our designated seats and to hold it to our hearts with one hand to place in it what we brought to give others. It was then we were asked that the other hand be open in order to receive what others had to offer. Our third task was to contemplate how we had prepared for being here – a triad of inquiry and responsibility for all of us.  It was then that I knew that true change had taken place these last four years.  We were asked to come forward and to place the stones we had selected in the center, a created space symbolic of all of us coming together to agree or not, but to be community together. We received a blessing of hope and understanding which ended in three times stated Blessed Be… Blessed Be… Blessed Be. Amen.

We were then asked to talk and share until dinner and share we did.  I met friends of our new Catholic Priest at Syracuse, a Chaplain from the south that wants to go out for drinks, one from the Gold Coast of Australia, discussed politics with one from the Netherlands and ate dinner with the wife of our Chaplain from St. Andrews.  There are so many more that I haven’t mentioned but I can say things are different. Pagans mentioned in the opening statements alongside Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Humanists and others. Yes things have shifted, especially when Rob asked me if I felt as if I had been included and respected within the ceremony.  He was sincere in his question and I could not feel more welcome than I did at the moment.

I hope that this shift in attitude towards the “other” begins to move outward and touch more than just those who are here. This world needs to be as inclusive as this conference has become. It is proving we can change, we need to, and that it can be positive.

Oh… and the kangaroo was delicious!

Today is a day for dreams.  Today is the day a dream of mine became reality and it is the day that new dreams are to be born.  Today is the day that a circle of stones, dedicated to the religious gathering of Pagans, was created at Syracuse University.

Seven years ago I wasn’t the Pagan Chaplain at the University.  There was no Pagan Chaplain, but I was the religious advisor for the student Pagans on campus and at that time I had a vision where the students would have a place of their own.  It didn’t have to be exclusive, in fact I didn’t think it should be.  Rather it needed to be a stone circle where they could observe ritual, meet with friends or do whatever.  This needed to be a place where they could feel the energy of their gods and their beliefs – a place where they would be reminded that they did matter.

Seven years ago I requested a stone circle to be built on campus.  For seven years I would periodically bring the subject up to those that needed to be reminded that Pagans did not have a place of their own like other faiths.  For seven years energy was built to push a dream forward and for seven years the ancestors watched and waited.  After seven years the energy culminated and the ancestors were heard.  I was asked to resubmit the proposal and all agreed that a circle would be built.

What changed in that seven years?  My position changed from advisor to Chaplain and with that a voice formerly foreign at the religious table was now heard. A new Dean at the Chapel was introduced.  The previous Dean had welcomed Pagans to the Chapel but it was the current Dean that understood the need for place. What changed was Pagans became recognized as valuable members of the religious makeup of the University deserving the same respect as any other faith tradition.

Yes, today is a day of dreams.  The stone circle doesn’t look like the stone circles created so long ago.  There are no standing stones familiar to so many.  There are only four stones – a stone at each cardinal point creating a 20’ inner circle.  The stones are large and made of blue stone, imbedded in the ground laying flush with the earth.  They needed to be unobtrusive, reflective of landscape and useable.  They are altar stones and any tradition, Pagan or otherwise, will be able to use them.  The dream came to life today when four stones were laid.

However, the laying of these stones is not the end of the dreams.  It’s the beginning of dreams.  A place for the seeds of possibility to break through and find sunlight to help them grow.  For many the creation of this circle seemed like a natural process and in many ways it was. When the voice of the ancestors sang once again those ready to hear their story listened and all barriers became non-existent. This was the right thing to do, this was the right day to do it and on this Samhain the ancestors will be honored in their stone circle.

Today I am overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed with both the awe that I feel when I realize what has happened but also at the thought of what will be the next dream to come to life.

Yesterday was a day of disbelief – it will remain that for quite some time.

As I read the headline for the first time I didn’t understand it. I had to read it again and again and again; but it sank in and I got it.  A most horrific event had occurred and the innocents of the world had paid the ultimate price for the anger and mental state of another.  They were dead. I was numb. The conversation in my shop was continuing. I was the only one who had read the headline and I couldn’t bring myself to repeat it.  Not at that moment, not until everyone left and it was just I and my friend across the room.  It was then that I said the words, whatever words they were, that told her of the tragic events unfolding in Newton, Connecticut.

Moments later a Facebook post from one of my students; this was only 15 minutes from where she lives.  Then another post, and another, and another; they continued to one after the other.  Disbelief, grief, sadness, shock; there are no words to describe how everyone felt, how we feel.  Words of comfort and consolation sent out from one person to the next. Virtual hugs and messages of mourning and love were little to console the madness of the day.  I lit a candle.

emma

It seems such a small gesture but for me it was the only thing I could do at the moment.  A candle lit so that the ancestors could lead the nation’s babies to their place among them.  This way they would not be struggling in the dark trying to find their way alone.  The light would help them; it would help me. I always tell everyone to take care of yourself first then you are able to take care of others.  This I needed to do for me.

I am a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, a sister, a friend and many more things than these few definitions.  I am flesh and blood and the sea of emotion inside me is deep.  It is the same with everyone I know.  There are times when the care givers need to take care as well, and so the candle was lit.  It was a single act and now I move forward to try to make sense of an event that is beyond the darkest recesses of the mind.  Now I take on that other role, the one that I wrap the title Chaplain around.  It is time for the Priestess to come forward and to help walk the bright souls through the veil as they need to and to hold the individuals left behind in universal arms to console their grief.

It makes no difference if you knew the victims of yesterday’s tragedy the grief and loss of so many is overwhelming.  It is the grief for lost innocence, for babies who will no longer be able to look at the world in wonder, wondering when senseless violence will end, for the lost respect for life and for so much more.  We as the human race lost so much yesterday I believe it is time to rethink what we value and what we want to leave our children as a legacy to be proud of.

These are my grandbabies: Emma, Logan and Isla.  They are beautiful and full of life. I cannot imagine loganwhat life would be like without them around and I grieve for what the parents of the children in Newtown are going through.  But I make a promise to my three grandbabies to make this world better.  I promise to work so that no other parents or children have to endure this type of pain and that when they are old and have grandbabies of their own they can be proud of the changes that came about because a few people decided that the world needed to be safe.

islaDo I know what that means? No, but I do know that if we do not begin to value life more than a trip to the mall on Black Friday then as a caring people we are doomed.  If we do not care enough for our children to disengage from a culture which glorifies violence more babies will die.  If we decide to not change then we decide that money and guns are our gods and that life in all its forms means nothing. Only the powerful and the feared will walk this land but never feeling quite safe.

I challenge all of you to make the same promise to someone you love.  Maybe, just maybe, if we all make such a promise the world can become a better place.

The Wheel of the Year has turned once again and we find ourselves facing the new year.  The harvests are in, more or less, the fires are lit, and it’s time to honor those that have gone through the veil before us and to reflect on what lies before us in the coming year. For many the road is clear and direct.  They know where they are going; the path in front of them was set long ago.  But for many there is uncertainty.  The loss of work, a place to live, health care has happened to someone you may know and/or love.  Heavens, it may have happened to you.  It is important to reflect on what the Wheel means now more than ever.

As we leave Samhain behind us we enter the darkest time of the year.  But we do so with the understanding that the Goddess is resting, her womb expanding, waiting to give birth to the God once again at Yule.  It is only out of the darkness, the chaos of the primordial sea, that order and light are born.

But for tonight, honor those that have passed this last year.  Light a candle, place and extra plate at the table, go outside and whisper their names – honor them through remembrance.  Do this and they may just help guide you through the dark.

Its been a while since I posted.  Life has been busy and sometimes those things that are near and dear to your heart drop to the wayside.  Well, life truly has been full, but with the new year coming it is time to start writing again.  So much has happened, so much to talk about… but first I thought that I would begin the year by sharing a poem that was posted by a friend.  I wish I could say that I wrote it, but I didn’t.  Please enjoy and share.

A Pagans “Halloween” Poem
Author Cather Steincamp

‘Twas the evening of Samhain, and all through the place
Were pagans preparing the ritual space.
The candles were set in the corners with care,
In hopes that the Watchtowers soon would be there.

We all had our robes on (as is habitual)
And had just settled down and were starting our ritual
When out on the porch there arose such a chorus
That we went to the door, and waiting there for us
Were children in costumes of various kinds
With visions of chocolate bright in their minds.

In all of our workings, we’d almost forgot,
But we had purchased candy (we’d purchased a LOT),
And so, as they flocked from all over the street,
They all got some chocolate or something else sweet.
We didn’t think twice of delaying our rite,
Kids just don’t have this much fun every night.

For hours they came, with the time-honored schtick
Of giving a choice: a treat or a trick.
As is proper, the parents were there for the games,
Watching the children and calling their names.

“On Vader, On Leia, On Dexter and DeeDee,
On Xena, on Buffy, Casper and Tweety!
To the block of apartments on the neighboring road;
You’ll get so much candy, you’ll have to be TOWED!”

The volume of children eventually dropped,
And as it grew darker, it finally stopped.
But as we prepared to return to our rite,
One child more stepped out of the night.

She couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen.
Her hair was deep red, and her robe, forest green
With a simple gold cord tying off at the waist.
She’d a staff in her hand and a smile on her face.
No make-up, nor mask, or accompanying kitsch,
So we asked who she was; she replied “I’m a witch.

And no, I don’t fly through the sky on my broom;
I only use that thing for cleaning my room.
My magical powers aren’t really that neat,
But I won’t threaten tricks; I’ll just ask for a treat.”

We found it refreshing, so we gave incense cones,
A candle, a crystal, a few other stones,
And the rest of the candy (which might fill a van).
She turned to her father (a man dressed as Pan)
And laughed, “Yes, I know, Dad, it’s past time for bed,”
And started to leave, but she first turned and said

“I’m sorry for further delaying your rite.
Blessed Samhain to all, and a magical night.”

It was a day of rest, which means I got to sleep in without any wakeup call to disturb my slumber.  The rest was necessary.  We have been going at a fast pace without much time to just sit back and enjoy the city of London and that is what we did yesterday.  For me that meant waking naturally, a hot breakfast and then an adventure with friends to explore the sounds and foods that are around us.

We started off walking to Coven Garden.  There are a couple of metaphysical shops I wanted to explore and besides I needed some supplies for ritual at Glastonbury.  I found my supplies and much to my delight I also found an old-fashioned hour-glass.  Well, a 15-minute timer, but hour-glass sounds better.  Once that task was done and all three of us (yes there were three of us) had made our purchases we decided to figure out how to get to Camden Locks.  Now, this adventure started much earlier at the hotel; we had looked at the computer, the maps, and even discussed what all the information meant.  We had it written down, thought about, and remembered (but not necessarily memorized) so we wouldn’t get lost.  Even if we got a little lost we were good with that; we would get a cab if need be to get us home.  But we figured it out and stood there, compass in hand, deciding that we were at the correct bus stop.  That was our first mistake. As we boarded the bus one of us (not me) had the foresight to ask if this bus went in the right direction – it didn’t.  But the bus driver was kind and told us that we were only off by which side of the street we were standing on.

Across the road we go and soon our bus arrives.  We board, swipe our cards, and find seats on the top-level of the double-decker bus.  A minute or two pass and a “bus officer” comes up the stairs checking tickets.  As it turns out we were riding illegally – our Tube/Bus passes had run out of money.  Well that was a shock.  He explained that it was a £50 fine each for the two of us (I would be one of them) that hadn’t paid for our trip.  We were in shock and he could tell.  We explained that we had no idea that our passes had no money on them and that honestly we had no clue what we were doing!  He sat down with us and inquired about our trip, where we were staying, when we were leaving and then he smiled.  He explained he was a reasonable man (at which point I was trying to figure out how to explain that one of our party was given up as bribe to the bus police) and suggested that we get off at a particular stop and replenish our bus cards.  He smiled and said he would be visiting the States this coming summer and hoped that he would find people as generous as himself if he needed assistance.

We thanked him profusely and did as we were told only to find out the station he had told us to go to was the one we actually headed for.  Kindness was the beginning of the adventure.  We walked the streets with tattoo parlors and punk shops all around.  The imagery was amazing and unfortunately I’m not going to put up pictures, I don’t have time.  But let me say, purchases were made, beautiful things were seen, and street vendors making crepes that you could walk away eating were the focus of our day.  As time progressed we knew that we needed to return to the hotel after all it was Purim and we would be heading to the West London Synagogue to celebrate the holiday in the evening.

The trip to the Synagogue was quick and even the walk from the Tube was short, but we still ended up getting a “little lost” trying to find it.  The map directions were good, but the opening to the Synagogue was truly not evident.  After about 5+ minutes of looking we found it, but only because we saw people in costume entering into what looked like a club with bouncers.  As we spoke with the security we told that the congregation was a Reform Jewish Synagogue and asked if that was okay.  It was, and honestly I had no idea what to expect based on what that meant.  Once again, like at the Hindu temple, our bags were searched prior to our entering, but once in the fun began. 

Children, young people and parents were everywhere.  A table filled with food of all kinds was laid before us; this was for the celebration after the celebration.  The costumed people were all entering the main room of the synagogue so we hung up our coats and followed. We had been told that the service was going to be done in the manner of “Grease”, yes the musical, but that did not prepare me for what was going on.  I had two Tele-Tubbies sitting behind me, a watermelon man across the way, Pink Ladies and T-Birds in full costume, children in batman suites, and noise makers given out to participants – us included.  One of our group had received a king’s royal cape to wear.  And now it began, the Purim ritual – the story of Ester.

It was wonderful and we were not disappointed by false advertisement.  The celebration was a combination of Hebrew and English, proper Queen’s English that is, with the female Rabbi leading the way.  When it came to telling the story of Ester families came forward to take turns reading the narrative. I thought it was over, but no, it has only just begun.  The group dressed in Pink Lady and T-Bird jackets got up and performed (with modified words) the musical Grease in order to once again tell Ester’s story.  What a treat, we all laughed, clapped and sang along.  At the end I understood the need for costumes, everyone who was dressed up danced around the temple together including our student.  It was fun! I can see how families would enjoy being in this place of worship.  By the time we were leaving we all had smiles on our face and laughs in our hearts.  What a wonderful way to end a beautiful day.



Freedom Press

Yesterday found us in East London, Whitechapel and Brick Lane areas specifically. So if you are a Jack the Ripper “fan” you know where we were. It was a wonderful tour of the area by a local gentleman who had grown up there. We travelled past the Freedom Press offices, down alley ways and tiny streets. Frying Pan Alley that Jack London wrote about was on the tour as well as the preserved Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor. In our travels we were fortunate enough to run into a gentleman that took care of the oldest remaining synagogue. Scaffoldings were all about it, repairing and reconstructing the building. He told us we couldn’t enter but after conversations and familiarity with the group was gained, he allowed us to come in and “take a peek.” There was as much construction inside as there was outside, in a way reflecting what has been happening on the trip with each of us. The history of the building was given and a few questions asked; the building had been used by several religions over the years, Jewish being the current one.

During the time spent in this sacred place, the same thought occurred to many of us. Can we help? He talked about waiting for grants and funding to finish the refurbishing and it collectively dawned on us. Many, not all, gave a donation to aid in the project. This facility was not scheduled and this gentleman gave of himself, it was the least we could do to give back.

East London

We moved forward to Brick Lane, a place that has seen different immigrant communities come, flourish, and leave. Since the early 1970s Bangladeshi immigrants have called this area home. Our guide explained to us the tension and violence that occurred then: skin heads marching down streets and breaking windows of businesses. The image is a far one from what exists now. Today the area is known as Bangalor City, a thriving area of business known for its curry and the markets that surround it. The conflicts have ended; resolution has been found. The place that was once where Methodists could receive communion is now the mosque. Like the synagogue before, new uses for older buildings are found. The sacredness of the place remains the same even though the people occupying it have changed.

Our afternoon was free and so adventures began. For my friend and I we decided to find the White Hart pub: the oldest licensed pub in London. But we got lost. When we realized this fact, it was too late, we knew we were not in the right spot, or were we? A small sign caught my eye and I wanted to investigate further so I moved a little ahead. Well there it was: a metaphysical shop! That’s right; the gods gave me what I had been asking for – a place where I could get some supplies for Sunday’s ritual at the Glastonbury Tor. I’ll be going back to this shop for a few other things, but most importantly my friend got directions to the pub! So in honor of St. Pat’s day we had Guinness to quench our thirst.

When we got back to the hotel it was time to gather and leave for St. Patrick’s Church in Soho. It was St. Patrick’s Day after all. We have one Catholic in the group and she was looking forward to celebrating her faith. But the evening took a twist. When we arrived at the church it was under construction. Mass was to be held in a small room only able to accommodate 35 people – we had 17. The priest acted as if he didn’t know we were coming and told us we were “welcome but it might get tight”. Tight is an understatement. I ended up in the hallway not able to even hear and I’m truly glad for that. It isn’t that I didn’t want to be there, I find the Catholic mass beautiful. But what the priest said in his sermon was hurtful and cutting. The Pagans were under attack, our Catholic was embarrassed. The mass ended.

Guardian of the Park

When were finally got outside I was told what the priest said, it was hurtful, it didn’t matter, I’m glad I didn’t hear it. But now was the time to take what was done and negotiate the territory of when faiths collide. At some point this was going to happen between groups on the trip, I just didn’t know which groups. We decided to do the day’s reflection right away. And so the discussion began. I have to say that the tension was great, but the ability of our students to work through the histories of persecution/persecutor was amazing. Tears flowed, the feeling of being “less than” and under attack were expressed. A woman in the congregation had been less than understanding when she saw the small Thor’s Hammer on one girl’s necklace. Another could barely express how she felt about the hostility directed towards the group. The realization that not all churches/priests practice in the same manner was a shock to another.

In the end, the sea of emotions that could have divided the group ended up giving birth to new understanding of how we need to negotiate the differences between us. Not only to understand that there are differences, but that we also don’t need to carry the guilt of our tradition’s past. There will be others of our faith that we don’t agree with and that’s okay. It is what we do with our faith, how we present it, and what we do to help others understand that in order for traditions to survive and flourish they need to learn to coexist with one another.

Difference is the reason we continue to exist, not the downfall that we all think it is. Isolationism and blind dogma is the ending of any tradition, it makes no difference what that tradition is. Only through understanding that we don’t all need to be the same can we begin to understand that our faith traditions reflect who we are as humans. Helping others through practice, dialogue and example are all ways that we can bring differences to light in a positive manner and understand we don’t have to look at any one else as inferior or wrong. Remember in my previous post on Day 2 the picture of the Berlin Wall? Only through reconciliation with each other did the wall come down. Let it serve as a reminder to build on relationships rather than hanging on to separation.

Many Faith One Humanity

Getting Ready to Leave

Tired, awake, excited, and full of wonder we arrive in London.  The adventure has begun.  Less than 48 hours ago 17 of us waited at the Syracuse airport to board our plane to being 10 days of sites and discussion.  With little sleep during the in between we are safe and sound and through our first day in England.

When we arrived yesterday morning we were greeted by the SU London staff who guided us to the coach that would take us to our hotel – the Royal National.  On the way I was treated to a front row seat (on the left side of the coach) and just took in the scenery.  A little something called The Globe to my left… then a cemetery, churches of all types, and brick buildings that remind me of Mary Poppins all in view.  Traffic on the left side of the road didn’t seem strange, at least not then.  I was tired but ready to get the day started.

Many Faith One Humanity

Lunch and Introductions

We deposited our bags at the hotel, couldn’t quite check in when we arrived but we knew that ahead of time, and then off to Syracuse’s Faraday House; the center for SU London.  Our orientation to the UK was fun and informative on both the joys and the dangers of being a tourist.  I am thankful for the information!  We are also treated to lunch along with introductions to several people on the staff.  So far we are still excited and alert.  I’m amazed at the energy still being so high, especially in myself.

Once done we are back to the hotel to check in, unpack and start on our first event: a walking tour of the local area with Prof Richard Tames.

Many Faith One Humanity

Wisdom and Youth

 This gentleman was a repository of knowledge regarding London history and briskly walked us through the squares, the University of London, past Virginia Woolf’s home, to the British Public Library.  An hour and a half of non-stop information about the area we are calling home for 10 days.  He returns us to our hotel and graciously hands us his complete notes regarding the tour just given.

After our thanks for his generosity we finally have a moment to breathe – 45 minutes until we need to meet and leave for dinner.  I have to say that riding the London tube is an experience, especially when you are entering the Underground for the first time during the end of the day commute rush!  It was wild finding out where to go, herding 17 bodies in the same direction and onto the same commute line, and ending up at the same stop.  Thank goodness we had two guides from London helping us navigate the system; if not I’m sure that we would still be looking for some of our party.

Dinner was at Maroush, a Lebanese restaurant serving family style to our table.  The food, flavors, smells, and comfortable chairs a truly welcome relief.  Conversations all around the table were buzzing on a number of topics and I couldn’t have enjoyed myself more.  But the lack of sleep finally caught up with all of us.  Soon I could see in others a mirror of what I was feeling – a need to close my eyes and let my body rest. 

It has been a wonderful beginning to the trip and I imagine that it can only get better.  Today the Imperial War Museum, a Zen Garden visit, Notre Dame Church, tea at St. Martins in the Fields, the Buddhist Society, and then back to the Faraday House.  A full day indeed.

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.

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